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Lebanese Prime Minister Calls for Immediate Ceasefire


Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora says Israeli bombing of Hezbollah targets in Lebanon is forcing his country to its knees. In a television interview, the Lebanese leader said the first crucial step toward any comprehensive solution to the Middle East crisis is an immediate ceasefire.

Nearly two weeks of intense shelling between Israel and the Hezbollah militant group in Lebanon has led to the deaths of more than 350 Lebanese and more than 35 Israelis.

Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora spoke out strongly against Israel's military actions, saying it is the Lebanese people who are suffering. "They said they want to break the neck of Hezbollah. In fact, they are breaking the neck of the Lebanese. They are putting the whole country to its knees," he said.

The Lebanese prime minister told CNN's "Late Edition" program that he feels at root, the latest dispute can be traced to the Shebaa Farms, a disputed territory on the border with Israel, Lebanon and Syria. "What is the problem? The problem is the occupied territories in the Shebaa Farms. And once we really address this issue, then everything else will start to really get the solution for it," he said.

Speaking on the CBS television program "Face the Nation," Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Daniel Ayalon, blamed Syria for not doing enough to rein in the activities of Hezbollah. He added that there are several conditions Israel wants met before it will agree to observe a ceasefire. "If they want a ceasefire, they would just bring about the safe release, unconditionally, of our two soldiers, which are hostages, and they would bring about stopping all the shelling of Hezbollah, and they would stop shipping all this armaments to Hezbollah," he said.

He said Israel believes it has killed hundreds of Hezbollah militants and destroyed much of the group's arsenal. But he wouldn't say how much longer the Israeli bombing would continue. "It's not a matter of timing. It's a matter of getting results," he said.

Meanwhile, on the same program, Syria's ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha, called for direct talks on the issue between Damascus and Washington. "If the United States wants to involve in serious diplomacy, then of course Damascus is more than willing to engage," he said.

But White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten told NBC's "Meet the Press" Washington's recent experience with Damascus has not been promising. "The truth is that over the course of this entire administration, especially during the entirety of the first term, the administration had a number of very close, direct contacts with the Syrian government, which didn't do any good. They continued to allow terrorism to flourish. They supported it. They supported Hezbollah," he said.

He didn't completely shut the door on Syria, though, pointing out that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is tasked with conducting any diplomatic negotiating.

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