Lebanese Soldiers Deploy in Former Occupied Zone
The first convoy of a force, including 1,000 Lebanese soldiers and police arrived early Wednesday in the southern part of the country, formerly occupied by Israeli troops.
Three army vehicles and a unit of police officers under the command of General Youssef Jermanos were seen arriving at 6:00 a.m. (0300 GMT) at the former Lebanese army barracks in Marjayoun.
On Tuesday, Interior Minister Michel Murr gave the go-ahead for the force to take up positions in the zone, which the Israeli army vacated on May 24th.
Another convoy, comprising dozens of troops transporters, armored cars and military jeeps had reached kfar Tebinit, the point which demarcated the former Israeli-occupied zone from the rest of Lebanon, on their way to Marjayoun, sources said.
General Jermanos, deputy commander of the mixed force, told AFP that a third convoy was heading towards Bent Jbeil, the biggest Shiite locality in the former occupied zone, where they will take up positions.
The force, 500 army troops and 500 police, will take up two fixed positions. One central position in Marjayoun where the former pro-Israeli South Lebanon Army (SLA) had its headquarters, the second at Bent Jbeil, General Jermanos said.
They will establish mobile blockades and patrols in the former occupied zone.
On Tuesday, Murr named police Colonel Nazih Abou Nader to head the force.
The move comes amid growing tension on the border fence, with Israeli troops firing back at throwers of stones and Molotov cocktails, wounding four on Sunday.
The 500 troops will be the first members of the Lebanese army to deploy in the former Israeli-occupied zone of southern Lebanon since Israel withdrew on May 24th.
But Murr has already said they would be active inside the zone and not be involved in keeping order on the frontier, a job he says is up to the UN.
And while the peacekeepers of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) are also preparing to expand their presence in the south, it was not immediately clear Tuesday whether they would be stationed closer to the border fence than at present.
A UN communiqué published in Beirut quoted spokesman Manoel de Al Meida e Silva as saying in New York that UNIFIL would be occupying another 11 positions in southern Lebanon in the coming days.
In the past few days, 400 UNIFIL troops have installed 17 military posts in the former Israeli-occupied zone. But none are directly on the border and the nearest one to the Fatima Gate crossing where most violence has occurred is 1,500 meters (yards) away.
Meanwhile Israel's Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh accused UNIFIL of being unwilling to prevent the stone throwing and refusing to deploy near the Fatima Gate.
"UNIFIL is not in Lebanon to direct the traffic but to ensure calm at the border," Sneh said during a visit to the northern Israeli town of Metulla -- MARJAYOUN, Lebanon (AFP)
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