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Lebanese Army Arrives in the South


Lebanon's army is deploying south of the Litani river for the first time in decades. Meanwhile, two Lebanese political leaders lashed out at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, accusing him of trying to sow discord in Lebanon.

The Lebanese army began rolling out before dawn, heading to positions south of the Litani River, in towns and villages where they have had virtually no presence for the past 35 years.

Some 15,000 troops are being deployed to take the place of Hezbollah fighters who have dominated the area for more than 20 years. The Lebanese Army will be assisted by the 2,000 member U.N. force in south Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, which will be expanded in the coming weeks to about 15,000 peacekeepers.

Mohammad Chattah, an advisor to Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, called the Lebanese deployment historic and an important first step to permanent peace and security in south Lebanon.

In another positive development, two commercial flights landed at Beirut's international airport for the first time since the war broke out on July 12. The two passenger planes came from Amman, and Lebanese officials say they expect the number of flights to increase by next week.

Three ships also docked in Beirut and the north, bringing badly needed fuel for cars and generating electricity. Officials say the gasoline shortages that have been choking the country should begin subsiding in the coming days.

Israel is still maintaining an air, sea and land blockade on Lebanon, but Lebanese officials say they are working with the United Nations to get the blockade lifted.

Meanwhile, in Beirut, Saad Hariri, the son of former slain Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and the leader of the largest bloc in parliament, spoke about national unity and lashed out at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who criticized Hariri and other Lebanese leaders in a speech earlier this week.

At a gathering of hundreds of supporters, Hariri accused the Syrian leader of trying to sow strife in Lebanon to further his own interests.

Hariri said those responsible for his father's assassination are trying to instigate trouble in Lebanon, because they are afraid the U.N.-led international investigation into the Hariri killing will reveal the truth about their offenses.

Hariri, and many others in Lebanon, have directly accused Syria of orchestrating the car bombing that killed Rafik Hariri and 22 other people in February 2005. An on-going U.N. investigation has implicated several Syrian officials, but has not yet made any formal conclusions. Syria has denied involvement in the assassination.

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who is a harsh critic of Hezbollah's alliance with Syria and Iran, also made a televised address. Jumblatt said the Lebanese do not want Lebanon, specifically the south, to be a testing ground for pre-emptive wars by the United States and Israel against Iran and Syria.

He said the Iranians are trying to improve their negotiating position over their nuclear program on the rubble of the Lebanese people. He also accused the Syrian president of trying to avoid being hauled before an international tribunal for involvement in the Hariri assassination.

Jumblatt went on to scold Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, saying the government has included Hezbollah in all of its decisions, and Hezbollah should have consulted the government before dragging the country into a war with Israel.

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