Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja on Thursday dismissed Israel's view that the international community had sanctioned it to proceed with its military activity in Lebanon.
"It's a totally incorrect interpretation," said Tuomioja of the outcome of Wednesday's conference in Rome, in which the US, UN, World Bank and several EU and Arab states met to discuss the crisis in Lebanon.
Tuomioja held a press conference in Israel Thursday during a regional tour that includes Lebanon and Gaza. Finland currently holds the rotating EU presidency. He was speaking in Finnish in response to a question from the Finnish Broadcasting Company.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Thursday also called Israel's interpretation a "gross misunderstanding."
Justice Minister Haim Ramon said Israel considers the lack of consensus at Rome a green light to continue its attacks on Hizbullah.
Despite the European foreign ministers' comments, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Israel "stands by its response" to the Rome conference. That statement, issued Wednesday, said that "Israel is forced to continue to defend its citizens" due to the "failure to implement" UN resolution 1559, which calls for Hizbullah to be disarmed.
"Our whole military operation is a function of the fact that 1559 hasn't been implemented," Regev said, adding that the Europeans objections to Israel's actions raised the question: "What is Europe willing to do to implement 1559?"
Following a similar query at the press conference with Tuomioja, the Finnish foreign minister said, "The shortcoming of the resolution was that it did not at the same time create the necessary international force to help implement it. We know that UNIFIL [the UN Interim Force in Lebanon] has not been able to fulfill its own mandate and therefore when we talk about the next stages, we are not talking about UNIFIL 'Mark II'. We are talking about a new United Nations operation with a clear, strong mandate and the resources to take care of its tasks."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Ahead of the press conference, Tuomioja released a statement asserting that peace in the region could only take place with "a commitment to a peace process that will put an end to the occupation as outlined in the road map."
He also pointed to "increasing frustration in Europe at the lack of progress in achieving a cease-fire and coming to grips with the causes of the conflict."
Following Wednesday's Rome parley, Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema told the press that the conference participants "expressed their determination to work immediately to reach with the utmost urgency a cease-fire that put an end to the current violence and hostilities."
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice then told the gathering, "We are all agreed that we want most urgently to end the violence on a basis that this time will be sustainable, because unfortunately this is a region that has had too many broken cease-fires, too many spasms of violence followed then by other spasms of violence. And we do have a way forward."
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