US Harsh on Hizbollah, Lenient on Israel as it Condemns ‘Dangerous Escalation’ in Mideast Violence
The United States on Monday condemned what it called a "dangerous escalation" in Middle East violence and blamed Hizbollah for provoking Israeli air strikes on a Syrian target in Lebanon, reported AFP.
"In the last 48 hours we have seen a dangerous escalation across the withdrawal line that was established by the United Nations," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher was quoted as saying, referring to the so-called "Blue Line" that marks the Lebanese border.
"We condemn this escalation in the cycle of violence that was initiated by Hizbollah in a clear provocation designed to escalate an already tense situation," Boucher told reporters.
He called for "maximum restraint" from all sides and added that Secretary of State Colin Powell had spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon before the air strikes and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres afterwards.
Boucher responding evasively when asked whether Washington was condemning both the initial attack by Hizbollah on Saturday that killed an Israeli soldier and Israel's retaliatory response on the Syrian position that killed at least one soldier.
He answered "Yes" when asked if the United States condemned the Hizbollah attack but when asked whether Washington also condemned the Israeli response, he replied that the United States condemned "the cycle of violence."
"We're condemning the overall violence that is occuring," Boucher said.
"What we saw was an unprovoked attack (by Hizbollah), a clear provocation that was designed to set off a cycle of violence and we think that's where the burden rests," he said.
A senior State Department official later ruled out any harsh public words or condemnation for Israel in its attack.
"We want to be fairly even-handed about this, but the fact is that Hizbollah started this," the official said on condition of anonymity.
"Israel was not bombing Syrian radars in Lebanon before Hizbollah was lobbing anti-tank missiles across the Blue Line," the official added.
But another senior US official said Washington had made clear to Israel privately that it should keep its responses "in check."
"The Israeli action is serious and we would hope they would keep it in check," the second official said. "They are not going to solve the Hizbollah problem by hitting Syria. That will escalate the situation."
Boucher's call for restraint echoed remarks made earlier by White House spokesman Ari Fleischer and in Beirut by US Ambassador to Lebanon David Satterfield, said AFP.
Meanwhile European nations, including Britain, France and Germany, have expressed deep concern over the attack and the chance that it could lead to a serious deterioration.
SYRIA CALLS ISRAELI RAID 'DANGEROUS ESCALATION,' SAYS IT RESERVES THE RIGHT TO RETALIATE
After hours of silence, Syria on Monday condemned Israel's raid on its position in Lebanon as a "dangerous escalation that may destabilize security and stability in the region."
"Syria considers this aggression against its forces a dangerous escalation liable to destabilize the region," said an official quoted by the official SANA news agency, who added that "Syria reserves the right to retaliate against any aggression."
Reports said that three Syrian soldiers were killed and six others were injured, but the official statement said that only one soldier was killed in the raid, and four others were inured.
For his part, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq Shara said in Moscow that the Israeli strike was a "gross violation" of international law.
The strike was "a gross violation of international law," AFP quoted Shara as saying.
He recalled that Arab nations had "expressed their solidarity with Lebanon and Syria in their dispute with Israel" during a regional summit last month. "However, unfortunately, Israel did not take this into account," he added
Earlier in the day, Lebanese President Emile Lahoud said that the overnight Israeli raid on Syrian targets in Lebanon may lead to a "general confrontation."
His remarks came after a telephone call to his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad, reported the Lebanese NBN TV Channel.
"This is a dangerous development expressing, again, the bloody method of (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon since he came to power, whether on the Palestinian scene or outside," Lahoud said in a statement, cited by the TV.
"This method could lead to a general confrontation," he said.
Israeli warplanes hit during the night one of Syria's radar stations in the mountains east of Beirut killing three Syrian soldiers and wounding six others.
Also, Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri denounced the raids, 35 kilometers east of Beirut as "a grave aggression on Lebanon and Syria," and warned against widening the conflict, reported the Daily Star newspaper.
