Iran TerrorismU.S. urges Iran and Syria to stop support for...

U.S. urges Iran and Syria to stop support for Hezbollah

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ImageReuters: The White House said on Friday it was "very troubled" by Hezbollah's actions in Beirut and urged Iran and Syria to halt support for the militant group after its fighters in the Lebanese capital routed forces loyal to the government.

ImageCRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) – The White House said on Friday it was "very troubled" by Hezbollah's actions in Beirut and urged Iran and Syria to halt support for the militant group after its fighters in the Lebanese capital routed forces loyal to the government.

The Bush administration also said it was conferring with the U.N. Security Council and other regional governments on possible action against Hezbollah for the violence that has racked Beirut for days.

"After months of paralyzing the democratically elected Lebanese government, Hezbollah has now turned its arms against the Lebanese people and challenged Lebanon's security forces for control of the streets," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in a statement.

"The United States is consulting with other governments in the region and with the U.N. Security Council about measures that must be taken to hold those responsible for the violence in Beirut accountable," he said.

Earlier on Friday, Johndroe told reporters, "We are very troubled by the recent actions of Hezbollah."

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned leaders in the region over events in Lebanon and also spoke to the country's pro-Western prime minister, Fouad Siniora.

"The secretary said the prime minister was very strong in their conversation. He remains resolute. He is in his office, he is working," said a senior State Department official.

Rice had harsh words for Hezbollah and said U.S. support for Siniora's government was "unwavering".

"Backed by Syria and Iran, Hezbollah and its allies are killing and injuring fellow citizens, undermining the legitimate authority of the Lebanese government and the institutions of the Lebanese state," Rice said in a statement.

"We will stand by the Lebanese government and peaceful citizens of Lebanon through this crisis and provide the support they need to weather this storm," she added.

CONTINGENCY PLANNING

At least 18 people have been killed and 38 wounded in three days of battles between pro-government gunmen and fighters loyal to Hezbollah, a Shi'ite political movement with a powerful guerrilla army.

The fighting, the worst internal strife since the 1975-90 civil war, erupted this week after the government decided to dismantle Hezbollah's military communications network. The group said the pro-Western government had declared war.

A senior State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Washington saw the latest conflict as political in nature, but there was a fear it could escalate into a Sunni-Shi'ite war.

He said the State Department was making contingency plans to secure the U.S. Embassy and its personnel and ensuring plans were in place to help U.S. citizens living in Lebanon if the situation deteriorated.

Speaking in Crawford, Texas, where U.S. President George W. Bush was at his ranch preparing for his daughter's wedding, Johndroe said, "We … urge Iran and Syria to stop their support of Hezbollah." Bush has led international campaigns aimed at diplomatically isolating Tehran and Damascus.

Bush is due to meet Siniora on May 18 at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh at the end of a week-long visit to the Middle East.

Johndroe said the talks were expected to go ahead, but U.S. officials would understand if Siniora decided not to attend.

Since the Israeli-Lebanon war in 2006, the State Department said, the United States had given $1.3 billion in aid to Lebanon, including $400 million in military assistance.

The senior State Department official said the United States had a "pretty good record" at speeding up military aid to Lebanon when needed.

"I am sure if the government of Lebanon requested (more military aid), we would look at any request," he said.

(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky, Susan Cornwell and Sue Pleming; writing by Matt Spetalnick; editing by David Alexander and Mohammad Zargham)

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