|Hariri tour reaches Italy, picks up support for cease-fire
|Rome wants both sides to help end fighting
The Italian foreign minister and Lebanon's parliamentary majority leader, MP Saad Hariri, stood side by side on Thursday to call for an immediate cease-fire.
Massimo D'Alema called for an end to hostilities between Israel and Hizbullah and for the release of two Israeli soldiers captured in a July 12 border raid by the resistance movement.
"We turn to all countries that could have an influence on Hizbullah so that Hizbullah releases the soldiers and stops the attacks against Israel," D'Alema told reporters.
Italy has been playing the role of what Italian Premier Romano Prodi called a "facilitator" in efforts to defuse the crisis, drawing on good relations with Israel, Iran and Arab countries to initiate a web of diplomatic contacts. D'Alema and Prodi held talks with Hariri in Rome Thursday.
Hariri condemned Israel's attacks, saying: "The way Israel is bombarding Lebanon and killing civilians is unacceptable."
Hariri also visted the Vatican to enlist the Catholic Church's help in securing a cease-fire, meeting Wednesday with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican's secretary of state.
Meanwhile, Mahmoud Qmati, the vice president of Hizbullah's politburo, said Thursday the party "supports an immediate and unconditional cease-fire to discuss all issues, including Hizbullah's disarmament."
Speaking to LBC, Qmati said Hizbullah would not increase its attacks against the Jewish state "unless Israel escalates its offensive against Lebanon."
In the latest development in international efforts to end the crisis, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov was to arrive in Beirut late Friday, via the Syrian-Lebanese border. Saltanov will meet with Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh.
On Thursday, Siniora met with US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman, who refused to comment on the meeting.
Separately, Siniora denied statements attributed to him by the Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera. In the article published Thursday, the daily quoted Siniora as having said Hizbullah was "a state within a state and the world should help us disarm it."
The premier's office dismissed the article as "inaccurate," saying the premier had told the paper that the "international community did not give Lebanon the chance to resolve the issue of Hizbullah as the Israeli presence in the Shebaa Farms has contributed in the presence of Hizbullah's arms."
The premier also said the "international community should help us achieve the Israeli forces' withdrawal from Shebaa in order to be able to resolve the issue of Hizbullah," his office said.
In another statement, Siniora said: "France has confirmed that it is a loyal friend to Lebanon."
The premier expressed his "deep gratitude" to France, saying: "[French President Jacques] Chirac's initiative to send Premier Dominique de Villepin to Lebanon and his initiative to send medical aid showed France's major support for the Lebanese people."
Siniora also met Thursday with Iranian Ambassador Mohammed Rida Shibani, who expressed Iran's "readiness to support Lebanon in this crisis." He later met with Swiss envoy Francois Barras. Siniora also called his Italian counterpart, Romano Prodi, Jordanian Premier Maarouf Bakhit and Malaysian Premier Abdallah Badawi.
Meanwhile, President Emile Lahoud called Thursday for an immediate cease-fire "to put an end to the Israeli genocides against Lebanon."
In an interview with Radio France Internationale, Lahoud said: "The war should stop and then we will talk about all pending problems."
In an interview with LBC on Thursday, Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt criticized Hizbullah's secretary general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, for saying recently that "the resistance is launching a battle, whether all the Lebanese approve of it or not."
Meanwhile, the Higher Islamic Religious Council held an extraordinary session Thursday with the participation of Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Qabbani, Siniora and former premiers Amin Hafez, Rashid Solh, Salim Hoss and Najib Mikati. The council called for an immediate cease-fire and urged the international community to exert pressure on Israel to stop its offensive. "Then, the government should seek to exert control over all Lebanese territory and achieve the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Shebaa Farms," the council said.
The Daily Star