August 15th, 2006 08:51 EST
Annan welcomes signs that Middle East cessation of hostilities seems to be holding
Expressing relief that the cessation of hostilities in Lebanon and northern Israel “appears to be generally holding” since it began earlier today, Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on all sides in the recent conflict in the region to act quickly to consolidate progress and then convert it into a durable ceasefire.
As the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) dispatched patrols to monitor the cessation across its area of operation in southern Lebanon, Mr. Annan said in a statement issued in New York that millions of people around the world are counting on the agreement leading to peace.
“Neither side should have any reason to disappoint those hopes and, if either were to do so, it would pay a heavy price in terms of world public opinion,” he said.
The cessation of hostilities took effect at 8 a.m. local time today, following talks Mr. Annan held with the leaders of Israel and Lebanon in the wake of Friday night’s Security Council resolution calling for an immediate cessation.
The resolution also calls for the deployment of Lebanese troops and a significantly expanded UN peacekeeping presence across southern Lebanon, as well as the simultaneous withdrawal of all Israeli forces from the same area.
In his statement Mr. Annan urged Member States to contribute to an enhanced UNIFIL, which has been authorized to have up to 15,000 peacekeepers.
The mission said in a press release that there were no reports of incidents or breaches of the agreement in its area of operations up until 1 p.m. local time today.
At a meeting at the border crossing at Ras Naqoura, UNIFIL Force Commander General Alain Pellegrini met senior officials from the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and the Lebanese army to discuss the implementation of the agreement, as well as the withdrawal of the IDF and the deployment of Lebanese forces in the south.
In the 24 hours before the cessation of hostilities came into effect, UNIFIL said that fierce fighting continued across the south, from the Mediterranean coast to close to the Syrian border. The IDF intensified its shelling and aerial bombardment, while Hizbollah fired rockets, albeit in reduced numbers.
There were also nine serious incidents of firing from the Israeli side directly at UN posts in Tibnin, Haris, At Tiri and Marun al Ras, “causing massive material damage to all the positions,” UNIFIL said. Mission personnel at those posts were forced into shelters to prevent casualties.
UNIFIL stated that it had protested strongly to the command of the IDF about the incidents.