Ships return to Beirut after Israel ends blockade


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

Ships return to Beirut after Israel ends blockade
by Albion Land
2 hours, 38 minutes ago

The port of Beirut welcomed its first big cargo ships since Israel lifted its 
punishing eight-week blockade, a major boost for an import-hungry country where 
80 percent of goods arrive by ship.

"Two boats arrived at 2:00 am (2300 GMT Friday) and we immediately started to 
unload," said the port's director, Hassan Kraytem. "We're back in business and 
everyone is working."

Kraytem said two smaller ships arrived Friday, one of them before Israel lifted 
its sea blockade that same afternoon.

Three additional ships were expected Sunday, he said Saturday.

By mid-morning, the two container vessels were almost completely unloaded, and 
there was almost no activity along the two kilometres (1.2 miles) of cargo 

There were actually more Lebanese police and soldiers around than dockworkers. 
Their number was augmented by 250 French soldiers who had docked first thing in 
the morning, a logistical unit preparing the way for the arrival of a 900-man 
combat battalion in the next couple of weeks.

The lifting of the naval blockade a day after Israel dropped its restrictions on
air travel was seen as an essential step in reviving the country's economy, 
shattered by the month-long war between Israel and Hezbollah that ended August 

"Beirut port is a reflection of Lebanon's economy," said Kraytem. "We are an 
essential part of the economy."

Not only do 80 percent of imports arrive here, but 60 percent of exports leave 
from the port.

Kraytem said it was difficult to calculate the losses to the port itself from 
the 34-day war, which ended on August 14, and from the blockade that continued 
until Friday.

"We hope that in the next two months we will be back to normal," he said, 
explaining that monthly revenues are usually in the neighborhood of eight to 10 
million dollars.

The privately owned Beirut Port Authority had forecast traffic of 700,000 
20-foot containers in 2006. The figure for June was a record 60,078 containers, 
but the affect of the war, which broke out on July 12, was evident in that 
month's figures -- 20,000.

And in August, of course, there was nothing.

From the window of his office, Kraytem pointed to thousands of empty containers 
stacked up along roughly two-thirds of the port's length.

The port, which usually receives six ships a day, is also an essential gateway 
for merchandise headed for neighboring countries.

"We have a contract to receive per year 250,000 containers destined for 
neighboring countries," Kraytem said, adding the good news that the contractor 
had recently announced its intention to carry on. At the moment, 2,000 
containers that were in the yards when the war began are still waiting for 

As for the economy as a whole, Kraytem said the losses from the war and blockade
are almost impossible to calculate -- starting with the 300 to 400 men who work 
unloading boats and who earn from 700 to 1,500 dollars a month.

Israel slapped the blockade on Lebanon on July 13, a day after launching its war
against Hezbollah following the capture of two soldiers in a deadly cross-border
attack by the Shiite militant group.

It agreed to end the embargo after receiving assurances that an international 
force would patrol the coast and monitor the airport to prevent Hezbollah from 

Lebanon's large-cicrulation daily An-Nahar summed up the mood in the country.

"Lebanon has closed the book on the blockade ... and opened the one on 
reconstruction," it wrote.

Copyright © 2006 Agence France Presse.
Copyright © 2006 Yahoo! Inc. All rights reserved.

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