United Nations peacekeepers will move into areas vacated by Israeli forces in southern Lebanon "as quickly as possible," UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said on Wednesday, quoted by AFP.
He told reporters that the role of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) would be "to calm the situation" while the Lebanese government restored law and order in the region.
"Once the situation is settled and Lebanon has assumed its full territorial responsibility, the peacekeepers will withdraw. Our work would have been done," he said.
Annan said he was "not in a position to give you a timeframe" for moving UNIFIL units southwards towards the Israeli frontier, but said UN officials had conferred with troop-contributing countries on Tuesday "to stress the urgency."
On Monday, Annan recommended that the UN Security Council approve an increase in the strength of UNIFIL from 4,513 troops to 5,600 to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli forces, and to 7,935 afterwards.
Israel completed its withdrawal on Tuesday night, about six weeks earlier than it had said.
IRAN FM TO VISIT BEIRUT FOR TALKS ON SOUTH LEBANON
The foreign minister of Iran, a key backer of Hizbollah movement, will visit Beirut on Thursday to discuss the aftermath of Israel's withdrawal from south Lebanon, Lebanese officials said on Wednesday, according to Reuters.
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi will hold talks with Prime Minister Selim al-Hoss, who is also foreign minister, and other officials, they said.
Kharrazi said on Tuesday the Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon -- completed on Wednesday -- was ''a great victory.''
Hizbollah have led the fight against Israel's 22-year-long occupation of south Lebanon.
The resistance fighters were in full control of south Lebanon on Wednesday, hours after the last Israeli soldiers withdrew.
REACTIONS POUR FROM ALL OVER THE GLOBE
The Israeli withdrawal from the occupied area in south Lebanon attracted reactions from many concerned parties.
Arab League chief Esmat Abdel Meguid on Wednesday hailed Israel's withdrawal as a victory for all Arabs and pushed the Jewish state to liberate all occupied lands, reported AFP the same day.
The secretary general of the League praised the Lebanese "tenacity and wisdom in ousting the occupation" and urged continued vigilance "to eliminate the opportunities of Lebanon's enemies," in a press statement.
"The Israeli withdrawal is a great victory for Lebanon and the resistance and this victory is a source of pride and glory for all Arabs," he said.
Reuters said Arabs were celebrating the “victory over Israel,” though some worry that Israel's withdrawal from south Lebanon happened so quickly that it might threaten stability.
Hizbollah was widely praised throughout the Arab world Tuesday. In the past, Arab nations have supported Hizbollah’s goals but distanced themselves from it, trying to avoid quarrels with a US government that considers Hizbollah a terrorist organization.
Syria should “borrow Hizbollah for the Golan, or set up its own. It will cut the long negotiations short for them,” said Fouad al-Hashem, a columnist for Kuwait's Al-Watan daily.
Damascus state-run radio called the withdrawal a “sound defeat to Israel” and credited the “cohesion between Syria, Lebanon and the heroic (Lebanese) resistance.”
Palestinian minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said the pullout “proves that occupation, no matter how long it lasts, will end” - referring to Israel's 33-year presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Foreign Minister Amr Moussa of Egypt, the first Arab nation to sign a peace deal with Israel, said the withdrawal was a necessity and the “faster it is carried out the better.” If the situation remains tense too long, it will hurt the peace process, he said.
Ismail Daghestani, a member of the Saudi Consultative Council, called on Lebanon's government to take control.
“The Lebanese government should make sure that the situation in the south remains calm now that Israel is leaving - and make sure that the Lebanese people there do not turn on each other.”
The Israeli pullout from land it has invaded twice and occupied since 1982 marked the first time Israel withdrew from Arab land without negotiating a settlement - a situation that makes the event more chaotic - but to many, far sweeter, said Reuters.
“This is a clear sign that determination and will can lead to the liberation of an occupied homeland,” said Abu Ahmed Fouad of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a PLO faction opposed to the peace accords with Israel.
Britain on Wednesday welcomed Israel's pull-out from southern Lebanon but warned all sides to work to reduce tension and end violence in the region, according to AFP.
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook was quoted by the agency as saying he looked forward to confirmation of a full withdrawal in line with a UN Security Council resolution.
"I deplore the loss of lives in south Lebanon over the past few days and urge all to continue to work to minimize tension and violence and to ensure that withdrawal results in the successful and peaceful return of south Lebanon to Lebanese government authorities," Cook said in a statement.
Cook said the withdrawal was an "an important step on the path to a comprehensive peace in the region."
In Moscow, a senior Russian foreign ministry official on Wednesday hailed Israel's withdrawal as an "important step," ITAR-TASS news agency reported.
"As a co-sponsor of the Middle East peace process, Russia calls on all parties to the conflict to demonstrate maximum restraint and to cooperate closely with the UN in order to avoid confrontation," said the official who asked not to be named.
Fresh tensions would "run counter to the interests of the peoples of the region and would jeopardize the Middle East peace process," he added – (Several Sources)
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