Annan: Syria to enforce Hezbollah arms embargo

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said on Friday Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had promised to enforce an arms embargo on Hezbollah under a United Nations resolution that halted Israel’s war with the Lebanese group.

“The president informed me that Syria supports Security Council resolution 1701 and will help in its implementation,” Annan told reporters after talks with al-Assad in Damascus.

“While stating Syrian objections to the presence of foreign forces along the Syrian-Lebanese border, the president committed to me that Syria will take all necessary measures to implement in full paragraph 15 of the resolution,” Annan added, referring to a provision that bans illegal arms shipments to Lebanon.

Annan said Syria will beef up border security and is ready to run joint patrols with the Lebanese army.

Syrian leaders have been angered by an Israeli demand for international troops to deploy on the Lebanese-Syrian border, the main conduit in the past for Hezbollah weapons supplies.

Lebanon, which has sent 8 600 soldiers to patrol the frontier, says it has no plans to ask UN troops to join them.

Syrian officials had no immediate comment on the talks.

Annan later left for Qatar, the only Arab state currently with a seat on the 15-nation UN Security Council.

The UN chief said he had asked Syria, which along with Iran is Hezbollah’s main ally, to use its influence to obtain the release of two Israeli soldiers whose capture by the guerrillas in July triggered the 34-day war in Lebanon.

Hezbollah offered at the outset to swap the soldiers for Lebanese prisoners held in Israel after third-party mediation.

Ernst Uhrlau, head of Germany’s foreign intelligence service, the BND, arrived in Beirut late on Thursday, a Lebanese security source said, fuelling speculation Germany may mediate as it has done between Israel and Hezbollah in the past.

UN demands

Annan did not say if he had asked al-Assad to comply with other UN demands on Syria. These include demarcating its border with Lebanon, including in the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms area, claimed by Beirut, with Syria’s verbal backing, but viewed by the UN as Syrian territory.

The Syrian president has previously ruled out any demarcation in Shebaa Farms while it is occupied by Israel.

Annan, who had pressed Syria to open diplomatic ties with Lebanon, said al-Assad had accepted in principle, but had told him it was an issue for the two countries to work out.

Syria has long argued the two closely linked neighbours do not need diplomatic ties, prompting Lebanese suspicions that Damascus refuses to acknowledge as fully sovereign the country it dominated until it ended a 29-year troop presence last year.

Annan’s spokesperson Ahmad Fawzi said the talks with al-Assad had covered “all tracks of the peace process” in the Middle East.

“Out of this tragedy of war there is a real opportunity for peace that we all must not miss,” Annan declared.

European Union foreign ministers were set to push for a revival of Middle East peace efforts with a greater EU role.

Ministers meeting in Finland will study how to leverage their growing military presence as peacekeepers in Lebanon to renew talks, which EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana wants to be based broadly on a return to Israel’s 1967 borders.

This is an anathema to Israel which, with the acquiescence of the United States, wants to retain Jewish settlements in chunks of the occupied West Bank, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. Israel has rebuffed repeated Syrian offers to renew talks on peace in return for the Golan and other occupied Arab land.

The first contingent of 880 Italian troops will land in Lebanon on Saturday to join 2 300 United Nations peacekeepers already policing the fragile truce between Israel and Hezbollah.

Annan has said Israeli forces should withdraw fully from Lebanon as soon as 5 000 UN troops have arrived in the south.

While world attention was focused on Lebanon, living conditions in Gaza worsened, the UN World Food Programme said.

“It is a situation of survival,” Arnold Vercken, World Food Programme director for Gaza and the West Bank, told Reuters.

He was talking at a conference in Stockholm at which international donors pledged $500-million in further aid to the Palestinian Territories, of which $55-million will go directly to meeting a shortfall in the UN’s funding.

The Israeli army has killed at least 200 Palestinians, about half of them civilians, in the Gaza Strip since it launched an offensive after militants captured a soldier in late June.

Donors pledged more than $940-million to help get Lebanon back on its feet at a separate Stockholm meeting on Thursday.—Reuters

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