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Lebanon Fighting Continues as Diplomats Try to Stem Violence


Israel intensified its attacks on Hezbollah targets in Lebanon Friday, as the militant group announced it used a new, longer-range rocket that struck deeper inside Israel. Diplomatic efforts, meanwhile, reved up, with the announcment in Washington that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is returning to the Middle East to discuss conditions for a possible cease-fire with both Israel and Lebanon.

Secretary Rice's return visit to the region was widely expected, it was just a question of when. President Bush said she would be back on Saturday.

"She will work with the leaders of Israel and Lebanon to seize this opportunity to achieve lasting peace and stability for both their countriesm," he said.

Rice met with Israeli and Lebanese leaders last Monday and Tuesday, but left the area without a call to end the fighting.

Since then the violence has not let up. Israeli warplanes continue to pound targets in southern and eastern Lebanon, and artillery barrages sent dark plumes of smoke rising from the hills along the southern Lebanese border area. Hezbollah has not let up its attacks either, sending daily rocket salvos into northern Israel.

Fears the fighting will drag on amid rising casualties and a growing humanitarian crisis in Lebanon have increased pressure for a diplomatic solution.

After their meeting in Washington, President Bush and visiting British Prime Minister Tony Blair said urgent action is necessary.

President Bush said the goal remains a lasting peace in Lebanon.

"Our top priorities in Lebanon are providing immediate humanitarian relief, achieving an end to the violence, ensuring the return of displaced persons and assisting with reconstruction," he said.

How to achieve an end to the fighting and get an international force in place in Lebanon - these are among the issues to be taken up next week at the United Nations.

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