The US President, George W Bush, has again called on Iran and Syria to end their support of Hezbollah militants in southern Lebanon.

He has also warned Syria must respect the sovereignty of Lebanon.

Mr Bush is to be briefed by his Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, later today after her return from the Middle East.

Ms Rice has said the US would seek a UN resolution calling for a ceasefire this week.

'As I head back to Washington, I take with me an emerging consensus on what is necessary for both an urgent ceasefire and a lasting settlement,' Ms Rice told reporters.

She outlined the broad principles of a proposed three-part plan which would include a ceasefire, the political principles that provide for a long-term settlement and the authorisation of an international force to help the Lebanese army keep the peace.

She did not address the issue of the return of Israeli soldiers whose capture by Hezbollah guerrillas on 12 July sparked Israel's offensive, or of those prisoners Hezbollah wants released from Israeli jails.

She also welcomed Israel's adoption of a 48-hour suspension of air strikes after the raid on the village of Qana and said she hoped a parallel 24-hour period allowing people to leave the area could be extended.

Meanwhile, the Defence Forces are making contingency preparations to send about 130 troops to Lebanon if a request is made by the UN. 

However, the Minister for Defence, Willie O'Dea, said that no soldiers would be deployed until a ceasefire is established in the region.

UN postpones meeting on Lebanon force

In another development, the United Nations has indefinitely postponed a meeting called by the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, to begin planning a new international peacekeeping force for Lebanon.

A UN official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the meeting, which had been scheduled for this afternoon, had been delayed 'until there is more political clarity' on the path ahead in the Middle East conflict.

Meanwhile, the UN has also said it will need further security guarantees from all sides before boosting relief efforts in southern Lebanon.

'A suspension of aerial activity in southern Lebanon, if it were to be implemented, would fall short of this urgent requirement, though it would at least be a start,' a UN official said today.

'In these circumstances, the United Nations is continuing its relief efforts, but the conditions do not yet exist for a major increase in humanitarian operations,' the official said.