LONDON (Reuters) – Britain hopes a peace plan for Lebanon can emerge within days that could lead to a ceasefire, but only after details are worked out for an international force, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Monday.
His spokesman suggested progress could be made at a conference in Rome on Wednesday.
Blair has been under political pressure at home for joining President Bush as the only top Western leaders not to publicly call for an immediate ceasefire.
Blair said that did not mean he was indifferent to the deaths of civilians, but that a ceasefire would only work if conditions were first put in place to ensure both sides respected it.
“I don’t want the killing to go on. I want the killing to stop. Now. It’s got to stop on both sides. And it’s not going to stop on both sides without a plan to make it stop,” he told a London news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
Israel says it will not stop raids on Lebanon until it has destroyed the capability of Hizbollah militia to strike Israel. More than 370 people in Lebanon and 37 Israelis have died since Israel began strikes in response to a Hizbollah raid.
“What is occurring in Lebanon at the present time is a catastrophe,” Blair said. “Anybody with any sense of humanity wants what is happening to stop and stop now. But if it is to stop it must stop on both sides.”
“There have been as you might expect over the past few days enormous diplomatic efforts to get us to the point where I hope at some point within the next few days we can say very clearly what our plan is to bring about an immediate cessation of hostilities …” Blair said.
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett will be among Western and Arab officials convening in Rome on Wednesday to discuss the crisis. Blair’s office says she has been working the phones to help promote setting up an international force.
Asked if Blair’s suggestion of a plan within days was a reference to Wednesday’s conference, Blair’s spokesman said: “We hope Wednesday’s meetings will agree the principles of how we move forward and we’ll take it from there.”
Blair said his plan included an end to shooting, the return of kidnapped Israeli soldiers and an international force as a “buffer”, a proposal he first made during a meeting of leaders of the G8 group of industrial countries in Russia a week ago.
“That is the plan we’ve been working on, and we’ve been working on it since the G8. If someone’s got a better plan I’d like to hear it,” Blair said.
Although Blair has been one of the prime backers of an international force, Britain is unlikely to contribute to one because its military is stretched in Iraq and Afghanistan.