July 16, 2006

G8 calls on Hizbollah to stop attacking Israel

By Steve Holland and Jeff Mason

ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Group of Eight leaders
told Hizbollah militants on Sunday they must free abducted
Israeli soldiers and immediately halt attacks on Israel to end
an upsurge in Middle East violence.

In a statement from their summit in Russia, G8 leaders
urged Israel to exercise "utmost restraint" in its offensive in
Lebanon, but blamed the crisis squarely on "extremist elements"
and put the onus on Hizbollah to stop it.

A carefully-worded text said an end to Israeli military
operations and withdrawal of forces from Gaza were other
conditions needed to "lay the foundation for a more permanent

But it echoed support for Israel's right to self-defense
voiced by the United States, the Jewish state's main backer,
and made no reference to criticism by G8 powers France and the
European Union that Israel's bombing of Lebanon was excessive.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, the summit host, had on
Saturday accused Israel of pursuing "other wider goals," but
differences between Washington and its G8 partners were largely
papered over in the statement.

The Middle East crisis forced its way to the top of G8
leaders' deliberations, relegating to the sidelines the formal
agenda of securing energy supplies, boosting world trade talks
and addressing the crisis over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

"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

France's Jacques Chirac undercut the well-crafted G8 unity,
telling reporters leaders had "expressed extreme reservations
about the disproportionate character of the Israeli reactions."
But there was no mention of this in the G8 text and U.S.
officials dismissed Chirac's comment.


As the G8 leaders met on Sunday Hizbollah fired rockets
from south Lebanon deep into Israel, killing at least eight
people in the port city of Haifa and prompting Israeli Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert to warn Beirut of "far-reaching

Although the statement laid down no time-scale for its
proposals, German and U.S. officials said it was up to
Hizbollah to make the first move.

"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.

Even then, U.S. undersecretary of state for political
affairs Nicholas Burns told reporters, it was the Israelis'
"sovereign decision on when to end" their offensive.

The G8 simply asked Israel to be mindful of "the strategic
and humanitarian consequences of its actions," and exercise
restraint to avoid civilian casualties, damage to buildings and
the destabilization of the fragile Lebanese government.

The statement called on the U.N. Security Council to draw
up a plan to implement an ignored provision of a 2004
resolution demanding the disbandment of Hizbollah and also
suggested the Council should look at a monitoring force in

G8 political statements have traditionally been expressions
of opinion and there was no indication of how, if at all,
Sunday's declaration would be followed through.


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 other pre-planned themes such as
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 acknowledged. Russia
conceded to European Union demands to support in principle
transparent and open energy markets.

On trade, the G8 asked their negotiators and World Trade
Organization chief Pascal Lamy to return to Geneva this week
and broker a breakthrough on the stalled Doha round of trade
talks within a month.

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