Roundup: Israel-Lebanon violence escalating, U.S. dismisses cease-fire as unrealistic

Israeli warplanes struck Lebanon overnight in an escalating war against Hezbollah militia, now in its tenth day, with the armed group insisting the two Israeli soldiers would only be released in exchange for Hezbollah prisoners held by Israel.

Four Israeli troops were killed in fierce battles with Hezbollah guerrillas, who lost two of its fighters, inside Lebanon on Thursday.

With concerns mounting over the humanitarian crisis, the international community, represented by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, has called for an immediate halt to the violence between Israel and Lebanon.

Despite the worldwide outcries for an immediate end to the Mideast conflicts, the United States was holding a position against the cease-fire with Hezbollah, dismissing the deal as unrealistic.

"I think it's a very fundamental question how a terrorist group agrees to a cease-fire," said John Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the UN.

"Who makes the commitments that the terrorist group will abide by a cease-fire? What does a terrorist group think a cease-fire is?" he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was to visit the Middle East as early as next week to seek to calm the violence, said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack on Thursday, but the "itinerary, timing and all the stops" remained undecided.

Rice would like to go to the Middle East region and seek to establish a buffer zone in southern Lebanon, said a report by the New York Times on Wednesday.

But she was waiting at least a few more days before wading into the conflict, in part to give Israel more time to weaken Hezbollah forces, it said.

Earlier on the sidelines of the G8 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, U.S. President George W. Bush's remarks, overheard by the audience, displayed the U.S. stance toward the Israel-Lebanon conflict.

Bush told British Prime Minister Tony Blair that Hezbollah must "stop doing this shit" -- carrying out the attacks on Israel -- for the violence to end.

And the Bush administration has repeatedly said that a temporary cease-fire would give Hezbollah the time to regroup and mount more fierce attacks against Israel.

On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 410-8 to support Israel in its confrontation with Hezbollah guerrillas.

With Washington as its ally, Israeli officials said that Israel must consider the potential threat posed by Hezbollah militia, who had control of the southern parts of Lebanon, and its offensive must go on.

Warning his Jewish ally against civilian casualties, the Bush administration is apparently trying to cushion international pressure for as long as possible.

Washington had a tremendous interest in trying to bring the fighting to an end as soon as possible, Scott Lasensky, an analyst from the United States Institute of Peace, told media.

But, he added, the longer the fighting went on, the worse the position of the moderates all over the region was.

The Israeli offensive against Lebanon continued into its tenth day on Friday, with a total of more than 300 casualties, most of them Lebanese civilians, increasing the risk of a humanitarian catastrophe.

Israel is maintaining its pressure in a bid to punish the Hezbollah militants for rocket attacks on targets inside Israel and for the abduction of two Israeli soldiers last week.

Source: Xinhua



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