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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Israel backs down again

Remember how the troops were going to stay in Lebannon until kidnapped IDF soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were released? Remember how they were going to stay in Lebanon until UNIFIL's 'rules of engagement' were realistic? Well, forget it. There are now less than 200 IDF troops in Lebanon, and they will all be back in Israel by the start of Yom Kippur tomorrow afternoon.
Military officers in the Northern Command admitted over the weekend that even though Israel had decided to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, there still remained several issues that needed to be resolved with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and UNIFIL.

Officers said that UNIFIL still needed to return answers regarding the rules of engagement it would adopt and how it would act if forces spotted Hizbullah guerrillas on their way or in the midst of an attack against Israel. Currently, close to 6,000 UNIFIL soldiers are deployed throughout southern Lebanon alongside 15,000 LAF troops.

A high-ranking officer warned Lebanon that if Hizbullah violated the ceasefire, Israel would hold the Lebanese government responsible and not just the guerrilla group. "The situation is now different since now there is an army in southern Lebanon and our discussions are with the government," the officer said. [Promises, promises. CiJ]

On Friday, UNIFIL chief Major General Alain Pelligrini, informed Prime Minister Fuad Saniora of Israel's decision to withdraw from Lebanon. Milos Strugar, a senior UNIFIL official told The Jerusalem Post that the peacekeeping force was eagerly waiting for the Israeli withdrawal and was prepared to assist the LAF take up full control of southern Lebanon.

UN resolution 1701 that opened the way for a ceasefire ending more than a month of fighting called on Israel to withdraw from Lebanon, but did not specify a deadline.

Israel has been reluctant to withdraw the last of its troops, citing disagreements over the deployment of Lebanese and UN forces in southern Lebanon. The UN resolution calls for 15,000 peacekeepers to work with an equal number of Lebanese soldiers to prevent another outbreak of fighting. It mandates a full Israeli pullout and requires the south be kept weapons-free except for arms approved by the Lebanese government.


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