KUALA LUMPUR, (Reuters) – The United States views as ‘outrageous’ the Israeli justice minister’s remark that the Rome conference had given Israel a green light to continue bombing Lebanon, a senior State Department official said on Friday.
“Any such statement is outrageous,” said State Department spokesman Adam Ereli.
“The United States is sparing no effort to bring a durable and lasting end to this conflict,” said Ereli, accompanying Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who has been taking part in a global security forum in Malaysia.
The U.S. is sensitive to suggestions that its decision not to call for an immediate ceasefire between Lebanon and Israel has essentially given the go-ahead to Israel to continue its offensive against Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon, resulting in more civilian deaths.
The death toll since July 12, when Hezbollah guerrillas killed eight Israeli soldiers and abducted two in a cross-border raid, provoking massive Israeli retaliation, is at least 456 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 51 Israelis, including 18 civilians, according to a Reuters tally.
Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja expressed concern on Thursday about Justice Minister Haim Ramon’s remark that the outcome of Wednesday’s Rome conference on Lebanon was a green light for continued Israeli bombing of Lebanese targets.
“I raised this with Prime Minister (Ehud) Olmert and he said this was not the government position,” Tuomioja told Reuters by phone from Tel Aviv.
Tuomioja said he believed the Israelis intended to go on bombing Lebanon until they had achieved their goal of crushing Hezbollah. “I’m afraid it could go on for weeks. That seems to be the Israeli reading of the situation,” he added.