TEL AVIV (Sep. 4)
Israel is systematically transferring responsibility for security in south Lebanon to the South lebanon Army (SLA), a force of some 2,000 soldiers, mostly Christians, commanded by Gen. Antoine Lehad.
Today, the Israel Defense Force handed over security duties to the SLA in Nabatiya, the third largest town in south Lebanon. Its 22,000 inhabitants are mostly Shiite Moslems, many of them antagonistic to Israel and to Maronite Christians. Israeli sources expressed hope that the move will ease friction in the town.
The IDF has already transferred security responsibility to the SLA in the port city of Sidon and the Awali River district just to its north; in the strip of territory along the Israel-Lebanon border formerly controlled by the militia of the late Col. Saad Haddad; and in a stretch of territory north of the Israeli border town of Metullah.
Despite its lowered profile in south Lebanon, the IDF would require 4-6 months to dismantle and repatriate its equipment from the region in the event of a political decision to withdraw, according to Brig. Gen. Yehoshua Cohen, commander of the IDF engineering corps.
Cohen told Israel Radio yesterday that the army is spending six billion Shekels (about $17 million) to fortify the eastern front in Lebanon where the IDF faces Syrian forces, and to prepare for winter. The work includes the construction of approach roads, new fences, anti-tank ditches and measures to prevent terrorist infiltration. Cohen said that in the past six months the army engineers dealt with scores of booby traps, roadside bombs, Katyusha rocket launchers and car bombs.