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Israel Postpones Lebanon Pullout


Israel has postponed plans for a final pullout from Lebanon. Israel is worried that the Islamic guerrilla group Hezbollah is digging in for another round of conflict, and that international forces are not doing enough to stop it.

Israel had planned to pull all its troops out of Lebanon by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which begins on Sunday. But six weeks after the ceasefire that ended 34 days of war with Hezbollah, Israel is reluctant to withdraw because of disagreements over border security.

Officials say several issues remain unresolved, including the role of international and Lebanese peacekeeping forces, and the status of Hezbollah guerrillas.

The peacekeepers will eventually number 30,000 troops, and, under a U.N. mandate, their mission is to form a buffer between Israeli forces and Hezbollah on the border in South Lebanon.

But the international force has no mandate to disarm Hezbollah, and Israel says that creates a dangerous situation.

"When the Hezbollah leadership feels that its position is weakening, due to the growing international presence in southern Lebanon, it's very likely that they may try to force a small-scale confrontation with Israel," said Israeli analyst Shlomo Shpiro.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has boasted that his fighters remain dug-in in South Lebanon, and have no intention of leaving. And, he says, they still have 12,000 rockets.

Considering that Hezbollah fired 4,000 rockets at Israel during the war, Shpiro says it is a serious threat.

"They're certainly capable of doing a lot of the stuff they did before the war," he said. "Their troops are there; their equipment and weapons are there. The situation is very volatile."

That volatility is evident in almost daily protests on the border by Hezbollah supporters. A few dozen people waving Hezbollah flags have been throwing rocks at Israeli army vehicles patrolling the border fence. Israel has warned U.N. commanders that, if they do not take action, the protests could escalate into cross-border fighting.

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