Annan: 5,000 peacekeepers will be on the ground by end of week

Diplomatic officials: UN expects Israel to begin withdrawing its remaining forces when UNIFIL force reaches 5,000 number.

jp.services2 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan arrived here Tuesday night and, after meeting with Defense Minister Amir Peretz, said Israel was responsible for most of the cease-fire violations in Lebanon. He said that in parallel with the current diplomatic and political efforts, it was necessary to strengthen the cease-fire and ensure that it continued. Some 100 Israeli violations of the cease-fire, most of them violations of airspace, have been reported to the UN Security Council, as opposed to four Hizbullah violations. Annan, who will be in the country for less than a day as part of a whirlwind tour of the Middle East, also said that by the end of the week the current 2,500-man UNIFIL force would be doubled. The first thing Annan did upon arriving in Jerusalem was meet with the families of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers. After that, he met with Peretz. Israeli officials said the purpose of the visit was to deal with the details of implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1701. Annan, whose tour will also take him to Syria and Iran, is also scheduled to meet Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Vice Premier Shimon Peres on Wednesday, before going to Ramallah for a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Following the meeting with Peretz, Annan - alluding to an issue that is sure to dominate his talks here - called on Israel to lift its sea and air blockade of Lebanon to enable that country to rebuild its economy. Israel has said that this would be possible once the arms embargo called for in 1701 was implemented. "We hope a way could be found to implement the embargo on weapons," Peretz said. "We discussed the coordination that has until today been working well." At a high-level strategic assessment at the Defense Ministry earlier in the day, Peretz told senior defense officials that the blockade would continue until there was effective supervision of land, air and sea crossings into Lebanon to ensure that weapons were not being smuggled in. Senior diplomatic officials said that the question of how to carry this out would dominate the talks with Annan. Another issue likely to be raised during the talks was Israel's demand for a two-to-three kilometer wide "security zone" that would be free of Hizbullah. This issue was discussed at the strategic assessment in the Defense Ministry, with the idea being that UNIFIL and Lebanese army troops could enter this zone after coordinating with Israel, but that Israel would fire from its side of the border on Hizbullah men in this area. Peretz, after his meeting with Annan, said that he stressed the importance of the return of the captive soldiers, and said Annan said he considered this one of the most important issues in the implementation of 1701. Peretz said that Israel had no intention of delaying the withdrawal of the IDF from southern Lebanon once a significant force arrived. The UN, according to diplomatic officials, expects that Israel would begin withdrawing its remaining forces when the UNIFIL force reaches the level of some 5,000 men. Annan arrived by helicopter from south Lebanon, where he called Israel's continued air and sea blockade of the country a "humiliation." "We need to resolve the issue of the abducted soldiers very quickly," Annan said during his visit to Nakoura in south Lebanon. "We need to deal with the lifting of the embargo - sea, land and air - which for the Lebanese is a humiliation and an infringement on their sovereignty." While Annan visited the devastation the war caused in southern Lebanon, Israeli officials were told that his visit would be a working visit and that there would be no time for a helicopter visit to the North to see the damage caused by the Katyushas. When asked about this, one UN spokesman replied, "The first thing he did when he arrived in Israel was to meet the families of the abducted soldiers. He didn't meet any families in Lebanon." Annan, according to a UN spokesman, told the families that he made it clear during his visit to Lebanon that he wanted to see the soldiers "returned home unconditionally." He also told them that he discussed in Lebanon the need for representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross to meet with the soldiers. Senior diplomatic officials said that the government views 1701 as a good resolution and that the discussions with Annan would focus on the details of how to coordinate with the UNIFIL force, and how he envisions the Lebanese army stopping arms smuggling. Annan's arrival followed by just a few hours the arrival of the Iranian deputy president in Beirut, and Israel - according to diplomatic officials - was keen on hearing from Annan how he envisioned keeping Syria and Iran from rebuilding Hizbullah.