Israeli pullout 'incomplete'

MARWAHEEN, Lebanon -- The U.N. called Israel's pullout from nearly all of south Lebanon on Sunday "significant progress." But sources of friction remained: Israel still holds the Lebanese part of a divided border village and its planes patrol Lebanon's airspace.

Both the Lebanese government and Hezbollah dismissed the withdrawal, which came more than six weeks after a cease-fire ended the 34-day conflict, as "incomplete" and demanded Israel stop what they called its violations of Lebanon's airspace, sea and land.

"What is required is a complete and comprehensive Israeli withdrawal and a halt to Israeli attacks on Lebanon," Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said. "So far, there is no final solution. Israel's pullout today is incomplete."

Senior Hezbollah official Sheik Hassan Ezzeddine warned the Islamic militant group would resume attacks against Israel if it breached the U.N. cease-fire, which went into effect Aug. 14.

"The enemy must bear the consequences of its continued air, sea and land violations in Lebanon," said Ezzeddine, the group's top political official in south Lebanon.

The Israeli army withdrew from the entire south except for the village of Ghajar, said a statement by the commander the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL.

"Significant progress has been achieved today," Maj. Gen. Alain Pellegrini of France said. "I expect that they will leave this area in the course of the week, thus completing the withdrawal in line with the (U.N. Security Council) resolution 1701."

The pre-dawn pullout put a formal end to a nearly three-month troop incursion into Lebanon that began after Hezbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers and killed three others in a July 12 cross-border raid.

It clears the way for the full deployment of UNIFIL's 15,000 soldiers who will police the border with an equal number of Lebanese army troops.

Israel has been gradually withdrawing troops since the cease-fire went into effect, from a peak of 30,000 during the fighting. The Israeli naval blockade of Lebanon ended more than three weeks ago.

U.N. Force spokesman Alexander Ivanko, speaking on Lebanon's privately owned Christian TV station LBC, said a deal on Ghajar was expected next week. He did not elaborate.

But there were no scenes of jubilation Sunday similar to those that greeted the withdrawal of Israeli forces from south Lebanon in 2000 after an 18-year occupation.

In the border village of Marwaheen, the most visible of the 10 vacated positions, the Israelis had held a hilltop position before pulling out early Sunday.

The villagers went about their business in what is perhaps a reflection of the weariness felt by many in south Lebanon after decades of almost continuous fighting with Israel.

It also could be attributed to the uncertainty over the future.

"You can never know whether they will be back again," cautioned Mohammed Musseileh, a 67-year-old farmer from Marwaheen, referring to the Israelis.

Witnesses said Israel began moving tanks and armored carriers out of pockets near the border after midnight. The roar of Israeli tanks could be heard on the Lebanese side as they moved across.

Israeli military officials said the last soldiers returned to Israel around 2:30 a.m. ahead of the onset of Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, at sundown Sunday. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity under military guidelines.

An armored column creaked across the border at the Israeli border community of Moshav Avivim, leaving tread marks in the soil and sending a large cloud of dust into the air.

Israeli spokeswoman Miri Eisin said Israel was "now waiting for Lebanon to do its part under the truce."

Israel wants Lebanon to keep Hezbollah out of the south and disarm it, but Beirut has indicated it would not actively seek Hezbollah's weapons. The militant group said it would disarm only when a strong central government was in place.

UNIFIL has said the question of disarming Hezbollah was best left for the Lebanese to tackle, but it would support the Lebanese army if it takes on the task.

Both the U.N. and the Lebanese government consider Israeli overflights as violations of the cease-fire, but the Israeli officials said Sunday there were no plans to stop them.

Ivanko, the UNIFIL spokesman, said the issue of the overflights was raised several times with the Israeli side, which has been asked to halt them.

Another source of tension in Lebanon is the disputed Israeli-held Chebaa Farms area near the borders of Israel, Lebanon and Syria. Resolution 1701 had directed the U.N. secretary-general to come up with a proposal to delineate the borders in the area within a now-elapsed 30 days.

After Israel abandoned its hilltop position in Marwaheen Sunday, some villagers saw a chance to make a little money. A group of men in a pickup truck grabbed some discarded tires. Another villager arrived, and later carried home a roll of electrical cables.

Ghanian peacekeepers in a white U.N. armored personnel carrier photographed the site. Two Lebanese military intelligence officers in plainclothes also surveyed the area before Hezbollah officials arrived in two vehicles, one of which was an ambulance marked as gift from the Iranian Embassy in Beirut.

They blocked the narrow road leading up to the former Israeli position, preventing reporters and villagers from reaching the spot.

Saleh Diyab Mohammed was among those who came to the hill after the Israelis were gone. He planted a Lebanese flag atop his half-finished, two-story house which was apparently used by Israelis soldiers.

"Now, I feel pure and proud," he said. "I feel free again."


Associated Press writers Matti Friedman in Moshav Zarit, Israel, and Hussein Dakroub in Beirut, Lebanon, contributed to this report.

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