Peoria Journal Star

 July 29, 2006

 LaHood plans trip to Mideast 

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON - Rep. Ray LaHood on Friday welcomed President Bush's support for sending a multinational, U.N.-backed force to Lebanon to end fighting there and provide humanitarian relief.

"Absolutely," the Peoria Republican, who is of Lebanese descent, said when asked whether he supported the plan announced Friday afternoon by Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

LaHood, who met earlier in the day with Bush's National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, said a cease fire would provide an opportunity for the different parties to talk and "get started on an opportunity for peace."

LaHood, whose district is home to many Lebanese-Americans, also said he's planning a fact-finding trip to Lebanon, Syria and Israel at the end of August. Hadley encouraged him to go on the trip, he added.

While supporting Israel's efforts to "root out" Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed terrorist group fighting Israel in southern Lebanon, LaHood has been urging the administration to pressure Israel to limit civilian casualties.

He carried that message to a top State Department official July 18 and repeated it with Hadley on Friday.

"We just laid out in pretty clear terms the notion that we agree with the administration supporting Israel going in and rooting out Hezbollah and really going after them in a very, very tough way," he said.

But LaHood added that the killing of innocent people "who have no relationship to Hezbollah - has to be brought under control, and that was something we talked with Hadley about."

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., another lawmaker of Lebanese descent, joined LaHood in the meeting with Hadley.

LaHood blamed weak leadership in Lebanon for allowing Hezbollah to occupy the southern part of the country near Israel's border.

LaHood, who has traveled to Lebanon 10 times since being elected to Congress, views the upcoming trip to the Middle East as an opportunity to offer encouragement to the Lebanese government, as well as talk with Syrian and Israeli officials.

LaHood said he's inviting Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and lawmakers with Lebanese backgrounds - including Issa, Reps. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., and Charles Boustany Jr., R-La. - on the trip.

The House Intelligence Committee, of which LaHood is a member, would sponsor the visit, he said.