UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan will confer with Israeli foreign Minister David Levy on Friday about Israel's plans to withdraw from southern Lebanon by July, according to a Reuters report the same day.
Noting he had been in touch with "several leaders within the region and beyond it" regarding the Israeli pullout, Annan told a questioner, "It has also been my expectation that a senior Lebanese team will be able to visit (UN headquarters), but it is not certain yet."
Reuters said a key issue is the whether the UN peacekeeping force stationed in southern Lebanon since 1978 would be strengthened and moved up to the Israeli border to fill the vacuum left by the Israeli troops when they leave a nine-mile deep "security zone" they established to block attacks against northern Israel.
The Israelis and their allies of the South Lebanon Army militia have suffered numerous casualties at the hands of Hizbollah movement, prompting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to vow a withdrawal from southern Lebanon by July 7.
The pullout will take place in the absence of an Israeli peace accord with Lebanon and Syria, which has some 35,000 troops in Lebanon.
The resistance attacks have provided Damascus with a pressure point in its goal of securing Israel's withdrawal from the Golan Heights, occupied from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.
BARAK WARNS RISE IN VIOLENCE BEFORE LEBANON PULLOUT
Prime Minister Ehud Barak said on Thursday he expected Lebanese guerrillas to step up attacks ahead of Israel's planned withdrawal from south Lebanon. “There are dangers... I will describe it as an exchange of blows during the transition and an exchange of blows for a certain time after it but...our entry to Lebanon increased the conflict so our exit will reduce it,” Barak said.
“Israel, which is the strongest country in the Middle East, will know what to do if any source, under any type of disguise, tries to hurt its soldiers or civilians when Israel is behind the international border defending the State of Israel.”
Barak made the comments to reporters at an army base in northern Israel which commands military operations in the 15-km (nine-mile) wide “security zone.
ISRAEL URGED TO FREE LEBANESE PRISONERS
Human rights groups have called on Israel to free all Lebanese prisoners before it withdraws from southern Lebanon, said BBC.online said Thursday.
Representatives of international and local organizations were launching a campaign in Beirut to press for the release of about one-hundred and forty Lebanese in Khiam prison in southern Lebanon, and others who are held in Israeli jails.
The groups expressed fears for the safety of those held at Khiam jail, which is run by Israel's militia allies, and said Israel was responsible for protecting them – (Several Sources)
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