Annan urges Israel, Hizbollah to end disputes fast

Naqoura, LEBANON, Aug 29 | Updated: Aug 30 2006, 05:30am hrs
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, visiting devastated south Lebanon on Tuesday, urged Israel and Hizbollah to move swiftly to 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 snatched 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, who later flew to Israel by helicopter on the second leg of his Middle East tour, was due to meet Defense Minister Amir Peretz and the families of the soldiers at 1530 GMT.

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, he said in Naqoura, main base of the current 2,000-strong UNIFIL 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, while stressing the need for the Beirut government to exert control over its borders.

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

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 the south.

Italys 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 Navy 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.