Lebanon tells Rice to stay away

Lebanon has cancelled a visit by Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, following an Israeli air raid in southern Lebanon which killed at least 50 people.

    Rice said she was "deeply saddened" by the bombing

    Emile Lahoud, the Lebanese president, told Aljazeera on Sunday that the air attack in Qana was a "disgrace" and that there was no chance of holding peace talks until a ceasefire was agreed.


    "Israel's leaders think of nothing but destruction, they do not think of peace," he said, adding that the Lebanese cabinet would discuss whether to ask the United Nations Security Council to call for a ceasefire.


    Fuad Siniora, the Lebanese prime minister, said that the bombing had targeted an innocent village and was an Israeli "war crime".


    "There is no place on this sad morning for any discussion other than an immediate and unconditional ceasefire as well as an international investigation into the Israeli massacres in Lebanon now," Siniora said at a press conference.

    Rice, who said she was "deeply saddened" Qana bombing, is currently in Israel but had been expected to visit Beirut during her Middle East trip to press for talks between leaders from Israel and Lebanon.


    'Barbaric aggression'


    The US has faced mounting criticism from around the world for not calling for an immediate ceasefire in southern Lebanon and for apparently giving Israel a green light to press on with its offensive.


    Up to 600 Lebanese are thought to have died in the Israeli offensive, while 51 Israelis have been killed in Hezbollah rocket attacks.


    Rice's visit to Jerusalem came as France draws up a draft United

    Nations Security Council resolution that would call for an immediate truce between Israel and Hezbollah, the Shia group based in southern Lebanon, and prepare for a peace mission.


    Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's leader, has dismissed Rice's visit, saying that the group would attack cities in central Israel "if the barbaric aggression on our country and people continues".


    Meanwhile, Israeli defence sources told Israel's Haaretz newspaper on Sunday that the Israeli army's general staff had received orders to accelerate its offensive on Hezbollah before the declaration of any ceasefire.


    Buffer zone


    A draft resolution prepared by France proposes deploying up to 20,000 peacekeepers along Lebanon's borders with Israel and Syria.


    The draft resolution urges countries
    provide humanitarian aid

    The proposal stresses the need for "a permanent ceasefire and a lasting solution to the current crisis between Israel and Lebanon" while addressing "the root causes that have given rise to the current crisis".

    The conditions for a permanent ceasefire include a buffer zone stretching from the Blue Line - the UN-demarcated boundary that Israel withdrew behind in 2000 - to the Litani River, which was the northern border of Israel's occupation of Lebanon in 1982.

    The buffer zone would be "free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Lebanese armed and security forces and of UN-mandated international forces", the draft says.


    Humanitarian aid


    Other conditions include the release of two Israeli soldiers whose abduction by Hezbollah prompted Israel's military campaign, and the implementation of Security Council resolution 1559. This demands that Hezbollah be disarmed and that Lebanon extends its control to its southern border with Israel, where Hezbollah has de facto control.


    Lebanon must also firm up its border "especially in those areas where the border is disputed or uncertain, including in the Shebaa Farms area", the draft is reported to say.


    Israel seized the Shebaa farms in the 1967 war and still occupies the area. Lebanon claims the region but the UN says it is Syrian, and Syria and Israel should negotiate its fate.


    Finally, the draft calls for the international community to give financial and humanitarian aid to Lebanon.


    Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, is to preside over a meeting on Monday of possible troop contributors, including the 25-member European Union, Turkey and other nations currently contributing to a UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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