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Tensionmounts in South Lebanon

April 17, 1979
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Tension mounted in south Lebanon today where the Christian militia prepared to block the entry of a Lebanese army battalion that it claims is a Syrian Trojan Horse. The battalion is expected to be deployed in the region before Thursday when the United Nations Security Council is scheduled to meet to hear Secretary General Kurt Waldheim report that the Lebanese government has finally established its authority in south Lebanon, fulfilling the objective of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

The Christian militia insists that the battalion is actually a pro-Syrian unit commanded by Syrian officers disguised in Lebanese uniforms and there fore a menace to the Christian enclaves.

The U.S. reportedly has been urging Israel to persuade the Christians not to oppose the entry of the Lebanese troops. Ambassador Samuel Lewis called on Premier Menachem Begin today to discuss the matter. Later, Begin summoned Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and Defense Minister Ezer Weizman for a conference. Weizman met yesterday with the commander of UN forces in the Middle East, Gen. Ensio Siilasvuo.

(In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Reston, asked about the suspect battalion moving into south Lebanon, said he “understands” that Lebanon and the United Nations have ” worked out plans to send units into south Lebanon to assist” the UN in “strengthening the civilian and military presence” south of the Litani River. “We strongly support this as part of the objective to restore Lebanese sovereignty in the south.” He also said he had no information about reports that Ambassador Lewis is pressuring Israel not to object to the battalion’s movement.)

It was learned, meanwhile, that while Israel will take no action against the Lebanese unit, it does not approve of the move. Israel for the first time, has officially stated its opposition to the deployment of Lebanese troops in the south, near its borders. When Israeli forces evacuated south Lebanon last spring, the official position in Jerusalem had been that the region should ultimately come under the control of the central authorities in Beirut.

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