U.S. ‘concerned’ over casualties in Lebanon

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Sunday the United States was deeply concerned about mounting civilian casualties in Lebanon but that an immediate ceasefire would not solve the problem.

As Israel launched fresh attacks in Lebanon and rockets fired by Lebanese Hizbollah guerrillas killed at least eight people in Israel’s city of Haifa, Rice said U.S. officials were weighing hour-by-hour whether Americans in Lebanon should leave.

“We obviously have plans and contingency plans should we need to bring people out,” she told reporters at a Group of Eight summit in Russia.

Rice resolutely backed Israel’s right to retaliate for Hizbollah attacks. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has threatened Lebanon with “far-reaching” consequences for the strike on Haifa.

“It’s obvious that when you have rockets being fired into your territory … that there is a responsibility of Israelis to defend their people. I don’t think you can ask any less of any state,” she said.

But she said she had told Olmert “we are deeply concerned about the effect on innocent civilians and we would hope that Israel would be mindful of and restrained in its operations so that innocent civilians do not suffer.”

Rice said the ceasefire demanded by Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora would not work unless it addressed the underlying cause of the problem, which Washington says is violence by Hizbollah and the support the group gets from Syria and Iran.

“What we really need is to concentrate on a way forward that is going to permit the cessation of violence which first of all will be sustainable, that we won’t be back three weeks from now talking about getting another cessation of violence,” Rice said.

“I’m not going to try to judge each and every Israeli operation or each and every Israeli attack.”

The only way to resolve the situation, Rice said, “is to deal with the extremists, isolate the extremists, and put in place moderate democratic states.”

© 2006 Reuters