Armenia joined Arab nations and the European Union in condemning Israel for its military action against Lebanon that continued for a third consecutive day on Friday, heightening tensions in the Middle East.
While denouncing the abduction of two Israeli soldiers and the killing of eight others by the Hezbollah militia, the Armenian Foreign Ministry said Israel should stop its air strikes against civilian targets in Lebanon.
“Armenia condemns any violence whether it be abduction or use of force,” the ministry said in a statement. “We particularly denounce the use of such disproportionate force intended solely to collectively punish civilians and damage infrastructure. This kind of reaction by Israel is particularly difficult to understand given the fact that the Lebanese government has clearly distanced itself from the abduction incident.”
“We hope that there will be restraint in the region and also hope there will be an immediate ceasefire so that the issues can be addressed by peaceful means,” added the statement.
Israel launched a widespread bombing campaign in Lebanon and tightened an air, sea and land blockade of its northern neighbor in response to Hezbollah’s deadly cross-border attack on its troops. More than 60 civilians in Lebanon and two in Israel have been killed in the worst bout of fighting since Israel ended its occupation of south Lebanon six years ago
Israeli air raids on Beirut international airport have disrupted Lebanon’s air communication with the rest of the world, leaving thousands of travelers to and from the country stranded in the region. Among them was Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh, who was returning from a visit to Armenia and - like many - was forced to make his way home through Syria.
Salloukh’s official visit to Yerevan highlighted warm relations existing between Armenia and Lebanon and other Arab states that have large and affluent Armenian communities. Armenians have for decades been represented in the Lebanese government and parliament. The country’s President Emile Lahoud is half Armenian.
Israel’s “disproportionate use of force” was criticized on Friday by Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja of Finland, which now holds the European Union’s rotating presidency. French President Jacques Chirac likewise said the Israeli military campaign is “completely disproportionate,” while blasting Hezbollah for its “irresponsible” stance.
Israel’s actions, however, were effectively justified by U.S. President George W. Bush who said the Jewish state “has the right to defend herself."
(AP-Photolur photo: A Lebanese family cross the river to reach their village, after Israeli warplanes attacked and damaged the Khardaleh bridge near Marjayoun village in south Lebanon on Thursday.)