US calls on Syria and Iran to end support

Agencies - The United States yesterday urged Syria and Iran to use their influence on the Hizbollah to halt rocket attacks on Israel from south Lebanon. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns also defended Israel's retaliation against Hizbollah.

"We believe that those who have influence over Hizbollah should use that influence" to halt the violence, Mr Burns said, citing Syria and Iran specifically. He laid the blame for the cross-border attacks directly on Hizbollah. Rather than call for restraint on all sides, including Israel, Mr Burns said: "We can't give advice to various Israeli governments as to when they have to act and how they have to act.

Mr Burns said the US had been "active diplomatically" discussing with Israel, Syria and Lebanon how the rocket attacks might be ended.

Iran, which backs Hizbollah,called for a tougher response from Arab states. President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said on Tehran radio: "Israel, with all its resources, is unable to cope with a few strugglers ... fighting a holy war to push Israel out of their land. When it receives a blow there, it attacks a city, Beirut, Baalbek, a hospital, with helicopters, warships, planes."

Syria accused Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres of wrecking peace to please Israeli voters. "Peres wanted to convey a message to Syria and Lebanon," said Syrian radio. "In fact Syria and Lebanon interpreted this message as a rejection of a just and comprehensive peace and an insistence on the continuation of occupation and expansion."

In London a Foreign Office spokesman said: "Pursuit of the peace process remains the priority and we know Israel will gauge carefully its response and do all it can to avoid civilian casualties. When the peace process offers a non-violent way forward there can be absolutely no justification for Hizbollah actions."