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Annan Calls For Release of Captured Israeli Soldiers

Annan (left) and Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Sallukh in Beirut on August 28 (AFP) August 28, 2006 -- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan says two Israeli soldiers captured in July by Hizballah should be handed over to the Red Cross. He also called on Israel to lift its air and sea blockade of Lebanon.

Annan made the remarks during talks today with Lebanon's cabinet in Beirut. He said the Lebanese government assured him it will "faithfully implement" the UN Security Council's Middle East cease-fire resolution.

Annan arrived in Beirut at the start of an 11-day Middle East tour aimed at bolstering the fragile cease-fire. He said he thinks there is a chance the cease-fire can be long-lasting, but he cautioned that the way forward is difficult.

"We have a chance now to have a long-term cease-fire and a long-term peace," Annan said. "And we all need to work together."

It is Annan's first visit to Lebanon since a UN cease-fire resolution two weeks ago brought a halt to 34 days of fighting between Israel and Hizballah.

Annan said he also discussed the deployment and role of a proposed 15,000-strong UN security force in southern Lebanon today.

(AP, Reuters, AFP)