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Lebanese troops will not disarm Hizbollah

Lebanese troops will not disarm Hizbollah

Author: Tim Butcher in Jerusalem and David Blair
Publication: The Telegraph, UK
Date: August 17, 2006
URL: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/08/17/wleb17.xml

The president of Lebanon ruled out disarming Hizbollah yesterday, rejecting a central element of the United Nations plan for peace on the frontier with Israel. Disarming the guerrilla group is required under UN Resolution 1701, which was passed last Friday.

Lebanon's army, aided by an expanded UN peacekeeping mission, was supposed to accomplish this task. But President Emile Lahoud, a Christian, fiercely criticised the proposal in a statement from Beirut. "It is disgraceful to demand the disarmament of the national resistance while the blood of martyrs is still warm," he said.

"How can they ask us to disarm the only force in the Arab world who stood up to Israel?"

Israel declared yesterday that its military withdrawal from southern Lebanon was conditional on the arrival of Lebanese forces and UN peace keepers.

France announced it was prepared to lead an expanded UN mission, likely to total 15,000 soldiers, to support the Lebanese army. But the French defence minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, said the force's mandate remained "fuzzy", suggesting there were many questions to answer before it could deploy.

Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, gave warning that her country would not allow a "power vacuum" to develop in Lebanon or risk Hizbollah "rising again and threatening the future of the region".

But Hizbollah shows every sign of preparing to melt back into the population of southern Lebanon, while keeping its weapons hidden. Hizbollah's top official in south Lebanon, Sheikh Nabil Kaouk, told reporters in Tyre that the group welcomed the Lebanese army's additional deployment in the south. "Just like in the past, Hizbollah had no visible military presence and there will not be any visible presence now," he said. Any return to the situation before the onset of fighting between Israel and Hizbollah on July 12 - as envisaged by the sheikh - would not satisfy the Israeli government. Lt-Gen Dan Halutz, the Israeli chief of staff, said his troops would only leave when Lebanon's army had secured the area near Israel's northern border, frequently used by Hizbollah to launch rocket attacks. "The withdrawal of Israeli forces within 10 days is dependent upon the deployment of the Lebanese army," he told the foreign affairs and defence committee of Israel's parliament, the Knesset.

"If the Lebanese army does not move down within a number of days to the south the way I see it, we must stop our withdrawal."

An unnamed general staff officer said the last Israeli soldier would not leave before the newly-reinforced UN peacekeeping force took up its posts alongside the Lebanese army. "The deployment of UN troops in south Lebanon is likely to take several months," he said.

"It is not clear exactly how many. Until then, IDF [Israeli Defence Force] troops will be forced to stay in the field," he told the Knesset committee.

Deploying the complete UN force of 15,000 will, in any event, take up to a year. The continued presence of Israeli soldiers inside Lebanon in the meantime risks sparking another war. Meanwhile, Major-Gen Moshe Kaplinsky, deputy chief of staff, said Israel would keep unmanned "outposts" in southern Lebanon to counter future Hizbollah attacks.

He did not spell out what sort of outposts were planned, nor how they would be safe from destruction. Israel fought hard in the last hours of the 34-day war for various strategic sites, such as the heights overlooking the Litani river valley near the village of Frun. This could be a site for one of the outposts.


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