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Annan wants Hezbollah to free captured Israelis

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BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Monday called on Hezbollah to turn over two captured Israeli soldiers to the Red Cross.

He also urged Israel to lift the air and sea blockade of Lebanon that it established as part of the military campaign against Hezbollah after the soldiers were seized.

At a joint news conference with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Annan said Hezbollah could give the two Israeli soldiers to Red Cross authorities "as a first step."

From there, the soldiers would be transferred under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross to Lebanon or a to third party, Annan said.

He said the United Nations is "prepared to play a role" in the handover. (Watch how Annan is trying to bolster cease-fire -- 1:59)

On Israel's blockade of Lebanon, Annan said, "I would hope to see some movement on that in the not too distant future."

"We are working for the lifting of the siege, and I have been discussing it with Israeli authorities and other international partners, and I will discuss it when I'm in Israel tomorrow," Annan said.

"Inshallah," Siniora added, which is Arabic for "God willing."

After meeting with Siniora, Annan also conferred with parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri, a key negotiator with Hezbollah, and Lebanese Energy Minister Mohammad Fneish -- one of the two Hezbollah Cabinet ministers.

Fneish said the U.N. chief relayed his proposal to hand over the Israeli soldiers to the Red Cross.

"I told him that I am not authorized to discuss this with him," Fneish told CNN. "This is a matter that would have to be discussed within Hezbollah and can only be part of a prisoner exchange process and the final decision would ultimately be made by [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah."

After the news conference, Annan toured Beirut's southern suburbs -- a Hezbollah stronghold devastated by Israeli airstrikes -- and was met with boos from several supporters of the militia.

Video of the scene showed one protester plastering a photo of Nasrallah against the window of a vehicle in the U.N. chief's convoy.

Annan is also scheduled to visit a memorial in downtown Beirut to former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in the Lebanese capital last February.

From Lebanon, Annan will head to Israel, the Palestinian territories, Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Syria, according to U.N. officials. He is also expected to visit Iran.

Shortly after he arrived at the Beirut International Airport, Annan said it was "a very critical time for Lebanon."

"I think it's important that I come here myself to discuss with the Lebanese authorities the aftermath of the war and the measures we need to take to implement the U.N. resolutions and also to underscore international solidarity," the U.N. chief said.

En route to the region, Annan called Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and informed him that a more robust U.N. peacekeeping force would be deployed to southern Lebanon in about a week.

According to the prime minister's Web site, Annan called Olmert Sunday evening to brief him ahead of his visit to the region. He is scheduled to meet with Olmert on Wednesday.

The U.N. Security Council has authorized adding up to 13,000 troops to the 2,000 in place in Lebanon.

So far, Italy has pledged up to 3,000 troops, and France is committing around 2,000. A European diplomatic source said last week that Spain has pledged 1,000 to 1,200 troops. Belgium is pledging around 300 troops, Poland has pledged 500, and Finland, 250.

Denmark is offering 150 in naval support. Greece and Germany also will offer naval forces.

On Friday, Annan said there also have been troop commitments from Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia, but Israel has concerns about the deployment of troops from countries that don't recognize the Jewish state.

Turkey -- which has diplomatic relations with Israel -- has agreed "in principle" to contribute troops, and may call for a special parliamentary meeting next week to determine the extent of its commitment, a government spokesman said Monday.

The troop deployment is part of Resolution 1701, the U.N. Security Council resolution designed to restore peace to southern Lebanon after 34 days of fighting between Israel and the Hezbollah militia.

Annan said the resolution does not require deployment of U.N. troops to the border and it is the Lebanese themselves who would be charged with disarming Hezbollah.

The U.N. Web site says that as of June 30 UNIFIL -- the U.N. Interim Force In Lebanon -- was made up of 1,990 troops from China, France, Ghana, India, Ireland, Italy, Poland and Ukraine, supported by 50 military observers from U.N. Truce Supervision Organization and about 400 civilian staff members.

Lebanon tightening security on Syria border

Lebanese authorities will begin implementing tighter security measures at the four official border crossings with Syria on Tuesday, the country's internal security chief told CNN on Monday.

"We have loopholes that must be closed at all the official border crossings with Syria," Brig. Gen. Ashraf Rifi said after a meeting with Prime Minister Siniora.

The new measures include installing closed circuit cameras, metal detectors, and luggage and cargo scanners along with tightening customs and passport control procedures at the northern border crossings of Arida and Aboudiyeh as well as the eastern entrance points at Qaa and Masnaa.

Internal security forces are in charge of the four official crossings while the Lebanese army is responsible for guarding the porous 233 mile (375km) border.

CNN's Allison Flexner and Sam Dagher contributed to this report.

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