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EP issue unanimous call for immediate ceasefire

At Tuesday's Conference of Presidents open to all MEPs, Parliament's President Josep Borrell urged the General Affairs Council, which is meeting today, to call for an immediate ceasefire in the Middle East. MEPs condemned the deadly bombings of civilian targets, notably in Qana, as well as the deaths of the four UNIFL observers. They also reaffirmed the points contained in the statement issued by the Conference of Presidents on 20 July.  "The Council must adopt a clear resolution today calling for an immediate ceasefire by both sides: anything else will be a failure for the EU. The Council must listen to the voice of its citizens, who expect the EU to play a full role in the resolution of the conflict", stated President Borrell.

Opening the debate Borrell called for an intervention force in the region as the "escalation had been dramatic and tragic". He condemned the Israeli air raid on Qana and said it "cannot be justified by anything - no right of self defence can justify such an act". Warning against the growing toll of the conflict he said "the continuing escalation... is totally out of proportion to original events". Finally he called for the European Parliament to play a significant role in voicing public sentiment in Europe saying "we have to make the Council listen to the voice of the people". "In Lebanon, the EU is the only trusted actor", said Council President Erkki Tuomioja. "This is therefore a crucial situation for the credibility of the Union, which must respond to the expectations of the people and the international community. Otherwise any attempt at a common foreign policy will be doomed to failure". He went on: "In the light of events our position must be clear. The proposed conclusions to be discussed at today's meeting of the General Affairs Council contain an appeal for an immediate ceasefire and a cessation of hostilities. We also need a broader political agreement to prepare for the sending of an international force, under UN auspices, to help the Lebanese government shoulder its responsibilities." In conclusion Tuomioja said "Our objective remains the roadmap, with two sovereign states, including a viable Palestinian state at peace with its neighbours".

The European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner called the recent escalation "unjustifiable", demanded an immediate cessation of violence and noted that "the 48-hour truce has been violated by both sides". Ferrero-Waldner also said the EU must speak with a "united voice" in the Council. She advocated steps to ease the crisis: the release of all hostages / prisoners; willingness by the EU to play a role in a stabilisation force under the aegis of the UN; all parties to act in accordance with international law and all parties to move towards implementing existing UN resolutions. Finally, efforts should involve Syria as "like it or not, they are an influential player". She also demanded that "humanitarian corridors" be opened in Lebanon and concluded saying the EU had "a duty to alleviate suffering" across the region - whether in Gaza, Haifa or Lebanon.

For the EPP-ED group, German MEP Hans-Gert Poettering said "The historical backcloth is the trauma of the Holocaust and the return of the Israeli people to their land. In the Second World War millions of Germans were also driven out of Poland and Ukraine. Our aim is to enable Israel and the Palestinians to live in peace. But Hezbollah and the destructive policy of Iran and its president are constant threats to the existence of the Hebrew state. Israel must act within international law, with a proportionate response and no escalation. This is not what is happening today". Lastly, he said, "The Europeans who have the best image and the greatest capital of trust in the region must push for the Israeli soldiers to be freed and must launch humanitarian measures". Martin Schulz (PES, DE) said that events of the last few days had left him "deeply shocked" and that "nothing can justify such an attack". Speaking on behalf of the social democrat parties that comprise the PES group, he said "we distance ourselves from those responsible for such an attack" and "these actions achieve the opposite of what they intend".

Regarding the diplomatic efforts of the Bush administration Schulz said that last week marked a "low point" for their foreign policy in the region. "We must act as Europeans - we need a united position, Europeans must stand together", he said. He called for a UN resolution and a stabilisation force and said the EU must strengthen the UN after the "contemptible" attack on its observers last week and the sacking of its Beirut office on Sunday. On behalf of the Liberal group, Dirk Sterckx (ALDE, BE) told the meeting "European Parliament leaders have now spoken with one voice in demanding an immediate ceasefire. It is now up to the Council to do the same." He went on: "There can be no lasting peace in the Middle East based on a military solution. The sooner the protagonists in the conflict realise that the better. Once a cessation of hostilities is achieved work can begin on a political settlement. Council must give Javier Solana a clear mandate to take part in brokering an agreement that can provide for a durable peace in the region."

In conclusion he said "Council has to back the establishment of an International stabilisation force to maintain and guarantee the peace. It is important that its mandate is clear and precise." According to Daniel Cohn-Bendit, co-chair of the Green/EFA group, "It's time to conduct some self-criticism. There is often talk of the acts of violence perpetrated by Hamas but who has spoken of disarming Hezbollah? We must ensure compliance with all UN resolutions by all parties in the region. Syria and Iran must take part in this disarmament, we must therefore call for a realistic disarmament of Hezbollah with the support of these two countries. It is in Israel's interest to stop conducting a unilateral policy: to achieve peace, there must be negotiations. History shows that when there have been negotiations there have been stable frontiers, and the opposite when there have not". "The EP Conference of Presidents' statement of 20 July saved the face of the European institutions, especially that of the Council, which a few days previously had adopted an unworthy position, copying that of the United States", said Francis Wurtz (GUE/NGL, FR). He called for an immediate ceasefire, a clear condemnation of the war being conducted by Israel, talks on the exchange of prisoners and precise details of the mandate for an international force, "which must not become a force of aggression and must be deployed on both sides of the frontier". He wound up by recalling that in 1980 the Venice European Council "created the event" by affirming the Palestinian people's right to self-determination.

For the UEN group, Sean O'Neachtain of Ireland said he was "heartened" by what he had heard from the other speakers and that "we speak with one voice of condemnation". He said that many were sympathetic towards Israel although violence would not solve the problems of the region. He also said that "allies of Israel have stood idly by and exacerbated the situation". He condemned the "disproportionate attack" on civilians at Qana and said "this has to stop". He called for an immediate ceasefire and for the EP to send a message that "we do not condone the violence". For the non-aligned MEPs, Irene Belohorska (NA, SK) called for the Council of Ministers and the Commission to adopt a position as united as that of the Parliament on the current Middle East crisis. (European Parliament Press)