Lift blockade of Lebanon, Annan urges
By WARREN HOGE
JERUSALEM, Aug. 29 - United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan came to Israel late Tuesday after two intensive days in Lebanon that he said had convinced him the Lebanese were serious about preserving the cease-fire and moving to a permanent peace.
"They believe that, handled properly, they can use this moment to strengthen their state," Mr. Annan said in an interview in his hotel room in Jerusalem.
The Lebanese were committed, he said, to "the idea that you cannot have a state within a state but have to have one authority, one law and one gun." His reference was to the dominance in southern Lebanon of the Hezbollah militia, which provoked a hugely destructive 34-day war with Israel by capturing two Israeli soldiers on July 12.
"I believe the Lebanese because they have seen what has happened to their country," he said.
Mr. Annan had spent his second day in Lebanon seeing much of that destruction on a tour of the border area in the south and a visit to the headquarters of Unifil, the 2,000-member United Nations force in Lebanon. The strength is soon to grow to 15,000, matched by a like number of Lebanese Army troops, to patrol the south.
Mr. Annan said he hoped to speed the departure of remaining Israeli troops from southern Lebanon by getting an international force of at least 5,000 in place as soon as possible. "When we get to 5,000, then we have a solid, credible force on the ground and they should be able to withdraw," he said.
The Lebanese have urged him to press the Israelis to lift a sea and air blockade that is inhibiting the country's restoration, Mr. Annan said.
"I think the time has come for the siege to be lifted," he said in Naqura, the Unifil office, two and a half miles north of the Israeli border on the Mediterranean. "The Lebanese have shown they are serious about the implementation of 1701 in all the deployments and efforts they have made."
Security Council Resolution 1701 brought the fighting between Hezbollah and Israel to a halt on Aug. 14 and set up a buffer zone in southern Lebanon free of all weapons not authorized by the Lebanese government.
As one example of how the Lebanese were showing good faith with the demands of the measure, he noted that Hezbollah had far fewer cease-fire violations than Israel.
A daily report from Unifil that Mr. Annan gave to Israel's defense minister, Amir Peretz, Tuesday evening showed that Hezbollah had violated the cease-fire four times, while Israel had done so nearly 70 times. "Hezbollah is showing incredible discipline," Mr. Annan said.
At the Naqura base, Mr. Annan was briefed by the force commander, Maj. Gen. Alain Pellegrini of France, on how he would deploy his enlarged forces to coordinate with the 15,000 Lebanese troops that Prime Minister Fouad Siniora of Lebanon has readied to send to the south.
Mr. Annan also laid a wreath at a memorial to those killed in service to the mission, including four unarmed United Nations observers who died when their post came under repeated Israeli fire on July 25.
Later he toured the border in a helicopter, surveying flattened hilltop villages and bombed out roads and bridges from the air, and visiting four United Nations posts, including the wrecked one at Khiam where the four observers died.
Between posts, the team drove across the rocky scrubland and through largely deserted villages in white vans with black United Nations markings and blue United Nations flags flying. Posters of Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, and yellow banners with the group's insignia were common roadside sights. At one crossroads, sullen villagers greeted the passing convoy with handwritten signs saying, "Americans and Israelis are the terrorists."
At one post, manned by members of an Indian battalion in blue turbans, the commander laid out on a table pieces from both Hezbollah rockets and Israeli aerial bombs that had rained in on the peacekeepers during the 34-day siege.
The commander pointed with a look of helplessness to a spot just outside the post's perimeter fence where Hezbollah had set up a launching site. General Pellegrini recalled how he had sent letters of protest to the Lebanese government without getting a single reply.
Asked how he could react with the new powers conferred on the enlarged Unifil mission, he said, "Now we can use forceful means."
In the interview, Mr. Annan said he understood the concern over the ambiguity in the rules of engagement over who would be responsible for disarming Hezbollah and how it would be done, but he warned of the consequences of an overly aggressive approach.
"It's a constant balancing act in Lebanon," he said. "You have to make sure that while you try to help them, you don't destabilize them. When people say the army should go and disarm Hezbollah, you're asking for civil war."
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