Accessibility links

Breaking News

Diplomats Disagree on How to Stop Lebanon Fighting

Cross-border rocket attacks, air strikes and artillery barrages between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon are now in their third week. And, while there seems to be overall agreement that the attacks must stop, there is much less agreement on how.

Dark plumes of smoke rise from behind the hills, just inside the Lebanese border, a sign of renewed Israeli artillery barrages. Troops and tanks still cross over the border in what the Israeli government says are limited military operations. Israeli warplanes continue to pound targets in southern and eastern Lebanon.

Civilians in northern Israel wait anxiously for the next air raid siren in an area hit by over 1,400 Hezbollah rockets in two weeks.

Israeli air strikes and Hezbollah rocket salvos have turned into a deadly daily routine for the people of Lebanon and northern Israel.

Israeli Environment Minister Gideon Ezra says there is no choice but to continue.

"We have paid a high price, but we must continue fighting," said Ezra on Israel radio. "We don't intend to stay in Lebanon," he added, "but we have to hit Hezbollah as they intend to hit us. After that, I hope we will have a different situation."

Fears that fighting will drag on, amid rising casualties and a growing humanitarian crisis in Lebanon, have increased calls for a diplomatic solution. And while there is general agreement that the fighting needs to stop, there is less agreement on how to bring that about.

Most European countries and Arab nations want an immediate cease-fire. But, the United States has strongly backed Israel's position that the conditions must be right for a sustainable truce and broader peace.

That was the message Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice brought to the region this past week, as she met with Lebanese, Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

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

It was a message the secretary then took to Rome for a one-day international crisis meeting on Lebanon Wednesday and on to Malaysia where she attended a meeting of Asian leaders.

"[We hope to] help make parties establish conditions that will make it possible for an early cease-fire that, nonetheless, does not return us to the status quo ante. We cannot return to the circumstances that created this situation in the first place," she added.

Washington says that, without proper conditions for a broader peace in the region, a return to violence is only a matter of time. In order to prevent this, the U.S. and Israel are seeking to dismantle groups they view as terrorist organizations, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, the militant group that runs the Palestinian Authority.

Washington and Jerusalem also want to isolate and curtail the influence of countries such as Syria and Iran, which stand accused of supporting terrorism and trying to destabilize the region, accusations both Damascus and Tehran deny.

But Lebanon's prime minister, Fouad Siniora, said, if there is to be peace, Israel must do its part, as well.

"What brings security and safety is the ability of Israel to build, to really build good relations with its neighbors," he said.

Prime Minister Siniora urged Israel to accept a peace plan offered by Arab nations at their summit meeting in Beirut in 2002. Then, the Arabs offered peace and normalization of relations in exchange for Israel agreeing to return to its borders, prior to the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, meaning a full withdrawal from the West Bank. They also called on Israel to accept an independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, which Israel has said it will never give up.

The choice is still there, said Prime Minister Siniora.

"Otherwise, things will continue to move from one hostility to the other, from one crisis to the other," he explained. "The Arabs, they have made their point, and they are serious, and I think it's high time for Israel to realize that this is the real way to make peace in that region."

But, in the meantime, the Lebanese leader said, there must be a cease-fire in his country. To delay, he warned, would only mean more bloodshed.

But, there has so far been no agreement to call for an immediate cease-fire. Israel and Hezbollah remain defiant. And, the attacks continue.

But diplomatic maneuvering is going on behind the scenes, and Secretary Rice has said she will be returning to the Middle East for more talks.