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U.N. Secretary-General scolds Israel and Hezbollah

BEIRUT, Lebanon – U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan faulted both Israel and Hezbollah yesterday for not living up to key sections of the cease-fire resolution, while two more countries took steps to provide troops for an expanded peacekeeping force to secure the truce.

Germany, meanwhile, hinted it was negotiating a prisoner swap.

Sitting beside Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, Annan demanded Hezbollah return two captured Israeli soldiers, whose July 12 abduction touched off the 34-day war, and said Israel must lift its air and sea blockade of Lebanon.

Although Annan was critical of both sides, he also said the agreement provided a chance for a long-term peace. As the cease-fire held for the 15th day, neither side looked like it wanted to resume large-scale hostilities.

But the U.N. chief cautioned the road ahead would be long, and pledged the international community’s support. As part of that support, Italy and Turkey moved to join the U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon.

Annan also said the U.N. force, which is to grow to 15,000 soldiers, will not try to disarm Hezbollah guerrillas.

“Down the line … there will have to be disarmament, but it’s up to the Lebanese government and people to resolve themselves,” Annan said. “The (peacekeepers) are not going to go house to house searching for weapons. This is not their responsibility.”

Annan was booed by residents as he toured the devastated Dahiyeh neighborhood in the Hezbollah stronghold of south Beirut. He was greeted by giant posters with photographs of Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah and one that had a caricature of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with vampire’s teeth and blood dripping from the mouth.

The U.N. chief, accompanied by Saniora and a Hezbollah legislator, walked for about 50 yards before the protest became noisy and unfriendly. Annan got back into a car, which drove slowly through the assembled residents with security men running alongside.

Geir Pedersen, Annan’s personal representative, was pushed into another car in the motorcade by a bodyguard after some in the crowd mistook him for Jeffrey Feltman, the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon.

Earlier, Annan issued an unexpectedly blunt assessment of the cease-fire and its implementation by Israel and Hezbollah.

“It’s a fixed menu. … It’s not an a la carte menu where you choose and pick,” he said at the end of the first day of his 11-day Mideast swing that will include stops in Iran and Syria, the main backers of Hezbollah.

It was not known what Annan would discuss with the leaders of Syria and Iran, but it would be extremely difficult for Lebanon to disarm the Shiite guerrillas of Hezbollah without the agreement and participation of those two governments.

Israel responded quickly and negatively to Annan’s call for an end to the blockade, which is intended to keep arms from being shipped to Hezbollah.

An official in the office of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reiterated that the blockade will remain until the international force takes up positions along Lebanon’s borders and entry points. He said Hezbollah continues to try to smuggle weapons into the country.

“Once the international forces are fully in place and they’re able to prevent the smuggling of weapons to Hezbollah, there will be no need for the air and naval blockade,” said the official, David Baker.

Although aimed at Hezbollah arms shipments, the blockade also is hindering shipments of food, fuel and other goods to Lebanon.

Annan has said the Lebanese army could handle policing the Syrian border on its own and it would be unprecedented for a peacekeeping force to be deployed along a border shared by countries that have not been at war. Syrian President Bashar Assad has said the deployment of international troops would be considered a “hostile” act.

In Israel, Olmert announced an inquiry into the war, hoping to dispel criticism among Israelis that the army and government bungled the campaign. But he ignored demands for an independent probe with the authority to dismiss top officials.

His decision was likely to enrage critics who say Olmert and other top officials should be the focus of the investigation, not overseeing it.

Israel has said a resolution of the conflict must include the release of the two soldiers captured by Hezbollah militants in a cross-border raid that triggered the conflict last month.

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