Prisoner swap needed for way out of Mideast crisis: France

Date: 07-22-06

AMMAN (AFP) - French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said a prisoner exchange would be needed for any negotiated settlement to the Middle East crisis.

"We have always called for the liberation of the two Israeli soldiers," he told an Amman press conference after talks with Jordan's King Abdullah II.

"And I say that among the political conditions for a way out of the crisis and for a ceasefire we know that an exchange of prisoners is needed," said Douste-Blazy.

"With the situation deteriorating, it seems essential to me to say that doing nothing with our arms folded is not only impossible but unjustifiable," he said.

Douste-Blazy and King Abdullah said earlier that Lebanon's unity had to be safeguarded in the face of the military showdown between the Israeli military and Lebanon's militant group Hezbollah.

The conflict could lead to the "destruction of the Lebanese state", warned the foreign minister.

According to the royal palace, King Abdullah said "an immediate and global ceasefire, an end to aggression and the Israeli military escalation ... constitute the only way which will allow for diplomatic and political efforts."

Douste-Blazy, on a swing through the Middle East, arrived in Amman from Egypt. He was to travel on to Israel.

Israel launched its massive offensive on Lebanon after the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers at the borders on July 12 with the aim of securing a prisoners' swap.

In 11 days, the conflict has killed more than 350 people in Lebanon, more than 30 in Israel and forced upwards of half a million Lebanese to flee their homes.

Douste-Blazy is to also visit the Palestinian territories on Sunday to meet Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas.

Israel has launched another offensive into the territories, killing more than 100 people in what it says is an operation to halt Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel and recover a young Israeli soldier snatched by militants.

On a visit to Abu Dhabi, France's Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said her country would be ready to contribute troops to a proposed international force in south Lebanon under certain conditions.

"President (Jacques) Chirac will probably decide that France will participate in an international force that would be formed to ensure an end to hostilities and (promote) stability," she told reporters.

Such a force would have to be "part of an agreement and a number of conditions guaranteeing its effectiveness ... met."

The proposal for an international stabilization force for Lebanon was made by leaders of the G8 nations at a summit in Russia a week ago, but its composition and mandate remain to be worked out.

The proposed international force is expected to be discussed at a meeting on Lebanon slated for Wednesday in Rome that will be attended by several Western countries, including the United States and France.

Washington has ruled out participating in the force.


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