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Southern Lebanon more fragile after six months of tension: Annan

21 January The fragile stability of southern Lebanon is under threat after an upsurge in violent incidents in the past six months, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan says in a document on the UN force monitoring the situation.

In his latest report to the Security Council on the activities of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Mr. Annan says six people have been killed since the end of July following breaches of the line of withdrawal, known as the Blue Line, by both Israel and Hezbollah militias inside Lebanon.

The Secretary-General expresses concern over Israel's "provocative air violations" of sovereign Lebanese territory while calling Hizbollah's firing of anti-aircraft rounds across the Blue Line a violation "that poses obvious mortal risk."

"Israel's air strikes against Hizbollah positions added a serious new dimension to the cycle," Mr. Annan observes, noting that Hizbollah use of anti-aircraft weaponry has declined in recent weeks and voicing hope that this trend will continue.

"I again call upon the Governments of Israel and Lebanon to ensure that all such violations cease," he says, calling on both sides to show restraint and avoid an escalation.

The Secretary-General expresses concern over the number of explosive devices found near the Blue Line. "Their presence undermines stability and endangers lives on both sides of the line, including those of UNIFIL personnel." But he notes the success of de-mining operations across southern Lebanon.

Given the tense situation, Mr. Annan recommends extending UNIFIL's mandate, set to expire at the end of this month, until 31 July. He also calls on Member States to pay their assessments on time, pointing out that UNIFIL has a current funding shortfall of $75 million.

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