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Rice to Discuss Mideast Crisis with UN Officials


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is to discuss the Mideast crisis at a meeting in New York Friday with the United Nations delegation returning from a tour of Israel and Lebanon to assess conditions.

The U.S. State Department says Rice plans to travel to the region as early as next week in an effort to ease tensions. On Thursday, Rice met with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has called for an immediate cease-fire in the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas.

Speaking to the Security Council, Mr. Annan blamed Hezbollah for abducting two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border attack that sparked the violence. He also condemned Israel's military response, calling it "excessive."

In Beirut, visiting French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy called for a "safe humanitarian corridor" for urgent aid to the Lebanese people. The French minister said his country is dispatching urgent aid by air and sea.

In his speech, Mr. Annan also urged Israel and Hezbollah to allow humanitarian aid to reach civilians caught in the crossfire in war-torn Lebanon.

He also called for a peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon and an international conference to determine a timeline for Lebanon to take control of all of its territory.

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