Wrap: G8 leaders look for ways to end Mideast violence
(RIA Novosti) - Leaders of the Group of Eight most developed nations discussed means of ending the recent escalation of violence in the Middle East, including a UN proposal to send an international peacekeeping contingent to the region, at the weekend's G8 summit near St. Petersburg.
Israel launched a military operation in Lebanon after Islamist militant group Hizbollah took two Israeli soldiers hostage last Wednesday and conducted air strikes against its infrastructure. Over 100 Lebanese civilians have since been killed in fighting and more than 200 have been wounded, reports Trend.
At a news conference Monday summarizing the G8 summit, hosted by Russia for the first time this year, President Vladimir Putin said an international peacekeeping force could be sent into the Middle East if the conflicting sides and the UN Security Council endorse its deployment.
"We need to receive consent from all the sides involved in the conflict first," he said.
The Russian leader also expressed doubt that the release of the Israeli soldiers abducted by Hizbollah would stop fighting in the region: "The situation in Lebanon is not out of control, but I am not sure the soldiers' return will end the conflict."
The chancellor of Germany, which takes over the G8 presidency from Russia for the second half of the year, also spoke in favor of sending peacekeepers to the Lebanese-Israeli border - an idea originally proposed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Angela Merkel said a multilateral security force could provide much-needed support for Lebanon's government, but added it was up to the UN Security Council to determine a format of that force's presence in the country.
Britain's Tony Blair and France's Jacques Chirac also backed the idea of an international military presence in the Lebanon-Israel conflict zone.
Chirac criticized Israel's response as "aberrant" and called for a ceasefire. This put him on a collision course with the United States, which traditionally sides with Israel in Middle East conflicts, and insists on its right to defend itself.
President George W. Bush and other U.S. officials said Hizbollah must make the first moves to end the crisis, and that Syria, which supports the militant movement, should press it to stop firing rockets into Israeli territory and return the abducted Israeli soldiers.
On Sunday, the G8 leaders adopted a statement calling on Hizbollah to release the soldiers, captured in a cross-border raid last week, and to end the shelling of Israeli territory, while also urging Israel to halt its offensive against Hizbollah targets in Lebanon. They suggested the U.N. Security Council should consider an international security and monitoring presence on the Lebanon-Israel border.