MISS-JIBL, South Lebanon (Jun. 13)
The last Israeli forces departed from south Lebanon today, just 91 days after Israel invaded that territory in a campaign to smash the Palestinian terrorists lodged there, During the day, Israeli units turned over their positions in the 10-kilometer deep security belt along the Lebanese border to contingents of the United Nations Interim force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), mostly Irish troops.
But the security belt as a whale was handed over to the local Christian armed forces, commanded by Maj. Sa’ad Haddad and Maj, Sammy Shidiak, whose claim to represent the Lebanese regular army, and hence the central authorities in Beirut, is backed by Israel. UNIFIL commander, Gen. Emmanuel Erskine of Ghana, had expressed dissatisfaction with that arrangement. It was learned today that he and Maj. Haddad reached or agreement but its contents were not disclosed.
Haddad said that UNIFIL personnel would be permitted into the Christian villages. Israel’s rationale for handing over the area to the Christians is that its forces had never occupied the Christian enclaves and therefore it was up to UNIFIL to negotiate directly with the Christian commanders who control them.
TOWN WATCHES CEREMONY
The official hand-over ceremonies were held in the central square of this Christian village at noon today, as virtually the entire population, adults and children, looked on. Lebanese and Israeli flags flew from poles in the center of the square. An Israeli armored unit, with tanks, jeeps and recoilless cannon was arrayed on one side. Opposite them a Lebanese Christian unit stood at attention. In between were six Lebanese gendarmerie, in brand new uniforms, the official representatives of the government in Beirut.
Gen. Janush Avigdor Ben-Gal, the Israeli commander and Majs. Haddad and Shidiak inspected the soldiers and gendarmerie of both sides after which the Israeli flag was lowered and the Lebanese colors alone remained flying.
The atmosphere was hardly that of departing conquerors. Some of the Lebanese women wept for the Israeli forces were regarded by them as protectors. The children played on Israeli tanks and armored cars. There was much embracing when the ceremonies ended and the Israeli soldiers prepared to mount their vehicles and leave. Ben-Gal had some departing words. He noted that Israel was leaving in accordance with its government’s decision to withdraw entirely from south Lebanon. He expressed hope that UNIFIL will successfully carry out its mission to prevent the return of the terrorists. Haddad expressed the gratitude of the Christian population to Israel but was less optimistic about UNIFIL’s ability to keep the terrorists out of the region.
CHRISTIANS DON’T TRUST UNIFIL
The Christians say they have little reason to place trust in UNIFIL. They claim there have been many instances since the UN forces entered the region, beginning last March, in which they capitulated to terrorist demands or, at best, evaded any confrontation with the terrorists. The Christians want Israel to keep close watch on what happens in south Lebanon after they are gone and expect the Israelis to keep their promise to allow no harm to befall the Christian villagers.
Gen. Ben-Gal told reporters later that the situation in south Lebanon has changed completely since the Israeli occupation. He said there is no longer a physical threat to the Christians from the terrorists because, for the time being, the latter have been neutralized by the presence of UN forces. But he acknowledged that the Christians’ fears are justified because they remain a minority who face an uncertain future. Israel has done whatever it could to build up Christian defenses. It has provided them with military supplies and equipment, built fortifications around the Christian enclaves and a network of roads linking the enclaves to facilitate the movement of Christian forces.
The ceremonies in this village were less an official evacuation than a farewell between friends, Ben-Gal said. A more formal ceremony was held at Markaba, in the central section of the border zone, where an Irish UNIFIL officer took over Israeli military positions. He said his orders were to prevent the entry of armed people into the area.
U.S. WELCOMES ‘DEVELOPMENT’
(In Washington today, State Department spokesman Tom Reston said the U.S. “welcomed this development,” meaning the Israeli withdrawal, but would have “no further comment at this time” on reports that Israeli positions had been turned over to Lebanese Christians rather than to UN commanders. Reston praised UNIFIL for “carrying out its mission skillfully and effectively.” But he could not say whether the UN force has been successful in keeping terrorists out of south Lebanon as a whole.
(In a statement read to reporters, Reston said the U.S. deplored as “senseless violence” recent fighting between rival Maronite Christian factions in northern Lebanon which took the life yesterday of Antoine Franjieh, son of the former President of Lebanon. He said that fighting “complicates the task of the government of Lebanon in restoring stability to the country and underscores the need for all Lebanese to put aside factional rivalries and work toward the unity of Lebanon.”)