Jerusalem (AsiaNews) The fate of the area's civilian population and Israeli prisoners in Hezbollah's hands are the most urgent issues to solve in order to implement Security Council Resolution 1701, but Israel's naval blockade of Lebanon and Hezbollah's disarmament are equally urgent, this according to what was said during the joint press conference of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert today in Jerusalem.
Both leaders said that full implementation of resolution 1701 can be achieved if the two Israeli soldiers prisoners of Hezbollah are released. Yesterday Mr Annan, who met the families of the two soldiers whose abduction led to the Israeli offensive, expressed his sympathy and said he understood their pain ("I am a father and a brother . . .").
The UN Secretary also renewed his appeal to lift the blockade of the Lebanese coast. The economy of Lebanon needs it to be jump started and it would send a signal that trust can be placed in the government in Beirut, which is increasingly set on reining Hezbollah's guerrillas.
For his part, Israel's prime minister said that Israeli troops and the blockade will stay until the international peace-keeping force is deployed.
Annan said that in a few days some 5,000 UNIFIL troops will be in place, adding that "by the time we are at that level, Israel will have fully withdrawn".
A diplomatic source told Israeli daily Haaretz that the UN quietly recognised that the blockade had to continue until UNIFIL forces completed their deployment. For Israel, the blockade is necessary to stop weapons from reaching Hezbollah via sea or by land from Syria and Iran.
Olmert reiterated that disarming Hezbollah and stopping weapons shipments from Syria and Iran (through Syria) were key to implementing resolution 1701.
Without raising the issue, Kofi Annan noted that the United Nations was working with the Lebanese government "to fully implement the resolution". Beirut, according to the United Nations, is responsible for disarming the Shia militia and ensuring its new-found sovereignty over its territory.
Annan added that to be achieved these goals require the cooperation of "neighbouring countries", i.e. Syria and Iran. For this reason, he will travel to Damascus and Tehran in the next few days.