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Rice Returns To Mideast, Peace Doesn't

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice returned to the Middle East Saturday, but peace did not come with her.

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah marked Rice's arrival with a threat to fire rockets even deeper into Israel. Appearing on Hezbollah television, Nasrallah claimed victory, saying Israel had failed to make a "single military achievement" during its 18-day offensive.

On the same day, the Israeli planes continued their bombardment of Lebanon while the army drew some of its ground forces back from the front lines.

Rice's shuttle diplomacy brought her to Jerusalem for consultations with Israeli leaders on U.S. proposals intended to end the violence.

Rice stressed the difficulty of ending the three weeks of fighting between Israelis and Hezbollah guerrillas who dominate the border region. Yet the chief U.S. diplomat is hoping to make strides toward an agreement that will clear the way for a U.N. resolution — complete with peacekeepers — within a week.

"These are really hard and emotional decisions for both sides, under extreme pressure in a difficult set of circumstances," Rice told reporters on her trip from Malaysia, where she attended a meeting on Asian issues. "And so I expect the discussions to be difficult but there will have to be give-and-take."

Rice had dinner with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert after arriving in Jerusalem, but did not speak publicly afterward. On Sunday, she planned to meet with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Amir Peretz.

Israel Radio reported Rice plans to travel to the United Nations on Tuesday and hopes the Security Council can prepare a resolution calling for a cease-fire on Wednesday.

Israeli officials said Rice and Olmert agreed that a resolution of the conflict must be based on a previous U.N. Security Council resolution calling for disarming Hezbollah and deploying the Lebanese army on the border instead.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters, said they also agreed that the conflict must not end with restoration of the situation in which Hezbollah could fire rockets at Israel at will.

Nasrallah dismissed Rice's diplomatic efforts in his television appearance.

"Now Ms. Rice is returning to the region to try and impose her conditions again on Lebanon to serve her project, the new Middle East and to serve Israel," he said.

Nasrallah said Israel is ready to stop the fighting, but "the American administration is the one insisting on continuing the aggression against Lebanon."

Nasrallah said he would cooperate with the Lebanese government in negotiations toward ending the crisis. But he was vague about how far he would go, and suggested that disarmament would be off the table if conditions outlined by Lebanon are not met — including the resolution of a border dispute with Israel.

Officials have not disclosed who else she might see during her second stopover in a week to the Middle East. Rice's weeklong trip has included last-minute schedule changes, including a surprise visit to Beirut last Monday.

In other developments:
  • Israeli troops killed two Islamic Jihad militants on Saturday, including the man the group described as the leader of its militant wing in the West Bank city of Nablus.
  • Israeli missiles struck near the main Lebanese border crossing into Syria on Saturday, forcing its closure for the first time in the 18-day-old conflict, police officials said. Israeli warplanes fired three missiles that landed at the Masnaa crossing, about 300 yards beyond a Lebanese customs post, the officials said. They said the area is considered to be part of Lebanese territory.
  • On the Lebanon-Israel border, an Israeli strike hit near a U.N. peacekeepers' station, wounding two. The world body had just relocated unarmed U.N. observers to the peacekeepers' posts for safety after four U.N. observers were killed on Tuesday.
  • Israel rejected a request by the United Nations for a three-day cease-fire in Lebanon to get in supplies and allow civilians to leave the war zone. Avi Pazner, a government spokesman, said Israel already has opened safe corridors across Lebanon for such shipments and that Hezbollah guerrillas were blocking them to create a humanitarian crisis.

    CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reported that Israel has made so little progress in destroying Hezbollah that some U.S. intelligence analysts now say the attempt to create a buffer zone in southern Lebanon has bogged down. "It doesn't appear they've been able to claim the territory they want to claim," one intelligence official told Martin.

    A Middle East policy analyst said that that he thinks the United Nations has a chance of producing a resolution that can lead to a cease fire. "There's been a surprising amount of agreement about the elements that would go into a cease-fire package," Martin Indyk, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution and former U.S. ambassador to Israel told to CBS Evening News anchor Bob Schieffer.

    Both President Bush and the Democrats tackled the Middle East crisis in Saturday's radio addresses. Mr. Bush saw an opportunity to bring change to the Middle East, but Gov. Bill Richardson said the U.S. needs a new approach.

    President Bush said Friday that he and British Prime Minister Tony Blair agree that a multinational force must be dispatched quickly to the Mideast fighting, and said they will work for a U.N. resolution to support it. Both men addressed the loss of public support of critically important moderate Arab leaders, reported CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod.

    Israeli troops pulled back from a border town Saturday after a week of heavy fighting with Hezbollah guerrillas, and warplanes killed a woman and her five children in a strike that leveled their home.

    Hours after the pullback was announced, an Israeli force massed on their side of the border further to the east, across from the Lebanese town of Khiam, Lebanese security officials said early Sunday. The move raised the prospect of a new large incursion into Lebanon.

    The weeklong battle at Bint Jbail underscored Israel's difficulty in pushing back guerrillas who have been preparing for years for this fight, building up arsenals and digging in with tunnels and shelters in caves.

    Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, head of Israel's northern command, said Israel never intended to occupy Bint Jbail or to get "stuck in one place." He insisted the real mission — "to destroy infrastructure and kill terrorists" — had been a success.

    Regardless, the pullback gave Hezbollah the opportunity to claim its fighters had driven out Israel's war machine.

    Nasrallah said his guerrillas had dealt Israel a "serious defeat" in the town. "This elite force was fleeing and scurrying like mice from the battleground," he said.

    Even Israeli officials said the battle was tougher than expected in Bint Jbail, a mainly Shiite town with deep symbolism for Hezbollah. Nicknamed "the capital of the resistance," the town showed vehement support for the guerrillas during the 1982-2000 Israeli occupation of the south.

    Eighteen soldiers were killed in Bint Jbail — nine of them in Hezbollah ambushes Wednesday, the military's worst one-day loss in the campaign. Adam said dozens of guerrillas were killed in the week of fighting. But Hezbollah acknowledges the deaths of only 35 fighters in the entire 18 days of warfare.

    Nasrallah, the bearded Shiite Muslim cleric, wearing his trademark black headdress, gave his latest televised address a day after Hezbollah fired its deepest strike in to Israel yet, hitting outside the town of Afula.

    "No matter how long the war lasts, whatever sacrifices it takes, we are ready. We will not be broken or defeated," he said.

    "Many cities in the center (of Israel) will be targeted ... if the savage aggression continues on our country, people and villages."

    Despite its intense bombardment of Lebanon — and heavy ground fighting near the border — Israel has been unable to stop barrages of hundreds of Hezbollah rockets. Guerrillas fired about 90 rockets into Israel Saturday, lightly injuring five people.

    Throughout, Lebanese civilians have suffered the most from the fighting, which erupted after Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and killed one in a cross-border raid July 12.

    A strike outside the market town of Nabatiyeh crushed a house, killing a woman and her five children, and a man in a nearby house, Lebanese security officials said. Elsewhere, six bodies were dug from the rubble of a house destroyed Friday in the town of Ain Arab, they said.

    In the southern port city of Tyre, volunteers buried 31 victims of the bombardment in a mass grave. Among the line of plywood coffins was a tiny one holding the body of a one-day-old girl.

    At least 458 Lebanese have been killed in the fighting, according to a Health Ministry count Friday based on the number of bodies in hospitals, plus Saturday's deaths. Some estimates range as high as 600 dead, with many bodies buried in rubble.

    Thirty-three Israeli soldiers have died, and Hezbollah rocket attacks on northern Israel have killed 19 civilians, the Israeli army said.

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