AFFIRMING SUPPORT FOR THE SOVEREIGNTY AND SECURITY OF LEBANON AND THE LEBANESE PEOPLE -- (House of Representatives - September 25, 2006)
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Mr. LaHOOD. Mr. Speaker, I recently traveled over the Labor Day Weekend to Lebanon and Israel. I traveled with two other Members of Congress. Our purpose was to assess the political and economic situation in both countries.
We spent a full day on Saturday in Beirut. We were immediately struck by how few people were in the shops and cafes and very little traffic on the streets of Beirut. We visited the Jounie area which is north of Beirut to inspect a bridge that was destroyed. The neighborhood that we visited was a very peaceful residential area where there seemed to be no presence of Hezbollah. The bombing of the bridge completely cut off transportation for people from the north to travel to Beirut. It was estimated to take one year and $20 million to repair. This seemed to be an example of the extreme and uncalled bombing by Israel in a peaceful residential area. The outbreak of military hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah has had a profound negative impact on tourism and the overall economy of Lebanon. The internal Lebanese situation was problematic even before the current military crisis began. Prime Minister Siniora's government, elected last year, has been struggling to establish a new stable political order following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafic al Hariri. The majority of Lebanon's Shia population is still pro Syrian. By contrast the Druze and Sunni, as well as much of the Christian communities are likely to maintain a broadly anti-Syrian stance. The President of Lebanon, Emile Lahoud is tied closely to Syria and unable to offer any strong leadership. The Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri is also close to the Hezbollah Leader Hassan Nasrallah. This leaves Prime Minister Siniora on his own in efforts to develop relationships with the world community to assist with funding. President Bush's $230 million commitment to Lebanon to assist with rebuilding plus Secretary Rice's visit to Lebanon has enabled Prime Minister Siniora to raise over $900 million for humanitarian and rebuilding funds. It is absolutely imperative that 15,000 Lebanese troops be deployed to Southern Lebanon. Also, the deployment of United Nations troops along the Syrian border is critical to prevent Iran and Syria from rearming Hezbollah.
Our visit to Israel was highlighted with meetings with the American Ambassador, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni, plus meetings with the Israeli government equivalent of our CIA and FBI. A new government under the Kadima party (forward) and headed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was elected following the grave illness of Ariel Sharon. Prime Minister Olmert has been weakened and is falling in the polls for his handling of the attack on Hezbollah. Prime Minister Olmert is dealing with several internal issues including problems along the Gaza Strip and West Bank; a very weak Palestinian Authority; and fiscal and budget issues that affect the economy. In our meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister Livni she made it very clear that Israel will continue to do all it can to assist with the implementation of U.N. Resolution 1701. Minister Livni said that she believes that Lebanon is the one Arab country in the region that Israel had confidence could become partners in the war against terror and had the potential along with Israel to stabilize the region. She also stressed that much work had to be accomplished by Lebanon to reach this goal.
My own view of the situation having been in the region for four days is that Prime Minister Siniora is doing all he can to stabilize Lebanon. He is a man of great confidence and integrity. I believe he will be successful in meeting many of his goals. I also believe Israel is committed to implementing U.N. Resolution 1701 and developing opportunities to work with Lebanon to secure the Lebanese and southern border. The lifting of the blockade against ships entering the Lebanese ports which was announced upon our return to Washington is an example of this commitment and will go a long way to solving some of the serious economic problems in Lebanon. These ships off the Lebanese shore will now be inspected by officials of the German, Italian, and French governments. These inspectors will prevent Iran from shipping arms through the Lebanese ports. Obviously Iran is creating much of the backdrop, encouragement and arms for what has taken place between Lebanon and Israel. However, between the shared goals of Lebanon and Israel to stop Iran's progress I feel this can be accomplished. It is a long road ahead but I sense an air of optimism from both sides.
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