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Israel's Military Beginning Withdrawal from Lebanon


Israel has begun pulling its forces out from southern Lebanon. It also has made plans to hand over territory as the ceasefire with Hezbollah guerrillas is generally holding. Lebanon says its soldiers and international peacekeepers will begin deploying in the southern part of the country within days.

Israeli soldiers have pulled out of Marjayoun -- a town they captured last week. Army officials say Israel hopes to complete the evacuation of its forces by next week. Under the ceasefire agreement, Israeli troops are to withdraw and the Lebanese Army and United Nations peacekeepers will control a buffer zone to keep Hezbollah fighters away from the border.

Iran and Syria are the major backers of Hezbollah. Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres says his country is trying to reduce tensions and prevent Lebanon from becoming an Iranian-controlled state. "We feel the battle is over, but not the challenge,” said Mr. Peres. “We shall still have to do, all of us, to repair the damages, to repair the relations both within the Middle East, not to let the Iranians take over the Middle East."

Peres says Hezbollah has been weakened and Israel had no choice but to end the fighting. But Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah says his fighters won a strategic, historic victory over Israel.

In Damascas, Syrian President Bashar Assad lashed out at U.S. President George W. Bush, saying his plan for a new Middle East has collapsed. He says it is a result of what he calls Hezbollah's success in its war against Israel. The Syrian leader says Israel had long been planning to fight Hezbollah and resistance to Israel is legitimate.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch says Hezbollah made a big mistake by attacking Israel and paid for it. He blamed Syria and Iran for contributing to the situation.

"The most important protection for Lebanon would be if Syria and Iran themselves observed the terms of the resolution,” said Welch. “This resolution calls for countries not to introduce weapons into Lebanon and, therefore, quite apart from what the government of Lebanon does or UNIFIL does, they have a responsibility under this decision.

Displaced residents of Israel and Lebanon are coming back to their homes. Busloads of Israelis are returning to Kiryat Shmona in northern Israel. More than half the population fled during the fighting after hundreds of Hezbollah rockets hit the town.

In Lebanon, thousands of people are returning home to piles of rubble, trying to salvage what they can find. Some are looking for their loved ones who may have died.

One distraught resident said, "We're looking for my father, who's been missing since the first day of the war. We don't know what happened to him. We've searched all over for him. Where should we look now? Under the rubble? We need bulldozers to remove all this. What can I do know? I've lost my father."

Israel dropped more leaflets on Lebanon's second largest city, Tyre, warning people not to return home until Lebanese and international forces are deployed.

Aid agencies in Lebanon continue to provide humanitarian aid. At the Beirut port, Mike Wood with the U.N. World Food Program said a convoy was headed south. "It's going to be loaded with trucks full of food, water and also some diesel to resupply humanitarian hub down there and to push further convoys into the south to help civilians who have been displaced by the war."

But relief agencies worry about how they are going to move supplies over bombed-out roads and others clogged with traffic.

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