UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan slammed Israel on Wednesday for harming Palestinian civilians and for its continuing closure of the Gaza Strip. "More than 200 Palestinians have been killed since the end of June. That has to stop immediately," said Annan. "The closure on Gaza has to be lifted and passages need to be reopened, not only for commercial activity but also to enable Palestinians to leave," continued the UN secretary-general following his meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Annan called for the establishment of a Palestinian state which he called "the only solution to the problems on the region and added that although much attention has been turned to the recent war in Lebanon "the suffering of the Palestinian people should not be forgotten." He urged the Palestinian Authority to establish a unity government, "If the Palestinians can unify around a realistic joint plan and can bring the security situation under control, it will be a positive development and the UN will do all within its power to support it," adding that he was scheduled to meet going PA Prime Minister Ismail Hamiyeh later in the Gaza Strip. Earlier Wednesday, the UN secretary-general said after meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that he was unable to confirm a report that kidnapped IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were alive. Annan told reporters that he was under the impression that the kidnapped troops were alive, but stopped short of confirming it. He was referring to a statement by US civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson, who met Syrian and Hamas leaders in Damascus and said that the soldiers were "alive and well." Meanwhile, a Hizbullah cabinet minister said that the guerrilla group would not release kidnapped IDF soldiers unconditionally, and that they would only be freed in a prisoner exchange. "There will be no unconditional release. This is not possible," Minister of Energy and Hydraulic Resources Mohammed Fneish, one of two Hizbullah members in Lebanon's Cabinet, told reporters in Beirut. "There should be an exchange through indirect negotiations. This is the principle to which Hizbullah and the resistance are adhering," he said.
Annan: 5,000 int'l troops to deploy by end of week
UN chief meets families of kidnapped soldiers
Annan promised to do everything in his power to bring about the return of the soldiers.
According to Annan, during his meeting with Lebanese leaders in Beirut, he demanded an immediate and unconditional release of the kidnapped troops held by Hizbullah. The UN chief commented that he was of the impression that they were serious about solving the problem.
After meeting the prime minister, Annan also said that there could be some flexibility in the issue of supervising Lebanon's entry points to prevent the transfer of arms to Hizbullah, primarily from Syria. The deployment of international troops at those points is not the only solution, he said.
Annan called on Israel to lift its blockade of Lebanon, saying it was necessary to help Lebanon's economy recover from the war. He said that the Lebanese authorities had assured him they were taking measures to stop the flow of weapons into the country, and that he believed Israel's security concerns could be addressed.
Olmert rejected the plea, saying only that he expected a full implementation of the cease-fire.
Israel has said it would not lift its blockade unless international forces, along with Lebanese troops, were deployed on the Lebanon-Syria border to prevent the transfer of weapons from Syria to Hizbullah guerrillas. Lebanon has said it would deploy its own forces there, but not international troops, and Annan has backed that approach.
Asked by a reporter why he was going to Iran, a country whose leader has called for the destruction of Israel, Annan replied, "As the secretary-general of the UN, it is my responsibility to speak with anybody who can help us improve the situation. If I can't have a discussion with Ahmandinejad, how else could I relay the message that what he is saying is wrong."