Israel has pulled nearly all of its forces out of Lebanon, strengthening a ceasefire between the Jewish state and the Hezbollah. The chief of the U.N. force in Lebanon says some Israeli troops remain in a village, which straddles the border between Lebanon and Israeli-occupied Syrian territory, but expects those troops to leave later this week.
Israeli tanks kicked up clouds of dust as they passed coils of barbed wire and crossed the border into Israel. The last Israeli troops padlocked the gate on the border fence, 81 days after Israel invaded Lebanon in response to the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah guerrillas. The month-long war ended with a U.N.-backed ceasefire in mid-August.
The troops arrived home just in time for the holiest day on the Jewish calendar: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, began at dusk on Sunday.
Israeli army Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Dan Halutz.
"I'm very happy that our soldiers left Lebanon," Halutz told Israel Radio, adding that the army handed security over to a U.N.-led international force. Eventually, 15,000 international and 15,000 Lebanese troops will deploy in South Lebanon to police the ceasefire.
However, Israel believes the international force does not have a strong enough mandate to deal with Hezbollah fighters, who remain dug-in in South Lebanon. Israeli analyst Shlomo Shpiro says that means Hezbollah can spark another war.
"The Hezbollah people are there. A lot of the weaponry that they had is still hidden in caves and bunkers, and there are no signs that the international force is going to do anything about it in the near future," Shpiro says.Israel failed to achieve its goal of dealing a knockout blow to Hezbollah, which fired more than four-thousand rockets across the border during the war. Therefore, many Israelis believe it is just a matter of time until the next round of conflict.