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Efforts Under Way to Assemble International Peacekeeping Force for Southern Lebanon


The three-day-old truce in Lebanon continued to hold as diplomats scrambled to assemble an international peacekeeping force to police the ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah militants. Israel's top general says some Israeli troops might have to stay in Lebanon for months to come.

Israel's Defense Forces chief, Air Force Lieutenant-General Dan Halutz, told a parliamentary committee that some Israeli troops could stay in Lebanon for months - if it takes that long to get international peacekeepers into positions in southern Lebanon. Halutz made his comments as some Israeli units in Lebanon continued their drawdown of forces.

Israeli commanders had said they hoped to have Israeli troops out of Lebanon by the end of next week, but Halutz says Israel could stop withdrawing its troops altogether unless Lebanon's army deploys in southern Lebanon as called for by U.N. resolution 1701, passed last Friday by the Security Council.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan met with Israeli officials about the deployment of the peacekeepers. In an interview with Israeli television, the U.N. chief said the deployment could be slower than expected.

"We are trying to move them [international peacekeepers] as quickly as possible," he said. "Once we have deployed, it may take weeks or months, but we are trying to move them as quickly as we can."

Under the U.N.-mediated cease fire, 13,000 peacekeepers will join the 2,000-member U.N. force already in Lebanon. The peacekeepers are supposed to help the Lebanese army demilitarize southern Lebanon and stop the flow of weapons to Hezbollah.

U.N. diplomats say they hope to have the first contingent of 3,500 peacekeepers in Lebanon in two weeks, but Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor says Israel is growing increasingly concerned about the delays.

"We thought it would be constituted rather quickly and it would be deployed in a matter of weeks. And now it turns out that things will not be as efficient and quick as promised. If that is the case, then the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] will have to remain on some part of Lebanese territory. This is not something we want. The Security Council resolution does state very clearly that the pullout of Israel will be done in parallel to the deployment of the international force. As long as they are not deploying, we cannot pull out," said spokesman Yigal Palmor.

Meanwhile a new poll out in Israel says 70 percent of Israelis are opposed to a cease fire that does not obtain the release of the two Israeli soldiers who were abducted by Hezbollah militants on July 12, sparking the crisis. The poll also says nearly 70 percent of Israelis support an official inquiry into how the war was conducted.

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