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Lebanon cancels talks with Rice

Secretary returning to U.S. to work on 'urgent' U.N. resolution
Condoleezza Rice, right, greets Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni before talks on Sunday in Jerusalem.


JERUSALEM (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice canceled a trip to Lebanon and plans to leave Jerusalem for Washington on Monday, senior State Department officials said.

The Lebanese government called off talks with the United States in the wake of an Israeli airstrike on Qana, Lebanon, that killed dozens of civilians, many of them children.

Israel later said it had halted airstrikes on southern Lebanon for 48 hours to investigate the raid and to give residents a chance to leave safely.

Rice will return to Washington to work on a draft U.N. resolution aimed at bringing a quick halt to the Mideast crisis, the officials said.

She plans to meet later this week with fellow members of the U.N. Security Council in hopes of passing a resolution that will detail an agreement for a cease-fire to end the violence.

In an emergency session late Sunday, the Council issued a statement that called for an end to the fighting -- but not the immediate cessation of violence sought by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and others. (Full story)

Rice said Sunday she was "deeply saddened" by the deaths in Qana and was "pushing for an urgent end" to the fighting. (Watch why Qana residents said they couldn't get out of harm's way [viewer discretion advised] -- 1:52)

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora decided to suspend diplomatic talks after the airstrike, which Lebanese officials said killed at least 60 civilians, many of them children. (Full story)

"There is no place on this sad morning for any discussion other than an immediate and unconditional cease-fire as well as an international investigation into the Israeli massacres," Siniora said in a public address to the nation.

The Israel Defense Forces said that residents of Qana had been warned to leave by radio announcements and by air-leaflets because it was a combat area.

"The building itself was not targeted," Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisen told CNN. "This was a mistake, and we will have a full investigation."

U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said the two-day bombing halt should "significantly speed and improve the flow of humanitarian aid."

Israeli officials also agreed to work with U.N. officials to allow a 24-hour period of safe passage for residents of southern Lebanon to leave, he said.

A senior State Department official said Rice had been pressing the Israelis to halt air attacks on Lebanon for some time, and called the decision "a significant step."

"Obviously the decision was taken in light of the steadily deteriorating humanitarian situation," the official said.

Rice: Decisive action possible

Before the Qana airstrike, U.S. officials had a political framework set and a time frame for moving toward a possible cessation of violence, a senior administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of negotiations.

While Rice held to the U.S. position that any cease-fire must be lasting and sustainable -- meaning it had to include efforts to prevent future Hezbollah attacks against Israel -- she understands the urgency for a cease-fire, the official said.

The Qana bombing gave the United States a stronger case to push Israel to halt military strikes, the official said, adding, "They gave us ammunition by using theirs."

The official said the United States believes the basis exists for a Security Council resolution that could provide for a cease-fire this week.

Rice said work done during her trip to the Mideast -- including conversations with Israeli and Lebanese officials -- will "make it possible for the U.N. Security Council resolution to take decisive action for a cease-fire as soon as possible."

Rice told reporters in Jerusalem, where she was meeting with Israeli leaders, that she had a phone call with an "emotional" Siniora on Sunday and expressed her condolences about the tragedy.

She said she would continue to meet with Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, "as we work to bring in place the elements necessary to put an end to the conflict."

Rice heard about the attack during a meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz, in which she emphasized the need to avoid civilian casualties.

"I'm certainly going to continue to press the case that there be extraordinary care taken during military operations to avoid civilian casualties," she said. "We are also pushing for an urgent end to the current hostilities, but the views of the parties on how to achieve this are different."

Attack disrupts diplomacy

The Qana attack threw into turmoil Rice's sensitive diplomatic mission to merge various proposals for ending the fighting into a comprehensive package agreed to by Israel and Lebanon and enshrined in a United Nations resolution.

U.S. and diplomatic sources said agreement had been reached on the political concessions Israel and Lebanon would offer to reach a deal, but that emphasis now focused on negotiating the timing of a cease-fire.

Rice met Saturday night with Olmert during her second visit to Jerusalem this week.

Israel has called for an international force to police a buffer zone just north of the border with Lebanon to ensure that Hezbollah cannot use the southern part of the country to launch rocket attacks.

A U.S.-endorsed plan would require Lebanon to deploy its army with the help of an international peacekeeping force and agree to call for Hezbollah to disarm, with its military wing ultimately integrating into the Lebanese army. This would all need to happen before an official cease-fire could be declared.

In return, Israel would resolve the issue of the disputed Shebaa Farms territory with Lebanon. Hezbollah has said it will not disarm until Israeli troops leave the disputed region near the Syrian border, which the United Nations recognizes as Syrian territory.

The U.S. plan is similar to one proposed this week by Siniora and endorsed Friday by his Cabinet, including its Hezbollah ministers. Siniora's proposal includes strengthening the existing United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon in south Lebanon and deploying the Lebanese army to the area.

Both plans call for Israel to agree on a prisoner exchange for the release of the two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah and to resolve the Shebaa Farms issue.

But two major sticking points remain. Lebanon and Arab and European states say a cease-fire must take place before the rest of the deal can be implemented. But the United States and Israel insist the force must be in place, the Lebanese army must be deployed and efforts must be under way to disarm Hezbollah before an official cease-fire can be declared.

The composition and mandate of the international force is also a thorny issue. The United States and Israel would prefer a European force, while Lebanon wants to expand the existing UNIFIL force. And it remains unclear whether the force would have the authority to fight against Hezbollah.

Israel and Hezbollah have been trading attacks since July 12, when Hezbollah captured the two Israeli soldiers and killed three others in a cross-border raid from Lebanon.

CNN's John King and Elise Labott contributed to this report.

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