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French Version

World leaders voice very different views

US President George W. Bush said Friday that he would not press Israel to halt its military offensive against Lebanon, but French President Jacques Chirac described the blitz as "totally disproportionate."

The remarks came as European leaders expressed fears of a widening Middle East conflict that could spiral out of control.

Chirac asked aloud whether Lebanon's destruction was not the ultimate goal of the attack.

"One could ask if today there is not a sort of will to destroy Lebanon, its equipment, its roads, its communication," Chirac said during an interview at the Elysee Palace to mark Bastille Day, France's national day.

However, he added that Hizbullah and Hamas rocket attacks on Israel were "inadmissible, unacceptable and irresponsible."

White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters that Bush spoke by telephone with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and other Middle East leaders, including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah II.

Snow said Bush "believes the Israelis have the right to protect themselves and that in doing that they should limit as much as possible so-called collateral damage, not only to facilities but also to human lives."

Asked whether he agreed to Siniora's request to tell the Israelis to limit their military operations, Snow said: "No. The president is not going to make military decisions for Israel."

Asked if he felt the Syrians and Iranians were helping Hamas and Hizbullah, Chirac said the two groups "could not have taken these initiatives alone."

"There is, without any doubt, an action which must be discussed with Syria," the French president said. He also implied that Iran, which backs Hizbullah, may also have had a role.

"In the Middle East region, we have this crisis with Israel and Lebanon, these initiatives taken utterly irresponsibly by Hamas and Hizbullah along with the more-or-less connected affair of Iran," the French president said.

In Beirut, Siniora's office said in a statement that Bush had assured the Lebanese leader he was pressing Israel to "contain the damage" to Lebanon and avoid civilian casualties.

Siniora urged Bush to get Israel to halt its attack, agree to a cease-fire and lift a blockade.

But Snow said: "It is unlikely that either or both parties are going to agree to that at this juncture, although we certainly hope that we get to a cease-fire soon and we hope that all work for it."

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin called on all sides to stand down before matters got worse.

"All the sides that are involved in the conflict must immediately cease military action," he said ahead of a G-8 summit to run through the weekend in St. Petersburg.

The European Union is sending its foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, to the region Saturday, and the 25 foreign ministers of the EU were to meet Monday in Brussels to discuss the crisis. Russian special envoy Sergei Yakovlev will also travel to the Middle East.

Erkki Tuomioja, foreign minister of Finland, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, expressed fear that the conflict could expand to Syria.

"This is in no way desirable, and the consequences could be truly uncontrollable," he said.

In Spain, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero warned Israel that it was "making a mistake" by attacking Lebanon, adding that both the EU and the United Nations must secure "an immediate cessation of the hostilities."

"One thing is defense, which is legitimate, and another is a counteroffensive of widespread attack," Zapatero told Punto Radio.

Beirut 15-07-2006
The Daily Star

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