EU: Israeli use of force 'disproportionate'

By Haaretz Staff and News Agencies

Haaretz

Tamuz 20, 5766

BRUSSELS - The European Union accused Israel yesterday of using "disproportionate" force in response to Wednesday's raid by Hezbollah, while U.S. President George W. Bush said that Israel must not do anything to weaken the Lebanese government.

"The European Union is greatly concerned about the disproportionate use of force by Israel in Lebanon in response to attacks by Hezbollah on Israel," said 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."

EU spokeswoman Emma Udwin said that EU foreign ministers could discuss on Monday whether the Israel Defense Forces attacks on Lebanon were compatible with the bloc's trade and cooperation agreement with Israel, which is conditional on respect for international law. She stressed, however, that the EU recognized "Israel's right to defend itself."

Bush, speaking at a news conference after a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said: "Israel has the right to defend herself. Secondly, whatever Israel does should not weaken the ... government in Lebanon."

Speaking off the record, a U.S. administration official added: "We are urging restraint on both sides, recognizing Israel's right to defend itself."

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan will send a three-person team to the Middle East to urge all parties to exercise restraint and help defuse the crisis in the region, a spokesman said yesterday.

The EU called on all sides to halt the violence and avoid more civilian casualties.

"I've always felt that Israel has a right to ensure its security, but I've also said that disproportionate attacks are not useful," EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel told reporters. "I regret the fact that the reaction was disproportionate."

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy also called Israel's strikes on Lebanon, and particularly the bombardment of Beirut Airport, "a disproportionate act of war."

"For several hours, there has been a bombardment of an airport of an entirely sovereign country, a friend of France," Douste-Blazy told Europe 1 radio station. "This is a disproportionate act of war."

France supported "Lebanon's demand for a referral to the United Nations Security Council as soon as possible," he continued, adding the risk of a regional war "absolutely" existed. "The only solution is a return to reason by both sides," he said, adding that France condemned Hezbollah's firing of rockets into northern Israel and its kidnapping of two soldiers.

Russian Foreign Minister Mikhail Kamynin also condemned both Israel's strikes and Hezbollah's abduction of the soldiers.

"The continued destruction of civilian infrastructure in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories and the disproportionate use of force by Israel, which causes suffering to the civilian population, can be neither understood nor justified," he said. "Equally unacceptable are any manifestations of terrorism and the taking of hostages, who must be released immediately and unconditionally."

The Spanish Foreign Ministry said that it "demands an end to the armed aggression against Israel and the immediate liberation of the kidnapped soldiers," but also called on "Israel to act with moderation and in proportion to these events, given the need to avoid a spreading of violence."