JERUSALEM (Apr. 20)
Defense Minister Ezer Weizman expressed optimism today that the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) will be capable of preventing the return of terrorists to south Lebanon. Speaking before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, he said UNIFIL contingents appear to be in control of the areas evacuated by Israel and are “beginning to feel at home” there. He said the UN troops have already prevented a number of terrorists from penetrating the region.
Weizman confirmed that he had promised UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim that Israeli forces would make a further withdrawal shortly to a narrow security belt paralleling the Israeli-Lebanese border. He said he gave the undertaking only after Waldheim promised that UNIFIL would be enlarged from its originally mandated strength of 4000 men to 6000. He said half of the enlarged force would be deployed along the Litani River to block terrorist infiltration from the north and the rest would be stationed in territory between the Litani and the Israeli border.
The Defense Minister said the new Israeli pullback would be completed by the beginning of next month but that he gave Waldheim no commitment to a final withdrawal date. He said he assured Waldheim that Israel had no intention to extend its presence in south Lebanon and that its sole interest was to make sure that the area will not serve again as a base for terrorist operations against Israel.
Weizman said the only unstable area in south Lebanon is the region around Tyre where some 1500 terrorists are still concentrated. He said he hoped that the French UNIFIL contingent assigned to that area would maintain tight control.
NO TALKS WITH PLO INVOLVED
Weizman rejected the view that the present efforts to secure the return of Israeli soldiers captured by terrorists, and the remains of those killed during the Lebanese operation constituted negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization. He said those efforts, utilizing the services of the International Red Cross, were no different than similar contacts with the terrorists in the past when Israeli hostages were held. He disclosed that Israel provided Waldheim with a list of prisoners captured during the Lebanese operation.
He told the Knesset committee that all in all the operation appears to have been a success and that Israel anticipated political developments in Lebanon that would further hinder the return of terrorists to the south. (Lebanon’s first post-civil war government resigned yesterday following a controversy over last week’s fighting in Beirut between the Christian militia and the Syrian peace-keeping force.)
Weizman disclosed that 60 Israeli soldiers had been arrested for looting during the Lebanese operation, 40 have been tried and some have received prison sentences. But he said reports of widespread looting by Israeli troops were exaggerated.