Lebanese FM: Abducted soldiers in 'good health'
Rice due in Israel on Monday; aiming for cease-fire, deployment of int'l force in southern Lebanon.
The two Israel Defense Forces soldiers abducted by Hezbollah on July 12 are "in good health," Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh said Sunday.
On the eve of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to Jerusalem, senior officials believe Israel has received American approval to continue operations against Hezbollah at least until next Sunday.
Rice will first explore ways with Israel's leadership to end the crisis and begin to shape a new order in Lebanon. She will return next Sunday to try to implement a cease-fire.
From Jerusalem, Rice will go on to Rome to meet senior delegates from the United Nations and Arab states. They will discuss formulating a political arrangement and a plan to rehabilitate Lebanon. From Rome she will travel to an Asian conference in Malaysia, from where she will return to Israel.
Rice's trip has two main goals: an attempt to formulate an agreement to end the fighting in Lebanon and sending a strong international force to enforce Security Council Resolution 1559 calling to disarm Hazbollah and deploy the Lebanese Army along the Israeli border.
U.S. to urge more pressure on HezbollahThe United States will urge Middle East leaders to help boost pressure on Hezbollah as a means of solving the crisis in southern Lebanon, President George W. Bush said on Saturday.
The Bush administration has rejected calls for an immediate cease-fire and Rice said she would focus instead on finding a sustainable end to the violence.
Previewing Rice's trip in his weekly radio address, Bush said she would "make it clear that resolving the crisis demands confronting the terrorist group that launched the attacks and the nations that support it."
Bush cited the role of Iran and Syria in providing help to Hezbollah.
"Their actions threaten the entire Middle East and stand in the way of resolving the current crisis and bringing lasting peace to this troubled region," said Bush, who is spending the weekend at his Crawford ranch.
On Saturday, Bush called Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to discuss the humanitarian needs of the Lebanese people and Rice's trip to the region, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
Bush stood by his stance that Israel had a right to act in its own defense.
The Bush administration has expressed worries the conflict might weaken the fragile government in Lebanon led by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
While reiterating his support for the Lebanese government, Bush laid blame for the problems squarely on Hezbollah.
"Hezbollah's practice of hiding rockets in civilian neighborhoods, and its efforts to undermine the democratically elected government have shown it to be no friend of Lebanon," he said. "By its actions, Hezbollah has jeopardized Lebanon's tremendous advances and betrayed the Lebanese people."
Rice rejects idea of quick cease-fire as 'false promise'Rice on Friday dismissed growing pressure for an immediate cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah guerillas in Lebanon, calling it a "false promise" if the root causes of the conflict are not addressed.
"An immediate cease-fire without political conditions does not make sense," she told reporters at the State Department.
"Syria knows what it needs to do and Hezbollah is the source of the problem," Rice said as she outlined U.S. hopes for a diplomatic solution to the current crisis.
Rice met with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on Thursday in New York as part of an effort to repulse the French initiative in the Security Council for an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon.
The meeting comes on the heels of growing criticism among several Security Council members and European countries regarding the United States' abstention from efforts to secure a cease-fire. France on Wednesday launched an initiative to get the Security Council, which is holding an open debate today, to call for an immediate cease-fire.