- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 2006

PARIS (AP) - French President Jacques Chirac castigated the Israeli offensive into Lebanon today, calling it “totally disproportionate,” while he and other European leaders expressed fears of a widening Middle Eastern conflict that could get out of control.

A U.N. humanitarian official condemned the attacks on Lebanon’s transportation infrastructure, saying innocent civilians would suffer. Thousands of Iraqis demonstrated against Israel and the United States.

From Russia to Spain, leaders voiced concern at the escalation of the conflict, and Mr. Chirac asked whether Lebanon’s destruction was the ultimate goal.

“One could ask if today there is not a sort of will to destroy Lebanon, its equipment, its roads, its communication,” Mr. Chirac said during an interview to mark Bastille Day, the French national holiday.

President Bush, in Russia for the Group of Eight summit, spoke by phone with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and promised to pressure Israel “to limit damage to Lebanon and to spare civilians and innocent people from harm,” according to a statement from Mr. Saniora’s office. The promise fell short of the Lebanese leader’s request for pressure for a cease-fire.

Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja of Finland, which currently holds the European Union presidency, voiced Europeans’ fears that the conflict could expand into Syria, which some countries feel may have had a hand in the crisis.

“This is in no way desirable, and the consequences could be truly uncontrollable,” Mr. Tuomioja said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called on all sides to stand down, while Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero warned Israel it was “making a mistake” to attack Lebanon.

“One thing is defense, which is legitimate, and another is a counteroffensive of widespread attack,” Mr. Zapatero told Punto Radio. “It won’t bring anything other than an escalation of violence.”

The Vatican echoed that remark.

“In fact, the right to defense on the part of a country does not exempt it from respecting norms of international law above all for that which concerns the safety of the civilian population,” said a statement by Cardinal Angelo Sodano,cq the Vatican’s No. 2 official.

The fighting between Israel and Lebanon followed the capture Wednesday of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah guerrillas.

Mr. Chirac, who called Hezbollah rocket attacks against Israel “inadmissible, unacceptable and irresponsible,” implied that Syria and Iran, which both back Hezbollah, might be involved.

“I have the feeling, if not the conviction, that Hamas and Hezbollah wouldn’t have taken the initiatives alone,” Mr. Chirac said.

In Baghdad, 5,000 Iraqis demonstrated after Friday prayers, praising Hezbollah and denouncing Israel and the United States. Some protesters said they were ready to fight the Israelis. Others carried banners reading: “Let everyone understand that we will not stand idle.”

Jan Egeland, the top U.N. humanitarian official, said the Israeli blockade of Lebanon’s borders and seaports, as well as the bombing of Beirut’s airport, was regrettable because it meant civilians and children “cannot receive goods, cannot get their daily needs met.”

He was equally critical of Arab extremist groups in southern Lebanon and Gaza for abducting Israeli soldiers but said Israel’s military reaction has been excessive.

“It is in violation of international law, and it also is in violation of common sense,” he said at the United Nation’s European headquarters in Geneva. “You are supposed to do something to the armed group. You are not supposed to hurt the children of people who have nothing to do with this.”

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