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France Appeals for Cease-Fire, Rice Meets with UN Envoys in New York


France has issued a new call for an immediate cease-fire in the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon.

Speaking in Paris, French President Jacques Chirac urged the European Union to send its foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, back to the Middle East to press all sides for a ceasefire.

As France made a new appeal, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was meeting in New York with three United Nations envoys who recently returned from a Middle East mission to assess conditions there.

The State Department says Rice will visit the region as early as next week.

But the U.S. says it is too early for a cease-fire. In Jerusalem Friday, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Rick Jones said that as long as Hezbollah fires rockets at Israel, Israel has to continue what he called its "side of it."

Speaking on American television Friday, White House spokesman Tony Snow rejected criticism of the U.S. stance, saying no one is working harder to end the violence than the United States.

On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for an immediate cease-fire in the fighting.

Mr. Annan blamed Hezbollah for abducting two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid that sparked the violence. He also condemned Israel's military response as collective punishment on the Lebanese people.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton said afterwards that it is difficult to reach a ceasefire with a terror group like Hezbollah.

In Beirut, visiting French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy called Friday for a "safe humanitarian corridor" to get urgent aid to the Lebanese people. The French minister said his country is dispatching aid by air and sea.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.
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