U.N. Envoy Implores Syria, Israel and Lebanon to Avoid Wider Conflict

The United Nations envoy to the Middle East urged Syria, Israel (search) and Lebanon (search) on Thursday to break a cycle of attacks that could set off a wider confrontation and destabilize the region.

Terje Roed Larsen held talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad (search) four days after Israeli jets bombed a purported Palestinian militant training camp in Syria in retaliation for a suicide bombing Saturday in Israel that killed 19 people.

The bombing, Israel's first foray deep inside Syria (search) in three decades, has heightened tensions along the Israeli-Lebanese border. On Monday, an Israeli soldier was killed in a cross-border shooting from Lebanon, and a Lebanese boy was killed by a missile that was apparently fired at Israel but fell short of the Israeli border.

"We agree that every party concerned now has to do everything possible in order to calm down the situation not only related to Israeli-Syrian relations but the situation in the whole region," Larsen told reporters after meeting late Thursday with Syria's foreign minister, Farouk al-Sharaa.

Neither Syria nor Israel appeared ready to back down Thursday. Syria's official news agency SANA criticized Israel and its main ally, the United States, suggesting they were trying to start a war. SANA quoted Assad as telling Larsen that "the Israeli government is a war government and could not go on without war."

Raanan Gissin, an aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, responded to those comments by saying that Israel, not Syria, was interested in peace.

"Israel does not harbor terrorists, Syria does," Gissin said. "Israel does not have offices of 11 terror groups, Syria does. It encourages terrorists who operate not only against Israel, but also against the United States in Iraq. So before making such statements about Israel, Syria should examine its own actions very carefully."

President Bush said after Sunday's attack on Syria that Israel has the right to defend itself. On Wednesday Congress gave preliminary approval to a bill authorizing sanctions against Syria.

Al-Sharaa and Larsen discussed "the tense situation in the region and the late escalation by the Israeli government and its allies in Washington who are against peace," SANA said. The agency added that Israel and its friends in Washington "put their personal interests above the interest of their country and above international law."

Larsen praised the Syrian government for not retaliating to the Israeli airstrike.

Israel and the radical Lebanese group Hezbollah fought a bloody guerrilla war for 18 years in south Lebanon, and Hezbollah often rained rockets down on Israel's northern villages before Israel withdrew in May 2000. Since then, most of the frontier has been quiet, except for a small section still disputed by Hezbollah, a radical Shiite Muslim group backed by Syria.