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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The US condemned Wednesday the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers and blamed Syria and Iran for sponsoring the Hizbullah, who initiated the attack.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is visiting France, issued a statement in which she says that the attack on Israel's northern border does not serve the interest of the Lebanese people. "Hizbullah's action undermines regional stability and goes against the interests of both the Israeli and Lebanese people," Rice said in her statement. The Secretary of State also called on Syria to use its influence in the region in order to "support a positive outcome" to the crisis. Rice stressed that all sides should show restraint in their actions.
The US Secretary of State phoned the UN Secretary General Kofi Anan, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Saniora to discuss the latest developments. "We are united in determination to achieve the release of the Israeli soldiers," Rice later said.
The American reaction to the outburst of violence in the Israeli - Lebanese border made clear that the Hizbullah is responsible for the latest escalation and called for an unconditional release of the two Israeli soldiers being held by the organization. "The United States condemns in the strongest terms this unprovoked act of terrorism, which was timed to exacerbate already high tensions in the region and sow further violence," a White House statement issued Wednesday afternoon reads.
While pointing to the Hizbullah as the holding direct responsibility for the attack, the US also stressed the role of both Syria and Iran in harboring the terror group. Fredrick Jones, spokesman for the National Security Council, said "We also hold Syria and Iran, which directly support Hizbullah, responsible for this attack and for the ensuing violence."
The US has long stressed the need for both Syria and Iran to stop supporting the Hizbullah, which is based in southern Lebanon. Both countries are on the US list of states that sponsor terror and are annually listed as giving shelter and support to the Hizbullah. The US has rejected claims by the Hizbullah and by Lebanese officials that Israel did not complete its withdrawal from southern Lebanon due to its presence in the Shabaa farms. A statement issued by the White House said that "Hizballah's actions are not in the interest of the Lebanese people, whose welfare should not be held hostage to the interests of the Syrian and Iranian regimes."
The European Union called for the immediate release of the kidnapped soldiers, and urged all sides to respect the Blue Line border between Israel and Lebanon.
Germany, too, condemned Hizbullah's capture of the two Israeli soldiers, calling it an "irresponsible new escalation" that could set back hopes for peace in the Middle East.
Berlin urges the immediate and unconditional release of the two soldiers, whose capture triggered an Israeli assault on southern Lebanon, Foreign Ministry spokesman Jens Ploetner said.
"In view of this irresponsible escalation in an already tense situation in the region, the danger exists that any agreed solution in the Middle East could be submerged for a long time," he said.
Russia joined the condemnations of Hizbullah, but emphasized the need for restraint on both sides. The Russian Foreign Ministry said the urgent task was to avoid the Hizbullah raid in Israel and ensuing Israeli military offensive in southern Lebanon degenerating into a "full-blown confrontation."
The top UN official in Lebanon, Geir Pedersen, met with Lebanon's prime minister and denounced Hizbullah's incursion across the border into northern Israel.
"Hizbullah's action escalates the already tense situation along the Blue Line and is an act of very dangerous proportions," he said in a statement.
UK Foreign Office Minister, Kim Howells MP, condemned the attacks on northern Israel.
"We condemn this morning's infiltration and rocket attacks by Hizbullah on northern Israel. We are particularly concerned by reports that Israeli soldiers may have been kidnapped or killed.
"Hizbullah's actions will further escalate an already tense situation in the region. A further escalation is in no one's interest. We call on all parties to take actions to promote a rapid and peaceful resolution of the crisis and urge that any Israeli action be both measured and proportionate," he said in a statement.
France also expressed concern at the escalation.
"I am very concerned about the latest developments on the Israel-Lebanon border," French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said in a statement.
"I condemn the rocket strikes this (Wednesday) morning on the town of Kiryat Shmona. I also condemn the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers and I ask for their immediate and unconditional release," he said.
"I call on all parties to show restraint and not engage in a cycle of violence in which civilian populations would be the first victims," he said.
He said France is in contact with all parties involved to help seek a solution to the crisis.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi urged Israel to show restraint and not seek "an eye for an eye" Wednesday during a state visit.
"I understand the anger of the Israelis," Koizumi said in a joint press conference after talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. "But I hope you will not seek an eye for an eye and keep in mind the importance of peace."