UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said the prospects for an imminent ceasefire in the Israeli-Lebanon crisis are dim, but called for hostilities to stop so humanitarian aid can reach half a million people trapped in Lebanon.
Annan insisted a long-term solution to the root of Middle East problems must be found, saying most people "reject" a return to the status quo, because such a truce "could not be expected to last".
In a speech before the UN Security Council Thursday, Annan called for Hezbollah guerrillas to turn over the two captive Israeli soldiers to the Lebanese government under the auspices of the International Red Cross.
"Israel has confirmed its operations in Lebanon have more far reaching goals than the return of captured soldiers," Annan said. "The aim is to end the threat posed by Hezbollah."
After the speech, the US and Israeli emissaries to the UN said they would not consider a negotiated settlement or ceasefire with Hezbollah.
"No one has explained how you conduct a ceasefire with a group of terrorists," said US Ambassador John Bolton.
An angry Dan Gillerman, the Israeli envoy to the UN, charged that Annan never mentioned the "terror" by militant groups.
He also criticised the UN chief for failing to lay blame on Iran, which Gillerman said funds Hezbollah with $100 million a year, or Syria, the acknowledged patron of Hezbollah.
"I'm more disturbed by what was not said than what was said," Gillerman said.
Annan said an estimated 500,000 people were trapped by Israel's weeklong destruction of infrastructure and land and sea blockade, without food or medical supplies.
More than 300 Lebanese have been killed, most of them civilians and many children, and several dozen Israelis have died from Hezbollah bombs lobbed into northern Israel.
Hezbollah holds "an entire nation hostage" and has "set back negotiations for a comprehensive Middle East Peace," Annan charged.
But he added that Lebanese Prime Minster Fouad Seniora "aspires to democratic values" and "deserves all support from the international community".
Annan said the bombing has seriously hamstrung the 2,000-plus UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), a 28-year-old force intended to be a buffer between Hezbollah and Israel.
Without fuel deliveries within 24 hours and stocks of food and water, Annan said it was untenable to continue UNIFIL's presence.
He suggested they be reinforced with a new UN peacekeeping force that has already received tentative backing from most of the G8 industrialised countries.
"We are not going to desert the people of Lebanon in their hour of need, but we have to proceed with caution," Annan said.
Annan's multi-faceted proposal would include a full diplomatic push for a lasting ceasefire - something the international community has been pushing for years - and require the Lebanese government to "establish Lebanese sovereignty and control" over the entire country, in accord with last year's Security Coouncil resolutions that force Syria's military to withdraw.
Annan said Israel was within its rights of self-defence in launching the attack on Hezbollah's infrastructure, and squarely placed the blame for the crisis on Hezbollah, which has deliberately targeted Israeli population centres.
But he also denounced Israel's "disproportionate use of force and collective punishment of the Lebanese people".