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U.S. to give Israel week
to complete offensive?

The Israeli officials and generals planning operations against Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon are not only watching the actions of the enemy to determine its next move – they’re watching Washington for signs their staunchest ally is ready to join the chorus of nations calling for a cease-fire.

President Bush again reiterated yesterday his position that Israel has a right to defend itself – a position made stronger by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who rejected the idea of a quick ceasefire between the Jewish state and Hezbollah as a “false promise,” unless the root cause of the conflict are addressed.

“An immediate cease-fire without political conditions does not make sense,” she told reporters at the State Department. “Syria knows what it needs to do and Hezbollah is the source of the problem.”

Despite those assurances, some Israeli officials are unconvinced the U.S. will remain open-ended in its support for the fighting in Lebanon, which has resulted in over 300 deaths and the incursion of Israeli troops north of the border. On the eve of Rice’s visit to Jerusalem, some senior officials are cautiously suggesting that the U.S. nod to continue operations against Hezbollah is certain only until next Sunday. After that, the picture may change.

Rice will meet first with Israeli leaders to discuss how the conflict could be ended and how to shape a new order in Lebanon, Haaretz, the Israeli daily, reports.

From Jerusalem, Rice will travel to Rome for meetings with senior delegates from the U.N. and several Arab states to discuss the current situation in Lebanon and to formulate a political plan for the nation’s future.

After leaving Rome, Rice will attend an Asian conference in Malaysia and then return to Jerusalem a week from today. At that point, cautious officials say, she will try to implement a cease-fire.

Rice’s trip to the Mideast is said to have two primary goals – the formulation of an agreement to end the fighting in Lebanon and attempting to move toward enforcement of Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for Hezbollah to be disarmed and the Lebanese Army to be deployed along Israel’s northern border.

Even as Israel’s war planners are playing for time, Rice is working to preserve the schedule she’s laid out for her own efforts.

She met with United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan in New York earlier this week to deflect a French vote in the Security Council for an immediate cease-fire. An open debate on that question is being held today at the U.N.

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