The United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, says the UN will continue to help Lebanon recover from the 34-day war between the armed wing of Hezbollah, a political party and member of the Lebanese government, and neighbouring Israel.
“It is time now to look to the future. Let us look at this post-war period as an opportunity for peace, prosperity and stability in Lebanon. We must all work together to build Lebanon, to build a safe and secure environment including the removal of landmines and unexploded ordnance,” Annan said.
“The United Nations has made every effort within its limited resources to help the people of Lebanon, and will continue to do so with our international partners,” he added.
Twelve people have so far been killed and 44 wounded by unexploded ordnance in Lebanon since a ceasefire ended the conflict on 14 August. Efforts to clear ordnance, particularly cluster bombs, are ongoing, said Sean Sutton, a spokesman for the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), a UK-based NGO. He added that thousands of unexploded munitions remain.
Some Lebanese criticised the UN during the war for not doing enough to stop the conflict. In one incident, the UN’s headquarters in central Beirut was attacked by protestors after 28 civilians were killed in an Israeli air strike on the southern village of Qana.
Annan visited the Haret Hreik area of the capital’s southern suburbs, a former Hezbollah stronghold now devastated by Israeli bombing raids. “It is a shame that the UN only comes to check what’s happened in Lebanon after all the massacres and destruction,” said local resident Mona Dahabi.
The UN maintained a small peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon during the recent conflict: several members of it were killed in Israeli strikes. Timur Goksel, a professor at the American University of Beirut and former UN official, said most Lebanese still recognise the UN plays a vital role in their country.
“There is some anger against the UN, but it’s based on emotions,” he said. “Most people here know that anytime there is a disaster, the UN is the one who can step in…Even in the south, I don’t think there is any real anger against the UN.”
Annan called for the release of two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah, and for Israel to reciprocate in kind. “I am urging my Israeli interlocutors to lift immediately the blockade on Lebanon,” Annan told a press conference following talks with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
Economists say Israel’s 48-day naval and air blockade of Lebanon is severely affecting Lebanon’s economy - the Lebanese government estimates it has lost some US $5.5 billion in trade as a result.
Humanitarian agencies have been granted permission by Israel to bring in supplies, but Israel says it will not lift the siege until an international force can ensure that Hezbollah is not receiving arms from abroad.
Annan continued his tour of the region to visit Israel. He is also due to visit the Palestinian Authority, Iran, Syria, Egypt, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. The UN says the focus of the trip is to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which aims to create conditions for peace in southern Lebanon.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions