Bush urges innocent lives to be spared

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The Independent Online

President Jacques Chirac has accused Israel of possibly seeking the destruction of Lebanon as he condemned its "completely disproportionate" military offensive against Islamist guerrillas.

As Israel's war on two fronts threatened to hijack the G8 summit this weekend, President George Bush promised to urge Israel to spare civilians, but refrained from asking Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to halt military operations.

A total 73 people have been killed since Israel retaliated for the capture of two of its soldiers by Hizbollah guerrillas in Lebanon by bombing Beirut's airport and civilian installations. Hizbollah rocket attacks on northern Israel have killed four Israelis and wounded more than 150.

Mr Bush's refusal to press Israel to halt the offensive highlighted a growing rift between the US and European countries, after M. Chirac told an interviewer before heading to the G8: "One could ask if today there is not a sort of will to destroy Lebanon, its equipment, its roads, its communication." While condemning the scale of the Israeli response, he also added that actions of Hizbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon were "totally irresponsible".

Hizbollah's leader, Sayyed Hassa Nasrallah, emerged from hiding to broadcast a message warning the Israelis of "open war" after warplanes bombed his Beirut office. "You wanted open war. We are going to [wage] open war," Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in a telephone message broadcast live on Hizbollah television after the attack. He said an Israeli navy ship was ablaze off Beirut, saying: "Look at it burn. It will sink and along with it dozens of Zionist soldiers." Israel confirmed that a ship had been hit.

It emerged last night that the two Israeli soldiers captured by Hizbollah, and a third captured in Gaza on 25 June were all alive and in "reasonable health". The Syrian-backed Islamic militants want to negotiate a prisoner swap with Israel.

Tony Blair denied there was a split between Europe and the US, as the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting. He added that as soon as possible, negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian authorities must "get back on the road map toward a two-state solution, as it offers the only chance for stability and peace in the future."

President Vladimir Putin said: "No hostage-takings are acceptable ... but neither is the use of full-scale force in response to these, even if unlawful, actions."

Meanwhile, in Gaza, Palestinian militants forced open the border crossing between the territory and Egypt, allowing about 600 people to freely pass through the Rafah crossing, while Israeli helicopter gunships and Egyptian police fired warning shots.

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