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Israel’s Chief of Staff Says IDF Withdrawal to New Lines Will Take Place ‘within a Matter of Days’

Chief of Staff Gen. Moshe Levy said today that the Israel Defense Force redeployment from the Shouf mountain area of Lebanon to its new line along the Awali River north of Sidon would be effected “within a matter of days.”

Addressing a luncheon of the Foreign Press Association in Israel, he said the move southwards would start shortly and would be completed “in one phase, speedily.” The reason for the quick redeployment was not budgetary, Levy stressed, but security. “The Shouf mountain is one geographical entity, and once you are moving out you might as well do it quickly, he said.

At present, Israel’s aim was to keep the Shouf area, scene of frequent clashes between Druze and Christians, as quiet as possible.” But I would be naive if I said we could keep the peace in that area where there has been internecine strife for centuries, whoever was in control — Turks, Syrians, British, French or anyone else.”

The IDF redeployment would not be to Syria’s advantage, as the IDF still faced the Syrian army from strong positions in the Bekaa valley and was only some 30 kilometers from Damascus there, he pointed out.

Levy also said there would be no “defense force” along the Awali line, as Israel did not wish to cut Lebanon into two hermetically-sealed parts.

DENIES SCORCHED EARTH POLICY

Levy denied rumors from abroad that the IDF was following a “scorched earth policy,” destroying thousands of trees and houses. “Isolated trees may be uprooted, but in numbers not even statistically significant,” he said.

The Chief of Staff, who visited the Ansar camp and Aley this morning, said some 5,000 “detainees” were now held at the Ansar camp. Most of them were Palestinians, with 300 Syrian officers and soldiers, some foreigners from a number of countries, and some Lebanese.

The Syrians hold three Israeli prisoners, while eight are held by the PLO, including two held by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command headed by Ahmed Jabreel, and five Israelis are listed as “missing,” Levy said.

Talks are in progress with the Red Cross and other bodies for their exchange, but there are not, and will not be, direct talks with the PLO, Levy said. “The problem is not with whom we talk. The problem is the results,” he said.

ARENS; REDEPLOYMENT IS PART OF TOTAL WITHDRAWAL

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Moshe Arens visited the Beirut area today and told a press conference of Beirut-based correspondents that the redeployment to the Awali, to be carried out and completed “within eight to 12 weeks,” was part of Israeli plans for a complete withdrawal from Lebanon. But the final withdrawal depended on the withdrawal of all other foreign troops from that country, Arens said.

Arens was quoted by Israel Radio as saying that Israel could not be responsible for what would happen in the Shouf area after the IDF withdraws from there. “We think it important that agreement is reached between the Druze, the Christians and the Lebanese government before we leave, and we will do everything to help,” Arens said, adding that after Israel leaves, responsibility for law and order would depend on the Lebanese government.

Arens denied that Israel was arming only one party in the dispute, saying Israel was aiding the Lebanese army alone. “We have no plan or intention of dividing Lebanon,” he stressed.

“We have guaranteed to the government of Lebanon to leave Lebanon within eight to 12 weeks after the entry into force of the May 17 agreement, and we stand by that agreement, provided the other parts of the agreement are implemented. We have no intention whatsoever of staying in Lebanon one day more than is absolutely necessary.”

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