Cabinet Decides to Begin Second Stage IDF Withdrawal from South Lebanon

The Cabinet decided today to begin immediately the second stage of the Israel Defense Force’s withdrawal from south Lebanon as harassment of Israeli units escalated over the weekend. Four IDF soldiers were wounded Friday by roadside bombs.

The Cabinet’s decision was taken on the recommendation of Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the Army General Staff, strongly backed by Premier Shimon Peres. There was no opposition, but two former Likud Defense Ministers, Ariel Sharon and Moshe Arens, did not vote, according to an Israel Radio report. Sharon is Minister of Commerce and Industry and Arens a Minister-Without-Port-folio.

According to the Israel Radio report, the Cabinet set no time framework for completion of the second stage which will remove the IDF from the eastern sector of south Lebanon. The report cited defense establishment sources to the effect that it would be completed within three months. The first stage of the withdrawal in which the IDF pulled out of the Awali River area and Sidon, was completed on February 16, two days head of schedule.

SHARON WANTS 30-KM SECURITY ZONE

The Israel Radio report said Sharon participated in the discussion which preceded the Cabinet decision, claiming that the withdrawal plan made no provisions to prevent the return of Palestine Liberation Organization terrorists to the Ein Hilwe refugee camp outside Sidon.

Sharon reportedly urged that the IDF establish a 30-kilometer deep security zone north of the Israeli border when the second stage of the withdrawal is completed. According to observers Sharon’s proposal could breach the Cabinet’s unity when the time comes to implement the third and final stage of withdrawal of the IDF to the international border.

SITUATION IN SOUTH LEBANON

Meanwhile, the situation in south Lebanon deteriorated. After a week without IDF casualties — attributed to the new “iron fist” policy of dealing harshly with terrorists and Shiite Moslem guerrillas — an Israeli soldier was slightly wounded Friday when a bomb exploded as his patrol moved along a road outside the Burj A-Shamali refugee camp east of Tyre.

Three other soldiers were wounded Friday when two explosive charges detonated near Abbasiye village northeast of Tyre. There were two other attacks on the IDF Friday and two more today, none of which caused casualties. In the earlier attacks, a Katyusha rocket was fired at an IDF outpost on the Kasmiye bridge over the Litani River and two rocket-propelled grenades were fired at another outpost near Bidyas village.

A rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) was fired at an IDF position near Bidyas again today and RPG and automatic fire was aimed at a patrol near Joya village.

The IDF raided Marrake village yesterday, a Shiite guerrilla base east of Tyre, and reported the largest haul of weapons and ammunition since the systematic searches of Shiite villages began last month. One villager was killed, reportedly trying to escape and 17 other guerrilla suspects were seized for questioning. At least three houses in the village were destroyed.

IDF sources said the arms seized in Marrake included rocket-propelled grenades, mines, mortars and machineguns. According to Lebanese and foreign press reports, at least 800 IDF soldiers took part in the search and round-up of villagers. The force was said to consist of three tanks, 50 armored personnel carriers and 30 other vehicles.

On hand to witness the operation was Maj. Gen. Ori Orr, commander of the northern front. Orr reportedly met with the commander of the French contingent of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) stationed near Marrake.

SHIITE LEADER WARNS ISRAEL

In Beirut, meanwhile, Nabih Berri, the Shiite leader who is a member of the Lebanese government, warned Israel yesterday that towns in Galilee would come under attack in reprisal for IDF forays against Shiite villages in south Lebanon.

Berri was quoted as telling a press conference in Beirut, “From now on, every time a village is attacked in south Lebanon, a village will be attacked in Galilee.” Israeli observers dismissed the threat as largely rhetoric but acknow ledged that it indicated a radicalization of the Shiite moderates whom Berri represents.

According to this view, Berri’s tough talk is a bid to gain credibility in face of a challenge by Shiite extremists influenced by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran. Shiite fundamentalists, who call themselves “Hizbollah” (Party of God), have been responsible for the most serious attacks on the IDF and observers say that Berri’s warning could indeed spur them to try to attack Galilee villages to prove they act while Berri only talks.

WILL CRUSH THE ‘KHOMEINIST PHENOMENON’

Gen. Orr warned residents of the Israeli border town of Kiryat Shemona over the weekend that the IDF must prepare for a deterioration of the situation on the northern border in the near future.

“It’s important to tell the public the truth so it won’t be surprised,” he said, “but it is also important to remember that everyone predicted massacres in Sidon after the IDF left, yet up to now it has been quiet there.”

Former Defense Minister Arens reacted to Berri’s threats in a speech to a visiting group of the Moral Majority, headed by the Rev. Jerry Fallwell. He told the rightwing American Christian fundamentalists that Israel would not surrender to Shiite terror and if necessary would crush this “Khomeinist phenomenon approaching our borders.”

Several hundred members and supporters of the Peace Now Movement demonstrated yesterday at Kibbutz Ga’ash on the Tel Aviv-Netanya highway to demand the immediate, complete withdrawal of the IDF from south Lebanon. The occasion was the onethousandth day since the IDF invaded Lebanon in June 1982.

One of the demonstrators, Eliezer Granot, secretary general of Mapam, told the rally, “These were 1,000 days we could have lived without. They will be remembered with shame, sorrow and grief.”

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