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S P E C I A L Struggle for Peace

Annan says Mideast peace process can't remain frozen

Kofi Annan
Annan in Lebanon Friday  

U.N. chief also discusses Israeli occupation with Lebanese

In This Story:

March 20, 1998
Web posted at: 9:38 p.m. EDT (2138 GMT)

BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Friday that the deadlock in the Middle East peace process must be broken, and he urged Israelis and Palestinians to work with the United States to revive talks.

"We cannot keep this stalled forever or for too long," he said during a visit to Beirut. "So my hope is that with the effort the United States government is making... the impasse could be broken and we can move the process forward."

Speaking after discussions with Lebanese Foreign Minister Faris Bouez, Annan said the Arab-Israeli peace process must not be left frozen.

But he said it was best to leave the United States as the only mediator because "you know what happens when you have too many cooks." He emphasized that he was not mediating.

"I think the United States government is working very hard with the parties to move the process forward, and I urge and encourage the parties to really work with the United States government to make the compromises necessary and move the process forward," Annan said.

In Beirut, Annan also said Israel should withdraw its troops from southern Lebanon, as required under U.N. Resolution 425. But he stopped short of endorsing Syrian and Lebanese demands that the withdrawal be unconditional.

"I hope that the day will soon come when Resolution 425 is fully implemented," Annan said. "The question is, how do you go about this? ... Facts have been created on the ground. How could those facts impact on the implementation?"

No 'TV diplomacy' for Annan

Annan, who is on a peace mission to the Middle East, would not disclose whether he was carrying any proposals to end the occupation, saying those matters were best "discussed behind closed doors."

"I don't believe in TV diplomacy," he said.

Annan's talks with Bouez focused on Resolution 425, passed exactly 20 years ago, which ordered Israel to withdraw unconditionally its invasion forces from southern Lebanon. Israel first invaded Lebanon in 1978 and again in 1982 to drive out Palestinian terrorists.

Israel is now talking publicly of honoring the resolution for the first time -- but wants the Lebanese government to provide security guarantees for its border and its Lebanese militia allies. The Lebanese government refuses to negotiate, saying the resolution calls for unconditional withdrawal.

Annan said he wanted to hear exactly what Israel was proposing when he visited the Jewish state later in his tour.

"It's something we will have to look at in a broader scheme," Annan said. "From here, I will be visiting Israel, and they will have an opportunity to share with me in detail what they have in mind."

Hezbollah shells Israeli troops

Hours after Annan discussed the resolution, six Israeli soldiers were wounded by shelling in south Lebanon, a security source said.

Lebanon's pro-Iranian Hezbollah (Party of God) said its guerrillas were behind the attack, which raised to 37 the number of Israeli troops wounded in south Lebanon since the start of the year.

Israel's heavy losses in south Lebanon have fueled a debate over the wisdom of keeping its troops in the volatile region.

Shortly after he arrived in Beirut, Annan got a first-hand look at one aspect of the conflict. As he emerged from the airport on the latest stage of a regional tour, he met bitter relatives of Lebanese held by Israel for as long as 19 years.

About 40 mostly veiled women held pictures of imprisoned relatives. "Where are man's rights in Israeli prisons," read a banner facing Annan as he stood by Bouez and spoke to Mohammed Safa, chairman of a committee trying to free the prisoners.

The Lebanese prisoner committee has the names of 50 Lebanese held in Israel and another 160 held without charge in Khiam prison in occupied south Lebanon by Israel's Lebanese militia allies.

Most prisoners have been taken by Israel for resistance to its occupation of south Lebanon, site of frequent bombs, rocket attacks and clashes between Hezbollah and Israeli troops and their militia allies.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Struggle For Peace

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