Cranes guarded by Israeli soldiers with automatic rifles were digging into the red soil along the border with Lebanon as part of preparations that Israel is quietly carrying out ahead of its withdrawal from its northern neighbor due in less than three months.
Military officials and workers at the site refuse to say exactly what is being built in several locations visited by AFP along the Lebanese border.
They would only say that the works were part of efforts to improve Israeli defenses after the pullout from south Lebanon, ending 22 years of bloody occupation that claimed the lives of hundreds of Israeli soldiers.
An Israeli source, who insisted on not being identified further, told AFP that nearly 100 million dollars has been budgeted for projects like this to prepare for the pullout, which he said could take place any time between now and July 7.
The official said the works included repositioning the border fence so that it snakes along the international boundary in accordance with UN resolution 425, which was adopted in 1978 and calls for Israel's withdrawal "forthwith."
To the west at a military post armed with tanks on the border with south Lebanon near the Israeli town of Zarit, workers were busy erecting steel nets designed to catch incoming mortar shells and missiles. At least one additional bunker had been built at the site and new telecommunication cables were being laid.
Bulldozers could also be seen working at military bases near some of the current checkpoints where Israeli soldiers, members of its allied militia, the South Lebanon Army, and Lebanese workers cross between Lebanon and Israel.
The Israeli official said, however, that most of the preparatory work has been carried out indoors and that it has involved introducing large amounts of hi-tech equipment to the area.
Despite all this activity, residents in the villages along the Lebanese frontier have begun to move away, complaining that the army has not done enough to protect them.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's government has committed itself to quitting south Lebanon by July, with or without a peace accord with Syria, the major power broker in Lebanon.
The official said the military had been hoping for a peace deal because a pullout would be easier in coordination with the Lebanese.
Barak himself has warned that a unilateral pullout could risk greater bloodshed but has said that Israel would respond harshly if its soldiers or northern territories come under attack during or after the pullback – (AFP)
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