Hariri resumes international efforts to rein Israel in, Abul-Gheit rules out Lebanon would come under war soon

European criticism mounting against Netanyahu

White House says U.S. asked two disputing parties to restart negotiations

Mitchell in Mideast to revive negotiations

Abbas urges U.S. to impose solution on Israel

United States officials who spoke to the pan-Arab paper Al-Sharq il-Awsat denied Thursday that America would stop using its United Nations veto to help Israel. The New York Times had reported that US President Barack Obama warned that America would no longer veto anti-Israel resolutions in the UN Security Council.

Obama was quoted as having told Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas that the US would stop exercising its Security Council veto if Israel did not work to promote peace talks with the PA.

A senior White House official told said that the NYT report was incorrect. America will continue to defend Israel's right to self-defense in the UN, and will continue to weigh in against selective criticism targeting Israel, he said.

The official declined to give details of Obama's talk with Abbas, saying only that the president had asked both Israel and the PA for “confidence-building steps.” America would like Israel and the PA to begin indirect negotiations, he added.

National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said Obama is “optimistic” regarding the chances for peace between Israel and the PA. Obama would like the parties to resume negotiations as quickly as possible, he said.

Meanwhile, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has slammed Israel's prime minister for "foot-dragging" amid international efforts to relaunch the Middle East peace process, an Israeli newspaper said Wednesday.

Citing unnamed officials, the centre-left Haaretz said Sarkozy had voiced disappointment with the hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a "very difficult" meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

"I'm disappointed with him," Sarkozy reportedly said. "With the friendship, sympathy and commitment we have toward Israel, we still can't accept this foot-dragging. I don't understand where Netanyahu is going or what he wants."

The comments were made during a meeting with Peres in Paris two weeks ago in which Sarkozy criticized Netanyahu for the first 15 minutes, the paper said.

Peres reportedly said that "trust between Israel and the Palestinians has been undermined," but that Israel had accepted a two-state solution in principle and taken steps to boost the Palestinian economy in the West Bank.

The United States has for months led international efforts to press both sides to relaunch peace negotiations last suspended after the outbreak of the Gaza war in December 2008.

Netanyahu has called for direct talks with the Palestinians but they have refused to meet with him face-to-face unless he halts all settlement construction in the occupied West Bank including annexed east Jerusalem.

The dispute over settlements boiled over into a rare public spat between Israel and its closest ally the United States last month, and Israel has faced a chorus of criticism over the settlements from Western leaders.

Meanwhile, Israel is seeking to justify a new war on Lebanon by alleging that Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah has obtained Scud missiles, Prime Minister Saad Hariri said in remarks to a Qatari newspaper.

"We reject the allegations ... (Israel) is trying to justify a war against Lebanon that it could launch when it wishes," Hariri said in an interview with Al-Watan to be published on Thursday, excerpts of which were obtained by AFP.

"Where is the proof that Hezbollah has these missiles," Hariri asked, adding that "Israel possesses nuclear weapons."

He also refused "to ask Hezbollah to deny the possession of such weapons," saying, "Why put ourselves in the position of being accused, and why give Israel the right to make such accusations?"

On Tuesday, Lebanese President Michel Sleiman took a similar stance, dismissing the Scud charges as "Israeli inventions."

"A war against Lebanon will not be an easy task and Israel knows that," a statement quoted Sleiman as saying during a visit to Brazil. "If the Jewish state wants war, it will find that Lebanon is ready to defend itself."

Israeli President Shimon Peres has accused Syria of providing Hezbollah with the missiles, prompting Washington to warn that this "potentially puts Lebanon at significant risk."

Earlier this month, a UN report said Hezbollah's arms posed "a key challenge to the safety of Lebanese civilians and to the authority of the government" and said the United Nations had information that "appears to corroborate the allegation of smuggling of weapons across the land borders."

And a senior US State Department official said last week said Washington was "concerned with the broadening nature of cooperation between Syria and Hezbollah."

Damascus is "providing a wider array of missiles to Hezbollah," added the diplomat, who asked not to be named and who refused to accuse Syria of delivering the high-grade weapons to Hezbollah.

Syria has rejected the allegation it transferred the missiles, which could put all of Israel in range.

In July 2006, Israel launched an assault on Lebanon after Hezbollah fighters captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.

Hezbollah fired more than 4,000 rockets into Israel during the 34-day conflict.

About 1,200 Lebanese, many of them civilians, and 160 Israelis, most of them soldiers, died in the conflict.

Furthermore, Egypt warned on Tuesday against probable Israeli military escalation in Lebanon, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

In a message to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Egypt' s Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit expressed fear over possible Israeli military escalation that could lead to armed conflict like the one which erupted in 2006, a spokesman of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said in a statement obtained by Xinhua.

Abul-Gheit stressed in his message the importance of U.S. role in defusing tension in the area and protecting Lebanon against being dragged into military confrontation, spokesman Hossam Zaki said in the statement.

