Vol. 5 Num 765 Sat. July 22, 2006  

US, UK singled out for blocking ME truce
Bush admn encouraging Israeli offensive, says Lebanon PM

French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie yesterday accused the United States and Britain of blocking a United Nations call for an immediate ceasefire in the Middle East.

"The United States doesn't want to arrive at this solution immediately," she told French radio RMC Info.

"And that's what is now blocking the workings of the United Nations Security Council."

"At the moment the Israelis evidently want to neutralise Hezbollah. That's why there are strong reticences (about agreeing to a ceasefire)," the minister concluded.

Asked whether Washington was deliberately allowing Israel to pursue its offensive against Hezbollah in Lebanon, Alliot-Marie replied: "There is no doubt an element of that in the analysis one can make of their position."

The French minister said it was essential "to put pressure on those involved in this crisis ... (because) it is vital for combat to cease as soon as possible".

Washington and London have so far refused to join other nations in demanding that Israel end its aerial bombardment on Lebanon and in the Gaza Strip, where 106 Palestinians and one Israeli soldier have died on a separate front.

In Britain, which has been accused of slavishly following the United States in foreign policy matters, the liberal Independent newspaper claimed both countries were now increasingly "exposed" by their entrenched position.

In a large graphic, it showed the flags of 179 countries which backed UN ceasefire proposals on one half of the front page, with only the British, US and Israeli flags on the other.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said on Thursday that there was no apparent political settlement to end hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah, and accused the United States of encouraging Israel's offensive on Lebanon.

"The United States is allowing Israel to pursue its aggression," he told AFP.

Siniora said the UN delegation in charge of negotiating a ceasefire did not return to Lebanon from Israel because the Jewish state gave a "negative response" to ideas put forward for a halt to hostilities during a visit in Beirut on Monday.

"The Israelis are rejecting a ceasefire to continue to exert pressure in order to reach their objectives," he said, without elaborating.

United Nations chief Kofi Annan led a volley of international calls Thursday for a ceasefire in Lebanon, warning that a humanitarian crisis was in the making.

"What is urgently needed is an immediate cessation of hostilities," Annan said in a briefing of the UN Security Council on the ninth day of Israeli strikes on its northern neighbour.

"Both the deliberate targeting by Hezbollah of Israeli population centres with hundreds of indiscriminate weapons and Israel's disproportionate use of force and collective punishment of the Lebanese people must stop."

Annan demanded an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah and proposed a blueprint to end the warfare in Lebanon.

But US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, voiced scepticism.

"We seek a long-term cessation of hostilities that is part of a comprehensive change in the region and part of a real foundation for peace," he said. "But no one has explained how you conduct a ceasefire with a group of terrorists," he said, referring to Hezbollah.

Israel on Friday conditioned a halt to fighting in Lebanon on the disarmament and dismantling of Hezbollah as a military force.

In addition, more than half a million people have been forced to abandon their homes, while thousands of foreigners are being urgently evacuated from Lebanon.

Pope Benedict XVI called for prayers "for an immediate ceasefire between the parties, the immediate installation of humanitarian corridors to allow aid to be brought to the suffering populations", the Vatican said.

A young Lebanese woman looks from a hole in the wall of her building in the southern village of Saksakieh after it was hit by an Israeli air raid yesterday. Israel launched a wave of air strikes on southern Lebanon after issuing a new warning to residents to flee the area, which has repeatedly bombarded during the 10-day offensive. PHOTO: AFP