Annan to Israel: End blockade

The UN secretary-general has called on Israel to end its air and sea blockade of Lebanon at the earliest.

    Annan (L) is visiting Israel to secure the truce

    Arriving in Israel on Tuesday afternoon after visiting UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon, Kofi Annan also blamed Israel for most of the violations of the fragile two-week-old truce that ended the war in Lebanon.

    Annan described the Israeli blockade a "humiliation and infringement on [Lebanon's] sovereignty", and suggested the blockade be lifted "as soon as possible in order to allow Lebanon to go on with normal commercial activities and also rebuild its economy".

    Annan, who is visiting the region as part of his attempt to secure full implementation of the UN Security Council resolution 1701, which brought about the truce, met Amir Peretz, the Israeli defence minister, during the day.

    "I hope we can find a way to lift it," Peretz said about the blockade after meeting Annan.

    Blockade

    Israel has said it will lift the blockade only once it is assured that forces deployed on Lebanon's borders can prevent Hezbollah from importing new weapons to rearm itself for another round of fighting.

    Israel wants international forces to help patrol the Lebanon-Syria border. Lebanon has said that its troops would be able to secure the border on their own.

    "Israel will be happy to stop the sea and aerial blockade if we felt that the land crossings would not be the main smuggling routes," said Miri Eisen, the Israeli government spokeswoman.

    "Israel is certain that if there is no serious force to stop [smuggling], both Syria and Iran will continue to back, fund and arm Hezbollah in Lebanon."

    Violations

    Annan said Israel was responsible for most of the violations of the ceasefire and appealed for everyone to work together to ensure that the peace holds and "not risk another explosion in six years or 20 years".

    "My hopes are that with the French deployment moving forward and with the Italians beginning on Friday, that we should be able to double relatively quickly the 2,500 men we have on the ground and move up to 5,000 so that the Israelis can withdraw," he said.

    Israel has said its troops will remain in southern Lebanon until a sufficiently strong contingent of Lebanese troops and international forces arrive to take control of the area.
       
    Peretz said Israel would pull troops from southern Lebanon once a "reasonable" number of UN soldiers had deployed, but he did not give a figure.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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