- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 30, 2006

Leading U.S. officials and lawmakers from both parties say there is “broad bipartisan agreement” in their continued support of Israel amid growing international pressure concerning the nation’s ongoing conflict with Hezbollah.

A day after at least 56 Lebanese civilians, more than half of them children, were reportedly killed by an Israeli air strike, U.S. Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns was asked by ABC’s “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos whether Israel was to blame.

“The United States believes — and all other countries believe — that Israel has a right to its own self-defense,” Mr. Burns said. “Israel was attacked two weeks ago. It had rockets fired in its territory. It had soldiers abducted. It was Hezbollah who started this and crossed the blue line.”

The initial reaction from leading U.S. lawmakers also was unified in support of Israel.

“It’s important to remember who started this,” Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell told CNN’s “Late Edition.”

“Imagine the United States, if you had a couple of terrorist organizations in either Mexico or China that came across our borders, captured two of our soldiers and then started launching rockets against our civilian population. We’d go after them, too, just like Israelis have,” the Kentucky Republican said.

During the same CNN interview, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, was asked whether President Bush was to blame for the failure to achieve a cease-fire between Hezbollah and Israel.

“I have no criticism of the president on this issue because I think he is doing the right thing,” Mr. Schumer said. “I know some in the world have called for an immediate cease-fire. But that says Hezbollah has a gun to Israel’s head; let’s let them continue to keep the gun there which they can use at will. It’s just not fair to Israel.”

However, at least one Republican senator, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, has criticized the administration for not negotiating directly with Syria and Iran.

“As we work with our friends and allies to deny Syria and Iran any opportunity to further corrode the situation in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, both Damascus and Tehran must hear from America directly,” Mr. Hagel said last Friday during a speech at the Brookings Institution.

Both Mr. McConnell and Mr. Schumer said the loss of civilian life is regrettable but refused to criticize Israel directly.

“Hezbollah uses civilians as shields. The Israelis don’t do that,” Mr. McConnell said. “There is a moral asymmetry here between Israel and Hezbollah that I hope everyone will remember.”

“The blame of the world should be on Hezbollah,” Mr. Schumer said. “There is broad bipartisan agreement.”

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