updated 7/12/2006 6:37:21 PM ET 2006-07-12T22:37:21

United States blamed Syria and Iran on Wednesday for the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah militants and an eruption of violence along the southern border of Lebanon.

The White House called for the immediate and unconditional release of the two soldiers.

“We condemn in the strongest terms Hezbollah’s unprovoked attack on Israel and the kidnapping of the two Israeli soldiers,” National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones said as President Bush flew here for a visit. He said Hezbollah had also launched unprovoked rocket attacks on civilian targets in Israel as part of its offensive.

Israel sent troops, warplanes, tanks and gunboats in a military offensive into southern Lebanon after Hezbollah militants crossed into Israel and captured two Israeli soldiers. Israel said seven of its soldiers had been killed in the violence.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed determination to achieve the release of the kidnapped soldiers and urged all sides to “act with restraint to resolve this incident peacefully.”

“Syria has a special responsibility to use its influence to support a positive outcome,” she said in a statement.

2nd front of fight against militants
Southern Lebanon became the second front in the fight against Islamic militants by Israel, which already is waging an operation to free a soldier captured by the Palestinian militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“This is a terrorist attack and it is clearly timed to exacerbate already high tensions in the region and sow further violence,” Jones said.

He said Rice, on a diplomatic trip to Paris, had been in direct contact with the parties in the region “with the purpose of holding Hezbollah accountable for its action.”

“We also hold Syria and Iran — which directly support Hezbollah — responsible for this attack and for the ensuing violence,” Jones said. “Hezbollah’s terrorism is not in Lebanon’s interest.

“This attack demonstrates that Hezbollah’s continued impunity to arm itself and carry out operations from Lebanese territory is a direct threat to the security of the Lebanese people and the sovereignty of the Lebanese government,” Jones said.

Finger-pointing
Syria’s vice president blamed Israel for the escalating violence in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories Wednesday and denied that his country had a role in the abductions of Israeli soldiers.

Farouk al-Sharaa said Israel was to blame for the seizures of the soldiers, two of whom were captured Wednesday by Hezbollah militants who crossed into Israel from Lebanon. A soldier was also taken by the Palestinian militant group Hamas last month.

“For sure, the occupation (of the Palestinian territories) is the cause provoking both Lebanese and Palestinian people, and that’s why there is Lebanese and Palestinian resistance,” he said.

Some of Hamas’ top leaders live in Syria, putting Damascus at the center of blame by Israel and the United States.

Al-Sharaa denied his country had a role in either abduction.

“It’s up to the resistance — both the Lebanese and the Palestinian — to decide what they are doing and why are they fighting,” he told reporters in Damascus.

Al-Sharaa made the comments at a news conference with Ali Larijani, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, whose country is also a top backer of Hamas and Hezbollah.

“When the Zionist entity attacks and slaughters the Palestinian people ... resistance is necessary,” Larijani said.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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