Navy may continue Lebanon blockade

Peretz: Israel will use all available means to stop Hizbullah smuggling.

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August 21, 2006 03:24
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Despite claims of a mounting humanitarian crisis in Lebanon, the navy is under orders to maintain a sea blockade until a multinational force completes its deployment in the south, a high-ranking naval officer told The Jerusalem Post Sunday. The officer said the blockade could continue for another "several months" pending a decision by the diplomatic echelon and was in place with the goal of preventing transfer of arms to Hizbullah. Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Sunday that Israel would continue to use all the means at its disposal to thwart attempts to smuggle weapons to Hizbullah. "We plan to insist that issues such as the transfer of weapons from Syria to Lebanon be under supervision and that such transfers are thwarted," Peretz said before a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul in Jerusalem. "We will ensure that Hizbullah not be in a position to control southern Lebanon," Peretz added. He asked Gul to assist in preventing the transfer of weapons to Hizbullah by enforcing restrictions on planes carrying arms and flying over Turkey. On Friday night, IDF commandos operated deep in Lebanon in the Bekaa Valley and thwarted an attempt to transfer weapons to Lebanon from Syria, the army said. "I will not allow Hizbullah to return to the way it was before the war," Peretz said. The sea blockade, the naval officer said, was successful and had achieved its goals. "The blockade was effective," he said. "The Lebanese economy is paralyzed and that was our goal." The officer said the sea blockade inflicted heavy damage to the Lebanese economy and succeeded in pressuring the government to begin taking control of southern Lebanon. The Lebanese army has already deployed 1,500 soldiers in the south, backed up by tanks and additional armored vehicles. Meanwhile Sunday, the IDF expressed disappointment with the current makeup of the multinational force which has begun deploying in Lebanon, claiming that without quality soldiers the force would be ineffective and hostilities could resume. One of the main questions is whether the force would have rules of engagement, an issue expected to be resolved within the coming weeks. "If the force and the Lebanese army do not succeed in disarming Hizbullah, then Israel will have to resume its offensive," a senior officer threatened. Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr said Sunday that any group breaking the cease-fire would be "decisively dealt with" and considered traitors. Murr's comments apparently were made to air concerns that factions other than Hizbullah, which he said was committed to the cease-fire, might attempt to draw IDF retaliation by firing at Israel. "We consider that, when the resistance [Hizbullah] is committed not to firing rockets, then any rocket that is fired from the Lebanese territory would be considered collaboration with Israel to provide a pretext [for Israel] to strike," he told a news conference at the Defense Ministry. On Saturday, Murr threatened to stop the deployment of the army in the south, a key demand of the UN cease-fire resolution, after Israel's helicopter-borne commando raid deep in the Bekaa Valley. Also Sunday, the closure on the West Bank was lifted after a month and restrictions were eased on the local Palestinian population. The closure was initially imposed after the violence erupted in the North, and the decision to lift it was made by the diplomatic echelon in spite of over 70 terror warnings in Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) hands. AP contributed to this report.


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