Arab foreign ministers to meet in Egypt on Sunday
BEIRUT: Foreign ministers arrived in Beirut on Wednesday to help plan the assembly of a 15,000-strong international force to oversee peacekeeping efforts in Lebanon. An explosive left over from the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah killed a man.
The international force would work with an equal number of Lebanese soldiers to police the cease-fire that took hold Monday morning and ended 34 days of close combat, Israeli air strikes and Hezbollah rocket barrages.
The diplomatic maneuvers came as the Israeli army withdrew some troops from south Lebanon while Lebanese troops prepared to move across the Litani River on Thursday to take control of the war-ravaged region from Shiite Muslim guerrillas.
Arab foreign ministers will meet at Arab League headquarters in Egypt on Sunday for talks on Lebanon, a spokesman said on Wednesday.
The spokesman said the ministers, who last met in Beirut during the war between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas, would discuss whether to hold an emergency summit of Arab leaders and how they could contribute to rebuilding Lebanon.
I am sure the Lebanese will be giving a report, Arab League spokesman Alaa Rushdy said.
It will be clear what the trends are, what is going on the ground, if the ceasefire is holding, if the Israelis are withdrawing and the Lebanese army is going in.
Convening an emergency summit of Arab leaders would require agreement of two thirds of the League s 22 members.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy and his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, arrived in Beirut for talks. A delegation of the 56-country Organization of the Islamic Conference traveled to Beirut by land from Syria.
It was led by Malaysia s foreign minister, Syed Hamid Albar, and Pakistan s top diplomat, Khursheed Kasuri.
In a sign of lingering danger in south Lebanon, security officials said an explosive detonated Wednesday in the town of Nabatiyeh, killing a 20-year-old man. The victim, Ali Turkieh, stepped on the bomb outside his family home. A girl in the area was injured by explosives a day earlier.
The UN hopes 3,500 international troops can reinforce a UN contingent already on the ground within 10 to 15 days to help consolidate the cease-fire and create conditions for Israeli forces to head home, Assistant UN Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Hedi Annabi said.
Journalists on Tuesday witnessed about 500 Israeli soldiers on foot crossing the border back into Israel near the Israeli town of Malkiya. Some smiled broadly, while others wept.
France was expected to lead the international force. The Italian foreign minister has already visited Beirut and pledged as many as 3,000 troops. Indonesia and a dozen other countries have expressed a willingness to help.
However, it remained unclear how quickly a full force could be deployed to Lebanon.
The process currently involves three armies on the ground and is complicated, given that those of Lebanon and Israel do not have direct contact and a third and central player, Hezbollah militants, will not be involved.
The 2,000-strong UN peacekeeping force, known as Unifil, has been in south Lebanon for over two decades was to temporarily take up positions along the border.
The zone along the frontier would then be handed to Lebanese troops and the greatly reinforced Unifil force once all Israeli soldiers have withdrawn, UN officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the operations.
It will be a gradual withdrawal. … It will take couple of days, even up to one week, a Unifil officer told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
We agreed with the Lebanese army that it will start deploying as the Israelis start withdrawing. It could be as early as Thursday, maybe a slight delay, he said.
Those plans, however, depend on the Lebanese government giving the order for the army to move south of the Litani. The Cabinet has been unable to meet on the issue since the cease-fire because of divisions over what should be done about Hezbollah s arms in the south.
The arrangement taking shape among Lebanese politicians, military officials and Hezbollah would call for militants to not carry weapons or use their heavily fortified bunkers to fire rockets. There would be no requirement to move weapons north of the Litani, for the time being.
Lebanese refugees, meanwhile, streamed back to the south to learn what had become of their homes and livelihoods. Many found scenes of near total destruction.
At least 15 bodies more bodies were found Tuesday in two villages near the border, Ainata and Taibeh. Lebanese authorities and Hezbollah sent teams across south Lebanon to clear explosives from the battlefield.
At least 810 people were killed in Lebanon during the 34-day campaign, most of them civilians. Israel suffered 157 dead, including 118 soldiers.
Cars full of displaced people poured into southern Lebanon just hours after the truce took effect Monday, and traffic was still heavy Wednesday on the coastal highway leading south from Beirut.
Many cars had mattresses strapped on their roofs, and some passengers waved Hezbollah flags and pictures of the group s leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. Some young men handed out bumper stickers with Hezbollah propaganda.
Israel said it would continue its blockade of Lebanese ports but was no longer threatening to shoot any car that moved on roads south of the Litani. Warplanes dropped leaflets north of the Litani warning refugees not to head further south, saying the situation will remain dangerous before international forces deploy.
Relief agencies struggled to move supplies to the south over bombed roads and others clogged with traffic. UN officials said Tuesday that 24 UN trucks took more than five hours to reach the port of Tyre from Sidon, a trip that normally takes 45 minutes.
Life in northern Israel began returning to normal, as soldiers left Lebanon and headed south, crossing paths with civilians traveling in the opposite direction, back to the homes they abandoned weeks ago under Hezbollah rocket fire. At one main junction, teenage girls handed out flowers to the returning soldiers.
In the battered Israeli town of Kiryat Shemona, residents emerged from their grimy bomb shelters and began cleaning up the wreckage caused by more than a month of Hezbollah rocket attacks.
The cease-fire has been tested by skirmishes and mortar. Hezbollah guerrillas fired at least 10 mortars Tuesday, but none crossed the border into Israel. It said two skirmishes broke out in which Israeli troops shot five guerrillas, though it was not clear if they were wounded or killed. A day earlier, six militants were killed.
Israel s military officials said it has 13 Hezbollah prisoners and the bodies of dozens of militants that could be offered in exchange for two captive soldiers, who were taken in a cross-border raid July 12 that touched off the worst Arab-Israeli battles in 24 years. Agencies