UNITED NATIONS – Israel has made "significant progress" in the gradual withdrawal of its forces from south Lebanon in the month since the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution to end the conflict there, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Tuesday in a report.
The report said both Israel and the Islamic militant group Hezbollah had mostly complied with the cease-fire that was called for in that resolution, aside from one major raid by Israel on Aug. 19 and several minor violations.
The U.N. Security Council had asked Annan to report back periodically on the implementation of the resolution, which paved the way for the cease-fire that took effect on Aug. 14.
He said Israel has withdrawn from about two-thirds of the area it occupied in south Lebanon as it tried to oust Hezbollah militants from the area, and has promised to leave entirely by the time Lebanon deploys 15,000 troops and the U.N. sends 5,000 peacekeepers there.
Annan, who recently returned from an 11-day trip to the region, said the process would be finished in the coming weeks. He did not say how many Israeli troops remained in south Lebanon.
"On the ground, significant progress continues to be made as regards the gradual withdrawal of Israeli forces and the deployment of the LAF (Lebanese Armed Forces)," Annan wrote in the report.
Annan said the 34-day conflict, sparked when Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers in a July 12 cross-border raid, had plunged the region "back into the instability that prevailed for decades."
He said the underlying causes of conflict in the Middle East had to be addressed to end the violence.
"Other crises cannot be ignored, especially in the occupied Palestinian territory, as they are all interlinked," he said. "Until the international community insists on a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East, any one of these conflicts has the potential to erupt and engulf the entire region."
Annan said that during his recent trip to the Middle East, Syrian President Bashar Assad had assured him that Damascus was prepared to delineate its border with Lebanon. That would help settle the issue of the disputed Chebaa Farms area, which sits where the borders of Lebanon, Syria and Israel meet and is occupied by Israel.
Assad also assured him that Syria is willing to increase the number of border guards along the boundary with Lebanon, and give them more training and supplies.
Hezbollah is widely believed to have received weapons and other support from its backers, Syria and Iran.
On other issues, Annan said Israeli maps provided to the U.N. peacekeeping mission in south Lebanon about Israel's cluster bombing of the area were not detailed enough to be of any use. He repeated U.N. findings that said 90 percent of the cluster bombs Israel dropped during the conflict fell in the three days between Aug. 11, when the Security Council approved the cease-fire, and the moment the fighting stopped.