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France Urges Israel to Reconsider Rejection of 72-Hour Truce


Israel's rejection of a U.N.-proposed 72-hour truce in the conflict with Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon has drawn criticism from France, which ruled Lebanon between the World Wars. Diplomatic efforts are moving into high gear, with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice back in the region for talks with both sides, and efforts under way at the United Nations to begin planning for an international stabilization force.

French Foreign Minister Phillipe Douste-Blazy told reporters in Paris that he regrets Israel's rejection of the truce proposal, put forward by U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland.

Egeland called for the truce to allow the evacuation of the injured, elderly and children from high-risk zones in Lebanon, and to allow aid to be brought in.

Israel says it has already opened humanitarian corridors across Lebanon.

Douste-Blazy says he has not given up hope that Israel will change its mind.

The foreign minister says he regrets Israel's position, but says he will, appeal to Israeli authorities to agree to a humanitarian ceasefire.

Meanwhile, efforts are under way to begin planning for an international force. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan called for a meeting Monday of U.N. member nations willing to contribute troops to be sent to the Israeli-Lebanon border. He says the force would primarily assist the Lebanese government and army take charge of, and extend its sovereignty over its entire territory.

Mr. Annan says it is time for the international community to act.

"I think the time has come for us to really be action-oriented and concrete steps that can be taken to help protagonists and the civilians who are caught in the middle. We've gone beyond statements and exhortations," he said.

Mr. Annan says that, while he was in Europe this week, he spoke with several countries willing to contribute troops to the stabilizing force.

President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have already expressed their support for such a multi-national effort. Both leaders have resisted international pressure to call for an immediate cease-fire, however. The say that, instead, they want to focus on the long-term causes of violence in the region.

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