Becket attempts to play down differences with key regional ally
LONDON: Egypt s foreign minister appealed Thursday for an immediate cease-fire in the Middle East, arguing both sides must take initiatives to stop fighting.
Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit insisted that Israel and Hezbollah must stop attacks in a conflict that has killed more than 300 people in just over a week. His position stands in contrast to that of the United States and Britain, which have argued that Hezbollah must act unilaterally to end the violence by halting rocket attacks on Israel and releasing two kidnapped Israeli soldiers.
There will not be a military solution for this issue, Gheit told reporters at a London news conference with his British counterpart, Margaret Beckett.
Abul-Gheit, who traveled to London after meetings in Washington on Wednesday, said the soldiers release has to be done in the context of a cease-fire, an immediate cease-fire.
Beckett sought to play down differences between the British and Egyptian positions, saying there is a considerable amount of common ground in the international community.
She said Britain recognized that Israel had been provoked and had to defend itself, but was also urging the Jewish state to act proportionately and not only to show restraint but have particular regard for the potential impact on civilians.
The diplomats meeting was planned before the current violence broke out, the Foreign Office said.
Later, during a House of Commons debate on the Mideast crisis, Beckett said Hezbollah was trying to sabotage hopes for peace and to further destabilize the region when it kidnapped the soldiers.
The militant group, she said, was deliberately pouring petrol on an already burning bonfire.
She said she regretted deaths on all sides, a comment that outraged Chris Mullin, a lawmaker from the governing Labor Party and former a Foreign Office minister.
Is it not just a tiny bit shameful that, although we rightly condemn Hezbollah 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.
Clare Short, a former Cabinet member who quit to protest the government s handling of the Iraq war s aftermath, accused Prime Minister Tony Blair of inflaming the crisis by following what she called a mistaken American approach of backing an Israeli bombardment, which she said amounted to a war crime because of the number of civilian casualties.
UK policy is both unbalanced and morally wrong, she said. It is totally counter-productive and likely to increase the problem of terrorism. … We are, I m afraid, heading for further violence and catastrophe.
Beckett said more than 1,000 British nationals had been evacuated from Lebanon to Cyprus, and about 80 of those have already returned home.