United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan announced on Monday in the Saudi city of Jeddah that Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah accepted UN mediation on freeing two captive Israeli soldiers.
During a news conference in Jeddah, Annan, now on the latest leg of his Middle East tour, told reporters that "the two sides have accepted the effort of the secretary-general to help solve this problem," adding a mediator would work secretly with both sides.
Israel, usually hard-line in contacts with the Lebanese Shiite group, seems to have mellowed in allowing indirect dialogue through mediation.
On July 12, Lebanon's Shiite group Hezbollah guerillas snatched two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others during a cross-border foray that triggered Israel’s massive assault against Lebanon aimed at rescuing the captive soldiers and halting rocket attacks on northern Israel.
However, Israel failed to gain the captive soldiers back after their 34-day-long artillery barrage. The fighting ended on Aug. 14 under a UN-brokered ceasefire resolution authorizing an expansion of the existing UN force in Lebanon to 15,000 troops to help Lebanese troops take control of southern Lebanon as Israel withdraws.
After Annan arrived in the Gulf country, he held talks with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah on the latest developments in the Middle East region.
The UN chief has already visited Lebanon, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Syria, Iran and Qatar. He is scheduled to fly on to Egypt and Turkey later.
His Middle Eastern tour focuses on efforts to shore up a three-week old truce in Lebanon and resolve the standoff between Iran and the international community over Tehran's nuclear program.
(Xinhua News Agency September 5, 2006)