- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 20, 2006

The United Nations yesterday outlined the first detailed proposal for a political solution to the crisis in Lebanon as Secretary-General Kofi Annan condemned Israel’s “excessive use of force” that is doing “little or nothing to decrease popular support for Hezbollah.”

The United States disagreed with the criticism of Israel but expressed interest in the proposal, which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice began discussing with Mr. Annan over dinner in New York last night.

The State Department said Miss Rice would travel to the Middle East “as early as next week” to help “create the political context” in which a lasting end to the violence can be achieved.

Today, the secretary is scheduled to meet with Mr. Annan’s three envoys who were in Lebanon earlier this week.

Mr. Annan briefed the Security Council yesterday on his team’s mission, saying that the first step of a solution should be for the two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah last week to be handed over to the Lebanese government under the auspices of the Red Cross and then sent back to Israel.

“An expanded peacekeeping force” on the Lebanese side of the border “would help stabilize the situation, working with the Lebanese government to help strengthen its army and deploy it fully throughout the area,” Mr. Annan said.

“A mechanism would be established, composed of key regional and international actors, to monitor and guarantee the implementation of all aspects of the agreement,” he said.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said “a growing international consensus” is being built “to address the root causes of the violence.” But on Israel, the United States appeared to be at odds with most of the international reaction to the bombing of Lebanon.

Mr. Annan, acknowledging that Israel has the right to defend itself, said “Hezbollah’s provocative attack on July 12 was the trigger for this crisis” and the militant group’s actions “hold an entire nation hostage.”

However, Israel’s operation has “hurt and killed Lebanese civilians and military personnel and caused great damage to infrastructure. … The excessive use of force is to be condemned,” Mr. Annan said.

“Whatever damage Israel’s operations may be doing to Hezbollah’s military capabilities, they are doing little or nothing to decrease popular support for Hezbollah in Lebanon or the region, but are doing a great deal to weaken the government of Lebanon,” he said.

Mr. Annan said Israeli officials had indicated to the U.N. team that the operation is not approaching the achievement of its objective.

“Israel has confirmed that its operation in Lebanon has wider and more far-reaching goals than the return of its captured soldiers, and that its aim is to end the threat posed by Hezbollah,” he said.

Lebanese Foreign Ministry official Nouhad Mahmoud praised Mr. Annan’s remarks as “the voice of reason in his call for a cessation of hostilities and the urgency of humanitarian aid to the suffering of the people of Lebanon.”

But Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said Mr. Annan was “wrong” and that Israel’s response “is appropriate under the circumstances.”

The United States has been criticized for being the only Western country not to call for an immediate cease-fire.

“We’d love to have a cease-fire,” said White House spokesman Tony Snow. “But Hezbollah has to be part of it. And at this point, there’s no indication that Hezbollah intends to lay down arms.”

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