Annan demands Hezbollah free abducted soldiers and Israel lift blockade

Thursday, August 31, 2006

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan called on Hezbollah, Monday, to release the two Israeli soldiers who were captured on July 12.

Annan also urged Israel to lift its air and sea blockade of Lebanon faulting it for not meeting the requirements of the UN resolution governing the 15 day old ceasefire. The UN leader made his comments in Beirut following talks with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora.

"It's a fixed menu. . . . It's not an a la carte menu where you choose and pick," said Annan of the ceasefire provisions and the failure of both sides to fulfill them. He said that the truce had created the opportunity for a "long-term ceasefire and a long-term peace" but that all sides of the conflict had to fully implement the UN Security Council resolution for that to occur.

Israel responded to Annan's comments by saying it intended to continue the blockade until international forces are deployed along Lebanon's border with Syria and other entry points in order to stop arms shipments to Hezbollah.

"Once the international forces are fully in place and they're able to prevent the smuggling of weapons to Hezbollah, there will be no need for the air and naval blockade," said David Baker speaking on behalf of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Addresses Syrian concerns

Annan said that the Lebanese army, not the international force, should have the responsibility of policing the border with Syria saying that the deployment of peacekeeping troops on the border of two countries that have not been at war would be unprecedented. Syrian President Bashar Assad has said having international forces on the country's border would be a "hostile" act.

He stressed that southern Lebanon must become an arms free zone, "In Lebanon, there should be - as we have all agreed - one law, one authority, one gun," he said, and that the disarmament of Hezbollah must be achieved by national agreement within Lebanon and could not be implemented by international forces.

Annan's visit to Lebanon is the first leg of a tour of the Middle East aimed at propping up the ceasefire. He will also be visiting Israel, Syria, the Palestinian Territories and Iran.