German diplomacy goes on the offensive in the Mideast

24th July 2006, Comments 0 comments

24 July 2006, Diplomatic efforts to end the crisis intensified over the weekend with senior envoys from Germany, Britain and France in the region and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice preparing to arrive Monday. Meeting with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, he repeated Israel's demand that Hezbollah be removed from the border and said Israel supported the temporary presence in the area of a "strong international force" with enforcement abilities, until the Lebanese army could deploy an

24 July 2006

Diplomatic efforts to end the crisis intensified over the weekend with senior envoys from Germany, Britain and France in the region and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice preparing to arrive Monday.

Meeting with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, he repeated Israel's demand that Hezbollah be removed from the border and said Israel supported the temporary presence in the area of a "strong international force" with enforcement abilities, until the Lebanese army could deploy and act effectively.

In addition to Steinmeier, French Foreign Minister Phillipe Douste-Blazy and British Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells were also meeting Israeli officials Sunday.

Hezbollah agreed Sunday that the Lebanese government could negotiate an exchange of prisoners with the Israelis. Israel is holding three Lebanese and hundreds of Palestinians in its prisons, but has ruled out a prisoner swap.

Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz said Sunday that the unconditional return of the two soldiers was key to resolving the crisis.

Violence however continued parallel to the diplomatic push, with casualties on both sides.

Tens of thousands of people have been fleeing southern Lebanon after Israel on Friday ordered people south of the Litani River to leave their homes, raising fears of a large-scale ground invasion.

More than 350 people have been killed and more than 1,000 wounded in over 2,000 Israeli air attacks since the beginning of the assault.

Some 17 Israeli civilians have meanwhile been killed, and 420 wounded, by the approximately 1,000 missiles Hezbollah has fired at Israel. Hundreds more have been treated for shock.

The fighting has also seen 19 Israeli soldiers killed, including eight in the original Hezbollah attack which sparked the crisis. One Israeli helicopter pilot was also killed in a mid-air collision.

Evacuations from the region continued Sunday with a special French unit securing a convoy of evacuees with around 100 foreigners travelling from southern Lebanon to Beirut, military sources said in Paris.

The convoy was bringing 32 French nationals, 25 Germans, 20 Lebanese and around 20 people from 14 other countries out of the danger zone, with the evacuees to leave Beirut aboard the frigate Jean Barte.

In Turkey, another 246 Australians fleeing Lebanon arrived in the port of Mersin Sunday bringing the total number of evacuees to reach the country by boat to over 3,000.

A US naval ship was scheduled to arrive in Mersin Monday morning carrying 1,800 US citizens.

A group of 186 Brazilians, who escaped Lebanon on three passenger buses, also arrived in Turkey Sunday. Meanwhile a final group of 105 Bulgarian evacuees also arrived home Sunday, the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said.

Syria meanwhile said it will intervene should Israeli ground forces invade Lebanon near the border to Syria, Information Minister Mohsen Bilal said in an interview with the Spanish daily ABC.

"If Israel invades Lebanon and comes close to us, Syria will not fold its arms. We will intervene in the conflict," he said.

Bilal also said however that Syria, a chief supporter of the Hezbollah movement, backed an immediate ceasefire and was prepared for direct talks with the United States in an effort to solve the crisis.

The statements represent the first Syrian indication of a willingness to diplomatically intervene in the conflict. Washington, which accuses Syria of supporting terrorism, has however said it would not support a ceasefire that returned the region to the status quo.

Elsewhere, the crisis continued to dominate news headlines and political agendas.

United Nations relief coordinator Jan Egeland on Sunday condemned the devastation caused by Israeli air strikes in Beirut describing it as "horrific" and terming it "a violation of humanitarian law."

"The whole thing has to stop. It's no natural disaster, but a man- made crisis. This is a senseless war," Egeland said as the bombing campaign by the Israel Air Force and missile attacks by the Lebanese Hezbollah movement continued unabated for the 12th successive day.

Egeland is to launch an appeal for millions of dollars in aid for half a million displaced Lebanese civilians and safe corridors to get it to them.

DPA

Subject: German news

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