U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has appealed for an immediate end to the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas -- but Israel said its offensive in Lebanon would continue "as long as it takes."
Speaking Thursday to the U.N. Security Council, Mr. Annan blamed Hezbollah for starting the crisis with its cross-border attack on Israeli troops and abduction of two Israeli soldiers. But he condemned Israel's military response, calling it "excessive."
He quoted Lebanon's Prime Minister Fouad Siniora as saying Israel's military action has -- quote -- "torn the country to shreds."
Israel's ambassador to the U.N., Dan Gillerman, criticized Mr. Annan for failing to mention what Gillerman called the "key elements" of the crisis: terror, Iran and Syria. Gillerman said he sees no early end to the Israeli offensive.
Mr. Annan and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met for dinner Thursday to discuss the crisis. Rice is set to meet on Friday with a three-member U.N. delegation that spoke this week with Lebanese and Israeli officials to assess the situation.
The U.S. State Department said Rice will travel to the Middle East as early as next week in an effort to ease tensions.
In his speech, Mr. Annan called on 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.