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From the Open-Publishing Newswire
Blair rejects MPs' call for unilateral Israeli cease-fire
British Prime Minister Tony Blair rejected calls Wednesday for Israel to declare a unilateral cease-fire in the growing Mideast conflict, insisting that Hezbollah must first free Israeli soldiers and stop firing rockets at Israel.
Blair told lawmakers at his weekly House of Commons question session that Hezbollah must make the first move to halt hostilities that erupted a week ago when militants nabbed two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.
"This would stop now if the soldiers who were kidnapped wrongly ... were released," he said. "It would stop if the rockets stopped coming into Haifa, deliberately to kill innocent civilians."
"If those two things happened, let me promise ... I would be the first out there saying 'Israel should halt this operation,"' Blair said.
"How can we be evenhanded if we're not willing to condemn Israel's disproportionate response?" Liberal Democrat Party Leader Menzies Campbell said.
Blair said it was important that Israel's military action be proportionate and that it do its best to minimize civilian casualties - but he clearly placed blame for the conflict on Hezbollah.
He said it was impossible to return to negotiations on the so-called road map for peace between Israel and the Palestinians when Israel cannot be confident of its security.
"In the end, the only negotiated way through this is by everybody committing themselves to exclusively peaceful, democratic means and that has to hold on both sides of the border," he said.
Rice expected to visit region on Sunday
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to visit the region this Sunday, sources in Washington said Tuesday.
They added, however, that her departure could be delayed if the situation warrants it. The Bush administration is apparently sticking to its decision to allow Israel to complete its military operation before the international community imposes a cease-fire, and Danny Ayalon, Israel's ambassador to the United States, told the media on Monday that the time is not yet ripe for Rice's visit.