Thursday, July 13, 2006

STRALSUND, Germany — President Bush yesterday urged Israel not to destabilize the pro-Western government in Beirut, even as he acknowledged the nation’s right to defend itself after Lebanon-based Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers.

Mr. Bush said that the missile attacks and kidnapping of Israeli soldiers by the Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hezbollah are clearly aimed at blocking efforts to bring peace to the Middle East.

“It’s really sad where people are willing to take innocent life to stop that process. Matter of fact, it’s pathetic,” the president said during a visit to Germany ahead of the Group of Eight summit that begins in Russia today.

“My biggest concern is whether or not actions taken [by Israel] will weaken the Siniora government,” Mr. Bush said, referring to Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. “Democracy in Lebanon is an important part of laying a foundation for peace in that region.”

Mr. Bush issued his warning yesterday after meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in this Baltic Sea city. The chancellor supported Mr. Bush and also put the blame squarely on terrorist groups that have launched missile attacks on Israel and killed and kidnapped Israeli soldiers.

“We need to remind all of us again how this escalation started, with the kidnapping of a soldier, through rockets — for the firing of missiles against Israeli territory. And we can only urge all parties, appeal to all parties to stop, to cease violence and to also release the kidnapped soldier, and to stop this firing of missiles at Israeli territory,” Mrs. Merkel said.

“The attacks did not start from the Israeli side, but from Hezbollah’s side,” she said. “We call on the powers in the region to seek to bring about a de-escalation of the situation.”

The president spoke as Israel imposed a naval blockade on Lebanon, bombed Beirut’s international airport twice and targeted two Lebanese military bases near the Syrian border.

Hezbollah, which operates from southern Lebanon, fired more than 100 rockets into Israel, which said one of the missiles hit the port city of Haifa.

At least 57 persons on both sides of the Israel-Lebanon border have been killed, including a Lebanese family of 10 and two Israelis yesterday, the Associated Press reported.

Mr. Bush also blamed the violent terror group Hamas, which controls the Palestinian government, for derailing a plan known as the “road map,” which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

“We were headed toward the road map, things looked positive, and terrorists stepped up and kidnapped a soldier, fired rockets into Israel. Now we’ve got two more kidnappings up north. Hezbollah 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,” Mr. Bush said.

The president also pointed a finger of blame at Syria, a patron of Hezbollah.

“Syria needs to be held to account. Syria is housing the militant wing of Hamas. Hezbollah has got an active presence in Syria. The truth of the matter is, if we really want there to be — the situation to settle down, the soldiers need to be returned, and [Syrian] President [Bashar] Assad needs to show some leadership toward peace,” Mr. Bush said.

On Wednesday, Hezbollah militants killed eight Israeli soldiers and captured two others on the Israel-Lebanon border.

Russia condemned Israel’s strikes in Lebanon, calling the acts a dangerous escalation of the Middle East conflict.

“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,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

France also opposed the Israeli attacks on Lebanon.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy called Israel’s bombardment of Beirut airport “a disproportionate act of war,” saying there was a real risk of a regional conflict.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair called on all sides in the Middle East crisis to exercise restraint, act proportionately and get back to the negotiating table as soon as possible.

“Overall, let us remember how these problems have arisen, which is first and foremost the kidnappings. We condemn these kidnappings and call for the soldiers involved to be released,” Mr. Blair’s official spokesman said.

Leaders of the G-8 industrial economies begin a series of meetings today in St. Petersburg, and the explosive situation in the Middle East will likely be topic No. 1.

The group is made up of the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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