Russia Blasts Scale of Israeli Actions in Lebanon

Russia sharply criticized Israel over its offensive against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon on Thursday, saying its actions have gone "far beyond the boundaries of an anti-terrorist operation" and repeating calls for an immediate cease-fire.

In a statement, the Foreign Ministry said that Russia affirms the need to fight terrorism and called for the immediate release of Israeli hostages, but added that "the unprecedented scale of the casualties and destruction" in Lebanon indicate that Israel is using too much force.

The comment echoed a statement by President Vladimir Putin, who said while hosting a summit of the Group of Eight nations on Saturday that Russia had the impression Israel was "pursuing wider goals" than the return of abducted soldiers.

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While G8 leaders cobbled together a statement on the Mideast conflict in a bid to display unity, the criticism of Israel and the cease-fire call contrasted with the stance of the United States, which has rejected calls for an immediate cease-fire and blamed Hezbollah for the conflict's intensity.

The Foreign Ministry statement said that Russia "affirms its commitment to a decisive struggle against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. We also affirm our demands for the immediate and unconditional release of abducted Israeli soldiers.."

"However, the unprecedented scale of the casualties and destruction bear witness to the fact the actions announced for the achieving this goal have gone far beyond the boundaries of an anti-terrorist operation," it said," it said.

It laid out an argument to support the accusation, saying that "norms of international humanitarian law" demands that strikes be launched only against military targets, even if there are suspicions that civilians facilities could be used to support military actions.

Russia has consistently rejected Western accusations that it has used too much force during its wars against rebels in Chechnya, in which thousands of civilians have been killed. The Kremlin refers to the conflict in Chechnya as an anti-terrorist operation.

The statement also echoed Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's calls for an immediate cease-fire, calling it a "first step that cannot be delayed." The United States has said that Israel has the right to defend itself and that what is needed is a "meaningful" cease-fire.

A cease-fire would allow civilians to safely leave areas affected by the fighting, the ministry said.

Russia is prepared to provide Lebanon with urgent humanitarian aid, the statement said.

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