|Annan due for 2-day visit to help solidify shaky cease-fire
|UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is due to arrive in Beirut on Monday for a two-day visit during which he will meet with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Speaker Nabih Berri and the Cabinet.
A high-ranking source within the UN told The Daily Star on Sunday that no plans had yet been made for Annan to meet with President Emile Lahoud.
Annan will be in Beirut for talks ahead of the deployment of thousands of UN troops in Southern Lebanon. He is also scheduled to travel to Iran, Syria and Israel.
The UN chief will be "discussing the deployment of the UN forces, the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 and the cease-fire, and the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon," Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh said Sunday.
During an interview with the Washington-based SAWA radio station, Salloukh said the most important demand from Beirut was for Israel to lift its air, land and sea blockade of Lebanon "as part of implementing Resolution 1701."
"We will also discuss with Annan the situation of the Shebaa Farms and the Lebanese detainees in Israeli prisons," Salloukh said.
Separately, Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said on Sunday that the government would ask Annan to help lift the siege.
"Our government will not accept that this humiliating situation continues," Aridi said. "This Israeli terrorism is being carried out under full US sponsorship ... The US is a full partner in this terrorism."
The prime minister's office said in a statement Saturday that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had told Siniora by phone that she was making "serious and prompt" efforts to have the Israeli blockade lifted as soon as possible.
In other developments, Lahoud urged Annan to take six points into consideration before arriving in Beirut.
"First, Lebanon has sent its army to the South in accordance with Resolution 1701, but Israel has yet to implement its part by lifting the siege ... Second, Lebanon has abided by the cease-fire, while Israel breached it several times ... Third, Israel refuses to hand over maps to the land mines it planted in Lebanon, which threaten the safety of the UN troops, the Lebanese Army and civilians ..." said a statement from the president's office.
"Fourth, the Shebaa Farms issue needs to be discussed within the 30-day time limit set by Resolution 1701 ... Fifth, Lebanon maintains its right to pursue Israel through legal avenues for the massacres and aggression it committed ... Sixth, Lebanon demands that the UN provide experts to inspect the many bomb sites and confirm that Israel used cluster, phosphorous and depleted-uranium bombs," it added.
"Even though Annan is on a tight schedule, I hope that he takes a tour of Beirut's southern suburbs to inspect the scale of Israel's aggression," Lahoud said.
However, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Saturday that Israel would not lift its blockade until the expanded UNIFIL force and the Lebanese Army deploy along the Syrian border.
Israel has repeatedly expressed concern about arms shipments from Iran and Syria intended for Hizbullah.
Regev also said Israeli officials had spoken with several Muslim nations about contributing troops to the UN force, specifically naming Turkey as one of the countries contacted. He did not name any other country.
Malaysia, Bangladesh and Indonesia have each offered to dispatch 1,000 troops to Lebanon, but Israel has refused to accept the offer as the three countries do not have relations with the Jewish state.
Annan said last week that UN troops would not be asked to disarm Hizbullah - a task the secretary general said "cannot be done by force."
Similarly, Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema was quoted by Time magazine on Saturday as saying that Hizbullah is "an important part of Lebanese society" and that the UN force's goal was not to destroy the party.
Refusing to label Hizbullah a terrorist group, D'Alema said the UN force was being deployed to "strengthen the Lebanese government."
Italy will contribute 3,000 troops to the UN force, with the first wave of troops being sent to Lebanon on Tuesday, according to the Italian Defense Ministry.
In other developments, UN probe chief Serge Brammertz is also due to arrive in Beirut Monday. The head of the international investigation into the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri had moved the probe's headquarters to Cyprus during the recent conflict.
The Daily Star