EU says Israel "totally wrong" on ceasefire message
The Finnish presidency of the EU has denied giving Israel a green light to continue its operations in Lebanon and suggested that Jerusalem's interpretation of Wednesday's international crisis talks in Rome was "totally wrong."
The strong message from Finnish foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja came after Israel's justice minister Haim Ramon said that divisions among world leaders meeting in Rome could be seen as "permission" for Israel to continue its offensive.
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Mr Tuomioja met Israel's top officials on Thursday (27 July) and is due to travel to Beirut on Friday. His protest against Jerusalem's misinterpretation of the Rome conference conclusions was echoed by Berlin and Rome.
Italian prime minister Romano Prodi pointed out that "The position expressed by the conference cannot be interpreted as an authorisation."
And German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier insisted the Rome emergency talks had signalled "just the opposite," as all its participants "wanted to see an end to the fighting as swiftly as possible."
Wednesday's conference was attended by several European foreign ministers, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and UN secretary general Kofi Annan, as well as Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt but not Syria or Iran.
Under US pressure, the top-level meeting abstained from calling for an immediate ceasefire in the region - but has endorsed the idea of a peacekeeping force "under a UN mandate."
Blair to lobby Bush on UN resolution
The sensitive issue of whether to explicitly call for a ceasefire in the conflict in which at least 424 Lebanese and 52 Israelis have been killed so far will also dominate Friday's (28 July) meeting between the British and American leaders in Washington.
UK prime minister Tony Blair is planning to press US president George W. Bush to support "as a matter of urgency" a ceasefire in Lebanon as part of a UN security council resolution to be voted on next week, according to UK daily, The Guardian.
Britain and the US are isolated in their refusal to urge the two parties to immediately stop fighting, arguing the region needs a "sustainable" solution in a position viewed by some European diplomats as buying time for Israel to pound Hezbollah.
London and Washington have been circulating a text of the draft resolution which suggests a two-phased procedure to restore peace in the region.
The first phase would involve a ceasefire deal between Israel and Lebanon with a small international force deployed on the border while Israeli troops withdraw from the country.
Thee second stage would see a larger force of up to 20,000 UN-mandated troops disarming Lebanese militias - mainly Hezbollah - and helping the Lebanese army to take control of the country's southern border.
Peace plan competition
Meanwhile, Paris - currently holding the presidency of the UN security council - has prepared a competing resolution of its own.
The French draft calls for an "immediate halt to the violence" and "a handover of prisoners to a third party enjoying the trust of the two belligerents."
It also foresees the deployment of international troops in support of the Lebanese army and a buffer zone on the Isreal-Lebanon border, press reports say.
EU foreign ministers will meet for an extraordinary session in Brussels on Tuesday (1 August) to debate the bloc's position on the Middle East crisis.