The commander of the right-wing Christian forces in South Lebanon, Major Saad Haddad, has declared the region an independent "Free Lebanon".
The commander of the right-wing Christian forces in South Lebanon, Major Saad Haddad, has declared the region an independent "Free Lebanon". He announced this move at a news conference in the Israeli border town of Metullah on Wednesday (18 April), after Lebanese government troops had moved into the area controlled by United Nations forces between the rightist enclave along the Israeli border and land further north largely populated by Lebanese leftists and Palestinian refugees.
SYNOPSIS: The port of Tyre in south Lebanon was shelled by Israeli troops on Tuesday (17 April). They were reported to be aiming for Palestinian refugee camps and a state of alert was declared by the Palestinians and their Lebanese leftist allies. But although three heavy shells hit the city there were no reports of casualties. Shops were closed and the streets deserted.
The five hundred soldiers being sent to southern Lebanon by President Elias Sarkis' government set off on Tuesday. Beirut's presence has not been felt in the area for several years.
The government force Commander Major Mahmoud Mattar spoke to newsmen before leaving.
He also briefed his men.
Later the convoy carrying the lightly -armed soldiers left Beirut, watched by Chief of Staff Munir Torbay. This was the Lebanese government's second attempt to send troops into southern Lebanon. Last year a contingent was pinned down by rightist shell fire and forced to withdraw. In January the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution requiring the Lebanese government to take up positions along the border with Israel and as these soldiers set out it was only two days before the deadline for the move.
Thousands of people gathered in the streets to cheer them on their way and a sheep was slaughtered in their honour. On their way south they passed through the town of Damour, towards the port of Sidon and their eventual link-up with the UNIFIL forces.
Their mission is hazardous and as the convoy met up with the U.N. troops there were reports of shelling within twenty-five metres (yards) of their new headquarters. During the previous night a Norwegian soldier serving with the U.N. was killed and another seriously wounded by shelling in the area.
The Lebanese soldiers will not be moving into the ninety-kilometre (55 mile) long strip of land held by the right-wing militia's along the "God Fence" border with Israel, but on Tuesday there were reports of fighting between the Christian rightists and Palestinian guerrillas. Later wounded Christians were taken across the border for medical treatment in Israel. Following Major Haddad's declaration of independence, Lebanese state radio was quick to condemn it and called the rightists "Israeli hirelings" -- and a statement from President Sarkis' office urged to world to ignore the proclamation.