JERUSALEM (Feb. 2)
The Israel, Lebanese and American negotiating teams will meet in Natanya tomorrow to continue to seek agreement on the withdrawal of foreign forces from Lebanon and security arrangements. The meeting was shifted from the usual site at Kiryat Shmona because of bad weather.
Natanya has been the scene of subcommittee meetings to discuss specific agenda items but no progress has been reported. A new stumbling block arose this week when the Lebanese reportedly differed with Israel over the size of the security zone to be established north of the Israeli border. Israel has been insisting on an area 28 miles deep which would keep its northern towns and settlements out of range of terrorist rockets and artillery.
Reports confirmed in the media here said the Lebanese proposed a much smaller zone at yesterday’s meeting. The Lebanese are also opposed to Israel’s demand that its own troops man early warning outposts in south Lebanon after the bulk of its 30,000-man force is withdrawn from that country.
Meanwhile, Col. Thomas Stokes, commander of the 1,200-man marine force in Beirut flatly denied today that Palestinian terrorists who have been harassing Israeli troops in recent weeks were operating from the zone patrolled by the marines.
“I don’t know where they are coming from and I don’t think the Israelis do either,” Stokes told a press conference at marine headquarters at Beirut airport. “Nobody has given me any information to make me believe this is where they’re coming from,” he said.
Israeli officers have charged recently that the marines have been lax in allowing Palestinian terrorists to infiltrate their lines to attack Israeli military traffic on a highway that runs parallel to the marine’s zone of operations. Israeli patrols sweeping the area in search of terrorist ambushes have had several confrontations with marines.
Stokes said this was not likely to reoccur since a telephone “hotline” has been set up between marine headquarters and the Israeli army command post. The “hotline” was agreed to at a meeting last week between Stokes, Gen. Amir Drori, commander of Israeli forces in Lebanon and U.S. special envoy Morris Draper.