Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Lebanon Seizes Hezbollah Arms

PARIS, 30 August 2006 — The Lebanese Army has seized weapons belonging to Hezbollah in south Lebanon, Prime Minister Fuad Siniora was quoted as saying in a French newspaper yesterday.

“The army has been seizing certain weapons, that is confirmed,” Siniora told a group of four journalists, including Le Monde’s correspondent, accompanying UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to Beirut.

“There have been interceptions, but our policy is not to make announcements on such matters,” he said, adding that the seizures involved “heavy weapons.”

“We are not the enemies of Hezbollah,” he said, “but we will tolerate no armed presence, either carrying weapons or wearing uniforms.”

He said: “No area will be off limits to the army.” He vowed that Lebanese forces would “confiscate any weapons that it finds. That is already what is happening in a firm but friendly way.”

Visiting devastated south Lebanon yesterday Annan urged Israel and Hezbollah to move swiftly to settle disputes blocking a permanent cease-fire to be upheld by 15,000 UN peacekeepers. He listed as “serious irritants” the fate of two Israeli soldiers snatched by Hezbollah and that of Lebanese prisoners held in Israel, as well as an Israeli air-and-sea blockade of Lebanon imposed at the start of the war nearly seven weeks ago.

Annan later flew to Israel by helicopter on the second leg of his Middle East tour.

“We need to resolve the issue of the captured soldiers very quickly. Obviously the issue of the (Lebanese) prisoners... will also have to be dealt with,” he said in Naqoura, main base of the current 2,000-strong UNIFIL force in Lebanon.

Annan again called on Israel to lift its blockade of Lebanon, which he said the Lebanese saw as a “humiliation and infringement of their sovereignty,” while stressing the need for the Beirut government to exert control over its borders.

Israel has refused to lift the blockade, citing the need to prevent the rearming of Hezbollah, whose capture of the Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12 sparked the war.

Annan is trying to secure full implementation of a Security Council resolution that halted the fighting on Aug. 14 and mandated up to 15,000 UN troops to deploy in the south. Italy’s first contingent of 800 troops, out of an eventual 3,000 pledged, set sail on what Rome said would be a “long and risky” mission. The aircraft carrier Garibaldi and four other navy ships were due to reach Lebanon by Friday. France promised to send a 900-strong battalion before the middle of September, with a second battalion to follow.

The Turkish government said it wanted Parliament to meet on Sept. 5 to approve a troop deployment in the UN force, a day after agreeing in principle to contribute soldiers.

In Brussels, European Union diplomats urged Muslim countries to make substantial contributions to the UN peacekeeping force, saying Muslim participation is key to the mission.

Bangladesh has volunteered about 1,800 troops, and Indonesia and Malaysia about 900 each. But Israel has not yet agreed to let the Asian nations send peacekeepers because their governments do not recognize the Israeli state.

Arab News


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