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Rice rejects 'false promise' of quick cease-fire in Lebanon

Saturday, July 22, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rejected the "false promise" of an immediate cease-fire in the spreading war between Israel and Hezbollah on Friday and said she would seek long-term peace during a trip to the Mideast beginning Sunday.

The top U.S. diplomat defended her decision not to meet with Hezbollah leaders or their Syrian backers during her visit.

"Syria knows what it needs to do, and Hezbollah is the source of the problem," Rice said as she previewed her trip, which begins with a stop in Israel.

Rice said the United States is committed to ending the bloodshed, but not before certain conditions are met. The Bush administration has said that Hezbollah must first turn over the two Israeli soldiers whose capture set off the 10-day-old violence, and stop firing missiles into Israel.

"We do seek an end to the current violence, we seek it urgently. We also seek to address the root causes of that violence," Rice said. "A cease-fire would be a false promise if it simply returns us to the status quo."

The United States has resisted international pressure to lean on its ally Israel to halt the fighting. The U.S. position has allowed Israel more time to try to destroy what both nations consider a Hezbollah terrorist network in southern Lebanon.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan demanded an immediate cease-fire Thursday, and denounced the actions of both Israel and Hezbollah. Lebanon's beleaguered prime minister has also asked for an immediate halt to the fighting.

Daniel Ayalon, Israel's ambassador to Washington, told The Associated Press that Israel has destroyed about 40 percent of Hezbollah's military capabilities.

"Most of the long-range [missiles] have been hit, a lot of the medium range, but they still have thousands and thousands of rockets, short-range and others," Ayalon said in an interview.

He described the Israeli military assault as a "mop up" operation, and said that Israel had no desire to repeat its 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon that ended in 2000.

"They overplayed their hand, they miscalculated," Ayalon said of Hezbollah militants based in southern Lebanon and supported by Syria and Iran.

Rice's mission would be the first U.S. diplomatic effort on the ground since the Israeli effort against Lebanon began.

Asked why she didn't go earlier and engage in quick-hit diplomacy to try to end the death and destruction that has gripped the region, she replied, "I could have gotten on a plane and rushed


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