UN resolution delayed amid diplomatic chaos

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Efforts at the UN to approve a Security Council resolution demanding a suspension of fighting in Lebanon were set back by at least another 24 hours last night after diplomats agreed to listen first hand to objections being raised by foreign ministers of the Arab League.

Diplomats said a ceasefire text will not go to a vote in the council before tomorrow at the earliest, in part because of the last-minute Arab League intervention. President George Bush at the same time insisted that the time for a vote had arrived, saying "we all recognise that the violence must stop".

Foreign ministers at an emergency meeting of the Arab League in Beirut yesterday agreed to send a three-man delegation to New York to voice their dissatisfaction with elements of the draft resolution, drawn up jointly by France and the US. It will meet the council this afternoon.

The council has been under growing pressure to take action to end a conflict that is now almost a month old and continues to intensify. The resolution being considered would demand an immediate truce and lay out plans for a long-term political solution and permanent ceasefire. The UN aims to follow up with a second resolution establishing an international peacekeeping force.

But provisions in the text provoked dismay in the Arab world, largely because it would not require a withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon or an agreement by Israel to a prisoner exchange. These are the objections that the Arab League delegation will bring to the UN today.

After weeks of hanging back from demanding a ceasefire, Mr Bush said in a press conference in Crawford, Texas, that he now expects the UN to take a vote on the ceasefire text as it stands, even in the face of objections. "I understand both parties aren't going to agree with all aspects of the resolution," he said.

While the delegation may be greeted with sympathy, there is little chance that either France or the US will be willing to consider anything more than cosmetic changes.

Tony Blair is meanwhile hoping to escape to the Caribbean for his delayed holiday tomorrow leaving Labour MPs growing increasingly angry and frustrated at the UN delays. Some backbenchers are convinced that British foreign policy is being dominated by US and Israeli plans to inflict further damage on Hizbollah before seeking a ceasefire.

Mr Blair was warned last night that he could face government resignations if normally loyal MPs are put under pressure to back him in his refusal to call for an immediate ceasefire.

The Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, was continuing her summer holiday in a caravan in France last night.

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