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End Of Israeli Blockade Expected Today

Israel was going ahead with plans to lift its blockade of Lebanon later Thursday despite objections from the army and the families of two captured Israeli soldiers, officials said.

Not everyone in Israel is happy about the decision, announced, Wednesday, reports CBS News correspondent Robert Berger. The families of two Israeli soldiers kidnapped in Lebanon are angry over Israel's decision to lift the blockade. They say Prime Minister Ehud Olmert broke a promise that the blockade would not be lifted until Israel received information about the captive soldiers.

Bowing to pressure from the United Nations and others, Israel said international forces would take over the task of preventing arms shipments from reaching Hezbollah guerrillas.

Israel imposed the air, land and sea blockade shortly after the 34-day war against the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah erupted on July 12, when reserve soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were seized on the border.

A cease-fire took effect three weeks ago, but Israel kept up the blockade to prevent Hezbollah from rearming or moving the captured soldiers outside Lebanon.

The families say the offensive in Lebanon failed to win the release of the soldiers, and now, Israel has given up its last means of leverage with the Lebanese government and Hezbollah.

In other developments:

  • Reports that Israel and the Hamas-led Palestinian government are close to resolving the crisis over a captured soldier may have been premature, reports Berger. Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal has quashed a flurry of reports in the Arab press that a prisoner swap with Israel is imminent. Mashaal told a Lebanese newspaper that so far, Israel has refused to meet the Hamas demand to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the Gilad Shalit.
  • A Gaza militant leader is boasting that Hezbollah is working with Palestinian groups to prepare for a major confrontation with Israel. "We learned from Hezbollah's victory that Israel can be defeated if we know how to hit them and if we are well prepared," Abu Ahmed, northern Gaza leader of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, told WorldNetDaily.
  • For the first time, a top Israeli officer has admitted the military made widespread mistakes in the preparation and waging of the war in Lebanon. The IDF, the officer told the Jerusalem Post, failed to stop Hezbollah from firing rockets at Israeli communities. He also said more reservists should have been called up to allow better training of the army's regular troops.
  • Israeli soccer midfielder Yossi Benayoun says the Andorran national coach told him during Wednesday night's match in the Netherlands that "your country is a nation of killers." Benayoun says one of the Andorran players apologized. Israel won the Euro 2008 qualification game, 4-1.

    A statement from Olmert's office said Israel would lift the Lebanon blockade as of 6 p.m. (11 a.m. EDT) Thursday. The statement said U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Olmert that international forces in Lebanon were ready to monitor the airports and seaports.

    The army, however, has strong reservations about lifting the blockade without linking it to the release of the captured soldiers, military officials said Thursday on condition of anonymity because of the contradiction between their position and the government's.


  • France will temporarily monitor sea lanes off Lebanon to ensure that weapons don't reach Hezbollah fighters, the foreign minister said, claiming partial credit for Israel's decision to end its maritime blockade. "The decision has been taken that we will participate in monitoring surveillance along the coast to ensure there is no delivery (of weapons) — or an embargo," Philippe Douste-Blazy told reporters.

    Workers at Lebanon's only airport prepared Thursday to receive a full flow of commercial flights after the blockade is lifted. A Middle East Airlines flight from Paris, previously expected to arrive through Jordan — the only allowed path by Israel in recent weeks — instead was being delayed so it can fly straight to the Lebanese capital 10 minutes after the blockade was to be lifted. The first Air France flight was expected to leave Friday morning from Paris to Beirut.

    The U.N. peacekeeping force for Lebanon should be strong enough by mid-September for Israeli troops to withdraw, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Thursday during a visit to Madrid, as Spain's parliament prepared to approve sending its forces to Lebanon.

    By mid-month, the force should have 5,000 international peacekeepers, Annan said. These, along with 16,000 Lebanese troops being sent to the south of the country, will constitute a "credible force," Annan said at a joint news conference with Spain's prime minister. "We will reach that number by mid-September to allow Israel to withdraw."

    The families of the soldiers captured by Hezbollah are concerned with the removal of the blockade. Regev's brother, Benny, told Army Radio on Thursday that removing the blockade would leave Israel without negotiating leverage to secure his brother's release. He said once the blockade was removed the soldiers could be moved to Iran.

    "Look at Ron Arad," he said, referring to a missing Israeli airman captured by a pro-Iranian militia in Lebanon and later moved to another country, possibly Iran. Twenty years later, Arad's whereabouts are unknown, and Israel doesn't know whether he is dead or alive.

    In practical terms, the lifting of the blockade will allow Lebanon to begin rebuilding and resume normal trade and life more quickly. The blockade's removal is also likely to help decrease tensions in the region.

    Lebanese officials say the blockade cost the devastated country $45 million dollars a day, reports Berger.

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