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Lebanese Troops to Deploy South Thursday


Late Wednesday, Lebanon's government approved a plan to deploy the army south of the Litani River beginning Thursday morning. Lebanese officials say the army will not force Hezbollah fighters to disarm, but insist there will be no weapons outside the control of the government.

Wednesday night's cabinet meeting had been postponed for several days after reports of divisions within the government over whether Hezbollah should be disarmed.

In the end, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora never mentioned Hezbollah directly during his televised address following the meeting, but he said there would be no weapons outside the control of the Lebanese state. He added that the Lebanese army would have access to all parts of the country, and there would be no armed presence other than that of the Lebanese army.

In addition to the 15,000 Lebanese troops being deployed to the south, an expanded force of up to 15,000 United Nations peacekeepers are expected to deploy there.

France's defense minister said Wednesday that her country is ready to take command of that force until February.

Speaking in Beirut earlier in the day, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said that his country would commit troops to the peacekeeping force, but he did not say how many.

He also called for Israel to lift its air, sea and land blockade of Lebanon, saying it is unnecessary with the U.N. ceasefire plan holding.

Meanwhile, thousands of Lebanese who fled the month-long fighting between Israel and Hezbollah continued to jam the broken and battered roads back to their towns and villages, which were in the heart of the fighting in southern Lebanon.

A U.N. spokeswoman in Beirut says 40,000 Lebanese have crossed the border from Syria since Monday. U.N. officials also say schools and public parks that had been used as shelters during the fighting are now nearly empty. But officials continue to warn that the south remains extremely dangerous, particularly due to the large number of unexploded bombs.

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