Attack Forces Cancellation of Rice's Lebanon Visit

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Late Sunday, Israel agreed to a 48-hour suspension of airstrikes in southern Lebanon as it investigates the deadly bombing in Qana.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed sorrow for the deaths of Lebanese civilians in an Israeli airstrike, but said it would not slow down the war effort against Hezbollah. The Israeli military vowed to investigate the deadly bombing in Qana, but blamed Hezbollah for firing from civilian areas.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of state Condoleezza Rice abruptly cancelled a return diplomatic trip to Beirut.

After news of the civilian dead in Kana Lebanon's Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said it would be useless for Secretary Rice to come to Beirut unless she's calling "an immediate and unconditional cease-fire."

Rice postponed the trip, saying she would instead stay in Jerusalem and work toward a broader peace deal. But despite growing international pressure, Secretary Rice did not call for an immediate cease-fire. She has repeatedly said that the United States wants a "durable" peace that helps lead to a "new Middle East," not merely a cease-fire that reinforces the status quo.

Officials in Ehud Olmert's office said the Prime Minister told Rice today that Israel needs another 10 to 14 days for its military operation against Hezbollah. Olmert expressed sadness for the civilian deaths but vowed that, "We will not blink in front of Hezbollah and we will not stop the offensive."

But calls for a cease-fire grew louder today, as images of dead Lebanese children being pulled from the rubble in Qana splashed across the world.

The United Nations, the European Union, the Vatican, the Arab League and several Arab leaders condemned the civilian deaths and called for an end to the bloodshed. Pope Benedict said in the name of God both sides should end the "spiral of violence." UN chief Kofi Annan said both sides bear responsibility for the violence and probably violations of international law. Annan said he was "deeply disturbed" that previous UN calls for a cease-fire have gone unheeded.

A Human Rights Watch official said the bombing quote "highlighted Israel's continued disregard for the Geneva Conventions and inability to distinguish between civilian and military targets."

The Israel Defense Forces dismissed those criticisms as misplaced.

"I wish those people you mentioned would be equally strong in condemning Hezbollah for using these Lebanese as their human shields and as their fronts to fire missiles at Israel," says Israeli Army Captain and military spokesman Jacob Dahlall. He says Lebanese civilians were warned to leave Hezbollah areas in the south, and that military video shows Hezbollah repeatedly firing rockets just yards away from the building that was bombed by Israeli jets.

Last week, Israel bombed a clearly marked United Nations compound, killing four UN observers.

The rising Lebanese civilian death toll has some analysts questioning the intelligence used in Israeli military planning and targeting in south Lebanon. It's a criticism Capt. Dahlall rejects.

"There isn't an intelligence breakdown," Dahlall says. "This is war. We're dealing with intense combat. We have hundreds of missiles at us, over 100 missiles shot at us a day. We're trying to fight a clean battle and they're trying to drag us into a dirty war. And this is the problem with terrorism: Terrorists use civilians to hide behind and to shoot from."

Meanwhile, not only Shiite Hezbollah vowed revenge for the bombing. In the Gaza Strip, a senior leader of the Sunni-dominated Hamas also vowed retaliation. Mushir al Masri hinted that Hamas might resume suicide bombings inside Israel.

"In the face of this open war against Muslim nations, all options are open," al Masri says.

Today the Israeli Army says it caught two Palestinian, would-be suicide bombers with explosive belts and explosives outside the West Bank city of Nablus.



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