Rice Wants International Consensus for Mideast Cease-Fire

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday she will seek international consensus for a cease-fire and a "lasting settlement" in the conflict between Lebanon and Israel through a U.N. Security Council resolution this week.

"I am convinced that only by achieving both will the Lebanese people be able to control their country and their future, and the people of Israel finally be able to live free of attack from terrorist groups in Lebanon," Rice told reporters here before departing for Washington.

Rice's marathon effort at shuttle diplomacy was marked by frustration, but she did manage to win a suspension — at least for now — of the aerial bombing by Israel, which has killed and maimed scores of innocent Lebanese men, women and children.

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For eight days, Rice has been in meetings around the globe, trying to find a consensus to end the 20 days of fighting between Israel and Lebanon-based Hezbollah. She said the U.N. resolution that she will call for will include a cease-fire, political components to address issues that have repeatedly sparked fighting between the two countries and the authorization of an international force to help secure Lebanon.

Rice did not provide significant details on how the U.N. resolution she will seek would address the difficult political problems between the two states. Lebanon and Israel have disputed their border and other issues for decades.

Rice also welcomed Israel's decision to conditionally suspend air attacks on southern Lebanon for 48 hours, and hoped the suspension would be renewed.

"These are important, yet temporary measures," she said. "An urgent and more permanent end to this violence is something that we all want, and that we all must work together to achieve."

Rice moved quickly Sunday after an Israeli bomb strike on a house in southern Lebanon killed 56 people, mostly children and women, and won the bombing suspension.

The bombing had scarred her weeklong mission to halt the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, prompting her to scrap a planned meeting with Lebanon's prime minister and arrange to return to Washington for consultation with President Bush.

Rice now goes home hoping to handle diplomatic negotiations from there for a "truly lasting settlement."

During her frenetic schedule of meetings with international leaders, she said she found consensus that armed groups — such as Hezbollah — must be prohibited in areas where the international force is ultimately deployed. She also said that Hezbollah should be disarmed, which will no doubt be a formidable task.

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She also called for an international embargo against the delivery of weapons to any entity but the government of Lebanon. The United States has blamed Iran and Syria for supporting and supplying Hezbollah, which it considers a terror group.

Rice said she also found agreement on an international stabilization force that would support the urgent humanitarian work for the embattled Lebanese people and assist the country's armed forces to police Lebanon's 233-mile-long border with Syria.

Bush spoke with Rice by telephone twice on Sunday before the bombing suspension announcement and once afterward, his spokesman said.

A State Department official traveling with Rice and speaking on condition of anonymity said the secretary had been urging steps toward a break in the violence "for some time" and that the decision to push for a bombing suspension "was made in light of steadily deteriorating condition in the area."

Bush, at a White House T-ball game for youngsters, said, "Today's actions in the Middle East remind us that friends and allies must work together for a sustainable peace particularly for the sake of children."

Rice acknowledged to reporters the "pretty political and dicey circumstances" in which she found herself.

"Too many innocent people — Lebanese and Israeli — have suffered," Rice said. "Too many people have lost their lives. Too many families are homeless. And too many children have been killed, injured or are living in fear for their lives."

The bombing attack came at an especially inopportune time for Rice. Arriving Saturday for a second visit in a week to the Middle East, she hoped to broker an agreement that could serve as a foundation for a U.N. Security Council resolution.

International pressure is growing for the United States to call for a quick truce, even as Israeli officials say its military may need up to two weeks more to accomplish its objectives against Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite political party with its own militia.

A French-sponsored draft resolution, circulating this weekend among council members, calls for an immediate halt to fighting and seeks a wide new buffer zone in south Lebanon monitored by international forces and the Lebanese army.

In Beirut, Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said the attack on Lebanese civilians in the town of Qana showed a cease-fire is the only option.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who agreed to the bombing suspension, expressed "great sorrow" for the deaths, but blamed Hezbollah for using the area to launch rockets into Israel.

Fighting that began after Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers has left more than 750 people dead; the vast majority are Lebanese civilians.

The Bush administration has stood by Israel's efforts to go after Hezbollah. But administration officials also have tried to find ways to support the fragile Lebanese democracy, which the U.S. sees as part of its vision for "the new Middle East" of healthy, elected governments.