He called on the international community "to act swiftly to contain the repercussions of such tension which could take dangerous dimensions."
ISRAELI ARMY SAYS RAID A MESSAGE TO SYRIA OVER HIZBOLLAH ATTACKS
The Israeli army said Monday that its deadly air raid against a Syrian military target in Lebanon was a message to Syria that Israel's patience had run out after a series of attacks by the Lebanese guerrilla movement Hizbollah, said reports.
"This operation demonstrates that our patience is running out. The signal is clear and I hope it will be understood by decision makers in Syria and Lebanon," army spokesman Ron Kitrey told Israeli military radio, cited by Haaretz newspaper.
The strike was in retaliation for the killing of an Israeli soldier in a Hizbollah missile strike in the disputed Shabaa farms border area.
It was the first such attack since Sharon took office in March and the first against Syrian positions in Lebanon since Israel's Grapes of Wrath offensive in 1996 against Hizbollah targets in south Lebanon.
On Monday, Israeli fighter-bombers broke the sound barrier Monday over Beirut and southern regions, following the overnight raid that killed two Syrian soldiers in eastern Lebanon, police said, cited by AFP.
The warplanes made supersonic booms over the capital after having flown at low altitude over southern Lebanon where they also caused loud bangs, police said.
The Israeli army took precautionary measures along the frontier, especially in the disputed Shabaa farms sector on the borders of Syria, Israel and Lebanon in case Hizbollah launched an attack to avenge the air raid, witnesses told the agency.
"A reaction is possible and we have taken account of all possibilities," Kitrey told the radio.
The Israeli government said Hizbollah had launched eight attacks on the border since the army's withdrawal from Lebanon in May after a 22-year occupation.
"Not that we are interested in using it or putting it into effect, but there is a new 'price list,' which certainly points out to the Syrians that there is a need for them, for Hizbollah, and for the Palestinians as well, to make a new reassessment regarding Israel's readiness, willingness, and determination to react," Sharon's spokesman, Raanan Gissin, told the radio, cited by the paper.
PALESTINIANS DENOUNCE ISRAELI RAID ON LEBANON AS 'DANGEROUS ESCALATION'
The Palestinian Authority on Monday condemned Israel's deadly bombardment as a "dangerous escalation" that risked provoking a regional conflict.
"These raids are a dangerous escalation which could turn into a regional conflict," Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's top advisor Nabil Abu Rudeina told AFP.
"The Palestinian Authority ... calls on United States and the international community to act to halt the Israeli aggressions against the Palestinians, the Syrians and the Lebanese," he added.
For his part, Palestinian Authority cabinet chairman Abdel Ahmed Rahim called on neighboring Arab states to prepare for "the upcoming regional war being prepared by the Israeli war government," The Jerusalem Post quoted him as telling Israel Radio.
Rahim called on the Arab governments to reconsider diplomatic relations with the Israeli government .
PA cabinet minister Nabil Amar as called on the US to immediately step in and put a stop to what it called the deteriorating regional situation, the Post added.
RADIO: PERES, SNEH OPPOSE ISRAELI RAIDS ON LEBANON
Israel Radio reported Monday that Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Transportation Minister Ephraim Sneh were opposed to the overnight raid on a Syrian target in Lebanon.
Peres considered the raid ill-timed because of the risks of an escalation it could carry although he was not opposed in principle to such operations, sources told AFP.
Sneh voted against the decision to launch the raids at a special late-night cabinet meeting, while nine ministers were in favor.
Sharon convened a special session of the political-security cabinet late Sunday to authorize response actions by the Israeli troops following Hizbollah's attack.
"The lack of an Israeli response is perceived as a weakness and allows the other side to act against us on a number of fronts," source told Haaretz before the Israeli raids.
The cabinet session was preceded by a meeting involving Sharon, Peres, Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and the heads of the security cabinet.
Sharon had promised to use an iron fist against both the Lebanese fighters, who had orchestrated the deadly cross-border attack against Israel Saturday, and the Palestinians - Albawaba.com
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