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U.S. vetoes U.N. resolution on Mideast

U.N. diplomatic team heads to 'major crisis'

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Smoke rises from Beirut's main airport after Thursday's airstrikes.

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(CNN) -- The United States on Thursday vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding Israel halt its attacks in Gaza.

The proposal also demanded that Palestinian militants release the Israeli soldier abducted June 25 in a raid in Israel and stop launching rockets at Israel from Gaza. In addition, it called on Israel to release Palestinian government officials and lawmakers it took into custody after the soldier's abduction.

Ten nations on the council voted in favor of the resolution, and four abstained.

John Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said that "in light of the fluid events on the ground," the United States believed the Qatar-sponsored resolution was untimely and out of date, and would have helped inflame passions in the Middle East.

As one of the five permanent members on the Security Council, the United States has veto power over resolutions.

Earlier Thursday, the United Nations called fighting between Hezbollah militants and Israel a "major crisis" and said it was sending a diplomatic team to the region.

A U.N. statement said the team will urge all parties to exercise restraint.

The three-member team first will visit Cairo to meet with Egyptian officials and consult with Arab League Foreign Ministers, who will be meeting there Saturday.

Vijay Nambiar, Alvaro de Soto and Terje Roed Larsen are also expected to travel to Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories, Lebanon and Syria, with other stops added as needed.

Israel has bombed runways at civilian and military airports in Lebanon, as well as a Hezbollah-run television station in response to Wednesday's abduction of two Israeli soldiers. It also has imposed a full naval blockade on the country. Hezbollah fighters have been lobbing Katyusha rockets into northern Israel. (Full story)

Lebanese Interior Minister Ahmed Fatfat called the airport strikes a "general act of war." He said they had nothing to do with Hezbollah but were, instead, an attack against Lebanon's "economic interests," especially its tourism industry.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday said the attack and abductions were an "act of war" and said the Lebanese government would be held responsible for the soldiers' safe release.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he is concerned that a "regional war is mounting" with Israel's military campaigns in Lebanon and Gaza, where forces were deployed after last month's capture of an Israeli soldier.

"This is not our interest and will not bring peace and stability to the region," Abbas said, referring to "this [Israeli] aggression."

Bashar Ja'afari, Syria's ambassador to the United Nations, said Thursday that Syria supports Hezbollah because it is engaging in "national resistance against foreign occupation."

Ja'afari said the roots of the current conflict go far beyond the recent escalation of tensions.

"The Arab-Israeli conflict did not start with the capture of an Israeli soldier in Gaza or two other Israeli soldiers in south Lebanon. The Arab-Israeli conflict is 60 years old, and nobody was giving any care to solving this conflict," he said. "Those who should be blamed are the Israeli policies, not the Arab policies."

Asked whether Syria has direct contact with Hezbollah, Ja'afari said, "We have been having direct contacts with everybody, except, of course, the American administration and the Israeli side."

President Bush, speaking during a trip to Germany, said that "Israel has a right to defend herself." But he warned that Israel should take care not to weaken Lebanon's government.

"The democracy of Lebanon is an important part of laying a foundation of peace in that region," Bush said.

Bush also said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "needs to show some leadership toward peace."

Ja'afari said Damascus "is deploying a huge effort within the Arab circles ... as well as at the international level through direct contacts."

"We are doing our utmost," he said. "Saturday there will be a meeting of Arab foreign affairs ministers in Cairo to discuss the Israeli escalation. We will do our best. But, mainly speaking, those who have the upper hand with regard to the Security Council should deal with the Arab-Israeli conflict in its ... wider spectrum."

Bush said the United States was working to calm the situation.

"We've got diplomats in the region. Secretary of State [Condoleezza] Rice, who is here, is on the phone talking to her counterparts. I'll be making calls," Bush said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the abduction of the soldiers was unacceptable and blamed Hezbollah for starting the crisis.

The European Union reportedly condemned the fighting and criticized Israel for using what it called "disproportionate" force. It said the blockade of Lebanon was not justified.

"Actions which are contrary to international humanitarian law can only aggravate the vicious circle of violence and retribution," the EU president said in a statement, according to Reuters.

Hezbollah is designated a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel, but the Islamic militia is a significant player in Lebanon's fractious politics. Its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, told reporters Wednesday that abducting the soldiers was "our natural, only and logical right" to win freedom for Hezbollah prisoners held by Israel.

Nasrallah said the two soldiers had been taken to a place "far, far away" and that an Israeli military campaign would not win their release.

The new fighting on Israel's northern border comes amid a two-week-old Israeli campaign in Gaza in search of Israeli army Cpl. Gilad Shalit, a soldier captured by Palestinian militants there.

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