Rice cancels Beruit trip

Her diplomatic mission in jeopardy after Israel’s bombing of a Lebanese village, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice canceled a visit to Beirut on Sunday, saying she had work to do in Israel to get a truce.

Rice, who returned to the region on Saturday in a new push to bring the warring sides together, said she was "deeply saddened" by the Israeli bombing of the village of Qana in southern Lebanon, killing 40 civilians including 23 children.

"In the wake of the tragedy that the people and the government of Lebanon are dealing with today, I have decided to postpone my discussions in Beirut. In any case, my work is here today," Rice told reporters, adding that she had canceled the trip and not the other way around.

She spoke after Lebanon’s Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said, after the latest Israeli bombing, he could not hold any talks on resolving the Middle East crisis before an immediate ceasefire.

"There is no place on this sad morning for any discussion other than an immediate and unconditional ceasefire as well as an international investigation into the Israeli massacres in Lebanon now," Siniora told a news conference in Beirut.

Hundreds of protesters chanting "Death to Israel, Death to America" stormed the U.N. headquarters in Beirut after the bloodiest single attack of the war.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he was in no hurry to strike a ceasefire before Israel had "reached the main objectives" set forth by the Jewish state.


Rice stopped short of calling for an immediate ceasefire, but said she would work very hard to try and end hostilities between Lebanon’s Hizbollah guerrillas and Israeli forces that have killed more than 500 Lebanese and 51 Israelis.

"I think it is time to get to a ceasefire. We actually have to try and put one in place," Rice said.

The United States has been accused of taking sides with the Israelis by not calling for an immediate ceasefire but Rice said she had pressed the case that "extraordinary care" needed to be taken to avoid civilian casualties.

Rice strongly rejected any suggestion that the United States was somehow responsible for the violence and said it had been working very hard to deal with the current crisis and find a way to address humanitarian concerns.

"I am here in pretty difficult and dicey circumstances because I do believe that it is better to try and address these issues face to face with the parties," she said.

But she repeated that a ceasefire could not mean a return to the position before the 19-day war, which was triggered by Hizbollah’s abduction of two Israeli soldiers on July 12.

Both Israel and the United States have said they want to ensure that Hizbollah can no longer carry out raids and rocket attacks and is eventually disarmed under a U.N. resolution.

"We have to try and do our work well so that there will not be more and more and more incidents over many, many more years," Rice said.

U.S. officials have said negotiations are very tough with Israel, which wants to finish its campaign against Hizbollah.

Rice hinted at these difficulties and said while she believed the warring parties were getting closer, they had some way to go.

"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."

© 2006 Reuters