Rice Leaves Israel Without a Peace Deal
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has wrapped up a two day trip to Lebanon and Israel, and the conflict there appears no closer to an end than when she arrived. Rice met today with Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, who used the opportunity to say that Israel has no intention of stopping its offensive in Lebanon. Israel continued its airstrikes today. At least four United Nations peacekeepers in southern Lebanon were killed when an observer post was hit. Hezbollah launched more of its rockets into northern Israel.
NPR's Mike Shuster begins our coverage from Jerusalem.
MIKE SHUSTER reporting:
Israel wants no ceasefire in Lebanon and neither does the Bush administration, at least not right now. That was the clear message conveyed by Secretary of State Rice today in Jerusalem. Standing next to Rice, Prime Minister Olmert said Israel is justified in continuing this war against Hezbollah in Lebanon and it will not let up now.
Prime Minister EHUD OLMERT (Israel): We'll stop them and 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. I think, in complete sincerity, I can say that the Lebanese and the Israelis are both victims of this brutal terrorist murderous organization, the Hezbollah.
SHUSTER: For her part, Rice acknowledged that the violence must stop but in a way, she insists, that will be enduring. Negotiating a ceasefire now would only freeze the situation as it is, she said, adding she has no desire to return here three weeks or three months from now, when a similar wave of violence might break out. And, as she has done before, she set the current conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in the broader framework of the Bush administration's desire to remake the political face of the Middle East.
Ms. CONDOLEEZA RICE (U.S. Secretary of State): We need always to be cognizant of and looking to what kind of Middle East we are trying to build. It is time for a new Middle East. It is time to say to those who don't want a different kind of Middle East that we will prevail. They will not.
SHUSTER: Israel's war has so far not stopped Hezbollah's rockets from falling in northern Israel. In the past two days, Israel sent hundreds of additional troops across the border and they now hold at least two Lebanese villages that were Hezbollah strongholds. Although Israeli officials have insisted they have no desire to occupy any part of Lebanon again, as Israel did between 1982 and 2000, today Israel's defense minister said it would hold what it called a security strip until a multinational force could be established in that area.
Israel's continued war and the U.S. reluctance to push for a ceasefire prompted several Arab allies of the U.S. to speak out. Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak, said what is happening in the region is destructive chaos, not constructive chaos. Mubarak traveled to Saudi Arabia for talks on the crisis. Saudi King Abdullah also spoke out publicly, saying Israel's offensives in Lebanon and in Gaza carried the risk of wider war in the region.
Less she be accused of neglecting the Palestinians, Rice met with Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, in Ramallah, on the West Bank. Abbas warned Rice that Israel's actions could produce even more fanatical enemies. Rice did say it's important to end the conflict in Gaza.
Ms. RICE: We need to be able to make progress because the Palestinian people have lived too long in violence and in a sense of the daily humiliations that go along with the circumstances here.
SHUSTER: But the meeting produced no concrete action. Rice is now in Rome to attend a one-day multinational conference on Lebanon tomorrow. Taking part will be key European and Arab foreign ministers plus U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. Almost all are likely to urge an immediate ceasefire.
Mike Shuster, NPR News, Jerusalem.
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