And US Defy Demand
For Immediate Ceasefire
By Anne Penketh,
Ben Russell, Colin Brown
and Stephen Castle
21 July 2006
warplanes continued their bombardment of Lebanon yesterday, defying
a demand by Kofi Annan for an immediate end to fighting on the ninth
day of a war that has led to the "collective punishment of the
Lebanese people" .
Two countries, the US and
Britain, defiantly refused to back the international clamour for an
immediate ceasfire between Israel and Hizbollah guerrillas. Their ambivalence
about civilian deaths in Lebanon has given Israel a powerful signal
that it can continue its attacks with impunity.
However, Israel's ground
offensive against Hizbollah was blunted when four of its soldiers were
reported killed in clashes in south Lebanon. Across the country clouds
of smoke appeared as the aerial bombardment continued and the evacuation
of foreign nationals, including Americans, was stepped up. Israel said
it would allow humanitarian aid to flow into Lebanon as international
outrage grew over civilian casualties which are now above 300.
Mr Annan, the secretary general
of the United Nations, used his emotive statement to the Security Council
to reflect the deep-seated international unease about the human cost
of Israel's response to the onslaught of rockets from Hizbollah guerrillas
backed by Syria and Iran. "What is most urgently needed is an immediate
cessation of hostilities," he said. However, he added that there
were "serious obstacles to reaching a ceasefire, or even to diminishing
the violence quickly."
An official close to the
secretary general said he had taken soundings with "everyone"
before making the statement. Mr Annan was also due to brief the US Secretary
of State, Condoleezza Rice, last night on the findings of a UN mission
which concluded there should be a temporary cessation of hostilities.
The statement was sharply
criticised by Israel and the United States. In London, the Foreign Secretary,
Margaret Beckett, told the Cabinet that those calling for a halt to
hostilities, including the French government, were in effect demanding
a one-sided ceasefire "with rockets still going into Israel".
Using similar language, the
Israeli ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman, said: "The first thing
that must be addressed is cessation of terror before we even talk about
cessation of hostilities."
John Bolton, the American
ambassador, said: "As we've said repeatedly, what we seek is a
long-term cessation of hostilities that's part of a comprehensive change
in the region and part of a real foundation for peace, but still no
one has explained how you conduct a ceasefire with a group of terrorists."
Britain and the US say they
are not opposed to a ceasefire, but that Hizbollah must first stop firing
missiles from south Lebanon into Israel and release two abducted soldiers.
Countries such as Russia, which are calling for an immediate end to
the fighting, have accused Israel of harbouring broader strategic goals
than the simple return of the soldiers.
Although he accused Hizbollah
guerrillas of holding "an entire nation hostage", the UN chief
accused Israel of a disproportionate response. "While Hizbollah's
actions are deplorable, and Israel has a right to defend itself, the
excessive use of force is to be condemned," he told the Security
Council. Israel must make "a far greater and more credible effort
... to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure".
Tony Blair spelt out the British position on Wednesday. "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'."
Britain, the US, Israel and
many of the other 189 UN General Assembly members will state their positions
today at a public meeting of the UN Security Council as the 15-member
chamber tries to reach a consensus on how to end the conflict. But the
positions of the five permanent members of the council appear increasingly
to reflect those before the Iraq invasion - with the US and Britain
on one side, and France, Russia and China on the other.
France is president of the
Security Council this month and is therefore charged with trying to
bridge the gap between the opposing sides.
The EU said yesterday that
a ceasefire was essential before any peacekeeping mission can be deployed
to southern Lebanon, and said the two sides were "not listening
enough" to calls for an end to violence.
Matti Vanhanen, the Prime
Minister of Finland, which holds the EU presidency, did not specify
that he wants an immediate ceasefire - thereby avoiding a direct clash
with Britain. However, Mr Vanhanen' allies said he privately supported
the idea of an immediate cessation of hostilities.
Of the European countries,
the UK has expended most diplomatic effort in trying to head off calls
within the EU for an immediate end to the fighting. European diplomats
believe that the US will only contemplate ceasefire calls when Ms Rice
visits the region next week, giving Israel's offensive several more
Mr Vanhanen's comments went
further than a carefully crafted declaration agreed by EU foreign ministers
on Monday, in which the UK resisted calls for an immediate ceasefire.
But the Foreign Office said it agreed with Mr Vanhanen's comments yesterday
because he said only that an end to hostilities was a precondition of
sending an international intervention force.
What was said
Kofi Annan Secretary
General of the United Nations
"What is most urgently
needed is an immediate cessation of hostilities."
Matti Vanhanen Prime
Minister of Finland, which holds the EU Presidency
"All parties to the
conflict must first commit to a ceasefire."
Dan Gillerman Israel's
Ambassador to the UN
"The first thing that
must be addressed is cessation of terror before we even talk about cessation
John Bolton The United
States' Ambassador to the UN
"What we seek is a long-term
cessation of hostilities... but still no one has explained how you conduct
a ceasefire with a group of terrorists."
Tony Blair Prime
"If it is to stop, it
has to stop by undoing how it started. And it started with the kidnap
of Israeli soldiers and the bombardment of northern Israel. If we want
this to stop, that has to stop."