Competing plans for peace in Lebanon emerge
Canada is backing the G8 proposal to stop the violence in Lebanon, while British Prime Minister Tony Blair and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan want an international stabilization force to be sent to the Israeli-Lebanese border.
The force would act as a buffer to end the latest round of fighting between Israel and the militant group Hezbollah, Annan and Blair said Monday.
Butlater in the day,Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay backed the G8, which on the weekend called forfour steps to cool the fighting:
- The return of the three Israeli soldiers seizedby militantsin Gaza and Lebanon.
- An end to the militant attackson Israel.
- An end to Israeli military operations.
- The release of the Palestinian ministers and parliamentarians arrested by Israel.
MacKay told CBC News that "we need to de-escalate at this point. We need to stop the aggression from all sources," including Israel.
The abduction of the three Israeli soldiers started the latest outbreak of fighting, so releasing them would be "the critical first step."
He said "there's no question the terrorists have been very provocative here."
Roughly 200 Lebanese, most of them civilians, and 24 Israelis, half of them civilians,have died in six days of Hezbollah rocket attacks and Israeli missile and bomb strikes.
International force 'only way' to peace
Following talks with Annan on the sidelines of the final day of the Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, Blair said a force could help end the violence.
"The only way we're going to get a cessation of hostilities is if we have the deployment of an international force into that area that can stop the bombardment coming over into Israel and that will give Israel a reason to stop its attacks on Hezbollah."
Annan, who appeared at a news conference with Blair at the summit, appealed to both sides to "spare civilian lives and infrastructure."
Any international force sent into the area must be "well-trained, well-equipped troops that can in go in quite quickly," said Annan.
Israel, U.S. say it's too soon
Israel and the U.S. quickly played down the idea.
John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, raised a series of questions about the concept while Israel said it was too soon to talk of sending a force.
"I don't think we're at that stage yet. We're at the stage where we want to be sure that Hezbollah is not deployed at our northern border," Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisin said in Jerusalem.
The Security Council is expected to hear a report later this week from a UN task force sent to the region.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Annan raised the concept of an observer force on Sunday at the G8 summit.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow would consider sending troops, while the European Union is eyeing a peacekeeper force as well.
UN troops have been in southern Lebanon since 1978, when they were sent in to confirm an Israeli withdrawal after a military incursion into the country.
The force currently numbers about 2,000 soldiers from China, France, Ghana, India, Ireland, Italy and Poland. Since the UN force went into southern Lebanon, they have had 257 fatalities.
With files from the Associated Press