UN Chief Kofi Annan on ‘Peace Mission’
UN chief Kofi Annan Thursday heads for talks in Syria, a key supporter of Hezbollah, whose stance will be critical to the success of the tenuous ceasefire between the Shiite Muslim movement and Israel, says the Middle East Times.
“After failing Wednesday to convince Israel to quickly end its blockade of war-devastated Lebanon, Annan faces in Syria a regime that has taken a hard line against the UN resolution that led to the end of the month-long conflict.
“Israel, the United States, and other Western powers accuse Syria of acting as a conduit for arms shipments to Hezbollah from its other key backer, Iran, a charge that Damascus denies.
Annan left Israel Wednesday with little to show for his efforts, after urging Israel to lift its blockade on Lebanon and later calling for a similar measure in the Gaza Strip following talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
“Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that Israel would only lift the blockade on Lebanon after international forces and Lebanese troops are fully deployed, not only in southern Lebanon but also along the Syrian border.
“Annan told French radio Thursday that Israeli officials had agreed to withdraw forces from southern Lebanon once 5,000 UN peacekeepers and 16,000 Lebanese troops have been deployed, something that he hoped would happen in “a week to 10 days.”
“Annan also demanded the release of two soldiers whose capture sparked Israel’s offensive against Hezbollah, and said that full implementation of the UN resolution that brokered a ceasefire could lead to a “durable peace.”
“But Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, who has accused Israel of crimes against humanity, said that Lebanon would be the “last Arab country” to make peace with Israel. The two have had no relations since Israel’s creation in 1948.
“Annan is expected to travel on to Iran, which faces a critical moment in its dealings with the international community over its controversial nuclear program.
“Thursday is the deadline for Iran to abide by a Security Council resolution calling for it to halt its enrichment of uranium or face possible sanctions, something that Tehran has indicated it will not do.
“The UN chief is also expected to visit Saudi Arabia.”