posted July 14, 2006 at 12:15 p.m,, Tom Regan,  Israel continued its bombardment of Lebanon in response to the kidnapping of two soldiers by Hizbollah, Russia, France, and the European Union criticized Israel’s actions in the escalating conflict, calling them "a disproportionate act of war." The Christian Science Monitor reports that more than 50 Lebanese, most of them civilians, have already been killed in the attacks. Reuters reports that France said it would support’s Lebanon’s call to bring the situation before the United Nations Security Council, while Russia "denounced both Israel’s attack on Lebanon and its on-going operations against the Palestinian territories."

"The continuing destruction by Israel of civilian infrastructure in Lebanon and in Palestinian territory (and) the disproportionate use of force from which civilian populations suffer cannot be understood and justified," [Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mikhail Kamynin] said.

"The attack on Beirut international airport is a dangerous step on the way to military escalation," he added, calling on all sides to stop a slip towards war.

But Hizbollah did not escape condemnation, some of it coming from Arab states. The Associated Press reports that while King Abdullah II of Jordan condemned Israel’s "targeting innocent civilians and the Lebanese infrastructure," he also had harsh words for Hizbollah, saying that "Jordan stands against whoever exposes the Palestinian people and their cause, Lebanon and its sovereignty to unexpected dangers"

And Reuters reports that, in "usually strong language," Saudi Arabia blamed Hizbollah, and its Iranian backers, for the crisis.

"A distinction must be made between legitimate resistance and uncalculated adventures undertaken by elements inside (Lebanon) and those behind them without recourse to the legal authorities and consulting and coordinating with Arab nations," a statement published on the official news agency SPA said.

"These elements should bear the responsibility for their irresponsible actions and they alone should end the crisis they have created."

Violence between the two sides continued to escalate Friday. AP reports that Israel continued its bombardment of the Beirut International airport and residential suburbs in the southern Beirut area where Hizbollah has its political headquarters. Ha’aretz reports that Hizbollah fired more rockets into northern Israel near its border with Lebanon, hitting a residential building in Safed, and injuring more than a dozen people in many towns and villages. Israel’s US ambassador called the recent attacks a "major escalation." Human Right Watch called on both sides to "scrupulously respect the absolute prohibition against targeting civilians or carrying out attacks that indiscriminately harm civilians."

Criticism of Israel Thursday and Friday was not based on its right to respond to the kidnapping of the two soldiers, but to the level of its response. Deutsche Welle reports that the European Union also accused Israel of "disproportionate use of force." An editorial in the Guardian called Israel’s response "disproportionate, dangerous, destructive," saying that it went "far beyond the legitimate right of any country to defend itself."

When asked about his country’s response, Reuters reports that Israel Justice Minister Haim Ramon said Israel was acting "just as Russia did against the Chechens and the United States did against Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan." The Jerusalem Post also reports that Mr. Ramon "suggested" Hizbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah was a target for assassination.

Voice of America reports that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had sharp words for both sides, saying that Syria and Iran had to stop backing terrorists, and that it was "important that Israeli leaders exercise restraint and avoid civilian casualties." The US feels it is important not to destabilize the new government of Lebanese Prime Minister Faud Siniora, which it describes as "a good government that is trying to bring greater democracy and freedom to Lebanon."

But CBSNews reports that Israel believes that it is already exercising restraint.

"Despite the dramatic pictures we are seeing on our television screens, the Israeli command insists it is not going full throttle in Lebanon and does not intend to," reports CBS News 60 Minutes correspondent Bob Simon. "The objective, Israeli officers say, is to weaken Hizbollah on the ground in south Lebanon, and to pave the way for the government in Beirut to send the Lebanese army down to take its place."

CBSNews adds that Israel will not accept a cease-fire until it has obtained all of its military objectives.

The Toronto Star reports that, in a move to establish itself "as the last hope for radicals in the Middle East," Hizbollah may have overplayed its hand, underestimating the resolve of Israel, and in particular its generals who are "not only ready to fight, but ready to take some bruises along the way." But there is "one massive error" Israel may make in the coming days if it is not careful.

"The only thing that will save Hizbollah from themselves at this point is a huge Israeli military overreaction," [Meir Javandanfar of the Middle East Analysis Company] told the Star. "Israel needs to attack Hizbollah and Hizbollah alone. If it goes beyond, it runs the big risk of energizing all the Lebanese against Israel."

Lebanon’s Daily Star picks up on this idea, but with a more positive twist, in an editorial that says there may be a silver lining in the Israeli attacks for Lebanon – the forging of all of its various political groups into a united front.

What has been missing is a consensus with sufficient strength and appeal to forge a genuinely Lebanese identity. Hizbollah has always been the missing catalyst in that consensus, and the current crisis provides an opportunity to fulfill the resistance movement’s potential as cornerstone of a new stability. This can only happen, though, if Nasrallah is able to keep his party’s fate – and therefore his country’s – from becoming intertwined with the problems that plague Iran and Syria’s relations with the international community. He has the power to do this by empowering Lebanon’s government – not Germany’s or Egypt’s or anyone else’s – to negotiate on Hizbollah’s behalf. Only thus can he begin to refute, once and for all, the suspicion that his priorities are regional ones, and that local issues and the people they affect are only tools and pawns in a wider game in which most Lebanese have little stake and even less interest.

There is much to be gained by seizing the day. For one thing, it figures to reduce the suffering being inflicted on a civilian population that has endured more than its share of hardship. For another, it offers the possibility that a prisoner swap, however circuitous its execution, could open the door to wider talks aimed at settling all the issues on the Lebanese-Israeli agenda. The two countries will not be friends any time soon, but no law says they have to remain active belligerents in perpetuity.

The United Nations announced Thursday it will send a three-member team to the region, lead by Special Political Advisor Vijay Nambiar, to try and move the sides towards a resolution of the conflict.