July 31, 2006

International pressure rises for Lebanon ceasefire

By Laure Bretton

PARIS (Reuters) - International pressure for a swift
ceasefire in Lebanon mounted on Monday, with France saying
Israel's pause in air strikes was not enough and Russia calling
for an immediate suspension of hostilities.

Israel pledged a 48-hour halt to air strikes after an
attack at the weekend killed at least 54 people in a Lebanese
village, but said it would step up its drive against Hizbollah
guerrillas until an international force was deployed in south

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice won the Israeli
air strikes suspension after widespread outrage over the raid,
the deadliest single attack of Israel's three-week-old
offensive. She said in Jerusalem that a ceasefire was possible
this week.

Russia, like France and the United States a permanent
member of the U.N. Security Council with veto powers, said
Sunday's tragedy showed it was time to stop the fighting.

"It is impossible to accept the logic and arguments of
those who, under various pretexts, are dragging out (the
declaration of a) ceasefire, especially as the international
community is coming to a consensus on the framework for
resolving the Israeli-Lebanese conflict," the Russian Foreign
Ministry said.

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin told reporters
on Monday Israel's temporary halt to air strikes was "a first
step, but an insufficient step given the current stakes."

France, often mentioned by diplomats as a potential leader
of an international stabilization force in south Lebanon,
believed such a force could be deployed only once a ceasefire
and a clear political road map had been agreed, he said.


Otherwise foreign troops would be unable to fulfil their
mission and be needlessly put at risk, he said: "The aim is not
to set up a trap for ourselves that would a real tragedy for
the international community.

"We would ruin the international process we are trying to
put into effect."

France is circulating a draft U.N. resolution on a Lebanon
ceasefire and French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy is
in Lebanon for talks.

French President Jacques Chirac has said France could
consider playing a major role in any force for its former
protectorate, although Paris has fought shy of saying it was
ready to command the force or how many troops it would offer.

French defense consultant Jean-Louis Dufour said France
could provide about 5,000 troops.

Villepin said the lack of a ceasefire and political accord
was holding contributor nations back, a view echoed by
Norwegian Defense Minister Anne-Grete Stroem-Erichsen.

"As a starting point Norway is positive toward such a force
on condition that it is given a mandate and that its mission
can be carried out effectively," she said in a statement.