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August 31, 2006

In News

Clancy Chassay in Beirut and agencies

Cluster bombs and blockade fuel resentment towards ‘unjust’ world body as Annan leaves for Israel

The UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, visited UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon yesterday, a day after he was met with protests by angry residents of Beirut’s devastated southern suburbs.

Timur Goksel, the former senior adviser and spokesman for the UN interim force in Lebanon (Unifil), said the international organisation was now more unpopular in the region than at any point in its history.

“The UN guys are uncomfortable with the mood; they know there is lot of anger toward the UN,” said Mr Goksel, who served for 24 years with Unifil.

Mr Annan laid a wreath in Naqoura for five UN staff killed in Israeli attacks this summer and flew over swaths of southern Lebanon to see the scale of destruction.

Before departing for Israel, where he was due to meet the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and the defence minister, Amir Peretz, the secretary-general called on Israel to lift its air and sea blockade of Lebanon, which he said the Lebanese saw as a “humiliation and infringement of their sovereignty”. He also called for the issue of the Israeli soldiers abducted by Hizbullah to be resolved “very quickly”.

In Geneva a spokesman for Unicef said 12 people had been killed by cluster bombs in southern Lebanon since the war ended. “Unexploded ordnance continues to be a major threat, especially to children,” said Michael Bociurkiw. He said 359 Israeli cluster bomb sites had been reported in the south.

In some Beirut neighbourhoods anti-UN graffiti adorns the walls and stickers reading “Unjust” in the UN’s distinctive blue font have appeared on car windows.

Many Lebanese were frustrated with “the UN’s seeming passivity” in the face of the destruction wreaked by the 34-day war between Israel and Hizbullah, Mr Goksel said. “There is a lot of disappointment in the street. The people wanted Annan to declare the blockade over and that the Israelis troops were leaving, but he knows his limitations.”

Bashir, the manager of an upmarket restaurant in West Beirut, said: “They [the UN] are not good. We don’t trust them. They didn’t help the civilians in the south. They are like an instrument in the hands of the Americans.”

In an interview with Lebanon’s New TV on Sunday night, screened across the Arab world, the leader of Hizbullah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, said Mr Annan’s envoy Terje Roed-Larsen “serves the Israelis first and foremost”.

“If Nasrallah is saying that, you can bet a lot of people in the region agree with him,” said Mr Goksel. “There is no doubt there is a negative perception of Larsen in the region.”

Mr Roed-Larsen has been a vocal proponent of a divisive clause within UN resolution 1559 that calls for the disarmament of Hizbullah.

Many Lebanese blame the UN for the deaths of 18 people in a southern Lebanese village when an Israeli helicopter fired rockets at a minivan. Amid the deadly air strikes, the passengers had pleaded to be allowed refuge in a nearby UN base but were turned away.

“They didn’t want a repeat of Qana,” said Mr Goksel, referring to the killing in 1996 of more than 100 people who had taken refuge in a UN base during Israel’s offensive against Hizbullah. “The people turned up at the base and the officer on the gate told them he didn’t have room for them; he went by the book.”

Two Palestinians were killed by an Israeli tank shell near Gaza City yesterday. Two others were killed in a gunfight with Israeli soldiers in Nablus in the West Bank.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006