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Annan Appeals for Middle East Calm

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has appealed for calm as Israel prepares a military offensive aimed at freeing a captured soldier.

Secretary-General Annan spoke by telephone Wednesday with Israel's prime minister and the presidents of Syria and the Palestinian Authority to express concern about escalating Middle East tensions.

He said he Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had assured him that Israel would use maximum restraint as it attempts to free an Israeli soldier taken hostage by armed Palestinians.

"The Israeli government has a responsibility to protect its citizens, but it has to do so with restraint and, of course, it is understandable that they would want to go after those who [had] kidnapped the soldier," said Kofi Annan. "But it has to be done in such a way that civilian populations are not made to suffer. I spoke to the prime minister, who indicated to me that he is exercising maximum restraint, but I think it is important that the two leaders work together to calm the situation."

Mr. Annan said he had urged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to halt the recent spate of Katyusha rocket attacks on Israel.

"In my discussions with Abbas, he's working with all the Palestinian factions to bring the violence under control and ensure that these Katyusha attacks do not continue," he said. "And I think it is important that we work very actively on this to get it done. But I hope they would also allow time for, what you described as diplomatic initiative, or to find a solution to the capture of the soldier."

When he heard about the Israeli warplanes flying low over Syria's presidential palace, Mr. Annan said "we need to be careful, not only not to escalate, but not to expand the area of conflict".

Syria described the flyover as "an aggressive act", and said its air defenses had fired on the planes.