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UN Arranged Truce Holds in South Lebanon


A U.N. mediated truce is holding in southern Lebanon, following clashes Sunday that left at least two Hezbollah guerrillas dead and two Israeli soldiers wounded.

Calm prevails along the Israel-Lebanon border, after heavy rocket and artillery exchanges on Sunday. The clashes were the heaviest to occur along the border since Israeli forces withdrew from Lebanon in 2000.

The clashes began after Hezbollah guerrillas reportedly fired Katyusha rockets from Lebanese positions at an Israeli air force base and border outposts.

Israeli forces responded with heavy artillery fire, destroying a number of Hezbollah military positions in the area. After intensive discussions with U.N. diplomats, the clashes subsided. U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon senior advisor Milos Strugar says the area remains tense.

"So, the situation is still fragile and tense, but we are hopeful the cease-fire is taking firmer ground," said Strugar.

Tensions in the area rose dramatically last week, after a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant was killed by a car bomb in the southern Lebanese city of Sidon. Palestinian militants immediately blamed Israel for the incident, but Israeli officials say they were not involved.

With a large force of U.N. peacekeepers stationed along the Israel-Lebanon border, southern Lebanon has been relatively trouble-free recently, despite the presence of large numbers of Hezbollah guerrillas, Palestinian militants and Israeli troops in the area.

Milos Strugar of the U.N. says he believes there is a commitment among most parties in the area to reduce tensions.

"I think that, in general, there is a political will to keep it quiet. I think, all the parties have a commitment to maintaining a cease-fire and quiet along the blue line [Israel-Lebanon border]. I do not see anyone who has an interest in having a major military escalation at this stage," he commented.

U.N. and U.S. officials have called for Lebanon to implement a Security Council resolution that would disarm all groups in the area, but Lebanon has refused, calling Hezbollah a legitimate resistance movement fighting Israel.

Ha'aretz, a leading Israeli newspaper, reports Iran has given Hezbollah rockets with a range of 200 kilometers, capable of striking all major Israeli cities.

Israeli defense officials will not comment publicly on the specific nature of the report, but say Hezbollah's access to Iranian weapons is a growing threat to peace and security in the region.

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