Last Updated: 9/12/06
Middle East Crisis

Rice Makes Unannounced Visit to Beirut

By Robin Wright and Fred Barbash
Washington Post
July 24, 2006

Beirut- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made an unannounced stop in Beirut Monday in an effort to shore up Lebanon's fragile government, beleaguered by nearly two weeks of relentless bombing raids that have wrecked much of the country's infrastructure and sent thousands of Lebanese citizens fleeing for their lives.

After two hours of talks with Lebanon's Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and then a meeting with the country's top Shiite politician, Nabih Berri, Rice said she was "deeply concerned about the Lebanese people and what they are enduring. We are concerned about the humanitarian situation," she said.

Because the Israeli raids have damaged Beirut's airport, Rice's official plane landed in Cyprus and she helicoptered with aides and reporters from there to Beirut, reversing the journey made by thousands of Americans who have fled Lebanon during the past 10 days.

The visit, which Rice said was requested personally by President Bush, is designed in part to show support for Lebanon's government, the first anti-Syrian regime in years, and also to determine what Lebanon needs to support itself and possibly get control over its southern region, now used by Hezbollah to fire rockets into Israel.

"If they could control the country, we would not be in this situation. The status quo has never been stable," said a senior official accompanying Rice.

Siniora greeted Rice with a kiss on both cheeks. Rice told him, "Thank you for your courage and steadfastness."

He told Rice he was happy to have her in Lebanon, adding his desire to "put an end to the war that is being inflicted on Lebanon."

After meeting Berri, speaker of the parliament, Rice departed for a meeting with leaders of Lebanon's "cedar revolution," who led the street protests sparked by the car-bomb assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005, which many Lebanese have blamed on neighboring Syria and which led to the withdrawal of Syrian military forces after 30 years in Lebanon.

Later Monday, she is scheduled to return to Cyprus and fly, as originally announced, to Israel.

The Bush administration has been under increasing pressure from Arab governments calling for an immediate cease-fire as day-by-day Israel's assault has contributed to mounting civilian casualties and chaos in Lebanon.

On Sunday, the Saudi foreign minister personally urged President Bush to intervene to stop the violence in Lebanon, the most direct sign of mounting frustration among key Arab states with what they see as a hands-off U.S. posture toward Israeli strikes against Hezbollah.

On the flight from Washington, Rice told reporters that she wanted an "urgent cease-fire" but that it had to be one that lasted and could not spark renewed crisis a few weeks down the road.

Monday, Rice dismissed calls for the United States to engage with Syria in order to resolve the current crisis, noting that her predecessor, Colin L. Powell, had done that only to be rebuffed.

As Rice rode through the streets of Beirut under heavy security, rockets fired by Hezzbollah guerrillas in Lebanon landed in Haifa and elsewhere in Israel, wounding at least four people, rescue services told the Reuters news agency.

Three people were wounded in the northern Israeli town of Tiberias, where eight rockets landed, Reuters said. And at least one person was wounded in the Israeli border village of Shlomi.

Also Monday, an Israeli attack helicopter crashed on its way back from a mission in Lebanon, according to a government spokesman. The fate of the two men on board was unknown.

Fierce fighting raged as Israeli troops moved deeper into Lebanon to besiege Bint Jbail, dubbed the "capital of the resistance" because of its intense support of Hezbollah during Israel's 1982-2000 occupation of the south, wire services said.

Israeli artillery barrages sent plumes of smoke into the air, and the military said soldiers took control of the area around Bint Jbail but did not capture the town, about 2 1/2 miles from the border.

Ten Israeli soldiers were wounded in the attack, the military said.

In Tehran Monday, the Associated Press reported, Hezbollah's representative in Iran struck a defiant tone, warning that his Islamic militant group plans to widen its attacks on Israel until "no place" is safe for Israelis.

Hossein Safiadeen also reinforced earlier threats by Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah to widen the scope of attacks, which have included unprecedented missile strikes deep into northern Israel.

"We are going to make Israel not safe for Israelis. There will be no place they are safe," Safiadeen told a conference that included the Tehran-based representative of the Palestinian group Hamas and the ambassadors from Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian Authority.

"You will see a new Middle East in the way of Hezbollah and Islam, not in the way of Rice and Israel," he said, according to AP.

Fred Barbash reported from Washington. Jonathan Finer contributed to this story from Israel .

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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