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Hizbollah attack condemned, release of Israelis

Annan condemns Hizbollah attack, calls for immediate release of Israeli soldiers

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today called for the immediate release of two Israeli soldiers seized by Hizbollah militants from Lebanon and conferred with key leaders on the attack, which he condemned as a “blatant breach” of Security Council resolutions and of the line separating the two countries.

“This incident, and subsequent developments, which endanger an already volatile region, demonstrates once again how urgent it is that the Lebanese Government extends its control over all Lebanese territory and prevents such attacks across the Blue Line,” he said in a statement issued by his office.

Mr. Annan’s Personal Representative for Lebanon, Geir Pedersen, said the attack was to be condemned in the strongest possible terms.

“We are deeply disturbed by this violent breach of the Blue Line which contradicts the stated intent of the Lebanese side to maintain calm and stability along the Line,” he added in a statement. “Hizbollah’s action escalates the already tense situation along the Blue Line and is an act of very dangerous proportions. This is not in Lebanon’s interest.”

He called on Hizbollah to release the soldiers and urged all parties to exercise maximum restraint and avoid any further escalation.

UN spokesperson Marie Okabe said Mr. Annan had already spoken by telephone to Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and had calls that he would be making to the Israeli and Syrian leaders. “So he’s very much working the phones… appealing for the release of the soldiers and for maximum restraint to be obeyed,” she told a news briefing.

The Security Council was briefed on the situation by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno.

Speaking to the press afterwards, the Council President, French Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sablière, said members agreed to follow the developments in Lebanon closely. “We will come back to it,” he said.

Mr. Annan, who is currently in Rome, told reporters after meeting with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi that both leaders felt extremely concerned by the situation in the Middle East.

On Israel’s reported killing in a bombing raid of a family in Gaza, Ms. Okabe said Mr. Annan was “distressed,” deplored the action, and “reminds Israel of its obligation under international law to protect civilians from the effects of the conflict.”

She added that the Secretary-General “calls on both sides to exercise greater restraint.”

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