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UN council spurns Annan's plea to demand suspension of violence

UNITED NATIONS -- The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a statement yesterday deploring the loss of life in Israel's attack in the Lebanese village of Qana, but did not call for an immediate truce.

The policy statement, read at a public meeting, expressed ``extreme shock and distress" at the shellings by the Israeli army and asked Secretary General Kofi Annan to report within a week ``on the circumstances of this tragic incident."

However, the statement did not call for an immediate end to violence because of opposition from the United States, despite Annan's impassioned plea to the council.

Rather, it stressed ``the urgency of securing a lasting, permanent, and sustainable cease-fire" and affirmed the council's determination to work ``without any further delay" to adopt a resolution ``for a lasting settlement of the crisis."

Council statements need the consent of all 15 members.

Annan spoke to an emergency council meeting he called after the strike on Qana, which killed dozens of civilians, the deadliest single attack of Israel's 19-day-old war against Hezbollah militants.

The council did not mention a US announcement that Israel would stop aerial bombing for 48 hours, presumably because Israel had not confirmed it.

US Ambassador John Bolton made clear that Washington would back only an ``enduring" negotiated cease-fire, not an immediate truce.

Annan said he was calling for a cessation of hostilities, a limited truce to save lives while a cease-fire with detailed conditions is worked out. He said Lebanon's prime minister, Fouad Siniora, told him Beirut would not engage in any more diplomatic discussions until violence had stopped.

The United States is under pressure from European and Arab allies to call for a truce now , though US officials have insisted that they will not support any cease-fire that preserves the status quo . The United States can block any council action.

Washington backs Israeli demands for the Lebanese Army, bolstered by an international force, to deploy to the south of the country. That region is currently controlled by Hezbollah, which is raining rockets down on towns in northern Israel.

Israel's UN ambassador, Dan Gillerman, said Qana was ``a hub for Hezbollah" and said his country had pressed residents to leave prior to yesterday's attack.

``I am beseeching you not to play into their [Hezbollah's] hands, not to provide them with what they are seeking while sacrificing their own people as human shields and as victims," Gillerman said.

In San Francisco, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain said yesterday that fighting in Lebanon has to stop once the Security Council passes a resolution demanding a cease-fire.

``I think there is a basis for an agreement that would allow us to get a UN resolution but we have to get this now," said Blair, who is on a five-day US visit.

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