President Bush acknowledged growing international pressure for an immediate Middle East cease-fire Monday but dismissed any idea of simply “stopping for the sake of stopping” without a plan for lasting peace.
Bush said the United States was working with allies for a United Nations Security Council resolution to get a “sustainable cease-fire, a cease-fire which will last” — but not necessarily anything immediate.
The U.S. also is seeking the authorization of an international force to help secure Lebanon. Bush told Fox News Channel that U.S. troops probably would not be deployed on the ground as a part of it, but might help with logistics or command.
Bush planned to discuss strategy Monday night at the White House when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived back from her mission to the Middle East. Israel’s attack that killed 65 civilians in Qana, the deadliest single incident in the Israeli onslaught against Hezbollah militants, prompted her to cut the trip short.
Bush made it clear that the U.S. position in firm support of Israel had not changed, despite the strike that heightened criticism from other nations.
Bush: ‘We mourn’
The president, speaking to members of the Coast Guard in Florida, said the world must remember that the Islamic group Hezbollah started the fight and that Israel is exercising its right to defend itself.
During his speech he made no direct reference to the Qana deaths. But he said, “We mourn the loss of innocent life, both in Lebanon and in Israel.”
More than 500 people have been killed in Lebanon since Israel began bombing its neighbor in an effort to weaken Hezbollah militants based there. Hezbollah has been sending rockets into northern Israel, killing 18 civilians in addition to 33 Israeli soldiers.
Asked about the Israeli attack later in an interview on Fox’s “Your World with Neil Cavuto,” Bush said the deaths had added pressure on Israel to stop bombing. But, he said, “stopping for the sake of stopping can be OK, except it won’t address the root cause of the problem.”
“Yesterday’s situation was awful,” Bush said. “I understand that, but it’s also awful that a million Israelis are worried about rockets being fired from their neighbor to the north.”
Pro-Israel congressman breaks from President
Although pro-Israel sentiment runs deep in the U.S. Congress, Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., broke with the president on Monday and said Israel’s pounding of Lebanon was hurting America’s image in the Middle East. “The sickening slaughter on both sides must end now,” Hagel said. “This madness must stop.”
Hagel has also been critical of the administration’s Iraq policy.
The fighting began on July 12, when Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers. The tensions overshadowed Bush’s overnight trip to Florida, where he wanted to highlight his efforts to improve port security, the economy and hurricane preparedness after the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina last year.