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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow May Send Troops to Lebanon

President Vladimir Putin said Monday that Russia would consider contributing troops to an international peacekeeping force in the Middle East if the United Nations Security Council decided to deploy such a force.

"No decision has been made on sending peacekeeping troops," Putin said during a final press conference at the Group of Eight summit in his native St. Petersburg. "When a decision is made, we will consider whether or not to take part."

G8 leaders issued a joint statement Monday devoted to the ongoing conflict between Israel, Hezbollah guerillas located in Lebanon and the Hamas-led Palestinian government in Gaza. The statement called for an end to the shelling of Israeli territory and for the release of three captured Israeli servicemen.

Hezbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers last week and killed eight civilians in raids from southern Lebanon. A third soldier was captured in a raid from Gaza on June 25.

Israel was called upon to halt military operations in Lebanon and Gaza and to withdraw early from the Gaza Strip.

U.S. President George W. Bush has made clear that he sides with Israel in the ongoing conflict, and he removed all doubt Monday when he let slip a frank assessment of Hezbollah and Syria, which supports the militant Islamist group.

"See the irony is that what they need to do is get Syria and to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it's over," The Associated Press quoted Bush as saying during a photo opportunity with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Bush was apparently unaware that his words were being picked up by a microphone.

Bush told Blair that he favored asking UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who was present at the G8 summit, to call Syrian President Bashar Assad to "make something happen," the AP reported.

Putin said Monday that "Russia regularly takes part in peacekeeping operations, and we are not refusing to participate in such operations in the future." He said the G8 would ask the UN Security Council to consider sending a peacekeeping force into Lebanon.

Putin also emphasized Russia's potential influence in brokering a resolution to the Middle East crisis because of its willingness to engage with all parties in the region, including Iran and Hamas.

"If we were to label some countries as terrorist states, we would sever all contact with them," Putin said. "Would that be in Israel's interest? I don't think so. So our policy is and will remain balanced."

Putin added that the G8 plan for bringing an end to the fighting in the Middle East would have been less balanced without Russia's participation. The president also told an Israeli journalist that Russia was pursuing all options to secure the release of the soldiers captured by Hezbollah. "I have reason to believe that our efforts have not been in vain," he said.

With its vast network of connections in the Arab world, a legacy of the Soviet era, and the renewed global influence it enjoys because of its vast energy reserves, Russia can only benefit from getting involved in international efforts to resolve problems such as the conflict in the Middle East, said Fyodor Lukyanov, a political analyst and editor of Russia in Global Affairs magazine.

"By cooperating with the major world powers to solve global problems, Moscow will have an easier time obtaining concessions that will allow it to deal with what it views as 'domestic' issues, such as the standoff with Georgia," Lukyanov said.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry announced Monday that it had begun evacuating Russian citizens from the conflict zone, as civilian casualties mounted on all sides. More than 1,400 Russian citizens in Lebanon and another 75 in Gaza were waiting to be evacuated on Monday, the ministry said.

RIA-Novosti reported that 36 Russians had crossed the border from Gaza to Israel and then proceeded to the Jordanian capital, Amman, where they expected to be flown to Russia on a plane provided by the Emergency Situations Ministry.

The Foreign Ministry established an operational headquarters in Moscow on Monday to coordinate the evacuation effort. No Russian casualties had been reported in the region as of Monday afternoon.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Krivtsov said Monday that the Russian Embassy in Beirut was gathering information about the whereabouts of Russian citizens in Lebanon and informing them about the evacuation. Most Russians in the area had already been contacted, he said.

Evacuation from Beirut became more complicated after the Israeli air force destroyed a landing strip at Beirut airport last week. Many foreigners are likely to be evacuated by sea, Russian media speculated Monday.

Some 40 Russian tourists in Lebanon had been evacuated by their tour companies Monday, said Irina Tyurina, a spokeswoman for the Russian Tourist Industry Union.