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Lebanon Celebrates Anniversary of Liberation

Emile Lahoud (File photo)
Lebanon commemorated the end of the Israeli occupation of the south of the country Wednesday, with the majority of businesses and schools closing to mark the anniversary. But the president of Lebanon says efforts must continue to free the Shebaa Farms area from Israeli-control.

The 22-year Israeli occupation of South Lebanon officially ended five years ago, and during this year's anniversary celebrations many Lebanese say they have even more cause to feel free.

Earlier this week the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan certified that all Syrian troops have withdrawn from Lebanon and the country was free from all foreign forces.

A taxi driver in Beirut, Amin Tawal says this is the first Liberation Day in Lebanon without the presence of another country's troops.

"We are very happy here that the Israelis are out, the Syrians are out. As the Israelis left from here, you know if you have pain in your skin and you take it out, this is the feeling that something is gone from you and now you see that everything is okay and you will live very well. Everybody likes each other and this is a very good life now," Mr. Tawal said.

After five years, there are still remnants of the Israeli occupation. The shells of destroyed Israeli tanks litter the south, and are now giant, rusting reminders of the occupation.

Most of the events commemorating the Israeli pullout are held in the south. According to the local Daily Star newspaper, children in the south use the discarded Israeli tanks to reenact some of the final battle scenes between Hezbollah and Israel.

But even now, fighting continues between Israel forces and the Hezbollah militia in the Shebaa Farms border region. Lebanese president Emile Lahoud says Lebanon will continue fighting the Israel Defense Forces in this region because he says it is a "legitimate struggle" for Lebanese land.

Although President Lahoud has not deployed the national military in the fighting, he supports the efforts of Hezbollah, an organization the United States has classified as a terrorist group.

The United Nations says the Shebaa Farms area in dispute is actually part of Syria and is pushing for Hezbollah to engage in the disarmament campaign outlined in a Security Council resolution passed last year.