TEL AVIV (Aug. 10)
Israel has cautiously welcomed the deployment of Lebanese troops in southern Lebanon, but says the real test of the move’s effectiveness will be whether these troops succeed in stopping the violence in the border region.
With American support and tacit approval from the Israelis and Syrians, the Lebanese government on Monday moved some 300 troops into four villages facing Israel’s security zone in southern Lebanon.
The villages are near the port city of Tyre in a region that continues to be patrolled by the nine-nation United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.
Diplomatic sources said that U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali was initially against the Lebanese deployment because of technical problems of having Lebanese soldiers in U.N. controlled territory.
But Boutros-Ghali finally accepted the recommendations of the U.N. Secretariat staff and changed his mind over the weekend, the sources said.
Following the American-brokered cease-fire in the region on July 31, the Lebanese government decided to order the deployment in an effort to maintain security and to help resettle refugees.
An estimated 250,000 Lebanese civilians fled north, and some 30,000 houses were destroyed during Israel’s weeklong shelling of southern Lebanon in the last week of July.
Under the terms of the cease-fire, the Islamic fundamentalist Hezbollah militia agreed to stop firing Katyusha rockets into northern Israel.
Arriving Lebanese soldiers were armed with rifles, machine guns and anti-tank rockets in what is the first such deployment in the battleweary region in 11 years.
The deployment was scaled down from an original total of some 1,000 troops to the 300 currently in the area because Syria reportedly feared a larger deployment might lead to clashes with Hezbollah guerrillas.
Lebanese government leaders have been eager to reassure the local militia bands that the newly arrived troops have no intention of disarming the guerillas.
The Lebanese government extended these reassurances by saying Tuesday that the guerrillas have “a natural right” to continue their activities as long as there are Israeli forces in southern Lebanon.
The remark has provoked concerns as to whether Lebanese and UNIFIL forces will cooperate or whether their close proximity will lead to friction.