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Rice urges ‘urgent and enduring’ Mideast peace

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Tuesday that the time has come for a new Middle East and an urgent end to the violence hanging over the region. Israeli Prime Minister said Tuesday he would open aid corridors into Lebanon.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in a frenetic set of meetings amid intense Israeli-Hezbollah fighting, said Tuesday the United States wants an “urgent and enduring” peace where problems are solved without war.

Talking to reporters after meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Rice said, “We need to get to a sustainable peace, there must be a way for people to reconcile their differences.”

Earlier, meeting in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, she said the time has come for a new Middle East. “I have no doubt there are those who wish to strangle a democratic and sovereign Lebanon in its crib,” Rice said. “We, of course, also urgently want to end the violence.”

Rice presented nothing new on the Palestinian situation, said Palestinian officials who spoke on condition of anonymity after their meeting with the U.S. diplomat. Separately, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, whose Hamas party was not present at the session, said from what he head about Rice’s conversation with Abbas, it “doesn’t augur well” for a solution to the Middle East crisis.

A senior Israeli official present at Rice’s talks with Olmert said the U.S. and Israel were in full agreement about Israel’s military actions. The Israeli spoke on condition of anonymity.

In Israel, Rice reiterated the United States’ position that a cessation of hostilities in Lebanon must come with conditions, saying there is “no desire” on the part of U.S. officials to come back in weeks or months after terrorists find another way to disrupt any potential cease fire.

“It is time for a new Middle East,” she said. “It is time to say to those that don’t want a different kind of Middle East that we will prevail. They will not.”

Olmert welcomed Rice warmly and vowed that “Israel is determined to carry on this fight against Hezbollah.” He said his government “will not hesitate to take severe measures against those who are aiming thousands of rockets and missiles against innocent civilians for the sole purpose of killing them.”

Humanitarian corridors opened
In what amounted to a score for U.S. diplomacy, Olmert’s office told Rice that Israel will allow the opening of safe passages in Lebanon for the transport of humanitarian aid to all areas of the country.

Rice, who later arrived in Rome for more meetings on the Mideast, is working on two essential fronts — Israel’s tensions with the Palestinians as well as the fighting to its north along its border with Lebanon, where two weeks of fighting with Lebanese Hezbollah militia have left hundreds of civilians dead, mostly on the Lebanese side.

During a meeting with that included about a dozen U.S. and Palestinian officials — but not members of Hamas — Rice and Abbas talked about getting additional aid to the debt-laden Palestinian government as well as the state of an Israeli soldier captured last month by Hamas-linked militants.

Rice told Abbas that while she and other allies are engaged in resolving the situation in Lebanon, the U.S. has not forgotten the Palestinians’ plight.

“The Palestinian people have lived too long with violence and the daily humiliations that go along with the circumstances here,” she said.

“I assured the president that we had great concerns about the sufferings of innocent people throughout the region,” she told reporters, saying that “even as the Lebanon situation resolves, we must remain focused on what is happening here.”

“You have our pledge that our common work of bringing a two-state solution to the people of Palestine and the people of Israel that we will not tire in our efforts,” Rice said.

A vision of peace
Abbas renewed a call for an Israeli-Palestinian truce, following a monthlong Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip, launched to free a captured Israeli soldier.

More than 432 people have been reported killed in Lebanon and Israel since fighting broke out July 12 between Israeli forces and Hezbollah guerrillas after Hezbollah killed eight Israeli soldiers and captured two others, provoking Israel’s biggest military campaign against Lebanon in 24 years.

In Washington, Henry Crumpton, the State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator, said Israel was faced with “stalwart defenses” and “it is going to be hard for Israel to get it done.”

He told reporters that Hezbollah can cover about one-third of Israel’s territory with long-range missiles. “I don’t think the international community understands this,” the former CIA official said.

“I don’t think it is going to end in a few days,” Crumpton said of the Israeli offensive in Lebanon.

Syria’s delivery of missiles to Hezbollah has “completely stopped,” he said, attributing the suspension to delivery problems in a combat environment rather than any change of heart.

Rice took a motorcade to Ramallah for her meeting with Abbas. About 45 minutes before Rice’s arrival, police scuffled with hundreds of Palestinians in an anti-U.S. protest outside the government building where the meeting was being held.

No protesters were in sight by the time the Rice party arrived.