EU takes over imperialist tasks from Israel


Richard Moore

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Israel lifts naval blockade of Lebanon
By HUSSEIN DAKROUB, Associated Press Writer
Fri Sep 8, 8:31 AM ET

Israel lifted its naval blockade of Lebanon on 
Friday after European warships began patrolling 
to keep out weapons shipments for Hezbollah 
guerrillas, the head of the U.N. peacekeeping 
force in Lebanon said.

Maj. Gen. Alain Pellegrini, the force's French 
commander, said he was informed by Israeli 
officials, and by the Italian commander leading 
the naval task force, that the blockade had ended 
after nearly two months.

The international task force began operating off 
the Lebanese coast just after noon Friday, 
officials said.

"The force is now operational and I understand 
that the (Israeli) naval blockade is lifted," 
Pellegrini said in a statement faxed to The 
Associated Press.

Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisin said 
she didn't have immediate confirmation that the 
final order had been given to Israeli forces to 
end the blockade off Lebanon's ports. But she 
said earlier Friday that the blockade would end 
within hours.

The lifting of the blockade brings Israel's 
campaign against Hezbollah guerrillas closer to 
an end, and allows desperately needed 
reconstruction projects to proceed freely. Israel 
now must withdraw its last troops, to be replaced 
by up to 15,000 Lebanese soldiers backed by an 
equal number of international forces in southern 
Lebanon under an Aug. 14 truce.

Israeli officials said that could happen within two weeks.

Israel sealed off Lebanon by air and sea at the 
start of its war against Hezbollah to keep Syria 
and Iran from resupplying it with arms. Israel, 
yielding to intense international pressure, ended 
its air blockade of Lebanon on Thursday, but said 
it would maintain the naval blockade until 
international peacekeeping vessels arrived to 
monitor the seas.

U.N. chief Kofi Annan, who led the international 
campaign to lift the blockades, has also been 
pressing Israel to withdraw all its soldiers from 
Lebanon once 5,000 U.N. peacekeepers deploy there 
by mid-September.

At a meeting Thursday, Israeli security officials 
said the target was to have the remaining 
thousands of troops out by the Jewish New Year, 
which begins the evening of Sept. 22, security 
officials said.

Israel has been gradually pulling out its 
soldiers - whose number peaked at 30,000 at the 
war's end - as international replacements arrive.

About 3,250 U.N. troops are now in place. On 
Thursday, the Spanish parliament voted to 
contribute 1,100 soldiers to the peacekeeping 
mission, and the first troops were to set off on 

In related news, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud 
Olmert has signaled that Israel might cede 
disputed territory to Lebanon if the Lebanese 
carry out all provisions of the cease-fire 
agreement, including disarming Hezbollah.

In a meeting with Russian Minister Sergey Lavrov 
on Thursday, Olmert said if the U.N. decides the 
area is Lebanese, and if Lebanon fully implements 
a U.N. resolution ending the war, then Israel 
would agree to put the matter on the table, 
government officials said.

When Israel withdrew its troops from southern 
Lebanon in 2000, ending an 18-year occupation, 
the U.N.-drawn international line did not put 
Chebaa Farms in Lebanese territory, but in the 
Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria 
in 1967, and later annexed.

The Lebanese have disputed this ruling, and 
Israel and Hezbollah have clashed in the 
territory since the withdrawal. Under the Aug. 14 
cease-fire, the U.N. agreed to review the line 
within 30 days.

Lebanon put on a boisterous show Thursday to 
celebrate the end of Israel's air blockade. In a 
symbolic act signaling the resumption of normal 
air traffic, a commercial flight by Lebanon's 
national carrier Middle East Airlines circled 
over downtown Beirut three times at 6:04 p.m., 
four minutes after the embargo ended. And 
fireworks erupted in the capital's heart.

Prime Minister Fuad Saniora inviting the tens of 
thousands of Lebanese who fled the fighting and 
Arab tourists who left in droves "to come back to 
the Lebanon you love."

The land route to neighboring Syria has already 
been reopened, with the Lebanese government 
posting thousands of troops along the rugged 
frontier to prevent smuggling.

While Lebanese celebrated the end of the air 
siege, Olmert's government came under sharp 
criticism from the families of two Israeli 
soldiers captured by Hezbollah in a cross-border 
raid that touched off the war. The families said 
the lifting of the blockade robbed Israel of 
negotiating leverage.

After meeting with Olmert, relatives of the 
soldiers - Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev - 
accused the Israeli leader of caving in to 
international pressure.

"This is the second time the government has acted 
against the will of the people of Israel," said 
Regev's brother, Benny. "The first was the 
cease-fire, and now it's with the lifting of the 
blockade of Lebanon."

Since the cease-fire, Olmert repeatedly pledged 
to bring the men home safely, and Annan has 
appointed a mediator to handle indirect talks 
between Israel and Hezbollah.

Hezbollah has said it would free the two only in 
exchange for Arab prisoners held by Israel. 
Israeli publicly has demanded the soldiers' 
unconditional release, but in the past has 
exchanged prisoners.


Associated Press writer Amy Teibel in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press. All rights 
reserved. The information contained in the AP 
News report may not be published, broadcast, 
rewritten or redistributed without the prior 
written authority of The Associated Press.

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