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Bush and Merkel united on Middle East

STRALSUND, Germany, July 13 (UPI) -- U.S. President George W. Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said they are worried the Israeli offensive into Lebanon will weaken the Lebanese government.

Bush Thursday at a joint news conference with Merkel in Stralsund, Germany, said Israel had the right to defend itself from terrorist acts, but "whatever Israel does, though, should not weaken" the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. "We're concerned about the fragile democracy in Lebanon."

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He added that Syrian President Bashar Assad had to be held accountable for "housing the military wing of Hamas," and for harboring a branch of the Lebanon-based militant Shiite movement Hezbollah.

"President Assad needs to show some leadership toward peace," Bush said.

Merkel said she shared Bush's views on the conflicts in the Middle East, and that Germany would do its part to defeat the "tyrants and dictators" of the world, and those who harbor terrorists.

"We should not forget who started all this," she said when asked about the Israeli attacks. "The soldiers must be freed and the rocket attacks on Israel have to stop."

Both leaders met just a day before they were due to travel to St. Petersburg, Russia, for the Group of Eight summit.

The visit to Merkel's political home state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania indicates a revived German-American friendship, experts say.

"We're honored to call the German people friends and allies," Bush said, after he had kissed Merkel on both cheeks, sparking cheers from the crowd in Stralsund.

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