As Israel and Hizbullah continued fierce fighting along the Israel-Lebanon border, on Wednesday representatives from 15 nations convened in Rome to discuss the crisis and draft potential solutions.
International diplomats who participated in the conference described it as “difficult,” and no immediate decisions were made regarding a ceasefire proposal or the deployment of a multi-national peacekeeping force to the Israel-Lebanon border to ensure the disarmament of Hizbullah forces.
During the meeting, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora issued a dramatic appeal to stop the killing as soon as possible. “In the past 15 days we are being bombarded daily. Dozens of civilians are being hurt. Lebanon is being torn to shreds,” he said.
Agreed: Urgent ceasefire required
Officials said they had agreed on the need to deploy an international force under the aegis of the United Nations in southern Lebanon.
Participants expressed their determination to work immediately to reach, with utmost urgency, a ceasefire that puts an end to the current violence and hostilities.
"The ceasefire must be lasting, permanent and sustainable," said Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema at the close of the meeting. He said many of the participants in the meeting appealed for an immediate and unconditional truce.
Referring to the ceasefire, D'Alema said, "To obtain this objective, you must exercise pressure on all parties involved, directly and indirectly, on who can exercise influence on Hizbullah and on Israel."
Rice, Annan and Italian PM Prodi at Rome summit (Photo: Reuters)
"We asked Israel for maximum restraint" to respect civilians and infrastructure, he said.
While officials called for an end to the violence, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stressed any cease-fire must be "sustainable" and that there could be "no return to the status quo ante."
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for the formation of a multinational force to help Lebanon assert its authority and implement UN resolutions which would leave Hizbullah disarmed.
Iran not invited
Earlier Wednesday, Iran forewarned that the Rome conference would fail and no ceasefire agreement would be reached, apparently owing to the fact that Iran and Syrian were excluded from the international meeting.
A spokesperson of the Iranian foreign ministry, Hamid-Reza Asefi, said that "if they quest after peace, they must invite all the countries in the region, including Syria and Iran," the Guardian quoted.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the European Union announced that the committee of EU foreign ministers would hold an emergency discussion on the Lebanon crisis next Tuesday.