Russia, Germany: Efforts needed to end conflict

Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday called for concerted international efforts to end the conflict in Lebanon, the Kremlin said, as Israel prepared for a likely ground invasion in south Lebanon. During telephone talks between Putin and Merkel, the two leaders emphasized "the need for concerted efforts by the international community to normalize the situation in the Middle East and highlighted the UN Security Council's role in the process," a Kremlin statement said. The conversation, which took place at the German side's initiative, came a day after Russia sharply criticized Israel for its offensive against Hizbullah operatives in Lebanon, saying it went "far beyond the boundaries of an anti-terrorist operation" and repeating calls for an immediate cease-fire. Germany's Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, said Friday that Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier planned to visit the Middle East in "the near future" to help calm the situation.