Arab leaders, meeting in Tunis for a summit conference, which began on Tuesday (20 November) are to attempt to resolve the future of southern Lebanon ...
Arab leaders, meeting in Tunis for a summit conference, which began on Tuesday (20 November) are to attempt to resolve the future of southern Lebanon ... a no-man's land that is a relic of the 1975 to 76 Lebanese civil war.
SYNOPSIS: The eastern Mediterranean country, bordered by Israel and syria, has a population of around three million. In the civil war an estimated 60,000 people died. The country's thriving economy was shattered, and it is still in ruins, with the prospect of recovery remote. In southern Lebanon the three years since the end of the civil war has seen sporadic outbreaks of fighting involving all groups in the area .. Palestinians, Syrians, Christian rightists, Israelis and the United Nations peace-keeping forces. The civil war solved none of the political, religious and social problems which led to the fighting .. and in the aftermath new problems emerged.
The Palestine Liberation Organisation together with Lebanese leftists, from one of the two main rival groups now in southern Lebanon. The other is the Israeli-backed Christian militia alliance. Both sides are kept apart by a United Nations force. At a preliminary meeting in Tunis last week Lebanon submitted proposals, which among other things, called for the withdrawal of Palestinian commandos from the south. These proposals were rejected, with the Arab states apparently unwilling to put their signatures to a formal document restricting the commando's freedom of action.
The Christian Militia control a 10 kilometre wide belt along the border with Israel. The area was handed over to them, under their commander, Major Sa'ad Haddad, by Israel after Israel troops invaded southern Lebanon in the wake of a Palestinian attack in which 30 people died outside Tel Aviv, in March last year.
United Nations troops were sent in to replace Israeli forces when they withdrew, under United States pressure, after the 1978 invasion. The UN force now, in theory, divides the two factions, the right-wing Christian alliance and the left-wing Palestinian alliance. Both sides make attempts to infiltrate the UN zone and there've been a number of military engagements. Under Lebanon's rejected proposals, United Nations troops would remain in the area along with Lebanese troops, with the two factions forces withdrawn. The PLO however, wants to keep its forces in the area. For the 5,700 strong UN contingent, peace-keeping remains a difficult task.
In the middle lie the civilians, farmers and villagers, many of whom have had homes destroyed by fighting. Often, villages have been abandoned in a search for areas less likely to be affected by conflict. With most of the industrial plant and commercial centres still out of action there is little regular work. Thousand of professional and skilled workers have left the country, once known as the 'switzerland of the Middle East.
A state of uneasy tension remains. Israeli aircraft have frequently struck at Palestinian bases this year, and there've been other violent outbreaks. Lebanon's Prime Minister, Elias Sarkis, who is at the Arab Summit, has said his country, and the entire Middle East, is threatened by great danger, if no solution is found.