Russia Criticizes Israel for Offensive Jul 20 10:44 AM US/Eastern Email this story By ANTON TROIANOVSKI Associated Press Writer MOSCOW Russia on Thursday sharply criticized Israel for its offensive against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, saying it went "far beyond the boundaries of an anti-terrorist operation" and repeating calls for an immediate cease-fire. The Foreign Ministry said Russia affirms the need to fight terrorism and called for the immediate release of captive Israeli soldiers, but it added that "the unprecedented scale of the casualties and destruction" in Lebanon indicates that Israel is using too much force. The comment echoed a statement by President Vladimir Putin, who said while hosting a summit of the Group of Eight nations Saturday that Russia had the impression Israel was "pursuing wider goals" than the return of abducted soldiers. While G-8 leaders cobbled together a statement on the Mideast conflict in a bid to display unity, the criticism of Israel and the cease-fire call contrasted with the U.S. stance. Washington has rejected calls for an immediate cease-fire and blamed Hezbollah for the conflict's intensity. Russia's Foreign Ministry said "international humanitarian law" demands that strikes be launched only against military targets, even if there are suspicions that civilian facilities could be used to support military actions. Russia has consistently rejected Western accusations that it has used too much force during its wars against rebels in Chechnya, in which thousands of civilians have been killed. The Kremlin refers to the conflict in Chechnya as an anti-terrorist operation. The statement also echoed Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's calls for an immediate cease-fire, saying it was a "first step that cannot be delayed." The United States has said Israel has the right to defend itself and that what is needed is a "meaningful" cease-fire. A cease-fire would allow civilians to safely leave areas affected by the fighting, the ministry said. Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov met Thursday in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar Assad, who said Syria was prepared to help promote a cease-fire, according to another Foreign Ministry statement. But Israel's ambassador to Russia rejected the notion of an immediate cease-fire, saying it would not end the Hezbollah threat. "Let's say a cease-fire is declared tomorrow _ 8,000 rockets will continue to threaten Israel," Ambassador Arkady Mil-Man told a news conference. "The essence of Hezbollah won't change overnight." Mil-Man also underscored Israel's friendship with Russia, while criticizing Russia for not recognizing Hezbollah and Hamas as terrorist organizations. "We believe it's wrong and it's not helping things," Mil-Man said of Russia's position. Russia is prepared to provide Lebanon with urgent humanitarian aid, the Foreign Ministry said. It also said that Russia hoped the U.N. Security Council would take a broad approach to the growing crisis, warning that "it is unlikely to be successfully overcome" if efforts to tackle the problem do not encompass all its aspects.