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Visiting chorus: Egypt, Jordan and Spain call for cease-fire

Three foreign ministers visiting Lebanon on Wednesday agreed that there should be an immediate cease-fire as a first step to ending the Israeli assault on this country.

Foreign ministers from Spain, Jordan and Egypt held meetings with Lebanon's three top officials on Wednesday before leaving Beirut to continue their efforts to end the 22-day-old conflict.

Spain's Miguel Angel Moratinos was to be in Damascus later Wednesday as a representative of the European Union in the first visit of an EU envoy to Syria since March.

Moratinos said he would meet with Syria's top officials, including President Bashar Assad, and that "Syria has a constructive role" to play in the latest Middle East crisis.

Unlike his Egyptian and Jordanian counterparts, Moratinos did not meet with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, but instead held talks with Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

"It is important that Hizbullah and Israel approve a cease-fire as soon as the Security Council makes its decision," Moratinos said after a luncheon grouping the premier and the three foreign ministers.

"Spain is looking for a political solution to realize a cease-fire ... it is not looking for a military solution to end this crisis," he added.

Moratinos said Siniora's proposed seven-point plan to end the ongoing violence "is an essential foundation to a cease-fire ... we are doing our best diplomatic efforts to reach a solution and would include Siniora's plan in that."

"I hope, and I am sure, we will succeed," he added.

Egypt's foreign minister, Ahmad Abou al-Gheit, said he "hoped that the UN Security Council would issue an appeal for a cease-fire between Israel and Hizbullah within the next 48 hours."

An end to the violence is "an Arab, Egyptian and international demand," Abou al-Gheit added. "We hope to see a cease-fire in the next coming hours ... and we refuse an escalation of the aggression."

The Egyptian minister also said the decision to deploy an international force in Southern Lebanon should be made in Beirut, "as long as it is serving under the UN flag ... not the NATO flag ... and that it would be a peace-keeping force, not a peace-enforcing force."

Egypt was doing "its best on all levels" to resolve the crisis, he added, saying the first step toward that end would be "an immediate cease-fire, then activating the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon to separate between the Israeli and Lebanese territories, then implementing the Taif Accord and UN Security Council Resolution 1559."

Asked if Cairo was in contact with Israeli officials to encourage a prisoner's swap, Abou al-Gheit said: "Egypt doesn't work as a mediator between Israel and any Arab country ... but we have had conversations with the Israeli side since day one of the crisis to stop all the military activities."

However, the Egyptian minister dismissed as "ridiculous" rumors that his country had not condemned Israel's onslaught on Lebanon.

During a meeting with Abou al-Gheit, Lahoud said Israel has used "phosphorous and uranium bombs and internationally banned weaponry to eliminate as many Lebanese as possible."

The president added that Lebanon intended to file a complaint against Israel "for targeting civilians and using internationally banned weapons; that, in addition to demanding Israel pay compensation for the losses Lebanon has suffered from its aggression."

Adding his voice to those of his counterparts, Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul-Elah al-Khatib said that Amman was working very hard to achieve a cease-fire.

Khatib also said there was "a possibility of realizing a cease-fire in the coming days."

"The basic thing is to utilize all efforts possible to reach this end and stop the cruel and ferocious Israeli aggression on the Lebanese people," he said.

Khatib said his government supported the Lebanese government's position.

Lebanon "has paid a high price for the complications rising in the region and it is not fair that Lebanon continues to pay this price," Khatib added. "Jordan is investigating all possible avenues and sparing no efforts or contacts on any level."

Beirut 03-08-2006
Leila Hatoum
The Daily Star



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