The worsening situation in the Middle East has captured the world's attention, including the European Union's, which has accused Israel of "disproportionate use of force" in Lebanon. Violence continued into Friday.
An Israeli air raid targeted a bridge in southern Lebanon
Israel broadened its offensive on Lebanon on Friday, with fighter bombers striking the airport and residential buildings in the southern suburbs of the capital, as well as blasting fuel storage tanks and cutting off the main highway to Syria. Three people were killed and 55 wounded in the air strikes, police said. Beirut airport officials said one of their three runways was hit by an Israeli missile on Friday morning.
The escalating crossborder violence -- the worst in a decade -- has also sparked a strong response from the EU. The European Union's top humanitarian aid official has called on Israeli and Palestinian authorities to make sure humanitarian agencies can still do their work in the areas affected by the recent conflict.
Fuel storage tanks burning at Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut on Friday
The 25-nation EU also approved an additional 50 million euros ($63 million) in humanitarian aid to meet the needs of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
"Once again, civilians are paying the price of conflict," said EU Commissioner Louis Michel. "They are the main casualties of the Israeli blockades and incursions in Gaza, and now in Lebanon," he said.
German government: "Israel has a right to defend itself"
The German government on Friday said Israel had the right to defend itself but should think about the long-term impact of its offensive in Lebanon.
"On the one hand, Israel has the internationally recognized right to self defense. But at the same time we ask our Israeli friends and partners not to lose sight of the long-term consequences when they exercise this right," deputy government spokesman Jens Plötner said.
"Here we think care should be taken about the situation in Lebanon, which is a fragile entity as a state and could be further destabilised," he added.
Plötner said Berlin regretted the high number of civilian casualties the fighting has claimed on both sides and called on all parties to "break the spiral of violence."
"Humanitarian aid difficult to get through"
By Friday morning the death toll had reached 61 ever since Israel began retaliating Wednesday for the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah guerrillas in a raid across the southern Lebanese border.
"Movement restrictions are also making it very difficult for humanitarian operators to help the people that most need it. I strongly urge both Israeli and Palestinian authorities to facilitate the work of the humanitarian agencies and ensure the protection of civilians," Michel said.
On Thursday, the Finnish presidency of the European Union said the use of force by Israel in Lebanon in response to attacks by the Lebanese-based Hezbollah militia was "disproportionate."
"Actions which are contrary to international humanitarian law can only aggravate the vicious circle of violence and retribution and cannot serve anyone's legitimate security interests," the EU presidency said in a statement.
At the same time, the EU said it urged Hezbollah to release two Israeli soldiers it had captured "immediately and unconditionally, and to cease all attacks on Israel."
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana will head to the Middle East on Saturday
France has adopted a particularly sharp tone publicly regarding the Israeli retaliation. Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said: "This is a disproportionate act of war with very negative consequences for Lebanon, especially because it runs the risk of sparking even more violence which could destabilize the whole region."
German Chancellor and US President agree
Like the German chancellor, US President George W. Bush also said Israel has the right to defend itself, but should not weaken the Lebanese government.
The Beirut government, too divided to disarm the Shi'ite faction that effectively controls south Lebanon, has urged the UN Security Council to call on Israel to halt its onslaught when the top world body meets later on Friday.