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French Version

Despite media buzz, war shows no sign of returning to South

Pundits here to report the ominous have been disappointed

A foreign correspondent stood on the remains of the Voice of the South radio station, peered across the border into calm Israel, and remarked that "it does not appear that war is imminent.

" One might be forgiven for thinking otherwise, with the media frenzy and dizzying patrol rate across South Lebanon making it seem that a war is well under way.

Still, war is not taking place. International and local attention has refocused on the Lebanon-Israel border as day two of nationwide Israeli security exercises begins. In the border village of Kfarkila - where the Voice of the South had previously broadcast for the South Lebanon Army, Israel's former proxy militia during the 1978-2000 occupation - an absence of unusual activity on either side of the border becomes evident. More of the same - patrols, media reports, interviews with villagers - but it is still the same.

Commenting on the situation, United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) spokeswoman Yasmine Bouziane said: "UNIFIL and the Lebanese Armed Forces [LAF] are monitoring the situation closely, to avoid unwanted violations [of UN Security Council Resolution 1701]."

She added that "UNIFIL was informed by Israel that there is no offensive purpose behind these drills, and we have conveyed this to the LAF ... We have also increased cooperation with Lebanese authorities on joint Blue Line patrols."

It appears, then, that the droves of correspondents and pundits here to report the ominous have been disappointed for yet another day. Little of extraordinary interest took place on the Israeli side of the border, unless one finds fascination with the routine border patrol.

On the Lebanese side, hundreds of UNIFIL and LAF patrols - on land and in the air - were met with the complete absence of Hizbullah fighters. But Hizbullah was present everywhere one looked, with banners, mock rockets, flags, and posters of "martyrs" reminding everyone who reigns down South.

UNIFIL, the international peacekeeping force beefed up after the 2006 summer war, makes busy with patrols stretching from west of the Litani River along the coast to the border town of Maroun al-Ras.

Italian contingent commander Giuseppe PeroniAnalysis-of-Miller-Coors-Merger , at his Tebnine headquarters, said that "the situation remains normal in [the Italian] area of operations ... our officers are working as usual and it appears that southerners are reassured by our patrols."

He, like most on the ground, downplayed the prospects of war, saying: "I do not think [war is imminent]. We were already informed of these maneuvers and their defensive purposes."

Although most have written off an impending war, one must bear in mind that the questions posed and answers given narrowly deal with the potential of military exercises and civil defense drills in actually setting off the war themselves.

The real cause for worry on this side of the border is that the "lessons learned" in 2006 are being taught now, two years later. Lessons are learned if mistakes are made, and mistakes are usually corrected if a repeat effort is desired.

Beirut 08-04-2008
The Daily Star

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