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Government Takes Historic Decision to Send the Army to South Lebanon

Retrieved from Naharnet on August 17, 2006

The Lebanese government decided on Wednesday to send the army to the south for the first time in decades, as Israel withdraws its troops and foreign powers scramble to strengthen a small U.N. peacekeeping force.

The cabinet decided at an extraordinary meeting to start the deployment of 15,000 troops in bomb-battered south Lebanon on Thursday, Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said.


He said Hizbullah has agreed that the army can take possession of any weapon "found" in the area where troops are planning to deploy.


If any weapon is found, even our brothers in Hizbullah said: 'let the Lebanese army take it,'" he told reporters.


"There will be no authority besides state authority, there will be no arms outside the authority of the state," he said.


The deployment, the first in decades along the border area with Israel which has long been under Hizbullah's control, comes after a U.N.-brokered ceasefire took effect on Monday to end the bloody month-long conflict in Lebanon.


The U.N. resolution paving the way for the truce called for a Lebanese army deployment in the south, along with the strengthening of the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and the pullout of Israeli troops.


Lebanese and Israeli army officers also held a new meeting with UNIFIL officials Wednesday to coordinate the Israeli withdrawal and subsequent Lebanese deployment.


A senior military official said Lebanese troops were working on rebuilding bridges and roads and gathering equipment just north of the Litani River, awaiting government go-ahead for a deployment up to the border with Israel.


"These are preliminary, preparatory phases for the southward deployment in which the army will first take up position in areas north of the Litani," which runs mostly some 30 kilometers from the border with Israel.


The Litani is the natural northern barrier of an area that has long been outside the control of Lebanese armed forces and it also served as the strategic limit for Israeli military operations inside Lebanon.


"On Thursday, the bridges and roads will be usable. We are also gathering forces and equipment north of the Litani, awaiting the order to deploy," the official said.


On Monday, Defense Minister Elias Murr said the deployment will take place over five or six days.


He said U.N. forces will deploy in areas evacuated by withdrawing Israeli troops before the Lebanese army fills the gap and controls territory until the border with Israel.


Israel's army chief Dan Halutz agreed on the modalities of the transfer, which he said would take between a week and 10 days.


He also created a military committee to investigate Israel's conduct during the 34-day war on Lebanon.


UNIFIL is due to be bolstered with troops from several countries which have diplomats to Lebanon on Wednesday, including the French, Turkish and Malaysian foreign ministers.


After talks with Lebanese officials, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said his country was ready to participate in a bolstered U.N. force only once the Lebanese army deploys in the area.


"France is ready to participate in a strengthened UNIFIL, but the Lebanese army should deploy in southern Lebanon first," he said after meeting Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh.


"France considers that it is indispensable that many other countries participate in this strengthened UNIFIL," he said.


Douste-Blazy also urged Israel to end its blockade of Lebanon, saying it was unnecessary because the U.N.-imposed cease-fire was holding.


"The blockade imposed on the airport and Lebanese ports should be lifted. We ask Israeli authorities to lift the land and sea siege on Lebanon. And we ask the Lebanese government to strengthen monitoring" of points of entry to insure Hizbullah weapons are banned, he said.