Israel rejects call to lift Lebanon blockade

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 30-Aug-06 | Author: Warren Hoge| Source: International Herald Tribune

JERUSALEM Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel rebuffed a request Wednesday from the United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, for even a partial lifting of the seven-week old blockade of Lebanon.

Annan told reporters in an interview Tuesday night that while he would prefer that Israel completely lift its blockade of air, sea and land traffic into Lebanon, imposed, Israel says, to prevent the smuggling of weapons to Hezbollah, he would ask Olmert to at least allow Beirut's airport to resume normal operations.

But Olmert rejected that idea as well. In doing so, he made reference to Annan's previous insistence that all parties to the UN-brokered cease-fire abide by all of its provisions.

The resolution, Olmert said, "is not a smorgasbord. It's not a buffet. It's a one- time meal."

Therefore, he said, Israel cannot lift the blockade on one part of Lebanon and not on others.

Olmert also rejected a request by Annan that Israeli troops withdraw completely from southern Lebanon once the UN force there reaches about 5,000 troops, rather than waiting for it to reach its full planned strength of 15,000.

"Israel will pull out of Lebanon once the resolution is implemented," he said.

From Jerusalem, Annan went to the West Bank, where he met with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president. Annan noted that the continuing conflict in Gaza had been overshadowed by the fighting in Lebanon.

"The suffering of the Palestinian people must not be forgotten as we strive to bring peace to the people of Lebanon," he said. "Over 200 Palestinians have been killed since the end of June. This must end immediately."

From the West Bank, Annan will move on to Jordan. He is also planning to visit Syria and Iran, countries the United States and Israel say are crucial to any settlement that involves Hezbollah. Given the Bush administration's policy of refusing to negotiate with either, Annan's visits to Damascus and Tehran have taken on greater significance.

"I think it is important that we obtain the support and cooperation of regional players," Annan said.

As Annan left Lebanon on Tuesday after two days of meetings and tours of devastated areas, he said he was convinced that 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," Annan said in an interview in his hotel room in Jerusalem on Tuesday night.

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 the hugely destructive 34-day Israeli onslaught by capturing two Israeli soldiers on July 12.

"I believe the Lebanese because they have seen what has happened to their country," he said.

Speaking in the West Bank on Wednesday, Annan defended his statements about the need for the disarmament of Hezbollah through political, not military, means, comments that have been criticized by Israeli officials. He said that most successful disarmament programs, like that of the Irish Republican Army, had been carried out in this fashion.

"It doesn't always have to be done by force," he said. "In some cases, if you try to do it by force, you compound the problem."

John O'Neil contributed reporting from New York.