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In Israel, Bush offers happy birthday wishes

May 16, 2008|From the Chicago Tribune

JERUSALEM — President Bush, addressing the Israeli parliament on Thursday, delivered a staunch commitment to the defense of the Jewish state and a stern warning to those who might threaten its existence.

Bush labeled Hamas, the militant Palestinian organization controlling the Gaza Strip, and Hezbollah, the Shiite movement opposing the U.S.-backed government in Lebanon, as terrorists with whom there can be no negotiation.

And the president promised that Iran, which he deemed the region's leading sponsor of terrorism, would never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon. Iran's Shiite Muslim government supports Hezbollah, and the U.S. accuses Tehran of backing Hamas, a Sunni Muslim group.

"We believe that free people should strive and sacrifice for peace," Bush said. "We also believe that nations have a right to defend themselves and that no nation should ever be forced to negotiate with killers pledged to its destruction."

In the halls of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, Bush was welcomed as a hero. The chamber rose for an ovation when the president uttered the words in Hebrew: "Yom Ha'atzma'ut Sameach" -- Happy Independence Day.

As he paid tribute to Israel during its 60th anniversary celebrations, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip marked the anniversary of their displacement after the nation's birth in 1948, an event they call the Nakba, or catastrophe. Bush mentioned the Palestinians in just one sentence of his speech, about how the region might look in another 60 years.

"That future will be a dramatic departure from the Middle East of today," he said. "Israel will be celebrating its 120th anniversary as one of the world's great democracies, a secure and flourishing homeland for the Jewish people.

"The Palestinian people will have the homeland they have long dreamed of and deserved -- a democratic state that is governed by law, respects human rights and rejects terror."

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