Monday, August 28, 2006

Annan arrives in Lebanon to shore up truce

Excellent overview from Reuters, posted in full:

BEIRUT - United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan arrived in Beirut shortly after midday Monday, the first stop of a whirlwind Middle East tour to shore up a truce between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas.

Annan will discuss in the Lebanese capital the deployment of a 15,000-strong UN peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, the lifting an Israeli air and sea blockade of Lebanon and a possible prisoner swap.

The 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah was triggered by the capture by Hezbollah of Israeli reservist soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev in a cross-border raid on July 12.

The conflict ended on August 14 when a UN-brokered cease-fire came into effect.

Annan, who will meet Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who has close ties to Hezbollah, is seeking full implementation of Security Council resolution 1701, a UN spokesman said.

The resolution made several demands on Israel, Lebanon and the international community which have yet to be met.

It called for the full reopening of Lebanon's ports and airport, blockaded by Israel since the start of the war, and for the securing of Lebanese borders to prevent arms smuggling to Hezbollah.

The resolution also asked the international community for up to 13,000 troops to expand the existing UNIFIL force in Lebanon.

Annan discussed the European Union's military contribution with EU leaders in Brussels on Friday. He said France, which has promised 2,000 troops, would continue to lead it until February when Italy, which has pledged 3,000, would take over.

"We should deploy, I hope, within the next few days, not the next few weeks," Annan said after the talks.

An aide to Siniora said the prime minister would ask the UN chief to press Israel to end its blockade on Lebanon.

Lebanon has formed a committee to tighten security measures at the airport, ports and land crossings, a senior security official said. Among the tasks of the committee, headed by police chief Brigadier-General Ashraf Rifi, will be to upgrade security equipment at Beirut's international airport.

Also on Annan's agenda is the release of Israeli and Lebanese prisoners, including the two soldiers.

Hezbollah wants to exchange them for some of the thousands of Arab prisoners, including Lebanese, in Israeli jails.

Annan has said both sides will have to make "painful compromises" to get what they want.

As well as visiting Beirut, Annan is expected to travel to southern Lebanon. He arrive in Israel on Tuesday and is also due to visit Syria and Iran.

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