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Recommending a six-month extension of the United Nations peace-monitoring force's mandate in the so-called Blue Line between Israel and Lebanon, Secretary-General Kofi Annan says two incidents in January decisively shattered a period of relative calm over the past six months.

"In the light of conditions prevailing in the area, I recommend that the Security Council extend the mandate of UNIFIL (UN Interim Force in Lebanon) until 31 July 2005," he says in his periodic <"">report to the UN Security Council.

While fewer violent incidents took place during the latest reporting period -between late July 2004 and late January 2005 - than during the previous reporting period, "tensions between the parties did not at any point appreciably diminish. Hostile rhetoric remained the norm and stability continued to be threatened" by grave events on 9 and 17 January, by rogue acts and air incursions from both sides, he says.

On 9 January a Hizbollah explosive device was blown up as an Israeli Defence Force was patrolling an area 1 kilometre south of the Blue Line in the Shab'a farms, an area which the Lebanese Government considers disputed despite Security Council resolutions to the contrary. One IDF soldier was killed and three others wounded. Israel retaliated, killing a French UN military observer and wounding his Swedish colleague, Mr. Annan says.

Another Hizbollah roadside device exploded on the Israeli side of the Blue Line on 17 January, damaging an IDF vehicle. The IDF responded, wounding two Lebanese civilians, he says.

Rockets, fired towards Israel presumably by Palestinian militants, were detected on 9 and 28 October and on 15 November, while Israeli air incursions continued throughout the six-month reporting period from 21 July 2004 to 20 January 2005, he says.

<"">UNIFIL was established in 1978 to confirm Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon, restore peace and help the Lebanese Government restore its authority over the area.

"In both private and public forums, Israel and Lebanon have declared their desire to avoid confrontation. At times their actions have clearly supported those intentions. I encourage the parties to live up to those stated aspirations and to do their utmost to adhere to a course favouring peace and security," Mr. Annan says.

He also called on UN Member States to pay the arrears for the mission, an amount totalling $47.1 million.

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