Blair blames Iran, Syria for violence

British premier presses for int'l stabilization force in the region.

blair and wife 298 88 (photo credit: AP)
blair and wife 298 88
(photo credit: AP)
Iran and Syria bear responsibility for spiraling Middle East violence because they support Hizbullah in its fight against Israel, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Tuesday. Blair, who was briefing lawmakers following the Group of Eight summit in Russia, said it was clear that Hizbullah - and not Israel - was to blame for the onset of fighting that has killed more than 250 people in a week. "Hizbullah is supported by Iran and Syria. By the former in weapons, .... by the latter in many different ways - and by both of them financially," Blair said. Blair said that while some critics had urged the G-8 leaders to call for an immediate cease-fire by Israel, they ultimately decided there could be no point in pressuring Israel until operatives in Lebanon stopped rocket attacks on Israel and freed captive Israeli soldiers. Blair suggested to US President George W. Bush on Monday that he would be willing to travel to the Middle East to lay the groundwork for a cease-fire deal. So far, there are no plans for him to do so, his office said. More than 200 people have been reported killed in Lebanon and more than two dozen in Israel in seven days of fighting. Blair has pressed for an international stabilization force in the region once a cease-fire has been struck - an idea now embraced by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said earlier that Britain was using "all the diplomatic levers at our command" before a progress report Annan's envoy is expected to deliver in New York on Thursday. Blair said Tuesday that more than 60 Britons had been evacuated from Lebanon so far, and the first British ship arrived in the country Tuesday to pick up more. Six British ships are in the region and will help with evacuations, he said. Foreign Office minister Kim Howells has said that as many as 22,000 Britons could be removed from Lebanon by sea in what he described as "the biggest evacuation since Dunkirk," when British soldiers fled northern France ahead of Nazi forces in 1940. "We will do everything we can to get people out as quickly as we can," Blair said. Many will be taken to Cyprus, he added.