Britain criticises Israeli tactics
Britain has dramatically broken ranks with George Bush over the Lebanon crisis, publicly criticising Israel's military tactics and urging the Americans to 'understand' the price being paid by ordinary Lebanese civilians.
The remarks, made in Beirut today by the Foreign Office Minister, Kim Howells, were the first public criticism of the US voiced by Britain. The Observer can also reveal that Tony Blair urged restraint in a private telephone convseration with the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, last week.
Sources close to the Prime Minister said that Olmert replied that Israel faced a dire security threat from the Hizbollah militia and was determined to do everything necessary to defeat it.
Britain's policy shift came as Israeli tanks and warplanes pounded targets across the border in south Lebanon today ahead of an immenently expected ground offensive to clear out nearby Hizbollah positions which have been firing dozens of rockets onto towns and cities inside Israel. Downing Street sources said Blair still believed Israel had every right to respond to the missile threat, and held the Shia militia responsible for provoking the cirisis by abducting two Israeli soldiers and shelling Israel.
But they said they had no quarrel with Howells's scathing denunciation of Israel's military tactics. Speaking to a BBC reporter before travelling on for talks in Israel, where he will also visit missile-hit areas of Haifa and meet his Israeli opposite-number, Howell said: 'The destruction of the infrastructure, the death of so many children and so many people. These have not been surgical strikes. If they are chasing Hizbollah, then go for Hizbollah. You don't go for the entire Lebanese nation.'