SAINT PETERSBURG - Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov warned Saturday of a "real threat" that the Middle East crisis could drag other countries in the region into the conflict.

"There is a real threat of the involvement of other states in this conflict," he told reporters here just ahead of a G8 summit of world leaders likely to be dominated by Israel's military offensives in Lebanon and Gaza.

"On the one hand, the capture of prisoners and shelling the territory of another state is absolutely unacceptable," Ivanov said, referring to the Shiite Hezbollah militia in Lebanon.

"On the other hand, the use of military force on such a scale and against such targets I think is also unacceptable, or at least disproportionate," he added, referring this time to Israel.

"Whether we like it or not the only way of resolving this very difficult situation is to return to the negotiating table," Ivanov said.

Israel has pounded targets in Gaza, on its southern border, and Lebanon to the north after the capture by militant groups of three of its soldiers and rocket attacks on the Jewish state.

"We want Hezbollah to end the use of any terrorist methods," Ivanov said.

The escalating conflict has left scores of people dead in both zones and triggered fears that it could spill into a disastrous wider war.

"Both sides of this conflict should be restrained, careful and foresee the consequences of their actions," Ivanov concluded.

07/15/2006 13:30 GMT

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