Israel will lift the air and sea blockade imposed on Lebanon at 6 p.m.
Thursday after receiving international assurances over an arms embargo
on Hezbollah, the prime minister's office said.

"US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan contacted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert yesterday and this morning, saying that the international force was ready to take control of airports and seaports in Lebanon," said the statement.

"This is why it was decided that on Thursday at 1800 local time Israel will leave the positions that allow it to control the ports, enabling the deployment of the international force in its place."

Israel imposed a blockade on Lebanon on July 13 when it bombed the runways of Beirut international airport, a day after it launched a massive offensive on Hezbollah.

It has kept up the restrictions despite widespread international protests and the start of a UN-brokered ceasefire on August 14.

On Wednesday, Annan said he was hopeful the blockade would be lifted soon

"I am still hopeful that the air, land and sea blockade will be lifted in the next 36 to 48 hours and we are still working on that with the parties," Annan told a news conference in Ankara.

Israel has said it would lift the air and sea blockade around its northern neighbor only once it was sure Beirut was enforcing an arms embargo against Hezbollah.

Olmert's office said that "the Lebanese government and UN agreed that a German fleet will deploy off the coast of Lebanon.

German experts, with their equipment, are therefore expected to arrive at Beirut airport today (Wednesday)."

Annan also said that around two weeks after the German fleet deploys, Italian, French and Greek (naval) forces will patrol the Lebanese coast under the command of the multinational force, the statement from the premier's office said.

Lebanese officials have blasted the continuing blockade as a violation of UN Resolution 1701 which brought an end to the month-long war in which some 1,200 Lebanese were killed.

Among other things, the resolution calls for Hezbollah to be disarmed and for the unconditional release of two Israeli soldiers the group captured in a cross-border raid on July 12 that sparked the conflict.

The only two companies that have been granted permission to operate regular commercial flights to Beirut, via Amman, have been Lebanon's Middle East Airlines and Royal Jordanian.

On Wednesday, Bahrain-based Gulf Air announced that it was returning to the Beirut market, starting on Saturday, following the example of Qatar Airways.

British Mediterranean Airways (BMED), a franchise partner of British Airways, announced that it would break Israel's air embargo on Lebanon and fly into Beirut on Wednesday evening.

The Lebanese daily newspaper L'Orient Le Jour reported Wednesday requests had also been filed from Air France and Germany's Lufthansa to resume flights to Lebanon.

In Paris, Air France said it had again begun taking reservations for flights to Beirut, hoping to resume flights from Friday.