TEL AVIV (Apr. 11)
The Israel Defense Force withdrew Thursday from Nabatiya, a regional military and administrative center in south Lebanon long a hotbed of Shiite terrorist activities.
At the same time, Israel began the process of releasing prisoners it had transferred from the Ansar detention camp in south Lebanon a week ago to a prison camp inside Israel. Thirty were freed Thursday and returned to Lebanon. Israeli sources said more detainees would be released as the IDF withdrawal progresses.
The wind-up of the Ansar camp which was demolished as soon as the last prisoners departed, made possible the evacuation of Nabatiya and surrounding villages. The maneuver straightened out the IDF line which now runs more or less along the Litani River and relieved Israeli soldiers of the dangerous task of policing a volatile, violent and hostile population.
The building in Nabatiya which served as headquarters for the IDF liaison unit in south Lebanon was the target of more than 30 rocket-propelled grenade attacks in recent weeks. The villages around Nabatiya were regularly searched by the IDF for terrorists and weapons. This week alone, a large cache of rocket propelled grenades (RPGs), Katyusha rocket-launchers, Kalachnikov assault rifles and high explosives were found along with sabotage equipment and equipment for underwater demolition specialists.
IDF WILL NOT MAINTAIN A CORRIDOR
Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin said Thursday that the IDF would not maintain a corridor from the area it now holds to Jezzine in the north, by-passing Nabatiya. Such a corridor was demanded by Gen. Antoine Lehad, commander of the Israel-backed South Lebanon Army (SLA). Israel also will no longer try to mediate or act as go-between among the various warring ethnic groups in this part of Lebanon, Rabin said.
He said he hoped the area would remain quiet now that the IDF is gone. But he warned that Israel would act firmly if attacks continued against the IDF or against Israeli villages across the border. The Defense Minister did not think Syria would try to occupy the regions evacuated by the IDF because that would require a major alteration of the present Syrian lines in Lebanon.
TWO DANGER SPOTS ELIMINATED
Within this past week, the IDF has eliminated from its area of responsibility, two of the most dangerous spots in south Lebanon — Ansar and Nabatiya. The Ansar camp, set up in 1982 in the early stages of the war in Lebanon, housed close to 2,000 prisoners.
About 1,000, known to have been directly implicated in attacks on the IDF were transferred to a camp in Israel, a move that raised problems of international law. Another 752 prisoners, members of hostile organizations but not known to have participated in attacks on the IDF, were freed on the spot and allowed to return to their villages in Lebanon.
It is not known whether all of the 1,000 detainees still held in Israel will be released. But the freeing of small groups, which began today, indicated that Israel intends to rid itself of these prisoners gradually, over a period of time. It may, however, hold on to a hard core of terrorists it considers too dangerous to remain at large.