Bush claims Israel defeated Hezbollah

    President Bush said Monday that Israel defeated Hezbollah’s
    guerrillas in the monthlong Mideast war and that the Islamic militants
    were to blame for the deaths of hundreds of Lebanese civilians.

    Bush admonished Iran and Syria for backing Hezbollah, which captured
    two Israeli soldiers on July 12 igniting the conflict. Both sides
    claimed victory Monday, hours after a U.N.-brokered cease-fire took
    effect, while Bush said Israel prevailed.

    “Hezbollah attacked Israel. Hezbollah started the crisis, and
    Hezbollah suffered a defeat in this crisis,” the president said at the
    State Department after a day of meetings with his top defense,
    diplomatic and national security advisers.

    The United States backed Israel in the war, and Bush made clear he
    was determined to help the Israelis in the post-fighting struggle of
    words about who wound up on top.

    The president portrayed the war, which killed about 790 Lebanese and
    155 Israelis, as part of a broader struggle between freedom and
    terrorism. He said one can only imagine how much more dangerous such a
    conflict would be if Iran possessed nuclear weapons.

    Bush said Hezbollah lost, though Israel didn’t knock out the guerrillas.

    Israel’s prime minister and Bush said the offensive eliminated the
    “state within a state” run by Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah
    leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, however, declared that his guerrillas
    achieved a “strategic, historic victory” over Israel.

    “Hezbollah, of course, has got a fantastic propaganda machine, and
    they’re claiming victories,” Bush said. “But how can you claim victory
    when, at one time, you were a state within a state, safe within
    southern Lebanon, and now you’re going to be replaced by a Lebanese
    army and an international force?”

    Bush said a United Nations-brokered cease-fire was an important step
    toward ending the violence, yet he acknowledged that the truce was

    “We certainly hope the cease-fire holds because it is step one of
    making sure that Lebanon’s democracy is strengthened,” Bush said.

    The U.N. plan calls for a joint Lebanese-international force to act
    as a buffer between Israel and Hezbollah militiamen. France and Italy,
    along with predominantly Muslim Turkey and Malaysia, have signaled
    willingness to contribute troops to the joint force, but consultations
    are needed on the force’s makeup and mandate.

    Bush spoke on the phone early Monday to Italian Prime Minister
    Romano Prodi, and Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema said Italy’s
    troops could be ready within two weeks.

    “There’s going to be a new power in the south of Lebanon, and that’s
    going to be a Lebanese force with a robust international force to help
    them seize control of the country — that part of the country,” Bush

    On Bush’s first day back from vacation, his motorcade traveled
    between the White House and State and Defense departments for meetings
    on transforming the U.S. military, on homeland security and on the
    warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    Sectarian violence has surged in Iraq and created what some consider
    the greatest threat to stability there since Saddam Hussein’s
    government was toppled three years ago. Meanwhile, efforts to get North
    Korea and Iran to restrict their nuclear ambitions remained stalled.

    “We live in troubled times, but I’m confident in our capacity to not
    only protect the homeland, but I’m confident in our capacity to leave
    behind a better world,” Bush said at a meeting at the Pentagon where he
    sat between Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Vice President
    Dick Cheney.

    His words sought to calm jitters about last week’s arrests of more
    than two dozen people in England and Pakistan accused of plotting to
    blow up as many as 10 passenger planes flying between Britain and the
    United States.

    The nation’s safety looms large as an issue in the midterm
    elections. Both Republicans and Democrats are maneuvering for political
    advantage with control of Congress at stake.

    Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The
    information contained in the AP News report may not be published,
    broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written
    authority of The Associated Press.