Olmert rejects Annan call to lift blockade of Lebanon
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan renewed his demands Wednesday that Israel immediately lift its sea and air blockade of Lebanon, but failed to win Israel's consent. According to the AP, Annan also said he hoped Israel would withdraw all its troops from south Lebanon once the number of U.N. forces in Lebanon has doubled to 5,000, a number he said could be reached in "coming days and weeks.''
However, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert suggested Israel was not ready to do that until a U.N.-brokered cease-fire deal between Israel and Hizbullah was implemented fully.
Israel has said it would not lift its blockade unless international forces, along with Lebanese forces, are deployed on the Israel-Lebanon border, as well as on Lebanon's frontier with Syria to prevent the flow of weapons to Hizbullah. The U.N. chief said he won assurances from Lebanese authorities that they are serious about enforcing the arms embargo on Hizbullah.
"We need to be flexible, because I don't think there's ever only one way of solving a problem. We shouldn't insist that the only way to do it is by deploying international forces,'' he said.
"I do believe the blockade should be lifted,'' Annan said in a news conference with Olmert.
On his part, Olmert said Israel hoped to pull out from Lebanon "as soon as possible,'' but suggested the deployment of the 5,000 U.N. troops would not be enough to secure that objective.
Both Annan and Olmert demanded the unconditional release of two Israeli soldiers captured by Hizbullah on July 12, the incident that triggered the war. Annan said he would do everything to secure the release of the soldiers. He said that in his visit to Lebanon, before coming to Israel, he met with a Hizbullah member of the Lebanese Cabinet and discussed the fate of the soldiers. "I did not get the impression that they are not alive. I believe they are alive,'' he said.