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U.S. Condemns Hizballah Kidnappings, Calls for Restraint

12 July 2006

White House, State Department hold Syria, Iran responsible for regional tensions

Washington -- The White House July 12 condemned the Lebanese militant group Hizballah’s kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers as “an unprovoked act of terrorism, which was timed to exacerbate already high tensions in the region.” Calling for “an immediate and unconditional release of the soldiers,” the White House named Syria and Iran as responsible for their “long-standing support of Hizballah.”

In Paris, en route to the Group of Eight (G8) meeting in Russia, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said, “Hezbollah’s action undermines regional stability and goes against the interests of both the Israeli and Lebanese people.”

“All sides must act with restraint to resolve this incident peacefully and to protect innocent life and civilian infrastructure,” she said in a statement.

On the morning of July 12, Hizballah attacked several Israeli towns with a barrage of Katyusha rockets and mortars.  It then attacked an Israeli army patrol on the Israeli side of the border, killing three soldiers and taking two captive. Israel’s retaliatory air and artillery strikes killed at least two civilians. Israeli troops later moved into southern Lebanon for the first time since they pulled out in 2000. According to news reports, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert blames the Lebanese government, calling the Hizballah attack an “act of war.”

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said his government was not responsible for the attack and did not endorse it, according to news reports.

“The Hezbollah, which is a terrorist organization and a militia that is operating outside the control of the Lebanese government, is trying to drag the Lebanese people into a situation that is very clearly not in their interest,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack briefing reporters.  “We also very clearly recognize Israel’s right to defend itself.”

McCormack said that Rice has spoken with Sinoria, Olmert and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Hizballah, which has historical ties with Syria and Iran, has both a military and a political wing and holds seats in the Lebanese parliament.  It has maintained its armed militia in spite of calls from the U.N. Security Council for the disbanding of all nongovernmental armed groups in Lebanon. 

McCormack said Hizballah’s actions could threaten Lebanon’s newfound political independence.  “Nobody wants to see a return to a situation where the people of Lebanon aren’t able to determine their own future,” he said.  Lebanon emerged from nearly three decades of occupation by Syrian forces in 2005 and held its first elections free of foreign interference in June of that year.

The Hizballah action takes place as Israel continues a push into the Gaza strip, provoked by the kidnapping of another Israeli soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit, by the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Both Hamas and Hizballah are demanding the release of Arab prisoners held in Israeli jails in exchange for the soldiers.

The full text of the White House statement on the Hizballah kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers is available on the White House Web site.

The full text of Rice’s statement is available on the State Department Web site.

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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