Israel rejects U.N.’s plea to lift sea, air blockades

The Associated Press The Associated Press

The Associated Press The Associated Press

By The Associated Press

JERUSALEM – Israel on Wednesday rejected demands from visiting U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan that it immediately lift its sea and air blockade of Lebanon and withdraw its forces once 5,000 international troops are deployed.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert indicated Israel would only allow free movement after the full implementation of a U.N.-brokered cease-fire that ended 34 days of fighting between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah guerrillas.

854 Lebanese and 159 Israelis were killed.

Under the truce, 15,000 Lebanese soldiers and 15,000 international troops are to be deployed in southern Lebanon and to enforce an arms embargo on Hezbollah.

He called for an end to the bloodshed that has led to the deaths of more than 200 Palestinians since the end of June.

“This must stop immediately,” Annan said. “I have made my feelings known in talks with Israeli officials.

Beyond preserving life, we have to sustain life. The closure of Gaza must be lifted, the crossing points must be opened, not just to allow goods (in), but to allow Palestinian exports out as well.”

But fighting intensified between Gaza militants and Israeli troops searching for smuggling tunnels and explosives.

At least eight Palestinians were killed in air strikes and gunbattles near Gaza City.

The cease-fire deal could be “a cornerstone to build a new reality between Israel and Lebanon,” Olmert said at a news conference with Annan.