Israeli attack on Lebanon 'disproportionate' says Chirac

By James Mackenzie

PARIS - Israeli strikes against civilian targets in Lebanon and Gaza, from power stations to bridges, stirred growing international condemnation today and warnings the conflict could spread.

But Hizbollah guerrillas, who Israel says triggered the action with missile strikes on Israel and the capture of two of its soldiers, were also urged to curb their operations.

"One can ask oneself whether there isn't a sort of desire to destroy Lebanon," French President Jacques Chirac said of Israeli attacks that have killed 66 people, almost all civilians. "I find, honestly, like most Europeans, that the reactions are completely disproportionate."

He described Hizbollah guerrillas who fired rockets on to the territory of the Jewish state as "completely irresponsible".

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora urged President George W. Bush by telephone to use all his influence on Israel to "stop its aggression on Lebanon, reach a comprehensive ceasefire and lift its blockade", the prime minister's office said in a statement.

"President Bush stressed that he was keen on pressing Israel to contain the damage to Lebanon and to avoid inflicting harm on innocent civilians," the statement said.

Bush said yesterday "Israel has the right to defend herself", and made clear he felt its actions were justified.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper described Israeli action as a measured response.

Israel launched its offensive this week after Hizbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran, raided northern Israel, killing eight soldiers and capturing two. They are demanding a trade against Arabs held in Israeli jails.

Top UN relief co-ordinator Jan Egeland said those who had seized Israeli soldiers and fired rockets into Israel from both Gaza and southern Lebanon bore their share of the blame.

"They don't seem to care the slightest bit that it is the children and the women and the civilians who bear the brunt of all of this," he told a news conference in Geneva.

Israel says Hizbollah has launched 130 missiles in the last 48 hours, killing two Israeli civilians and wounding over 100. Residents in northern Israel have taken to bomb shelters.

Egeland called Israeli targeting of civilian infrastructure a violation of international law and of common sense. "You are supposed to do something with the armed troops, you are not supposed to hurt the children and people who had nothing to do with all of this."

Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja of Finland, holding the rotating EU presidency, said: "There is still the possibility it could get worse and that the conflict could spread, especially to Syria."

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah of Jordan appealed after talks in Cairo for international efforts to contain the conflict and prevent escalation.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano said Pope Benedict and his aides were deeply concerned.

Saudi Arabia yesterday blamed "elements" inside Lebanon for the violence, in unusually frank language directed at Hizbollah and its Iranian backers.

Iran has warned Israel against any attack on Syria and said today the Jewish state would not dare move against the Islamic republic.

- REUTERS

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