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French Version


Annan hopes to double UN force by Friday

Secretary General Kofi Annan says the UN hopes to double its 2,500-strong force in Southern Lebanon by Friday and said that Israel had committed most of the violations of a "fragile truce." Annan, who spoke after meeting with Amir Peretz, said he told the Israeli defense minister about lifting the blockade on Lebanon "as soon as possible in order to allow Lebanon to go on with normal commercial activities and also rebuild its economy."

Annan said the UN hoped to have 5,000 soldiers in the region by Friday. That is double its pre-war number, but still far short of the 15,000 international troops who are eventually supposed to patrol the border.

"Israel will pull out once their is a reasonable level of forces there," Peretz said.

Peretz said Israel hoped to end the blockade soon, though he did not clarify when that would happen.

Annan said Israel was responsible for most of the violations of the fragile cease-fire. Everyone needs to work together to ensure the peace holds and "not risk another explosion in six years or 20 years," he said.

Peretz also called on the international community to take more steps against Iran.

Earlier, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said that Israel will lift the blockade once United Nations-sponsored warships are in place to stop arms deliveries to Hizbullah.

"The moment when the international community, Germany, Denmark and the others,

will reinforce the arms embargo from the sea side, it will be the moment when we can open it."

"Member states should not ship arms to Lebanon, other than to the government, if they do they are breaking the [cease-fire] resolution," Annan said.

During a tour of Southern Lebanon, Annan listed as "serious irritants" the fate of two Israeli soldiers snatched by Hizbullah and that of Lebanese prisoners held in Israel.

"We need to resolve the issue of the abducted soldiers very quickly. Obviously the issue of the [Lebanese] prisoners ... will also have to be dealt with,' Annan said in Naqoura, main base of the current 2,000-strong UN Interim Force in Lebanon.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, under fire at home over his handling of the conflict, told local officials in northern Israel that his country was still a force to be reckoned with.

"Two weeks after the war, I am still the one who is approving take-offs and landings in Beirut and that shows you that something happened here," the YNET News Web site quoted Olmert as saying in the city of Tiberias.

"While I am traveling around the north, [Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan] Nasrallah has yet to come out of his bunker," Olmert taunted.

In Copenhagen, Livni said "time will tell" whether Israel won or lost the war but she said remarks by Nasrallah Sunday show Hizbullah "is in a bad position today."

Nasrallah said he would not have ordered the capture of the soldiers if he had known it would lead to such a large war.

Livni also called for a new UN resolution to prevent Hizbullah from being rearmed by Iran. She said it was vital that UN force deploy along Lebanon's borders with Syria.

In Damascus, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem called for Israel to withdraw from Southern Lebanon and lift its blockade during a meeting with Danish Foreign Ministry envoy Christian Hoppe, the official Syrian Arab News Agency said.

But Livni said: "Our expectation is that a real, robust and effective force help and assist the Lebanese government to deploy. When these forces come, this will be the moment when Israel will withdraw from Lebanon."

At the UNIFIL headquarters in Southern Lebanon, Annan was briefed by French Major General Alain Pellegrini, the UNIFIL commander, and other top officials.

Annan laid a wreath at a monument for the 248 officers and soldiers killed since deployment of UN peacekeeping forces in South Lebanon in 1978.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora had been expected to join Annan, but refrained from doing so after Speaker Nabih Berri refused to take part in the tour, saying he "would not board a helicopter which was given orders to take off from the Rafik Hariri International Airport by the state of Israel," sources told The Daily Star.

Annan left Naqoura after a couple of hours and flew along the border by helicopter, surveying UNIFIL posts by air before heading south to Israel.

Livni called on Germany to help secure the release of the two soldiers.

"We expect everyone, of course also Germany, to approach Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora and to call on him to take some responsibility and to work for the release of the kidnapped soldiers," she told public television ARD.

Beirut 30-08-2006
Redaction
The Daily Star



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