France tries to force ceasefire in Lebanon

31st July 2006, Comments 0 comments

BEIRUT, July 31, 2006 (AFP) - French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy called on Monday for an immediate end to hostilities between Israel and Lebanon's Shiite militant group Hezbollah and said the deployment of foreign stabilisation forces required the agreement of all sides.

BEIRUT, July 31, 2006 (AFP) - French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy called on Monday for an immediate end to hostilities between Israel and Lebanon's Shiite militant group Hezbollah and said the deployment of foreign stabilisation forces required the agreement of all sides.

"Ceasefire is a priority and an urgent request. We need an immediate ceasefire and an end to the (Israeli) blockade" on Lebanon, Douste-Blazy said in a press conference with his Lebanese counterpart Fawzi Sallukh.

"The military confrontation is a dead end road," said Douste-Blazy, whose country holds the current presidency of the UN Security Council.

Douste-Blazy also said "there will be no stabilisation force without the political agreement of all parties."

France on Sunday claimed the initiative in international efforts to bring peace to Lebanon, distancing itself from the United States, a day after issuing a draft UN Security Council resolution on measures to end the fighting.

The draft resolution called for "an immediate cessation of hostilities" and "conditions for a permanent ceasefire and a lasting solution to the current crisis between Israel and Lebanon."

It proposes terms for an end to hostilities, including the deployment of an international peacekeeping force in Lebanon and the release by Hezbollah of Israeli soldiers whose abduction on July 12 sparked the current assault.

"France has presented a balanced plan to help resolve the conflict," said Douste-Blazy.

Also Monday, French warship Jean de Vienne arrived at the Beirut port with nine tonnes of medicines and 15 tonnes of food and sanitary items to help alleviate the ordeal of hundreds of thousands of Lebanese displaced by the conflict, an embassy statement said.

Meanwhile, Israel's decision to pause bombardments of Lebanon for 48 hours is a "first step, but an insufficient step given what is at stake", French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said Monday.

"Israel has announced a halt to aerial bombardments of 48 hours. For France this is a first step, but an insufficient step given what is at stake," Villepin said at his monthly press conference. "We must all redouble our efforts to reach an immediate ceasefire."

Douste-Blazy is due to meet with Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, parliament speaker Nabih Berri and Foreign Minister Fawzi Sallukh.

His visit comes amid international condemnation of an Israeli raid in the village of Qana in southern Lebanon which killed 52 people, including 30 children, on Sunday.

Douste-Blazy expressed "utmost pain" for the death of civilians in Qana.

Villepin described as "unjustifiable" Israel's attack on the south Lebanese village of Qana early Sunday, which killed 52 civilians, a majority children.

"After the deaths of four UN soldiers, after the repeated rocket attacks on Israel, it is a new sign of the radicalisation of the conflict.

"This spiral of violence shocks each of us deeply. I am convinced that violence creates more violence. It feeds the feeling of injustice and hate on all sides," Villepin said.

Douste-Blazy told reporters on Sunday: "If people had listened to what the French have been saying for several days, this crisis would not have taken place.

"What distinguishes us from our American partners is that we (French) have been demanding from the start an immediate cessation of hostilities, (which is) the only condition for there to be a negotiation, then a political accord and a sustainable ceasefire."

It was Douste-Blazy's third visit to Lebanon since Israel launched a military offensive on its northern neighbor after the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers at the borders on July 12 to secure a prisoners' exchange.

In an interview on Monday, Douste-Blazy said he was "going to Beirut... to hold talks with the Lebanese government, back its action and see how we can immediately suspend offensive operations and find the conditions for a sustainable political agreement."

The United States on Sunday withheld judgment on the French ceasefire proposal, saying that Washington was awaiting the outcome of a meeting of the UN Security Council.

Chirac meanwhile said he and Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi had agreed on the need for a "reaction" from the Security Council following the Qana attack.

Chirac's telephone conversation with Prodi followed discussions on Saturday with the head of Lebanese parliament, Nabih Berri, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Washington's closest ally in the West.

Speaking to Blair on Friday, Chirac reiterated his stance that France would not back an international peacekeeping force for Lebanon unless a comprehensive political accord is made between Israel and Hezbollah, along with agreement between the two Middle Eastern states and the international community.

The French president was close to Lebanon's former leader, Rafic Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005. It joined Washington in overseeing the adoption in 2004 of a UN resolution for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.

Several French ministers have visited the region since the start of the crisis. Health Minister Xavier Bertrand had been due to travel to Beirut on Monday, but the visit was postponed in light of the assault on Qana.

A French diplomat told AFP that France was "in contact with all the parties" to the conflict in Lebanon, though it had limited contact with Hezbollah.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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