Ban has criticised both Israel and Lebanon for violating Resolution 1701, noting an increase of Israeli military overflights of its northern neighbour in February and early March.

 

The resolution also calls for a halt in arms shipments to Hezbollah, and demands the "unconditional release" of two Israeli soldiers Hezbollah captured in a cross-border raid, triggering a 34-day war that ended with an August 14 ceasefire.

 

Hezbollah has refused to release the soldiers without negotiations to trade them for Arabs held by Israel.

  

Standoff

 

The US-backed Siniora government has been locked in a bitter dispute with the Hezbollah-led opposition seeking to topple it.

 

The opposition is demanding a national unity government that would give it a veto-wielding share in cabinet and has been holding protests and an open sit-in in downtown Beirut since December 1 to pressure Siniora into resigning.

 

Siniora has staunchly refused, accusing the opposition of staging a coup upon orders from Iran and Syria, Hezbollah's main patrons.

 

Ban encouraged Lebanese leaders to engage in a dialogue to end the political standoff.

 

"I believe - and everybody believes - that dialogue is the only way for Lebanon to achieve the stability and national unity it aspires for," Ban said.

  

Ban will also meet with a number of pro- and anti-government leaders and representatives, including Hezbollah legislator Mohammed Fneish, who resigned from his cabinet post as electricity minister along with five other pro-Hezbollah ministers in November, setting off the crisis.

 

The UN chief arrived in Beirut on Thursday from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he attended a summit of Arab leaders.

 

His tour of the Middle East has already taken him to Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian territories.