- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2006

MIAMI — A cease-fire and a long-term solution to the Middle East crisis could be reached “this week,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday. But President Bush was less optimistic, telling hundreds of Coast Guard members that “Israel is exercising its right to defend itself.”

But despite an international outcry over an air strike on Sunday that killed 54 civilians, most of them children, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert dismissed any cease-fire.

Mr. Olmert, in apologizing yesterday for the air strike on the Lebanese town of Qana, said, “There is no cease-fire, there will be no cease-fire.”

Early today, Israel’s Security Cabinet approved widening the ground offensive, a participant said, and rejected a cease-fire until an international force is in place in southern Lebanon. The participant said Israel’s air strikes would resume “in full force” after a 48-hour suspension expires tonight.

Yesterday, Syrian President Bashar Assad called on his army “to intensify efforts in training and to work for more preparations and raise readiness” to cope with “regional challenges,” saying he was determined to support Hezbollah.

Miss Rice, forced to cancel scheduled meetings with Lebanese leaders in Beirut after the Israeli attack, returned to Washington yesterday with what she said was a plan to end the violence that has left nearly 1,000 dead in the region.

“As I head back to Washington, I take with me an emerging consensus on what is necessary for both an urgent cease-fire and a lasting settlement,” she said hours before leaving Israel. “I am convinced we can achieve both this week.”

The president, making a two-day stop in Miami to meet with community leaders and dine with former Miami Dolphins pro football players, left the optimism to his secretary of state. In a speech at the Port of Miami, he said the United States is “urgently” working to resolve the crisis in the Middle East. But he insisted anew that any cease-fire must be part of a broad agreement to establish “a long-lasting peace, one that is sustainable.”

Calling the current crisis “part of a larger struggle between the forces of freedom and the forces of terror in the Middle East,” Mr. Bush said the deteriorating situation there cannot be ignored.

“For decades, the status quo in the Middle East permitted tyranny and terror to thrive. And as we saw on September the 11th, the status quo in the Middle East led to death and destruction in the United States, and it had to change. So America is opposing the forces of terror and promoting the cause of democracy across the broader Middle East,” Mr. Bush said.

Despite Israel’s missile attack that killed nearly 60 Lebanese, mostly women and children, the president laid the blame for the latest regional unrest on a terrorist group financed by Iran and Syria.

“As we work with friends and allies, it’s important to remember this crisis began with Hezbollah’s unprovoked attacks against Israel. Israel is exercising its right to defend itself,” Mr. Bush said, again resisting calls for an immediate cease-fire.

Mr. Bush ripped Syria and Iran for providing Hezbollah’s ability to make war in the region.

“Iran must end its financial support and supply of weapons to terrorist groups like Hezbollah. Syria must end its support for terror and respect the sovereignty of Lebanon,” the president said in a speech at the Port of Miami, where he also touted the economy and pressed Congress to move on his immigration proposal.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Bush said after a breakfast meeting with Cuban-American business leaders at a Miami restaurant that he hopes to find a “way forward in the [United Nations] Security Council later this week.”

“I assured the people here that we will work toward a plan at the United Nations Security Council that addresses the root causes of the problem, so that whatever comes out of the Security Council will be able to last and that the people of Lebanon and Israel will be able to remain in peace,” he said. “That’s what we want.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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