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Israel to Withdraw from S. Lebanon After UN Peacekeepers' Deployment
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UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Thursday that Israeli troops would pull out of south Lebanon after the deployment of 5,000 UN peacekeepers and 16,000 Lebanese troops.

"That is what I have just been discussing with the Israeli government," Annan told French private radio Europe 1.

"We agreed that with 5,000 UN troops and 16,000 Lebanese soldiers who will go down south, it would be a credible force to allow the Israelis to pull out entirely," he said.

"I hope that one week up to 10 days from now, we will have 5,000. At that point, the Israelis will be forced to pull out. It is very important because the situation is fragile. As long as there are Israeli troops on Lebanese territory, there are some Lebanese who are going to consider that they are being occupied," he said.

"I think we need to move as soon as possible," said Annan, who again called upon Israel to lift the sea and air blockade on Lebanon.

"We need to start lifting the blockade sooner because quite frankly I don't think the situation will hold until then," Annan said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday ruled out lifting the blockade unless the UN resolution 1701 is fully implemented.

Resolution 1701, unanimously adopted on Aug. 11 by the UN Security Council, calls for a strengthened UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) from 2,000 to 15,000 troops, the deployment of the Lebanese army there, the withdrawal of Israeli forces, and the disarmament of Hezbollah.

The UNIFIL will deploy 5,000 peacekeepers by the end of September, according to the chief of the UN peacekeeping operation, Jean-Marie Guehenno.

"On Friday (Sept. 1st), the first troops -- Italian troops -- will start to deploy, which means we should reach, within a month, a level of 4,000 to 5,000 men or a doubling of the force," the French newspaper Le Monde quoted Guehenno on Thursday.

Annan is on a visit to the Middle East to try to consolidate the fragile ceasefire in Lebanon. After Lebanon, Israel, the West Bank and Jordan, he is expected to be in Damascus on Thursday for talks with Syrian leaders. He will also visit Iran, Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

(Xinhua News Agnecy September 1, 2006)

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