Israel will lift its sea and air blockade of Lebanon this
evening, the Israeli Government announced Wednesday.
A statement from the Prime Minister's Office said international
forces would replace the Israelis at command positions over
Lebanese seaports and airports.
Israel imposed the air, land and sea blockade shortly after the
34-day war against the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah erupted
on July 12. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has been working to get
the blockade lifted since an UN-brokered cease-fire went into
effect on August 14.
Israel said the blockade was necessary to prevent new arms
shipments to Hezbollah guerrillas.
Some 3,250 UN forces are now in Lebanon, and UN officials expect
that figure to reach 5,000 troops by late next week. The UN
resolution calls for a beefed-up force of up to 15,000
peacekeepers, who will help police the border with Israel with a
similar number of Lebanese troops.
In the statement, Israel says it will leave its command posts at
various ports at 18:00 local time today (15:00 GMT) and be replaced
immediately by international forces. German experts are to arrive
at Beirut airport later Wednesday, the statement said.
German naval forces are also expected to arrive within two week
to deploy on the Lebanese coast. Until the German troops arrive,
Italian, French, British and Greek troops will carry out their
task, the statement said.
The statement said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and
Annan informed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Wednesday that the
international troops were ready to move in.
Earlier in the day, Annan said hoped the blockade would be
lifted within two days.
"Israel will be ready to lift the restrictions when the Lebanese
Government augmented by international forces will be ready to
enforce the arms embargo on Hezbollah," said Foreign Ministry
spokesman Mark Regev. "If they are ready, we will be ready."
In a sign the embargo may be eroding, British Airways/BMED said
it was resuming direct flights to Beirut after the British
Government had given assurances that it would be safe to do so.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has said that if the
blockade goes on for another 20 days, the economic losses would
equal the nearly US$1 billion in aid promised by international
donors to help the country get back to its feet after the war.
(China Daily September 7, 2006)