July 29, 2006

Rice heads to Israel

By Tom Perry

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
headed for Israel on Saturday to discuss terms for a U.N.
Security Council resolution to end its 18-day-old war with
Hizbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

Rice, who visited Jerusalem and Beirut earlier in the week,
will meet Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. She will also
hold talks with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who has
been pleading for an immediate cease-fire.

"(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," President Bush told a news
conference in Washington on Friday.

Bush, speaking after talks with British Prime Minister Tony
Blair, said an international force should be sent quickly to
southern Lebanon.

The two leaders did not call for an immediate cease-fire,
saying a settlement must tackle Hizbollah's influence in
Lebanon. Bush has said the Shi'ite Muslim guerrillas and their
main allies Syria and Iran are to blame for the conflict.

Hizbollah says it is fighting a U.S.-Israeli plan to wipe
out all Israel's foes in the Middle East and has vowed to
accept no "humiliating" terms to end the violence.

International concern has mounted at civilian casualties in
the war and at the humanitarian crisis it has caused in

At least 462 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in
Lebanon since the conflict erupted on July 12 when Hizbollah
seized two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.

Hizbollah, which wants to swap the soldiers for Lebanese
and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, has killed 51
Israelis, 18 of them civilians hit by rockets fired into the
Jewish state.

In Seattle, a woman was killed when a gunman fired 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 has echoed Bush's stance that the root causes of the
conflict -- meaning Hizbollah's armed presence in Lebanon and
its ability to menace Israel -- must dealt with before an
effective truce can be secured.

"We hope to achieve an early end to this violence," Rice
told a news conference in Malaysia before leaving for Israel.

U.S. officials said much work remained to get the two sides
to sign up to conditions for a cease-fire. "This is evolving
hour by hour," said one senior official, adding it was unclear
whether the U.N. resolution would be ready by Monday.

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 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.

Israeli warplanes and artillery pounded villages near
Lebanon's southern port of Tyre, killing at least 13 people,
while four more died in air strikes in the eastern Bekaa

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) inside Israel. It matched the furthest
that Hizbollah rockets had struck 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 pond water.

U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland urged a
72-hour truce to enable relief workers to evacuate elderly,
young and wounded people from the south and to deliver aid.

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