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WARFARE IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Summit Leaders Urge Both Sides to End Assaults

G-8 communique on the Mideast crisis places most of the blame on militants but also admonishes Israel. Bush cites Syria and Iran.

July 17, 2006|David Holley and James Gerstenzang | Times Staff Writers

STRELNA, Russia — Blaming extremists for the outbreak of Middle East violence, world leaders at a summit here issued a statement Sunday calling for militants to end attacks on Israel and for Israel to pull its troops out of the Gaza Strip and end military operations in Lebanon.

The statement endorses Israel's right to self-defense and places primary blame for the upsurge in fighting on militants: the Palestinian group Hamas and Lebanon-based Hezbollah. But it also calls for Israel to exercise "utmost restraint."

"These extremist elements and those that support them cannot be allowed to plunge the Middle East into chaos and provoke a wider conflict," the communique says. "The extremists must immediately halt their attacks."

The statement also urges that Israel "be mindful of the strategic and humanitarian consequences of its actions."

"We call upon Israel to exercise utmost restraint," it says, "seeking to avoid casualties among innocent civilians and damage to civilian infrastructure and to refrain from acts that would destabilize the Lebanese government."

The statement was issued by the leaders of the United States, Russia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, gathered here for a summit of the Group of 8 leading industrialized nations.

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin said at a Sunday evening news conference that rather than working with a document prepared in advance by experts, as is usually the case at summits, the leaders hammered this one out themselves.

"We had to look at this on the hoof as the tragic events evolved," he said.

The Middle East crisis forced its way to the top of the summit agenda after the capture last week of two Israeli soldiers during a cross-border raid by Hezbollah militants, an attack that prompted a broad Israeli offensive in Lebanon. An Israeli soldier was also seized June 25 near the Gaza Strip by Palestinian militants, some of them linked to Hamas.

The statement outlines a four-point plan to "create conditions for a cessation of violence that will be sustainable and lay the foundation for a more permanent solution."

The G-8 leaders said the steps to be taken were the return of the three Israeli soldiers, an end to the shelling of Israeli territory, an end to Israeli military operations in Lebanon and the early withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, and the release of Palestinian government ministers and lawmakers arrested by Israel.

At his news conference, Putin said Moscow was using its connections with Hamas, Syria and Iran to try to promote the statement's goals, including the release of the soldiers. He implied that at least in the case of the soldier held in Gaza, there were indications that the effort might soon succeed.

Syria and Iran are allied with Hezbollah.

Putin also said, agreeing with a questioner, that Israel's refusal to carry out certain U.N. resolutions and other commitments was part of the root cause of the current hostilities. But he still placed blame on Hamas and Hezbollah, adding, "One should not be allowed to abduct people and shell other states."

U.S. officials emphasized that the statement doesn't contain the word "cease-fire," which French President Jacques Chirac used in calling for an end to the violence. U.S. officials say a cease-fire that doesn't address Israel's security concerns would probably collapse, renewing the cycle of violence.

The leaders' statement also calls for the Lebanese government to deploy its forces to all parts of the country, in particular the Hezbollah-dominated south, which borders Israel. It suggests that the United Nations consider establishing an international security and monitoring presence in Lebanon.

The leaders also rushed through approval of statements, largely prepared in advance by aides, on what had been billed by Russia as the three key themes of the summit: global energy security, education and the fight against infectious diseases. The leaders also discussed the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea.

In a statement made during a picture-taking session at the start of a meeting Sunday morning with President Bush, before the official summit sessions began, Chirac indicated slight daylight between his position and that of the United States.

He made a point of calling "for a show of moderation on the part of all parties involved, so that we can establish the conditions of a long-lasting cease-fire in the region," a suggestion that equal pressure be put on Israel and Hezbollah and its allies.

But he also said of the French and U.S. positions: "We share the same views of the issues at stake here. We witness the tremendous sadness, the hardship of the civilian population in this region."

Speaking during a photo session with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush avoided a direct answer about joining Lebanon's call for a cease-fire.

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