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Annan Visits Southern Lebanon Before Heading to Israel


U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has visited southern Lebanon Tuesday, before traveling to Israel on a Mideast tour aimed at shoring up the ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah.

Mr. Annan met with commanders of the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) at the coastal town of Naqoura and took an aerial tour of the border region that bore the brunt of Israeli air strikes and artillery fire during 34 days of warfare.

When he was in Beirut Monday, Mr. Annan said he plans to ask the Israeli government to lift its air, land and sea blockade of Lebanon. He also Urged Hezbollah to release two captured Israeli soldiers.

Hundreds of Italian troops in naval vessels left for Lebanon today. The contingent is the first of 2,500 Italian troops for an expanded U.N. peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon.

The U.N. Security Council Resolution on ending the Israeli-Hezbollah war calls for the deployment of 15,000 international troops in Lebanon.

Secretary-General Annan will also visit Syria and Iran during his Mideast tour. The two countries are the main supporters of Hezbollah.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.