The United States is urging the UN Security Council to take a go-slow approach to hostilities in the Middle East.
The Security Council held inconclusive consultations on the Middle East Monday. Envoys say they will review the situation day by day.
Washington's UN ambassador, John Bolton, said he was urging the Council to delay consideration of any action pending the return of a UN mediation team sent to the region by Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
"It's important that with events as fast moving as they are that the Security Council not do anything to unsettle the matter further."
Diplomats say the three-member UN mission probably would not be able to give its recommendations to the Council until Thursday, at the earliest.
In the meantime, Bolton said the United States would be reluctant to consider calls by some diplomats for a cease-fire, in view of Israel's right to self-defense.
"Before you get to a cease-fire, you have to look at what the causes of the conflict are, I think you would have a cease-fire in a matter of nanoseconds if Hezbollah and Hamas would release their kidnap victims and stop engaging in rocket attacks and
other acts of terrorism against Israel."
The top UN political officer, Undersecretary General Ibrahim Gambari, briefed the Council Monday on the latest developments in the region. He told reporters he had emphasized Secretary-General Annan's call for an immediate end to hostilities.
"The situation in Lebanon sharply deteriorated over the weekend to the point that we are now in the situation of an open war. The consequences are serious and the impact is devastating, not only in Lebanon and Israel, but in the entire Middle East."
Among the ideas discussed at Monday's closed-door Council session was a proposal by some leaders at the G-Eight summit for deployment of a multinational security force in southern Lebanon. But Bolton suggested the force could not be a short-term solution. He said a lot of questions would have to be answered before such a mission could be created.
"First, would such a force be empowered to deal with the real problem. The real problem is Hezbollah. Would such a force be empowered to disarm and demobilize Hezbollah-armed components? Would it be empowered to deal with the countries
like Syria and Iran that support Hezbollah?"
Meanwhile, the head of the three-member UN mediation team reported from Beirut Monday that there were "some promising first efforts" to defuse the Middle East crisis. Secretary-General Annan's special adviser, Vijay Nambiar, did not elaborate. But after talks with Lebanese leaders, he warned that "the consequences of failure could be grave."