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Rice Says Urgent Need for Sustainable Cease Fire


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says there is an urgent need for a "sustainable cease-fire" in Lebanon. Secretary Rice's comments come as Israeli ground forces moved to take a strategic town in southern Lebanon, amid heavy fighting.

Secretary Rice says, "It is very important to establish conditions under which a ceasefire can take place." She says a ceasefire is "urgent," but that it must also be "sustainable." The U.S. Secretary of State made her comments shortly before she arrived in Israel for talks with senior officials.

Yigal Palmor a spokesman for Israel's foreign ministry says Israel believes talk of a cease-fire is premature.

"Conditions are beginning to ripen because the emphasis here is on sustainable. Just ceasing the fire on both sides, providing that Hezbollah does agree to that - which is far from guaranteed at this moment - just ceasing the shooting is not enough, because it will mean that Hezbollah can go at it again anytime they please," he said.

In what is being seen as a significant shift in Israel's position, senior Israeli officials are now saying they would welcome an international peace-keeping force in southern Lebanon. Defense Minister Amir Peretz says such a force could be led by NATO. Yigal Palmor of Israel's Foreign Ministry says Israel does not believe the Lebanese Army is strong enough to replace Hezbollah forces in southern Lebanon, so an international force will have to do the job.

"Of course everybody would like to see the Lebanese army provide whatever guarantees are needed for law and order enforcement in south Lebanon and all over Lebanese territory but that is not possible at the present moment because the Lebanese government is too weak," said Palmor. "This is why it will need assistance and the assistance will have to come from a credible military such as NATO, or maybe some other kind of ad hoc force that could be created for this specific task."

Israeli forces Monday pushed about two kilometers into Lebanon to take control of Bint Jbail, a town that Israel says is a Hezbollah stronghold. Israeli authorities say their ground operations in Lebanon are designed to destroy Hezbollah operations and not to occupy Lebanese territory. Senior Israeli military officers say their ground attacks in Lebanon could continue for another ten days.

Meanwhile, Israel continued its operations in the Gaza Strip, bombing several buildings Israeli military authorities say were being used by Palestinian militants to store and manufacture rockets for use in attacks against Israeli territory.

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