JERUSALEM (Reuters)- Israel will not demand the immediate disarming of Hizbollah as part of a deal to end the fighting in Lebanon, a senior Israeli official said on Saturday. Israel’s position could make it easier to reach agreement with Western powers and the Lebanese government on the proposed deployment of a peacekeeping force in Lebanon. Hizbollah would almost certainly reject a force whose mandate called for its disarmament.

"Disarming Hizbollah will not be part of the mandate for the (peacekeeping) mission for now," a senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters. "However it is supposed to strengthen the Lebanese army, the responsibility of which will be to implement  UN security council.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Israel saw the full implementation of resolution 1559 as "the only real way to solve the problem in Lebanon."Asked if Israel was demanding Hizbollah’s immediate disarmament, Regev said: "Hizbollah has to be disarmed as soon as possible."France has emerged as the potential leader of a multinational force but has ruled out deployment until a ceasefire and political agreement have been reached, Western diplomats say.

Paris has so far been noncommittal about its a possible role in a peacekeeping operation to help end the 18-day-old war, in which at least 462 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, have been killed. Hizbollah has killed 51 Israelis, 18 of them civilians.

The Foreign Ministry official said Israel would demand that the proposed peacekeeping force in south Lebanon keep Hizbollah away from the border and prevent it from replenishing its stockpile of rockets from Syrian and Iran

The official told Reuters Israel was seeking a commitment to "start the process of implementing" resolution 1559, adding: "Disarming Hizbollah now is not what Israel is demanding."

Washington envisaged the deployment of a rapid reaction force to fill the void until a larger peacekeeping mission could be assembled and dispatched, Israeli officials said.

"Once the ceasefire and political agreement is reached, we will be able to talk about the multinational force and France’s potential participation," a French diplomatic source said.

(Additional reporting by Anna Willard in Paris)