Conference in Rome: Mideast in focus

Calls for a cease-fire gathered steam, raising the possibility of differences with the United States, which insists that any truce must lead to a durable peace and ensure that Hezbollah is no longer a threat to Israel.

An Israeli airstrike on a U.N. observation post in southern Lebanon that killed at least three unarmed U.N. observers could further fuel international demands for a quick end to the fighting.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the airstrike late Tuesday appeared to be a deliberate attack and demanded an investigation. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called Annan on Wednesday to express his "deep regret over the mistaken killing," Olmert's office said.

Officials in Brussels told The Associated Press that Javier Solana, the EU foreign and security affairs chief, will propose Wednesday that a rapid reaction force be established. It would ideally be built around French, German and Spanish troops, supplemented by forces from Turkey, the Netherlands, Canada and Arab states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, EU officials said.

Solana said Tuesday that an international force for Lebanon should represent a broad sweep of nations to generate the widest possible public support in the Middle East and have a robust United Nations mandate to use force, if necessary.

The closed-door Mideast meeting brings together 18 nations and international organizations seeking ways to end the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants based in southern Lebanon.

Italian Premier Romano Prodi said the main goal of the conference is a cease-fire between Israeli troops and Hezbollah guerrillas, along with discussing an international force and the problem of refugees, which he said was of "astonishing proportions."

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reiterated the United States' position that a cessation of hostilities in Lebanon must come with conditions, saying there is "no desire" on the part of U.S. officials to come back in weeks or months after terrorists find another way to disrupt any potential cease-fire.

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