Al-Ahram Weekly
3 - 9 August 2000
Issue No. 493
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Rehabilitating the south

By Zeina Khodr

After two months of dispute, United Nations peace-keepers have deployed along the Lebanese side of the border with Israel. The move came after the authorities here gave the world body the green light to take up positions in the former Israeli occupied zone in southern Lebanon. The go-ahead came after Israeli violations along the so-called Blue Line drawn by UN experts to confirm the withdrawal were corrected.

Ever since Israeli forces withdrew last May, the zone had been effectively controlled by fighters belonging to Hizbullah, the group which spearheaded the resistance war against Israel.

The international community had been pressuring the government to give the UN approval to take up positions in the area and to send the army to the liberated zone. But Beirut remained adamant that this would not happen as long as Israeli encroachments on the border persisted.

Last week, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to extend the mandate by six months of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and called on the Lebanese government to deploy its armed forces in the region, as soon as possible.

But there has been no official word on when a task force of 1,000 army troops and police would deploy in the south. But some Lebanese troops were seen patrolling the Israeli border over the weekend near the village of Kfarkila.

According to UN Middle East envoy, Terje Roed-Larsen, President Emile Lahoud issued orders to the Lebanese army to coordinate the final details of the deployment plan with the UNIFIL command.

The international community has conditioned aid for the reconstruction of the south to extending government authority to the newly liberated areas and ensuring stability in the region. This was cited by many participants of a donors' conference held in Beirut last week as a prerequisite for any future aid.

No financial pledges were made during the one day gathering held at ambassadorial level. The conference only decided to set up a tripartite commission to arrange for a ministerial level conference that would make the essential decisions.

"South Lebanon must be put back on its feet to avoid a threat to peace in the region from the geo-strategic area recently freed by Israeli occupation," Prime Minister Selim Al-Hoss told the delegates. "Its development is not only a challenge for Lebanon but for the international community."

Lasting development in the south will avoid further deterioration of the social and economic situation, which would consist of a danger to stability and security in the region.

The conferees formally received a plea from the Beirut government for $260 million for urgent projects to rehabilitate the population and rebuild the infrastructure plus a plea for an additional assistance of 1.3 billion dollars for a five year reconstruction program.

The foreign delegates realised that much remains to be done by the government especially the deployment of enough soldiers to secure order in the south before any hard case is poured into open ended development projects, George Alam, a columnist in the Al-Safir daily wrote.

Referring to that conference, House Speaker Nabih Berri commented: "I have attended many such meetings, the most recent being this week. But we should not count on them, for I was really shocked when the donor meeting did not even come up with urgent aid. Are the people of the south being punished for fighting Israel," he said. But Berri warned that the state should not be bribed by donor aid into allowing some 360,000 Palestinian refugees to be resettled in Lebanon. "We reject any aid linked to the resettlement of Palestinians."

Beirut has repeatedly warned that there could be no peace unless Palestinian refugees are repatriated to their homes. The Palestinians are seen as a destabilising factor. A local newspaper, Al-Kifah Al-Arabi said a high-ranking US diplomat visited Lebanon last week to examine the south Lebanon situation.

Nancy Soderberg, deputy head of the US mission to the UN reportedly urged the Lebanese government to dispatch its army to the south and remove/disarm all irregular gunmen.

Reports also said Soderberg expressed Washington's concern about the outcome of the Camp David summit between the Palestinians and the Israelis warning that the Palestinians in Lebanon could destabilise the border situation.

Palestinian sources told Al-Ahram Weekly that tents will be set up along the Israeli-Lebanese border in the coming weeks. The Palestinians will camp out to show the world they are determined to return to Palestine. It will be a form of pressure, the sources said.

In his report to the Council, Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned that the potential for serious incidents across the border still existed despite the Israeli withdrawal.

Hizbullah continues to hold on to their arms and continues to say that its mission is still not accomplished as long as Israel continues to hold 30 Lebanese in its jails.

And in what was described as another indication that Hizbullah's agenda has clear regional dimensions, its Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah warned the United States against moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. "If that happens, it will be turned to rubble and its diplomats would be sent back home in body bags," Nasrallah told a rally in southern Lebanon.

He was responding to statements made by US President Bill Clinton who said the embassy move would take place if Palestinian President Yasser Arafat unilaterally declares a state in September. Nasrallah also called on the Palestinians to revert to the option of fighting following the failure of the Camp David summit last week.

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