08/24/2006, 00.00
MIDDLE EAST – EUROpe
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Kofi Annan to travel to Europe and Middle East, including Iran

Slow international response is compounded by threats from Syria and Hezbollah.

Brussels (AsiaNews) – Kofi Annan is embarking this week on a major trip to Europe and the Middle East to further the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701 that ended the war between Israel and Hezbollah. Tomorrow, the United Nations secretary general will attend a special meeting of EU foreign ministers to spur them to increase their commitment to the 15,000-strong foreign troop contingent that is scheduled to join 15,000 Lebanese soldiers along the Israeli-Lebanese border.

From Brussels, Annan will make stops in Lebanon and Israel to meet with senior officials. Then he will see officials from the Palestinian Authority and "travel to Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and also likely Syria and Iran," a spokesman said. "The visit to Iran is to make sure that all those who have an influence in the implementation of 1701 use that influence positively," spokesman Durrajic explained.

Iran is suspected of shipping weapons to Hezbollah through Syria, and providing financial aid to the armed militia-cum-political party so that it can directly hand out money to victims of Israeli bombing and finance "parallel reconstruction" projects in Lebanon, bypassing Lebanon's authorities.

With the exception of Italy, European countries are reticent to send large contingents to join the UN force and prefer giving humanitarian aid. But EU foreign policy Chief Javier Solana said that about 4,000 European soldiers could go from the start.

Tomorrow Mr Annan will communicate to the EU members the new rules of engagement. In recent days discussions focused on how to disarm Hezbollah and whether UN troops would be allowed to shoot.

Various news agencies have published the contents of a yet-to-be released UN document showing that new rules of engagement for UN troops. Under its terms, UN soldiers would be allowed shoot in self-defence, use force to protect civilians and resist armed attempts to interfere with their duties. At present, Lebanese soldiers are authorised to use force, including "lethal force", if they are threatened by any group or armed people.

Veiled threats by some major Mideast actors are also compounding the problems caused by international community's slow response. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad yesterday warned that the deployment of UNIFIL troops along the Lebanese-Syrian border would amount to a hostile act. Should that happen, Syria might close its border with Lebanon to trade. It is through this border that weapons are shipped to Hezbollah.

Ghaleb Abu Zeinab, a top Hezbollah leader, told British Prime Minister Toni Blair, who is planning a trip to the Middle East, that he was not welcome in Lebanon. Speaking on behalf of the Lebanese people, not only of Hezbollah, he said that Israeli air strikes against Beirut and south Lebanon are the result of the British Prime Minister's policy,

In the meantime, Israel naval blockade of Lebanon's coastline continues. Israel reiterated its stand that the blockade will continue until UNIFIL is fully deployed.

The goal of the naval blockade is to prevent arms shipments to Hezbollah from reaching south Lebanon.

As a result of the blockade about 18,000 containers have not been unloaded in the port of Beirut. With manpower lost and fuel scarce, factories have been operating at only 20 percent of their capacity.

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