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Tuesday, 10 October, 2000, 16:53 GMT 17:53 UK
Kidnapped Israelis 'alive and well'
Israeli soldiers on the border
There has been tension on the border since the abduction
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said three Israeli soldiers abducted by Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas over the weekend are alive and well.

He spoke after the Israeli army said the soldiers, captured along Israel's nothern border, had been wounded.

The Red Cross should be given access to them immediately and without conditions

Kofi Annan
Negotiations were still going on for the release of the soldiers, Mr Annan said after meeting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in Jerusalem.

He is due to travel to Lebanon on Wednesday to press ahead with efforts to free them.

"The soldiers should be kept in good health," Mr Annan said. "The Red Cross should be given access to them immediately and without conditions."

Isreal defiant

Hezbollah has demanded the release of Arab prisoners held by Israel, including 15 Lebanese.

Hezbollah fundraising
Hezbollah collects funds on the streets of Beirut

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah has discussed the soldiers' fate with envoys from the International Committee for Red Cross, the United Nations and Russia.

The capture of the soldiers is seen as the most serious confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah since Israel pulled its troops out of Lebanon in May.

Hezbollah has refused to provide any information on the condition of the Israelis, demanding that Israel respond first to its demands.

But Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak did not indicate on Tuesday that Israel was willing to make any such gesture.

Rocket attack

Instead he demanded the immediate release of the Israeli soldiers, and said the United Nations and Red Cross should "get immediate and unconditional access to them."

He said that if the three were not released, Israel would have "the right to respond at the time, place and with the means we will find appropriate".

The soldiers' capture on Saturday was part of a Hezbollah rocket and machine gun attack on the disputed Shebaa Farms area along the Israeli-Lebanese border. Six other Israeli soldiers were wounded in the attack.

The violence was the first major flare-up along the border since Israel withdrew on 24 May from a security zone in south Lebanon that it had occupied for 18 years to prevent cross-border attacks.

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See also:

10 Oct 00 | Middle East
Israel steps back from the brink
23 May 00 | Middle East
Q & A: Leaving Lebanon
05 May 00 | Middle East
Eyewitness: Meeting Hezbollah fighters
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