WASHINGTON (AFP) – A leading Republican senator urged US President George W. Bush to call for an immediate ceasefire in the war between Israel and the militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon.
“The sickening slaughter on both sides must end now. President Bush must call for an immediate ceasefire. This madness must stop,” Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, a possible candidate in the 2008 presidential election, said on the Senate floor.
The Bush administration has been under pressure from Arab and European states to press Israel into halting its offensive, but has received relatively limited pressure from US lawmakers — especially those in his own party — to do the same.
Hagel, the second-ranking Republican on the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee and a critic of Bush’s war in Iraq, said the US link to Israel was a “special and historic one” but also coming at the cost of relations with Arab states.
“It need not and cannot be at the expense of our Arab and Muslim relationships,” he said.
Bush said Monday the United States was “urgently” working to end the conflict, but again resisted calls for an immediate ceasefire and avoided criticism of Israel.
Hagel said it was neither in US or Israeli interest to isolate themselves from Europe and the Arab world by pursuing the Lebanon campaign in the face of mounting criticism of its mounting civilian toll.
“The United States and Israel must understand that it is not in their long-term interests to allow themselves to become isolated in the Middle East and the world,” Hagel said.
He argued the military campaign will do little to weaken either Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in the Gaza Strip — both recognized as terrorist organizations by Washington.
“Military action alone will not destroy Hezbollah or Hamas,” said Hagel.
And he urged Bush to revise his policy of isolating Iran and Syria for their support of Hezbollah, saying a meaningful political settlement was unachievable without engagement of both countries.
“Both countries exert influence in the region in ways that undermine stability and security,” Hagel argued. “Both Damascus and Tehran must hear from America directly.”