Annan in Beirut: Calls to free Israeli troops, lift blockade
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan arrived in Beirut Monday at the start of a Mideast tour to strengthen the cease-fire in Lebanon, saying it was "a very critical time" for the country. "I think it's important that I come here myself to discuss with the Lebanese authorities the aftermath of the war and the measures we need to take to implement U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 and to underscore international solidarity," Annan told reporters after being met at Rafik Hariri International airport by Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh.
Before landing, Annan asked to fly over Beirut's southern suburbs that were heavily bombed by Israel during the month-long war, according to a military official at the airport.
Later, Annan chided both Israel and Hizbullah, saying they could not "choose and pick" parts of a U.N. cease-fire resolution to implement, and demanded Hizbullah release two captured Israeli soldiers and Israel lift a blockade on Lebanon.
Annan called U.N. resolution 1701 "a fixed menu." "It's not a buffet ... It's not an a la carte menu where you choose and pick. We have to implement 1701 in its entirety and I hope that all parties will pay attention and act in that spirit," he said in a press conference with Prime Minister Fouad Saniora. "Without the full implementation of resolution 1701, I fear the risk is great for renewal of hostilities."
The top U.N. diplomat also said he was renewing his "call for the abducted soldiers to be free." He urged Hizbullah to transfer them to the Lebanese government "or a third party" under the auspices of the international Red Cross.
"We, the U.N., will be prepared to play a role if we are required to do so. And I offer our services," he said.
He said the United Nations was also ready to assist in a prisoners' exchange between Israel and Lebanon.
Annan also urged Israel to lift its air and sea blockade on Lebanon. "I'm working with them and a number of international partners to see to it that this is done," he said. "We are working for the lifting of the siege, I am discussing it with the Israeli authorities tomorrow, I hope there will be some movements on this in the not-too-distant future," he said.
He said the lifting of the blockade will be one of the first items on his agenda when he visits Israel on Tuesday.
Annan obliquely renewed the U.N.'s call for Hizbullah's disarmament. "In Lebanon there should, as we have all agreed, be one law, one authority, one gun," he said.
Annan however said it was not the duty of UN forces to disarm Hizbullah but to monitor the ceasefire.
Meanwhile, Annan held a private meeting with Energy Minister Mohammad Fneish, a top Hizbullah official, in Beirut on Monday, a senior Lebanese official told AFP. "Annan held a private meeting with Minister Mohammad Fneish, in the presence of Annan's representative in Lebanon Gier Pedersen," said the official.