Condoleezza calls for reshaping middle east
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In Israel, Rice calls for a ‘new Middle East’
Olmert says ‘Israel is determined to carry on this fight against Hezbollah’
JERUSALEM - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, leading the first high-level U.S. diplomatic mission since war broke out in Lebanon, said Tuesday the time has come for a new Middle East and an urgent end to the violence hanging over the region.
“I have no doubt there are those who wish to strangle a democratic and sovereign Lebanon in its crib,” Rice said as she met with Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. “We, of course, also urgently want to end the violence.”
Olmert welcomed Rice warmly and vowed that “Israel is determined to carry on this fight against Hezbollah.”
He added 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.”
Standing beside Olmert as they prepared to meet in his office, Rice reiterated the U.S. position that a cessation of hostilities in Lebanon must come with conditions that make an enduring peace. She said she has “no desire” to be 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.”
Meeting in Ramallah
Rice, who has disappointed some U.S. allies with her support of Israel, also met Tuesday with Israel Defense Minister Amir Peretz.
Rice made no public remarks after her meetings with Olmert and Peretz before heading off to Ramallah for a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Israelis have welcomed Rice’s message that a long-term solution is essential to dealing with their conflict with guerrilla fighters from the militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas. However, the Palestinians are among those pushing for a quick cease-fire to end what they see as the suffering of the Lebanese people.
The Bush administration has said it wants to address the overall threat from Hezbollah, a Shiite militia in Lebanon, by creating conditions that will give the weak Lebanese government control over its entire territory, including south Lebanon, which is under Hezbollah control.
In a brazen July 12 raid into northern Israel, Hezbollah killed eight Israeli soldiers and captured two others, provoking Israel’s biggest military campaign against Lebanon in 24 years. Hezbollah has fired hundreds of rockets at northern Israeli communities.
Israeli forces have been hammering Gaza to the south since shortly after the June 25 capture of an Israeli soldier by militants linked to Hamas group. The subsequent turmoil has highlighted the weakness of Abbas, a moderate whose Fatah party lost parliamentary elections to Hamas in January.
Both Hamas and Hezbollah have said the two attacks were not connected. Israel has responded with force on both fronts. The United States has insisted it will not support an immediate cease fire if the conditions behind the fighting aren’t addressed.
“If we have learned anything, it is that any peace is going to have to be based on enduring principles and not on temporary solutions,” Rice said Monday night, appearing with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
Palestinians want U.S. pressure on Israel
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Monday he wanted Rice to force Israel to end its Gaza offensive.
“All that we ask the American administration is to take a moral stance toward the Palestinian people, and the Palestinian suffering and to bear its responsibility as a superpower in this world,” Haniyeh told The Associated Press in an interview.
Abbas is trying to maintain a government that is deep in debt because the United States and other nations have cut off foreign assistance to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. Hamas, the largest faction of the Palestinian militant movement, won the Palestinian Authority’s legislative elections in January by defeating Abbas’ Fatah party.
The State Department, which lists Hamas as a terrorist organization, has said it will resume foreign aid if Hamas drops its commitment to Israel’s destruction and terrorist activities.
With the recent tensions, hopes that Palestinians would begin building their own state following Israel’s historic withdrawal from the impoverished Gaza last year have given way to escalating bloodshed.
The United Nations has reported that more than 100 Palestinians have been killed. While many of the victims were gunmen, at least 16 were minors. Israeli forces have mostly attacked government compounds and open areas militants use to fire rockets toward Israel.
Lebanese leaders had hoped Rice’s trip would hasten a cease-fire in the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants that has killed hundreds of Lebanese and displace more than half a million others.
In a meeting that appeared tense, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora told Rice on Monday that Israel’s bombardment had taken his country “backwards 50 years,” the prime minister’s office said. Nabih Berri, a veteran Lebanese politician who is Lebanon’s parliament speaker and Hezbollah’s de facto negotiator, rejected proposals brought by Rice almost as soon as she left.
Rice had proposed that the fighting stop at the same time that an international force deployed in southern Lebanon, an official close to the speaker said. Rice also proposed that Hezbollah weapons be removed from a buffer zone extending about 18 miles from the Israeli border, said the official. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were private.
Rice’s entourage has offered few details about what’s happening in her meetings, and she hasn’t spoken much publicly.
With little diplomatic progress to show for her lightning trip to Beirut, the Bush administration instead focused on the announcement of $30 million in humanitarian aid for Lebanon.
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