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German Foreign Minister Says All Set for Lebanese Patrol

DW staff / AFP (jb)September 7, 2006

German Foreign Minister Steinmeier said Thursday that all formalities had been fulfilled for German naval units to help Lebanon patrol its territorial waters to prevent the running of arms.

The Beirut airport is back in business againImage: AP

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora had written to UN chief Kofi Annan saying that "Lebanon accepts that Germany will take charge of aiding the Lebanese authorities supervise its territorial waters and we have agreed to do it," Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told a press conference in Beirut on Thursday.

The foreign minister's visit came as Israel began lifting its blockade on Lebanon following assurances that international forces, including some from Germany, would take up positions that controlled Lebanon's seaports and airports.

Außenminister Walter Steinmeier trifft im Libanon ein Beirut Deutsche Polizisten
Steinmeier arrives for urgent talksImage: AP

"The aerial blockade has been removed in coordination with the UN. The naval blockade will continue until the international naval force is in place," said Miri Eisin, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office.

Lebanese Transport Minister Mohammed Safadi said French, Greek and Italian naval forces already offshore Lebanon were capable of carrying out the patrols stipulated under the agreement to lift the blockade.

In New York, the United Nations said Thursday it hoped to finalize "as soon as possible" maritime rules of engagement for the UN force in Lebanon that will enable Germany to deploy naval forces under UN command "within two weeks."

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric denied suggestions that the Germans were now balking after reports of disagreement between Israel and Beirut about the timing of the mission.

"Discussions with the Germans are continuing," the spokesman told a press briefing in New York. "We very much hope that within two weeks, that will be settled and the Germans will be onboard."

Lifting the blockade

Deutsche Marinesoldaten
German naval forces are just waiting for a green lightImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Israel announced it had begun to lift its air and sea blockade late Thursday afternoon after receiving assurances that international peacekeeping forces stationed in Lebanon would enforce an arms embargo against the Syrian-backed Hezbollah.

However, the country said it reserved the right to attack suspected Hezbollah arms convoys on the Lebanon-Syria border.

A flight by the Lebanese national carrier Middle East Airlines was the first to land at the country's only international airport in Beirut. It will be followed by international carriers such as Lufthansa as soon as Saturday.

"Lebanon opens up to the world once again," trumpeted the front-page headline on the French-language Lebanese newspaper L'Orient Le Jour.

German Airline Lufthansa will resume flights from Germany to the Lebanese capital Beirut on Saturday, a spokesman for the company said. The first Lufthansa flight will leave Frankfurt for Beirut on Saturday evening, according to spokesman Boris Ogursky. Lufthansa will then fly the route five times a week, he said.

Victory for Annan

Israel instituted the blockade and bombed Beirut's airport runways on July 13 -- isolating Lebanon from the world -- a day after launching a massive offensive against Hezbollah following the capture of two of its soldiers in a deadly border raid.

Lufthansa Flugzeug
Soon to be in the skies over Lebanon againImage: AP

It kept up the restrictions despite the ceasefire and widespread international protests, saying it would only remove the blockade once it was sure Beirut was enforcing an arms embargo against Hezbollah.

The move marked a victory for UN chief Kofi Annan, who piled the pressure on Israel during a tour of the region, and was welcomed by Lebanese politicians and business leaders who said it would help breathe life into an economy shattered by the 34-day war.

As part of the UN-brokered ceasefire deal that took effect on August 14, expanded UN peacekeeping forces are being deployed in south Lebanon and will also be stationed off the coast and at Beirut international airport to prevent weapons smuggling to Hezbollah.

"It's extremely important for the government and the people of Lebanon," Annan said in Spain on the latest leg of his tour. "Now the government... and the Lebanese people can dedicate themselves again to reconstruction."

A devastating effect

Lebanese officials had blasted the continuing blockade as a violation of UN Resolution 1701 that brought an end to the conflict in which more than 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers, were killed.

The restrictions also had a devastating effect on the Lebanese economy which imports 85 percent of its consumer goods.

On top of the destruction of infrastructure, estimated to have cost $3.5 billion (2.6 billion euros), Finance Minister Jihad Azour said the war and blockade had increased Lebanon's public debt to $41 billion, more than twice gross domestic product of $18 billion, he said.