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Former President Clinton laments international crises

| Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, 10:16 p.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Former president Bill Clinton speaks at Penguin Court in Ligonier in honor of Trib Total Media publisher Richard Mellon Scaife on Saturday, August 2, 2014.

Former President Bill Clinton on Saturday sharply criticized Hamas for deliberately endangering civilians and using international aid to build a network of tunnels into Israel.

Speaking at a memorial service for Tribune-Review owner Richard Mellon Scaife, Clinton lamented the series of foreign policy crises that have cropped up from Eastern Europe to the Middle East in recent weeks.

“How could the people in Gaza, who started rocketing Israel, think that it was OK to use international aid money to dig tunnels to increase their ability to destabilize the region and kill people?” Clinton told about 150 Trib Total Media employees at the memorial service at Scaife's boyhood home in Ligonier.

Israeli officials list the destruction of the tunnels, which Hamas has used for a series of incursions into Israel, as a chief objective of the 26-day-old war in Gaza.

The Israeli government has come under increasing international pressure, including criticism from the United States, for bombing and shelling that killed more than 1,600 Palestinian civilians, many of them children. About 60 Israeli soldiers and three Israeli civilians have died.

But Clinton blamed the rising civilian death toll on Hamas as well, saying they deliberately placed munitions where civilians seek shelter, then use their deaths to foment international anti-Israeli sentiment.

“How could they put rockets in a school to follow a deliberate strategy to force the deaths of their own civilians so as to make Israel look bad in the world?” Clinton said.

Clinton has remained active in the international community since leaving the White House in 2001, using the Clinton Foundation to fund humanitarian projects around the world.

Scaife, an erstwhile political foe who became Clinton's friend in recent years, donated more than $100,000 to the foundation. He gave $1 million to aid a global relief effort after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Clinton helped direct the effort.

The foundation in 2006 began a large AIDS program in Ukraine, where a Russian-backed rebellion has destabilized the eastern part of the country.

“I'm really worried about Ukraine,” Clinton said. His foundation's work has introduced him to activists and politicians throughout the country, he said. “I know a lot of those reformers. They don't want a hateful relationship with Russia. They just want to be free. They want to be a bridge between Europe and Russia.”

He used his relationship with Scaife — which transformed from an antagonistic one in the 1990s to collaboration in recent years — to contrast with the belligerent stance of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“If the Russians were thinking the way Dick Scaife thought when I first met him, they would see that (using Ukraine as a bridge to Europe) is far more in their interests than having a subservient,impoverished, angry Ukraine under their thumb,” Clinton said.

“The Russians would benefit. The Europeans would benefit,” Clinton said. He added later, “It's a question of identity. What makes your life matter? That you can kill someone else? That you can crush someone else? That you can destroy someone else? You don't have to do any of that to fight for what you believe in.”

Mike Wereschagin and Salena Zito are Trib Total Media staff writers. Reuters contributed to this report.

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