07/27/2006, 00.00
LEBANON
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Beirut disappointed at lack of ceasefire, pins hopes on international force

by Youssef Hourany

Cardinal Sfeir has appealed for aid to the population. The Cardinal told AsiaNews about his fears of a fratricidal conflict and condemned Syria and Iran for backing Hezbollah. The Shiite Berri called on the international community not to "deliver Lebanon and the region into the hands of the Americans and the Israelis".

Beirut (AsiaNews) – A city still subjected to shelling, Beirut has underlined with disappointment the lack of an immediate ceasefire at the close of the meeting in Rome. However it has assessed positively the commitment to deployment of an international inter-position force. Al Mustaqbal and L'Orient Le Jour said the conference "laid the foundations for a global solution, but tripped up on the ceasefire". The pro-Syrian As Safir said Condoleezza Rice "killed the conference in Rome", and "the United States is extending the time limits of the Israeli war". The independent An Nahar highlighted differences between the position of the United States on the one hand and the European stance, while the Daily Star wrote that "in Rome, far from the bombs and bloodshed, talks between the 15 parties failed to reach an agreement about an immediate ceasefire, following the US stance that a sustainable solution must be found first."

A new appeal for an immediate ceasefire was launched by the Maronite Patriarch, Nasrallah Sfeir who, speaking to AsiaNews, urged "everyone to safeguard civilian populations, to respect places of worship and to open humanitarian corridors to help thousands of people in need." The cardinal expressed extreme concern for the situation unfolding in the country, noting the evacuation of all foreigners, "something that never happened in the 30 years of war in Lebanon."

When the meeting in Rome wound up, Cardinal Sfeir expressed confidence in the solidarity of allied countries and reiterated "the gratitude of the Lebanese people to the Holy Father, Benedict XVI, who never falls short of speaking to the conscience of leaders about the urgency of identifying a definitive and permanent solution to the Mid-East problem". The Cardinal is admittedly worried about a possible "fratricidal conflict between the Lebanese, because the hands of foreigners are still moving within our home", and he holds Syria and Lebanon "responsible for fuelling the current conflict between Israel and the Party of God". He said he was much in favour of the presence of an international peacekeeping force, because, as French President Jacques Chirac augured, "it is the only one that may impose peace given the lack of hopes of peace between Israel and Syria." As for the US, he added, they should undertake to ensure "aid to civilians and the application of UN resolutions".  

The outcome of the international conference in Rome was formally rejected by Hezbollah through the mouthpiece of the head of its MPs, Mohammad Raad, who described as "unacceptable" all proposals other than an "immediate ceasefire and exchange of prisoners". However, the Lebanese Treasury Minister, Jihad Azour, who participated in the Rome deliberations, said it was "an important step" towards an immediate ceasefire and also due to the involvement of the international community. He said he believed the indications that emerged "will transform very soon into decisions".

The reaction of the Shiite, Nabih Berri, speaker of the House of Deputies and head of the Amal movement, was to the contrary. He said: "Lebanon does not need advice and wishes, we need concrete facts." In his view, the Rome meeting will not be able to impose a ceasefire and the return of nearly 700,000 displaced people to their homes. Expressing "perfect harmony" with the secretary general of the Party of God, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Berri emphasized the importance of the alliance between Iran and Syria, criticizing the American administration that is seeking to marginalize Syria. The chairman of the House voiced severe condemnation of Israel and slammed the mission of the American secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, who "wanted to pose conditions that constitute a real danger to the territorial integrity of Lebanon." The head of Amal exhorted the international community to take on its role and not to deliver Lebanon and the region into the hands of the Americans and the Israelis.
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