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Rice Meets Siniora in Beirut Before Going to Jerusalem


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has made a surprise stop in Beirut for crisis talks with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora about Israel's offensive against Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Rice thanked the Lebanese leader for his "courage and steadfastness" and said she is very concerned about what the Lebanese people are enduring.

After Beirut, Rice headed to Israel, where U.S. officials say she will announce U.S. humanitarian aid for Lebanon.

On Tuesday, she meets with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert before heading to the West Bank for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

She then heads to Rome for further talks on the crisis with European, Arab and U.N. officials. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan says delegates at that meeting need to agree to a concrete strategy to end the violence.

In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair called the situation in Lebanon a catastrophe and said he hopes a plan to stop the fighting will be announced in the next few days.

On her way to the Middle East, Rice stressed any ceasefire must address the root cause of the current conflict - the threat that Hezbollah poses to Israel.

She says Iran and Syria's active support for the militants has fanned the flames of conflict.

Meanwhile, officials in Malaysia say the Organization of the Islamic Conference may call a meeting of its executive committee to discuss the crisis.

Saudi Arabian officials asked the United States to back a ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah. The request was made Sunday during talks with President Bush and Secretary Rice in Washington.

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