The Egyptian foreign minister "has conveyed in his message the anxiety which many Lebanese feel over ... the mounting bellicose tone in the media and other forms of tension which warns of a looming threat," the statement said.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian foreign minister stressed that Cairo will stand in solidarity with Lebanon, noting his country's willingness and endeavor to spare Lebanon any danger that could shake its "stability and development march," the statement said.

Early of the day, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri discussed in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh threats against Lebanon and Syria amid Israeli claims that Syria is supplying Hezbollah with Scud missiles, state- run MENA news agency reported.

The Lebanese leader said Mubarak told him that Egypt is undertaking intensive contacts to guarantee protection of Lebanon and Syria against the Israeli threats, without referring to the nature of such dangers, said the threat.

US Middle East envoy George Mitchell has told both Israelis and Palestinians that President Obama wants a peace deal soon, not at some vague future date.

He met Israeli President Shimon Peres and, separately, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at loggerheads with the US over Israeli settlements.

Peres said Israel needed a Palestinian state.

“We need a Palestinian state for moral reasons, because we don’t want to govern another nation, but also for a pragmatic reason: we don’t want to see the conflict eating up our future.

There is no need for it and there is no other solution.”

Mitchell also went to Ramallah in the West Bank, looking to coax the Palestinians and President Mahmoud Abbas to resume negotiations. They pulled out of indirect proximity talks over the settlements issue.

The envoy told the Palestinian leader that the United States shared his commitment to achieving an independent state. “The United States is committed to a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East,” said Mitchell. “That includes a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that results in two states, Israel and Palestine.”

Mitchell has visited the region more than a dozen times in a year with no breakthrough. Palestinian demands for a total Israeli settlement freeze have again been rejected by Prime Minister Netanyahu. He is to hold more talks with the US envoy on Sunday.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas urged President Barack Obama on Saturday to impose a Mideast peace deal, signaling the Palestinians' growing frustration after nearly two decades of failed negotiations with Israel.

Palestinian officials have said privately that they believe only strong U.S. intervention can break the impasse with Israel. Still, Abbas' blunt public appeal Saturday was unusual.

In a speech to leaders of his Fatah movement, the Palestinian president noted that the Obama administration has defined the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel as a strategic U.S. interest.

"Since you, Mr. President and you, the members of the American administration, believe in this, it is your duty to call for the steps in order to reach the solution and impose the solution -- impose it," Abbas said. "But don't tell me it's a vital national strategic American interest ... and then not do anything."

The traditional U.S. position has been to act as a mediator, while treating Israel and the Palestinians as equal partners who in the end must make their own decisions. Critics have said this approach does not take into account the imbalance of power -- that Palestinians live under Israeli military occupation.

Earlier this month, The Washington Post quoted Obama administration officials as saying the president is considering proposing an American peace plan for the Mideast. Since then, however, top U.S. officials have reiterated the traditional view that the U.S. can help, but that the final decisions lie with Israelis and Palestinians.

The U.S. has tried in vain to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that broke down in December 2008. The two sides remain far apart on the framework for such talks, and White House envoy George Mitchell returned to the region Friday to try to narrow the divide.

The U.S. has proposed indirect talks, with Mitchell acting as a go-between. However, the Palestinians say they won't engage unless Israel agrees not to start new housing projects for Jews in traditionally Arab east Jerusalem, the sector of the city claimed by the Palestinians as a future capital. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly rejected a building freeze in east Jerusalem.

In his speech Saturday, Abbas also dismissed the idea of establishing a Palestinian state within temporary borders. He referred to recent proposals for such a provisional state, but did not elaborate. He said the Palestinians were being asked to "take a state with provisional borders on 40 or 50 percent, and after that we will see."

But he stressed "we will not accept the state with temporary borders."

An Israeli newspaper reported earlier this week that Netanyahu made such a proposal.

However, Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh and an Israeli government official both denied that Israel formally presented the idea. The Israeli official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the diplomatic contacts.

A Palestinian state with provisional borders is part of the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan as an interim step toward full independence. The temporary state would only be established on parts of the territory the Palestinians want for their state.

However, the road map never got off the ground and the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected provisional statehood, fearing the temporary borders would become the final ones.

In the Gaza Strip on Saturday, Israeli gunfire wounded two Palestinians and a woman from Malta who were among a group of protesters marching toward the border with Israel, according to Palestinian health official Moawiya Hassanain.

The military confirmed the shooting, and said soldiers opened fire to get protesters away from the border fence. Israel has declared areas of Gaza near its border to be no-go zones, citing security concerns.

In recent months, farmers and foreign supporters have frequently marched toward the border to protest the restrictions.

The injured foreigner was identified by fellow activists as Bianca Zammit of Malta. "They had no reason to shoot us. We posed no threat to them whatsoever," Zammit told AP Television News from a hospital bed.