White House spokesman Ken Lisaius said on Sunday US President George Bush had telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to offer condolences over the weekend attack in Haifa, and to discuss the raid.

"The president called Prime Minister Sharon to express his condolences and those of the American people on the terrorist attack in Haifa yesterday," Lisaius said.

"They agreed on the need to continue fighting terrorism. They discussed the attack on the terrorist camp in Syria. They also agreed on the need to avoid heightening tension in the region at this time."

US concern

Washington’s concern comes after Israel launched its deepest raid into Syria in 30 years, attacking a Palestinian refugee camp on Sunday.

Israel says the refugee camp was a terrorist training facility for members of Islamic Jihad. The group claimed responsibility for the bombing on Saturday of a restaurant in the northern Israeli town of Haifa, which left 19 people dead.

Another Bush administration official, who requested anonymity said:

"The Israeli operation... constituted an unacceptable violation of international law and sovereignty rules"

French Foreign Ministry

"At this time we urge both Israel and Syria to avoid actions that heighten tensions or could lead to hostilities."

"We have repeatedly told the government of Syria that it is on the wrong side in the war on terror and that it must stop harbouring terrorists. That is still our view," the unnamed administration official said.

Iran, Syria under pressure
 
Israel said the camp targeted was funded by Iran. Like Syria, the Islamic Republic is under heavy pressure from Washington, which accuses it of providing arms and funding to Palestinian resistance groups.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi branded Israel's strike a "flagrant aggression and a violation of Syria's territorial integrity", but made no comment on the allegation it funded the camp.

But Britain, a key US ally, said Israel was entitled to defend itself, though it also urged restraint.

"Israel is of course entitled to take steps to protect itself from terrorist attack, but these steps should be within international law," a Foreign Office spokesman said.

In Cairo, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa said he would meet permanent representatives of the 22-member League to discuss the attack.

'Aggressive intentions'

Musa told reporters he strongly condemned Israel's actions which "reflected aggressive intentions against all Arab territory, be it Syrian, Lebanese or Palestinian".

"An attack on a brotherly Arab country...would push the entire region into a continuous cycle of violence"

Marwan al-Muashir,
Jordanian Foreign Minister

France echoed Musa's position.

"The Israeli operation... constituted an unacceptable violation of international law and sovereignty rules," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Jordan, along with Egypt the only Arab state to have a peace treaty with Israel, coupled condemnation of Israel with apparent criticism of Palestinian human bombings.

"An attack on a brotherly Arab country...would push the entire region into a continuous cycle of violence," Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan al-Muashir told state-owned television.

"The time has come to review these Israeli operations ... and the time has come to review the acts that are also done by some organisations including yesterday's act," he added, in apparent reference to the Haifa bombing.

The Gulf Arab states of Qatar and Kuwait said the operation would raise tensions and harm peace efforts.

"This dangerous military escalation will thwart the peace process, undermine efforts to make it succeed and threatens security and stability in the Middle East," Kuwait's state news agency KUNA quoted the prime minister as saying.