Sun, Sep 24, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Lebanese army digs in on border

BLUE LINE PRESENCE The Lebanese troops took up positions along the border for the first time in decades, as Hezbollah held a rally celebrating `victory' over Israel

AFP , LEBANON

A Lebanese Hezbollah supporter carries a Hezbollah flag during a ``victory over Israel'' rally in Beirut's suburbs on Friday.

PHOTO: EPA

The Lebanese army, backed by UN peacekeepers, took up positions yesterday for the first time in decades on the "Blue Line" border demarcation with Israel, after Israeli troops withdrew from the region.

Around 400 soldiers supported by tanks were deployed at five points on the border's western sector, including at Naqura on the Mediterranean coast and Labbuneh, 3km inland, an army spokesman told reporters.

The posts, set up with the support of a Ghanaian armoured unit of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), stand some 100m from Israeli army positions on the other side of the border.

The spokesman said Lebanese soldiers were also deployed at Hula, Markaba and Mays al-Jabal, leaving the Israeli army in the western sector holding on to only a single post in Marwahin, some 30km east of Naqura.

UNIFIL commander Major General Alain Pelligrini said on Friday that Israeli forces withdrew from more points on the UN-demarcated Blue Line and should have pulled out completely by the end of this month.

Israel announced on Wednesday that it was delaying the completion of its promised withdrawal following its July-August war against Hezbollah until after the Jewish New Year holidays which end tonight.

Pellegrini said the Israeli army pulled out of "an area south of Naqura, and the general area" of the Lebanese village of Mays al-Jabal, clearing the way for UNIFIL to coordinate the deployment of Lebanese troops in the areas.

The Israelis "have vacated most of the territory in the south," he said.

"We are almost there, and with the assistance of UNIFIL, Lebanese armed forces will very soon be able to take control of the whole south Lebanon including the areas along the Blue Line," he said.

UN Security Council Resolution 1701 came into force on Aug. 14, establishing a ceasefire between Israel and the Shiite guerrillas of Hezbollah following their devastating 34-day war.

The Lebanese army had not been deployed for some four decades along the volatile border with Israel.

celebration

Meanwhile, with fireworks, balloons and flags of many colours, Hezbollah and its supporters on Friday celebrated the Lebanese Shiite group's "victory" against Israel in a massive rally crowned by the emergence of its chief Hassan Nasrallah from 10 weeks of hiding.

Fireworks shot up in the skies of Beirut's war-battered southern suburbs after Nasrallah delivered a defiant speech lasting more than an hour in which he rejected UN demands for his guerrillas to be disarmed and claimed they now had more than 20,000 rockets with which to defend Lebanon, despite an arms embargo.

The huge open-air site of the gathering was a sea of yellow Hezbollah flags, alongside the green of Amal, another Shiite group, the orange of Christian leader General Michel Aoun and the red of the communists, as well as Lebanon's own cedar tree-emblazoned national standard.

Hezbollah's al-Manar television said hundreds of thousands of people took part in the rally at which the Syrian- and Iranian-backed group's leader pointed his finger to the sky as he declared a "great divine, historic and strategic victory" over Israel in the war which ended with an Aug. 14 ceasefire.

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