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French Version

EU calls for end to hostilities but stops short of demand for cease-fire

The EU called Tuesday for an immediate end to fighting in the region but failed to demand a formal cease-fire, as Saudi Arabia faulted President George W. Bush for not following through on earlier peacemaking appeals.

Meanwhile, Syria said Tuesday that it does not rule out coming under attack with US and regional backing, a day after President Bashar Assad told the military to raise its readiness.

Papering over lingering differences, the EU's Finnish presidency said that an emergency meeting in Brussels of the bloc's foreign ministers had laid the foundations for a peace plan to be reached at the United Nations.

"The Council [of EU ministers] calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities to be followed by a sustainable ceasefire," Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja told reporters after three hours of talks.

When asked repeatedly to explain the difference between the two, he said curtly: "The most important thing is that no weapons will be fired."

After the wrangling, where Britain, Germany and the Netherlands rejected an "immediate cease-fire" call, the ministers urged the UN Security Council to convene rapidly to pave the way for a peacekeeping force.

"So we have the outlines of a comprehensive peace plan now and I believe that this represents a step forward," Tuomioja said.

"Once such a framework has been established - and we are hopefully talking more about days rather than weeks - EU member states have indicated their readiness to contribute to such an operation," he said.

He said that the bloc will not add Hizbullah to its list of terrorist organizations.

"Given the sensitive situation where we are, I don't think this is something we will be acting on now," he added.

The UN on Tuesday said ambassadors from the five permanent members of its Security

Council and Secretary General Kofi Annan held "frank discussions" on the crisis.

"They discussed the cessation of hostilities, a cease-fire and political framework for a settlement, the composition and deployment of a stabilization force for Lebanon, and the humanitarian situation," a UN statement said.

The world body also said it would host a meeting on Thursday of contributors to a possible international force to be sent to Lebanon.

On Monday, Bush said he would push for UN action this week on ending the fighting but again resisted calling for an immediate cease-fire despite growing pressure after a deadly Israeli air strike Sunday.

In an interview with Fox News Channel, Bush acknowledged that a deadly Israeli air strike on the Southern town of Qana had added pressure on Israel to stop bombing. But, he said: "Stopping for the sake of stopping can be OK, except it won't address the root cause of the problem."

On the regional front, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Turki al-Faisal, exhorted the United States to take the lead in efforts to immediately end the fighting.

"The United States must play the role of pacifier and lead the world to peace and not be led by Israel's ambitions," he said.

Speaking at a dinner organized by the New America Foundation think-tank, he said the goal must be a comprehensive regional peace that "balance[s] the interests of all the conflicting parties ..."

He said that two months ago, Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, brought a letter to Bush from King Abdullah "advocating an end to the process [of Mideast peacemaking] and instead, an implementation of peace."

"The president expressed excitement and willingness but, alas, there was no follow through," Turki said. Saudi Arabia continues to press Washington and the UN for an immediate cease-fire, he said.

Beirut 02-08-2006
The Daily Star

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