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Israel Set to Lift Lebanon Blockade


Israel is giving way to mounting international pressure and is preparing to lift its two-month long blockade of Lebanon's airspace and seaports later Thursday.

Israel's government announced the plan Wednesday, saying international forces will take over command at Lebanon's sea and airports by this evening local time.

But Israel says it reserves the right to attack suspected Hezbollah arms convoys entering Lebanon from Syria. Lebanese soldiers are patrolling the Syrian border but Lebanon has refused to have international troops there.

As Israel prepares to lift the blockade, criticism of the government is mounting inside Israel. Military officials and the families of two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah are opposing the move.

The brother of one of the soldiers, Benny Regev, told Israel Army Radio that, with the blockade lifted, the soldiers could end up in Tehran.

Families of the two soldiers are to meet with the Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert later Thursday.

Italian, French, British and Greek troops will patrol the Lebanese coastline. German forces will arrive in about two weeks.

Israel had insisted that Lebanese and international troops be in place before it would lift the blockade. The Jewish state also wanted assurances that an arms embargo against Hezbollah is being enforced.

Israel decided to lift the blockade after receiving information from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan that international forces in Lebanon are ready to take charge.

Israel initiated the blockade in July at the outset of its month-long offensive into Lebanon. Hezbollah's capture of the two Israeli soldiers triggered the offensive.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.