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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

France wants Hizbollah pullout

PARIS (Reuters) - Lebanon's government should guarantee the withdrawal of Hizbollah guerrillas fighting Israeli forces at the same time as sending the national army into the south of the country, France said on Wednesday.

Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said Beirut's offer to deploy 15,000 troops in southern Lebanon was a significant development as it had been taken by a government that included Hizbollah ministers.

"The Lebanese government must also undertake not just to deploy the Lebanese army but, also, undertake to guarantee the withdrawal of Hizbollah," Douste-Blazy told France Info radio.

The Lebanese government has rejected the draft U.N. proposal backed by France that called for full cessation of hostilities but did not demand an immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon.

Douste-Blazy said finding the balance between a pullout of Israeli forces and their replacement by the Lebanese army, backed up by the
United Nations' UNIFIL force, was a focal point of the diplomatic effort.

The French minister made his comments ahead of a meeting in the southern French port city of Toulon with ministers.
President Jacques Chirac will break into his summer holidays to chair the meeting.

The meeting, to be attended by Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, Douste-Blazy and Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie came as diplomats work on revisions to the French and U.S.-backed United Nations resolution to end the war.

A vote on the resolution may not take place before Thursday as diplomatic wrangling continues.

Around 1,000 Lebanese and more than 100 Israelis have been killed in four weeks of fighting, sparked when Hizbollah seized two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12.
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