BEIRUT — United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Monday demanded the release of two Israeli soldiers held by the Hezbollah militia and called for Israel to lift its blockade of Lebanon.
Annan's remarks came during a visit to Lebanon to shore up a U.N. Security Council cease-fire resolution adopted two weeks ago that ended more than a month of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah.
"It's a fixed menu," Annan said in response to complaints from Israel and Hezbollah that the other side was not complying with the resolution. "It's not a smorgasbord or a la carte, where you can pick and choose."
He warned that failing to abide by the resolution's terms could renew fighting in a conflict that had killed more than 1,000 people.
Annan, beginning an 11-day tour of the Middle East, repeated the resolution's call for the unconditional release of the Israeli soldiers taken in a July 12 raid, suggesting they be turned over to a third party such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The secretary-general called for Israel to stop its interference in Lebanon's air and shipping travel.
"I am urging my Israeli interlocutors to lift immediately the blockade on Lebanon," Annan said.
Israel has continued military flyovers on the border between Lebanon and Syria, and it forces planes flying into Beirut to stop in Amman, Jordan, where passengers say they are kept waiting while cargo is inspected.
Israel also has turned away fuel tankers attempting to dock in Lebanese ports.
Lebanon calls the actions a violation of the resolution's requirement that all nations respect its borders and sovereignty.
Israeli officials gave no indication Monday that they would end the blockade soon.
"Israel maintains that the air and naval blockade are necessary until the international forces are deployed in order to prevent weapons smuggling to Hezbollah," said David Baker, an official in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office.
The fighting between Israel and Hezbollah left more than 1,000 civilians dead on both sides, severely damaged Lebanon's infrastructure and drained millions of dollars from the economies of Israel and Lebanon.
Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah acknowledged in a Sunday television interview that his Shiite Muslim militant group had miscalculated the repercussions of kidnapping the two Israeli soldiers.
He said he never would have allowed the operation if he had known how much damage it would wreak.
The monthlong conflict reinvigorated calls in Lebanon and elsewhere for the disarming of Hezbollah. The group used Iranian and Syrian support to build itself into a formidable army, political party and social services organization during the 18 years Israel occupied southern Lebanon. After Israel's withdrawal in 2000, it continued to arm and train.
Annan said the thousands of international peacekeeping troops the United Nations plans to send to southern Lebanon would have the authority to defend themselves and civilians. But they will not disarm Hezbollah or other militiamen.
"This is something that the Lebanese government and people are going to have to resolve," Annan said at a news conference.
Hezbollah and U.N. officials said talks on the release of the two Israeli soldiers had begun. Annan met Monday with Nabih Berri, the secular Shiite speaker of Lebanon's parliament who often acts as an intermediary for Hezbollah. A U.N. official said the talks were in the initial stages.
Hezbollah faces domestic and international pressure to moderate its actions.
After an increase in support immediately after the fighting stopped, public opinion about Hezbollah has started to shift, with those critical of the organization's state within a state beginning to speak out.
"After the war you had Hezbollah who seemed to be the big winner," said Patrick Haenni, a Beirut-based analyst at the International Crisis Group, a think tank and research organization based in Brussels and Washington.
"Now you have the government coming up stronger and questions rising. It's an equilibrium of weakness between government and Hezbollah."
Olmert's government, under heavy criticism for its handling of the war, said Monday that an investigative committee headed by former Israeli spymaster Nahum Admoni would examine decision-making during the conflict, but that the panel would not have the power to fire officials.
Olmert, under pressure to resign, said his government did not have the luxury of carrying out a lengthy investigation of how the conflict was waged.
Israelis are haunted by images of service members captured in battle.
A Christian-run Lebanese television station said Monday that it would air audio and video footage of an Israeli air force pilot missing since 1986.
The televised promotional scenes of Israeli airman Ron Arad generated a wave of emotion in Israel. Arad's case has been a national cause, and Israel has for years demanded that Hezbollah provide information about his fate.