KATHERINE SHRADER Associated Press Writer
SHANNON, Ireland Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said today that Israel’s attack on a Lebanese village complicated her diplomatic push in the Middle East, acknowledging that there is “a lot of work to do” to bring about a lasting cease-fire. “You have to get all the work done, you have to get it done urgently,” Rice told reporters as she flew home after eight days of meetings in four countries and prepared to shift her focus to the U.N. in New York, where she’ll work with the international community on resolutions to prod Israel and Lebanon to a ceasefire. Rice had hoped to come home with concrete progress, but her trip yielded only a small, conditional break in fighting when Israel agreed to stop for 48 hours its aerial bombardment of south Lebanon. But the suspension didn’t cover ground forces or groundbased weapons; today Israel launched airstrikes near the village of Taibeh it said were meant to protect ground forces operating in the area. The Israelis told U. S. officials that ground operations were continuing, and today’s renewed air strikes were close-in support for operations against rocket launchers that were about to be used, said a U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity. The official said there was an expectation that Israel would respond to threats of attack being prepared against it. Rice has been trying to find a consensus to end the 20 days of fighting between Israel and Lebanon-based Hezbollah. She said the U.N. resolution that she will call for will include a cease-fire, political components to address issues that have repeatedly sparked fighting between the two countries and the authorization of an international force to help secure Lebanon. Rice did not provide significant details on how the U.N. resolution she will seek would address the difficult political problems between the two states. Lebanon and Israel have disputed their border and other issues for decades. Rice had to scrap scheduled meetings with Lebanese leaders in Beirut on the final full day of her trip after Israel attacked the Lebanese village of Qana, killing more than 55 people while they slept. Searing images of children’s bodies being pulled from rubble were replayed on international television.
“Did it make the situation more difficult? Of course,” Rice said en route to the refueling stop in Shannon. “But there is an implication that somehow this was planned to make the diplomacy more difficult, and that simply wasn’t the case.... The tragic incident happened in the midst of military operations.” A State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity about the sensitive diplomatic discussions, said Rice called Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora before leaving today to discuss her plans to announce a framework for a U.N. resolution. She also plans to dispatch her ambassador to Beirut to brief the prime minister in detail on the elements. Her diplomatic task is now complicated by growing resentment for U.S-Israeli policy. She said the U.S. will work to achieve a U.N. resolution on three fronts: the precise language of the U.N. resolution, working with Lebanon and Israel on the emotion-filled details of tough political questions and an agreement that leaves no ambiguity in the international force’s role and operations. “There’s a lot of work to do,” Rice said. In addition to the U.S. draft currently in the works, U.N. security council members are also reviewing a French-sponsored draft resolution, calling for an immediate halt to fighting and seeking a wide new buffer zone in south Lebanon monitored by international forces and the Lebanese army. Rice declined to compare the two approaches. “There are many common elements,” she said. Israel and Lebanon-based Hezbollah have been locked in violence for 20 days, causing over 750 casualties who were mostly Lebanese civilians. The trip exposed quite publicly strains between the U.S. and numerous allies over the Bush administration’s closeness with Israel. Unlike nearly all world leaders and the Pope, President Bush has not called for an immediate cease fire in the disproportionate battle between Lebanon-based Hezbollah and the militarily superior Israel. Rice had repeatedly said the fighting need to end quickly. Asked whether Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told her privately that Israel needed 10 to 14 more days to achieve its goals in crippling Hezbollah, Rice declined to comment on their discussion, but said not to assume “everything about what the prime minister did and did not say to me has some benefit of being true.”