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Last Updated: Monday, 28 August 2006, 18:00 GMT 19:00 UK
Annan asks Israel to end blockade
Kofi Annan in Beirut
Annan is on a regional tour to prop up the fragile ceasefire
United Nations chief Kofi Annan has called on Israel to lift its blockade of Lebanon and urged Hezbollah to free two captured Israeli soldiers.

Speaking after talks in Beirut, he said he was working for an immediate end to the sea and air blockade and the troops should be handed over to the Red Cross.

Mr Annan is on a regional tour to try to prop up the two-week-old ceasefire.

Separately, it was announced two Israeli government committees would look into the handling of the conflict.

The UN secretary general said the truce had created a chance for a "long-term ceasefire and a long-term peace".

All sides in the conflict had to implement the UN resolution which brought an end to the fighting, he said.

Discussions also focused on the deployment and role of 15,000 UN peacekeepers in Lebanon.

Last week, the secretary general secured a pledge by EU countries to provide thousands of soldiers for the UN force.

The force was authorised under the UN-backed ceasefire which ended the four-week conflict earlier this month.


Correspondents say Mr Annan used the press conference to speak diplomatically about all the sensitive issues on the agenda of his talks in Beirut.

France - leadership and 2,000 troops
Italy - 2,000 - 3,000 troops
Bangladesh - two battalions (up to 2,000 troops)
Malaysia - one battalion
Spain - one mechanised battalion
Indonesia - one battalion, an engineering company
Nepal - one battalion
Denmark - at least two ships
Poland - 500 troops
Finland - 250 troops
Belgium - 302 troops, later rising to 392
Germany - maritime and border patrols but no combat troops
Norway - 100 soldiers

He praised Lebanon for respecting the ceasefire, and stressed that southern Lebanon must become an arms-free zone.

"In Lebanon, there should be - as we have all agreed - one law, one authority, one gun," he said.

Mr Annan indicated that the issue of Hezbollah's weapons should be resolved through national agreement inside Lebanon.

His comments came after talks with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Lebanese parliament speaker and Hezbollah ally Nabih Berri.

Mr Annan also met Hezbollah cabinet minister Mohammed Fneish, who is Lebanon's energy minister.

The UN chief said "lots of work" remained to be done, but that the UN and international community were determined to work "very, very intensively" to ensure the resolution was implemented.

Later, Hezbollah supporters booed Mr Annan as he toured southern Beirut, a stronghold for the Shia movement which was heavily bombarded during the Israeli offensive.

'Prisoner swap'

Following his visit to Lebanon, Mr Annan will also travel to Israel, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Iran.

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah
Hezbollah's leader said he did not expect such a conflict with Israel

Israel is looking for better guarantees that Hezbollah will not rearm and has said the blockade will remain in place until an arms embargo is implemented against Hezbollah.

Mr Olmert has also promised to bring home the soldiers captured by Hezbollah on 12 July.

The Lebanese prime minister said he and Mr Annan discussed the issue of Lebanese prisoners held in Israel, as well as Shebaa Farms - territory held by Israel but claimed by Lebanon with Syria's support.

On Sunday, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said "contacts" had begun about a prisoner swap, possibly involving Italy and Mr Berri.

Israel denied any negotiations on a prisoner exchange were under way, but its foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, has said the conflict will not be resolved without their return.

Sheikh Nasrallah said he would not have ordered the soldiers' capture, which triggered Israel's blistering offensive, had he known it would lead to such a response.

More than 1,100 Lebanese and 159 Israelis died in the 34-day conflict which left much of southern Lebanon in ruins.

Unifil-2, a force of 15,000 soldiers, including 7,000 from European Union states to replace the existing small Unifil contingent, is due to be deployed to maintain the fragile ceasefire.

The Turkish cabinet agreed on Monday to join the peacekeeping force and the issue of deployment will be debated by parliament this week.

The UN hopes to have some of the troops on the ground within a week, although the EU says it will be two to three months before the whole force is deployed.


In Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced two governmental committees of inquiry would be set up into the handling of the conflict in Lebanon - one dealing with political matters, the other military affairs.

This falls short of demands for an independent state commission which would have had the power to recommend that top officials step down, the BBC's Nick Thorpe in Jerusalem reports.

Mr Olmert's critics are likely to accuse him of trying to dodge criticism, but he says there is no time for a full blown investigation.

Speaking in Haifa, he admitted to "failures" during the offensive, but defended his decision to launch the campaign.

The responsibility was "entirely mine", he said.

The aftermath of the ambush which triggered the war

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