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UN Secretary-General Annan Fails To Persuade Israel To Lift Lebanon Blockade

PRAGUE, August 30, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- In talks with top Israeli officials today, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan failed to persuade Israel to lift its air and sea blockade of Lebanon.

Annan has been calling on Israel for days to end its air and sea blockade of Lebanon. But Israel specifically rejected those calls as Annan met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert today in Jerusalem.

Olmert said there would be no relaxation of the blockade on Lebanon until international forces were in place to stop arms smuggling to Hizballah.

'No Partial Implementation'

The refusal highlights some of the difficulties Annan faces as he continues a regional tour aimed at smoothing conditions for the deployment of up to 13,000 more international troops to Lebanon.

But as Annan seeks to firm up cooperation from all regional players, many are putting their own demands first.

Annan stressed today that the cease-fire will not hold unless all groups implement in full UN Security Council Resolution 1701 that ended the Israel-Hizballah war on August 14.

"Resolution 1701 is a fixed menu," he said. "It's not a buffet where you choose and pick. We have to implement it in its entirety."

Prisoner Exchange Difficulties

Annan has also had little success so far in ending the immediate dispute between Israel and Hizballah that sparked their monthlong battle. That was the militia's capture of two Israeli soldiers.

So far, Hizballah has said it will give the prisoners up only in exchange for Lebanese and Palestinian militants held by Israel.

But Olmert today reiterated Israel's demand the two soldiers be released unconditionally.

"The most important aspect of implementing Resolution 1701 is the unconditional release of the abducted Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev," he said. "As long as this objective is not achieved, Resolution 1701 cannot be considered as fully implemented."

Withdrawal's Timing Discussed

Still another matter to be resolved is the timing of Israel's full withdrawal of its forces from southern Lebanon.

On August 29, Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Israel would pull out once a "reasonable" number of the planned additional international forces are deployed. But he did not specify a figure.

Annan has said he hopes to see a total of 5,000 international troops in Lebanon soon and is reported to want Israeli troops to leave at that point.

The UN chief has said raising the number of troops to 5,000 from the current UN force of 2,000 soldiers already long in Lebanon could happen "in days or weeks."

But raising the troop level still further to the full planned force of 15,000 could take much longer. The UN hopes Muslim countries will contribute about half of the force, but final commitments have yet to be made. EU states have already promised the first half of the new forces.

Regional Cooperation

Meanwhile, Annan also called today on Israel's and Lebanon's neighbors to do their part to help implement the UN-imposed cease-fire.

"This is a resolution [1701] that Israel has accepted. The Lebanese government, including Hizballah, has accepted it," Annan said. "And we all have the responsibility to work to make sure that it is fully implemented."

Annan is due to go on from Israel and the Palestinian territories to Jordan, Syria, and, on September 2, Iran. Both Syria and Iran are major backers of Hizballah.

In Iran, the UN chief is also expected to talk about the Iranian nuclear crisis. He will arrive just two days after the expiration of the UN's August 31 deadline for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment.

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said on August 29 that Tehran cannot be prevented from pursuing its right to peaceful nuclear technology.

Iran has frequently said that right includes uranium enrichment -- a process that can be used to produce nuclear fuel or, at high levels of enrichment, material for nuclear bombs.

Copyright (c) 2006 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

... Payvand News - 8/30/06 ... --

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