July 28, 2006

Rice to return to Mideast as diplomacy speeds up

By Tom Perry

BEIRUT (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
returns to the Middle East on Saturday to discuss a planned
U.N. resolution to end the 18-day-old war between Israel and
Lebanese Hizbollah guerrillas.

President Bush said on Friday after talks with British
Prime Minister Tony Blair in Washington that an international
force should be sent quickly to southern Lebanon, particularly
to secure shipments of humanitarian aid.

"(Rice's) instructions are to work with Israel and Lebanon
to come up with an acceptable U.N. Security Council resolution
that we can table next week," said Bush, who has blamed
Hizbollah and its main allies Syria and Iran for the conflict.

Blair, appearing at a joint news conference with Bush amid
mounting international concern at the hundreds of civilian
deaths in the war, said a U.N. resolution was needed as soon as
possible to end hostilities.

Israel said it killed 26 Hizbollah guerrillas in fighting
in the town of Bint Jbeil in southern Lebanon on Friday, which
it said took the number of guerrillas killed in the war to more
than 200. Hizbollah says 31 guerrillas have died in the war.

A total of 462 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, have
been killed since the conflict erupted on July 12 when
Hizbollah seized two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.
Hizbollah, which fired new longer range missiles at the Jewish
state on Friday, has killed 51 Israelis.

An estimated 750,000 people have fled their homes in
Lebanon, and U.N. officials have raised humanitarian concerns.

"We hope to achieve an early end to this violence," Rice
told a news conference in Kuala Lumpur before her new mission.

Rice, who visited Israel and Lebanon earlier this week, had
had echoed Bush's stance since the start of the war that the
root causes of the conflict had to be addressed before an
effective truce could be secured.

Her first stop is Israel but U.S. officials said she would
go wherever needed to get the job done.


The officials said there was still a lot of work to do to
get the two sides to sign up to conditions for a ceasefire.

"This is evolving hour by hour," said a senior U.S.
official, adding it was unclear whether the U.N. resolution
would be ready by Monday. The official said Rice was expected
to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister
Tzipi Livni.

Issues on the table include the release of the two captured
Israeli soldiers as part of a prisoner exchange, the creation
of the international force on the border between Lebanon and
Israel, and the disarming of Hizbollah.

Israel, with support from Washington, wants the Shi'ite
Muslim guerrilla group to be driven from Lebanon's southern
border area and disarmed.

On Friday, Israeli warplanes repeatedly bombed villages
near Lebanon's southern port of Tyre and hundreds of Israeli
artillery rounds were fired across the border. At least 13
people, including a Jordanian. were killed.

Four people were killed in about 70 air strikes in the
eastern Bekaa Valley, Lebanese security sources said.

Hizbollah fired scores of rockets into Israel, including at
least one that the group said was a new "Khaibar 1" longer
range missile, wounding 13 people, Israeli police said.

The longer range rockets landed in open ground near the
town of Afula, about 50 km (30 miles) from the Lebanese border.
It matched the furthest that Hizbollah rockets had landed
inside Israel since the conflict began.

Hizbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah had vowed in the
past few days to extend the group's attacks on Israel beyond
the port of Haifa, which has been under regular rocket fire.

Israeli media reported a Hizbollah rocket hit a clinic in
the northern Israeli city of Nahariya but caused no casualties.

A blast near a convoy evacuating civilians stranded in the
village of Rmeish in southern Lebanon wounded at least three
people. Witnesses said an Israeli shell caused the blast.
Israel said there was no indication the fire came from its

Hundreds of Shi'ites had taken refuge in the Christian
village, where some were reduced to drinking irrigation water.

"We are with the resistance," Fatmeh Srour told Reuters.
"But we need supplies to remain steadfast. My three-month-old
baby hasn't eaten for two days because there's no baby milk."

U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland urged a
72-hour pause in the fighting to enable relief workers to
evacuate the elderly, the young and the wounded from southern
Lebanon and to send in aid supplies.

"There is something fundamentally wrong with a war where
there are more dead children than armed men," said Egeland.