First Published: 2006-07-19

 
Blair refuses to call for Israel ceasefire
 

British PM in cold as fellow EU leaders call on Israel to halt its deadly onslaught on Lebanon.

 

Middle East Online

Beirut in smoke

LONDON - British Prime Minister Tony Blair refused Wednesday to call on Israel to halt its onslaught on Lebanon, revealing a split with other European Union leaders.

Quizzed in parliament, Blair said he would not demand that Israel stop the bombardment of Lebanon before Hezbollah releases two kidnapped Israeli soldiers and halts its rocket attacks.

"This would stop now if the soldiers that were kidnapped wrongly when Hezbollah crossed the UN blue line were released," Blair told MPs.

"It would stop if the rockets stopped coming into Haifa deliberately to kill innocent civilians. If those two things happen ... I will be the first out there saying Israel should halt its operations."

Israel has demanded the release of two soldiers snatched by Hezbollah and a third taken by Palestinians, the implementation of UN Resolution 1559 and a halt to rocket attacks as preconditions for any diplomatic solution.

Blair's position was in contrast to those of German President Horst Koehler and his Italian counterpart Giorgio Napolitano, who called Wednesday for an immediate ceasefire in the Middle East.

Koehler said Israel had a right to self-defence, but added: "We are very concerned about the high number of civilian victims and the destruction of infrastructure."

Napolitano, in Berlin for his first official foreign visit since taking office in May, welcomed the proposal for a stronger UN force to be deployed in Lebanon and said it should include European soldiers.

"The UN should be able to rely on the European Union," he told reporters after meeting Koehler.

Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis echoed their sentiments, calling Wednesday for an "immediate ceasefire" in Lebanon with a view to a "rapid de-escalation of the crisis".

"The international community's reaction as expressed by the UN must be clear: an immediate ceasefire, the immediate and unconditional liberation of the kidnapped soldiers, the immediate disarmament of paramilitary organisations," he said in a televised speech.

A total of 310 people have been killed since Israel launched a deadly offensive across Lebanon last Wednesday in a bid to cripple Hezbollah after it captured two Israeli soldiers.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana called Wednesday for an immediate solution to the escalating violence.

In his second visit to the region in days, Solana called on "those who insist they may have influence to help to solve this problem," a possible allusion to Iran and Syria, which support Hezbollah, urging them to act "immediately".

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it was a mistake to "accuse particular countries and leaders" outside Israel and Lebanon over the crisis.

"If we start to think in terms of who is guilty as some other states do, directly accusing particular countries and leaders, this will only inflame passions still further," Lavrov told the Echo Moscow radio station in an apparent reference to US accusations of Syrian and Iranian involvement.

"We are trying a follow a different Russian tradition, to think about what we do," he said.

Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek's government came out in favour of the rapid deployment of a UN peacekeeping force to end the crisis in Lebanon.

"The government will press for a rapid deployment of UN peacekeeping forces in the conflict zone," it said in a statement.

The government also recognised Israel's "right to self-defence" but called on the Jewish state to do all it could to limit danger to civilian lives and infrastructure.

Meanwhile French President Jacques Chirac called for "humanitarian corridors" in Lebanon to protect civilians from Israeli bombardment.

"Humanitarian corridors need to be set up inside Lebanon to allow the movement of people. ... They need to be able to do it with a certain level of security," Chirac said after a cabinet meeting.

"And corridors also are needed between Lebanon and the outside, in other words essentially for the moment between Lebanon and Cyprus," he said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it had "serious questions" over Israel's conduct as civilians bore the brunt of the strikes on Lebanon.

"The high number of civilian casualties and the extent of damage to essential public infrastructure raise serious questions regarding respect for the principle of proportionality in the conduct of hostilities," ICRC director of operations Pierre Kraehenbuehl told journalists at the organisation's Geneva base.

 

Arab leaders meet in Sweimeh on conflicts, 'terror'

No unanimity on Syria ahead of Arab Summit

4 besieged Syria towns to be evacuated under deal

Tunisians demand Muslim marriage decree revoked

Historic Casablanca buildings crumbling in silence

US arrests Turkish banker for helping Iran violate sanctions

Turkey voices opposition to Kurdish flag in Kirkuk

Engineers to carry out urgent maintenance on IS-held Syria dam

Palestinian president meets Trump envoy at Arab summit

UN says over 300 civilians killed since start of west Mosul offensive

Disputed Iraqi province votes to fly Kurdish flag

Germany laments Turkey's 'unacceptable' spying

Syria opposition says no peace deal without US role

Turkey sends delegation to UK over electronics ban

UN chief urges Arab leaders to confront Syria war

Carlos the Jackal sentenced to life for Paris bombing

Arab League set to oppose Trump Israel embassy shift

Tributes flood in for anti-apartheid hero Ahmed Kathrada

US vows to never allow 'Israel-bashing' at UN

Netanyahu ban on MP visits to flashpoint holy site challenged

IS launches counter-attack to defend north Syria town

Saudi intercepts four ‘smuggled’ Yemen rebel missiles

Saudi to set up investment fund to help Jordan

Iran slams Bahrain terror cell claims as ‘delusional’

UN says 30 million unsure of next meal in MENA region

Putin to meet Iran President in Moscow

US, allies talk of post-ISIS future, but have no plan

Al-Qaeda, on the rise again, hits Assad where it hurts

Germany’s Turks cast early ballots for Erdogan referendum

German court convicts Pakistani of spying for Iran

Qatar to invest £5bn in UK within five years

'Kill Erdogan' banner probed in Switzerland, Turkey

Arab League chief urges resolution to Syria conflict

Serious challenges for Arab leaders in Amman

Israel arrests 22 ultra-Orthodox sex offenders

Syrian forces pause offensive on IS-held dam for repairs

Dubai's Emaar Malls offers $800m to buy Souq.com

Iraq launches fresh Mosul Old City advance

US-backed fighters battle IS near north Syria town

Hamas partially reopens Beit Hanoun crossing

Iraq investigates Mosul civilian deaths

In Algeria, everyone wants to be MP, few likely to vote

Yemeni rebel supporters flood streets on conflict’s anniversary

Syria fighting damages IS-held dam posing rising water risk

Iran to symbolically sanction 15 US companies