Israel to withdraw all troops by weekend - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

Israel to withdraw all troops by weekend

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Posted: Tuesday, September 19, 2006 6:44 am | Updated: 5:07 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

JERUSALEM - Israel's military chief told lawmakers Tuesday that it plans to withdraw all its remaining troops from Lebanon by this weekend, meeting a key requirement of a cease-fire that ended the 34-day war against Hezbollah guerrillas.

The withdrawal would end a more than two-month troop presence in Lebanon and complete the transfer of security responsibilities along the border to the Lebanese army and a beefed-up U.N. peacekeeping force.

Israel invaded Lebanon on July 12 after Hezbollah guerrillas crossed the border and killed three Israeli soldiers and kidnapped two others.

Since the Aug. 14 cease-fire went into effect, Israel has slowly been withdrawing troops but has said the pullout would not be complete until the peacekeeping force was strong enough to secure the border and prevent Hezbollah from rearming.

Israel's army chief, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, told a closed meeting of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that all remaining troops would leave by the start of the Jewish New Year at sundown Friday, committee member Ran Cohen said.

"He told me that this afternoon there is a meeting between the Lebanese forces and the U.N. forces and, if everything is OK, then all Israeli soldiers will be out of Lebanon by the eve of the holiday, on Friday," Cohen told The Associated Press.

Under the U.N.-brokered cease-fire, a 15,000-strong U.N. force is to deploy in the south to maintain the cessation of hostilities and assist the Lebanese army in re-establishing control over Hezbollah's southern stronghold.

About 5,000 international troops already have been deployed in south Lebanon, along with 9,000 Lebanese troops.

Some 150 French troops and dozens of military vehicles left Beirut on Tuesday for the south. France is contributing the second-largest contingent of 2,000 soldiers and will command the U.N. force until early next year, when Italy is to take over.

In Berlin, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier urged lawmakers to back plans to send warships to patrol the Lebanese coast. Germany has offered to send up to 2,400 service personnel and lead a multinational naval force to prevent weapons smugglers from rearming Hezbollah guerrillas after their monthlong war with Israel.

Parliament is expected to give its approval Wednesday, despite some misgivings related to Germany's Nazi past. Mindful of the Holocaust, the government has chosen the naval mission in an attempt to ensure that German forces cannot get pulled into any confrontation with Israeli troops.

When the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah ended last month, Israeli soldiers had set up positions in a strip of land along the length of the border and a corridor of territory leading north almost to the Litani River, 18 miles to the north.

Military officials declined to say how many Israeli troops remain. Cohen estimated the number at several thousand. The troops are believed to be concentrated in three points along the border.

The Israeli troops left in Lebanon have been "securing the territory" along the border with Israel to ensure that Hezbollah does not take up positions there prior to the deployment of the Lebanese and U.N. troops, Cohen said.

Meanwhile, the U.N. urged Israel to hand over coordinates of cluster bombs fired by Israeli forces in Lebanon, saying its failure to do so was hampering efforts to remove them.

At least 350,000 unexploded bomblets litter fields, homes, schools, hospitals and playgrounds in southern Lebanon and could take up to two and a half years to clear, the U.N. said in a report.

Israel could greatly accelerate the clearance effort handing over strike coordinates but has not done so, said David Shearer, U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Lebanon. "We have asked for them but they haven't yet been forthcoming. I haven't heard any explanation," he said.

Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisin said she was unaware of any official U.N. complaint over cluster bomb mapping.

The fist-sized bomblets have killed or wounded on average three people a day since the truce last month, according to the U.N demining center. At least 15 people including a child have been killed and 83 others wounded, 23 of them children, it said.

More than 150 Israelis and 850 Lebanese were killed during the monthlong war. But the cease-fire has largely been honored by both sides so far.

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