Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Cabinet to challenge blockade

Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Cabinet divided over audacious plan to challenge blockade

'We cannot accept the siege and blackmail'

By Nada Bakri
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: One of two Hizbullah members in theCabinet said Tuesday the government may attempt to break the Israeli naval and air blockade by calling on ships and aircraft to travel to Lebanese ports without prior Israeli approval. The government has condemned the blockade, saying it violates the UN cease-fire resolution, and the foreign minister Tuesday called on the international community to force Israel to end the blockade.

The Cabinet met late Monday but did not publicly challenge the blockade, although it called the siege one of Israel's "terrorist practices." "Entry to Lebanon by sea and from air is a matter of sovereignty," Labor Minister Tarrad Hamadeh said during an interview with Hizbullah's Al-Manar television station. Hamadeh said the Lebanese "must be free to enter their country at will. "We cannot accept the siege and blackmail."

Israel imposed a sea, land and air blockade of Lebanon early on in its July 12-August 14 offensive against the country. Israeli warplanes have attacked seaports and intercepted ships, allowing the arrival of only those that apply for and are granted the privilege. Jets have struck major highways and Lebanon's land routes to Syria. The Beirut airport runways were hit. Since the cease-fire took hold, land routes in and out of the country to Syria have reopened after temporary repairs. Commercial flights to Beirut's international airport have been allowed only to and from Amman, Jordan - an Arab state with a peace treaty with Israel.

The Israelis have argued that the blockade has been kept in place as a weapon against Hizbullah rearmament. Lebanon's government has promised to take measures to improve security screening at the Beirut airport and has deployed troops on the border with Syria. Hamadeh said that when Lebanon completes those measures, Cabinet is leaning toward "taking a decision on its own to open its areas and rid itself of the siege." But Interior Minister Ahmad Fatfat said Cabinet will not take such a decision. He added that ministers are divided between those who wish to challenge the Israeli blockade and those who favor diplomatic means. "Cabinet did not approve this decision although there were several ministers in favor of it," Fatfat told The Daily Star, without naming the ministers. "This solution won't work," he said. "I don't think any Arab airline would agree to fly to Beirut on these conditions and without Israel's approval because it is a great risk." Fatfat said the blockade can still be broken through the extensive diplomatic efforts led by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's Cabinet. "We want to find diplomatic solutions first," the interior minister said. "We can't take a hasty decision like that." Hamadeh said it was Lebanon's right to end the blockade. "If Israel wants to attack, let them attack Arab ships and planes and let them shoulder the responsibility before the international community," he said. - With Naharnet

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