Monday, September 04, 2006

US congressmen pay visit to Children's Cancer Center

US congressmen pay visit to Children's Cancer Center
By Iman Azzi
Special to The Daily Star

BEIRUT: A US Congressional delegation toured the Children's Cancer Center of Lebanon (CCCL) Saturday as part of a one-day visit to the country. The three representatives - Republicans Ray LaHood of Illinois and Charles Boustany of Louisiana, and Democrat Silvestre Reyes of Texas - delivered $80,000 worth of medicine, a donation from the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman was also in attendance. The delegation was welcomed by senior CCCL officials, as well as medical and administrative staff and volunteers. "Our visit highlights the extraordinary work here," said LaHood, who attended the opening of the CCCL in 2002. The CCCL is an affiliate of St. Jude, as is a clinic in Lahood's hometown of Peoria, Illinois. CCCL medical director Miguel Abboud thanked the congressmen for delivering the medicine, noting that Israel's continuing blockade made it difficult to receive supplies.

Upon return to the United States, LaHood and Boustany, both of whom are of Lebanese ancestry, pledged to pressure Congress to help with Lebanon's reconstruction efforts. The United States Agency for International Development has already pledged to rebuild the Fidar bridge, north of Beirut. "The president put up $230 million plus to help jumpstart the reconstruction of the country. We will go back to our colleagues and urge them to pass this bill and get the money flowing," LaHood said. President George W. Bush's pledge of $230 million was initially met with resistance last week when influential Senator Tom Lantos threatened to put a legislative hold on the aid until Lebanon agreed to have UNIFIL troops on the border with Syria. The three congressmen met Prime Minister Fouad Siniora Saturday morning before touring the CCCL. Later, they ate lunch with several MPs. "The prime minister has shown tremendous courage and foresight. It is necessary to support him and his Cabinet," Boustany said. "Siniora is a political hero for what he has been able to do," LaHood said. "It took a great deal of difficulty to secure this trip. We wanted to send a message to the people of Lebanon to know the US is behind them."

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