Missiles, Rockets & Diplomacy

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice briefs the press at the State Department in Washington, July 21, 2006, on the crisis in the Mideast. Rice ruled out a quick "false promise" cease fire and defended her decision not to meet with either Syrian or Hezbollah leaders while visiting the region. AP

Lebanon's prime minister says U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has arrived there, in a surprise visit as part of U.S. efforts to help achieve a cease fire in the war between Israel and Lebanon-based Hezbollah.

The Lebanese government announcement says Rice arrived in Beirut Monday and is expected to meet with Prime Minister Fuad Saniora before she traveling to Israel, her originally announced destination.

As fierce fighting continues in the 13-day-old war Israel and the Lebanon-based Islamic militia Hezbollah, diplomats have been exchanging offers of peace, warnings and threats.

Saudi Arabia Sunday asked President Bush to intervene in Israel's military campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon to stop the mounting deaths.

"We are requesting a cease fire to allow for a cessation of hostilities," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said after an Oval Office meeting with Mr. Bush.

Saud said he gave the president a letter from Saudi King Abdullah asking that Mr. Bush help seek an immediate cease fire in the Middle East conflict.

Rice also participated in the meeting before departing for Israel in the first U.S. diplomatic effort on the ground since Israel began bombing Lebanon.

"We believe that a cease fire is urgent," Rice said early Monday, commenting during a refueling stop at Shannon Airport in Ireland on her way to the Mideast. "It is important, however, to have conditions that will make it sustainable."

Rice says she has been consulting with the United Nations and Israeli officials about possible elements of a cease fire agreement that could ensure Lebanon has control of its country.

The U.S. Secretary of State dismissed critics who say the U.S. should talk directly to Syria - which has been accused of supplying weapons to Hezbollah, the militant group at war with Israel - to bring about peace in the region. She noted that the U.S. does have a mission in Damascus through which the U.S. can talk to the Syrian government, but she said those attempts have been futile in the past.

"Let's remember we talked to the Syrians over and over and over again. Colin Powell talked to the Syrians, [former deputy secretary of state and current ConocoPhillips board member] Rich Armitage talked to the Syrians," said Rice. "The problem isn't people haven't talked to the Syrians – it's that the Syrians haven't acted."

Rice insisted "plenty of people" have been sending messages to the Syria to stop supporting terrorism and "not to meddle in the affairs of Lebanon."

She told reporters she wasn't sure if Syria and Iran have any misgivings about supporting Hezbollah, but said: "I would think if they want good relations, they might start by ending their support in those ways."

Syria has said that it will press for a cease fire, but only in the framework of a broader Mideast peace initiative.


In other recent developments:

  • The Israeli army said Monday that one of its helicopters has crashed near the Lebanese border, wounding at least six soldiers.

  • The U.S. says most Americans who want to leave Lebanon have done so, and U.S. evacuation efforts are nearly complete. U.S. officials say approximately 11,260 American citizens have been transported out of Lebanon since July 16th. Some 1,600 American citizens departed Beirut Sunday and 2,800 more are scheduled to depart on July 24.

  • At least 381 have been killed and 1,507 wounded in Lebanon, according to Lebanese security officials. Among them are 20 Lebanese army soldiers and at least 11 Hezbollah guerrillas. Among the civilian deaths are 8 Canadians, 2 Kuwaiti nationals, 1 Iraqi, 1 Sri Lankan, 1 Jordanian. Thirty-six Israelis have been killed, including 19 members of the military, according to authorities. More than nine soldiers have been wounded, and 255 civilians, according to rescue officials.

  • Lebanese security officials say a photographer working for a Lebanese magazine was killed Sunday when an Israeli strike hit near her taxi in southern Lebanon. Layal Nejib, 23, is the first journalist to die in the nearly two-week-old war.

  • Lebanese security officials say Israeli warplanes Sunday struck a minibus carrying people fleeing the fighting in southern Lebanon, killing three people, while in northern Israel, two civilians were killed by Hezbollah rockets. Hezbollah rockets hit a house, an apartment building and a major road. CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan reports Sunday's barrage hit dangerously close to Haifa's oil refinery, the city's most strategic target.

  • Rockets also fell elsewhere across northern Israel Sunday. One barrage targeted an Israeli artillery unit. Witnesses say the rockets set fire to the brush but no one was hurt.

  • Israeli military officials said their forces captured two Hezbollah guerrillas on Sunday. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters. Israel Army Radio reported the two were the first prisoners Israel has taken in this offensive.

  • The U.S. is delivering a shipment of "bunker-buster" bombs to Israel. Israel is replenishing its stockpile of precision-guided GBU-28 bombs, reports CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin, and the bombs are part of an arms package that Israel can tap into whenever it needs. Israeli officials say the army has been using precision-guided weapons to minimize harm to civilians.

  • Israel bombed a textile factory in the border town of al-Manara, killing one person and wounding two, according to the mayor of the town.

  • The United Nations' top humanitarian official on Sunday inspected the air raid damage in Beirut as he began a relief mission to Lebanon. "This is a senseless war," Jan Egeland told CBS News correspondent Richard Roth. "It should never have started, should never be carried out like it is now."

  • U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan says the conflict has created some 700,000 refugees so far, and Israel's destruction of bridges and roads has made access to them difficult. As part of an effort to avert a possible humanitarian crisis, Israel eased its blockade of Lebanon's ports to allow the first shipments of aid to arrive.

  • Israel hit the southern port of Sidon for the first time on Saturday, destroying a religious complex linked to Hezbollah and wounding four people. More than 35,000 people streaming north from the heart of the war zone had swamped the city, which is teetering under the weight of refugees.

    • Lloyd Vries

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