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U.N. humanitarian chief condemns destruction of Beirut

BEIRUT, Lebanon—Israeli bombing in Lebanon on Sunday killed at least six civilians and three Hezbollah fighters, and Hezbollah fired rockets that killed two people in the Israeli city of Haifa.

In Beirut, U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland toured bombed-out areas of the Lebanese capital and called Israel's destruction in the city "a violation of humanitarian law." He said he saw "destruction, block after block, and mostly in residential areas."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice left Washington on Sunday for a brief visit to Israel, and then planned to go to the Palestinian headquarters in the West Bank and an international conference on the conflict in Rome.

Rice said a cease-fire was urgent, but that conditions for it must lead to a "sustainable" peace. Speaking with reporters on her Air Force jet, Rice said a lasting arrangement would have to disarm Hezbollah and allow Lebanon's weak government to extend its writ across the entire country.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy were in Israel on Sunday seeking an end of the fighting.

There was little optimism, however, that the two-week war in Lebanon would stop soon.

The war has made even factions in Lebanon that don't support Hezbollah increasingly angry at Israel. Israeli officials, meanwhile, indicated that they might accept a multinational peacekeeping force in Lebanon eventually, but that for now the fight would continue. The Israeli military seeks to cripple Hezbollah's militia so that it can no longer fire rockets from Lebanon into Israel.

Hezbollah operates in Lebanon as a political party and charitable organization, while its militia fights against Israel. Hezbollah sparked the clash on July 12 by capturing two Israeli soldiers and killing eight others in a cross-border assault.

"Hezbollah wanted to set the area in flames," said Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. She called the Lebanese government's inability to police the southern part of its country "unacceptable."

Palestinian political scientist Abed el-Majeed Sweilem said Israel was in a strong position as long as fighting continued. "If a cease-fire were to take place today, Israel would not have accomplished its stated goals and would look weak. Hezbollah might even look victorious to the Arab world. Israel will not allow that to happen. The fighting will continue," he said.

Israel on Sunday bombed Sidon, a port city that has been receiving thousands of refugees fleeing villages along the border with Israel and which has come under attack in recent days. Israeli aircraft also bombed a textile factory in al-Manara, near the Lebanon-Israel border, killing one person. A strike on a village near the port city of Tyre killed a boy, and missile hit a mini bus carrying people fleeing toward Tyre, killing three people.

A Lebanese photographer, Layal Nejim, 23, was killed when a missile struck her taxi in southern Lebanon.

Israeli ground forces, meanwhile, expanded efforts to drive Hezbollah out of southern Lebanon. After clearing the nearly deserted town of Maroun al-Ras of fierce resistance, Israeli artillery began shelling areas farther north. And while heavy caliber machine gun fire could be heard, there did not appear to be any return fire.

The fighting has killed an estimated 360 Lebanese and 36 Israelis. According to U.N. figures, 600,000 Lebanese, more than 15 percent of the population, have been forced to flee their homes.

Support for the attacks appeared strong in Israel. A couple dozen peace protesters on Sunday evening stood outside the Israeli parliament calling for an immediate cease-fire, but they didn't attract much attention.

In Beirut, Riad Khattar, 35, watched the news in his empty Internet cafe and lamented what he called an effort "to destroy a newborn Lebanon."

"If they keep targeting civilians like this, they're only hurting themselves," he said. "Even the Christians are now starting to support Hezbollah. This was not the fact before the war. By killing civilians, they are making Hezbollah stronger and stronger."

Others had a special wrath for Rice, whose visit comes just days after it was learned that Israel had requested that a shipment of precision-guided missiles it planned to buy from the United States be delivered more quickly than first planned. And with the United States apparently willing to stand by as Israel pushes for its military goals, Rice was not seen as a force for peace.

Rony Khoury, 23, said he'd like to give Rice a tour of his home, a home that now exists only on a grainy cell-phone video he shot as it was struck by an Israeli missile last week.

"If they didn't send all these weapons and money to Israel, then we wouldn't be living like this," said Khoury, a Christian.

Yossi Alpher, an Israeli expert on strategic issues, said he sees little in the current debate suggesting the war will end soon.

"This is taking longer than the original estimates, but the ground war could go on for quite some time," he said. "There will come a time when air and ground forces are creating less and less success, and then we'll start to hear serious talk about a cease-fire."

When that time comes, both Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Livni, the foreign minister, said that they would be willing to see a multinational force enter southern Lebanon to maintain a safe buffer.

"Our past experience with the U.N. was disappointing," Livni said. Israel's government would prefer NATO forces this time, she said.


(Dion Nissenbaum on the Israel-Lebanon border and McClatchy Newspapers special correspondent Cliff Churgin in Jerusalem contributed.)


(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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