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Israel Asks Muslim States to Send Troops

Since a U.N.-brokered cease-fire took hold Aug. 14, eight Lebanese have been killed by exploding ordnance, including two children, and 38 people have been wounded

The cease-fire stipulates the deployment of the U.N. force along Lebanon's border. The international force is to reinforce the Lebanese army, which is moving 15,000 soldiers of its own into the south. The troops are Lebanon's first assertion of central authority in the south in decades.

European Union nations pledged 6,900 soldiers Friday, dispelling concerns the peacekeeping force might not materialize because of reluctance to send troops without clear instructions or authorization to use their weapons. But the force was still far short of the 15,000 soldiers envisioned under the U.N. resolution.

Questions remained over whether Hezbollah would be allowed to remain an armed force.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan stressed Friday it would not be the peacekeepers' task to strip the guerrillas of their weapons, saying that was an issue for Lebanon's government and "cannot be done by force."

Regev reiterated Israel would not lift its air and sea embargo of Lebanon until peacekeepers and the Lebanese army deploy along the Syrian border to block arms shipments to Hezbollah from its two main supporters, Iran and Syria.

Both nations deny helping Hezbollah. But Syria's state news agency said Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mahammad Rida Baqeri was in Damascus on Saturday to discuss the "repercussions of the latest Israeli aggression in Lebanon."

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's office released a statement saying Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the premier Saturday and said she was exerting "serious and prompt" efforts to get the Israeli blockade lifted as soon as possible.

Rice also stressed the importance of Lebanese authorities controlling the country's border crossings, and Saniora said his government was going ahead with its plan to police the crossings on its own, the statement said.

There was no immediate comment from the State Department.

Earlier in the day, Lebanese Information Minister Ghazi Aridi criticized the United States over the blockade.

"We regret to say that the U.S. administration stands by Israel on this, and we absolutely condemn and reject this position," he told reporters in Beirut.

He urged the international community to help get the blockade lifted "because we in Lebanon cannot endure more humiliation." While aimed at Hezbollah arms shipments, the blockade also is hindering shipments of food, fuel and other goods to Lebanon.

The debate over policing the Syrian border is unlikely to delay Israel's withdrawal of troops from Lebanon. After what many consider a mismanaged war, the Israeli public is pressuring the government to get the army out quickly.

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© 2006 The Associated Press