Thursday, July 27, 2006

Lebanon ceasefire talks fail

Lebanon ceasefire talks fail
By Roula Khalaf in Romeand Sharmila Devi in Jerusalem
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: July 27 2006 03:00 | Last updated: July 27 2006 03:00

An international crisis meeting on Lebanon yesterday failed to agree on a call for an immediate ceasefire in the two-week conflict between Israel and Hizbollah fighters, pledging only quick humanitarian relief and support for Lebanon's reconstruction.

Nearly all the participants at a Rome conference called for an immediate ceasefire, leaving the US isolated, according to Arab officials.

Foreign ministers from the US, Europe and the Arab world ended the talks with a stated determination to work towards the end of the conflict with "utmost urgency". Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, said: "We all agreed we want most urgently to end violence on a basis that is sustainable."

The meeting came as the Israeli army suffered its highest casualties for years in the fighting in southern Lebanon. Last night it said eight soldiers had been killed and 22 wounded in an assault on the town of Bint Jbail.

Israeli air strikes hit more than 50 targets across Lebanon yesterday, while Hizbollah, the Shia Islamist group, fired 125 rockets into northern Israel.

Major-General Udi Adam, Israel's head of the northern command, said: "Given the progress over the last two weeks, I reckon it [the offensive] will continue for several more weeks."

Participants at the Rome talks agreed conditions for a lasting peace required the Lebanese government to deploy its forces throughout its territory and disarm all militias, a reference to Hizbollah, which sparked the conflict with the capture of two Israeli soldiers. The meeting also agreed that an international force should be authorised under a United Nations mandate to support the Lebanese army.

The mandate of the international force will be discussed over the next few days as the debate on Lebanon moves to the UN Security Council. Diplomats said the US appeared to be suggesting the force should deploy to assist the truce, while France said it should follow a political agreement that settles all disputes between Lebanon and Israel.

Fouad Siniora, Lebanon's prime minister, said his country was being "cut to pieces". Lebanon needed humanitarian assistance, he said, but it needed an immediate ceasefire more.

Israel's campaign has killed 418 people, mostly civilians, devastated Lebanon's infrastructure and displaced more than half a million people. In Israel at least 42 people have been killed in rocket attacks and border fighting.

Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbollah's leader, told al-Arabiya television yesterday: "We fight a guerrilla warfare . . . the important thing is what losses we inflict on the Israeli enemy." His group, which is backed by Syria and Iran, has vowed it would not accept "humiliating" terms in a truce.

Kofi Annan, UN secretary-general, told the Rome meeting the crisis remained "horrendous".

China called on the Security Council to condemn the "co-ordinated artillery and aerial attack" by Israel on a UN observer post in Lebanon that killed as many as four people. The US rejected any suggestion of deliberate targeting.

Additional reporting by Mark Turner at the United Nations


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