G-8 Hands Bush Diplomatic Win Over Lebanon

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CAIRO, Egypt – Leaders of the world’s most powerful nations will descend from the summit at St. Petersburg, Russia, having handed President Bush their support for his call for the terrorist group Hezbollah, backed by Iran and Syria, to be disarmed, as required by the United Nations.

The final G-8 summit resolution marks a diplomatic victory for the president, who arrived in St. Petersburg to a chorus of disapproval from the Russians and many of the European leaders, including President Chirac of France, who told reporters he thought Israel’s real motive was to destroy Lebanon.

However, the resolution that emerged yesterday confirmed the president’s view of the conflict, that Israel was fully justified in protecting itself against terrorist actions by Hezbollah and that instead of condemning Prime Minister Olmert, the root causes of the violence should be addressed, namely the continuing terrorist actions of Hezbollah.

America demanded that Hezbollah be disarmed, in compliance with U.N. Security Council resolution 1559, which was passed in 2004. Sensing the mood of the summit, Mr. Chirac abruptly changed his tone yesterday. “Forces who jeopardize the security, stability, and sovereignty of Lebanon must be stopped,” he said. In a bid for unanimity, world leaders agreed to include a call for a cease-fire and a warning to Israel to avoid attacks on civilians.

The statement from the G-8 was echoed in part by a terse communique from the three-man U.N. team that arrived in Beirut yesterday and promptly expressed its support for the Lebanese prime minister’s “call for a cease fire and his aim of exercising full authority over the entire country.”

But even as the world leaders fell in step behind Mr. Bush, the war between Israel and Hezbollah escalated. Over the weekend, rockets rained on northern Israel’s major towns and cities, including Haifa, long regarded as a red line in the cold war between Israel and the Hezbollah militia on its northern border. Israel, in turn, bombed Hezbollah’s headquarters in Beirut and once again hit the fuel tanks at Beirut airport.

In Lebanon, thousands of civilians tried to escape the country, which has been encircled by Israeli gun ships, its airports and major highways bombed. Many of the refugees traveled on back roads to Syria on foot as more civilian neighborhoods just outside Beirut faced an aerial onslaught.

America, Britain, Canada, France, and Germany all began arrangements to ferry or airlift their citizens out of Lebanon. The British sent an aircraft carrier yesterday to anchor outside Beirut, its missile defense system capable of shooting down rocket and drone attacks aimed at the nearby Israeli ships bombarding Hezbollah positions on shore.

Eight Canadian citizens were reported dead as a result of the Israeli airstrikes yesterday, a development that could push Prime Minister Harper back into Canada’s traditionally neutral role on the Palestinian Arab-Israeli conflict. On Friday, he said he believed that Israel’s response so far was measured.

Hezbollah’s political and spiritual leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah threatened in a videotaped message yesterday to strike a petrochemical plant near Haifa. “One of our sources of strength is that the enemy does not know our power,” he said on Hezbollah’s television station, al-Manar. “He is working from the wrong information, and therefore is lying.”

In one respect, Sheik Nasrallah may have a point. One intelligence source yesterday said the Israel Defense Force had already produced an internal study examining how the militia’s July 12 raid that killed three soldiers and kidnapped another two could have been successful.

Israeli forces had repelled a similar attack in September. Also, Israeli officials said over the weekend that they had been surprised to discover that some Hezbollah rockets were able to hit civilian centers as far south as Afula and Upper Nazareth.

Nonetheless, Israel estimates that in just five days of fighting its has seriously degraded Hezbollah’s infrastructure. Yesterday, the Daily Telegraph quoted Israel’s defense minister, Amir Peretz, as saying, “We do not plan to end this war before reality is transformed. The terrorists will no longer be sitting on Israel’s northern border.”

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