CARDIN STATEMENT ON ISRAEL AND GAZA
Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Co-C hairman of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission),gave the following remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate today regarding the current conflict between Israel and Hamas.
"A nation's first responsibility is to defend its citizens against hostile threats. The United States exercised that responsibility when the Taliban government of Afghanistan supported terrorist attacks against our country. Israel has the responsibility to protect its citizens from Hamas' terrorist attacks.
"I am deeply saddened by the continued violence and loss of innocent lives on both sides of the Israel/Gaza border.
"I strongly support Israel's right to defend its citizens against threats to its security and its existence. I whole-heartedly agree with President-elect Obama who so defined the problem very clearly: "If somebody was sending rockets into my house, where my family slept at night, I'm going to do everything in my power to stop that." The recent military action in Gaza is in direct response to numerous rocket and mortar attacks from militants in the Hamas-controlled Gaza, which have killed and injured Israeli citizens and currently paralyzes the southern regions of Israel.
"Southern Israel cities, such as Sderot among others, have been the target of over 4,000 rockets and thousands of mortar shells since 2001, the majority of which were launched after Israel withdrew from the Gaza in August 2005. During the more recent six-month truce, more than 215 rockets were launched against Israel. Hamas has been extending the range of its striking capability, with new rockets supplied by Iran. The Israeli government now knows that Hamas has acquired rockets that can reach Ashdod, and even the outskirts of Beersheba.
"Hamas' willingness to extend its reach deeper into Israel and its overall failure to end attacks exacerbates the already fragile humanitarian situation for the residents of Gaza and undermines efforts to attain peace and security in the region. As a result of the fighting, Gaza City and its main medical center, Shiffa Hospital, have been left without electricity and hospitals are pushed beyond their capacity to handle the number of victims. Hamas seems to care more about inflicting damage on Israel than protecting the welfare of its own citizens.
"Hamas poses a critical challenge to the regional peace process. Labeled as a terrorist organization but holding seats in the Palestinian government and acting as the controlling authority in Gaza, the organization's leaders encourage violence and cling to the belief that Israel itself should be destroyed. Questions remain as to whether or not the organization should even be included in peace negotiations, but the fact remains that the threat Hamas poses to Israel is an obstacle to any negotiation efforts.
"I urge Israel and the Palestinians to take advantage of the current, high-level European efforts to broker a sustainable cease-fire and a negotiated peaceful settlement. Any such cease-fire must include Hamas ending its rocket and mortar attacks, recognize its neighbor's right to exist, renounce violence, and honor all past agreements in order to move toward a two-state solution based on mutual peace and security."
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