DESPITE lavish helpings of deep concern over the situation in Lebanon and an impassioned plea from the Lebanese prime minister for an end to the shredding of his country, yesterday's international conference in Rome failed to agree either on immediate action to secure a ceasefire or on plans to deploy an international peacekeeping force. The failure even to try for a ceasefire must be laid at the door of the United States whose Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, repeated her by now familiar formula that any ceasefire must provide a comprehensive, long-term solution to the issues that lie behind the fighting. Most other countries think this is a code for a policy that leaves Israel free to pursue its military action and allows more innocent civilians to suffer and be killed. Dr Rice must have had an uncomfortable few hours; at the press conference, when Kofi Annan spoke of the need to involve Iran and Syria in future discussions, the TV cameras caught her involuntary grimace. Mr Annan was understandably grim-faced following the overnight news of the killing of unarmed UN observers at their long-established outpost on the Israeli/Lebanese border. According to UN sources the post was shelled for six hours despite frequent contacts betwen the UN and Israeli forces and was then hit by a precision-guided missile. The Israeli government has apologised but at the same time objected to Mr Annan's suggestion that the attack was apparently deliberate.
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