updated 9/5/2006 9:06:44 PM ET 2006-09-06T01:06:44

Turkey on Tuesday became the first Muslim country with diplomatic ties to Israel to pledge troops to an expanding international peacekeeping force that will monitor a fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah.

Hundreds of Lebanese army troops rolled into southern villages after Israeli soldiers withdrew from five of them, slow but steady steps toward implementing a U.N.-brokered peace plan agreed last month. In two of the villages, dancing women showered the soldiers with rice and men slaughtered sheep to fete their arrival, witnesses said.

Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he could get some positive news within two days on a deal to convince Israel to lift its blockade of Lebanon.

Ruling party lawmakers in Turkey voted in favor of the deployment of peacekeeping troops despite objections from opposition parties and street protests by thousands.

While many Turks regard the Lebanon peacekeeping mission as a dangerous venture that could lead to clashes with fellow Muslims, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party insisted on contributing. He argued it would raise Turkey’s profile on the international stage. Turkey, which has diplomatic relations with Israel, is aspiring to join the European Union.

Force expected to grow in size
The peacekeeping force in Lebanon is expected to swell from 2,000 to 15,000 troops. About 1,250 Italian and French reinforcements have already arrived. Under a U.N. Security Council mandate, the mission known as UNIFIL is deploying throughout the south with an equal number of Lebanese soldiers as Israeli forces withdraw.

Annan’s spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told The Associated Press a deal to lift the Israeli blockade was in the works and would entail deploying French, Italian, Greek and German ships to patrol the Lebanese coastline. Such a move could assure Israel its arms embargo on Hezbollah would still be enforced.

Israel has said it would lift the blockade only after protections are in place to prevent the Hezbollah militants from getting more arms. Israel has allowed some commercial flights into Beirut airport and has let some aid in despite the blockade.

Annan “has said time and time again that he calls on Israel to lift the blockade, it is strangling the country. He expects them to cooperate,” Fawzi said.

Progress on blockade?
Annan discussed the issue by telephone with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Saniora, Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and French President Jacques Chirac, Fawzi said.

Speaking in Alexandria, Egypt on the last leg of a Mideast tour, Annan said he expected “some constructive and positive news” on the blockade within two days.

Annan stopped afterward in Turkey.

In Lebanon, meanwhile, top police intelligence officer Lt. Col. Samir Shehade, who had been investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, was wounded by a remote-controlled roadside bomb Tuesday that killed four people in his two-vehicle convoy in Rmaile, near the Mediterranean port city of Sidon.

The motive behind the attack was unknown. But it raised the specter that Lebanon might be in for another round of politically inspired attacks.

Syrian link to attacks?
Some critics of Syria have accused it in the past of using such attacks — including Hariri’s February 2005 slaying in a car bombing that killed 21 others — to intimidate Lebanese leaders. Protests and international pressure in the aftermath of Hariri’s death forced Syria to withdrawal its 29,000 troops from Lebanon last year, ending its military domination of its smaller neighbor.

Acting Interior Minister Ahmed Fatfat told reporters the attack might have been aimed at Lebanese security forces who are deploying in the south.

UNIFIL said Israeli troops pulled out of five small villages in southeast Lebanon near the larger town of Bint Jbail. The villages included Beit Lif, al-Qawzah, Dibel, Ein Ibel and Mhaibeb.

A contingent of U.N. peacekeepers from Ghana moved in. They were followed by around 250 Lebanese soldiers who moved into the areas, according to witnesses and state-run National News Agency.

Israeli withdrawals continue
The Israeli army confirmed troops had pulled out of the towns and surrounding areas, and said the withdrawal would continue in stages in coming days.

Also Tuesday, 120 Lebanese soldiers who had been manning checkpoints on the outskirts of Bint Jbail moved into the devastated town’s center for the first time. Bint Jbail was the scene of fierce ground fighting between Israeli forces and Hezbollah guerrillas and large parts of the town are in ruins.

Lebanese troops also deployed in the nearby villages of Ainata and Aitaroun, where they were greeted by dancing women and men who slaughtered sheep in celebration of their arrival.

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said in comments published Tuesday that he does not regret the capture of two Israeli soldiers on July 12, which sparked 34 days of fighting that killed more than 850 Lebanese and 150 Israelis.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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