Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
1 - 7 June 2000
Issue No. 484
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Tense stability

By Ranwa Yehia

While UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen flies back and forth between Lebanon, Syria and Israel on a mission to verify the scope of Israel's withdrawal from the south, the Lebanese government has started to deploy security forces in the liberated area.

On the diplomatic level, Larsen had a meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq Al-Sharaa in Damascus yesterday and then headed back to Beirut to supervise UN efforts to verify whether Israel has actually pulled back to the international border.

The issue of deploying the Lebanese army in the liberated area remains controversial, with Prime Minister Salim Al-Hoss saying on Tuesday that re-asserting government authority in southern Lebanon did not necessarily mean an army deployment there. "Those who are asking for the army to be sent to southern Lebanon should know that (UN Security Council) Resolutions 425 and 426 do not specifically mention the need for an army deployment," he said in a statement.

The UN is saying that it is up to the Lebanese government to decide whether to send troops to the southern region. European countries expected to deploy troops with the UN peacekeeping force expressed concern at the presence of Hizbullah fighters in the area. France, which is expected to take part in the UN force, said it would not do so unless it received assurances from all concerned parties -- Lebanon, Syria and Israel -- that its soldiers would not be in danger.

Before deciding whether to send troops to the south, the Lebanese government is waiting for UN verification that Israel has withdrawn fully to the international border and an announcement that an expanded UN peacekeeping force will be deployed in the area.

Observers believe the Lebanese government will beef-up the presence of its internal security forces in the area, but is likely to put off a significant army deployment until a peace deal is clinched between Syria, Lebanon and Israel.

Israel may believe that its withdrawal will ensure peace along its northern border, but Syria and Lebanon are definitely not going to offer it guarantees "on a silver platter," one analyst said.

This is why, he continued, the decision to deploy the Lebanese army in the liberated area will be delayed as long as possible to make sure that Israel stays "on its toes."

Larsen, who had been in Beirut for several days, met with President Emile Lahoud on Monday. Lahoud insisted that Lebanon would only accept the international border as the boundary of Israel's withdrawal from occupied territory, referring to the disputed Shebaa Farms, a small piece of fertile land at the foot of Mount Hermon claimed by Lebanon but occupied by Israel when it seized the Golan Heights in 1967. Israel claims that the Shebaa Farms belong to Syria and were not included in UN Security Council resolutions 425 and 426.

For his part, Larsen suggested that the only way to settle the dispute would be for Lebanon and Syria to submit a joint document to the UN Security Council defining their border.

The UN has said that Israel need not cede the Farms as part of last week's withdrawal. But Hizbullah warned that it would continue resistance until the Shebaa Farms are returned.

Larsen appealed for restraint from both Israelis and Lebanese to prevent demonstrations along the border from triggering a confrontation. He added that verification of the scope of Israel's withdrawal was proceeding "steadily."

The question of land mines left behind by Israeli forces has also to be resolved. Israel said on Sunday that it would provide information on their locations.

The UN, upon Lebanon's request, also raised with Israel the future of 20 Lebanese detainees, held without trial as bargaining chips for missing Israeli airman Ron Arad.

Apart from a handful of incidents, the situation in the south has been largely under control. The government, along with Hizbullah, leaders of the Shi'ite Amal movement and residents of the liberated areas, is working hard to maintain stability.

Monday's decision by the Lebanese government to restrict entrance into the liberated areas to its inhabitants was seen as an attempt to maintain this control.

An incident on Sunday reflected sectarian tension in the liberated area when a gunman, thought to be a Hizbullah member, shot dead a Christian and wounded another in the Christian village of Rmeish in Marjayoun. Also on Sunday, Israeli troops clashed with Lebanese civilians at the border fence, wounding several people.

The border village of Kfar Kila, which looms over the Metulla settlement in northern Israel, has proved a major attraction. Lebanese and Palestinian refugees have flocked to the village in their thousands, causing tremendous traffic jams. All wanted to taunt the Israelis with shouts or Hizbullah flags.

"You're on Palestinian land. Get out," shouted one man at an Israeli soldier on the border. The jeering was in sharp contrast with the highly emotional meeting of Palestinian refugees on Tuesday.

Palestinian refugees who had not seen their kin for 52 years, reached out under the barbed wire that marks the border to touch each other. Tears flowed and hands were extended desperately as the Palestinian refugees called out the names of long-lost relatives. For 65-year-old Mariam Musa, the experience was unforgettable. It was the first time she had seen her three sisters and two brothers in more than half a century.

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