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French foreign minister calls for immediate cease-fire

Germany seeks end to conflict but no instant cease-fire CAIRO: French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy on Saturday called for an immediate cease-fire to stop the escalating violence between Israel and Hezbollah and suggested that an exchange of prisoners could be one way to bring an end to the crisis. The comments came a day after …


Germany seeks end to conflict but no instant cease-fire

CAIRO: French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy on Saturday called for an immediate cease-fire to stop the escalating violence between Israel and Hezbollah and suggested that an exchange of prisoners could be one way to bring an end to the crisis.

The comments came a day after the United States said it was sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has ruled out the possibility of a quick cease-fire, to the Middle East on Sunday to seek a solution for long-term peace in the region.

We have to work quickly and very quickly for a cease-fire, Douste-Blazy said, speaking in French. There are also other issues such as an exchange of prisoners and deployment of Lebanese army on the Lebanese-Israeli borders as options to halting the violence.

Hezbollah has said it would agree to a cease-fire if it would lead to exchange of prisoners. But Israel has made it clear that it wants to destroy Hezbollah s tunnels, hideouts and weapons stashes in southern Lebanon in an attempt to disarm the militant group.

Douste-Blazy spoke in Cairo after meeting with Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit, who said Egypt and France will work together to obtain a UN Security Council resolution to ending the violence that entered the eleventh day Saturday.

Douste-Blazy also emphasized the need for securing safe corridors for hundreds of thousands of Lebanese who seek humanitarian aid. France, the United Nations and Red Cross have warned that the situation was becoming dire for civilians trapped in the south or forced to flee their homes there.

Israeli UN Ambassador Dan Gillerman on Friday said he expected a corridor for food, medicine and other supplies to be opened this weekend.

Later Saturday, Douste-Blazy had talks in Amman with Jordan s King Abdullah II.

The king urged an immediate cease-fire to allow diplomatic efforts to contain the crisis shaking the region. Dialogue and reason are the ways to depart from the deteriorating situation, Abdullah said in a statement issued by the palace.

The statement said Abdullah telephoned Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora to tell him that Jordan was ready to provide medical treatment for all Lebanese wounded in the attacks.

Douste-Blazy said after the meeting that he hoped Wednesday s meeting in Italy would yield the necessary political conditions to stop the hostilities and establish a cease-fire for both sides.

The Middle East conference in Rome, involving Rice and key players from the region, will focus on reaching agreement on the political underpinnings of a cease-fire.

On a visit to the United Arab Emirates, French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said France may consider contributing to a possible international peace force after certain clarifications. This force has no meaning unless it comes with an agreement to re-establish security and an improvement of the situation. It will also have to be determined what will be the framework of this force, what its mission would be and what tools it would be provided to execute its duties, Alliot-Marie told reporters.

Germany will work to prevent the Israeli-Hezbollah crisis spreading to other regions of the Middle East but will not seek an immediate cease-fire, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Saturday.

We will not allow the forces of extremism to decide the agenda of the Middle East, Steinmeier said in Cairo after meeting with Aoul-Gheit. Steinmeier warned of the current confrontation expanding to include other parties. He did not elaborate.

Also Saturday, Steinmeier said Germany was still open to negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. On Friday, Berlin said it received a letter from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the issue that included offensive statements about Israel and the Holocaust. Agencies

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