A statement generated by the council, read out Friday to reporters by Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere of France, the council's July president, lent Security Council support to the U.N. team of envoys dispatched to the region to help diffuse the situation. It made no mention of a cease-fire.
"The Security Council welcomes the secretary-general's decision to dispatch to the Middle East a senior-level team," the 15-member body said in its statement. "The Security Council calls on all concerned states and parties to extend their full cooperation to the team."
A U.N. spokesperson said the envoys had arrived in Egypt, where they would meet with Egyptian Foreign Minister Abu Ghait and then the secretary-general of the Arab League, Amr Mousa. The group will also travel to Israel, including the Palestinian territories, and to Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
The Security Council has lately been deadlocked in its responses to a variety of international crises, from Iran's apparent dismissal of a call to suspend uranium enrichment, to missile launches by North Korea, to a resolution on the continuing violence on the Gaza Strip, which came to a vote Thursday but was blocked by an American veto.
The council's failure to arrive at a strong statement on the situation in Israel and Lebanon, which appears to be boiling over into a full-scale regional conflict, further raises doubts over its ability to operate as a unified body.
During the two-hour long Security Council session, convened at Lebanon's request, statements varied widely on how the international community should interpret the unfolding violence.
Lebanon, which along with Israel was invited to address the council, condemned Israel's actions as "barbaric" and asked the Security Council to call for a cease-fire.
"I need not explain to you who is the victim and who is the aggressor, since Israel's military operations are clear acts of aggression and devastation aimed to bring Lebanon to its knees and to subvert it by any means," Lebanese Ambassador Nouhad Mahmoud told the council.
Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman reiterated his country's position that Israel's actions have been a direct response to Lebanon's declaration, through Hezbollah militants, of war against Israel.
Gillerman also placed blame on Iran and Syria for the escalating violence, saying Hezbollah, along with Hamas, Syria and Iran, comprise "the world's new and ominous Axis of Terror."
"It is very important for the international community to understand that while Hezbollah executes this vicious terrorism, it is only the finger on the bloodstained, long-reaching arms of Syria and Iran," he said.
The United States, which has a reputation as a reliable supporter of Israel on the Security Council, also had strong words for Lebanon.
"Hezbollah's incursions across the Blue Line on July 12 were a deliberate and premeditated provocation intended to undermine regional stability and are contrary to the interests of both the Lebanese and Israeli people," U.S. Ambassador John Bolton told the council.
Bolton also repeated U.S. President George W. Bush's declaration that Syria and Iran should be held accountable for their role in the current crisis -- Syria as a material supporter of terrorism and provider of a safe haven for terrorists, and Iran for its financial backing of Hezbollah. He also called on Syria to arrest Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who currently lives in Damascus, the Syrian capital.
Syrian Ambassador Bashar Jaafari told reporters his country had been denied participation in the discussions.
"The issue is wider than capturing a soldier here and there," Jaafari said, when asked what Syria would have told the council. "Hezbollah is a national resistance movement aimed at combating and fighting foreign occupation" and, as such, enjoys the support of Syria.
Later in the day, the Syrian mission sent a letter condemning its exclusion from the meeting, given, as Jaafari contended, "my country was subject to false accusations and direct threat in the context of Israeli aggression of Lebanon."
At the start of the meeting, the Security Council was briefed by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari.
"We are emphasizing to all parties that a qualitative escalation of the conflict is in no one's best interests, and the space for diplomatic initiatives is quickly closing. All parties must do their utmost to ensure that this space remains open," Gambari said.
Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guehenno also briefed the council.
Soon after the meeting commenced, a defiant statement by Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, was broadcast.
"To the Zionists, you wanted an open war and you will have it," Nasrallah said.
Israeli assaults on Lebanon have meanwhile hit the country's main airport, a major highway, Nasrallah's headquarters, among other targets.
According to Israel, in the last 48 hours prior to the Security Council discussions, more than 500 katyusha rockets and mortar shells were fired into the northern part of Israel, killing 2 civilians and wounding hundreds more.
The release of three Israeli soldiers currenrly held in foreign custody -- one captured by Hamas June 25 in a cross-border attack near Gaza and two more captured by Hezbollah July 12 on Israel's northern border with Lebanon -- remain the focus of Israeli action.
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