Lebanon Sets Israel Pullout Rules
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Lebanon on Wednesday announced conditions for its cooperation with Israel’s troop pullout from the country’s south _ demands that could hamper efforts for a peaceful withdrawal by summer.
In a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Lebanese President Emile Lahoud said U.N. troops would need to help in disarming Palestinian guerrillas and that the United Nations must guarantee his nation’s territorial sovereignty.
The presidential letter, released by the government Wednesday, sought answers from the United Nations ``before Lebanon decides to discuss other details.″
That was a clear indication by Lebanon that it will not coordinate the withdrawal with the United Nations before its concerns are addressed.
Israel has occupied 10 percent of Lebanese territory, along Lebanon’s southern border, as a buffer against guerrilla attacks on northern Israel, since another invasion of the country in 1982.
Israel, whose army has come under increasing guerrilla attacks in southern Lebanon, has said it plans to withdraw its troops with or without an agreement with Syria, the main power broker in this country.
The Lebanese government has not said whether it will deploy army troops in the south to ensure stability and has refused to give Israel any post-withdrawal security guarantees. Israeli leaders have threatened harsh retaliation against Lebanon if guerrillas stage attacks on northern Israeli towns after a pullout.
Lahoud’s letter came in response to word that Israel intended to withdraw its troops from the south by July.
In a meeting in Geneva on Tuesday, Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy assured Annan that Israel will cooperate with U.N. peacekeeping forces stationed in south Lebanon during the withdrawal.
American-brokered Syrian-Israeli peace talks have been stalled, making an agreement before the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon less likely.
Israel has accused Syria of using Lebanese guerrilla attacks on Israeli forces in southern Lebanon to put pressure on the Jewish state to make a deal to give back the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau Damascus lost in the 1967 Middle East war.
Meanwhile, a Lebanese citizen held for nearly 10 years in Israel was released Wednesday.
Ghassan Dirani, 35, was handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross at the Lebanese army checkpoint at Kfar Falous, a crossing in southern Lebanon between the government-controlled territory and the Israeli-occupied zone, Lebanese security officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity.
Dirani, a distant relative of Mustafa Dirani, a Lebanese guerrilla leader held by Israel since 1994, was arrested by the Israeli-allied Lebanese Forces militia in 1987 and taken to Israel in 1990.
The reason for Ghassan Dirani’s detention has not been disclosed.