The Bush administration is urging Iranian-backed militants to cease hostilities in Lebanon and respect the country's democracy. From the White House, VOA's Michael Bowman reports.

The White House says the Middle East needs a stable Lebanon, and describes Hezbollah's influence in the country as "troubling."

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino addressed the subject amid reports of fighting in northern Lebanon, and as President Bush prepares to depart on a trip to Israel.

"There are innocent Lebanese who are caught up in the middle of this conflict. The President has been calling for many months for the outside influences to get out of the way and let the Lebanese have the democratically-elected government that they voted for," said Perino.

Perino said Lebanon should not be used as a pawn by outside forces, and that recent developments in the country will be discussed during Mr. Bush's upcoming trip.

Lebanon's Hezbollah-led opposition quit the cabinet a year and a half ago, and a stalemate between the two sides has prevented parliament from electing a new president. The United States regards Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

Fighting broke out in Lebanon last week after the government took steps to rein in Hezbollah's power base. Arab foreign ministers say they will send a delegation to Beirut to discuss the situation.