ST. PETERSBURG, Russia, AP – President Bush and European allies on Sunday urged Israel to show restraint after four days of steady bombing against its neighbor Lebanon, as the world leaders’ summit was overshadowed by turmoil in the Middle East.
“Our message to Israel is, look, defend yourself,” Bush said. “But as you do so, be mindful of the consequences. So we’ve urged restraint.”
The world’s industrial leaders expressed confidence they would emerge from the Group of Eight summit with a consensus statement position on the Middle East — despite differing views on who shares the blame.
Leaders of the G-8 nations — the United States, Russia, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy, Canada — began a full day of discussions and issued joint declarations that called for bolstering energy security, fighting infectious diseases and improving education. But the summit was dominated by concerns about the escalating violence in the Middle East.
Israeli warplanes began striking Lebanon after Hezbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers Wednesday in a cross-border raid into Israel. The bombings continued into Sunday, as Hezbollah fired barrages of rockets ever deeper into Israel.
“The international community must address the root causes” of the violence taking place in the Mideast, Bush declared.
“This started because Hezbollah decided to capture two Israeli soldiers and fire hundreds of rockets into Israel from southern Lebanon,” Bush said. “That’s the cause of the crisis.”
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, sitting with Bush for a bilateral meeting on the summit’s sidelines, said everyone is going to work hard to find a common solution. “We all want the situation to calm down,” Blair said.
The only way to stop the hostilities, Blair said, is to address the basic reasons — extremists backed by Iran and Syria.
“I think it would be a very good signal to send out to the world at this moment that we can agree to such a position,” Blair said.
French President Jacques Chirac said he wanted the G-8 nations to call “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.”
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said U.S. officials have told Israeli Prime Minister Olmert that they are concerned about the effect the violence is having on innocent civilians.
“There is a great concern on all sides about civilian casualties, there is a great concern about damage to civilian infrastructure,” Rice said. “I don’t think that there is anyone here who would say that Israel does not have a right to defend itself. And I think that everyone here would note that the extremists who are attacking not just Israel but the very foundation for peace need to be stopped.”
White House counselor Dan Bartlett said there was a growing consensus on the Middle East among summit members.
“They share the president’s view that Hezbollah and Hamas as well as Syria and Iran are clearly acting in a provocative manner that is disrupting the peace process in the Middle East,” Bartlett said.
While other G-8 leaders have questioned whether Israel’s response to the capture of its soldiers went too far, Bush has placed blame squarely on Hezbollah and the nations that back it and has declined to call for a cease fire.
Bush described the escalation of violence as “a moment of clarification” that should show the world how Hezbollah is disrupting the peace process.
“It is a moment that requires all of us to work together and send a clear message, not only to Hezbollah, but to the Iranians who financed Hezbollah and to the Syrians who house Hezbollah,” Bush said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to be more in line with European leaders who have condemned Israel’s attacks as excessive. Putin has said it was unacceptable for Hezbollah to take hostages and shell others’ territory, but also for Israel to use massive force in response.
“It is our impression that aside from seeking to return the abducted soldiers, Israel is pursuing wider goals,” Putin said. He did not elaborate.
Bush thanked Chirac for France’s leadership in helping pass U.N. Security Council resolution 1559 last year, which demands that Syria withdraw from Lebanon and that militias there disarm — a reference to Hezbollah. Hezbollah has refused to disarm as demanded by the resolution, saying it is a resistance movement.
Chirac said he and Bush agreed that U.N. resolutions had to be applied, and that “all forces which threaten and endanger the security, stability and sovereignty of Lebanon must be stopped.”
Putin had molded this year’s G-8 summit — the first hosted by his country — to showcase his country’s re-emergence on the world stage after a devastating economic collapse in 1998.
However, he failed to win a much-anticipated agreement with the U.S. on Russia’s admission to the World Trade Organization, the 149-nation group that sets the rules for world trade. The United States is the only country that has not signed off on Russia’s membership in the WTO, and Bush dashed Putin’s hopes for getting in now.
While leaders were getting down to business, the Kremlin was determined to keep a lid on demonstrations. But dozens of anarchists briefly turned out Sunday to protest. One banner supporting people with AIDS and HIV read: “Life is more important than profit.” Some shouted “No G-8,” and one woman played a trumpet.