G-8 Leaders Deliver Cautious Statement on Mideast

G-8 leaders meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, release a statement expressing "deepening concern" about rising civilian casualties on all sides of the violence in the Middle East. It also blamed the immediate crisis on "efforts by extremists forces to destabilize the region."

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott. The fighting in the Middle East drew the focus of the G-8 Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia today. The leaders there agreed to a statement expressing deepening concern about rising civilian casualties on all sides while blaming the immediate crisis on quote efforts by extremist forces to destabilize the region, and the statement mentions Hezbollah by name. The statement also calls on Israel to use restraint. NPR's Don Gonyea reports from the G-8 press center in St. Petersburg.

DON GONYEA reporting:

President Bush is at the summit, where it was a day of mostly behind the scenes discussion and debate as leaders from these eight economic powers look for common language on a difficult issue. Over the past two days in St. Petersburg there has been disagreement over what's been happening in Lebanon. The U.S. has repeatedly condemned Hezbollah and said Israel has a right to defend itself. French President Jacques Chirac and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed, but each has criticized Israel as well, saying its military offensive in Lebanon is an over reaction.

Even after the official statement was released, Chirac did say that Israel's action have been quote disproportionate But a top U.S. State Department official, Nicholas Burns, stressed that no such word is included in the G-8 statement. In fact, the official document contains no criticism of Israel. President Bush would have never signed on to that.

At two pages in length it does include some specifics. It points to what the G-8 describes as Hamas rocket attacks against Israeli territory and the Hezbollah capture of two Israeli soldiers. And it says those soldiers and another captured by Hamas should be returned unharmed. It says extremist elements and those who support them cannot be allowed to plunge the Middle East in chaos and provoke a wider conflict.

It notes that Israel, while exercising the right to defend itself, needs to be mindful of both the strategic and humanitarian consequences of its actions. The communiqué calls on Israel to, quote, exercise utmost restraint, seeking to avoid casualties, and to refrain from acts that would destabilize Lebanon's democratic government. That's something President Bush spoke about earlier in the day.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: One of our concerns, of course, is that the federal democracy in Lebanon (unintelligible) solve this problem. (Unintelligible) must address the root causes. Otherwise it may be apparent calm and then all of a sudden there will be more conflict.

GONYEA: The statement has as a goal the end to all of the violence in the region and for rocket attacks to halt. It does not specifically say there should be a quote cease-fire. That's something the White House has not support, again saying Israel has a right to retaliate when attacked. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had this to say in a news conference before work on the statement had been completed.

Ms. CONDOLEEZZA RICE (Secretary of State): Of course we want violence to end. But I can tell you right now if violence ends on the basis of somehow Hezbollah or Hamas continuing to hold in their hands the capabilities anytime they wish to start launching rockets again into Israel, we will have achieved very, very little indeed, and we will be right back here perhaps in a worse circumstance because the terrorists will assume that nobody is willing to take on what has been a very clear assault.

GONYEA: The G-8 Summit statement also endorses a United Nations mission now in Lebanon. There's agreement that that is an important step towards finding a resolution to the conflict. Don Gonyea, NPR News in St. Petersburg.

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