(CNSNews.com) - Joseph Cicippio, one of several Americans taken hostage by Hizballah forces in Lebanon in the late 1980s, on Friday urged the United States to call for a ceasefire between Israel and Hizballah for the sake of impoverished Lebanese.
"It's always the poor, not the leaders who get hurt," Cicippio said at a panel discussion on the conflict held in Washington, D.C. Cicippio was kidnapped by Hizballah forces in September 1986 and was held until December 1991.
Cicippio and his wife, Elham, who is Lebanese, urged Congress and the Bush administration to seek an immediate end to the violence that began July 12 after Hizballah abducted two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.
Israel responded by bombing Hizballah targets in Lebanon and both sides have continued firing missiles at each other. Israel has said it will not end its bombing campaign until the soldiers are returned and Hizballah no longer poses a threat to northern Israel from its strongholds in southern Lebanon.
Israel has been criticized for the Lebanese civilian causalities -- including children -- which have resulted from its bombing campaign, but it attributes those casualties to Hizballah, which the Israelis say have "purposely hidden themselves and stockpiled their missiles in residential areas, thus endangering the surrounding populations."
On its website, the Israeli government states that Lebanese civilians would not be in danger if Hizballah had "chosen to set up its arsenal away from populated areas."
James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, which organized the panel discussion, said that the bombing of civilian targets in Lebanon was turning the Lebanese people against Israel, not Hizballah.
Zogby said that in a bombing campaign "the assumption has always been that the local populace turns against the target of the bombs, but ... the local population ends up turning against the people actually dropping the bombs on them."
While most of the Lebanese population is angry about what Zogby called Hizballah's "reckless provocation," he said the "the weight of the balance -- Hizballah versus what Israel has done ... there's just no way this thing comes out even close."
He said that while both sides are at fault in the current crisis, Israel has the responsibility to end the fighting because it is more powerful. "In an asymmetrical war this is the way people fight," Zogby said. "That does not mean that the more powerful party then throws international law and humanitarian concerns out the window and behaves like a barbarian using the law of the jungle."
Referring to the United States and Israel, Zogby added that "we have to adhere to standards and if they (Hizballah) don't, we must. But they aren't and we aren't and our allies aren't and the net result is we're going quickly down the road to barbarism."
Speaking from Rome July 26, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States wants "most urgently to end the violence on a basis that this time will be sustainable, because unfortunately this is a region that has had too many broken cease-fires, too many spasms of violence followed then by other spasms of violence."
James Kunder, an assistant administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, on Thursday said the United States is providing immediate relief in the form of medical kits being distributed to residents of Beirut. He added that the U.S. is supporting the efforts of groups like the World Health Organization and the International Red Cross in assisting displaced and injured Lebanese.
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