WASHINGTON – Two senior State Department officials are undertaking the latest in a long string of U.S. diplomatic missions to the Middle East to try to steer Israel and the Palestinians into peacemaking.
Assistant Secretary of State John S. Wolf and David Satterfield of the department's Near East bureau (search) will have specific messages for the two warring sides, spokesman Adam Ereli made clear Wednesday in announcing their trip.
Wolf and Satterfield will press for "concrete steps from the Palestinians to confront terror and violence, as well as progress on reform," Ereli said.
"And we will be reiterating to Israel the need for sustained efforts to improve the humanitarian situation and stick to other commitments, including settlement and outpost activity," he said.
So far, despite repeated U.S. missions to the region and assertions by President Bush that the Palestinians should be granted statehood next year, there has been little progress on the peace front.
Bush made only brief mention of the region in his State of the Union speech Tuesday.
Ereli said Wolf and Satterfield would fly to the area shortly and would focus on the issues of security and monitoring actions by the two sides.
"We are going to make clear, as we have been doing for some time, that in order to make progress on the road map and the president's vision of two states, both sides need to meet their responsibilities and obligations," Ereli said.
Wolf was last in the area in late September and Satterfield in December.
On another troubled front -- the border between Israel and Lebanon -- the spokesman said the Bush administration was in close contact with officials of the Israeli, Lebanese and Syrian governments and was urging all sides "to exercise maximum restraint and to avoid any further escalation."
For the second day, the State Department accused Hezbollah (search), a Lebanese group that is fighting a cross-border war with Israel, of intentionally heightening tensions.
Ereli said the department has told Syria it was time to end its support for Hezbollah's operations.
Israeli warplanes struck Hezbollah guerrilla bases in southern Lebanon (search) late Tuesday in what Israel said was retaliation for a Hezbollah attack that killed one Israeli soldier and wounded another Monday.
Secretary of State Colin Powell on Tuesday blamed Hezbollah guerrillas for the escalation and cautioned Syria against giving support to the Lebanese terror group.