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French Version

World moves slowly to defuse crisis

French President Jacques Chirac on Monday backed the idea of an international force to restore order in Lebanon and described Israel's offensive as "aberrant," as his premier paid an emergency visit to the Lebanese capital.

Echoing Chirac's comments, French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin urged Hizbullah and Israel to join in a cease-fire and proposed dispatching international monitors to southern Lebanon as part of a settlement to end the bloodshed.

De Villepin's visit is part of diplomatic efforts to end the fighting, as world powers moved to give teeth to the proposed international force for Lebanon.

Following a summit of leaders of the Group of Eight industrial nations, Chirac said that "some means of coercion" may be needed to enforce UN Resolution 1559, which calls for the disarmament of Hizbullah and other militia in Lebanon.

"The application of 1559 is the essential element, and this will probably require some means of coercion," Chirac said.

He said that Israel's attacks on Lebanon had created a "dramatic situation" which would require major reconstruction of Lebanon's infrastructure and had hit ordinary Lebanese.

"This unfortunate population ... is bearing the consequences of behavior which is both violent and aberrant," Chirac said.

"Lebanon's integrity, independence and sovereignty must be recognized," he added.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel raised the idea of the new military observer force at the G8 summit, with British Prime Minister Tony Blair appearing to back the idea. Russian President Vladimir Putin also indicated Moscow might join in if UN approval were secured.

During a joint news conference with his Lebanese counterpart, Fouad Siniora, De Villepin said a team of international observers should be placed along the frontier to oversee any deal.

"France has proposed sending a monitoring mission which could be deployed or assist the Lebanese government to spread its authority over [its territory] and provide guarantees," he said.

Chirac backed the idea but said it the democratically elected Lebanese government must be allowed to re-establish control over the country.

UN Security Council members on Monday heard briefings on the crisis but took no decision pending an update later this week from the task force.

John Bolton, the US ambassador to the United Nations, raised a series of questions about the idea of a UN force, while Israel said it was too soon to talking of sending troops.

"You would have to ask what would make a new multilateral force different from or more effective than UNIFIL," Bolton told reporters at UN headquarters, referring to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.

Blair said an end to violence depended "on the deployment of an international force into that area that can stop the bombardment coming over into Israel and therefore gives Israel the reason to stop its attacks on Hizbullah."

European Union foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels, said member states would consider contributing to a force if one was formed.

Back in Beirut, De Villepin said that an end to the worst Lebanese-Israeli fighting in 24 years must include the release of two Israeli soldiers captured last week and an end to attacks by both sides.

But he said that "the priority is for a cease-fire and finding the mechanism that is acceptable to all parties."

De Villepin said that Israel, while having the right to self-defense, must show restraint, taking into account "the strategic and humanitarian consequences of its actions."

De Villepin and Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy flew to Beirut in an expression of solidarity with the government. They were the most senior foreign visitors in the country since the crisis began last week.

The head of the UN delegation, UN Special Political Adviser Vijay Nambiar, dispatched by Annan also held talks with Siniora and Speaker Nabih Berri.

"Our meetings have been useful and I believe the Lebanese government has a crucial role to play in restoring peace and security in Lebanon and ultimately in the region. I can announce today that we have made some promising first efforts on the way forward," Nambiar said.

He said the UN team discussed "concrete ideas" with the Lebanese authorities then headed to Israel "to convey these ideas for further discussion."

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana also called Monday - from Brussels which he reached after a snap trip to Lebanon late Sunday - for a de-escalation of hostilities between Israel and Hizbullah.

The EU foreign ministers called for an immediate halt to hostilities and the release of abducted soldiers. A final statement said Israel should exercise its right to defend itself with "utmost restraint and not to resort to disproportionate action."

Beirut 18-07-2006
Nada Bakri
The Daily Star

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