NEW YORK – Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Monday he wants the upcoming meeting of key Mideast players to agree on a package to stop the Israeli-Hezbollah fighting and ensure lasting peace between Israel and Lebanon.
Annan, who is heading to Rome to take part in Wednesday's meeting, said the goal must be to support the Lebanese government so its armed forces can deploy into southern Lebanon which is now controlled by Hezbollah guerrillas, and to ensure that the militia is disarmed.
"You cannot disarm Hezbollah by force," the secretary-general said, stressing that this will require a political understanding among the Lebanese. That's why Iran and Syria, Hezbollah's main supporters, must be part of a solution, he reiterated.
The group meeting Wednesday comprises countries and organizations that have been trying to help Lebanon's reconstruction and economic, political and social reforms. Its members are Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the World Bank, the European Union, France, Russia, Britain, the United States and Italy — and their foreign ministers are expected in Rome.
"What is important is that we leave Rome with a concrete strategy on how we are going to deal with this and we do not walk away empty-handed and once again dash the hopes of those who are caught in this conflict," Annan said.
"We have to truly agree a package and move forward with simultaneous and parallel implementation of the package," he said.
The package should include a cessation of hostilities and cease-fire, deployment of an international force, the release of the two Israeli soldiers abducted by Hezbollah that sparked the conflict, an end to Hezbollah's shelling of Israel and Israel's shelling and bombardment of Lebanon, he said.
Annan said it should also deal with the disputed Chebaa Farms area which Israel seized in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and still occupies. Lebanon claims the area but the United Nations determined that it is Syrian, and that Syria and Israel should negotiate its fate. Hezbollah uses the Chebaa Farms as justification that Israeli forces still occupy Lebanon.
The secretary-general said he was surprised to read reports that he was sending U.N. envoys to Iran and Syria, indicating that no decision has yet been made. He said he spoke Monday morning to Syrian President Bashar Assad and Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki but gave no details.