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Rice hopeful of cease-fire 'this week'

From John King and Elise Labott
CNN

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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she believes a "comprehensive settlement" to the Mideast crisis can be reached this week, including a cease-fire and an international force to help the Lebanese army control southern Lebanon.

Rice read a statement to reporters Monday before departing Jerusalem to return to the United States.

"As I head back to Washington, I take with me an emerging consensus on what is necessary for both a cease-fire and a lasting settlement," Rice said. "I am convinced we can achieve both this week."

Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon have been fighting for nearly three weeks, with civilians on both sides bearing the brunt of the combat.

An Israeli airstrike that killed at least 60 people -- including many children -- in Qana, Lebanon, early Sunday interrupted Rice's plan to shuttle between Jerusalem and Beirut for talks to reach a settlement, but it gave Rice ammunition to push Israel to announce a 48-hour cessation of airstrikes. (Full story)

Despite the setback, Rice said "our work has prepared the way" for United Nations Security Council action this week. (Watch Rice speak of "an emerging consensus" -- 5:32)

"Based on what we have accomplished, and the urgency of the situation, we will call for the United Nations Security Council action this week on a comprehensive settlement that includes three parts: a cease-fire, the political principles that provide for a long-term settlement, and the authorization of an international force to support the Lebanese army in keeping the peace," Rice said.

Rice said all parties agreed that the Lebanese military "must be able to extend its authority over all its territory," particularly along the Israeli border.

She said there was "broad agreement" that armed groups should be banned in areas where the international force is deployed and an international embargo should be enforced except for the Lebanese army and the stabilization force to prevent resupplying of Hezbollah. Making reference to Security Council resolution 1559, which called for full Lebanese control over the country, Rice said that no foreign forces should be in the country and that the Lebanese army should disarm armed groups with the help of the international stabilization force.

Rice said the Lebanese army would deploy to the Blue Line which divides Israel and Lebanon, and that both sides would respect that border. The army would also police the border with Syria.

While its main role will be to help the Lebanese army, the force will also support humanitarian work and assist with the return of persons displaced by the fighting. Rice said the force would "help create a stable and secure environment, especially in southern Lebanon" so that resolution 1559 can be implemented and Lebanon can exert full control over the country.

But Rice was vague about the political framework by which a comprehensive settlement could be reached.

Rice also failed to provide details on the thorny issues of sequencing of the various elements of the agreement and the composition and mandate of the international force. The U.S. 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.

A senior administration official traveling with Rice said that the cease-fire, political agreement and deployment of the stabilization force should happen "near simultaneously" once the United Nations passes the resolution spelling out the deal.

Rice welcomed Israel's decision to suspend aerial strikes over Lebanon for 48 hours while it investigates Sunday's attack in Qana and a 24-hour period of safe passage that Israel agreed to in order to help civilians escape the violence. One of her senior aides said that Rice had been pushing the idea before the attack in Qana, but the tragedy and the world outcry "made the need to take action irresistible."

But Rice called the Israeli agreements "temporary measures" and that the international community wants an "urgent and more permanent end to this violence."

"To make a cease-fire more than words alone the international community must be prepared to support and sustain it.," Rice said. "I call on my international partners to do so this week in New York."

On Thursday, Rice will attend a meeting of ministers of the U.N. Security Council where they will seek to pass the resolution to end the conflict.

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