The European Union on Thursday criticized Israel for using “disproportionate” force in its attacks on Lebanon following the cross-border raid by Hezbollah guerillas who captured two Israeli soldiers.
The EU also called Israel’s naval blockade cutting off supply routes to Lebanon unjustified.
Separately, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said he was planning a peace mission to the Middle East.
“The European Union is greatly concerned about the disproportionate use of force by Israel in Lebanon in response to attacks by Hezbollah on Israel,” according to a statement issued by Finland, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency. “The presidency deplores the loss of civilian lives and the destruction of civilian infrastructure. The imposition of an air and sea blockade on Lebanon cannot be justified.”
In the EU’s strongest comment on the escalating violence, the statement said “actions, which are contrary to international humanitarian law, can only aggravate the vicious circle of violence and retribution, and cannot serve anyone’s legitimate security interests.”
It called for the immediate release of the Israeli soldiers, and urged “all countries in the region to work for the restoration of calm in order to avoid the further escalation of the situation into war.”
Solana said he was in “permanent contact” with players in the region and with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. “Following these contacts, I envisage going to the region,” he said in a statement.
EU diplomats said it was unclear when Solana would leave, but it could be before Monday’s meeting of European foreign ministers in Brussels.
In other reaction:
- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced he will send a three-person team to the Middle East to urge all parties to exercise restraint and to help defuse the crisis, a spokesman said on Thursday.
- France’s foreign minister condemned Israel’s attacks as “a disproportionate act of war.” Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy also told France’s Europe-1 radio that France was calling for “the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Lebanon to be preserved.”
- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov echoed the comments from France and the EU. "This is a disproportionate response to what has happened and if both sides are going to drive each other into a tight corner then I think that all this will develop in a very dramatic and tragic way," he told reporters on a flight from Paris to Moscow, Interfax news agency reported.
- In Germany en route to the G-8 summit in Russia, President Bush said Israel has the right to defend itself. He laid the blame for the escalation of violence on Hezbollah and said Syria “needs to be held to account” for supporting and harboring Hezbollah.
- German Chancellor Angela Merkel appealed for restraint from both sides. But she suggested they do not share equal blame, repeatedly noting that the violence began with the soldiers’ capture. “I think that one needs to be careful to make a distinction between the root causes and the consequences of something,” she said.
- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel's incursion into Lebanon has raised the specter of a large-scale Middle East war and urged world powers to intervene "to stop this serious deterioration."
- Egypt warned that the violence could engulf the entire region in conflict and called on all sides to avoid “being dragged into a new cycle of violence and counterviolence.”
- In Jordan, the second Arab country after Egypt to have a signed peace treaty with Israel, the government issued a statement condemning “Israel’s use of force against unarmed civilians and the outcome in terms of the human loss and destruction of civil institutions.” But it clearly criticized Hezbollah, saying, “Jordan stands against whoever exposes the Palestinian people and their cause, Lebanon and its sovereignty to unexpected dangers.”