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Diplomacy Efforts in Middle East Take on Greater Importance


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is on her way home to Washington today Monday optimistic that a "comprehensive settlement" to the Middle East crisis can be reached in the coming days. VOA's Jim Bertel reports Rice's announcement follows a deadly Israeli attack Sunday that killed nearly 60 Lebanese civilians.

Three weeks after the current conflict in the Middle East began, the diplomatic focus shifts to the United Nations Security Council amid signs a diplomatic solution could be near. Speaking in Jerusalem on Monday, Secretary Rice says she plans to present a three-part plan to the world body.

"A ceasefire, the political principles that provide for a long-term settlement, and the authorization of an international force to support the Lebanese army in keeping the peace," she outlined.

Rice says there is an emerging consensus on the conditions needed for a ceasefire and a long-term solution to the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.

Earlier Monday, Israel began a 48-hour pause in its aerial bombing campaign in Lebanon following an attack Sunday on the Lebanese village of Qana that killed nearly 60 Lebanese civilians, many women and children. The bombing prompted worldwide condemnation of Israel's offensive, while British Prime Minister Tony Blair called for an immediate end to the fighting.

"We have to speed this entire process up, get a resolution now and on the passing of an agreement on the resolution the hostilities have got to stop, and stop on all sides," said the prime minister.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan shares that sense of urgency, fearing a failure to do so could lead to a wider conflict. "They are all really concerned about what is going on and are aware if we don't handle it well, it could lead to further escalation and spread, and it could spread."

Yet even as diplomatic efforts intensify, Israel's Defense Minister announced Monday his country's plan to expand ground operations against Hezbollah guerrillas, diminishing hopes that the 48-hour halt in air strikes could lead to a more comprehensive cease-fire.