Thursday, June 29, 2006

Seizure of Hamas MPs raises international alarm

Israel's seizure of Hamas MPs and cabinet ministers raises "particular concerns", the G8 group of industrialised countries said today, echoing appeals for calm from many other parts of the world.



"We call on Israel to exercise utmost restraint in the current crisis," the G8 foreign ministers said in a joint statement. "The detention of elected members of the Palestinian government and legislature raises particular concerns."

Speaking after the group's ministerial meeting in Moscow, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice said diplomatic efforts were continuing to secure the release of the Israeli soldier captured on Sunday.

"There is a full-scale diplomatic effort," she told a news conference. "Responsible Palestinians are also engaged in efforts to get this soldier released - and that is a very important point to make - as well as some regional actors that are engaged."

She was apparently referring to Egypt, which is said to have been in contact with the Palestinian hostage-takers through a delegation sent to Gaza on Sunday. "With restraint, perhaps we can get back to a place where there can be hope for a peaceful resolution," Ms Rice added.

"We confirmed our support for the Quartet ... and called on the parties to take all the necessary steps to calm the situation," Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said after the meeting, referring to the group of Middle East peace mediators - Russia, the US, the United Nations, and the European Union.

China also said it was "deeply concerned" about the latest Israeli-Palestinian crisis. "We urge Israel to exercise restraint and halt military action, and call on Palestine to release the hostage as early as possible," Jiang Yu, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, told journalists.

In Rome, Pope Benedict said he was "apprehensively following" the latest developments. Addressing a crowd in St Peter's Square, he said: "I pray every person kidnapped be quickly returned to their loved ones ... I call on Israeli and Palestinian leaders so that, with the generous contribution of the international community, they responsibly seek the negotiated settlement of the conflict which alone can assure the peace sought by their people."

The 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference condemned Israel's "criminal" seizure of Palestinian ministers and said diplomacy was needed to release the Israeli soldier.

"These Israeli measures do not only constitute a flagrant violation of international law and signed agreements but are also a brutal crime and aggression against democracy and the representatives of the Palestinian people," the Saudi-based organisation said.

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