07/15/2006, 00.00
LEBANON – ISRAEL
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Crisis worsens in Lebanon; no agreement at G8

Al-Hayat said Israel has given Syria three days to disarm Hezbollah and to free hostages: the alternative is war. The intervention of the pope has been highly appreciated and he has been described by militias as "a defender of human rights and a model of sanity".

Beirut (AsiaNews) – The Israeli government has given Syria a three-day ultimatum to stop Hezbollah's attacks, to get on with disarming militias and to free kidnapped hostages. The alternative is war. The news was reported by Al-Hayat, a pan-Arab daily newspaper edited in London, which cited Pentagon sources.

The newspaper said: "An American military source has warned that if the Arab world and the international community fail in their attempts to convince Syria to put pressure on Hezbollah for the soldiers' release and to stop the current escalation, Israel may attack targets in the country". The source added: "Washington cannot exclude the possibility of an Israeli attack on Syria".

Damascus, meanwhile, "assures its support for Lebanon and the Hezbollah movement in the light of attacks that Israel has been conducting since Wednesday". In an official statement, the governing Baath party said: "The Syrian people are ready to extend their full support to the Lebanese people and their heroic resistance against the barbaric aggression and crimes of Israel."

The appeal of Benedict XVI for peace has forged an opening in this scenario; even the Hezbollah Al Manar TV has highlighted his plea, with the daily editorial speaker saying: "The pope is a defender of human rights and a model of sanity."

In Lebanon, Premier Fouad Siniora told CNN television that the government of Tel Aviv was "breaking Lebanon to pieces". He said in an interview: "The Lebanese government has clearly said it has no information about the kidnappings: we do not carry any responsibility, in fact we disown such acts". Turning to Israel, Siniora called for an "immediate ceasefire". The Shiite Health Minister, Mouhamad Jawad Khalife, contacted by AsiaNews by phone, said: "Was this wave of violence necessary to free two soldiers, when we Lebanese have been waiting for many years for our people who were captured?" The minister appealed to "men of goodwill to help Lebanon and to exert pressure on Israel, which wants to destroy the country".

International diplomacy seems to be powerless: the meeting place is Moscow, where the G8 meeting opens today, but a dinner between the American president and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, last night underscored that they were far from shared approach to the matter.

Putin, who is hosting the summit, urged Bush to "put pressure on Israel, its closest ally in the Middle East, to stop hostilities." Bush responded by asking Putin to put pressure on Syria and Iran, the Islamic countries closest to him, to induce the Hezbollah militias to lay down their arms.

After dinner, the spokesman of the American president, Tony Snow, confirmed the lack of agreement. He told reporters: "The president thinks Israel should limit the number of victims as much as possible but he does not want to take military decisions in its stead." Speaking for himself, Putin said: "If hostage-taking is unacceptable, then so is a massive war operation."

Bush and Putin will return to the crisis today in a bilateral meeting, this time with their advisers, and again in separate consultations with other members of the G8, before the launch of the meeting scheduled for the evening.

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