OLMERT SETS CONDITIONS ON BLOCKADE'S END
By JOSEF FEDERMAN, Associated Press Writer August 22, 2006
JERUSALEM - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Tuesday that Israel will lift its air and sea blockade of Lebanon once an international peacekeeping force is deployed along Lebanon's borders.
The remarks came during
talks with U.N. envoy Terje Roed-Larsen and hours after the Lebanese foreign minister called on the international community
to force Israel to end the blockade.
"Olmert said deploying the
force at border crossings to Syria and at the airport
will allow the lifting of Israel's sea and air blockade and contribute to the implementation" of the U.N.-brokered cease-fire
agreement, said a statement issued by Olmert's office.
Previously, the Israelis
have said they would continue to enforce the blockade as a way of preventing the rearming of Hezbollah, which is backed by
But with European nations
reluctant to commit soldiers for a 15,000-member force, it is unclear when it will mobilize. In the meantime, Lebanon's government has promised to take measures to improve security screening at Beirut's airport and has deployed troops on the border with Syria.
Labor Minister Tarrad Hamadeh,
one of two Hezbollah members in the Lebanese Cabinet, said that when Lebanon
completes those measures, the Cabinet could decide "on its own to open its areas and rid itself of the siege."
He said the government may
try to break the blockade by calling on ships and aircraft to travel to Lebanese ports without prior Israeli approval.
"Entry to Lebanon by sea and from air is a matter of sovereignty," Hamadeh
said on Hezbollah television. He said the Lebanese "must be free to enter their country at will. We cannot accept the siege
The cease-fire that ended
the war has proven to be as fragile as its detractors forecast, with European nations balking at sending large numbers of
peacekeepers, and Israel objecting to
the inclusion of troops from nations that don't recognize it. European Union officials in Brussels will meet Wednesday to discuss troop
contributions; EU foreign ministers and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will meet there Friday. Roed-Larsen told Olmert that Annan will visit the Mideast
Roed-Larsen told The Associated
Press that there are "huge vulnerabilities in Lebanon"
for the next two to three months, and he urged the rapid deployment of the foreign forces to prevent the collapse of the cease-fire.
"Until the Lebanese force
is completely deployed and has asserted its full authority and until there is a robust peacekeeping force there and the necessary
cooperation is established, there will be up to a point a security vacuum," he said.
Israel imposed a sea, land and air blockade of Lebanon shortly after its offensive against Hezbollah began
July 12. Israeli warplanes have attacked seaports and intercepted ships during the war, allowing the arrival of only those
that apply for and are granted permission.
Jets also have struck major
highways and Lebanon's land routes to Syria,
as well as runways at Beirut's international airport.
Since the cease-fire took
hold Aug. 14, the only land routes in and out of the country — to Syria — have reopened after temporary repairs.
Commercial flights to Beirut have been allowed only to and from Amman,
Jordan, an Arab state with a peace treaty with Israel.
Aside from the blockade,
Israel has clashed with Hezbollah several
times since the truce was declared, claiming it was acting in self-defense. Israeli aircraft also have flown over Lebanon.
Italy, which had signaled willingness to take on a major role in
the peacekeeping mission, threatened Tuesday to withhold troops if Israel
doesn't respect the cease-fire.
A French newspaper reported
that U.N. peacekeepers in Lebanon likely
will have the right to open fire to defend themselves and to protect civilians, but will be barred from actively searching
for Hezbollah weapons.
Le Monde said it had obtained
a copy of a document laying out the provisional rules of engagement for the force, newly strengthened under a U.N. Security Council resolution. The document, not yet approved, was stamped "U.N. Restricted," the newspaper said. The Foreign Ministry
did not immediately respond to calls seeking confirmation.
Three predominantly Muslim
nations — Indonesia, Malaysia
and Bangladesh — have volunteered to send peacekeepers, and on Tuesday,
Indonesia insisted on its right to participate in the mission, despite
The U.N. cease-fire resolution
does not explicitly give Israel authority to block countries from joining
the peacekeeping mission, but it does say the force should coordinate with the governments of Lebanon
Meanwhile, Palestinian parliament
speaker Abdel Aziz Duaik was led in shackles into an Israeli military court and charged with membership in an outlawed organization
— becoming the most senior of three dozen top Hamas officials rounded up by Israel to be indicted so far.
Duaik said he does not recognize
the court's authority, adding: "I am an elected official." Israel
has arrested 30 Hamas lawmakers and five Cabinet ministers, including Deputy Prime Minister Nasser Shaer, in recent weeks.
Israel's Defense Ministry suspended a review of the military's performance during the war until the government decides whether
to order a broader inquiry, officials said.
Olmert is under growing
public pressure to approve an independent investigation with the power to dismiss top officials. Some reserve soldiers and
bereaved parents already have demanded that Olmert and other wartime leaders step down.