Israel has ended its three months' occupation of southern Lebanon. Israeli forces on Tuesday (13?
Israel has ended its three months' occupation of southern Lebanon. Israeli forces on Tuesday (13 June) handed over the border area to the control of the Lebanese Christian militia. Further north, as the Israelis gradually pulled out over the past two months, they have handed over to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL.
SYNOPSIS: Israeli troops moved into southern Lebanon on March 15th -- three days after a Palestinian raid into Israel had cost 37 lives. Supported by heavy guns, the Israelis occupied about 600 square miles (more than 1500 square kilometres) of territory which, they said, provided bases for Palestinian attacks.
The same day, Israeli aircraft bombed a settlement at Ouzai'i, well to the north, near Beirut airport. The Israelis said a jetty there was used by Palestinian commandos. At least 40 people died in the attack.
Lebanon appealed to the United Nations, which agreed to send in a peacekeeping force. The first U.N. troops, Iranians, were in Lebanon within a week. Swedish forces from Sinai and French paratroops quickly followed. By the end of March, they had taken up positions on the Litani river, the northern limit of the Israeli occupation.
Major-General Emmanuel Erskine, from Ghana, was appointed to command the U.N. troops. By the time 600 Nepalese had arrived, in mid-April, the force had grown to 2,500 men, out of the 4,000 it was originally decided to send. But the Israelis, as they prepared to hand over, had doubts about whether the U.N. force would be strong enough to the Palestinian guerrilla attacks. They began to withdraw, as the U.N. had instructed -- but not as fast as the Secretary General, Dr. Kurt Waldheim, would have liked. They said they could not afford to leave a vacuum.
Senegalese troops arrived at the beginning of May, and within a day or two had lost four men -- killed in two separate incidents by landmines. These were not the first casualties the U.N. force had suffered. A Swedish soldier was killed the same way at the end of March. Two Frenchmen died in clashes with Arab gunmen near Tyre. After these incidents, the Security Council decided to increase the force to 6,000 men.
It has taken the Israelis two months, since they began to hand over to the United Nations forces, to complete their withdrawal. This was mainly because of their lack of confidence in the capacity of the United Nations troops to stop the activities of the more militant Palestinian guerrilla groups (Mr. Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organisation is co-operating with the peace-keeping force). Now, said the Israeli commander at the final hand-over ceremony, they have carried out the Security Council's instructions and are leaving the area completely free from terrorists. He said it was up to United Nations to keep it that way.