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UN envoy reports Israeli commitment to suspend overflights in Lebanon

UN envoy reports Israeli commitment to suspend overflights in Lebanon

Calling it a "positive decision," a United Nations envoy in the Middle East today reported that Israel had confirmed its commitment to immediately suspend flights over Lebanese territory.

Staffan de Mistura, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Personal Representative for Southern Lebanon, said that Israeli Minister of Defence Benjamin Ben Eliezer had expressed the commitment to UN representatives during a "difficult but frank" meeting in Israel. On the UN side, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Terje Roed-Larsen, also took part in the talks.

"At the end of the meeting, the Minister of Defence of Israel gave us the confirmation that, effective immediately, there will be a suspension of all overflights over the cities of Beirut, Tyr, Sidon, Tripoli and deep inside the territory of Lebanon, and that there would be no more sonic booms over such cities," Mr. de Mistura said in a statement after his meeting today with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, whom he informed of the development.

"We are taking the words of the Minister of Defence of Israel seriously; they were said clearly and they were said firmly," the UN envoy stressed. "Of course, facts in the skies of Lebanon will have to prove the consistency of this commitment."

Describing the reaction of President Lahoud, Mr. de Mistura said that Lebanese leader "very appropriately, reminded me that according to Lebanon any action beyond the Blue Line [of Israeli withdrawal] is an infringement. In fact, we as United Nations are mandated to request the respect of the Blue Line by all concerned and involved sides."