Syria and Iran are to blame for the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah terrorists and the subsequent Israeli military response, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
The White House called for the immediate and unconditional release of the two soldiers abducted by Hezbollah guerrillas on Wednesday. Seven Israeli soldiers have also been killed in a cross-border attack that Israel has called an act of war by Lebanon. (Full Story)
"The United States condemns in the strongest terms this unprovoked act of terrorism, which was timed to exacerbate already high tensions in the region and sow further violence. We also hold Syria and Iran, which have provided long-standing support for Hezbollah, responsible for today's violence. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of the Israeli soldiers," reads a statement released by the White House press secretary.
"Hezbollah's actions are not in the interest of the Lebanese people, whose welfare should not be held hostage to the interests of the Syrian and Iranian regimes. We reiterate the international community's insistence that all parties in the region fulfill their obligations under U.N. Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1680, and cease all support for Hezbollah," the statement continues.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in Paris for talks on Iran's nuclear weapons pursuit, has been in direct contact with U.S. allies in the region on the issue. She issued a statement saying she is continuing to consult with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and Israeli Prime Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
"We are united in our determination to achieve the release of the Israeli soldiers. Syria has a special responsibility to use its influence to support a positive outcome. All sides must act with restraint to resolve this incident peacefully and to protect innocent life and civilian infrastructure," she said.
Violence between Israel and Palestinians began after terrorists abducted an Israeli soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, along the Gaza border on June 25. Palestinian medical officials say four separate assaults by the Israelis on Wednesday has resulted in the deaths of at least 12 Palestinians, including one policemen and two militants. (Full Story)
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack has repeatedly said Israel has a right to defend itself. He added that Israel's latest response in southern Lebanon was justifiable.
"This was an unprovoked attack. This was an attack on soldiers who are on Israeli territory, Israeli soil, by a terrorist organization," he said.
McCormack added that Hezbollah was taking this opportunity to try to increase hostility in the region, and in the process is dragging the Lebanese people into a situation that is not in their interest.
"It is a cynical attempt to provoke a reaction. It's a cynical attempt to try to escalate tensions in a region where tensions are already high as a result of the acts of Hamas, another terrorist group," he said. "So we would call upon all interested countries to do everything that they can to help secure the release not only of the soldier held by Hamas but the two soldiers now held by Hezbollah."
McCormack said Egypt is deeply involved in negotiations, encouraging Syria to use its influence on Hezbollah to get the soldiers released. But Syrian officials on Wednesday blamed Israel for the violence, suggesting Lebanon has a stake in the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.
"For sure, the occupation (of the Palestinian territories) is the cause provoking both Lebanese and Palestinian people, and that's why there is Lebanese and Palestinian resistance," said Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa.
"It's up to the resistance — both the Lebanese and the Palestinian — to decide what they are doing and why are they fighting," al-Sharaa told reporters in Damascus.
Reuters news service reported that the Arab League is planning an emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers to discuss the violence along Lebanon's southern border with Israel.
"We are concerned about an escalation," an Arab League official told Reuters. "There's a bad humanitarian situation in Gaza, and we don't want that spilling over into Lebanon."
Back in Washington, D.C., Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist also condemned the kidnapping and blamed the two nations, which are on the United States' list of state sponsors of terror.
"We must hold the governments of Syria and Iran accountable for their continued support to Hezbollah. So long as these governments are failing to live up to their responsibilities, no one should question the right of the government of Israel to act in self-defense against terrorists operating from Lebanon," Frist said.
Frist added that the Lebanese government must also live up to its responsibility under U.N. resolutions to ensure its territory isn't used as a safe haven by Hezbollah and other groups.
FOX News' Bret Baier and Wendell Goler and The Associated Press contributed to this report.