Germany's intelligence service the BND has been active for weeks in the Middle East in the search for the kidnapped Israeli soldiers, a German newspaper reported on Friday. According to the Berliner Zeitung, German agents, in cooperation with their Russian counterparts, are using their contacts with Hamas and Hezbollah to try to secure the release of the hostages. The paper claims Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov agreed July 12 on a joint mission to the Middle East to try to force an end to the conflict.
The Israeli government has asked for the German government's assistance to secure the release of its soldiers, reported news agency DDP, apparently confirmed by security sources in Berlin. The reason? Germany played a crucial role in the 2004 prisoner exchange between Israel and Hezbollah. However, Schimon Stein, Israeli ambassador in Germany, told SPIEGEL ONLINE that the report that Israel had asked for Germany's assistance in communicating with Hezbollah and Hamas was "inaccurate" because Israel does not negotiate with "terrorists."
Annan pushes for cease-fire
Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has repeated his call for a cease-fire. "What is most urgently needed is an immediate cessation of hostilities," he said on Thursday. While he condemned Hezbollah's "provocative attack" for igniting hostilities he saved his most barbed comments for Israel, condemning its "excessive use of force" which would weaken the Lebanese government and do "little or nothing to decrease popular support for Hezbollah in Lebanon or the region".
But Israel's ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman has rejected Annan's cease-fire proposals, criticizing the UN chief for neglecting to mention terrorism, Iran or Syria during his speech. Gillerman said Israel "will do whatever is necessary" to defeat Hezbollah. "When you operate on a cancerous growth you do not stop in the middle, sew the patient up and tell him keep living with that growth until it kills you. You make sure it is totally removed," he said.
Israel can still rely on the continued support of veto-wielding UN Security Council members the United States and Great Britain, as both countries refuse to condemn the scale of the Israeli military offensive. US ambassador to the UN John Bolton was critical of Annan telling reporters: "No one has explained how you conduct a cease-fire with a group of terrorists."
The leader of Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah has told Arab TV channel al-Jazeera that his group had not been weakened by Israel's campaign, despite heavy bombardment and Israel's claim to have destroyed half its rocket capability. He insisted no amount of international pressure and diplomacy would secure the release of the Israeli soldiers. "If the entire universe came, it will not bring back the Israel soldiers unless through indirect negotiations and a prisoner swap," he said.
Responding to growing indications that Israel might be preparing a ground invasion of southern Lebanon, Nasrallah said: "A land invasion will be a disaster for the Israeli army, a disaster for their tanks, officers and soldiers."
The conflict has so far claimed the lives of at least 312 Lebanese and 34 Israelis with at least 500,000 Lebanese citizens displaced by the attacks. Israelis remain strongly supportive of the war against Hezbollah. A survey published in the Maariv newspaper Friday said 90 per cent of Israelis said the war should continue until Hezbollah is driven out of southern Lebanon.