Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

"EU demands 'cessation of hostilities' in Lebanon," Euractiv, August 2, 2006.

In Short:
EU foreign ministers stopped short of asking for an immediate cease fire, but they agreed on the need for a political settlement before sending in a peacekeeping force.


The outbreak of new hostilities between Israel and Hizbollah started on 12 July 2006, when Hizbollah militants attacked Israeli forces on the Lebanese border. Seven soldiers were killed and two kidnapped.

Hizbollah have continued to launch rockets into Israel, and Israel has sent land forces into Lebanon and attacked targets with continued air strikes. This has led to loss of civilian life and criticism against Israel for using disproportionate force. The offensive however has received strong backing from the Israeli population.

The USA has backed the Israeli line of only committing to a 'sustainable ceasefire'. This has been interpreted as Israel's wish to 'finishing the job', which would mean eradicating Hizbollah or at least seriously weakening its forces.

Middle East and military observers have questioned whether that is realistic, and have also raised fears about the wider implications of a Lebanon that is at risk of dissolving into chaos.

EU foreign ministers, meeting at an extraordinary session in Brussels on 1 August, were eager to send a clear message and to avoid giving the impression that EU is split on the issue.

Strong internal EU disagreement in the run-up to the war in Iraq in 2003 was seen as a low point for European ambitions to forge a common foreign security policy


In the resolution of 1 August, the council of EU foreign ministers called for "an immediate cessation of hostilities to be followed by a sustainable cease-fire." This was less than the demand for an "immediate cease fire", which the Finnish Presidency had first proposed.

Pressure from the British, Germans, Dutch, Czechs and Poles blocked the Presidency's draft resolution. The USA has also rejected calls for an immediate, unconditional cease fire, and Israel has indicated that it will continue the offensive for up to two more weeks.

However, with the compromise text the EU foreign affairs council managed to remain united.

It goes in the direction of what France had earlier demanded in the sense that it supports a UN backed political framework for a "lasting solution agreed by all parties".

This is clearly mentioned as a "necessary precondition for deployment of an international force" which "requires a strong mandate from the UN to act in support of a political settlement and the Lebanese armed forces."

This timeline is opposed by the USA, which backs the Israeli position that there can be no meaningful cease-fire or political agreement until an international military force is deployed to southern Lebanon.

The Finnish draft statement had said that an international force could not be sent to the region until a political agreement on the dispute had been reached.

The 1 August resolution states "EU Member States have indicated their readiness to contribute to such an operation together with international partners." But only after a framework has been established.

France, Italy, Finland, Poland, Sweden and Spain are all considering sending peacekeepers to Lebanon. EU candidate Turkey and Indonesia indicated that they may participate. It is expected that France would lead the force.


Erkki Tuomioja, the Finnish foreign minister, said the EU urged the UN Security Council to be "rapidly convened" to agree on a resolution to end the fighting. He played down the change in the language of the resolution on the cease-fire issue. Tuomioja said that "From the point of view of the people who are under threat, the main issue is that the hostilities stop."

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, said the "Cessation of hostilities is not the same as a cease fire. A cease fire can perhaps be achieved later. We can now only ask the UN Security Council and put pressure on it and not to waste any more time."

French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy was satisfied with EU's united message. "It is an important step. The EU has just backed the resolution that France put before the UN security council". He also said that Iran, widely seen as Hizbollah's chief arms supplier, could play a role. Douste-Blazy met with Tehran's foreign minister in Beirut on 31 July.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said that "an immediate cessation of hostilities should lead to a permanent cease fire." Solana also said the Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos intends to visit Syria, Hizbollah's other key ally, to work for a peace settlement.

Ireland's foreign minister Dermot Ahern stressed that the EU statement left no doubt that everyone wanted an immediate end to the fighting by all sides: "No one can say they have been given a green light as a result of our meeting today,” Ahern said, referring to the international gathering in Rome on 26 July after which Israel interpreted the lack of a demand for an immoderate cease fie as a go ahead sign .

UK foreign secretary Margaret Beckett also insisted that the EU position did not amount to giving Israel a green light to continue its military offensive: "I would be surprised and dismayed if someone were to try to read that into today's conclusions."

France and Italy, which have troops deployed in UNIFIL, the existing UN force in Lebanon which was established in 1978, said they would be ready to participate, if their conditions were met. Poland, also a current troop contributor in southern Lebanon, said it would continue to participate in a new force, one participant said.

Italy's foreign minister Massimo D'Alema, said "it would be impossible to deploy an international force during the fighting."

Denmark's foreign minister Per Stig Møller insisted on the need for a cease fire deal prior to troop deployment: "Nobody imagines sending in a force that the parties don't accept. It would risk coming under fire from two sides."

Latest & next steps:

EU foreign ministers will meet for an informal session 1-2 September 2006 in Lappeenranta in Finland.

[Original has numerous links at the foot of the article. -jlt]
Recommend this Post

Sphere: Related Content