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Middle East: Annan "deeply disturbed" by escalation of attacks across Blue Line

Middle East: Annan "deeply disturbed" by escalation of attacks across Blue Line

Concerned by recent escalation of military operations across the line of withdrawal between Lebanon and Israel, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today emphasized the need to respect the Blue Line and stressed that it was vital for the governments and parties concerned to act with "utmost restraint."

A statement released this evening by Mr. Annan's spokesman said that the Secretary-General was "deeply disturbed" by the action by Hizbollah units against Israeli forces last Saturday and the heavy Israeli retaliation against Lebanese targets.

"He is especially dismayed by the further escalatory response by Israel in the bombing early today of Syrian position in Lebanon," the statement said. It added that Mr. Annan, who had been in contact by telephone with the leaders in the governments concerned during the day and would continue the contacts tonight and tomorrow, remained convinced that political negotiations must be resumed with the least delay to prevent the situation from deteriorating further.

Meanwhile in Beirut, Mr. Annan's Special Representative for southern Lebanon, Staffan de Mistura, called on all parties to exercise restraint to prevent an escalation of violence.

On Saturday afternoon, Hizbollah personnel crossed the withdrawal line -- known as the "Blue Line" -- into the Shebaa Farms area and fired at an Israeli tank, according to a UN spokesman. One Israeli soldier was killed and three injured. The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) retaliated immediately by hitting Hizbollah targets in southern Lebanon.

Late Sunday night, Israeli air force jets hit a Syrian radar installation in eastern Lebanon, killing three Syrian military. Spokesman Fred Eckhard said that the Secretary-General was discussing the matter by phone "with leaders in the region and beyond."

Following Saturday's attack by Hizbollah, Mr. de Mistura met with Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri at the request of the Secretary-General. In a statement released after their meeting, Mr. de Mistura stressed that "the Blue Line as far as the United Nations is concerned has been trespassed in a violent way." He noted that the incident was "an infringement -- a clear infringement -- of [Security Council] resolution 425."

This morning, Mr. de Mistura met in Beirut with Lebanese Foreign Minister, Mahmoud Hammoud. Noting the UN's expression of concern over the Shebaa Farms incident, the Special Representative said in a statement released after the encounter that "today, the UN is equally very concerned by the IDF escalatory response, which is also a violation of the Blue Line."

"It is crucial that all parties concerned exercise at this stage maximum restraint in order to avoid any spiral of violence," Mr. de Mistura emphasized.

Meanwhile in Jerusalem, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Terje Roed Larsen, met with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. He also met with the Jordanian Foreign Minister, Abdul Elah al-Khatib, who is in Israel to officially present the joint Jordanian-Egyptian peace initiative. According to a UN spokesman, during the meeting, Mr. Larsen commended the Jordanian Minister, on behalf of the UN, for his timely and constructive initiative.