While Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told the cabinet Sunday that Israel has maintained "a level of understanding and support" abroad for its military actions, the words "disproportionate use of force" and "collective punishment" are increasingly seeping into foreign statements on the situation. For instance, in a telephone conversation Friday between Livni and Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, the Finn - according to European sources - expressed "concern at the new loss of lives caused by the disproportionate use of force by the Israeli Defense Force." According to the sources, Tuomioja "also reiterated the EU position that the abducted Israeli soldier [Cpl. Gilad Shalit] should be unconditionally released but his abduction did not authorize collective punishment against the entire population of Gaza." Finland currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU. During the conversation, according to sources, Tuomioja stressed the importance of opening up the border crossings in order to allow humanitarian aid to be delivered. He also said that the "Israeli operation has prompted strong reactions with many countries outside the EU, mentioning especially the Swiss call on Israel to uphold international humanitarian law." One Foreign Ministry official, however, denied that the conversation with the Finnish Foreign Minister signified a change in Europe's attitude toward the Israeli action. He said that Livni's comment at the cabinet meeting that there was support and understanding for the action did not mean there was no criticism. The official said that for the most part the West was calling for the release of Shalit, acceptance of Israel's right to defend itself, action against terrorism and its infrastructure and refusal to negotiate with Hamas. Everything is relative, the official said. "Remember, the IDF is acting in a predominantly civilian area." He said that while Israel was hearing expressions of concern and requests for Israel to show caution, few were questioning Israel's right to take action. By and large, Livni told the cabinet, as long as the IDF's actions on the ground were perceived abroad as aimed at achieving the stated goals of freeing Shalit, stopping Kassam rocket fire on Israel and changing the rules of the game vis- -vis Hamas, "it is reasonable to believe that the current level of support would be maintained." She said she was concerned about a growing tendency toward what she termed "moral equivalency" regarding the crisis, meaning that there was a perception that both sides were responsible for the current crisis, and therefore both sides had to come up with solution. She said she instructed the foreign ministry to stress the clear distinction between the illegitimacy of the Hamas actions that triggered the crisis, and the Israeli military response. During the briefing Livni also spoke of Russian, Turkish, Qatari, Egyptian and European Union efforts to secure the release of Shalit.