Accessibility links

Breaking News

Middle East: Rice Calls For A 'New Middle East'

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (file photo) (AFP) U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice again makes it clear that the United States is seeking major change in the Middle East, rather than a quick cease-fire.

PRAGUE, July 25, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- It was a meeting of the minds in Jerusalem today, with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying the fight against Hizballah is a struggle that could reshape the Middle East.

Rice and Olmert reiterated their shared view that a cease-fire is not desirable if it leaves Hizballah fighters in control of southern Lebanon.

"As we deal with the current circumstances, we need always to be cognizant of and looking to what kind of Middle East we are trying to build. It is time for a new Middle East."

Rice said the United States wants a durable peace, explaining that "a durable solution will be one that strengthens the forces of peace and the forces of democracy in this region."

Rice implicitly addressed Syria and Iran, who have backed the Shiite fighters currently battling Israel, as she framed the fight in larger terms.

"As we deal with the current circumstances, we need always to be cognizant of and looking to what kind of Middle East we are trying to build," she said. "It is time for a new Middle East. It is time to say to those who do not want a different kind of Middle East that we will prevail, they will not."

Though not favoring an immediate cease-fire, Rice said the United States is aware of the suffering caused to civilians, especially in Lebanon, as a result of the conflict. The United States has announced a $30 million aid package for Lebanon. U.S. forces are already airlifting relief supplies to Beirut.

Olmert was equally uncompromising, reminding journalists that it was Hizballah fighters who started the conflict and were continuing to fire rockets into northern Israeli cities and towns.

"Israel is determined to carry on the fight against Hizballah. We'll reach out for them, we'll stop them, and we will not hesitate to take the most severe measures against those who are aiming thousands of rockets and missiles against innocent civilians for one purpose -- to kill them. This is something that we will not be able to tolerate," he said.

Soon after he spoke, Hizballah fired a fresh barrage of rockets at the Israeli port city of Haifa. At least 25 people were reported injured.

Lebanese Civilians Under The Gun

A view of the destruction wreaked in a suburb in southern Beirut by Israeli air strikes (epa)

Despite the civilian casualties its campaign is causing, Olmert once again said that Israel aims to help the Lebanese people and government.

He called on the Lebanese government to "distance [itself] from Hizballah and from terrorist organizations."

If it does so, it will "find in us partners for all kinds of accommodations that will make the life for the Lebanese easier and better, and certainly will help facilitate an arrangement that will end the war."

At best, those words are likely to be met with skepticism in Lebanon, where the death toll from the Israeli campaign has now reached almost 400 and where hundreds of thousands of people have been forced from their homes.

A large part of the country's civilian infrastructure, including main roads, bridges, power stations, and television towers has been destroyed by the Israeli military.

In what has become an almost daily occurrence, a family of seven, including at least two children, were reported killed as an Israeli missile slammed into their house in southern Lebanon.

The Israeli army has defended the use of cluster munitions in its military offensive in Lebanon as "legal under international law."

Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of using the antipersonnel munitions in an attack on the Lebanese village of Bilda on July 19.

On July 24, the UN's emergency relief coordinator, Jan Egeland, launched a global appeal for funds for the humanitarian effort in Lebanon.

This "is an appeal for three months, and the clock has started ticking. We will in that three-month period ask for $150 million, about $10 million of those [dollars] for work for those who have fled from Lebanon to Syria."

Egeland, who has criticized the Israeli onslaught as a breach of humanitarian laws, also lashed out at Hizballah on July 25, accusing its fighters of hiding behind the local civilian population.

Rice In Palestine

Rice traveled to Ramallah in the West Bank later for talks with the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmud Abbas.

Israel's campaign in the Palestinian territories -- where another one of its soldiers was abducted -- has been largely overshadowed by events in Lebanon. But casualties and the destruction of infrastructure in the Gaza Strip continue unabated as militants battle Israeli forces.

The public welcome for Rice in Ramallah was limited.

"We do not welcome Condoleezza Rice's visit because she represents an imperialist and Zionist policy, and the proof to this is that she still insists not to make Israel stop their fire directed towards our people in Lebanon," said one Ramallah resident.

Rice travels to Rome on July 26, for an emergency international conference on the crisis. High-level representatives from 18 other countries and international organizations are to attend the meeting, including UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Annan says he will press for a truce and establishment of a buffer force in southern Lebanon, as well as the release of the two Israeli soldiers whose abduction sparked the Israeli retaliation and an end to Hizballah's rocket attacks on northern Israel.