|UN Security Council to discuss crisis on Friday
|The UN Security Council set an urgent meeting for Friday after Israeli strikes across Lebanon, and Arab governments agreed to send their foreign ministers to Cairo for an emergency meeting on Saturday to discuss the escalation.
The United States, meanwhile, said the Jewish state had the right to self-defense and blamed Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas for the violence, while Russia and the EU condemned the strikes as a "disproportionate act of war."
French UN Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, the Security Council president for July, told reporters the public meeting was being scheduled at the request of the Lebanese Mission to the United Nations. He said Israel and Lebanon would be invited to address the council, which also would hear a briefing by a UN official.
US President George W. Bush spoke up for Israel's attack on Lebanon's infrastructure, but warned the Israelis that they should be careful not to weaken the fragile Lebanese government.
"My biggest concern is whether or not actions taken will weaken the Siniora government," Bush said, speaking at a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Bush urged Syrian leader Bashar Assad to help pressure Hizbullah to release the Israeli soldiers, adding: "Syria needs to be held to account."
"President Assad needs to show some leadership toward peace," Bush said.
"Hizbullah doesn't want there to be peace, the militant arm of Hamas doesn't want
there to be peace, and those of us who do want peace will continue to work together to encourage peace," he added.
The Arab League began consultations on a ministerial meeting on Wednesday. The ministers will consider at their meeting a proposal by Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh for holding an Arab summit on the fighting, League officials said.
The ministers are likely to call for an end to Israeli attacks and peaceful settlements between Israel and Hamas on between Israel and Hizbullah, diplomats said. But major Arab governments other than Syria will not give unqualified backing to either Hamas or Hizbullah, they added.
The 22-member league had not yet looked at specific proposals for a joint Arab response to the attacks.
The United Nations also said it was dispatching a three-person team to the Middle East to help defuse the crisis.
The UN team will first visit Cairo to meet with Egyptian officials and consult with the Arab League foreign ministers and is then expected to head to Israel, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Syria and possibly other destinations "as needed," a UN spokesman said.
Bush's comments contrasted with comments from Russia, France, Italy, Britain and the European Union, which said there could be no justification for Israel's air and sea blockade of Lebanon.
"Actions which are contrary to international humanitarian law can only aggravate the vicious circle of violence and retribution," the EU presidency said in a statement.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denounced both Israel's attack on Lebanon and its operations against the Palestinian territories.
"This is a disproportionate response to what has happened and if both sides are going to drive each other into a tight corner then I think that all this will develop in a very dramatic and tragic way," he said.
Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa blamed Israel for the escalation and warned of "chaos" sweeping the region.
"Israel is behind all that is happening," Moussa told reporters. "Leaving matters as they are will lead to big chaos in the region."
Moussa said that Arab states would take "unified steps" over one of the most serious regional crises since the second Palestinian intifada erupted in September 2000.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abou al-Gheit, who rushed to Damascus on Wednesday to deliver a message to Assad, also warned that the situation risked spiraling out of control.
"The rhetorical escalation by all parties threatens to provoke an explosion of the situation and to herald a dangerous phase for the region," he said.
In Jordan the government condemned "Israel's use of force against unarmed civilians and the outcome in terms of the human loss and destruction of civil institutions." But it clearly criticized Hizbullah, saying: "Jordan stands against whoever exposes the Palestinian people and their cause, Lebanon and its sovereignty to unexpected dangers."
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has warned of the risk of a "regional war" in the Middle East.
European Union foreign policy head Javier Solana also prepared on Thursday to make a snap visit to the Middle East, according to his spokeswoman.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy called Israel's bombardment of Beirut's airport "a disproportionate act of war," saying there was a real risk of a regional war.
Douste-Blazy also condemned Hizbullah's firing of rockets into northern Israel and the seizure of the soldiers, telling Europe 1 radio that these were "irresponsible acts."
Britain urged both sides in the conflict to "try and avoid actions which will make it more difficult to get back to the negotiating table."
The Daily Star