Secretary-General Kofi Annan, currently in Beirut on the first leg of his shuttle diplomacy to the Middle East, has called on Israel to lift its blockade of Lebanon and urged Hizbollah to free two captured Israeli soldiers.
Mr. Annan made his remarks after meeting Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and his cabinet to further discuss implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 that ended the recent month-long conflict between Hizbollah and Israel.
“The Secretary-General… called for the lifting of the Israeli blockade and the return of the Israeli soldiers. He also stressed the importance of having ‘one law, one authority and one gun’ in Lebanon,” United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York.
On his arrival in Beirut, Mr. Annan said this was a “very critical time,” and stressed that it was important for him to discuss personally with the Lebanese authorities the aftermath of the war and the measures being taken to implement UN resolutions, “and also to underscore international solidarity.”
Later the Secretary-General also met with Lebanese Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, during which he assured him that the UN and the international community wanted to work “very, very effectively with the parties” to ensure full implementation of resolution 1701 so that there will be “long-term peace in this region.”
“We have a chance now to have a long-term ceasefire and a long-term peace and we all need to work together. This is the purpose of my visit here.”
The Secretary-General is also scheduled to have a working dinner hosted by Prime Minister Siniora which Alain Pelligrini, the head of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), will also attend.
UNIFIL said today its force commander had met senior representatives of the Lebanese and Israeli armies this morning at the Ras Naqoura border crossing in the south to discuss and coordinate the latest progress of withdrawal and deployment as stipulated by resolution 1701. It described the meeting as “productive” and said others were scheduled.
From Lebanon, Mr. Annan is also scheduled to travel to Israel to discuss the cessation of hostilities and longer-term peace in the Middle East and he will then go to other countries in the region, including Iran.
The Secretary-General’s trip follows his high-level meeting with European Union (EU) ministers in Brussels on Friday during which EU countries agreed to provide the ‘backbone’ to a beefed-up UN force of up to 15,000 troops in Lebanon as called for by resolution 1701.
European officials said between 5,600 and 6,900 extra soldiers were pledged during the meeting, plus sea, air and logistical support, and Mr. Annan has said it is vital that advanced units of this expanded force be on the ground as soon as possible.