Christian groups urge Blair to back ceasefire calls
Christian groups are amongst a number of charities, religious and civil rights groups who have united in signing an open letter to Tony Blair condemning him for his failure back the United Nations' call for a ceasefire in the Middle East.
The letter, signed by amongst others Christian Aid, Evangelical charity World Vision and Catholic aid agency Cafod, underlines the widespread anger in Britain at the Prime Minister's support for US foreign policy.
It claims the policy is to allow the Israeli bombing raids to continue in Lebanon until Hezbollah strongholds are destroyed.
A total of fourteen organisations have signed the open letter to Mr Blair calling on the meeting of foreign ministers in Rome today to demand an immediate ceasefire.
The letter comes as other Christians are proposing that the present phase of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians could be addressed by a Truth and Reconciliation Commission modelled on South Africa's post-apartheid settlement.
Mr Blair claimed yesterday to be working behind the scenes to establish a lasting peace deal but the letter underlines the charge that he is diminishing the UK's authority in the region. It accuses the Prime Minister of reducing the impact of international calls for an immediate halt to the violence by failing to back the UN by calling for a ceasefire.
"As such, your current policy risks putting civilian lives at continued risk rather than helping to protect them," the letter says. "The present policy looks in danger of placing the UK Government in the uncomfortable position of only calling for a ceasefire once one side in the conflict has achieved its military objectives."
"We urge you to use Wednesday's ministerial meeting in Rome to add the British Government's weight to calls for an immediate ceasefire.
"To do anything else would be to fail to uphold the UK's responsibility to help protect the civilians dying in this conflict."
Those attending the meeting include Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, who yesterday made a surprise visit to Beirut; Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary, and the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Italy, Lebanon and Egypt. They will be under pressure to produce a joint communiquÈ but it is expected to fall far short of a call for an immediate ceasefire.
British officials said that the core group would discuss proposals for a buffer zone and an international force. But there are disagreements over whether the Israeli soldiers being held hostage by Hezbollah should be freed before a ceasefire, and whether the international force should be installed while rockets are still being fired into Israeli towns.
Downing Street continued to insist that a lasting peace plan had to be accepted by Hezbollah and the Israelis before a ceasefire.
The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "There is no point shouting for a ceasefire unless you have a plan to make a ceasefire work. Frankly, we are prepared to take as much heat as necessary to get that done ... The Prime Minister has taken the judgement that it is better to roll up his sleeves up and take the heat to get the job done rather than do what people want which is to call for a ceasefire."
The letter is signed by Amnesty International UK, BASIC, CAFOD, Care International UK, Christian Aid, Islamic Relief Worldwide, Medact, the Muslim Council of Britain, Oxfam, Save the Children, Unison, War on Want, the Welfare Association and World Vision UK.