July 28, 2006

Rice returning to Mideast

By Tom Perry

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
returns to the Middle East on Saturday in a diplomatic drive to
secure a U.N. resolution to end the 18-day-old war between
Israel and Hizbollah.

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 ensure 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, addressing 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.

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 Israel 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.

In the U.S. city of Seattle, a woman was killed when a
gunman opened fire at the offices of a Jewish organization that
arranged a rally in support of Israel. The gunman was reported
to have shouted: "I'm a Muslim American. I'm angry at Israel."

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.

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

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.

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.

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. Israeli police said 13 people were wounded.

The longer range rocket landed 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.

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.

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.