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Secretary of State Rice to Go to Mideast

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is heading to the Middle East, which has been the scene of renewed, intense violence. A State Department spokesman had no details yet of her itinerary or the dates of the trip, but said it could be as early as next week.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters Washington has not changed its position that Israel has a right to defend itself.

He emphasized that this is the reason the U.S. government is not calling for an immediate ceasefire in the conflict between Israel and the Hezbollah militant group in Lebanon, which kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border attack, sparking Israel's military response.

"We are not in the business of laying out timelines for sovereign countries that are in the midst of defending themselves," said Mr. McCormack. "Certainly, we would like to see the violence end, but the first steps for violence ending need to be taken by those who provoked this violence, by Hezbollah. Stop the rocket attacks. Return those prisoners."

He said there are intense international efforts to bring about a political resolution to the crisis, but he said Washington wants these results to be, in his words, "lasting" and "durable."

The spokesman added that one of the things under discussion is an international peacekeeping force.

"There are a lot of different ideas out there," he added. "I know Secretary General Annan has talked about this some. I know Prime Minister Blair has talked about this some. Certainly, we will come to table with some of our own ideas about how this might come about."

He added that the United States is also concerned about getting humanitarian assistance to the Lebanese people, whom he described as captive victims of Hezbollah.

"We have been in close contact with the Israeli government, the Lebanese government and other governments in the region, about this idea of creating humanitarian corridors, so that humanitarian aid can flow into Lebanon," he explained.

He said Israeli government cooperation with any humanitarian plan would be crucial, because of an Israeli naval blockade of the Lebanese coast.