Kofi Annan to appoint secret mediator for Israeli soldier release negotiations

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Monday, September 4, 2006

United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan has announced he will appoint a secret mediator to oversee negotiations for the release of Israeli prisoners held by Hezbollah. The soldiers were captured by the guerrilla group on July 12, 2006 in a cross border raid, sparking a 34 day war by Israel on Lebanon. The UN Security Council resolution 1701 called for the captives to be released. Israel has also previously said that the soldiers' return is crucial to any peace effort.

Annan announced in a press conference in Saudi Arabia that his efforts were requested by both Israel and Hezbollah. Speaking in the Red sea port of Jeddah today, he told reporters: "I will appoint a person to work secretly with the two sides ... I will not announce his name today or tomorrow." The secretary-general is currently on an 11 day tour of the Middle East.

Hezbollah reportedly wishes to swap Lebanese prisoners held in Israel for the soldiers. This is something the two parties have done before although, currently, Israel is refusing to negotiate any form of swap.

The announcement is another sign of progress in the region since the cease fire. Although Lebanon indicated earlier today that it would reject an imminent peace treaty from Israel and agreed to file complaints about the latter's eight week sea and air blockade with the UN.

So far there has been no reaction to the statement either from Hezbollah or Israel.