Annan Meets With Hezbollah Cabinet Minister in Beirut

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U.N. Secretary-GeneralKofi Annan demanded Monday that Hezbollah release two captured Israeli soldiers to the international Red Cross, and that Israel lift its air and sea blockade of Lebanon.

Also Monday, Turkey's Cabinet voted to send peacekeepers, becoming the only Muslim country that has relations with Israel to propose deploying troops. Turkey's Parliament will convene later this week or early next week to debate becoming part of an expanded U.N. force.

Visiting Beirut on the first leg of an 11-day Mideast tour, Annan said he was renewing his "call for the abducted soldiers to be free," and urged Hezbollah to transfer them to the Lebanese government "or a third party" under the auspices of the international Red Cross.

"We, the U.N., will be prepared to play a role if we are required to do so. And I offer our services," he said.

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Annan also urged Israel to lift its blockade on Lebanon. "I'm working with them and a number of international partners to see to it that this is done," he said.

Israel has said a resolution of the conflict must include the release of the two soldiers captured by Hezbollah militants in a cross-border raid that triggered the conflict last month.

"So long as this issue with the two soldiers is not solved, the whole thing is of little significance," Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said in Germany. "Our sovereignty has been infringed and if this resolution does not make that good, then we still have this problem."

France, saying the European Union did not do enough to end the "devastating" conflict, urged Israel to lift its air and sea blockade of Lebanon, which has kept out all but a trickle of supplies.

Annan met with Mohammed Fneish, one of two Hezbollah ministers in Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's Cabinet, in the first direct contact with the guerrilla group during the U.N. chief's Lebanon visit.

Annan also met separately with Saniora and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who serves as Hezbollah's de facto negotiator. The secretary-general said the Lebanese government assured him it would "faithfully" implement the cease-fire resolution.