- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 6, 2006

JERUSALEM (AP) - Israel said it will lift its sea and air blockade of Lebanon on Thursday evening, more than three weeks after a U.N.-brokered cease-fire that ended the fighting between Israeli forces and Hezbollah guerrillas.

A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said Wednesday that international forces will replace the Israelis at command positions for Lebanese seaports and airports.

Israel imposed the air, land and sea blockade shortly after the 34-day war against the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah erupted on July 12.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has been working to get the blockade lifted since a U.N.-brokered cease-fire went into effect on Aug. 14, but Israel had maintained that the blockade was necessary to prevent new arms shipments to Hezbollah guerrillas.

Some 3,250 U.N. forces are now in Lebanon, and U.N. officials expect that figure to reach 5,000 troops by late next week. The U.N. resolution calls for a beefed-up force of up to 15,000 peacekeepers, who will help police the border with Israel with a similar number of Lebanese troops.

In the statement, Israel says it will leave its command posts at various ports at 6 p.m. local time (11 a.m. EDT) Thursday and be replaced immediately by international forces.

The statement said U.S Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Annan informed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Wednesday that the international troops were ready to move in.

Annan said earlier that he hoped the blockade would be lifted within two days.

“Israel will be ready to lift the restrictions when the Lebanese government augmented by international forces will be ready to enforce the arms embargo on Hezbollah,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev. “If they are ready, we will be ready.”

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