MARTIN CRUTSINGER AP Economics Writer
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia World leaders sought to halt escalating violence in the Middle East, considering the possibility of sending international peacekeepers to stop Hezbollah from bombing Israel. Israel quickly rejected the idea. The Mideast situation overshadowed the summit of world leaders where President Bush, not realizing his remarks were being picked up by a microphone, bluntly expressed his frustration with Hezbollah, a militant Islamic group believed backed by Iran and Syria. “See the irony is that what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this s- and it’s over,” Bush told British Prime Minister Tony Blair in a discussion before the Group of Eight leaders began their final lunch. Bush also suggested that U. N. Secretary General Kofi Annan call Syrian President Bashar Assad to “make something happen.” In Damacus, Iran’s foreign minister said a cease-fire and an exchange of hostages would be an acceptable and fair deal in resolving the conflict. “In fact, there can be a cease-fire followed by a prisoner swap,” said Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who spoke after talks with the vice president of Syria.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is opposed to sending international forces to Lebanon to help end bloodshed in the region, Israeli senior officials said. Olmert instead wants Lebanese forces to take control of the border area with Israel and wants the Hezbollah militia disarmed. The warfare between Hezbollah and Israel generated reaction from around the globe, and several nations made plans to evacuate their citizens. Russian President Vladimir Putin, closing out the first G-8 summit on Russian soil, said his nation would contribute troops to a U.N. peacekeeping force. The European Union said it also was considering deploying peacekeepers in Lebanon. France said it is sending Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin to Beirut to express support for Lebanon’s government. And French President Jacques Chirac, who attended the summit, said he believed “some means of coercion” may be needed to enforce a U.N. resolution that calls for the disarmament of Hezbollah and other militias in Lebanon. After his talks with Annan on the sidelines of the G-8 summit, Blair said, “The blunt reality is that this violence is not going to stop unless we create the conditions for the cessation of violence. ... The only way we’re going to get a cessation of hostilities is if we have the deployment of an international force into that area that can stop the bombardment over into Israel and therefore gives Israel a reason to stop its attacks on Hezbollah.” Asked about the comments on an international force, White House national security spokesman Frederick Jones said, “We’re open to the possibility of that force being necessary.”