European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels have called for an immediate end to hostilities in Lebanon, watering down demands for an immediate ceasefire at the insistence of the United States' closest allies.

A joint statement adopted at the August crisis meeting of the 25-nation bloc said the council calls for an immediate end to hostilities to be followed by a sustainable ceasefire.

The convoluted formula, relayed by diplomats, was agreed after four hours of talks as Israel escalated attacks on Hezbollah guerrillas and vowed to step up ground operations, defying calls for a ceasefire.

Announcing the statement, the Finnish Foreign Minister, Errki Tuomioja, said that it was important to get the words and concepts right in the statement and insisted there were no divisions in the EU.

Diplomats said Britain and Germany, backed by the Netherlands, had rejected an earlier draft which called for an immediate ceasefire.

A majority of countries, led by France, had wanted the EU to demand an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon.

Earlier, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, said Ireland would call for an immediate end to hostilities at the meeting.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio, he said it was a sad indictment of the EU that it had not yet managed to help bring about a ceasefire in the region.