- The Washington Times - Monday, July 24, 2006

JERUSALEM — President Bush yesterday ordered helicopters and ships to deliver $30 million in humanitarian aid to Lebanon, but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had little else to offer Lebanese leaders on the first stop of her first mission to reach a cease-fire in nearly two weeks of Israel-Hezbollah fighting.

“At the order of the president, humanitarian supplies will start arriving in Lebanon tomorrow by helicopter and by ship,” White House press secretary Tony Snow said yesterday at the White House. “We are working with Israel and Lebanon to open up humanitarian corridors.”

During Miss Rice’s five-hour surprise visit to Beirut, she met with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, who told her that his government is “looking to put an end to the war that is being inflicted on Lebanon,” the Associated Press reported.

The secretary of state later went to Israel for talks in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the West Bank city of Ramallah with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The start of U.S. diplomacy came as Israeli forces widened their ground war in southern Lebanon, engaging Hezbollah fighters in fierce clashes in the village of Bint Jbail.

At the start of a meeting with Lebanese parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Miss Rice said, “I am deeply concerned about the Lebanese people and what they are enduring. I am obviously concerned about the humanitarian situation.”

Miss Rice said before the trip that the United States would not intervene in the fighting to force a premature cease-fire that risks giving way to a new round of fighting. Washington has been criticized for not reining in Israeli attacks on Lebanon, which have resulted in close to 400 deaths, displaced more than a half-million civilians and caused billions in damage.

In Beirut, Lebanese Finance Minister Jihad Azour said his government would continue to try to negotiate a cease-fire with Israel through intermediaries — primarily the United States.

“We are encouraged that she started her Middle East trip in Lebanon,” Mr. Azour told a small group of reporters. He said that he sensed, based on talks with Mr. Siniora’s staff, that the meeting with Miss Rice went well, but others in the Lebanese political scene were less enthusiastic.

“She listened, but she said what she came to say and did not agree that a cease-fire was the most important thing,” said one Lebanese official, who was not in the meeting either. “It was not a long meeting, and they did not go into detail.”

In Washington, Mr. Snow said there was no reason to think that an immediate cease-fire would stop violence in the Mideast and that the world should confront the destabilizing force of Hezbollah and its practice of using the Lebanese people as “human shields.”

In Beirut, the U.N. humanitarian chief accused Hezbollah yesterday of “cowardly blending” in among Lebanese civilians and causing the deaths of hundreds during two weeks of cross-border violence with Israel.

The U.S. humanitarian aid will cover blankets, medical kits and sheet rolls.

Mr. Snow said the U.S. humanitarian aid is not designed to mute criticism of the United States in the region.

“It is a move that is designed in recognition of the fact that innocent men, women and children are being hurt,” he said. “And that is an awful thing.”

Both the U.S. and Israel have said they are open to the idea of creating a multinational force that would deploy in Lebanon to monitor a cease-fire. But no details have been confirmed regarding the size and the makeup of the force. The Israeli Ha’aretz newspaper said on its Web site that Mr. Berri, a Shi’ite close to Hezbollah, said the militia would not withdraw from southern Lebanon as part of a cease-fire.

In a statement delivered before the evening meeting in Jerusalem with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Miss Rice said the United States thinks any cease-fire will have to be based on “enduring principles.”

The Israeli foreign minister said that her government expects the international community to implement resolutions calling for the release of two soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah and the disarmament of the Iranian-backed militia.

“In Israel, there is an understanding of the justness of the battles we are fighting,” Mrs. Livni said.

Miss Rice is scheduled to meet with Mr. Olmert and Mr. Abbas today before traveling to Rome.

A small crowd of Hezbollah supporters assembled yesterday outside the Grand Serail, the building that houses the Lebanese prime minister’s offices in Beirut, vigorously protesting Miss Rice’s visit.

The group — chanting “Israel go, go” and “USA go, go” was originally directed to a parking lot away from the prime minister’s office until a Lebanese police officer stepped in and pointed them in the direction of the U.S. motorcade.

Miss Rice probably did not see the group.

The government “should not meet with her,” said Zenin Daan, a 20-year- old who says he came to the Serail after hearing about the Rice visit on television. “The United States wants to help Israel destroy this country, and we do not need diplomacy.”

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

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