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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Annan Surveys Destruction in Lebanon

NAQOURA, Lebanon -- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan visited United Nations peacekeepers in south Lebanon on Tuesday, a day after Italy and Turkey moved to join the international force there.

Annan and his entourage left Beirut on Tuesday morning in two white United Nations helicopters, and landed in Naqoura, a town on the Mediterranean coast about 4 kilometers north of the Israeli border, and home to headquarters of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL.

The UN chief was in Lebanon on the first leg of an 11-day Middle East tour that would take him to Israel, as well as to Syria and Iran -- militant group Hezbollah's main benefactors.

Annan was briefed Tuesday by French Major General Alain Pellegrini, the UNIFIL commander, and other top officials, then reviewed an honor guard of UN troops in blue berets standing at attention on the green lawn inside the UN's white-walled compound.

He laid a wreath at a monument for peacekeepers killed in Lebanon since UNIFIL deployed here in 1978. Muslim and Christian clergymen said prayers, and the UN chief stood in silence in front of a display of portraits of those killed, including four UNIFIL members killed in an Israeli airstrike on their base in Khiam on July 25.

Annan left Naqoura after about two and a half hours, flying along the Israeli-Lebanese border by helicopter. He was expected to survey two other UNIFIL posts by air, and then touch down at Khiam, before flying south to Israel.

The UN chief wore a business suit and shook hands with members of the 2,000-member force, which is being expanded to 15,000 under UN resolution 1701 that halted fighting between Israel and Hezbollah on Aug. 14. Flags of countries contributing troops to UNIFIL, including Annan's native Ghana, fluttered in the breeze as the band played their national anthems.

On Monday, Annan pressed Hezbollah to release two Israeli soldiers, whose July 12 capture started the 34-day Israel-Hezbollah war, and called on Israel to lift its sea and air blockade of Lebanon.

After talks with Lebanese leaders in Beirut, Annan faulted both Israel and Hezbollah for not living up to key sections of the cease-fire resolution, and warned that fighting could resume if the parties did not abide by the full resolution.

"Without the full implementation of resolution 1701, I fear the risk is great for renewal of hostilities," he said.

He also toured a bombed out neighborhood in the Hezbollah stronghold of south Beirut, where hundreds of residents booed him as he toured the ruins.

An Italian task force, meanwhile, gathered off the coast of southern Italy on Tuesday to carry troops and aircraft to south Lebanon. One-thousand Marines and engineer corps specialists were leaving as the first members of a 2,500-strong contingent being deployed by Italy.