TEL AVIV (Apr. 24)
An Israel Defense Force spokesman announced this afternoon that the IDF has completed today the penultimate stage of its withdrawal from Lebanon and is now deployed along the northern edge of the “security belt” from which it will execute its final pullback to the international border by the end of May.
The IDF has left Jezzine, the northern salient, the Jebel Barukh observation post, the Lake Karoun region and the lower Bekaa valley — place names associated in recent weeks with clashes and casualties.
The order to pull-out was given at 6 a.m. local time today by Gen. Ori Orr, commander of the northern front. The last Israeli soldier was lifted by helicopter from Jebel Barukh shortly after 11 a.m. local time.
The expensive electronic surveillance equipment had long since been removed from that outpost and what installations remained were blown up to prevent their falling into the hands of terrorists.
The IDF announcement confirmed a Beirut radio report this morning that the IDF had virtually completed its withdrawal from the eastern sector of the Bekaa valley and from the coastal city of Tyre. The reports said Lebanese army units were standing by to replace the departing Israeli troops.
According to the Beirut reports, later confirmed by the IDF, the withdrawal was closely guarded by armed helicopters which supervised the operation and stood by to deal with possible emergencies. There was some guerrilla harassment of withdrawing Israeli units but no casualties.
The pullback, carried out in an orderly manner, was witnessed by Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin who told reporters that some time would be required to complete necessary arrangements in the security belt. He stressed that today’s pullback was a unilateral action accomplished without coordination with the Lebanese authorities.
It was completed on the eve of Israel’s Independence Day. The final removal of IDF troops from Lebanese soil to positions behind the international border is expected to be completed before the third anniversary of the invasion of Lebanon, June 5, 1982.
The IDF helicopters guarding the operation dropped leaflets to the local Lebanese population warning them not to become involved in anti-Israel activities by terrorists. They were informed that the Lebanese government is now fully responsible for the maintenance of peace and order in the region evacuated by the IDF.
Israel has already made it clear, however, that should any developments occur anywhere in south Lebanon which threatened Israel’s security, the IDF would react swiftly regardless of how far the trouble spot was from the border.
IDF, SYRIAN FORCES PHYSICALLY SEPARATED
There is now, for the first time, a physical separation between the IDF and Syrian forces entrenched in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley. Syria continues to occupy large areas of Lebanon. It constitutes the strongest military force in that country and, in the Israeli view, calls the tune for the government in Beirut.
Possible future moves by Syria were discussed in some detail by Rabin in an interview with Israel Radio’s English language service. The interview is scheduled to be broadcast tomorrow, Independence Day, but excerpts were broadcast today.
Rabin said that in the wake of the IDF withdrawal, some Syrian support for terrorist activity against Israel could be expected. But he anticipated no general confrontation with Syria.
VIEW OF MOVES BY SYRIA
Asked what Israel would do in the event of hostile moves by Syria, Rabin replied: “It’s too early to say what the Syrians will do. I tend to believe that Syria today would like to conduct a policy that, on one hand, would encourage and support terrorist acts as long as we are in Lebanon, and maybe even against targets in Israel once we complete our redeployment along the international border.
“At the same time, I believe Syria will refrain from doing anything which could bring about a direct military confrontation between themselves and Israel. They may, here or there, move a little bit toward the south. But they know — and I will not elaborate — what might be intolerable to us.”
Rabin added that Israel would not hesitate to act against terrorist targets in areas under Syrian control, if necessary, but would try to refrain from attacking Syria directly.