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Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (left) with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in Jerusalem on August 30 (epa) August 30, 2006 -- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan says he hopes Israel will withdraw all its forces from southern Lebanon once 5,000 UN-backed troops are on the ground.

Speaking in Jerusalem today on the second leg of a regional tour, Annan said that number could be reached within days or weeks.

"I'm going to work with the governments to increase the level of the [UN peacekeeping] forces as rapidly as possible," he said. "We have about 2,500 troops on the ground now and we're going to try and double that number and get to 5,000 in the coming days and weeks. And I hope that as we do that the Israeli withdrawal will continue and by the time we are at that level Israel will have fully withdrawn."

Annan again urged for the unconditional release of two Israeli soldiers whose capture in July led to the 34-day war between Israel and Hizballah.

Annan voiced his understanding for Israeli concerns about preventing the rearming of the Hizballah militia. But he repeated his call for Israel to lift its blockade of Lebanon to help the Lebanese economy recover from the war.

The UN chief was speaking at a joint press conference with Ehud Olmert. The Israeli prime minister said he hopes the cease-fire deal will be the cornerstone of the start of new relations with Lebanon.

(compiled from agency reports)
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