July 16, 2006

G8 calls on Hizbollah to end attacks

By Steve Holland and Jeff Mason

ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Group of Eight leaders on
Sunday blamed extremists for an upsurge of Middle East violence
and while accepting Israel's right to defend itself said the
Jewish state should exercise "utmost restraint."

Setting out conditions for an end to violence, G8 leaders
in summit talks in Russia put the onus on Hizbollah militants
to restore peace by releasing abducted Israelis and ending
attacks on Israel.

Then the Israeli offensive against Lebanon could end, said
the statement.

"These extremist elements and those that support them
cannot be allowed to plunge the Middle East into chaos," said
the text hammered out by the leaders of the world's richest

"We call upon Israel to exercise utmost restraint," it

The Middle East crisis forced its way to the top of G8
leaders' deliberations after a wide offensive by Israel against
Lebanon following the abduction of two Israeli soldiers and
rocket attacks by Hizbollah Islamic militants.

The crisis, which has left dozens of civilians dead, has
divided Washington, the Jewish state's big backer, and G8
partners such as France which saw its response as excessive.

But these differences were bridged in a carefully-crafted

"We demand first that the Israeli soldiers be returned to
Israel healthy, that the attacks on Israel cease, and then
naturally for Israel to halt military action," German
Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters.

Under pressure to respond on the Middle East, the G8
leaders closeted in a tsarist-era palace on the Gulf of Finland
raced through documents on pre-planned themes including
security of energy supply and sought to unblock world trade

Differences on the merits of promoting nuclear energy and
on how to tackle climate change were papered over. Host-nation
Russia conceded to European Union demands to support in
principle transparent and open energy markets.


The worsening Middle East situation dominated the thoughts
of leaders from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan,
Russia and the United States.

President Bush early in the day had reaffirmed support for
Israel's right to self-defense -- a view echoed in the G8
statement -- and refused to ask it to halt its bombing of

The G8 asked Israel to be mindful of "the strategic and
humanitarian consequences of its actions."

It should exercise utmost restraint to avoid civilian
casualties, damage to buildings and the destabilization of the
fragile Lebanese coalition government, the leaders said.

Merkel said the G8 leaders want a new military observer
force for the country.

France earlier had made it clear it saw Israel's military
response as disproportionate and Russia's Vladimir Putin had
accused Israel of "pursuing other, wider goals."

But neither of these views found an echo in the statement.

Hizbollah launched its deadliest attack on Israel in a
decade on Sunday, firing rockets that killed at least eight
people in the port city of Haifa and prompting a warning to
Lebanon of "far-reaching consequences."

Putin had set energy security as the main theme for the
first G8 summit to be held in Russia.

A statement on "Global Energy Security" approved by leaders
acknowledged splits over nuclear energy and climate change
among the world's top economies.

Nuclear energy, which is making a comeback worldwide,
produces no greenhouse gases and has been hailed by some
environmentalists as a good way of protecting the climate while
meeting growing demand for electricity.

But some G8 powers worry nuclear energy is dangerous and
Germany is committed to phase-out its plants by the early

Leaders also approved documents on education, and on
fighting infectious diseases. They renewed a pledge to fight
the AIDS virus, but offered no detailed plan on how they would
fund the ambitious targets they have set.

Under pressure from Britain, G8 leaders agreed to review
efforts to boost aid, cut debt and improve trading conditions
for Africa at next year's meeting in Germany. Blair put
assistance at the top of the agenda at the G8 summit he hosted
in 2005 but this year's host Russia initially ignored the

(Additional reporting by Sophie Louet, Douglas Busvine, Lou