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French Version

Israeli troops to leave South by 'end of week'

Israeli troops are still occupying 10 areas in South Lebanon from which they are due to withdraw completely by the end of the week, a senior United Nations official said on Monday.

They remain in place in 10 zones stretching from Yarin in the eastern sector to Kfar Kila in the central area, said French Major Philippe Lebrat, military assistant to the commander of the United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon (UNIFIL).

The announcement comes on the eve of a meeting between UNIFIL, Lebanese and Israeli officials which is due to finalize the complete Israeli pullout from the border areas it has occupied since the month-long hostilities ended on August 14 with a UN-brokered cease-fire.

Lebrat said the Israeli positions were located from between 1 and 3 kilometers deep inside South Lebanon.

They are deployed in Kfar Kila, Markaba, Blida, Maroun al-Ras, Rmeich, Ramiyeh, Marwaheen and Yarin, Lebrat said, but he did not give a figure for the number of Israeli troops.

Their withdrawal "should be completed by the end of the week," he said.

UNIFIL commander Major General Alain Pellegrini has said Israeli forces should have withdrawn completely by Friday, after they delayed the pullout until after the Jewish New Year holidays which ended Sunday.

As Israeli troops prepared to withdraw, a column of French UN peacekeepers and military vehicles including four tanks left Monday to take up position closer to the border.

The 30-strong detachment departed from a rear base near the town of Deir Kifa to a zone controlled by Ghanaian peacekeepers around Bint Jbeil, which lies just a few kilometers from the border with Israel.

"We are gradually deploying in Bint Jbeil, where we will take over responsibility for the area from the Ghanaians" starting Wednesday, said French military spokesman Colonel Jerome Salle. A total of about 300 to 400 French troops will be based in the area, he said.

France leads the expanded UN force that is charged with maintaining the cease-fire and assisting the Lebanese Army in

re-establishing control over the South, long a stronghold of Hizbullah. France has said that it will contribute 2,000 troops to the 15,000-strong UN force. An equal number of Lebanese Army troops will also be deployed in the South.

About 5,000 UN troops and 10,000 Lebanese Army soldiers are already in the region.

Lebanese Defense Minister Michel Murr has said that the army, absent from the region since the late 1960s, is in the market for anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.

Israeli soldiers have since the cease-fire been consolidating defensive positions and destroying Hizbullah arms depots and posts.

Israeli tanks and bulldozers are clearly visible from the border, stirring protests from Beirut of violations of the "Blue Line" frontier demarcated by the United Nations after the May 2000 end of two decades of Israeli occupation of South Lebanon.

UN monitors says some operations are taking place on Lebanon's side, while others are on Israeli land, with "the route of the Blue Line not corresponding exactly with the barrier between the two countries," said Lebrat.

Beirut 26-09-2006
The Daily Star

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