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U.S. To Take Broader Mideast Role

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will lay out U.S. plans Friday for a diplomatic solution to the Israeli-Hezbollah fighting, and she and President Bush will meet with Saudi Arabian officials Sunday to discuss it.

Rice departs later Sunday for the Mideast, and will carry the U.S. strategy for ending the 10-day-old warfare and establishing stability in southern Lebanon, a senior administration official said.

The secretary was expected to detail her itinerary and agenda in Washington later Friday, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because Rice had not yet made her plans public.

The plans emerged following two days of meetings in New York with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and envoys he sent to the region this week. Although Annan called Thursday for an immediate cease-fire, that is opposed by the United States until conditions are right, CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante reports. Around the world this is seen as the U.S. giving Israel a "green-light" to degrade the miltary capability of Hezbollah, Plante notes.

The United States has resisted international pressure to lean on its ally Israel to halt the fighting. Rice will likely try to point the way to a relatively quick cease-fire, but not an immediate one. She is expected in Israel on Tuesday, Israeli officials said on condition of anonymity because the schedule was not yet confirmed.

Rice is also expected to meet with European foreign ministers and representatives from Arab nations that have been unusually critical of Hezbollah. That meeting would take place somewhere in the Mideast, but the location is not set.

Rice's mission would be the first U.S. diplomatic effort on the ground since the Israeli onslaught against Lebanon began.

In other recent developments:

  • The Israeli army said Friday that it has called up more reserve troops to augment its current forces in northern Israel, widening speculation that a major ground offensive against Lebanon has moved beyond the planning stage. The army said that several hundred, if not thousands, of soldiers were being told to gather for deployment northward.
  • Ships lined up at Beirut's port as a massive evacuation effort to pull out Americans and other foreigners desperate to flee. U.S. officials said more than 8,000 of the roughly 25,000 Americans who live or work in Lebanon will be evacuated by the weekend.
  • A prominent Syrian Islamic cleric warned Friday that the United Nations was on a collision course with Islam and assailed Arab leaders for their response to the crisis in Lebanon. In a fiery sermon at this city's Abu Al Nour mosque, Sheik Salah Keftaro said both the U.N. Security Council and the international community were attempting to "undermine our doctrine, occupy our lands and kill our people with the most sophisticated U.S. weapons."
  • Australia on Friday pledged $1.9 million in humanitarian aid to victims of the bloody conflict between Israel and Lebanon. "The Australian assistance will enable the Lebanon Red Cross Society to meet the immediate needs of thousands of affected civilians with food and water, medical supplies, shelter and hygiene kits," Ausaid said in a statement.
  • In Gaza, Israeli forces pulled out of a refugee camp, residents said, and the military confirmed that a two-day sweep was completed. In two days of battles in the Mughazi camp, Israeli forces killed at least 14 people, most of them militants. Residents said they left behind considerable destruction, tearing up water pipes and electricity wires.

  • For the first time since 1984, U.S. Marines hit the beaches in Beirut Thursday to help evacuate thousands of fleeing Americans. The U.S. Embassy hoped to move twice as many people Thursday as it did Wednesday and then double again the number Friday, reports CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer.

    "We are all very concerned about the situation in the Middle East, and want to find a way forward that will contribute to a stable and democratic and peaceful Middle East," Rice said Friday as she met a three-member U.N. team.

    The Rice initiative likely would be designed to give the United States a major role in brokering peace there. She is not expected to try to get a signed deal during her brief visit, however, and she risks laying out the U.S. goals only to have either side refuse to bargain.

    Earlier, White House press secretary Tony Snow said the administration is working hard to end violence in the Mideast and that criticism of its measured response is coming from people who want "egg-timer diplomacy."

    "Nobody has been more active than we have," he said.

    "In the long run, you want to make sure you get a situation where the Israelis are in a position to make peace in Palestine and everybody in the neighborhood is in a position to get along better," Snow added on CBS News' The Early Show.

    Meanwhile, Israeli troops and tanks massed on Lebanon's border on Friday and the army's chief of staff said the forces will conduct limited ground operations in Lebanon, if necessary.

    An Israeli official said the nation did not want to see a "protracted or messy" ground operation, but that its forces would continue to make incursions into southern Lebanon near the border.

    The official, Daniel Ayalon, Israel's ambassador to Washington, told The Associated Press that Israel would not rule out an eventual international stabilization force. But he said Israel was first determined to take out Hezbollah's command and control centers and weapons stockpiles.

    At least 335 people have been killed in Lebanon in the Israeli campaign, according to the Lebanese health minister. Thirty-four Israelis also have been killed, including 19 soldiers.

    In a 10th day of conflict, Hezbollah militants fired at least 11 rockets at Israel's port city of Haifa, wounding five people, CBS News correspondent Lee Cowan reports. And Israeli warplanes pounded Lebanon's main road link to Syria, collapsing part of Lebanon's longest bridge. A U.N.-run observation post near the border was hit, but no one was hurt.

    Israeli warplanes battered south Lebanon, particularly a border region where Israeli soldiers and guerrillas fought pitched battles the evening before, followed by smaller clashes Friday.

    A house in the nearby village of Aitaroun was flattened, with 10 people believed inside, but rescue workers could not reach it because of artillery shelling, security officials said.

    A U.N. observation post just inside Israel also was struck in the crossfire between Israeli and Hezbollah forces, but nobody was injured as the Ghanian troops manning the post were inside bomb shelters at the time.

    An Israeli military radio station warned residents of 12 border villages in southern Lebanon to leave before 2 p.m. Friday. It was the latest warning from the Al-Mashriq station, which has said Israeli forces would "act immediately" to halt Hezbollah rocket fire.

    Israel invaded Lebanon in June 1982 when its forces seized parts of Beirut. It eventually carved out a buffer zone that stopped at the Litani. That zone was reduced gradually but the Israeli presence lasted for 18 years until 2000, when it withdrew its troops completely from the country.

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