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Lebanese Greet Cease-fire With Cautious Optimism


In the Lebanese capital, Beirut, the start of the cease-fire passed without fanfare. Many people in the capital remain skeptical that it will hold, but thousands of displaced people appeared more hopeful, leaving shelters and heading south.

As the cease-fire took effect at 8 a.m. local time, there was little evidence on Beirut streets that something significant was happening.

Following the World Cup final last month, Beirut's streets were gridlocked with cars wildly tooting horns in celebration. Monday, on Hamra Street, a shopping and banking hub, traffic was modest for rush hour, and motorists were not nearly as enthusiast as they were when Italy beat France in the football final.

Firas is a 26-year-old banker who is not confident the cease-fire will hold.

"For a short time, it will stick, because it has all the right ingredients," said Firas. "Long-term, no, I do not think so."

About 1,000 internally displaced people from south Lebanon and the nearby southern Shi'ite suburbs of Beirut have been camping in the open air for a month at Beirut's Sanayah Park. Living conditions at the park have been austere, with many families not even having a tent to protect them from the intense summer sun.

By midday, about 500 people had packed up and started to leave. Some were more hopeful than others that the conflict is really over.

Hussein had just finished packing his few possessions and family into his car, and the engine was running, as they prepared to head for the southern suburb of Shiyah.

He says, he wants the conflict to be solved, otherwise, the campaign should continue until there is a conclusion.

This man says he is concerned, because there are no assurances from Israel that the war is really over. He says, the only way to prevent the war from continuing is, if the international force arrives.

The roads to south Lebanon were jammed with cars, as people headed home to see what was left of their houses and villages. The U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Lebanon, David Shearer, warned people to use caution, because of unexploded bombs on southern roads.

"It has been estimated that around 10 percent of the shells fired from Israel into the south of Lebanon may not have gone off," said David Shearer. "And, this is obviously going to be very dangerous. In addition to this, we have had reports of cluster munitions being used, particularly around Nabatiyeh, and they are scattered all over the road."

In the southern Beirut suburb of Dahiyeh, which was repeatedly targeted by Israeli bombs during the 32-day-long conflict, people were beginning to return to assess the damage.

A bulldozer was clearing the rubble of one damaged building, while, nearby, men were sifting through the crumbled concrete, wires and debris that were the remains of another building. From the dusty mess, they salvaged what they could: books, videotapes, cassettes.

This woman was trying to enter a particularly damaged area to see if her home was still standing. She says, despite the devastation, she is very happy today, because the war is over and, she says, Hezbollah has won.

The Lebanese government has yet to work out how it will implement the U.N. resolution calling for the cease-fire and deployment of both Lebanese and international troops in southern Lebanon.

A Cabinet meeting scheduled for Sunday was postponed, triggering concern the government is divided on issues involving deploying the Lebanese army and disarming Hezbollah. The State Department designated terrorist group sparked the month-long violence by capturing two Israeli soldiers and firing rockets into the Jewish state from southern Lebanon.

Mohammad Chattah is a senior advisor to Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. He downplayed the concerns, saying different views over Hezbollah's weapons is not new.

"There is no national crisis," said Mohammad Chattah. "There are differences on how to approach this."

Chattah says he thinks these differences can be resolved. He added that the Lebanese government wants the U.N. resolution to work.

"The period between the on-set of cessation of hostilities and a more stable situation, with Israel withdrawn and the Lebanese army deployed, those days or week, or I do not know how long, is a very unstable, precarious situation," he said.

But Chattah stressed that the basic understanding within the Lebanese government is that there will be one armed authority in the country, and that will be the Lebanese army.

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