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Israeli Warplanes Blast Beirut While Troops Battle Hezbollah

Israeli warplanes blasted Beirut Tuesday as troops from the Jewish state continued to battle Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon two weeks into the conflict with no immediate end in sight. The fierce fighting has claimed the lives of hundreds of Lebanese, almost all civilians, and dozens of Israelis.

Massive explosions shook Beirut as plumes of smoke rose over Hezbollah strongholds in the southern part of the city, while clashes continued along Lebanon's southern border as Israeli tanks and troops fought Hezbollah guerrillas in and around the town of Bint Jbail.

Lebanese officials say an Israeli missile strike on a house killed seven members of one family, including several children, near the coastal town of Tyre.

Hezbollah rockets continued to rain down on Israeli cities and towns, and officials say one girl was killed in the northern part of the country.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, President Bush says the United States wants a long-term solution to the conflict.

"We want a sustainable cease-fire," said Mr. Bush. "We don't want something that is short-term in duration. We want to address the root causes of the violence in the area. Therefore, our mission and our goal is to have a lasting peace, not a temporary peace, but something that lasts."

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice continued her diplomatic efforts in the Middle East, saying that an end to hostilities must come with conditions that help resolve what Washington sees as the underlying causes of the conflict, a lack of democracy and Islamic extremism.

"The people of this region, Israeli, Lebanese and indeed Palestinian, have lived too long in fear and in terror and in violence," said Ms. Rice. "A durable solution will be one that strengthens the forces of peace and the forces of democracy in this region."

Secretary Rice spoke after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who says his country will continue its offensive to disarm Hezbollah and free two Israeli soldiers captured by the militia earlier this month.

"Israel is determined to carry on the fight against Hezbollah," said Mr. Olmert. "We will reach out for them. We will stop them. We will not hesitate to take the most severe measures against those who are aiming thousands of rockets and missiles against innocent civilians for one purpose, to kill them."

Secretary Rice also held a brief meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah to discuss the fighting in Lebanon and continuing clashes between Israeli troops and militants in the Gaza Strip.

President Abbas called for an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon to stop the suffering of civilians.

Mr. Abbas also says his government is trying to broker a truce in Gaza, where more than 100 people have died during an Israeli military operation to free a captured soldier and halt rocket attacks.

Secretary Rice says while much of the world's attention is on the fighting in Lebanon, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should not be forgotten.

"We must remain focused on what is happening here in the Palestinian territories, on our desire to get back on a course that will lead ultimately to President Bush's vision but indeed the vision of President Abbas of two states living side by side in peace," added Ms. Rice.

In another development, Saudi Arabia announced it will donate $1.5 billion in humanitarian aid to Lebanon to help support the country's economy and reconstruction.

The Saudi donation came as Israel announced it will allow planes carrying humanitarian aid to land at Beirut airport.

Humanitarian agencies are trying to get food and medical supplies to hundreds of thousands of Lebanese who have been displaced by the fighting.

On Wednesday foreign ministers from Arab and Western countries are scheduled to meet in Rome for an international conference on Lebanon.