Rome meeting produces no ceasefire for Mideast crisis
26 July 2006, ROME - Amid worsening Mideast violence, an international conference on the crisis Wednesday failed to agree a framework for a ceasefire in Lebanon between Israeli forces and Hezbollah militants. Lebanon's Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, while saying "some progress had been made," was blunt about the meeting's failure. "The more we delay the ceasefire, the more we are going to have civilians being killed...," said Saniora who blamed Israel for the impasse. Calling for "historic deeds" to bring pe
26 July 2006
ROME - Amid worsening Mideast violence, an international conference on the crisis Wednesday failed to agree a framework for a ceasefire in Lebanon between Israeli forces and Hezbollah militants.
Lebanon's Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, while saying "some progress had been made," was blunt about the meeting's failure.
"The more we delay the ceasefire, the more we are going to have civilians being killed...," said Saniora who blamed Israel for the impasse.
Calling for "historic deeds" to bring peace, Saniora said it was time for Israel to take the initiative because the Arabs were "committed to peace."
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who co-hosted the meeting with Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema, tried to put a positive spin on the talks.
"We all committed to dedicated and urgent action to bring about an end to this violence," said Rice.
But Rice stood firmly by her position that the only ceasefire worth having was one which included clear provisions to disarm Hezbollah which has been firing missiles into Israel from Lebanon.
"We have to have a plan that will actually create conditions for a ceasefire that will be sustainable," insisted Rice.
Participants at the Rome meeting include top officials from 15 countries -- including Germany, Britain and France as well as United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.
Key players in the conflict did not attend the meeting. Israel was not represented at the talks and neither Syria nor Iran - which are Hezbollah's main backers - had been invited.
Saniora demanded that Israel pay compensation for the "barbaric destruction" of his country during the ongoing conflict with Hezbollah.
"Israel cannot keep ignoring international law," Saniora told the conference.
European Union officials at the meeting called for an immediate cessation of hostilities and for all hostages must be released.
"These measures must be backed up by an international force, with a clear mandate from the Security Council," said EU external relations chief Benita Ferrero-Waldner.
She said the EU was rushing more emergency aid to help victims of the escalating conflict.
The European Commission said it had earmarked 50 million euros ($63 million) in humanitarian aid for victims of the Lebanese conflict, with 10 million euros being rushed immediately to the country.
The EU said it had also earmarked 11 million euros to help evacuate the nationals of poor nations from Lebanon.
Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja - whose country is current president of the 25-nation EU - pointed to "increasing frustration in Europe at the lack of progress in achieving a cease-fire and coming to grips with the causes of the conflict."
Both Ferrero-Waldner and Tuomioja are leaving for the Middle East from Rome.
Israeli leaders earlier this week said they would be willing under certain conditions to accept a proposal by Annan for an international peace keeping force in southern Lebanon to displace Hezbollah.
Officials in Israel stressed, however, that such a force would need to have a robust mandate to deal with the Shiite militants.
But it remains unclear who would supply the up to 30,000 troops envisaged for such a force. And there were apparently no concrete offers at the Rome meeting.
The US and Britain have already indicated they will not send large numbers of troops.
Following the killing of four UN observers in southern Lebanon on Tuesday by Israeli shelling there is likely be even less enthusiasm for supplying peacekeepers to the region.
Annan, who initially had accused Israel of deliberately targeting the UN soldiers, told reporters he was grateful for an apology by Isareli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
"We accept his words," said Annan, adding: "We await the investigation."
The conflict in Lebanon began on July 12 after Hezbollah fighters made a cross-border raid on Israel, killing eight Israeli soldiers and abducting two others.
Israel forces have since launched military strikes across Lebanon targeting the country's infrastructure and Hezbollah strongholds and are slowing advancing against Hezbollah positions in the southern part of the country.
Almost 400 Lebanese, mostly civilians, have been killed by Israeli strikes so far. At least 37 Israelis have been killed either in combat or by Hezbollah rockets.
Subject: German news