Former Egyptian consul to Israel escapes attempt on life
MARJAYOUN, Lebanon: Lebanese troops, tanks and armored vehicles deployed south of the Litani River on Thursday, a key provision of the UN cease-fire plan that ended fighting between Israel and Hezbollah. The deployment marks a first step toward extending government control in a region Lebanese troops have largely avoided for four decades.
Lebanon s Cabinet on Wednesday approved the plan to deploy army troops south of the Litani River, but the government said soldiers would not hunt down Hezbollah militants and would not try to disarm them. In southern Lebanon, Lebanese troops 10 ten armored carriers mounted on flatbed trucks drove across a newly installed metal bridge over the Litani at dawn, escorted by several military vehicles. The bridge was built by the army to replace a structure that was bombed by Israeli warplanes during the 34-day offensive.
There will be no confrontation between the army and brothers in Hezbollah … That is not the army s mission, said Information Minister Ghazi Aridi after the two-hour Cabinet meeting. They are not going to chase or, God forbid, exact revenge.
The deployment, while falling short of UN and Israeli insistence on Hezbollah s disarmament, is a major step in meeting demands that militants be removed from the Jewish state s northern frontier. The army deployment marks the extension of government sovereignty over the whole country for the first time since 1969, when a weak Lebanese government sanctioned Palestinian militant cross-border attacks on Israel.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Israel is keeping its commitments in the UN cease-fire resolution and expects Lebanon to do the same.
That resolution clearly calls for the creation of a Hezbollah-free zone south of the Litani River, and anything less would mean that the resolution is not being implemented, he said.
In Egypt, A former Egyptian consul in Israel told on Thursday how he had narrowly escaped an attempt to kill him in a Cairo street, with the would-be assassin being his younger brother. Ambassador Hassan Issa told Egyptian papers that his brother Ali had previously threatened him with death several times for his apostasy in taking the post of consul general in Eilat, southern Israel. At the end of last month, while the Israel military was carrying out its deadly offensive against Lebanon and Hezbollah, his brother tried to run him down in an avenue in Mohandiseen residential district. The ambassador said he had managed to avoid the vehicle but that his head had hit the windscreen and he lost consciousness. Another brother who was with him took him to a nearby hospital. Meanwhile, passersby caught the younger brother and took him to the police. My brother has been released. There will be a trial although I do not know when, said the diplomat. He blamed a fundamentalist preacher, Omar Abdul Qafi, whose sister Ali married. Abdul Qafi, who was known for his inflammatory preaching in the 1990s and forced to leave Egypt, now lives in Dubai. I want to turn the page, forget all this which is very painful, said Issa. Meanwhile, under the cease-fire agreement that has been in effect since Monday, Israel was to transfer control of its positions in southern Lebanon to the UN force known as Unifil, which would then turn them over to the Lebanese army. The UN plan calls for the Lebanese force to reach 15,000 and to be joined eventually by an equal number of international peacekeepers to patrol the region between the Israeli border and the Litani River.
In Marjayoun, a key town near the Israeli border that was briefly occupied by Israeli forces during their incursion into Lebanon, flatbed trucks carrying 20 Lebanese tanks arrived early Thursday along with a dozen trucks loaded with troops and hoisting Lebanese flags.
Residents welcomed the troops in Marjayoun and nearby villages, a largely Christian area where Hezbollah s Shiite Muslim militants have little support.
Today is a new beginning for us in south Lebanon, said George Najm, a 23-year-old from nearby Qleia. We ll need some time to feel safe but it s a great start.
Lebanese Brig. Gen. Charles Sheikhani, speaking outside the Marjayoun barracks where the Israeli military headquarters were based during Israel s 18-year occupation from 1982-2000, said the entire 10th Brigade of 2,500 men he commands would be in charge of a region.
The troops also traveled to Qleia, where they set up a command post and surveyed damage caused by the fighting. Some soldiers sat under trees, smoking and drinking tea or coffee while they waited for orders. Officers said they were expected to fan out to surrounding villages on Friday. They also drove further south to Bourj Al-Moulouk. Since 1968, the army has not come here. This is our first time since then, Sheikhani said.
The Israeli military began handing over positions to the United Nations early Thursday, stepping up its withdrawal from southern Lebanon. More than 50 percent of the areas Israel holds have been transferred already, the military said.
The Lebanese government ordered the army to insure respect for the Blue Line, the UN-demarcated border between Lebanon and Israel, and apply the existing laws with regard to any weapons outside the authority of the Lebanese state.
That provision does not require Hezbollah to give up its arms, but rather directs them to keep them off the streets. The Cabinet session to implement the cease-fire was twice delayed because two Hezbollah members of the government objected to enforcement of the key UN demand that the militant force be disarmed.
Meanwhile, two Lebanese farmers were killed Thursday when one of them stepped on a land mine in a banana plantation in south Lebanon, security officials said. In the port city of Tyre, a 76-year-old man, Hassan Karouny, was pulled out from under the rubble of his house.
The latest deaths brought the Lebanese death toll rose to at least 845, assembled from reports by security and police officials, doctors, civil defense workers, morgue attendants and the military.
The Israeli toll was 157, according to its military and government.