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Annan Appeals to Israel to Lift Lebanon Blockade


United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has appealed to Israel to lift its air and sea blockade of Lebanon. Israeli officials say the blockade can only be lifted when full implementation of the U.N.-mediated ceasefire takes place.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has appealed to Israel to lift its air and sea blockade of Lebanon. Israel's prime minister says the blockade can only be lifted when the U.N.-mediated ceasefire is fully implemented and two Israeli soldiers are released by Hezbollah.

Kofi Annan met with Israel's top leadership today, as part of his continuing tour of the Middle East that has taken him to Lebanon and Israel. Mr. Annan held talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, before traveling onto Jordan, Iran and Syria in the next few days.

At a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Mr. Annan appealed for Israel to lift its air and sea blockade of Lebanon.

"It is important - not only because of the economic effect it is having on the country, but it is also important to strengthen the democratic government of Lebanon, which Israel has said it has no problem with," he said.

Mr. Annan says in his discussions with Lebanese officials he raised one of Israel's main concerns about the lifting of its blockade - namely that Hezbollah would be able to begin receiving new arms shipments.

"I understand the issue of rearmament - that arms do not come in either through the airports, or the seaports or the borders. I can assure you that in my discussions with Lebanese authorities they are taking this issue seriously and they are taking measures to deal with it," Annan said. "But, in the meantime, I do believe the blockade should be lifted."

For his part, Ehud Olmert did not respond directly to Mr. Annan's plea but he did say that Israel expects the full implementation of the U.N. ceasefire resolution to take place. The Israeli prime minister says that means Israel will not take any action until its two soldiers are released by Hezbollah.

"The crucial test facing the international community is the full implementation of resolution 1701. Israel is fully committed its obligations as described in the resolution," he said. "The most important aspect of implementing resolution 1701, is the unconditional release of the abducted Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev."

Mr. Annan says he discussed the Israeli prisoner issue with senior members of the Lebanese government, including Hezbollah representatives in the Lebanese cabinet.

The U.N. secretary general also asked Israel to withdraw the remainder of its troops from Lebanon, once an initial deployment of about five-thousand U.N. peacekeepers takes up positions in southern Lebanon.

However, Israel's prime minister refused to set a timetable for complete withdrawal of all Israeli forces from Lebanon, saying again that Israel will only act when U.N. resolution 1701 is fully implemented.

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