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03 Oct 2006 14:53
Lebanese army units deployed on Monday in border villages vacated by Israeli forces to take control along with United Nations peacekeepers of virtually all of south Lebanon, a Hezbollah stronghold for a decade.
Lebanon demanded Israel pull out from the Lebanese part of the village of Ghajar, warning of “trouble” if it failed to do so. Ghajar straddles the border between Lebanon and territory Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.
Israeli forces withdrew from south Lebanon on Sunday except from the small village in line with a UN truce that ended a war between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas.
UN peacekeepers have said they hoped Israeli troops would pull out from Ghajar this week to complete the withdrawal under UN Resolution 1701 which ended the 34-day war on August 14.
Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh said Beirut would complain to the UN Security Council if Israel did not withdraw from the village.
“If Israel does not withdraw from Ghajar then it means that it wants trouble in south Lebanon,” Salloukh told Voice of Lebanon radio.
Hezbollah said it would not stand still for long if Israel did not withdraw from the village.
“Any slackness in dealing with this matter gives us the full right to confront this occupation without revealing when or how,” Kassem told Beirut’s as-Safir newspaper.
Hundreds of Lebanese soldiers in armoured troop carriers (APC), trucks and jeeps deployed in the villages of Marwaheen, Ramia, Kfar Kila and Maroun al-Ras.
Wait of a lifetime
In the devastated village of Marwaheen, villagers lined up the streets and threw rice and flowers at an army convoy of 10 APCs. Women ululated and men waved at the soldiers.
“The army is most welcome here. It is our protector and our guarantor, we’ve been waiting a lifetime for it to deploy here,” Mohammad Ghannam (60) told Reuters.
Thousands of Lebanese troops have deployed in south Lebanon since the end of the war for the first time in four decades. The UN resolution authorised the deployment of up to 15Â 000 international peacekeepers in the area to help the Lebanese soldiers to control the south.
Hezbollah guerrillas in the area did not lay down their weapons or pull back from the area. They simply melted away in the population returning to their homes in the area.
“As the army is entering our village, we feel like we are born again today,” Zainab Mohammad (55) said. “This army is [made up of] our children, we want the wars to end.”
Around 1Â 200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 157 Israelis, mostly soldiers, died in the worst fighting since Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Many villages, a Beirut district and infrastructure facilities were destroyed by Israeli air strikes while Hezbollah fired nearly 4Â 000 rockets into Israel.
The Lebanese army held a ceremony at Labbouneh, a few metres from the border, to mark the Israeli withdrawal during which a Lebanese flag was raised on a post.
“I call on you to confront [any] Israeli aggressions and violations within the available capabilities,” army commander General Michel Suleiman told soldiers in a speech.
Suleiman said the government had promised to supply the military with modern weapons, including helicopters, patrol boats and rockets to enable it to carry out its duties better. - Reuters
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