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Rice Meets Olmert, No Sign of Ceasefire
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Israel agreed yesterday to allow aid airlifts to Lebanon but said it was determined to pursue a war against Hezbollah despite a heavy civilian death toll.


After meeting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said both agreed that disarming Hezbollah and deploying an international force in its place in southern Lebanon were key to resolving the two-week-long crisis.


Israel said it would hold a "security strip" inside southern Lebanon until that force arrived.


The war will take center stage at an international conference in Rome today where Arab and some European nations are expected to call for an immediate ceasefire over Washington's objections. Rice will attend the meeting.


On the battlefield, Israeli troops and tanks fought Hezbollah inside the guerrilla stronghold town of Bint Jbeil in southern Lebanon. Israel said it killed up to 30 fighters.


Israeli warplanes bombarded Hezbollah's Beirut stronghold and launched 100 strikes across south Lebanon. One attack killed a family of seven, Lebanese security sources said. Hezbollah rockets killed a 15-year-old girl in an Arab Israeli town in the Galilee, medics said. A total of 411 people in Lebanon and 42 Israelis have been killed in the conflict.


Rice, who spelled out Washington's terms for a truce to Lebanese leaders during a visit to bomb-battered Beirut Monday, said it was time for a "new Middle East."


"A durable solution will be one that strengthens the forces of peace and democracy in the region," Rice said alongside Olmert.


Amid mounting international concern at civilian casualties and the plight of people displaced in Lebanon, Olmert said Israel would allow aid airlifts to reach the country.


Israel imposed an air and sea blockade and bombed Beirut airport runways after Hezbollah killed eight of its soldiers and abducted two others in a July 12 cross-border raid.


Lebanon says Israel's bombardment has displaced a fifth of its population. Most of its dead are civilians.


"The prime minister said Israel will allow, with advance coordination, for planes carrying humanitarian aid to land at Beirut airport," Olmert's office said.


UN humanitarian agencies said they were still largely blocked from bringing relief supplies into Lebanon and from getting injured and very sick people to hospitals.


Olmert said Israel had to press on with its offensive as Hezbollah rockets rained on northern Israel.


But Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah said the operations could ignite a wider war in the Middle East.


Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said the main objective of the Rome meeting would be to secure a ceasefire, despite Washington and Israel's belief it can only lay the groundwork.


Rice has made clear she is not seeking a quick ceasefire and that any solution should address the root causes of the conflict for which Washington and Israel blame Hezbollah and its backers in Iran and Syria.


(China Daily July 26, 2006)


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