In place since 1978, United Nations soldiers in southern Lebanon face a new challenge – maintaining the fragile truce between Israel and Hizbollah. Kofi Annan has been meeting those charged with keeping the peace. Their ranks are to be increased from 2,000 to up to 15,000, with the international community firming up offers of military personnel, warships and tanks. A large Italian contingent has set sail for Lebanon today. The Secretary-General remembered the nearly 250 UN troops who have lost their lives during the force’s nearly 30 year mission. UNIFIL members were killed during the 34-day war.
Annan was also taking to the skies in a helicopter tour of areas pounded by Israeli air strikes before heading to Israel later in the day. He has said he will call on Israel to lift its air and sea blockade of Lebanon He has also urged Hizbollah to release the two Israeli soldiers whose capture in a cross-border raid on July 12 sparked the conflict.