ST. PETERSBURG, Russia—The leaders of the world's eight major industrialized powers Sunday called on militant groups in the Middle East to stop attacking Israel and urged Israelis to avoid killing civilians and damaging Lebanon's infrastructure in responding to military and terrorist attacks from Hezbollah guerrillas.
President Bush had pressed members of the so-called Group of Eight to condemn Hezbollah and its backers in Syria and Iran. Instead, the leaders crafted a statement that, while chastising terrorist groups, calls on Israelis and Palestinians to take steps that would lead back to a long-stalled peace plan.
"We looked at the resolution altogether and participated in its progression," Russian President Vladimir Putin, the summit host, said of his counterparts from the U.S., Canada, France, Italy, Germany, Great Britain and Japan. "We managed, I think, to achieve satisfactory compromise results. I think it is extremely balanced."
"The leaders didn't want to just comment on the situation; they felt it was most important to try to figure out what we should be doing now to bring the fighting to an end and re-establish a sense of calm and a sense of forward progress, in terms of Israel's relations with Lebanon, especially," said Nicholas Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs.
Some Middle East experts, however, were skeptical of the G-8's ability to end the violence or return Israelis and Palestinians to the so-called "Road Map" for negotiations that was developed by the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia.
None of the G-8 countries has much leverage over Hezbollah or its patrons, and despite Sunday's statement the Bush administration has made it clear that it holds Hezbollah and its backers responsible for the violence.
"One of the interesting things about this moment is it's now become clear to a lot of people why we don't have peace in the Middle East," Bush said. "It's a moment that requires all of us to work together, to send a clear message, not only to Hezbollah, but to the Iranians, who finance Hezbollah, and to the Syrians, who house Hezbollah."
"... My message to Israel is that as a sovereign nation, you have every right to defend yourself against terrorist activities," Bush said.
"I think we are one week, probably two weeks away from effective negotiation," said Jon Alterman, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Middle East Program, of the Israel-Hezbollah situation. "Each side is confident that doing what they're doing will strengthen their position. Both sides feel this isn't the time to concede."
As for the Road Map, Alterman said that neither Israel nor the Palestinians appear interested in returning to it now. "It's a road map to nowhere," he said.
The Hezbollah-Israeli clash, which began last week when the militant group abducted two Israeli soldiers, dominated a G-8 meeting that was supposed to concentrate on energy security and stemming the spread of infectious diseases.
Sunday's summit document reflects a compromise between Bush's insistence on blaming Hezbollah and other militant groups for the spiraling violence and the positions of Putin and French President Jacques Chirac. Putin has questioned Israel's motives for bombing sites in Lebanon; Chirac last week called Israel's response to Hezbollah's action excessive.
The document calls on Hezbollah to return the abducted soldiers and end attacks on Israeli territory. It asks Israel to cease its military operations in Lebanon to avoid destabilizing the fledgling democratic government there.
It also proposes that Israel release arrested Palestinian ministers and parliamentarians and calls for Israel to withdraw its forces from Gaza, a move designed to reinvigorate the long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
The leaders avoided sharp criticism of Israel. Instead, their document affirms Israel's right to defend itself and implores it to exercise the "utmost" restraint to avoid Lebanese civilian casualties, damage to the country's infrastructure and anything else that could destabilize the nation's fledgling democratic government.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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