PARIS (Jul. 20)
Prime Minister Shafik Wazzan of Lebanon said today that his government was “caught by surprise” by Israel’s decision to redeploy its forces in south Lebanon. Beirut Radio, monitored in Paris, said Wazzan termed the Israeli decision “startling and serious” in view of the fact that President Amin Gemayel and he himself are in Washington negotiating for “the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Lebanon.”
A Beirut radio reporter in Washington said Wazzan believes the Israeli decision might force Lebanon “into exploring new possibilities”in its quest for the withdrawal of both Israeli and Syrian forces.
(In Washington, Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Elie Salem also criticized the Israeli Cabinet decision. He said, “After eight years of war and destruction, Lebanon is in no mood to talk about an army withdrawal of one or two kilometers (because) we are talking about the life of the nation and the survival of democracy.”
(He said the Lebanese army was ready to move into any evacuated areas and could keep order there. “The support of the Lebanese people for the army is more than enough to maintain peace and stability,” Salem said.)
Lebanon is adamantly opposed to a partial and unilateral Israeli withdrawal to new lines in the south unless this is part of a definite timetable for a general withdrawal. The Lebanese fear that a partial Israeli withdrawal might create a permanent partition and spell a permanent Israeli and Syrian occupation of Lebanese territory.
Lebanon signed a security agreement with Israel and the United States on May 17 providing for the withdrawal of all foreign troops. Syria has said, however, that it will withdraw its forces only after a previous unconditional Israeli pull-back and Israel has clearly stated that it will withdraw only if Syria complies as well.