LEBANON SENDS NATIONAL ARMY TO PATROL SOUTH
By JOHN KIFNER and ROBERT
Published: August 17, 2006
BEIRUT, Lebanon, Thursday, Aug. 17 — The Lebanese Army moved into the country’s south
at dawn on Thursday, a day after the cabinet approved the deployment under a United Nations-mandated cease-fire, but finessed
the delicate issue of disarming Hezbollah.
At several points, soldiers crossed the Litani River, about 15 miles north of the Israeli
border, into the long-held separate realm of Hezbollah.
A column of more than 100 trucks, troop carriers
and jeeps, flying red-and-white Lebanese flags, streamed through a makeshift bridge on the Litani to the town of Merj ’Uyun,
Reuters reported. Some vehicles towed artillery pieces, others carried troops and equipment.
Hezbollah fighters were not expected to resist
the soldiers, nor to hand over their weapons. Instead, they probably would simply put their weapons into hiding and melt away
into the civilian population.
The top Hezbollah field commander in the south,
Sheik Nabil Qaouk, said as much on Wednesday.
“Just like in the past, Hezbollah had
no visible military presence and there will not be any presence now,” Sheik Qaouk told reporters in the hard-hit port
city of Tyre.
He praised the army’s deployment, but
said Hezbollah would maintain its presence without displaying its arms. He added that since Israeli tanks were still in Lebanon, the guerrillas reserved the right to respond accordingly.
A Hezbollah representative in Parliament, Hassan Fadlallah, was equally insistent, telling Al Jazeera television that his organization would not pull back over the Litani, that the fate of its arsenal was not open to public
debate and that the army deployment had nothing to do with its presence.
Whether this approach would satisfy the terms
of the Security Council resolution that calls for the disarming of nongovernment forces, particularly in the eyes of Israel, the United States
and potential contributors to an international peacekeeping force, remained in doubt.
In Israel, skepticism about the plan was evident. Still, the Israeli Army said Wednesday
that it had started to hand over positions in Lebanon
to United Nations troops.
Hezbollah guerrillas, known in Lebanon as “the resistance,” have operated in
the south for years. They are almost entirely local men hardened by 18 years of Israeli occupation after its 1982 invasion.
During that time, they lived and worked in
their native villages, building an elaborate social-service network and extensive underground fortifications and stashes of
modern weaponry that astounded Israel
in a month of bitter fighting. “No one knew they had these things, not the military, not the intelligence,” said
an equally astonished Lebanese Army general, speaking privately.
After the vote by the cabinet, which has two
Hezbollah ministers, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora went on television with a lengthy, sometimes emotional, appeal for unity,
expressing a wan hope that Hezbollah’s arms would somehow disappear. The army deployment, he said, would end a “mentality
“There will be a single state,”
he said, “with the sole decision-making power. There will be no dual authority. There will be no armed presence outside
state authority,” he said without referring to Hezbollah by name. “Any failure to carry out this right will risk
our country’s becoming the scene of regional and international conflicts.”
In Israel there were, to say the least, strong doubts about the plan.
Danny Yatom, a Parliament member who is a former
director of the Mossad intelligence service, said, “There is no doubt that Hezbollah must follow the decision in its
entirety, and it is the responsibility of the Americans and the French as well as the other members of the Security Council
and the government of Lebanon to bring about the disarmament of Hezbollah and have it driven up north past the Litani.”
A Likud member, Yuval Steinitz, said: “Whoever
does not complete the annihilation of the enemy must not be surprised that the enemy does not volunteer to annihilate itself.
Israel should have taken over southern Lebanon
and cleaned out Hezbollah several weeks ago, and unless this is done now, Israel
will be forced to do it sometime in the future.”
Amid the growing debate in Israel over the handling of the war, Israel’s
defense minister, Amir Peretz, appointed a panel to investigate how the military and the ministry had performed. The panel
will be headed by Ammon Lipkin-Shahak, a former army chief of staff, and will include a number of other retired generals.
Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy of France met in Beirut with Mr.
Siniora to discuss the possible composition and dispatch of a strengthened United Nations force. France is expected to form the backbone of the force, but it is still uncertain
what other nations will join the effort, which is expected to number about 15,000 troops. Some 45 countries have expressed
the German government said it would not send troops but would provide policing for the Syrian border, naval patrols and engineers
to rebuild bombed bridges.
In the hard-hit Shiite suburbs south of Beirut, Hezbollah supporters fanned out to assess war damage. Around
them, residents and visitors wandered in stunned silence through a charred, bombed-out landscape. Someone had hung a banner
with the words “Made in U.S.A.”
over the ruins of a collapsed building.
Here and there, gunmen could be seen watching
over the streets. But the group’s army of civilian volunteers and its advance plans for rebuilding were far more apparent.
One man walked down a rubble-strewn street
holding a stack of damage assessment forms. He carried a baseball cap with the name and symbol of Jihad al Binaa, the Hezbollah
reconstruction committee. “This not overnight work,” said the volunteer, a 30-year-old architect who declined
to give his name. “The work being done now was prepared over the past month, with the collaboration of architects and
His map included numbers for each building
on the small sector he had been assigned. There were forms for each building, with spaces for the names of every resident
and a description of damage to the units and needs. Photographs were being taken, to be used as comparison after the rebuilding
has been done, he said.
He is one of 250 to 300 architects and engineers
already assessing damage, he said, and the group hopes to finish 70 percent of that work in the Dahia, or Shiite suburban
area, this week. Then will come the second and third phases, he said, with the group reimbursing residents for damage and
The plans also include a strong dose of publicity
for Hezbollah. A few blocks away, volunteers had set up a tent and plastic chairs for the news media, and Ghassan Darwish,
the group’s Beirut information officer, was giving interviews.
The group divided the Dahia into 70 districts,
each with two to four buildings in it, Mr. Darwish said. The goal was to get people back into their homes, or into alternative
houses, or to give them enough cash to rent another apartment, within 72 hours, he said. In the meantime, a team of architects
was being assembled, he said, from Dubai, Qatar,
Egypt and Syria as well
as Lebanon, to reconstruct the entire
Dahia within a year. The money, he said, was coming from “people who hate Israel
and believe in the resistance.”
“There is contact between us and the
government,” Mr. Darwish said. “But we won’t wait for the bureaucracy. These are the people who protected
the resistance, and we believe they have the right to roofs over their heads within 24 hours.”
Down the street, Amina Qausan, a 39-year-old
shopkeeper in a gray abaya, looked through the ruins of her clothing store. The floor was littered with glass and rubble,
and the walls had come down in the back of the shop. The women’s dresses she sells were covered with dust.
“There has been no theft, and this is
because of the good men of the resistance,” she said. “In every place there are people who commit crimes, but
with Hezbollah patrolling that cannot happen.”
At least 200,000 people have already returned
to the Dahia area, said Robin Lodge of the United Nations World Food Program, which is providing aid throughout Lebanon.
Although Hezbollah is aiming to draw new support
with its rebuilding campaign, some say the group could suffer as the reality of the war’s damage sinks in.
“For the next two or three years, Hezbollah
will be like the Salvation Army, tied up in rebuilding,” said Michael Young, the opinion editor at The Daily Star, an
English-language newspaper published in Beirut. “But
the party cannot put Shiites through such trauma again for the foreseeable future, maybe a decade, which means its ability
to attack Israel will be limited. The
reason Hezbollah is so eager to rebuild is that they know the condition of Shiites today could turn the community against
them if it’s not dealt with effectively.”