Blair delays holiday over Lebanon crisis

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Tony Blair has delayed his summer holiday to continue efforts to resolve the Lebanon crisis, Downing Street said today.

No 10 said the Prime Minister, who had been expected to leave today, believed the next few days were "crucial" in the efforts to agree a United Nations Security Council resolution on a ceasefire.

A spokeswoman said he was speaking to French President Jacques Chirac this morning following a telephone conversation last night with UN secretary general Kofi Annan.

It is expected that Mr Blair will resume his holiday plans "within the next day or so".

The No 10 spokeswoman said: "The Prime Minister has delayed leaving for his holiday so that he can do further work trying to achieve a UN resolution and wider efforts to achieve sustained peace in the region.

"He believes the next couple of days are crucial and will be continuing his intensive diplomacy with world leaders from Downing Street."

At his monthly Downing Street news conference yesterday, Mr Blair said he believed that agreement on a Security Council resolution was possible "within days".

The aim was to bring about an immediate ceasefire followed by the deployment of an international peacekeeping force to establish a buffer zone in southern Lebanon.

The Prime Minister has faced intense criticism from within the Labour ranks over his failure to condemn the Israeli military onslaught and back international calls for an immediate ceasefire.

At his press conference, he argued that such calls would achieve nothing unless they were backed by a firm plan of action.

He was forced to acknowledge that there were "doubts" within the Cabinet over his handling of the crisis, although he dismissed reports of a rift with Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett as "complete rubbish".

No 10 said Mr Blair would be discussing the latest situation with Mrs Beckett as well as Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who will stand in for him when goes on holiday, later today.

Downing Street has refused to say where Mr Blair is going for his holiday, although there have been press reports that he will return to Barbados, where he has been for the last two years.