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Israel Sees Peace Opening with Lebanon

  • Larry James

Israel has welcomed the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, which is due to be completed by Tuesday.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom says the departure of the Syrian forces opens the way for peace with Lebanon.

Mr. Shalom says there are no real obstacles standing in the way of normal relations between Israel and Lebanon, so there is no reason why peace cannot be made. He told Israel Radio on Monday that he plans to unveil a new peace initiative, soon.

Sunday, Syrian soldiers evacuated a checkpoint in the Bekaa Valley that they had held since entering Lebanon, 29 years ago. A day earlier, dozens of trucks carrying hundreds of Syrian soldiers and at least 150 armored vehicles completed the largest single movement since Damascus announced it would withdraw its forces.

Syria's chief of military intelligence in Lebanon, Major General Rustom Ghazale, willhold an official ceremony Tuesday to mark the completion of his country's evacuation of military forces from Lebanon.

Syria began withdrawing from Lebanon last month, following international and Lebanese pressure in the wake of the February 14th assassination of former PrimeMinister Rafik Hariri in Beirut.

Anti-Syrian opposition leaders accused Damascus and Lebanon's pro-Syrian government of having played a role in the assassination - a charge both have denied.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says he plans to delay the release of a report onSyria's withdrawal until Tuesday, so the United Nations can confirm the pullout ofall Syrian forces.

Any change in relations between Israeli and Lebanon would focus renewed attentionon the role of the Lebanese-based guerrilla group Hezbollah. Hezbollah militants periodically fire into the disputed Shebaa Farms area, along the Lebanese-Israeli border. Israel and the United States consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

But, Hezbollah is also an important political grouping in Lebanon and is credited by many Lebanese with having forced Israel to pull its forces out of Lebanon in 2000.