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Blair rejects MPs' call for unilateral Israeli cease-fire
by Haaretz (reposted)
Wednesday Jul 19th, 2006 7:33 PM
British Prime Minister Tony Blair rejected calls Wednesday for Israel to declare a unilateral cease-fire in the growing Mideast conflict, insisting that Hezbollah must first free Israeli soldiers and stop firing rockets at Israel.
Blair told lawmakers at his weekly House of Commons question session that Hezbollah must make the first move to halt hostilities that erupted a week ago when militants nabbed two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.

"This would stop now if the soldiers who were kidnapped wrongly ... were released," he said. "It would stop if the rockets stopped coming into Haifa, deliberately to kill innocent civilians."

"If those two things happened, let me promise ... I would be the first out there saying 'Israel should halt this operation,"' Blair said.

"How can we be evenhanded if we're not willing to condemn Israel's disproportionate response?" Liberal Democrat Party Leader Menzies Campbell said.

Blair said it was important that Israel's military action be proportionate and that it do its best to minimize civilian casualties - but he clearly placed blame for the conflict on Hezbollah.

He said it was impossible to return to negotiations on the so-called road map for peace between Israel and the Palestinians when Israel cannot be confident of its security.

"In the end, the only negotiated way through this is by everybody committing themselves to exclusively peaceful, democratic means and that has to hold on both sides of the border," he said.

Rice expected to visit region on Sunday
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to visit the region this Sunday, sources in Washington said Tuesday.

They added, however, that her departure could be delayed if the situation warrants it. The Bush administration is apparently sticking to its decision to allow Israel to complete its military operation before the international community imposes a cease-fire, and Danny Ayalon, Israel's ambassador to the United States, told the media on Monday that the time is not yet ripe for Rice's visit.

by UK Guardian (reposted)
Thursday Jul 20th, 2006 5:06 PM
Oliver King and agencies
Thursday July 20, 2006
Guardian Unlimited

The foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, was heavily criticised by senior Labour backbench MPs in the Commons today for not taking a firmer line against Israeli military action in the Middle East.

Mrs Beckett had told MPs in an emergency debate on the conflict that Hizbullah was to blame for "deliberately pouring petrol on an already burning bonfire" but had her words thrown back at her by Clare Short, her former cabinet colleague.

The former international development secretary said: "I'm sad to say that our government is following President Bush's errors and pouring petrol on the flames [by pursuing an] unbalanced and morally wrong [policy]."

Ms Short who resigned from Tony Blair's government in protest at his Iraq policy, claimed the policy of the US and UK was "totally counter-productive and likely to increase the problem of terrorism. "We are, I'm afraid, heading for further violence and catastrophe," she said.

The government has so far resisted demands that it call for an unconditional ceasefire saying that Hizbullah must first create the right conditions for one by releasing the kidnapped Israeli soldiers and ceasing its rocket attacks against targets in northern Israel.

Earlier Mrs Beckett had to endure the discomfort of standing next to the Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, during a visit to London when he called for an immediate ceasefire from both sides.

"There will not be a military solution for this issue," Mr Gheit told reporters at a news conference with Mrs Beckett, adding that any release of hostages by Hizbullah "has to be done in the context of a cease-fire, an immediate cease-fire".

After insisting there was common ground between the UK and Egypt, Mrs Beckett then went to the Commons where she accused Hizbullah of a "calculated attempt" to destabilise the whole region.

She said she regretted deaths on all sides, a comment that outraged Chris Mullin a former Foreign Office minister.

"Is it not just a tiny bit shameful that, although we rightly condemn Hizbullah for what they have done, we can find nothing stronger than the word regret to describe the slaughter and misery and mayhem that Israel has unleashed on a fragile country like Lebanon?" he said.

by UK Independent (reposted)
Thursday Jul 20th, 2006 6:47 PM

Ministers faced strong criticism from across the House of Commons yesterday as MPs accused the Government of helping to fuel the crisis in the Middle East.

Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary, faced angry claims from Labour and Opposition benches that the Government had given diplomatic cover to continued Israeli bombing by failing to call for an immediate ceasefire.

In the Commons, Labour MPs led by Clare Short, the former international development secretary, attacked the Government for its stance on Israeli attacks.

Ms Short warned that "massive killing of innocent Lebanese civilians and destruction of infrastructure" amounted to a war crime. She said: "We are heading for further violence and catastrophe. And I'm sad to say that our Government is following President Bush's errors and pouring petrol on the flames."

Privately some senior ministers said they were "appalled" that Mrs Beckett had failed to visit the region to demonstrate British concern at the scale of the Israeli bombardment. Mrs Beckett told the Cabinet that those calling for a halt to hostilities, including the French government, were in effect demanding a one-sided ceasefire.

She told MPs Britain was committed to ending the conflict and maintained that Britain had urged restraint on all sides, and said she "regretted" loss of life.

But MPs queued up to criticise the Government. Joan Ruddock, Labour MP for Lewisham Deptford and a former minister, asked Mrs Beckett: "There can be no doubt that Hizbollah started this conflict. But would she not agree that the response by Israel with 300 Lebanese civilians dead, 1,000 injured, and half a million people dispossessed, is utterly disproportionate?"