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Mideast Crisis Threatening Iraq Says Maliki

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Hannah K. Strange
UPI U.K. Correspondent
London (UPI) Jul 24, 2006
Iraq may sink deeper into chaos and instability if the conflict between Israel and Lebanese Hezbollah is not halted immediately, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki warned Monday.

The Israeli offensive in southern Lebanon was a "war crime" that was escalating tensions in the region and furthering the cause of extremists, he cautioned at a London press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Calling for an immediate cease-fire by both sides, Maliki said the killing of Lebanese civilians and the destruction of infrastructure was "a violation of all the laws of war" which must not be accepted by the international community.

But Blair once again resisted such entreaties, insisting that while "anyone with any sense of humanity wants what is happening to stop," a cease-fire would not be successful unless the conditions were right.

A plan for a cease-fire and a long-term resolution to the conflict would be announced in the next few days, he added.

At least 370 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 37 Israelis, around half of which were members of the military, have been killed in the 13 days of fighting.

Maliki said the Israeli offensive -- and the perception of Western support for it -- was threatening to derail the process towards security and stability in Iraq.

"I am afraid that what's going on in Lebanon will be a great push towards fundamentalism," he warned.

The weak and underprivileged in Lebanon and elsewhere in the region were seeing this death and destruction yet hearing only silence from Western leaders, he said. They felt unprotected by international law, which Israel frequently failed to abide by yet was never held to account, he added.

This perception of injustice would act as a recruiting sergeant for extremists, both across the region as a whole and in Iraq, where many people were already taking to the streets to protest against the Israeli action, Maliki continued.

"What affects the stability of one nation in the region affects the others," he said.

The failure of Western leaders to rein in Israel while "the whole world is asking for help" would also have a negative impact on the credibility of international law, he added.

The crisis was sparked when Hamas militants kidnapped Israeli soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit on June 25, prompting Israel to launch a military offensive against the Gaza Strip. Hezbollah guerrillas then carried out a cross-border raid on July 12, kidnapping a further two Israeli soldiers and launching rockets and mortar bombs at towns in northern Israel and outposts in the disputed Shabaa Farms area. Israel described the attack as an "act of war" by Lebanon and commenced a large-scale military campaign, launching air strikes against Beirut and southern Lebanon and sending troops over the border for the first time since the military withdrawal in 2000.

Both Britain and the United States have been heavily criticized for failing to condemn the scale of the Israeli offensive, which Maliki described as excessive and unacceptable.

"This excessive use of force cannot be accepted. It is directed against civilian targets and not military targets," he said, adding that the impact on the Lebanese people had been "beyond catastrophic."

But Blair, while acknowledging that Lebanon was suffering a "catastrophe," insisted that it was Hezbollah who should be blamed for provoking the Israeli retaliation.

"We shouldn't actually forget how this began... What has happened has been a deliberate attempt by Hezbollah to destabilize that part of the Lebanese-Israeli border and they've crossed the U.N. Blue Line in order to do that.

"That has then provoked the retaliation that everyone would have expected to have happened. What has happened since then is a tragedy of innocent lives lost."

The purpose of those responsible had been to generate conflict and to pitch moderate Arabs and Muslims against the West, he said.

Blair has been accused of declining to call for a cease-fire because the United States has given Israel a green light to inflict maximum damage on Hezbollah, a claim Washington denies.

He flatly dismissed such claims however, saying: "Who could possibly watch the pictures of innocent civilians being killed without wanting this to stop now?"

Everyone wanted an immediate cease-fire on both sides, he said, "but you're not going to do it unless you have a plan to do it."

A plan would be announced in the coming days for both a short-term solution to the current fighting and a longer-term strategy to resolve the underlying causes of the conflict, he said.

This would involve the deployment of an international stabilization force, the creation of a buffer zone between Israel and Lebanon and renewed efforts to secure a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, he added.

"Unless we grip the Israel-Palestinian issue and resolve it, unless we support those people in the region who are standing up for democracy and a modern view of how that region develops, then those like Hezbollah and like their sponsors who want to put terrorism and sectarian division in place of that democracy, then they will win."

"It couldn't be any more important for the world," he added.

His comments followed criticism from within his own party that he was failing to act as an honest broker between the two sides.

Labor parliamentarian Andrew Love said Monday that some in the Cabinet wanted a "more robust attitude" from Blair over the crisis.

Love, who chairs the all-party parliamentary Lebanon group, told the BBC: "I agree with those in the Cabinet who are saying we must have a much more robust attitude towards what is happening in the Middle East.

Over the weekend, Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East Kim Howells became the first British minister to condemn the Israeli offensive saying its bombing campaign against Lebanon was killing too many civilians.

Source: United Press International

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