G-8 leaders call for `immediate end' to the violence

Demand issued for militias, Israel to halt onslaught

By Peter Baker and Peter Finn
Washington Post / July 17, 2006

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STRELNA, Russia -- President Bush and other world leaders put aside their differences yesterday and crafted a plan to stop the fighting in the Middle East, calling on Islamic militias to halt their rocket attacks on Israel and on Israeli forces to end their military response.

The plan hammered out after hours of intense negotiations at the Group of Eight summit called for ``an immediate end to the current violence" and raised the prospect of an international security force along the Israeli-Lebanese border to separate fighting forces.

The statement by the leaders of the world's leading industrial nations placed blame for the intensifying crisis squarely on the ``extremist forces" of Hamas and Hezbollah, just as Bush has done from the beginning. But it also went further than he had been willing to go in demanding that Israel ``exercise utmost restraint" and ``avoid casualties among innocent civilians" in its retaliatory strikes in the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon.

The leaders demanded that Hamas and Hezbollah return unharmed Israeli soldiers they have seized in recent weeks and stop shelling Israeli towns, while telling Israel to call off its military operations, withdraw forces quickly from Gaza and release Palestinian ministers and legislators arrested since the latest wave of conflict began last month.

The daylong talks that led to the agreement overshadowed the G-8's scheduled agenda on energy, disease and education, demonstrating the deepening alarm over the rising violence in Israel and Lebanon.

``We indeed are witnesses to a veritable explosion," said French President Jacques Chirac.

``This is a situation of grave, grave concern to us, which occupies us here," he said.

The leaders arrived at a czarist seaside palace near St. Petersburg with starkly different views of the crisis, and for a time they appeared unlikely to reach consensus as a Russian official predicted talks would last all night. But just before the leaders adjourned to a 9 p.m. dinner at Konstantinovsky Palace , they settled on language that emphasized areas of agreement, split the difference on disputes and allowed each side to interpret it as it chose.

During the discussion, Bush found support from British Prime Minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Angela Merkel , while Chirac's position was largely shared by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper rounded out the G-8 sessions.