Tamuz 19, 5766
President Hugo Chavez said Friday that U.S. backing of Israel is
responsible for flaming tensions in the Middle East and putting the world
on course toward another "Holocaust."
"The fundamental blame falls again on the U.S. empire. It's the empire that armed and supported the abuses of the Israeli elite, which has invaded, abused and defied the United Nations for a long time," Chavez said in a speech during a military act in Caracas.
"I'll seize this opportunity to condemn categorically and fully the aggression that the Israeli elite is carrying out against innocents over there in the Middle East," he said.
Chavez was referring to a new explosion of Mideast violence this week as
Israel Air Force war planes began striking Lebanon after Hezbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others Wednesday in a cross-border raid into Israel. In response, Hezbollah has fired hundreds of rockets at northern Israel.
The Venezuelan leader charged that Israel is using excessive force.
"Are we going to bomb cities and tell them that we won't stop bombing until they return the soldier? That's crazy," he said.
"Worse, it's craziness with nuclear bombs. (The Israelis) have their weapons of mass destruction and nobody criticizes them, nobody says anything because the empire is behind them," Chavez said.
Blaming the escalation on Washington's undue influence, Chavez said: "The U.S. empire's desire to dominate has no limits and that could take this world to a real Holocaust. May God save us."
Chavez is one of the most ferocious critics of U.S. foreign policy, even though his oil-producing country remains closely tied to the United States, its top market, through billions of dollars (euros) in annual crude sales.
The White House said Friday that United States President George W. Bush would not press Israel to halt its military operation in Lebanon.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said, when asked whether Bush had agreed to a request from Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora that he rein in the Israelis, "No. The president is not going to make military decisions for Israel."
Snow told reporters that Bush had spoken by telephone to Lebanon's prime minister among other Middle East leaders.
He said Bush believed the Israelis have the right to protect themselves, but should limit "so-called collateral damage not only to facilities but also to human lives".
Snow said Siniora had suggested a cease-fire, which Washington favored, but thought would be hard to pull off.
"It is unlikely that either or both parties are going to agree to that at this juncture," Snow said.
A leading Senate Republican on Friday urged U.S. restraint in supporting Israel's military campaign against Hezbollah, citing the problems it may cause in the war in Iraq and efforts to disarm Iran.
Senator John W. Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, issued a written statement Friday calling on the Bush administration to "think through very carefully how Israel's extraordinary reaction could affect our operations in Iraq and our joint diplomatic efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue.
"This is a very critical time for the U.S. in the Middle East, and the Israeli actions will certainly have an impact beyond Lebanon and Gaza," Warner warned.
Rice urges Israel to 'exercise restraint' in Lebanon
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Israel on Thursday to exercise restraint in its attacks against Lebanese targets and demanded Syria press Hizbollah guerrillas to stop attacking Israel.
"It is extremely important that Israel exercise restraint in its acts of self-defense," she told reporters travelling with Bush in Germany.
Her comments, at a hastily arranged briefing, reflected a sharper focus on Israel than statements from Bush earlier, who said Israel has a right to defend itself with its attacks in Lebanon but that it should not weaken the Lebanese government.
Rice said the message was being sent through numerous diplomatic channels and added: "I think they understand the need to exercise restraint."
Israel struck Beirut airport and military airbases and blockaded Lebanese ports on Thursday, intensifying reprisals that have killed 55 civilians in Lebanon since Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers a day earlier.
Asked in a CNN interview about Rice's call, Israel's ambassador to the U.S. said Israel had exercised restraint since its 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon and believed its military offensive was now the right way to deal with Hezbollah.
Ambassador Daniel Ayalon said: "I think they (Hezbollah) misinterpreted our restraint for the last six years."
"If we do not want to see further escalation, deterioration, violence, this is the time to stop Hizbollah and what we are doing is the most effective (way) to stop them."
Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said he and Rice had spoken to Israeli officials and received assurances Israel's focus was on Hezbollah, not the Lebanese government.
He added that the officials said "the actions they are going to take are going to deal with Hezbollah, will be done in such a way to try and minimize collateral and civilian casualties, recognizing this is difficult because Hezbollah has put targets in civilian areas".
Rice said Syria had been "sheltering the people who have been perpetrating these acts" against Israel, including launching rocket attacks into northern Israel and abducting Israeli soldiers.
"Syria needs to act responsibly and stop the use of its territory for these kinds of activities. They need to bring all pressure on those that it is harboring to stop this and to return these soldiers and to allow the situation to be de-escalated," Rice said.
She said the United States supported a three-person UN team being sent to the region to try to defuse the crisis on the instigation of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Asked if there was a danger of the area slipping into war, Rice said: "I think it doesn't help to speculate about kind of apocalyptic scenarios. What we have to do is work day by day, hour by hour. That's what we're doing, and that's what a lot of others are doing."
Earlier in the day, Bush said that Israel had a right to defend itself against terrorist acts but it should not weaken the Beirut government.
"Israel has the right to defend herself," Bush told a news conference after a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
"Secondly, whatever Israel does should not weaken the...government in Lebanon."
The president's comment came in response to the escalating violence between Israel and Lebanon, on Thursday after IAF warplanes carried out strikes in Lebanon in retalliation to Hezbollah's abduction of two soldiers a day earlier.
On Thursday, a U.S. administration official gave a response on condition of anonymity regarding the crisis.
"We are urging restraint on both sides, recognizing Israel's right to defend itself," the official said.
The European Union on Thursday criticized Israel for using what it called "disproportionate" force in its attacks on Lebanon following Wednesday's raid by Hezbollah guerillas who killed eight Israel Defense Forces soldier and abducted two soldiers.
"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."
"The government of Israel is greatly concerned about the disproportionate use of one-sided language by the new European Union presidency concerning the situation in Lebanon," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said in response to the statement.