President Bush says he believes civilians in Southern Lebanon will ultimately hold Hezbollah militants responsible for 33 days of fighting with Israel. The president's comments came as Hezbollah began providing help to thousands of civilians who are returning to the area under a United Nations ceasefire.
President Bush says Hezbollah looks pretty comfortable in Southern Lebanon, but that is about to change.
"They are now going to find themselves not only that which caused the destruction but they will find themselves now with a Lebanese army with U.N. help making it clear they won't have the safe haven that they think is necessary to launch attacks," said Mr. Bush.
Lebanese army troops are back in the south after nearly 40 years. They are expecting to be joined by as many as 15,000 peacekeepers from an international force that is still in the making.
France is expected to take the lead in that force but has so far announced plans for only 400 troops amid questions concerning rules of engagement for those forces.
Speaking to reporters at the presidential retreat at Camp David, Mr. Bush said he is not concerned by those delays, that diplomacy take time and he hopes France will agree to send more troops.
That international force is central to preventing Hezbollah from rearming in an area from which it launched thousands of rockets into northern Israel.
Since the fighting stopped, Hezbollah has been busy distributing money to returning civilians and helping them clear away much of the destruction caused by Israeli bombing.
Bush administration officials say they are not surprised that Lebanese civilians are accepting Hezbollah's help, but they question whether that money will ultimately buy their support.
When people take a sober look at what has happened, President Bush says they will realize the destruction was caused by Hezbollah militants who started the fighting by kidnapping Israeli soldiers.
"The first reaction, of course, of Hezbollah and its supporters is to declare victory," he added. "I guess I would have done the same thing if I were them. But sometimes it takes people awhile to come to the sober realization of what forces create stability and which don't. Hezbollah is a source of instability."
The president again said the issue is broader than Hezbollah and includes Syrian and Iranian support for the group. He says that support is aimed at creating enough havoc to take political advantage of the situation.
President Bush says the international community can not allow Damascus and Tehran to do that.