The European Union said Thursday that Israel misinterpreted the outcome of the Middle East conference in Rome and that the fighting in Lebanon should cease immediately.
Speaking on behalf of the European Union, Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja said Israeli views that the Rome declaration indicated it should continue its offensive were "totally wrong." Finland is current president of the EU.
The Wednesday conference in Rome, with leaders from North America, Europe and the Arab world, as well as international organizations, failed to agree on a formula for a cease-fire in the spiraling conflict between Israel and Hizbullah militias in southern Lebanon.
Press conference during Rome summit (Photo: AP)
Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon, who is close to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said that Israel interpreted the lack of consensus at Rome as a green light to continue its attacks on Hizbullah.
"We received yesterday in the Rome conference permission, in effect, from the world, part of it gritting its teeth and part of it granting its blessing, to continue the operation, this war, until Hizbullah's presence is erased in Lebanon and it is disarmed," Ramon told Israel's Army Radio on Thursday.
"It's a totally wrong interpretation, because the whole basic idea of the Rome conference was to very quickly help end the war and hostilities," Tuomioja told Finnish reporters as he headed an EU delegation to the Middle East.
"Without a doubt, there were diverging views in Rome but most of the countries, including the European Union, also specifically want an immediate halt to the hostilities," Tuomioja said on Finnish YLE radio, in comments made in Tel Aviv before a meeting with government officials there.
Tuomioja said the EU would continue to play a role in helping achieve peace in the Middle East.
"Israel understands and recognizes the EU's essential role in the Mideast peace process," Tuomioja added.
Earlier Thursday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also called Israel's interpretation of the Rome conference outcome a "gross misunderstanding," insisting the declaration did not indicate that Israel should continue its offensive in Lebanon.
"I would say just the opposite - yesterday in Rome it was clear that everyone present wanted to see an end to the fighting as swiftly as possible," he told reporters in Berlin.
Italian Premier Romano Prodi, too, spoke out against the Israeli interpretation.
"The position expressed by the conference cannot be interpreted as an authorization" for the Israelis to continue hostilities, Prodi told reporters after a meeting in Rome with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.