Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, visiting Beirut and Jerusalem. proposed
sending the Lebanese army along the border with Israel, backed by an international force to stop rocket attacks by the Lebanese-based Hezbullah militia.
But Rice’s plan to end the conflict, prop up the Lebanese government and weaken Hezbollah was greeted with skepticism by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, as well as Lebanon‘s top elected Shiite official and other leaders. Siniora pressed Rice for an immediate cease-fire.
At a press conference in Jerusalem on Tuesday, standing beside Condoleezza Rice, Prime Minister Olmert vowed that Israel would continue its war on Hezbollah, effectively ruling out any chance of an early ceasefire in the bloody two-week-old conflict despite her mission to the region.
Israel once more claimed that its aim is only to destroy the infrastructure of Hezbollah and to liquidate that organization’s terrorists in order to reduce the (rocket) attacks on the north.
Rice repeated Washington’s stance that an immediate ceasefire would only put off a long-term solution to the conflict. While in Beirut, she had outlined a plan to deploy an international force, possibly led by NATO, in a buffer zone just inside Lebanon for 60 to 90 days, after which it would expand its mission to help the Lebanese army regain control of the south, Lebanese and U.S. officials said.
The force would also help train the army, which according to officials now has neither the will nor the means to disarm Hezbollah, ‘s last private militia.
Siniora and the speaker of parliament, Nabih Berri, a Shiite with close ties to Hezbollah, warned that Hezbollah was unlikely to accept any foreign military presence in its traditional stronghold in heavily Shiite southern . Hezbollah has already rejected calls to disarm. He again accused Israel of trying to set back his country 50 years. Nabih Berri, who is acting as an intermediary for Hezbollah, rejected Rice’s reported plan and said there must first be a ceasefire and a prisoner swap.
And speaking for the Central Committee of the Popular Struggle Front, Abu Hamid said Tuesday, “The visit of the American Secretary of State is welcome as we welcome any hope. However it is clear the purpose is to plan its own new Middle East, to preserve American interests in the region, and to preserve Israel’s security. He also criticized the Arab regimes who either failed to realize or ignore the fact that the United States’ support for Israel is at the expense of the Arab people’s interests.
Washington has faced calls for bold action amid criticism it was stalling to allow time for Israel to attempt to wipe out Hezbollah The United States continues to give more foreign aid to Israel than any other country in the world, and that the money is fortified with military donations such as warplanes, “smart bombs,” and other military machines.
At the same time, the still attempts to present itself as an “honest broker,” which currently even its supporters can no longer believe. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Washington’s closest ally, called the conflict a "catastrophe" that was damaging fledgling democracy in Lebanon, a country that had gradually been rebuilding since the 1975-90 civil war and the end of Syria’s long military and political dominance last year.
The criticism is coming under growing Arab and European pressure on the United States because of the humanitarian crisis, with about 750,000 displaced people in a country of 4 million people. More than 380 people have been killed in Lebanon, almost all of them civilians, and hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee their homes, creating what the United Nations warns is a humanitarian catastrophe. The offensive has left Lebanon virtually cut off from the world, made hundreds of thousands of people refugees in their own country and destroyed billions of dollars worth of infrastructure.