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French Version

Rice dismisses growing pressure for cease-fire

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she would head to the Middle East Sunday but dismissed pressure for an immediate cease-fire between Israel and Hizbullah. She said she would visit Israel and the Palestinian Territories and join Arab officials at an international conference on Lebanon in Rome on July 26.

With tensions rising on the Israeli-Lebanese border, Rice told a news conference she hoped her trip would create conditions for a lasting Middle East peace but the diplomatic work would be difficult.

In Rome, Rice expects to meet officials from Lebanon and other Arab states in search of a permanent solution to a conflict between Israel and Hizbullah, a US official said.

Rice dismissed growing pressure for an immediate cease-fire, calling it a "false promise" if the root causes of the conflict are not addressed.

"An immediate cease-fire without political conditions does not make sense," she said.

She said US troops were not anticipated in any expanded international peace force for Lebanon. She said any international force in Lebanon needed to be "robust."

Some US analysts doubt Rice's prospects for stopping 10 days of fighting because of her reluctance to talk to key players - Hizbullah and its backers, Iran and Syria.

Earlier on Friday, Rice was briefed at the United Nations on a UN mission's findings after its trip to the region.

Before heading to the region, Rice will join President George W. Bush Sunday for a meeting at the White House with Saudi officials to discuss the crisis.

Meanwhile, French President Jacques Chirac urged the European Union Friday to send the bloc's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, back to the Middle East to try to broker cease-fires in both Lebanon and Gaza.

Chirac said the EU should also do more to bring humanitarian aid to Lebanon, warning that the situation was becoming increasingly desperate for civilians caught in the fighting.

"We have to act swiftly to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe," Chirac said in an open letter to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

In a separate letter to the premier of Finland, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, Chirac said Solana should work in conjunction with the UN to bring an end to fighting in Lebanon and Gaza.

"The EU has with these two crises ... a weight and its own credibility which gives it the means to push effectively for solutions," Chirac wrote to Premier Matti Vanhanen.

He added that Solana should undertake shuttle diplomacy "[in] the region to meet the necessary people and contribute very swiftly propositions to bring about the necessary conditions for a comprehensive and lasting cease-fire in the region."

"The crises in the Palestinian territories and in Lebanon make extremely grave and worrisome bounds from hour to hour," the letter said. The two theaters of crisis "place the security and political equilibrium of the entire region in danger,"it said.

Solana made a surprise visit to Lebanon last Sunday and met Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday.

Chirac also dispatched Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy for the second time in five days for talks aimed at bringing about a cease-fire.

Douste-Blazy warned the escalating conflict in Lebanon between Israel and Hizbullah could lead to a "catastrophe."

"The situation has significantly deteriorated and there is an urgent need to help civilians," he said at a joint press conference after meeting with his Lebanese counterpart Fawzi Salloukh.

Responding to fears of an escalating humanitarian crisis, Douste-Blazy said his country was dispatching urgent aid to Lebanon by air and sea and he called for safe passage.

Douste-Blazy added that he wanted to express France's solidarity with the Lebanese people and that there was a need to help civilian victims.

"For this reason we are setting up a humanitarian air and sea port," he said.

"Planes have taken off in the last 24 hours from France and a ship will arrive at midday. At the same time we demand the establishment of humanitarian corridors," Douste-Blazy added

Beirut 22-07-2006
The Daily Star

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