Clinton Calls For Cease Fire In Middle East; Condemns Attack on USS Cole

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

( - President Bill Clinton on Thursday called on both sides to cease fire in the Middle East. The President spoke at the White House after spending the morning gathering details from advisers and those on the scene of an attack on the US Navy destroyer Cole in Yemen and fighting between Palestinians and Israelis in Ramallah on the West Bank.

"I strongly condemn the murder of Israeli soldiers in Ramallah today," Clinton said. While I understand the anguish Palestinians feel over the losses they have suffered, there can be no possible justification for mob violence. I call on both sides to undertake a cease fire and immediately to condemn all acts of violence.

The President continued, "The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the greatest tragedies and most difficult problems of our time. But it can be solved. The progress of the last few years was not made through violence. It happened because both sides sat down together, negotiated, and slowly built up the trust that violence destroys. Now is the time to stop the bloodshed, to restore calm, to return to dialog and ultimately to the negotiating table."

On the attack on the USS Cole in the port of Aden in Yemen, the President commended the ship's commander and crew and said medical assistance is being rushed to the scene.

"If, as it now appears, this was an act of terrorism, it was a despicable and cowardly act. We will find out who was responsible and hold them accountable. If their intention was to deter us from our mission of promoting peace and security in the Middle East, they will fail, utterly," Clinton said.

The President directed the Department of Defense, the FBI and the State Department to send officials to Yemen to begin investigating the attack. He also said Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has spoken with Yemen's President and other high Yemen government officials and expects a good working relationship between the US and Yemen's government regarding the investigation.

Clinton also announced other steps for American forces and diplomatic missions in the Middle East.

"Our military forces and our embassies in the region have been on a heightened state of alert for some time now. I have ordered our ships in the region to pull out of port and our land forces to increase their security. Tensions are extremely high today throughout the entire region, " Clinton said.

Clinton received news of the Middle East events while having breakfast at his home in New York. He returned to the White House on Thursday morning shortly after receiving the news.