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French Version

Residents welcome Lebanese Army's historic deployment in South

Residents of South Lebanon welcomed arriving Lebanese troops on Friday, throwing rice and flowers at passing convoys as Hizbullah supporters waved resistance flags. Some 15,000 troops are expected to deploy in the region by Saturday after a nearly 40-year absence.

Lebanese soldiers arrived at the southern border with Israel Friday, sending a single jeep on patrol through the town of Kfar Kila, which is where Israeli forces withdrew in 2000 and ended an 18-year occupation.

The army jeep, flying a large Lebanese flag and carrying just two soldiers clad in green camouflage uniforms, passed by the Fatima Gate a few meters from the border in Kfar Kila but did not stop.

Lebanese forces reached the village of Khiam late Thursday, according to Brigadier General Charles Shikhani.

The historic deployment, which began before dawn Thursday, continued on Friday with the sixth brigade crossing a new iron bridge in Qassimieh recently build to ease traffic caused by Israel's destruction of the town's only bridge.

Troops also reached the towns around Tibnin in the qada of Bint Jbeil, in addition to the Marjayoun towns of Kfar Hammam, Shebaa, Kfar Shuba, Hebbarieh and Rashaya al-Fakhar.

The army also began erecting checkpoints along the border with Syria in order to clamp down on illegal crossings and put an end to arms smuggling, as well as that of people and goods, a military official told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release information to the media.

The army plan covers an estimated 60 illegal border crossings with Syria in northern and eastern Lebanon. The first checkpoints were set up Friday but the official did not say how many.

Another army official told The Daily Star on Friday that military bases had been set up in 30 towns south of the Litani River. Some 6,000 troops, divided into three brigades, have been assigned to complete the first phase of deployment, he said.

Meanwhile, the UN Interim Forces in Lebanon, UNIFIL, said Friday that 800 international troops had been deployed in Marjayoun with an additional 500 erecting bases in Tibnin and the surroundings areas.

The UN secretary general's representative in Lebanon, Geir Pedersen, visited several UNIFIL bases in Tyre on Friday and described the army deployment as "a historic step based on Lebanese national accord."
Pedersen said he expected the Israeli troops to complete their withdrawal from Lebanon "within a few days." Israeli forces withdrew late Thursday from the towns of Teir Harfa, Tallet Roueis, Shihin and Jbin.

In related developments, at least 400,000 displaced Lebanese have returned to their homes since Monday, UN aid agencies said Friday.

"About 200,000 displaced have returned to South Lebanon and 200,000 have returned to the southern suburbs of Beirut," according to Christiane Berthiaume, a spokeswoman for the UN's World Food Program.

Another 107,000 Lebanese refugees who fled to neighboring Syria have crossed back into Lebanon through official crossing points, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said.

More are thought to have crossed elsewhere. An estimated 180,000 people fled across the border to Syria during the month-long Israeli military offensive in Lebanon.

"There has been a phenomenal return of the displaced Lebanese to their homes," UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis told journalists. "The public shelters are now virtually empty."

The agency said aid was flowing around the South but was being hampered by shattered roads.

But Annick Bouvier of the International Committee of the Red Cross said a lack of clean water was increasingly a concern as the displaced returned to towns and villages where water mains and sewage systems had been completely destroyed.

As the army deployed to the south, the Lebanese president addressed the people saying: "With the new resurrection of Lebanon, its rise from the wreckage, I would like to salute you proudly for your historical resolution, for the way you embraced and supported your country, your army and your resistance."

He added: "Lebanon has two choices: either we accept this conspiracy that was pre planned in order to undermine our unity, our land, people and institutions of Lebanon for the sake of other plans under shining titles 'New Middle East', or we face this conspiracy and preserve the Lebanon we want."

"I am addressing you as your army is being deployed to the south. This army has emerged from you, support it, for it is your army," he said

beirut 19-08-2006
Daily Star
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