In a move that threatens to revive the divide between Europe and the United States, George W. Bush yesterday said Israel should "defend itself" against attacks from Lebanon.
The president did urge Israel to show "restraint," as diplomats scrambled to compose on a unanimous message from G8 leaders on the escalating violence in the Middle East.
On the first full day of this year's G8 summit, diplomats said delegations from the world's eight major industrialized nations worked on a joint statement on the worsening situation in Lebanon, which is reeling after five days of Israeli air and sea strikes that have killed more than 100 people.
Despite differing views of who to blame, G8 leaders expressed confidence they could emerge from the summit with a consensus on the conflict.
French diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to make public statements on the issue, said the G8 nations were working on a text calling for all sides to create the conditions for a ceasefire.
They said the main points would be the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, avoiding pressure on fragile political systems and a de-escalation of violence.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the abduction of Israeli servicemen "without a doubt a provocation aimed among other things at undermining the internal dialogue in Lebanon."
"We must do everything possible to stop the situation from escalating and to prevent the destruction of infrastructure in Lebanon," Lavrov said. "If Lebanon explodes we all know... how it can resonate across other countries in the region."
While condoning the attacks, Bush did urge Israel to show restraint.
"Our message to Israel is: Look, defend yourself but as you do so be mindful of the consequences, so we've urged restraint," he said after meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on the sidelines of the summit.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was more in line with European leaders who have condemned Israel's attacks as excessive. He has said it was unacceptable for Hezbollah to take hostages and shell others' territory, but also for Israel to use massive force in response.
"It is our impression that aside from seeking to return the abducted soldiers, Israel is pursuing wider goals," Putin said. He did not elaborate.
French President Jacques Chirac said yesterday that forces "who jeopardize the security, stability and sovereignty of Lebanon must be stopped."
Speaking at the start of a meeting with Bush, Chirac called for "the protection of civilians, moderation and a durable ceasefire" in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.
Blair said extremists in Iran and Syria were trying to sabotage peace in the Middle East, but he stopped short of agreeing with Bush's defence of Israel's response.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said yesterday Hezbollah would not lay down its weapons despite calls from Israel and the US for the group to do so, Iranian state television reported.
"The American president says Hezbollah should be disarmed. It is obvious that you (America) want that, and it is obvious that the Zionists (Israel) what that too. But it will not happen," he said.
Iran says it offers moral but not military support to the Muslim Shi'ite group Hezbollah. Teheran has denied Israeli accusations that its arms have been used in the latest conflict.
Syria vowed yesterday a "harsh and direct" response if it is attacked by Israel.
"Any aggression against Syria will have a firm and direct response not limited in time or means," Information Minister Mohsen Bilal said in a statement. Syria is a main backer of Hezbollah.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Saturday that Syria will put its resources at the disposal of Lebanon to help cope with Israeli attacks devastating the country.
Source: China Daily