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Annan says bloodshed must stop, peace talks begin

UN NEWS: Arriving in Tel Aviv, Annan says bloodshed must stop, peace talks begin - Annan envoy holds talks on release of prisoners held by Israel and Lebanon

Arriving in Tel Aviv, Annan says bloodshed must stop, peace talks begin

9 October -- Arriving in Tel Aviv today on an urgent mission to help in diffusing the Middle East crisis, Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged all parties involved - from leaders to ordinary citizens - to say no to violence and to shift the action from the street to the negotiating table.

"I am hopeful that we can control the situation, but this cannot be done by the leaders alone," the Secretary-General said after his arrival this evening at Ben Gurion airport. "We all are responsible for society, individually and collectively, and we need you, the ordinary citizens, ordinary men and women, to reject violence and the use of force and reach out for peace, even if at times it seems elusive."

The Secretary-General noted that while he had come "without a magic wand," he intended to listen to the leaders in the region and to work with them to see how together they could find a solution to the crisis.

"The bloodshed must stop and the conflict must not be allowed to spread," Mr. Annan stressed. "The time is short; the stakes are high; the price of failure is more than any one of us wants to pay."

Upon his arrival, the Secretary-General met Israel's acting Foreign Minister, Shlomo Ben Ami. Mr. Annan then flew to Gaza for a meeting with Yasser Arafat, the President of the Palestinian Authority. On Tuesday, the Secretary-General is expected to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

The Secretary-General decided to travel to the region "in view of the increasingly precarious situation in the Middle East, which carries the risk of a major conflagration," according to a statement released by his spokesman in New York on Sunday. Mr. Annan headed to the Middle East with the backing of the two parties and other key actors, as well as the President of the Security Council, all of whom have "expressed their full support for this initiative," according to the spokesman.

Mr. Annan also plans to meet other top-level officials in the Middle East, the spokesman said, noting that in recent days the Secretary-General has been in constant contact with leaders in the region, as well as with other concerned governments.

The spokesman noted that Mr. Annan was "fully aware that this will be a difficult mission" with an uncertain outcome, but added that "the stakes are so high -- not least in terms of innocent lives -- that he feels it is his duty to expend every effort, in conjunction with those being undertaken by others in the international community, to lower tensions and restore the peace process."

On Saturday, Mr. Annan released a statement appealing to the parties to rein in their forces and supporters so as to give the ongoing efforts to restore the peace process the best chance of success. The Secretary-General also appealed to the parties to respect relevant resolutions of the Security Council as well as humanitarian norms. In addition, he urged each side to maintain the inviolability of religious sites "since all must understand that true faith demands respect for the beliefs of others."

The Secretary-General's statement was issued in response to the alarming violence between Palestinians and Israelis, which had spread to the border between Israel and Lebanon and to the Shaba farms area of the Golan Heights. Mr. Annan stressed that "the most urgent task is to break the current cycle of violence and to stop the senseless killing which have brought tragedy to so many families."

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Annan envoy holds talks on release of prisoners held by Israel and Lebanon

9 October -- After a series of high-level meetings in Lebanon, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan's envoy in the country has appealed for a speedy release of prisoners held by both the Israeli and Lebanese sides.

Rolf Knutsson, Mr. Annan's Personal Representative for Southern Lebanon, met today with the Secretary-General of the Hezbollah, Sheikh Hussein Nasrallah to discuss the issue of the prisoners. A spokesman for Mr. Knutsson described the meeting as "good and constructive."

Over the weekend, Mr. Knutsson met with Lebanese Prime Minister Salim Al-Hoss. They discussed the recent serious incidents in the Kfar Shouba and Shebaa farms area, including the taking of Israeli prisoners by armed Lebanese elements. In a statement released through his spokesman, Mr. Knutsson called for the unconditional release of those prisoners, while appealing at the same time for Lebanese prisoners held in Israel to be freed unconditionally and without delay.

He also urged all concerned parties to exercise maximum restraint in order to avoid further tragedy and a dangerous escalation of the situation in the area.

Earlier today, Mr. Knutsson met with the President of Lebanon, General Emile Lahoud, at Baabda Palace in Beirut. Mr. Knutsson called for the deployment of additional Lebanese forces to the South in order to enable the country's Government to take full control of the area. "I told the President there is a need, especially in light of the events of last Saturday, for additional deployment of Lebanese forces," Mr. Knutsson said, referring to events in Kfar Shouba and other locations where some Palestinian demonstrators had been tragically killed.

Meanwhile in New York, the Security Council met in closed consultations on Saturday to hear a briefing by Secretary-General Kofi Annan on what the Council members described as "disturbing events" at the southern border of Lebanon. In a press statement following the meeting, Council members expressed "grave concern over the escalating tensions and acts of violence and asked all parties to exercise the utmost restraint."

Members of the Council also welcomed the decision of the Secretary-General to dispatch his special envoy to the region and to approach the leaders of all States concerned to convey the deep concern of the Council and to urge immediate steps to ensure restoration of calm.

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