Atul Aneja

DUBAI: Standing besides Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has urged Israel to stop Lebanon's physical isolation and withdraw its forces from there.

At a press conference on Wednesday, he said, "I do believe the blockade should be lifted." He also pointed out that he had been assured by the Lebanese authorities about measures, which were being taken, to curb the flow of weapons to the militant group Hizbollah.

He added that he was hopeful that Israel's security concerns could be addressed. Without naming Israel, Mr. Annan on Tuesday said Lebanon was being subjected to a "humiliating" blockade.

Pullout ruled out

Ruling out the immediate pull out of all Israeli forces, Mr. Olmert said this would be possible if all provisions of U.N. Security Council resolution 1701, stating the terms of the ceasefire between Israel and Hizbollah, were enforced.

Mr. Annan is on an 11-day visit to West Asia, and would also travel to Syria and Iran-Hizbollah's key allies. Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has said resumption of fighting with Israel is unlikely. In an interview with Lebanon's New Television Station, he said, "The current Israeli situation, and the available givens tell us that we are not heading to another round."

He pointed out that that first steps that could result in negotiations with Israel over a prisoners exchange deal had been taken. "Contacts recently began for negotiations," he said, adding that Italy and the U.N. had shown interest in mediation. The Hizbollah Secretary General said Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament Nabih Berri would head negotiations.

Commenting on the 34-day war that ended with an August 14 ceasefire, Mr. Nasrallah said his organisation would not have captured the two Israeli soldiers on July 12, had it been known then that this would lead to a war.