Olmert Chided For Lifting The Embargo

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The New York Sun

UNITED NATIONS — As Secretary-General Annan was taking credit yesterday for persuading Jerusalem to remove its naval and air blockade on Lebanon, relatives of two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah said Prime Minister Olmert’s decision to lift the embargo endangered the lives of the men.

A day after Mr. Annan predicted the two-month blockade would be lifted within 48 hours — and as the Lebanese foreign minister and Hezbollah ally, Fawzi Salloukh, boasted he would “break” the embargo by force — Mr. Olmert’s office released a statement saying Israel would leave sea and air positions it has controlled since the beginning of the war as soon as German-led forces move in.

Mr. Olmert’s critics said yesterday’s decision is yet another sop to international pressure, and family members of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev said lifting the blockade amounted to abandoning the two men, whose July 12 kidnapping by Hezbollah started the 33-day war between Israel and the terrorist organization.

“We want answers,” Mr. Goldwasser’s father, Shlomo, told Ynet last night after saying Mr. Olmert had given the families an “unwritten promise” not to lift the embargo until there was progress on freeing the soldiers.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has publicly declared that the blockade will not be removed before Israel is given a sign the soldiers are alive, Mr. Goldwasser said. “What happened? We have not been informed that there is a sign of life. As far as we know, the government has received no such sign,” he added.

Last night, Mr. Olmert hastily scheduled a meeting with representatives of the families for this morning. Government officials, however, maintained that Israel has said all along that once foreign troops are in place, the embargo, designed to prevent Hezbollah from rearming, will be lifted. Secretary of State Rice and Mr. Annan informed Mr. Olmert yesterday that “international forces are ready to take up control positions over Lebanon’s seaports and airports,” the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem said in a statement.

Once the forces arrive, today at 6 p.m. local time, “Israel will leave the aforesaid control positions and, at the same time, the international forces will enter,” the statement said. Mr. Annan, who stressed at every stop during his two-week trip to the region that Israel must end the “siege” of Lebanon, said yesterday that he was “pleased” at the Israeli decision. The move enables Prime Minister Siniora and his government “to accelerate their economic recovery and reconstruction program,” he said in statement.

Although U.N. Security Council resolution 1701 calls for the “unconditional” release of the Israeli soldiers, and though Hezbollah officials made talks toward releasing them conditional on an end to the blockade, Mr. Annan did not mention the soldiers in yesterday’s statement.

Earlier this week, Mr. Annan announced that he would appoint a “facilitator” to secure the release of the Israeli soldiers.He linked their release to a prisoner swap. Stressing in widely publicized interviews the need to be “discreet,” Mr. Annan said he would not release the name of his point man.

The New York Sun

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