JERUSALEM—Diplomats warned Tuesday that it could take weeks to bring an end to the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants, which already has claimed more than 275 lives.
Israeli air strikes killed at least two dozen more people, most of them civilians, in Lebanon, and a Hezbollah rocket, one of a dozen fired Tuesday, killed one Israeli. But the number of Hezbollah attacks has dropped, and Israeli military leaders claimed that they'd severely damaged Hezbollah's ability to respond.
Lebanese officials said Israeli planes hit an army base outside Beirut, killing at least 11 soldiers. The Israeli military said it's not targeting the Lebanese military—Israel has demanded that the Lebanese military crack down on Hezbollah—and is looking into the incident.
United Nations emissaries met with Israeli officials, but there was no sign of a quick agreement. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni called the talks a "long-range" solution that would in no way curtail Israel's ongoing military campaign to rout Hezbollah in Lebanon.
"We are talking now in terms of ideas, not in terms of concrete suggestions," Livni said.
The U.N. group's meetings in Israel marked the second day of diplomatic activity aimed at stopping the fighting. On Monday, the group met with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora in Beirut.
The Israeli ambassador to the United Nations said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to travel to the region on Friday, but there was noconfirmation from the State Department, which had said previously that Rice was considering such a trip.
In Washington, White House officials defended the Bush administration's position on the conflict. White House spokesman Tony Snow said officials had been engaged in efforts to resolve the conflict that were directed at persuading Syria and Iran to bring their influence to bear on Hezbollah.
"The United States actually has been in the lead of the diplomatic efforts, issuing repeated calls for restraint, but at the same time, putting together an international consensus that—we've got to remember who is responsible for this: Hezbollah," Snow said.
American leverage is limited, however, because the Bush administration supports Israel's right to retaliate against terrorist attacks and because the U.S. now has few contacts in Syria or Iran. The administration has tried to isolate both regimes because of their support for terrorist groups.
Snow said Bush had spoken with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt and that Rice had spoken "multiple times" with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He denied that Israel and the United States had cooperated on military aspects of the fighting.
In the week since fighting broke out July 12, after Hezbollah militants from southern Lebanon killed three Israeli soldiers and captured two in a cross-border raid, Israeli jets have flown more than 2,000 missions, hitting the Beirut airport, Hezbollah headquarters, key bridges and dozens of other targets. At least 200 civilians have been killed.
Hezbollah has fired more than 700 rockets into Israel, killing 13 Israelis, including Tuesday's victim, who died in the city of Nahariya. The militants surprised the Israelis by using more advanced rockets that allowed them to hit Israel's northern port city of Haifa, about 22 miles from the Lebanese border, for the first time.
Hezbollah has demanded that Israel exchange prisoners it's holding in return for the two captured soldiers, but Olmert rejected that. Israel has called for the Lebanese government to disarm Hezbollah and place its own troops in southern Lebanon.
Livni said Israel might accept an international force peacekeeping force on the border, an idea originally rejected by Israeli officials who pointed out that the current U.N. force there hadn't stopped Hezbollah's attack. She said it was "too early to tell" if an international force would be acceptable.
Livni's aides suggested that Israel might be open to having international forces there to augment the still-weak Lebanese military. "Israel wants effective forces on one hand, but yet to reach a point in the future in which it will be the Lebanese army on the entire" border, Livni said.
She also said that Israel's military campaign will not end until Hezbollah rocket attacks stop, the group frees the two Israeli soldiers, and the Lebanese government steps in to disarm all militant groups as called for by U.N. resolutions.
Hezbollah leaders have rejected those demands.
Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, the head of the Israeli army's northern command, told Army Radio that the battle might stretch into August. "I think that we should assume that it will take a few more weeks," he said.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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