Rice will visit war-torn Middle East

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice intends to travel to the Middle East to seek to calm the region where Israel has bombarded Lebanon for days and the militant group Hizbollah has fired rockets into the Jewish state.

"At some point in the future, the secretary intends to travel to the region," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.

There was no word yet on timing of the visit by Rice, who has just returned from a trip to Russia. But Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Daniel Ayalon, said now was not the right moment for her to go.

"Certainly right now it is not the time. We have to see that there is a situation whereby the conditions are conducive for her trip and I’m afraid right now this is not the case," Ayalon told CNN.

"The first opportunity she can come and make a positive effect in the region I think she will be very well received."

Nouhad Mahmoud, Lebanon’s special envoy to the United Nations, also said now was not the time for a visit by Rice.

"I don’t think now conditions are ripe for that," he told CNN. "But we want complete ceasefire. that’s what we want. My country under destruction, under killing machine and we don’t know how things can be done under these circumstances."

McCormack said the United States was immediately focusing its diplomacy on the United Nations after some European leaders called for an international force to be sent into Lebanon.

Rice’s trip would concentrate on addressing what the United States considers the root cause of the violence — Hizbollah’s attacks on Israel, he added.

Israeli air strikes killed 41 people across Lebanon on Monday on the sixth day of a bombardment that has caused the heaviest destruction in Lebanon in more than 20 years.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Security Council members would start work on a detailed agreement on deploying a multinational security force to south Lebanon.

"Any international contribution can ease the crises but not force a settlement because a settlement must be reached politically," Mahmoud said.

© Reuters 2006