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Israel urges full enforcement of arms embargo on Hezbollah

Deutsche Presse Agentur
Published: Friday September 8, 2006

Jerusalem- As it lifted its sea-blockade on Lebanon Friday, Israel called Friday for full implementation of the weapons embargo against the Lebanese militant Shiite Hezbollah movement. Lebanon had an "absolute and unconditional" responsibility to enforce the arms embargo decided on in the Security Council, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told a news conference in Tel Aviv with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

If Syria failed to respect the ban on transferring weapons to Hezbollah, international sanctions against it were needed, she added.

Livni later also met separately with the foreign ministers of Italy and Germany, Massimo D'Alema and Frank-Walter Steinmeier - Italy will head the naval peacekeeping force that is to monitor the arms embargo against Hezbollah until the arrival of a German fleet.

Steinmeier confirmed in Beirut Thursday that Germany had accepted Lebanon's request for German help in implementing the arms embargo.

In his meeting with Livni early Friday afternoon, Steinmeier thanked Israel for its "constructive contribution" to the situation by lifting the blockade on Lebanon.

Earlier Friday, Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz told Steinmeier that Israel aimed to pull its last ground troops out of Lebanon within two weeks, a defence ministry statement said.

"The departure of the Israel Defence Force (IDF) depends on the arrival of the international forces," Peretz said, but added: "The pattern is to pull out as quickly as possible. We would like the coordination to be completed up until another two weeks."

Israeli troops have so far pulled out of more than half of the area occupied in southern Lebanon during the month-long war, but five reduced brigades are still up to eight kilometres north of Israel's border in Lebanese territory.

With the Israel-Lebanon hostilities expected to draw to a close after a full Israeli withdrawal, diplomats were turning their renewed attention to the Palestinian issue, with Steinmeier calling for a renewal of Israeli-Palestinian talks and Lavrov calling for an international Middle East peace conference.

Israel, however, rejected the idea of a conference, but said it was interested in an "immediate" meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas without preconditions.

Olmert, who took office in March, has thus far declined to meet Abbas, but in his parley with Lavrov Olmert said "it is clear the situation has changed" since the abduction of an Israeli soldier to Gaza on June 25 and the capture of two others by Hezbollah less than three weeks later.

Both events triggered the recent fighting in Gaza and Lebanon. Olmert has since the 33-day war with Hezbollah shelved his plan for a partial unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank.

The Russian foreign minister also promised his country would check Israeli charges that weapons sold by it to Syria had reached Hezbollah.

Russia had "very clear" rules, under which no country may transfer to a third party weapons sold to it by Moscow, Lavrov said.

Israel Radio reported that an Israeli delegation had visited Russia with "proof" that Russian weapons had ended up in the hands of Hezbollah and killed or injured Israeli soldiers.

Livni also told her foreign guests that an Israeli withdrawal from the disputed Sheba'a farms area on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights was not on the agenda, because this would effectively mean rewarding a "prize" to Hezbollah for its attacks against Israel.

Olmert had told Lavrov late Thursday that Israel was willing to discuss the issue, if the UN determined that Sheba'a Farms area was Lebanese and not Syrian territory, as UN diplomats have ruled.

Israel would not fully implement UN Security Council resolution 1701 until the release of two of its soldiers, whose abduction by Hezbollah in a cross-border raid on July 12 triggered the 33-day military operation, Olmert stressed.

He added Israel was willing to make a "gesture" Abbas and to release Palestinian prisoners as a "signal" that it was strengthening the moderate Palestinian leader. Thus far, Israel had publicly insisted it would not free any militants from its jails in return for its abducted soldiers to avoid further kidnappings in the future.

The visits by the three foreign ministers come amid accelerated diplomacy in the region since a ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah took effect on August 14.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is due to land in Israel Saturday evening for a two-day visit during which he is to hold talks in Jerusalem and Ramallah.

© 2006 DPA - Deutsche Presse-Agenteur