France calls on Israel to end Lebanon blockade

The French foreign minister on Wednesday called for Israel to lift is air, naval and land blockade of Lebanon, saying it was unnecessary with the UN cease-fire plan holding. "The blockade imposed on the airport and Lebanese ports should be lifted. We ask Israeli authorities to lift the land and sea siege on Lebanon. And we ask the Lebanese government to strengthen monitoring" of points of entry to insure Hizbullah weapons are banned, said Philippe Douste-Blazy. "There is no longer a reason for Israel to continue the blockade," he said. Douste-Blazy was in Beirut to discuss French participation in a UN peacekeeping force to help police the cease-fire, now in its third day. The top French diplomat encouraged Israel to continue its withdrawal from south Lebanon and said it was imperative that the Lebanese army deploy quickly. Douste-Blazy said France would commit troops to the United Nations peacekeeping force, but did not say how many soldiers. France was expected to take a leading role in the force that the UN cease-fire plan said should be 15,000-strong, with an equal number from the Lebanese military. He said France has 1,700 soldiers on warships in the region and 200 already serving in the 2,000-strong force permanently in the south. Other sources said that France would send troops to south Lebanon only after the Lebanese Army sends its soldiers to the region.