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French President Jacques Chirac castigated Israel for its military offensive in Lebanon on Friday, calling it "totally disproportionate," while he and other European leaders expressed fears of a widening Middle East conflict that could spiral out of control.
Referring to Israel's attacks Friday on Lebanon's international airport and other transport links, the latest in a three-day offensive, Chirac asked aloud whether Lebanon's destruction was not the ultimate goal.
"One could ask if today there is not a sort of will to destroy Lebanon, its equipment, its roads, its communication," Chirac said during an interview in the garden of the presidential Elysee Palace to mark Bastille Day, the French national holiday.
From Russia to Spain, leaders voiced concern at the escalation of the conflict, with Lebanon now drawn into the spiral of violence that has long been the mark of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.
In Russia, President Vladimir Putin called on all sides to stand down.
"All the sides that are involved in the conflict must immediately cease military action," he said before a G-8 summit this weekend in St. Peterburg.
The European Union was sending its foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, to the region Saturday, and the 25 foreign ministers of the EU were to meet Monday in Brussels to discuss the crisis.
Erkki Tuomioja, foreign minister of Finland, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, expressed everyone's silent fear that the conflict could expand, even to Syria, which some countries like France feel may have had a hand in the escalation.
"This is in no way desirable, and the consequences could be truly uncontrollable," Tuomioja said.
In Spain, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero warned Israel that it was "making a mistake" to attack Lebanon and said that both the EU and the United Nations must secure "an immediate cessation of the hostilities."
"One thing is defense, which is legitimate, and another is a counteroffensive of widespread attack," Zapatero told Punto Radio. "It won't bring anything other than an escalation of violence."
The Vatican, the seat of the Roman Catholic church, echoed that remark - and the fear of a widening conflict.
"In fact, the right to defense on the part of a country does not exempt it from respecting norms of international law above all for that which concerns the safety of the civilian population," said a statement by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican's No. 2 official.
Pope Benedict XVI was following the situation, the statement said, warning that it risks "degenerating into a conflict with international repercussions."
News from the Middle East brought a solemn note to the festive Bastille Day celebrations for France, which has historic ties to Lebanon. However, the French president balanced his words, saying that rockets fired on Israel by Hezbollah and Hamas are "inadmissible, unacceptable and irresponsible."
"I have the feeling, if not the conviction, that Hamas and Hezbollah wouldn't have taken the initiatives alone," Chirac said, making a veiled reference to Syria and Iran, which backs Hezbollah.
The growing crisis, along with concern that Iran may be seeking to develop nuclear arms, creates "a truly dangerous situation in which we must be very, very careful," Chirac said.