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UN alerts Israel, Lebanon, Syria to border fears

Written by: Staff

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 17 (Reuters) UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the leaders of Israel, Syria and Lebanon to take steps to ease tensions along Israel's northern border following reports a possible confrontation may be in the works, the United Nations said.

Annan called Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday to discuss reports reaching the secretary-general ''of heightened tensions and possible confrontation along Israel's northern border,'' chief UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Annan told the Syrian leader ''it was essential everyone take steps to avoid that,'' Dujarric said.

The UN leader called acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on Wednesday with a similar message, he added.

Israel put its armed forces on high alert along the border with Lebanon earlier this week following intelligence reports warning that Hizbollah guerrillas planned to carry out cross-border attacks or try to kidnap Israelis in the area.

The reports surfaced in the heat of campaigning for a March 28 Israeli election. They also came just before the release of a progress report by the UN commission investigating the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, in which Syrian involvement is suspected.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told Israeli television on Monday that Hizbollah, a Syrian-backed militant group that entered into the Lebanese government last year, wanted to carry out attacks on Israel to distract world attention from the UN Hariri investigation.

Israel shares its northern border with both Lebanon and Syria.

Tensions have been high along the border since May 2000, when Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon after 22 years of occupation.

Profiting from the power vacuum created by the Israeli pull-out, Hizbollah moved into the area and has since come to dominate it, despite regular U.N. pleas to the Lebanese government that it move its security forces into the south and assert control over it.

Hizbollah guerrillas sporadically clash with Israel forces across the border, with Hizbollah rocket or arms fire often triggering retaliation in the form of Israeli military flights over Lebanese territory.


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