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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 September 2006, 04:26 GMT 05:26 UK
Israel to lift Lebanon blockade
Israeli soldiers aboard naval vessel patrolling off the Lebanese coast
Israel says it enforced the blockade to stop Hezbollah from re-arming
Israel says it will lift its air and sea blockade of Lebanon on Thursday, at 1800 local time (1500 GMT).

The blockade dates back to the start of its conflict with Hezbollah guerrillas in July. Israel says it wants measures to ensure no more arms reach Hezbollah.

International pressure has been building on Israel to lift the embargo, which has remained in place despite a three-week-old ceasefire.

The German navy is expected to play a major role in monitoring the coast.

UN officials have said German boats will lead a contingent of naval vessels from other countries - including France, Italy, Greece and the UK - in policing the coast.

Correspondents say supervising Lebanon's airspace and coastline is the first major test for the UN force charged with keeping the peace and preventing arms shipments from reaching Hezbollah.

They say the lifting of the blockade means Lebanon can begin rebuilding following Israel's massive bombardment of the south, and normal trade and travel routes can be restored.

German deployment

A statement from the Israeli prime minister's office said international forces would replace the Israelis at "control positions" over Lebanese sea and air ports.

Map
A copy of the statement, quoted by the Associated Press news agency, said German experts would begin monitoring Beirut airport on Wednesday.

German naval forces are also expected to arrive within two weeks to deploy off the Lebanese coast, the statement said, and until then Italian, French, British and Greek troops would carry out their task.

About 3,250 international troops are now in Lebanon under the UN banner, and UN officials says that figure could reach 5,000 troops next week.

UN Resolution 1701 calls for a force of up to 15,000 peacekeepers to help police the border with Israel along with a similar sized Lebanese force.

More than 1,100 Lebanese and about 160 Israelis died in the conflict, sparked by the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah.

Airlines returning

Lebanon had vowed to break Israel's blockade unless it was lifted within the next two days, just as the air blockade appeared to be crumbling.

Two airlines had previously been granted permission to operate regular commercial flights to Beirut, Lebanon's Middle East Airlines and Royal Jordanian, on condition they stopped at Amman.

But Qatar Airways resumed direct flights between Doha and Beirut on Monday, and other airlines were expected to follow suit, with or without Israeli permission.

British Mediterranean Airways (B-Med), a franchise partner of British Airways, announced it was breaking the air embargo by flying directly Beirut on Wednesday evening.

B-Med said it had sought clearance from the Lebanese authorities and the UK Foreign Office, but not from Israel.

Lebanese media reported that Air France and Germany's Lufthansa had also requested to resume flights to Lebanon.




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