Rice calls of Lebanon trip, returns to US today

Jerusalem, July 30 | Updated: Jul 31 2006, 05:50am hrs
US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice called off a trip to Lebanon after Israel bombed a village there on Sunday, but she stopped short of urging an immediate ceasefire to help end the war.

Lebanons Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said he did not want her to come to his country, saying that after the air strike, he could not hold any talks on resolving the crisis before an immediate ceasefire.

Set to return to Washington on Monday, Rices renewed push to end fighting between Israel and Hizbollah was derailed by the bombing which killed 54 people sheltering in a basement, 37 of them children. In the wake of the tragedy that the people and the government of Lebanon are dealing with today, I have decided to postpone my discussions in Beirut. In any case, my work is here (in Israel) today, Rice told reporters of the canceled Beirut trip. Rice insisted she had canceled the Lebanon trip and not the other way around.

With her options for shuttle diplomacy now limited, a US official said Rice would back be in Washington late on Monday where she would focus on getting a UN resolution for a sustainable and durable ceasefire.

She said she was deeply saddened by the Israeli bombing of the village of Qana in southern Lebanon, but did not call for an immediate ceasefire.

She said instead she would work very hard to try to end the hostilities. At least 542 people have been killed in Lebanon, although the health minister estimated the toll at 750 including unrecovered bodies. Fifty-one Israelis have also been killed. I think it is time to get to a ceasefire. We actually have to try and put one in place, Rice said.

But Israeli PM Ehud Olmert, while voicing deep sorrow over the deaths, said Israel was not yet ready to stop its war against Hizbollah.