Foreign ministers arrived in Beirut yesterday to help plan the assembly of a 15,000-strong international force to oversee peacekeeping efforts in Lebanon, while an explosive left over from the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah killed a man.
The international force would work with an equal number of Lebanese soldiers to police the ceasefire that took hold on Monday morning and ended 34 days of close combat, Israeli airstrikes and Hezbollah rocket barrages.
The diplomatic maneuvers came as the Israeli army withdrew some troops from south Lebanon while Lebanese troops prepared to move across the Litani River today to take control of the war-ravaged region from Shiite Muslim guerrillas.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy and his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, arrived in Beirut for talks. A delegation of the 56-country Organization of the Islamic Conference traveled to Beirut by land from Syria. It was led by Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar and Pakistan's top diplomat, Khursheed Kasuri.
In a sign of lingering danger in south Lebanon, security officials said an explosive detonated yesterday in the town of Nabatiyeh, killing a 20-year-old man.
The victim, Ali Turkieh, stepped on the bomb outside his family home. A girl in the area was injured by explosives a day earlier.
The UN hopes 3,500 international troops can reinforce a UN contingent already on the ground within 10 days to 15 days to help consolidate the ceasefire and create conditions that would allow Israeli forces to head home, Assistant UN Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Hedi Annabi said.
Journalists on Tuesday witnessed about 500 Israeli soldiers on foot crossing the border back into Israel near the Israeli town of Malkiya. Some smiled broadly, while others wept.
France was expected to lead the international force. The Italian foreign minister has already visited Beirut and pledged as many as 3,000 troops. Indonesia and a dozen other countries have expressed a willingness to help.
However, it remained unclear how quickly a full force could be deployed to Lebanon.
The process currently involves three armies on the ground and is complicated, given that those of Lebanon and Israel do not have direct contact and a third and central player -- Hezbollah guerrillas -- will not be involved.
The 2,000-strong peacekeeping force known as UNIFIL that has been in south Lebanon for over two decades was to temporarily take up positions along the border.
The zone along the frontier would then be handed to Lebanese troops and the greatly reinforced UNIFIL force once all Israeli soldiers have withdrawn, UN officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the operations.
"It will be a gradual withdrawal. It will take a couple of days, even up to one week," a UNIFIL officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
"We agreed with the Lebanese army that it will start deploying as the Israelis start withdrawing. It could be as early as Thursday [today], maybe a slight delay," he said.
Those plans, however, depend on the Lebanese government giving the order for the army to move south of the Litani. The Cabinet has been unable to meet on the issue since the ceasefire because of divisions over what should be done about Hezbollah's arms in the south.