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Peacekeepers Deploy on Israel Border

August 5, 2000

MARJAYOUN, Lebanon (AP) _ U.N. peacekeepers began fanning out Saturday all along the Lebanese-Israeli border, setting up posts in areas long controlled by Israel and its allied militiamen.

Units of the 5,000-member force in white armored vehicles started expanding their deployment at 6 a.m. for an operation expected to last more than two months.

Finnish peacekeepers, backed by five armored vehicles, set up a position across from the Israeli border town of Metulla. Other peacekeepers moved into a border area near the village of Taibeh.

In a reassuring move for residents of former strongholds of the Israeli-backed militia, Indian soldiers moved into position four miles north of the Israeli border between the Christian towns of Marjayoun and Qlaiaa. Capt. Kumara Dhas said his men were readying another position in the area.

``This is good. Now, we can move freely,″ said Munif Lahham, who lives on Marjayoun’s main street.

The town served as headquarters for the South Lebanon Army, a 2,500-member militia that collapsed with Israel’s May 24 withdrawal from southern Lebanon.

Most of the SLA’s fighters surrendered to authorities and are being tried in military courts for collaboration with Israel. Other officers were among 7,000 Lebanese, many of them Christian residents of Qlaiaa and Marjayoun, who fled to Israel for fear of retribution by the Muslim guerrillas.

The former Israeli-occupied zone has been under the effective control of anti-Israeli guerrillas _ the militant Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim Hezbollah, the pro-Syrian Shiite Amal and an assortment of leftist and communist groups.

Overall, the guerrillas have acted with restraint and there have been very few incidents of revenge. But there have been cases of intimidation involving Lebanese accused of collaborating with the Israelis. There also have been tensions at the border fence, with Israel warning Lebanon it must stop civilians from throwing stones at Israeli soldiers on the other side.

In announcing the deployment, the U.N. force said Friday its main aim ``will be to instill confidence among the local inhabitants.″

U.N. troops had taken up positions at six points along the border in the past two weeks, but Lebanon had refused to allow a full deployment until it ensured that Israel was no longer violating the international border with military patrols, positions and fence encroachments. President Emile Lahoud gave the go-ahead last week.

The U.N. force said troops that had been deployed further north would take up 20 new positions in the border area and would expand some existing positions.

Despite the assurances peacekeepers provide, some residents say it is Lebanese army forces they will be most pleased to see. Beirut has promised to send 1,000 soldiers to the former Israeli-occupied zone after the U.N. deployment.

``We want the Lebanese army. We are suffocating. We need the army to lift our spirits,″ said Mohammed Meri, a 35-year-old Marjayoun resident.

Saturday’s deployment fulfills the mandate of the U.N. force for the first time since it was created by the Security Council after a 1978 Israeli invasion. It also brings a strong international presence to the border area for the first time since the late 1960s, when Palestinian guerrillas turned southern Lebanon into a launching pad for attacks on Israel.

Israel invaded twice _ in 1978 and 1982 _ to push back the guerrillas and after 1985 controlled a buffer zone to keep the guerrillas away from its border. But a guerrilla war led by Hezbollah weakened Israel’s resolve and Prime Minister Ehud Barak ordered the troops home in May.

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