- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 25, 2006

JERUSALEM — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she wants to find an “urgent” resolution to two weeks of hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel, but departed yesterday after a two-day trip in the Middle East that seems to have made little headway in calming the fighting.

Miss Rice divided her day between meetings in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and a trip to the West Bank city of Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Outside the headquarters compound in Ramallah, several hundred protesters apparently brought by Hamas praised Hezbollah while chanting, “Rice out.”

Miss Rice tried to lower expectations for the trip as early as last week by saying the United States would not impose a hasty cease-fire that is liable to dissolve into a new round of violence. At a stop in Lebanon, she spoke of the need for agreement on “enduring principles” to bolster a cessation of hostilities.

“It is time for a new Middle East,” Miss Rice said at the meeting with Mr. Olmert. “It is time to say to those that don’t want a different kind of Middle East that we will prevail. They will not.”

Miss Rice is expected to continue to discuss a diplomatic solution at a conference in Rome today, and will continue on to Asia. The U.S. Embassy has prepared for another stop in Israel by the secretary of state.

Both the United States and Israel favor establishment of a multinational force to patrol Lebanon, but few details have been given about the size, makeup and mandate of the force.

In lieu of tangible progress toward a cease-fire, U.S. officials highlighted humanitarian gestures for civilians embroiled in the conflict.

Improving conditions in a country where many are without electricity and water figured as a major issue for Miss Rice and Mr. Olmert.

After the two-hour meeting, Mr. Olmert said Israel would open up air and land routes into Lebanon to allow aid to enter the country.

Airplanes carrying humanitarian assistance will be allowed to land at the Beirut airport after coordination with Israel. The airport has been shut down since Israeli jets bombed the runway two weeks ago.

Miss Rice’s trip to Israel and the West Bank is the first since Hamas took power. Her visit to Mr. Abbas’ Ramallah headquarters was intended to demonstrate that the Palestinian Authority president remains an important world leader in U.S. estimation, at a time when Palestinians feel upstaged by Hezbollah.

“We need to focus on what’s happening” in the Palestinian territories, Miss Rice said. “It’s important to end the Gaza crisis.”

The ruling Hamas party has been holding a 19-year-old Israeli soldier in the Gaza Strip since June.

Mr. Abbas thanked Miss Rice and called for a cease-fire in hostilities between the Israeli army and Palestinian militants. “Violence is the natural result of the absence of peace,” he said.

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