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Swiss diplomacy seeks to help in Lebanon

Calmy-Rey has expressed Switzerland's concerns Keystone

Switzerland is doing all it can to try to help ease the conflict in Lebanon, Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey tells swissinfo.

Speaking on Thursday, she said the humanitarian situation in the country was “dramatic” and the political situation “extremely difficult”.

Calmy-Rey said the use of force in Lebanon had led to an impasse.

Switzerland was therefore striving for a negotiated solution in the Middle East and was proposing an exchange of prisoners between Israel and Hezbollah militants.

swissinfo: What are the Swiss priorities in the Lebanese crisis?

Micheline Calmy-Rey: Our first priority is to evacuate the Swiss who are there. About 500 have so far left. It’s difficult to give precise figures… but we think about the same number are waiting to be evacuated.

We are also involved at the humanitarian level. It is important that hostilities are stopped immediately and a ceasefire is established for humanitarian reasons.

The situation is dramatic. About 500,000 people are displaced inside Lebanon, about 40,000 in Beirut alone. Access to medicines and food is almost impossible.

In addition to a ceasefire, we are also involved in trying to establish humanitarian corridors by sea and in southern Lebanon. And we are repeatedly calling for the Geneva Conventions to be respected.

At the diplomatic level, Switzerland is also making different contacts with a view to a negotiated settlement, which in our view is the only way of putting an end to this conflict.

swissinfo: Is Switzerland going to play a role of mediation in this conflict?

M.C-R.: For the time being we do not have a mediating role. Switzerland is not one of the actors who are taking part in strategic decisions.

But with our sincerity and our particular position as the depositary state of the Geneva Conventions, we have a [particular] place in the international community. We are using that and our contacts as best we can to bring about talks.

swissinfo: Do you feel that the military operations on the ground are proportionate?

M.C-R.: We have found them to be out of proportion We recognise Israel’s right to try to recover its two soldiers held prisoner by military means.

The problem is that these operations are affecting civilian populations. As a result we judged that they were not in proportion to the objective.

swissinfo: Are we dealing with attacks against Lebanon or against Hezbollah? If the first is the case, what are or would be the implications for Switzerland?

M.C-R.: For the time being we feel that we are dealing with attacks against Hezbollah.

But if we were to consider that they were operations between two countries, the conflict would then become between two states and Switzerland could apply the law of neutrality [for example by no longer selling arms to the belligerent parties].

swissinfo: Do you think that the Swiss feel the foreign ministry is doing enough in response to this crisis?

M.C-R.: That’s not a question that I can answer. What I can tell you is that our staff are working really hard not only in Beirut of course, but also in embassies in the region in Damascus and Cyprus and here in Bern. They are rallying round and are putting in a great effort.

We have established a crisis task force that meets several times a day. A hotline number is also available for Swiss citizens.

I think we are doing all we can to try to improve things in what is a really difficult situation.

swissinfo-interview: Pierre-François Besson

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.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR