(AP) - President Bush, under intense pressure to call for an immediate cease-fire in the Mideast, got some breathing room when Israel announced a decision to briefly halt aerial bombings over Lebanon.
Bush already was facing a tough diplomatic puzzle before Sunday, when international outrage flared over an Israeli airstrike that leveled a building in the village of Qana, killing at least 56 Lebanese, mostly women and children, reports Trend.
Israel later suspended air attacks on south Lebanon for 48 hours.
The president on Sunday renewed his call for a "sustainable peace" and cautioned Israel to spare civilians in its military attacks on the Hezbollah militia.
Bush stopped short of calling for an immediate cease-fire, opting instead for a United Nations resolution calling for Hezbollah to lay down its arms and an international force to help the Lebanese Army keep the peace.
"It's a tragic occasion when innocent people are killed, and so our sympathies go out to those who lost their lives today, and lost their lives throughout this crisis," Bush said before a T-ball game held on the White House South Lawn just before he left for Miami.
Bush monitored the crisis through phone calls with his top advisers as images of children's bodies in the building's ruins flashed on television screens across the world. Bush spoke three times with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who cut short her diplomatic mission in the Mideast.
Before leaving Jerusalem on Monday, Rice told reporters she would seek a cease-fire agreement as well as a long-term settlement in the conflict this week through a U.N. Security Council resolution.
"I am convinced that only by achieving both will the Lebanese people be able to control their country and their future, and the people of Israel finally be able to live free of attack from terrorist groups in Lebanon," Rice said.
But after Rice departed, hopes the two-day halt in bombing would become a longer term cease-fire dimmed when Israel's defense minister, Amir Peretz, told parliament that Israel would "expand and strengthen" its attack on Hezbollah.
"It's forbidden to agree to an immediate cease-fire," Peretz said.
As the president flew to Florida on Sunday, the U.N. Security Council met in emergency session and passed a statement expressing "extreme shock and distress" over Israel's bombing of civilians. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan sharply criticized world leaders implicitly Washington for ignoring his previous calls for an immediate cease-fire.
While he mourned the deaths, Bush continued to press for what he believes will be a longer-lasting cessation of violence.
"The president has said repeatedly that he would love to have a cease-fire immediately," White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters aboard Air Force One as it flew to Miami. "But you have to have conditions under which it is a cease-fire that will lead to peace, and not a cease-fire that will simply provide a brief cessation of the hostilities."
The U.N. Security Council met a day after a draft resolution was circulated calling for an immediate halt to the fighting and seeking a wide new buffer zone in south Lebanon monitored by an international force and the Lebanese army.
As diplomacy dragged on, impatience rose.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said the talk of a larger peace package must wait until the firing stops. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who spoke on the phone with Bush on Sunday, said Washington must work faster to put together the broader deal it seeks. "We have to speed this whole process up," Blair said. "This has got to stop and stop on both sides."
The White House denied that it was not moving quickly enough to end the violence.
"We're not dragging our feet," Snow said. He said that while the attack in Qana dramatized the urgency of getting an agreement to halt the violence, it did not hasten diplomatic efforts, which already were under way.
"The United States is resolved to work with members of the United Nations Security Council to develop a resolution that will enable the region to have a sustainable peace, a peace that lasts, a peace that will enable mothers and fathers to raise their children in a hopeful world," Bush said at the White House.
The president plans to meet with Rice when the two return to Washington on Monday.
Rice, who met with Israeli leaders on Sunday, scuttled her trip to Lebanon after the bombing, which inflamed sentiment against the United States and Israel. Some 5,000 protesters gathered in downtown Beirut, attacking a U.N. building, burning American flags and shouting: "Destroy Tel Aviv! Destroy Tel Aviv!"
Bush, however, stuck to his travel plans. His trip to Miami, like his recent one to Chicago, is part of a public-relations effort aimed at boosting his low standing in polls and bolstering the chances of the Republican Party in this fall's midterm elections.
The idea is to place Bush in more freewheeling settings and before local media that tend to give softer coverage. His first stop in Florida was a dinner with community leaders at Joe's Stone Crab Restaurant, established in 1913.
On Monday, Bush is scheduled to have breakfast with business leaders, visit the National Hurricane Center, give an economic speech at a U.S. Coast Guard facility, tour the Port of Miami and make remarks at a Republican National Committee luncheon.