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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Israel to lift Lebanon blockade by Thursday at 6:00 PM

I guess UN Secretary General Kofi Goofy Annan was more truthful than Israel this time.

Israel is to lift its air and sea blockade of Lebanon at 6:00 PM tomorrow (Thursday), except that it is already being violated. I have two reports: the first from YNet and the second from HaAretz:
The United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan informed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday and Wednesday morning that the multinational force in Lebanon is ready to take over monitoring of the country's sea and air ports.

Pursuant to the announcement, it was decided that Israel would lift the aerial and naval blockade on Lebanon, which have lasted for eight weeks, since the onset of the fighting in the north.

Thursday at 6 p.m., Israel will leave observation posts in the ports. International forces will station themselves there simultaneously. Wednesday night, German security forces are anticipated to arrive at the Beirut airport, with their equipment.

Additionally, the Lebanese government and the UN agreed that German naval forces would deploy along Lebanon's coast. Germany has been waiting for a formal Lebanese request before deploying its naval forces. The Germans will be responsible for enforcing the arms embargo across Lebanese borders.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan clarified that, until the German naval forces arrive approximately two weeks from now, Italian, French, British and Greek forces will be responsible for the enforcement of the embargo along the coast, as part of the international force's duties in the area.
So in the end, it's the German forces that are stepping up to the plate. And at least there are no forces from Muslim countries involved.... HaAretz adds:
Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh said Wednesday that his country would break Israel's blockade by force if it is not lifted in a 48-hour timeframe indicated by Annan.

"We will wait for the 48 hours given by Kofi Annan, and if the situation is resolved, we will thank him. If it is not, the Lebanese govenrment will take the necesssary measures and we will break the blockade with all our might," Salloukh told journalists on the sidelines of an Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo.

The DPA German news agency reported on Wednesday that an Israel Defense Forces officer admitted that the army could not enforce an air blockade over Lebanon and prevent civilian aircraft from landing at the Beirut airport.

"We regret the fact, but we have no choice. We do not want to hit civilian planes," a military official was quoted as telling the German news agency, when asked whether Israel would allow civilian aircraft to break the air blockade.

Meanwhile, an airliner from a British Airways franchise took off from London's Heathrow Airport earlier Wednesday for a direct flight to Beirut, in what it said would be a breach of the air embargo imposed at the start of the war with Hezbollah eight weeks ago.

The announcement by British Airways franchise partner BMED also coincided with efforts by Annan to get Israel to lift its air and sea blockade of Lebanon.

"British Airways/BMED is breaking the air embargo and flying into [Beirut's] Rafik al-Hariri International Airport tonight," the company said in a statement.

BMED's commercial director, Jonathan Grisdale said the airline was resuming flights to Beirut after securing assurances from the British government it was safe to do so.

"The blockade is still in place," Grisdale said, denying that BMED had sought Israel's permission for the flight.

"We are a U.K. civil airline trying to operate a lawful service in Lebanon," he said by telephone from London. "Our government has given us clearance and permission that we can operate safely and securely on that basis."

An IDF spokeswoman said permission to land in Beirut is granted to any flight that meets unspecified criteria.

"Yesterday 20 flights were permitted to land," she said. "There is obviously an interest to let whoever wants to return [to Lebanon] for humanitarian reasons do so."

Lebanon's Middle East Airlines and Royal Jordanian began flying regularly into the capital last month, but have complied with Israel's insistence that all such flights go via Amman. Qatar's national airline began flying commercial flights into Lebanon earlier this week. Israel said it had coordinated the flight, but Qatar Airlines said it had gone ahead without Israeli permission.

Gulf Air said Wednesday it was resuming commercial flights to Lebanon, with the first flight to be operated on Saturday.

The company, co-owned by Bahrain and Oman, said it had been monitoring the situation to resume flights as early as possible and its security and operational specialists visited Lebanon last month to ensure that services could resume safely and effectively.

"We have worked closely with local and international authorities to ensure the re-start of flights as soon as it was safe to do so. We are completely satisfied that the time is right to resume services," said Gulf Air President and Chief Executive James Hogan.
Interestingly, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of blog activity about this in Lebanon yet.


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