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Qatar trying to mediate end to Lebanon war-sources

Written by: Staff

JERUSALEM, July 23 (Reuters) U S ally Qatar is mediating to end the war between Israel and the Lebanese guerrilla group Hizbollah, senior political sources said today.

The Qatari foreign minister denied a mediation attempt.

The sources said Qatar, which has not signed a peace treaty with Israel but enjoys friendly ties with the Jewish state, had intensified its diplomacy in recent days directly with Israeli officials and also with Hizbollah through Lebanese officials.

''The Qataris are mediating between Israel and Hizbollah to end the current crisis in Lebanon,'' one senior political source told Reuters. The sources did not give details.

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani denied his country was involved.

''I do not think that there is any direct or indirect mediation between us and Israel or Hizbollah through the Lebanese government,'' he told Al Jazeera television.

''I think this was a leak to serve as an attempt to weaken the morale of the Lebanese resistance.'' The war erupted on July 12 when Hizbollah captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others in a cross-border raid. Israel has ruled out a prisoner swap for the return of its soldiers and sought to cripple Hizbollah with its offensive.

Asked for Israel's reaction, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said: ''Qatar is a country that we have met in the past ... If Qatar is working behind the scenes to secure the release of the hostages, that is a good thing.'' International diplomatic efforts have grown to end the fighting.

Ministers from France, Germany and Britain have been holding talks with Israeli officials ahead of the arrival of U S Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who heads for the West Asia today.

Qatar and European countries have criticised Israel's offensive while the United States, Israel's closest ally, has resisted growing calls for a ceasefire and joined Israel in blaming the Iranian-backed Hizbollah for the crisis.

Israeli attacks aimed at Hizbollah have killed 359 people in Lebanon, most of them civilians. At least 37 Israelis have died, 17 of them civilians killed by Hizbollah rockets on the north of the country.

Reuters MQA DB2020

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