07/24/2006, 00.00
LEBANON
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"Urgent" need for a ceasefire in Lebanon, says Rice

But conditions have to be right to be sustainable. US Secretary of State is to meet Olmert and Abbas today. She might stop in Beirut where Patriarch Sfeir urges the Lebanese to "close ranks" in the face of the crisis and calls on God to help Siniora and his government.

Beirut (AsiaNews/Agencies) – For Condoleezza Rice, there is an "urgent" need for a ceasefire in southern Lebanon but conditions have to be right. In saying so the US Secretary of State joins the many voices that have called for an end to the fighting in the land of the cedar tree.

She made the statement on the plane that is taking her to Israel to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and to the Palestinian Territories, where she is scheduled to talk with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas. According to some sources, she might also travel to Beirut. She will then be en route to Rome for an international conference on the Lebanon crisis that is set to start on Wednesday.

The US chief diplomat has already indicated the conditions for a ceasefire. "It is very important," she said, "to establish conditions under which a ceasefire can take place. [. . .] It is important to have conditions that will make it also sustainable."

The reference here is to Washington's position that any truce is feasible only if the root causes of the conflict are dealt with, including Hezbollah's threat to Israel and Syria's and Iran's support for the "terrorist" group.

Meanwhile in Lebanon the violence seems to be intensifying. Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir yesterday urged the Lebanese to "close ranks" to overcome the crisis and has called on God to help Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and his government.

During mass at the Patriarch's residence in Bkerke he said that "it is necessary to forget what can divide. It is necessary close ranks to face the crisis with a pure heart, good intentions and an alert spirit so that we can protect our country, which must remain a place of peaceful coexistence of people of different religions".

"May God help our government and its leader, that they be able to bring together Lebanese of all confessions so that Lebanon can remain a land of liberty, love and peace."

In Lebanon people are looking forward with hope to the Wednesday conference in Rome between the members of the Lebanon contact group, namely the United States, Lebanon, Italy, as well as France, the United Kingdom, Russia, the European Union, the United Nations, the World Bank, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and possibly China.

Diplomacy is already in high gear with meetings already taking place in the Italian capital as of tomorrow.

Iran, Syria and Israel are not attending, but some low-level Israeli representative might attend.

Before leaving Washington, Rice met US President Bush, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, and Bandar bin Sultan, chairman of the [Saudi] National Security Council.

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