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Rice Says Ceasefire Must Come With Conditions


Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice arrived in Rome for an international conference on Lebanon on Wednesday, after two days of meetings in the Middle East with Lebanese, Israeli and Palestinian leaders. The meetings were a signal that diplomacy is being stepped up, but they did nothing to end the violence.

Throughout her 24-hour visit to the region, Secretary Rice's message remained much the same - yes, a cease-fire in Lebanon is urgent, but it must be sustainable and pave the way to resolve what Washington sees as the underlying causes of the conflict, including Islamic extremism and the lack of democracy.

Speaking after meeting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Rice stressed that point.

"It is time for a new Middle East, it is time to say to those who do not want a different kind of Middle East, that we will prevail, they will not," she says.

Later in the day, Rice met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Speaking to journalists afterwards, she again stressed the long-term objectives, despite what she said were great concerns for the suffering of innocent civilians caught up in conflict.

"We need to get a sustainable peace in this region," Rice says. "That is really the problem. There must be a way for the people to reconcile their differences and move forward toward peace."

That is the kind of message Rice is expected to bring to the Rome conference as well, where she will meet with senior officials from Europe and moderate Arab states to discuss how to end the fighting and make it last. At issue are a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah, the deployment of an international force to southern Lebanon to ensure the truce, and immediate urgent aid to some 700,000 Lebanese who have been displaced by the two-week old Israeli offensive.

Israeli leaders have made it clear they will continue their military operations and Rice's comments here are widely seen as having given Israel the green light to do so - at least for now.

Israeli warplanes continued air strikes into Lebanon, including southern Beirut. Fighting also continued in the south, just inside the Lebanese border, where Israeli forces are trying to push back Hezbollah guerrillas and establish control over that area. Hezbollah militants again sent dozens of rockets into northern Israel, including into the port city of Haifa.

Israel's Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Israel will establish a security zone in southern Lebanon to guard against Hezbollah attacks until an international force is deployed there to take over.

Israel established a security buffer zone in southern Lebanon in 1982 and ended up bogged down there for 18 years.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah warned Tuesday if peace efforts fail in Lebanon, the whole region could be drawn into war.

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