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Blair: Cease-fire 'within days'

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Blair said he was "not indifferent" to suffering in the Middle East.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Thursday he was "hopeful" that the United Nations Security Council would agree a resolution implementing a cease-fire in the Middle East within the next few days.

Speaking at his monthly Downing Street press conference, Blair said Western powers are working "very hard" to develop an agreement on a U.N. Security Council resolution that would bring about "an immediate cease-fire" and then establish conditions to deploy an international force in Lebanon.

"This is obviously a critical time. I think it is coming together. I think the remaining differences are very slight" Blair said.

"The U.S., the UK, France and others have been working very hard to get agreement on a United Nations resolution and I am now hopeful that we will have such a resolution down very shortly and agreed within the next few days.

Blair has faced growing criticism from within the ranks of his own Labour Party over his refusal, in line with U.S. diplomatic efforts, to back calls for an immediate cease-fire in Israel's campaign against Hezbollah militants.

But he said a cease-fire had to apply to both sides and would have to be followed by the implementation of a long-term plan to tackle the "under-lying cause" of the conflict.

"The purpose of [a resolution] will be to bring about an immediate cease-fire and then put in place the conditions for the international force to come in, in support of the Lebanese government, so we get the underlying issues and problems dealt with," he said.

"If it is not on both sides, Israel will continue to take action, that's the reality," said Blair, who added "the solution will not come by condemning one side."

Blair rejected suggestions of a rift with British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett as "complete rubbish," but said it was not surprising that differences existed within the Labour Party over securing the terms of a cease-fire.

"The difference between me and those people who are criticizing me is not that I am indifferent to the suffering of people in the Lebanon," said Blair.

"On the contrary, I stand in complete solidarity and sympathy with people in the Lebanon, innocent people who have died in Israel as well, in what is a terrible, terrible situation, but my job is to bring it to an end. You don't bring it to an end unless you have got a plan to do so."

Blair also criticized comments by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calling for the destruction of Israel as "deeply unhelpful." (Full story)

He reiterated his call for an "alliance of moderation" across the Middle East to tackle the causes of conflicts in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan.

"If we want a solution -- and we do -- then countries like Iran and Syria have got to help in this process, not hinder it," said Blair.

Amid an upsurge in violence in Iraq and following the leak of a memo in which the UK's former ambassador to Baghdad, William Patey, warned the country risked sliding into civil war, Blair said the UK would not be deterred in its mission to help bring stability to Iraq. (Full story)

"The purpose [of sectarian violence] is to put extremists in charge of countries rather than those committed to democracy," said Blair.

"What should our response be? However difficult it is, we will stay the course, stand up for those people who want democracy, stand for those people who are fighting sectarianism, stand up for a different vision of the Middle East based on democracy, liberty and the rule of law.!

"That is what we are doing and however tough it is, we will see it through, and actually if you read the whole of the telegram, that is precisely what William is saying."

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