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At an emergency Security Council meeting requested by Lebanon, Israel's UN Ambassador Dan Gillerman told the Security Council that Israel had no choice but to react to the "absolutely unprovoked attack" by Hizbullah, which included rocket attacks into Israel.
"Israel's actions were in response to an act of war from Lebanon," he said, stressing that it was concentrated mainly on Hizbullah strongholds.
But many Security Council ambassadors who spoke afterward accused Israel using excessive force - destroying critical civilian infrastructure and killing and injuring innocent civilians.
Gillerman blamed the Lebanese government for failing to respond to numerous Security Council resolutions demanding that it disarm Hizbullah and take control of southern Lebanon. He told the council that many Lebanese know Israel is doing the right thing in attacking Hizbullah, and if it succeeds generations to come will live in a "free, democratic Lebanon."
"The real occupying power in Lebanon is terror - terror instigated by Hezbollah but funded by Iran and Syria," he said.
Lebanon accused Israel of launching "a widespread barbaric aggression" aimed at bringing the small Mideast nation to its knees and urged the international community to end the military offensive.
Lebanese envoy Nouhad Mahmoud warned that Israel's destruction of vital bridges, roads and buildings and the killing and maiming of hundreds of Lebanese civilians "will not resolve the problem, but will further complicate it."
"The Security Council meets today in the shadow of a widespread barbaric aggression waged by Israel to this very moment against my nation," he said. "What Israel is undertaking is an act of aggression and devastation aimed at bringing Lebanon to its knees and subverting it by any means."
Mahmoud urged the Security Council to establish a cease-fire and to end the air and sea blockade of Lebanon imposed by Israel. Lebanon also calls on the international community to immediately address the reasons and results of the crisis that developed along the Blue Line separating Lebanon and Israel, he said.
Mahmoud, a special envoy sent from Beirut, said Israel's disregard of the Lebanese government's willingness to negotiate through the UN and other parties to resolve the situation that led to the offensive "is clear evidence of the escalatory intentions of the Israelis and their determination to kill and destroy."
The council meeting began with briefings by Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno and Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari who reiterated Secretary-General Kofi Annan's call on all parties to exercise restraint and prevent the conflict from escalating out of control.
Annan has sent a political team to the region to help defuse the crisis, Gambari said.