Bush backs Israel's attacks but worries about Beirut's stability
STRALSUND, Germany -- President Bush yesterday strongly defended Israel's attacks in Lebanon but worried that they could weaken or topple the fragile government in Beirut.
The Mideast violence exposed divisions between the United States and allies and raised fears of a widening war.
``Israel has a right to defend herself," Bush said at a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. ``Every nation must defend herself against terrorist attacks and the killing of innocent life."
But the European Union criticized Israel for using ``disproportionate" force in its attacks on Lebanon following the cross-border raid by Hezbollah guerillas who captured two Israeli soldiers. The EU also called Israel's naval blockade cutting off supply routes to Lebanon unjustified
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Syria must act responsibly and bring pressure on those involved. ``This is a situation that can be resolved if parties take responsible action," Rice said at a news conference here.
She said the United States was urging Israel to exercise restraint to avoid civilian casualties and damage, but she declined to criticize Israel for its attacks on the airport and other targets. ``I'm not going to try to judge every single act," she told reporters.
Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley voiced concern that the violence would hurt Lebanon's fledgling government. Rice said the government presented the best opportunity in three decades to turn to democracy and reduce Syrian influence.
``This is one more challenge they do not need," Hadley said. He said the United States was asking other nations in the Middle East -- particularly Egypt -- to put pressure on Hezbollah to free the Israeli captives.
Earlier in the day, Bush was welcomed to Merkel's home district in what once was communist East Germany with a ceremonial barrel of pickled herring, a Baltic delicacy.
Later at dinner, he cut several slices from the rib area of a wild boar that turned slowly on spits when he arrived for a barbecue in nearby Trinwillershagen.
Anti-Bush demonstrators were kept far away, but one protester from the Greenpeace environmental group managed to climb in the clock tower of St. Nicholas Church overlooking Old Market Square where the president was welcomed. The protester displayed a yellow ``No War, No Nukes, No Bush" banner from a window but it was gone by the time Bush appeared minutes later.
Among allies, there was disagreement with Bush about Israel's attacks.
In Paris, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said the Israeli air campaign -- its heaviest against Lebanon in 24 years -- could ``plunge Lebanon back into the worst years of the war with the flight of thousands of Lebanese who . . . were in the process of rebuilding their country."
Bush arrives in Moscow today and will have dinner with President Vladimir Putin. The two leaders will also meet tomorrow before the opening of the eight-nation summit of industrial powers.