Iran backs cease-fire, prisoner swap

"We believe we should think of an acceptable, fair [deal] to resolve this."

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Iran said Monday that a cease-fire and a prisoner exchange would be possible in Hizbullah's conflict with Israel, while the United Nations signaled readiness to send peacekeeping troops to the region. Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said a cease-fire and an exchange of prisoners would be possible. "We believe that we should think of an acceptable and fair [deal] to resolve this," he said after talks with Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa in Damascus. "In fact, there can be a cease-fire followed by a prisoner swap." Iran and Syria are the principal sponsors of Hizbullah, and the two countries have applauded Hizbullah's capture of two Israeli soldiers, which triggered the Israeli offensive in Lebanon that has killed nearly 200 Lebanese and wounded more than 400. The Israelis continued to publicly insist their goal was to dismantle Hizbullah. But an Israeli government official said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would agree to a cease-fire only if Hizbullah released two captured Israeli soldiers and moved back from the border. Israel had previously demanded the full dismantling of Hizbullah as a condition for ending hostilities. However, the senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the diplomacy, said Israel would agree to Hizbullah merely leaving the border area - with the Lebanese army taking its place. A senior UN envoy, meanwhile, expressed optimism about efforts to resolve the crisis and said he would go to Israel shortly with "concrete ideas" on ending the fighting. "We have made some promising first efforts on the way forward," Vijay Nambiar, UN Secretary-General Kofi An-nan's special political adviser, told reporters after meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora in Beirut. He added that time was an important factor and that "creative solutions have to be found in order to prevent a broadening and deepening of the crisis." Olmert has expressed opposition to sending international forces to Lebanon to help end bloodshed in the region, Israeli senior officials said. French Premier Dominique de Villepin arrived in Beirut Monday on a mission to express solidarity with a country under siege and bombardment by Israel. Villepin is the highest-level foreign official to visit the country since the crisis began last week. France said his visit was aimed only at showing support, but it comes as the UN and European Union are launching diplomatic efforts to end the crisis. France was sending a ferry to evacuate some of the 20,000 French citizens and other foreigners in Lebanon on Monday. The Defense Ministry said it was sending 800 military personnel, a transport ship, a frigate, transport planes and helicopters to the region to help secure the evacuations. France has historic ties with Lebanon, having ruled the country until independence in 1943. The prime minister will meet with Saniora to express support and solidarity from the French to the Lebanese, French President Jacques Chirac's office said in a statement. Villepin flew in by French military helicopter to a playground in the hills east of Beirut and was driving to Beirut to meet with Saniora.