A special UN envoy will visit the Middle East next week for consultation on Israel's plan to unilaterally withdraw its troops from south Lebanon by July, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan announced Wednesday.
Terje Roed-Larsen of Norway, who serves as UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and the UN Secretary General's personal representative to the Palestinian Authority, will visit Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Israel, said Annan.
"The mission will be to discuss with them the implementation of (Resolution) 425," he added, without providing further details.
Israel officially informed the United Nations Monday of its decision to withdraw by July from the strip of south Lebanese land it has been occupying since 1978 in hopes to protect northern Israeli towns and villages from possible guerrilla attacks.
In its letter, the government of Israel indicated that it planned to pull its forces out by July and that it would fully implement UN resolutions 425 and 426.
Resolution 425, passed in March 1978, called on Israel to halt its military action "immediately" and withdraw its troops "forthwith," while Resolution 426 established the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) totaling today 4,504 peacekeepers and 456 civilian staff.
"Those resolutions give us specific tasks which we would undertake with the cooperation of all the parties concerned," Annan said.
UN LEBANON FORCE MAY BE STRENGTHENED
Annan said the 4,500-member UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon might have to be strengthened with Israel withdrawing its troops by July, according to a Reuters report.
Asked about possible dangers connected with the pullout, Annan told reporters: “None of these operations are ever risk free. And obviously we will have to go in with the right strength and the right force, to be able to...defend our mandate and ourselves.
“We may need to strengthen the force, we are doing our contingency planning,” he said. The findings of his Middle East envoy, Terje Larsen, would have to be factored in after he returned from a trip next week to the region.
There are fears that an Israeli withdrawal without an agreement with Lebanon and Syria might be followed by guerrilla attacks against Israel.
This would be certain to spark strong Israeli retaliation, leading to a major flare-up that could put the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in the line of fire.
Referring to the UN force, deployed since 1978, Annan said: “We have 4,500 (troops) at the moment and some strengthening may be required. But I will have to wait until we have all the information and we have completed our planning.”
UNIFIL, which had an initial authorized strength of 7,000, currently comprises contingents from Fiji, Finland, France, Ghana, India, Ireland, Italy, Nepal and Poland.
SECURITY COUNCIL TO DISCUSS LEBANON WITHDRAWAL ‘SOON’
The Security Council will convene "soon" to discuss Israel's planned pullback from southern Lebanon, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan told Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak Wednesday, Israeli television reported.
Annan's disclosure came in a telephone call between the two, the television said, without giving further details about the Security Council's plans.
"Annan updated the prime minister on the preparations made" ahead of the withdrawal.
CAIRO FORMALLY INFORMED OF ISRAELI PULLOUT
Egypt was formally informed Wednesday night of the Israeli decision to withdraw from south Lebanon during a phone call from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa said in a press conference held in Cairo.
In answering a question concerning Israel informing the United Nations of its intent to withdraw from south Lebanon in July under the auspices of the UN, he said that some details concerning this issue were discussed during this phone call.
Moussa also expressed his hope that this step will lead to the implementation of a full withdrawal to beyond Lebanon's international borders of 1923 – (Several Sources)
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