The Swiss ambassador to the United Nations has told a Security Council meeting in New York there should be more protection for civilians hit by the Lebanon conflict.This content was published on July 21, 2006 - 22:00
Meanwhile, at least 800 people took to the streets of the Swiss capital, Bern, on Friday to protest against Israel's military strikes in Lebanon.
Ambassador Peter Maurer repeated Switzerland's demand for a ceasefire and the creation of humanitarian corridors in the region.
He said the destruction caused by Israeli raids not only resulted in numerous lives being lost but stopped civilians from leaving combat zones. This was worsening the humanitarian situation, Maurer said.
The ambassador added that Bern also supported the creation of an international security and surveillance force for southern Lebanon.
"Switzerland hopes that the Security Council... will be in a position to take action without delay," he said. "It regrets that, despite the gravity of the situation, it has not been possible to obtain a consensus in the council on the measures to be taken."
At a media conference earlier on Friday, Maurer indicated that he knew Switzerland could not play a decisive role in resolving the conflict. But as the depositary state of the Geneva Conventions, the country had strong reasons for flagging up human rights, he said.
While recognising Israel's right to defend itself, the diplomat reiterated Switzerland's view that Israel's reaction to attacks by the Hezbollah Islamic militant group had been disproportionate.
According to Maurer, this principle of proportionality is set out in the Geneva Conventions, as is a ban on hitting civilian targets.
The UN meeting took place as tensions continued to increase in Lebanon. Israel on Friday called up thousands of reserve troops and told civilians to leave southern Lebanon. Hezbollah rockets hit the Israeli city of Haifa.
The crisis was triggered after Hezbollah killed eight Israeli soldiers and captured two on July 12.
Maurer's comments on Friday echoed those of Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey who earlier this week called for a ceasefire and insisted on the application of humanitarian law.
The humanitarian situation in Lebanon is also a major concern for the Swiss government. The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has been trying to provide assistance with medical care and shelter, but officials report that access is difficult.
At the same time Switzerland has been evacuating its nationals stranded in Lebanon. The first groups have now returned, with a third flight carrying 117 people touching down in Zurich on Friday.
The foreign ministry said on Friday evening that a Swiss-chartered ferry would arrive in Beirut on Saturday. It added that the embassy there had received a large number of evacuation requests and that it had made arrangements to enable "several hundred people" to leave the country.
However, the situation for Swiss citizens unable to leave the south of Lebanon remained "precarious" as travelling by road was very dangerous, said the statement.
In Switzerland at least 800 people staged a demonstration outside the parliament building in the capital, Bern.
The rally, which was supported by Lebanese and Palestinian groups as well as peace activists, called for an end to Israel's attacks on Lebanon and for a clear position to be taken by the international community.
Switzerland should also take a clear stand on human rights in the region and impose sanctions, demonstrators said.
Another protest is planned in Geneva on Saturday.
For their part, the Swiss authorities announced that no rejected asylum seekers from Lebanon would be sent back. They stressed that this was not an official change of policy, but that it was not possible to organise flights.
Only two or three Lebanese are currently awaiting deportation. Around 20-30 seek asylum in Switzerland each year.
swissinfo with agencies
The Swiss foreign ministry says there are 838 Swiss nationals registered as resident in Lebanon, of which 713 hold dual nationality.
Family members can contact the foreign ministry hotline for further information on +41 31 325 33 33 from 8am to 9pm.
Swiss in Lebanon can contact the embassy in Beirut on 01 324 129 (only for evacuees).
The Swiss Red Cross and the Catholic charity Caritas announced on Friday that they would increase aid to Lebanon. Both have now pledged SFr300,000 ($242,000).
The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation has organised a delivery of medicine, and six specialists are in the field.
On Friday the first convoy of relief lorries from the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reached the besieged southern Lebanese city of Tyre.
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