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White House Urges Israeli Restraint

The White House is urging Israel to exercise restraint following the attack on the Lebanese village of Qana that killed dozens of civilians.

A White House statement calls the bombing a terrible and tragic incident. It urges Israel to exercise the utmost care to avoid civilian casualties.

But the brief statement makes no mention of an immediate ceasefire. Instead, it notes Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in the region in an effort to arrange conditions needed for a sustainable cessation of hostilities.

Her top deputy told ABC television's This Week program that the bombing in Qana underscores the need for a durable ceasefire. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said there has been some progress on the diplomatic front.

"We are close, we think, to a political agreement between Israel and Lebanon to end this fighting," Burns says.

He went on to stress that a ceasefire that fails to address the root causes of the conflict will not bring an enduring peace. He said steps must be taken to remove the threat posed by armed Hezbollah militants on Lebanese soil.

"If you just stop the fighting in place, you would have Hezbollah in place with its rockets to hold a million Israelis hostage in the northern part of the country and you would have the Israeli army in southern Lebanon," Mr. Bush says. "So clearly, you have got to have an ambitious view of what has to be accomplished here."

The Secretary of State was in Israel when the Qana incident occurred, and her plans to travel on to Lebanon were canceled. Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora made clear there was no reason for her to go to Beirut unless she was willing to talk about an immediate ceasefire.

He was interviewed on CBS's Face the Nation.

"What we have really been witnessing is something beyond description. This is something that is unacceptable. That is why we are asking for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire. We cannot continue discussing under the sword of blood that is being put under our necks," Seniora says.

Appearing on the same program, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres expressed deep regret for the death of civilians, including dozens of children, in Qana. He stressed Israel's fight is not with the Lebanese people, but with the Hezbollah militants who are using them for cover.

"In the Israeli case, we distinguish between the military and the civilian. We shall never put arms in civilian surroundings. Hezbollah is very cynical. They put their rockets and missiles amid civilian lives," Peres says.

Israel is promising a full investigation of the incident and says it warned the people of Qana to get out well before the bombing took place. Lebanese officials dispute that claim and accuse the Israeli military of war crimes. The Israelis say if any entity has committed war crimes it is Hezbollah, by placing its arms in heavily populated areas.