TEL AVIV (Jan. 15)
The plan to withdraw the Israel Defense Force from south Lebanon ran into problems today over the role the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) will play in the first stage of the three stage pullback approved by the Cabinet last night.
The first stage calls for evacuation of the IDF from the Awali River line and the coastal town of Sidon and its environs, to be completed within five weeks. Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin announced immediately after the Cabinet vote that Israel would seek arrangements for the Lebanese army and/or UNIFIL to take over the area.
But United Nations Undersecretary General Brian Urquhart told Rabin at a meeting this morning that such commitment was not within the mandate of UNIFIL and that he would have to refer the matter back to UN headquarters in New York.
VIEW OF UN OFFICIAL
Urquhart reportedly said there were “problems in principle” because the region of south Lebanon assigned to UNIFIL does not include the area from which the IDF will depart in the first stage of the withdrawal plan. He said he would ask UN Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar and, through him, the Security Council, to discuss changes in the UNIFIL mandate.
The UN diplomat arrived here last night for another round of talks with government leaders in Jerusalem, Beriut and Damascus in what has been called a last ditch effort to break the current impasse between Israel and Lebanon over a military security and withdrawal agreement. He met with Rabin and Chief of Staff Gen. Moshe Levy at Defense Ministry headquarters here and left at noon for Beirut. He is expected to return to Israel in a day or two.
ISRAEL’S ATTITUDE TOWARDS UNIFIL
Rabin told Urquhart that Israel thought UNIFIL has a major role to play in the first stage of the pullback which would bring the IDF to a line along the Litani River, running from the coast, south of Sidon, to Nabatiya.
Israel would like to see UNIFIL troops patrol the region north of the Litani. The Lebanese and Syrians seem to insist that the UN force confine itself to its present zone of operations just north of the Israeli border though not contiguous to it.
Israel wants the strip immediately north of the international border in the hands of its ally, the South Lebanon Army (SLA), a Christian militia commanded by Gen. Antoine Lehad, which would continue to operate with IDF advisers after the final stage of the withdrawal plan when all Israeli troops will have left Lebanese soil.
LIKUD RESTIVE OVER WITHDRAWAL PLAN
Meanwhile, Likud has become increasingly restive over the withdrawal plan which the Cabinet approved by a vote of 16-6 following two days of debate. The party’s Knesset faction is incensed because two Likud ministers, David Levy of the Herut bloc and Gideon Patt of the Liberal Party, broke ranks to vote with the Labor ministers and their allies in favor of the plan. Neither minister had consulted the party caucus before they voted.
Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, the leader of Likud, told reporters today that he did not like the withdrawal plan because he though it was fraught with dangers and contained no satisfactory security arrangements.
He stressed, however, that those were his only considerations when he voted against the Defense Ministry’s proposals. There was nothing political in the context of Likud versus Labor, he said. He said he regretted that Levy and Patt saw fit to vote for the plan but that only proved that the voting was based on practical considerations, not politics.
Whether the shaky Labor-Likud unity coalition will be affected remains to be seen. Both the Likud and Labor Knesset factions have scheduled meeting later today.
ISSUE OF CONCERN TO RESIDENTS IN THE NORTH
The pullout of the IDF from south Lebanon has long been an issue of concern to residents of towns and settlements in northern Israel. Maj. Gen. Uri Orr, commander of the northern area, sought to reassure them at a meeting in Nahariya today that the fight against terrorism will continue from the IDF’s new lines.
He repeated what he told residents of the border town of Kiryat Shemona a week ago, that he could not guarantee that no Katyusha rockets would ever again fall in Galilee. But he said it would be possible to ensure that there will be no terrorist infiltrations into Israel from Lebanon.
Orr said he did not think the IDF, once it has left Lebanon, should return there if fighting breaks out between rival religious and ethnic groups. That is a matter which the Lebanese President and his government must deal with, the general said.
One of the major incentives for an IDF pullout has been the steadily mounting casualties sustained by Israeli forces in Lebanon. Even as the Cabinet debated the issue yesterday, a military spokesman announced that two IDF soldiers were killed and seven wounded in two roadside explosions. Four Lebanese civilians were killed in the blasts.
The loss of the two soldiers brought to 606 the number of fatalities sustained by the IDF since Israel invaded Lebanon in June, 1982.