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Last Updated: Saturday, 29 July 2006, 23:02 GMT 00:02 UK
Straw warning on Israeli action
Jack Straw
Jack Straw warned of a possible escalation of the crisis
Senior cabinet minister Jack Straw has criticised Israel's military action against Lebanon as "disproportionate".

The Commons leader and former foreign secretary told Muslim leaders in Blackburn that Israel's action "only escalates a dangerous situation".

Prime Minister Tony Blair has so far refused to call for an immediate ceasefire in the region.

Mr Straw backed Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells' comments that Israel was attacking the entire Lebanese people.

Mr Straw made his comments in a statement after meeting the community leaders in his constituency on Wednesday.

He said Israel, like any UN member, had a right to defend itself "proportionately".

But he added: "Kim was right to say if Israel are 'chasing Hezbollah, then go for Hezbollah... don't go for the entire Lebanese nation'."

Mr Straw said he grieved equally "for all those innocent Israeli civilians killed in the conflict" and the "10 times as many innocent Lebanese, men women and children, killed by Israeli fire".

Mr Straw's spokesman said Downing Street was aware of the statement and he had been talking to No 10 all this week.

Tony Blair said on Saturday there could not be a ceasefire until "the conditions to allow that to happen" were in place.

They have not been 'surgical strikes' but have instead caused death and misery amongst innocent civilians
Jack Straw

However, he said one could be achieved within days, with the help of a UN resolution, if the international community acted with urgency.

Mr Straw's statement said: "As I have seen for myself, people in the [Middle East] have lived in fear for too long, and we need a durable situation, which strengthens the forces of peace and democracy.

"Like any other member of the United Nations, Israel has clear rights to defend itself proportionately. Hezbollah must stop their rocket attacks on Haifa and agree to hand over the kidnapped Israeli soldiers."

But he added: "As... Kim Howells [said last weekend], it is very difficult to understand the kind of military tactics used by Israel.

"They have not been 'surgical strikes' but have instead caused death and misery amongst innocent civilians."

The Israeli government has said that Israel is not interested in invading, conquering or occupying Lebanon, from where it withdrew troops in 2000.

It says its actions are aimed at removing Hezbollah from the region.

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