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Rice May Return to Middle East From ASEAN Summit


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is considering a return trip to the Middle East in an attempt to broker a durable cease-fire in the Israeli-Lebanese conflict.

State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Rice will make a decision before leaving Malaysia on Friday based on consultations with two top U.S. envoys in the region. He said the secretary of state will return if she feels she can make a positive contribution to achieve an enduring end to the violence.

The United States has come under criticism for refusing to endorse an immediate cease-fire.

In New York, the U.N. Security Council said it was shocked and distressed at Israel's bombing of a U.N. post that killed four military observers. Upon resistance from Washington, however, the draft proposed by China stopped short of condemning Israel for the attack.

Also Thursday, the State Department ordered all non-essential employees of the U.S. embassy in Lebanon and their families out of the war-torn country.

In a statement, the department said essential personnel will remain at the embassy to facilitate vital political, humanitarian and consular duties.

In Brussels, a U.S. State Department official met with European Union and NATO officials to discuss the possible creation of a new peacekeeping force for southern Lebanon.

There was broad agreement at this week's emergency meeting in Rome on the need for such a force, but no apparent progress in determining which countries would participate.
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