Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is abruptly breaking off her diplomatic mission in the Mideast and returning to Washington after Israel’s deadly attack on a Lebanese village, a U.S. official said Sunday.
Rice, who planned to head back to the United States on Monday morning, had hoped to leave the region after concrete progress on ending the fighting between Israel and the Hezbollah militia in southern Lebanon. But her work was hampered severely by Israel’s missile strike early Sunday that killed more than 50 people, including many children.
The U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity about the diplomatic situation, said Rice would work from Washington on a U.N. Security Council resolution to end the crisis.
Rice said on Sunday she was “deeply saddened by the terrible loss of innocent life” after an attack on a village in southern Lebanon. But she did not call for an immediate cease-fire in the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militias.
Rice said she called Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora to say she would postpone a visit to Beirut on Sunday, and that she had work to do in Jerusalem to end the fighting.
“We are also pushing for an urgent end to the current hostilities, but the views of the parties on how to achieve this are different,” she said.
A plan to end fighting?
A draft resolution circulating Saturday among council members would call for an immediate halt to fighting and seek a wide new buffer zone in south Lebanon monitored by international forces and the Lebanese army.
Israel’s attack, which killed scores of civilians while they sleep, led Rice to cancel an expected visit to Beirut for a meeting Sunday with Lebanese Prime Minister Faud Saniora. Rice said she called Saniora to postpone; angry Lebanese officials said it was their government that called off the meeting.
The chief U.S. diplomat told reporters after the attack that she planned to stay in Jerusalem, where she said she had work to do to end the fighting.
The U.S. official said Rice planned an evening meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and that she had been talking with President Bush, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other world leaders.
Olmert expressed “great sorrow” for the airstrikes but blamed Hezbollah guerrillas for using the area to launch rockets at Israel.
Rice said she is working with all parties to try to stop the violence. “Too many innocent people — Lebanese and Israeli — have suffered. Too many people have lost their lives. Too many families are homeless. and too many children have been killed, injured or are living in fear for their lives.”
“Emotions are understandably running high on all sides,” she said.