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(photo credit: AP [file])
US President George W. Bush said Saturday that Hizbullah is to blame for violence in the Middle East.
"In my judgment, the best way to stop the violence is to understand why the violence occurred in the first place," Bush said at a news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "And that's because Hizbullah has been launching rocket attacks out of Lebanon into Israel and because Hizbullah captured two Israeli soldiers."
Showing a divide that could dominate weekend meetings at the Group of Eight summit of world industrial leaders, Putin was more critical of Israel's massive bombing campaign in response to the capture of two soldiers. "Use of force should be balanced," he said.
At the same time, Putin said it was unacceptable that Hizbullah was trying to reach its goals with abductions and strikes against an independent state. "In this context we consider Israel's concerns to be justified," he said.
On Friday, Bush rejected Lebanon's calls for a cease-fire in escalating Mideast violence, saying only that Israel should try to limit civilian casualties as it steps up attacks on its neighbor.
"The president is not going to make military decisions for Israel," White House spokesman Tony Snow said.
Lebanon's prime minister asked Bush during a phone call Friday to pressure Israel for a cease-fire. But Bush, speaking to Prime Minister Fuad Saniora while flying from Germany to Russia, said Israelis have a right to protect themselves.
"We think it's important that, in doing that, they try to limit as much as possible the so-called collateral damage, not only on civilians but also on human lives," Snow said.
Saniora's office issued a statement saying Bush "affirmed his readiness to put pressure on Israel to limit the damage to Lebanon as a result of the current military action, and to spare civilians and innocent people from harm."
Snow said that wasn't so. Bush merely "reiterated his position" that Israel should limit the impact on civilians, he said.
"It is unlikely that either or both parties are going to agree to" a cease-fire at this point, Snow said.
Bush's conversation with Saniora was part of a round of telephone diplomacy aimed at quelling the flare-up in violence. The president also spoke with allies Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah II and thanked them for helping to try to ease the violence in their neighborhood, Snow said.
Bush was pleased that a number of major Muslim nations such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia "do not look on Hizbullah as being a legitimate government entity," Snow said.
Bush has not spoken with Israeli leaders, but US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Snow said. Snow did not provide details of the conversation.
Snow said it seemed inevitable that the G-8 members would issue some kind of a statement on the Mideast situation, but it was unclear what it would say. Rice said a three-person team sent by the United Nations to the region should get a chance to try to defuse the crisis.
Several drafts concerning violence in the Middle East were already on the table. "With the pace of events, they're going to have to redraft them," Snow said.
"It is important that everybody talk with one voice," Snow said.
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