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THE US RESPONSE

Bush says Israel has a right to defend against attacks

WASHINGTON -- President Bush said yesterday that Israel has the right to defend itself from Hezbollah attacks, as bombing in the Middle East continued for an 11th day.

``The recent crisis in the region was triggered by the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers by the terrorist group Hezbollah and the launch of rockets against Israeli cities," Bush said in his weekly radio address. ``I believe sovereign nations have the right to defend their people from terrorist attack."

Bush is dispatching Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the Middle East tomorrow, where she is scheduled to meet with Palestinian and Israeli officials, and then attend a conference in Rome with representatives from other nations. Rice said yesterday that she was hoping an international military force would oust Hezbollah from southern Lebanon.

``Secretary Rice will make it clear that resolving the crisis demands confronting the terrorist group that launched the attacks and the nations that support it," said Bush, who is spending the weekend at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Bush said Syria ``has been a primary sponsor of Hezbollah" and ``has helped provide Hezbollah with shipments of Iranian-made weapons." He also said that Iran has ``repeatedly defied the international community with its ambition for nuclear weapons and aid to terrorist groups."

Bush and Rice will meet tomorrow in Washington with Saudi officials to discuss diplomatic solutions to the violence in Israel and Lebanon, said a White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino.

Bush called on Israel to use restraint and to try to protect innocent people in the region. Bush said that defeating a ``terrorist ideology" is required to establish peace in the Middle East. He also praised ``moderate" leaders such as the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas.

The other participants in the Rome conference will be Italy, France, Britain, Russia, the European Union, the United Nations, the World Bank, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, according to a spokeswoman at the Italian Foreign Ministry who asked not to be named. Rice said she expects Lebanon to have a delegation at the meeting.

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