TEL AVIV (Mar. 5)
The Israel Defense Force has already begun the second stage of its withdrawal from south Lebanon, which the Cabinet decided Sunday was to commence immediately. Military sources said that non-operational equipment and supplies are already on the move. But an IDF spokesman denied Beirut reports today that the departure of Israeli troops from the Bekaa valley in the eastern sector of south Lebanon has been speeded up.
The speed with which supplies and equipment can be moved depends in large measure on weather conditions, the sources said. The mountainous areas of south Lebanon are buried in snow and temperatures are frigid.
The Beirut reports said the Lebanese regular army is standing by to occupy the areas vacated by the IDF. According to Beirut, some villages and hilltop positions have already changed hands. Lebanese sources and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) said the IDF is continuing its “iron fist” searches of Shiite Moslem villages in south Lebanon believed to be bases for guerrilla attacks on Israeli units.
The IDF searched Saalah village east of Tyre today, shortly after a UNIFIL contingent of Ghanaian troops was sent there to investigate the death of a man under suspicious circumstances.
SPECULATION ON MOSQUE BOMBING
Meanwhile, the explosion that wrecked a mosque in Maareke village yesterday, killing at least 12 persons, continued to generate friction between Israel and the Shiite population. The Lebanese blame the Israelis for the blast because an IDF unit searched the village two days earlier for weapons and guerrillas. IDF spokesmen continued today to deny any Israeli involvement. Among the dead were several leaders of Amal, the Shiite militia, who had been in scrapes with the IDF.
One of them, Mohammed Saad, is said to have planned the bombing that destroyed an IDF headquarters building in Tyre in November, 1982, in which 75 people including 43 Israelis were killed. Another was Hallil Jeradi, an Amal spokesman, who boasted earlier this week that he had eluded the IDF’s search of Maareke. He threatened that Shiite forces would attack Israelis inside Israel.
Dr. Yossi Olmert of Tel Aviv University’s Dayan Center for Middle East Studies, an expert on the Shiites, said it would have been “absurd” for the IDF to bomb the mosque because it would only intensify local hostility toward Israelis. Security sources suggested that the bombing could have been an accident — premature detonation of an explosive device being prepared for use elsewhere. Uri Lubrani, coordinator of Israeli affairs in Lebanon, thought it was the result of a feud between rival Shiite factions.
The mainstream Amal has frequently clashed with the extremist Hasbullah (Army of God) faction which is influenced by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran.