07/17/2006, 00.00
LEBANON – ISRAEL – G8 – UNITED NATIONS
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UN calls for ceasefire and international peace force

G8 countries condemn extremists, asserting need for a political solution. Air strikes and missile launches continue as Israeli ground forces cross the border into Lebanon.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have called for an international peace force to be sent to Lebanon to separate the two sides. In a statement, G8 leaders have blamed the immediate crisis on "extremist forces", which they said wanted to destabilise the region. They reiterated that priority must be given to political and diplomatic means and the United Nations. By contrast, in a message to President Bashar al-Assad, Iranian President Ahmadinejad offered his Syrian counterpart Iran's total support.

On the frontline Israeli air strikes and Hezbollah missile launches continue unabated, whilst Western countries try to evacuate their nationals from Beirut.

The Jerusalem Post quotes from a top Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) officer saying that so far Israel's offensive against Hezbollah has only degraded 25 per cent of the group's military capabilities without taking out any of its leaders. The IDF needs at least until the middle of next week to neutralise the Shiite militant group. To achieve this goal IDF ground troops have crossed the border into Lebanon.

"Israel started by taking out roads, bridges and Beirut airport runways as well as the Rayah and Kleyat military airports," said Clarissian nuns in Beirut as reported by the Custodian in the Holy Land. "Israeli gunboats are patrolling the coast to stop merchant shipping. In short land, sea and air communications are impossible. We are left with the telephone, internet and mobile phones. For this reason, we are sending you these bits of information just in case they too are cut off."

In Iran the country's supreme leader Khamenei said that that "Lebanon was supposed to be turned into a centre for Western culture but this country has instead turned into a centre for Jihad (holy war) and resistance and this is exactly the opposite of what the Western hegemonic powers wanted. The states of the Islamic world are proud Hezbollah's courageous resistance against the Zionist aggressors."

Similarly, former Iranian President Khatami, who once tried to promote a dialogue between civilisations, said in a message to Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah that "Hezbollah is like a shining sun which warms up all oppressed Muslims, especially those in Palestine and Lebanon".

The so-called reform-minded ayatollah added that "[w]hat is going on in Lebanon today indicates the final victory of justice over wrongness, salvation over occupation and human dignity over humiliation".

For years Iranian revolutionary guards, the Pasdaran, have been present in Lebanon's Shiite areas. None the less, on Saturday the Iranian government officially denied having any troops in the country. Its support for Hezbollah (and Hamas), it said, was solely of a spiritual, not a military nature. (DM)

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