Israel said on Wednesday it would lift an eight-week-old air and sea blockade of Lebanon on Thursday, handing over control to international forces. It said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had been told by United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan that ''international forces are ready to take over control posts''.
Israel said on Wednesday it could gradually dismantle its blockade of Lebanon as Lebanese and United Nations forces control entry points to stop Hezbollah rearming, and the UN commander in the south said a breakthrough could be close.
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said on Tuesday he hoped for word on the lifting of an Israeli blockade on Lebanon within two days as the shape of a carefully orchestrated deal involving France, Italy and Germany emerged. In Egypt Annan said he hoped the next 48 hours would bring ''positive'' news on the lifting of the Israeli embargo.
Lebanese troops moved on Tuesday into a town wrecked by Israel's war with Hezbollah, as United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said he hoped for word on the lifting of an Israeli blockade on Lebanon within two days. Troops in armoured carriers, trucks and jeeps rolled into the shattered Shi'ite Muslim town of Bint Jbeil that was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting.
Lebanon should cling to the United Nations Security Council to avoid being sucked into the orbit of any outside power as it emerges from Israel's devastating war with Hezbollah guerrillas, former President Amin Gemayel said. ''Lebanon is a battlefield for others,'' said the 63-year-old Maronite Christian leader -- who should know.
Like a small black football, it lies in the dirt not far from Haitham Daaboul's front door in the southern Lebanese town of Bint Jbeil. It looks innocuous, but a careless kick from a passing child would detonate this cluster bomb, one of thousands of unexploded devices Israel scattered over the towns, villages and hillsides of south Lebanon.
Italy has offered to lead a United Nations force for Lebanon, but a week after a truce calmed Israel's war with Hezbollah guerrillas, few other countries with proven military capacity have made substantial commitments. European Union countries are meeting on Wednesday to discuss concerns about clear rules of engagement for the force.
Hezbollah handed out bundles of cash on Friday to people whose homes were wrecked by Israeli bombing, consolidating the Iranian-backed group's support among Lebanon's Shi'ites and embarrassing the Beirut government. ''This is a very, very reasonable amount. It is not small,'' said Ayman Jaber (27).
Lebanese army troops prepared to move on Friday to the edge of the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms, the main flashpoint for fighting between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas before the war that a United Nations truce has halted. Trying to consolidate the five-day-old truce, the UN said it has received substantial offers of more troops for Lebanon.
Lebanon's government on Wednesday ordered 15Â 000 troops to move south to take full control, with United Nations peacekeepers, when Israeli troops withdraw after a 34-day war with Hezbollah guerrillas. Officials said Lebanese troops would deploy south of the Litani River, about 20km from the Israeli border, on Thursday.
Israeli troops thrust deeper into Lebanon on Wednesday and were reported to have lost four dead to Hezbollah rocket fire as Israel's inner cabinet debated whether to order a bigger advance before any United Nations move to end the war. A vote on a UN Security Council resolution may not take place before Thursday because of wrangling over its content.
An Israeli air strike killed at least 33 farm workers in north-eastern Lebanon on Friday and Hezbollah fired scores of rockets into Israel in a worsening conflict that world powers have failed to halt. It was the second-deadliest strike in Lebanon after an air raid killed up to 54 civilians in the village of Qana on Sunday.