August 29, 2006

Annan urges quick end to Israel, Hizbollah disputes

By Hussein Saad

NAQOURA, Lebanon (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Kofi
Annan urged Israel and Hizbollah on a visit to devastated south
Lebanon on Tuesday to swiftly settle disputes blocking a
permanent ceasefire to be upheld by 15,000 U.N. peacekeepers.

He listed as "serious irritants" the fate of two Israeli
soldiers seized by Hizbollah and that of Lebanese prisoners
held in Israel, as well as an Israeli air and sea blockade of
Lebanon imposed at the start of the war nearly seven weeks ago.

Annan later flew to Israel by helicopter on the second leg
of his Middle East tour where he met the families of the two
soldiers. He was due to meet Defense Minister Amir Peretz at
1700 GMT and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday.

"We need to resolve the issue of the abducted soldiers very
quickly. Obviously the issue of the (Lebanese) prisoners ...
will also have to be dealt with," Annan said in Naqoura, main
base of the current 2,000-strong U.N. force in Lebanon.

Annan again called on Israel to lift its blockade of
Lebanon, which he said the Lebanese saw as a "humiliation and
infringement of their sovereignty." He reiterated calls for
Beirut to exert control over its borders to stop arms

Israel has refused to lift the blockade, citing the need to
prevent the rearming of the Lebanese Hizbollah guerrilla group,
whose capture of the Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on
July 12 sparked the 34-day war.

Olmert, under fire at home over his handling of the
conflict, told local officials in northern Israel the Jewish
state was still a force to be reckoned with.

"Two weeks after the war, I am still the one who is
approving take-offs and landings in Beirut and that shows you
that something happened here," the YNET News Web site quoted
Olmert as saying in the city of Tiberias.

He also taunted Hizbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

"While I am traveling around the north, Nasrallah has yet
to come out of his bunker," Olmert said.

Annan is trying to secure full implementation of a Security
Council resolution that halted the fighting on August 14 and
mandated up to 15,000 U.N. troops to deploy in south Lebanon.


Italy's first contingent of 800 troops, out of an eventual
3,000 pledged, set sail on what Rome said would be a "long and
risky" mission. The aircraft carrier Garibaldi and four other
naval ships were due to reach Lebanon by Friday.

France promised to send a 900-strong battalion before the
middle of September, with a second battalion to follow.

The Turkish government said it wanted parliament to meet on
September 5 to approve a troop contribution to the U.N. force,
a day after agreeing in principle to send soldiers.

Annan laid a wreath in Naqoura for five U.N. members killed
by Israeli attacks during the war. He also flew over areas
battered by Israeli bombing and visited U.N. bases.

Many thousands of civilians have returned to southern
Lebanon, but are finding a landscape strewn with cluster bombs.

"Unexploded ordnance continues to be a major threat,
especially to children," Michael Bociurkiw, spokesman for the
U.N. children's agency UNICEF, said in Geneva.

He said 359 Israeli cluster bomb locations had been
reported in the south, along with more than 60 unexploded bombs
ranging from 500 lb (227 kg) to 2,000 lb (908 kg) in houses and

At least 12 people have been killed by cluster bombs since
the war, which cost the lives of nearly 1,200 people in
Lebanon, mainly civilians, and 157 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

The United Nations hopes to create a buffer zone in south
Lebanon free of Israeli or Hizbollah forces and policed by the
expanded U.N. force alongside some 15,000 Lebanese troops.

It is hoping Muslim nations will send troops to balance the
7,000 or so pledged by European countries.

Potential Muslim contributors include Indonesia, Malaysia
and Bangladesh, although Israel has objected to their taking
part because they have no diplomatic ties with the Jewish

The truce on Israel's northern border is generally holding,
but violence has continued in the Palestinian territories.

Israeli troops killed three Palestinians near Gaza City,
medics said, as the army battled militants in an offensive to
free a soldier abducted by Gaza-based gunmen on June 25.

Two of the Palestinians were hit by a tank shell, witnesses
said. The army said it was checking the report.

Israeli troops also killed two gunmen during a clash in the
Balata refugee camp in the occupied West Bank, witnesses said.

More than 190 Palestinians, about half of them civilians,
have been killed in Gaza in Israel's two-month-old offensive.

(Additional reporting by Jerusalem, Geneva, Rome, Ankara
and Paris bureaux)