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(photo credit: AP [file])
Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealed to UN member states to provide desperately needed UN peacekeeping troops for Lebanon and assured them the UN force would not "wage war" on Israel, Lebanon or Hizbullah.
"It is not expected to achieve by force what must be realized through negotiation and an internal Lebanese consensus," Annan said in a report to the UN Security Council on implementation of the Aug. 11 resolution calling for an end to the Israeli-Hizbullah conflict.
A key concern of many countries is whether the UN force will be called on to disarm Hizbullah fighters, as called for in a September 2004 UN resolution. They want to study the rules of engagement and concept of operations for the force, which were distributed Friday, before making a decision on troops.
Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown said countries needed to understand that the force would not be offensive. "It's not going to go in there and attempt large-scale disarmament," he said.
He appealed to European countries to contribute troops to an expanded UN force to balance the commitments from Muslim countries so that both Israel and Lebanon will view the troops as legitimate.
Malloch Brown welcomed Italy's announcement that it will contribute, though it gave no numbers, and Finland's pledge of 250 troops. But he stressed that more European nations are needed for the vanguard force of 3,500 troops that the UN wants on the ground by Aug. 28 to help ensure that the truce between Israel and Lebanon holds.
Annan expressed relief that the parties were generally complying with the cease-fire, and said he was encouraged "by the positive first steps."
"However, I would caution that the situation is still very fragile," Annan said. "I call on all parties to do their utmost to ensure that the cessation of hostilities holds and to transform it into a durable cease-fire."
Assuming the cessation of hostilities does hold, Annan said the next reinforcements for the UN force, up to 3,500 troops, are needed by Oct. 5, and a third and final wave of up to 3,000 troops will be needed by Nov. 4.
The UN resolution authorized up to 15,000 UN peacekeepers to help 15,000 Lebanese troops extend their authority into south Lebanon, which has been controlled by Hizbullah, as Israel withdraws its soldiers. The aim is to create a buffer zone free of Hizbullah fighters between the Litani River and the UN-drawn border, about 20 miles (29 kilometers) to the south.
Annan praised the first meeting in a decade of Israeli and Lebanese generals with the UN force commander and the positive start to Lebanon's phased deployment and Israel's phased withdrawal.
The Lebanese army has deployed more than 1,500 troops in three sectors that Israeli forces have left, and the UN force has set up checkpoints and started patrolling the areas, he said.
Annan told the council that the 2,000-strong UN force, known as UNIFIL, has reported "only a handful of isolated violations of the cessation of hostilities since it came into effect."
Annan called on the Lebanese and Israeli governments "to work resolutely towards a long-term solution and a permanent cease-fire."
"A reinforced UNIFIL is not going to wage war on any of the actors in the theater," Annan said, and it cannot be "a substitute for a political process."