EU diplomats in Israel in push to stop fighting

24th July 2006, Comments 0 comments

JERUSALEM, July 23, 2006 (AFP) - Top diplomats from France, Germany and Britain converged on Israel on Sunday ahead of a visit by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as world powers moved to try to end the Lebanon conflict.

JERUSALEM, July 23, 2006 (AFP) - Top diplomats from France, Germany and Britain converged on Israel on Sunday ahead of a visit by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as world powers moved to try to end the Lebanon conflict.

The Europeans are trying to push the Jewish state into ending its massive blitz on Lebanon, which has killed more than 360 people in 12 days, most of them civilians, and destroyed key infrastructure.

Washington, Israel's closest ally, backs the Jewish state's arguments that a ceasefire can come only as part of a wider diplomatic package involving the disarmament of the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

"I am convinced that a ceasefire is possible," French Foreign Minister Phillipe Douste-Blazy told reporters in the northern city of Haifa, where two people were killed on Sunday in the latest rocket fire from Hezbollah.

Douste-Blazy met with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in the West Bank and was due to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert later Sunday.

Israel has rejected calls for an immediate ceasefire in its offensive, which it says targets Hezbollah but which has also seen its military destroy much of Lebanon's civilian infrastructure.

"We are using our right to self-defense in the face of a murderous organization that has fired rockets...in order to harm our civilians," Olmert told reporters before meeting German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. "We will use all our force in our fight."

A German official with the delegation was optimistic after Olmert's meeting with Berlin's top diplomat, who played a leading role in a German-brokered prisoner swap between Hezbollah and Israel in 2004.

"In a few days, we will be in a situation that will allow us to take the road of peace," he said, without elaborating.

On Sunday, Israel said it supported the deployment of an international force, possibly made up of NATO troops, as part of an eventual solution to the crisis. It had previously said it was "too early" to consider such a force.

The French minister said the fighting must stop before any foreign forces can be deployed.

"If there is no ceasefire, you cannot have an international force coming here," he said after meeting with Abbas in the West Bank.

British junior foreign minister Kim Howells, due to meet Livni and Abbas on Sunday, was also likely to try to push Israel into easing its offensive that has displaced more than a half million people and triggered warnings of a humanitarian catastrophe.

Although Britain has largely aligned itself with Washington on the Middle East crisis, Howells took a rare swipe at American policy.

"I very much hope that the Americans understand what's happening to Lebanon - the destruction of infrastructure, the death of so many children and so many people," he said on Saturday.

The European diplomatic efforts are unlikely to succeed until the United States changes its position and also presses for a cessation of hostilities.

Washington argues that a ceasefire can come only as part of a diplomatic package that sees the disarmament of Hezbollah, guarantees of Israeli security on its northern border and an end to what it says is Syrian and Iranian backing of Hezbollah. Both governments say they give the Shiite movement only moral support.

Rice, who has said a ceasefire would be a "false promise," is due in Israel on Monday to meet Olmert as well as Abbas.

A Hezbollah ally said Sunday that the militant group was ready to see the Lebanese government deal on its behalf in negotiations through a third party with Israel on a prisoner swap.

Israel rejected the offer, saying its two soldiers must be released before any talks can take place.

And Washington rejected a Syrian offer to open a dialogue over the Lebanon conflict.

"Syria doesn't need dialogue to know what they need to do," the US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said.

"They need to lean on Hezbollah to get them to release the two captured Israeli soldiers and stop the launch of rockets against innocent Israeli civilians."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French News

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