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Blair hopes for Mideast peace plan

Hostilities between Lebanon and Israel are 'catastrophe'

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Tony Blair

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Monday he hoped a peace plan to secure a cease-fire in Lebanon would emerge in the next few days.

Blair described hostilities in the region as a "catastrophe," but said details for an international force needed to be hammered out before a permanent accord could be established.

He said diplomatic efforts were focused on securing a lasting cease-fire on both sides, the release of kidnapped soldiers and the deployment of an international force in southern Lebanon along the border with Israel.

"What is needed first of all is a short-term plan to bring the hostilities to an end," he told a press conference with Iraq's visiting Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

But Blair -- who has faced criticism alongside U.S. President George W. Bush's for failing to call for an immediate halt to the two-week old conflict between Israel and Lebanese militants -- said any solution would have to address the wider Israel-Palestinian question.

"Long term there is only one solution in this and that is to sort out the underlying reasons why this has come about," he said.

"(We must) equally to make sure those in the region who want to de-stabilize stop destabilizing whether it's in Iraq, Lebanon or Palestine or anywhere else in the region".

He added: "I don't want the killing to go on. I want the killing to stop. Now. It's got to stop on both sides and it's not going to stop on both sides without a plan to make it stop."

Blair, whose comments coincided with a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Beirut as part of an Middle East diplomatic mission, told reporters that he would be contacting other leaders immediately to carry on with the diplomatic push.

"I can assure you we are bending every single bit of our diplomatic political effort to make sure that happens as swiftly as possible," he said.

"What is occurring at the present in Lebanon is a catastrophe. It is damaging that country and its fragile democracy."

On Iraq, Blair, who had been expected to talk about a possible timetable for troop withdrawal from Basra and other southern regions of the country where British troops have been deployed since the 2003 ousting of Saddam Hussein, said he and al-Maliki had discussed "security changes" in the violence-racked country.

"We talked specifically about Basra and the ideas the prime minister has and the people he's putting in place to deal with the continuing problems there," he said.

Earlier, during an interview on British radio, al-Maliki said he believed coalition forces, who handed over security in the province of Muthanna earlier this year, would only remain in Iraq in the short term.

"Definitely not decades, not even years," he said.

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