Warning that Israel’s continued blockade of Lebanon risks being seen as “collective punishment” of the Lebanese people, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today renewed calls for it to be lifted as he met with officials in Jordan on the latest leg of his regional tour of the Middle East.
“I think it is important that that is lifted and not be seen as collective punishment of the Lebanese people, and Israel itself has said it has no quarrel with the Lebanese people… But in any event, I think that the blockade cannot be sustained for long,” Mr. Annan said at a joint press conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul Elah al-Khatib.
The Secretary-General also criticized Israel’s use of cluster bombs during the 34-day conflict with Hizbollah, many of which still lie unexploded over large areas of the Lebanese countryside. However, after his meetings in Lebanon and Israel this week, Mr. Annan said he remains confident a lasting agreement can be put in place.
“I think those kinds of weapons should not be used in civilian and populated areas and we are working very hard through our mine-action unit to de-mine as quickly as possible. I ask the Israeli authorities to give us maps and indications of where these bombs were dropped.”
“And of course even though we have gone through a very difficult period, I still believe we have an opportunity or a chance to turn the tragic events of recent weeks into something more constructive and turn a page and establish a normal reasonable relationship between Lebanon and Israel.”
After his discussions with the Foreign Minister, Mr. Annan also met His Majesty King Abdullah bin Hussein, who he also briefed on the recent conflict and the need to shore up resolution 1701 that brought the cessation of hostilities on 14 August.
“I expect, and I did make this clear to the Israeli authorities, that when the international forces have reached 5,000 and are deploying to the south with the Lebanese that it’s time for them to withdraw and withdraw completely from southern Lebanon,” he told reporters.
“This would be a truly international force. Of course, Europe has provided a large number of forces and they… are the backbone of the force. But we will be bringing in troops from other regions. There will be Islamic troops on the ground Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey has also offered… So we will have an international force with troops coming in from both western and Islamic countries.”
From Jordan, Mr. Annan flew to Damascus, where he briefed Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem on his latest discussions over the ending of the conflict in Lebanon and stressed Syria’s role in ensuring the full implementation of Security Council resolution 1701. The Secretary-General is scheduled to meet President Bashar al-Assad tomorrow. He also met UN staff working in Syria earlier today.