Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Annan fails to secure lifting of Israeli blockadeBy Tim Butcher in Jerusalem
Kofi Annan left Jerusalem empty-handed last night after Israel refused his request to end its sea and air blockade of Lebanon.
In a setback for the United Nations secretary general's efforts to stabilise the ceasefire, the Israelis demanded the return of the two soldiers seized by Hizbollah last month as the price for implementing a UN Security Council resolution ending the war with the Shia militia.
The demand prepares the ground for Israeli troops to remain in Lebanon indefinitely, raising the likelihood of another military confron-tation.
The unconditional release of the two soldiers is not included in the 19 "action points" set out in the resolution, which was agreed after lengthy debate by the security council on Aug 11.
The diplomatic impasse worsens the already sour relations between the UN and Israel. During the month-long war, the Jewish state ignored repeated warnings from the world body. In one incident known to have incensed Mr Annan and senior colleagues, Israeli forces killed four unarmed UN observers in southern Lebanon.
At a joint press conference after meeting Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, Mr Annan referred to the sea and air blockade that Israel imposed as the start of the war last month. "I do believe the blockade should be lifted," he said. When asked whether Israel would end the blockade, Mr Olmert evaded the question, saying only that Israel wanted a full implementation of the ceasefire.
His office later issued a statement connecting Israel's resolution implementation to the release of the two soldiers.
It said: "The prime minister emphasised that the main part of implementing the decision was the return of the abducted soldiers to their homes and said that Resolution 1701 would not be implemented in full without the soldiers' release and return home."
The resolution makes only passing reference to the two soldiers.
In Lebanon, Mohammed Fneish, the energy minister and a Hizbollah official, said the soldiers would be freed only as part of a wider prisoner exchange. "There is no unconditional release," he said. "It is not feasible."
Jan Egeland, the UN's humanitarian chief, increased pressure on Israel by disclosing that mine clearance experts had found 100,000 unexploded cluster bomblets at 359 sites in Lebanon.
He said it would take up to 15 months to clear the devices, which were claiming civilian lives daily, the BBC reported.
He said the "shocking new information" had come from checks by the UN Mine Action Co-ordination Centre of 85 per cent of the areas in Lebanon bombed by Israel.
30 August 2006: Annan tells Israel to lift 'humiliating' blockade
29 August 2006: TV star Nasrallah impresses people on all sides in Lebanon
28 August 2006: I didn't think abduction would lead to war, says Hizbollah chief
27 August 2006: UN will not stop Syria sending weapons to Lebanon
26 August 2006: Europe promises 7,000 troops to hold Lebanon line
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