By Gerry J. Gilmore
WASHINGTON, July 25, 2006 – The United States backs Israel's right to defend itself against terrorist groups like Hezbollah, but it also wants to aid thousands of suffering Lebanese who've fled the fighting, President Bush said here today. The Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorists who are assaulting Israel with rocket fire are afraid of democracies, Bush said during a White House press briefing with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Hezbollah's attacks illustrate "a terrorist organization trying to stop the advance of democracy in the region," the president said. Fighting erupted after Hezbollah guerillas crossed into Israel from Lebanon to kidnap two Israeli soldiers on July 12. News reports say some 650,000 Lebanese have fled their homes amid warfare between Israeli soldiers and Hezbollah guerillas in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah is a radical Muslim military organization that's bankrolled and supplied by Syria and Iran, both of whom have vowed to destroy Israel.
Maliki urged that the international community work to establish a ceasefire between the warring parties. Bush told reporters he is sympathetic to Lebanon's plight and of the suffering of its people. "I assured the prime minister that I care deeply about the suffering that takes place, that we understand the anguish of leaders in the region who see innocent people losing their lives," the president said.
Bush said the United States will provide $30 million in humanitarian aid. "We care about the people; we will help to get aid to the people," Bush said. Bush said any cessation in hostilities must be within the provisions of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, which stipulates that no armed militant organizations, such as like Hezbollah, operate in Lebanon.
Fighting between Israel and Hezbollah led the U.S. military to evacuate more than 12,000 Americans from Lebanon. Maliki contrasted today's battle between Israelis and radical Muslim fundamentalists with his new government's policy of treating all Iraqis with fairness and respect.
Under Iraqi law "there is no killing or discrimination against anyone," Maliki emphasized. Fair treatment of all citizens is a key tenet of Iraq's constitution, he said. "The government's responsibility is to protect all Iraqis, regardless of their ethnic or religious background," he said.