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Lebanese Soldiers Take Positions Along Southern Border


Lebanese army troops took up positions along Israel's border on Friday as part of the U.N.- mediated ceasefire in Lebanon. The development comes as violence flared in the Palestinian territories.

Lebanese soldiers took up positions in the village of Shebaa near the disputed enclave known as Shebaa Farms. The territory is claimed by Lebanon, but occupied by Israel, which says it is part of the Golan Heights and actually belongs to Syria. Israel seized the area during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Shebaa Farms has long been a flashpoint for conflict in the region. Hezbollah militants cite Israel's continued presence there as a justification for their attacks on Israel, such as the one that sparked the current conflict on July 12 when Hezbollah militants seized two Israeli soldiers.

So far, the 2,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, has not been reinforced. U.N. officials say they plan to send 13,000 additional troops to Lebanon to help Lebanon's army demilitarize southern Lebanon and stop the flow of weapons to Hezbollah militants. They say they hope to have an advance force of 3,500 troops to Lebanon within two weeks. Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Yigal Palmor says the longer the delay, the more chance for instability in southern Lebanon.

"We do not understand why the international community is not stepping up the pace of organizing around this question. If they go on postponing the organization of this force and its deployment, it will only mean that the council's resolution will not be carried out as planned and we will stay a bit longer," he said. "This will give Hezbollah the chance to foment some instability and violence around the border and that is certainly not in anybody's interest."

Meanwhile, Israel says it killed two Palestinian militants Friday after a two-hour standoff near the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

Aides to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told newspapers Friday that because of the conflict in Lebanon Israel was putting on hold its plan to withdraw from large parts of the West Bank, and demarcate its border with the Palestinians - a proposal that was broadly endorsed by Israeli voters when they elected Mr. Olmert prime minister in national elections on March 28.