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Israeli Troops to Finish Pullout by Weekend
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Israel's military chief said Tuesday that Israel plans to withdraw all remaining troops from Lebanon by this weekend, meeting a key requirement of a cease-fire that ended its recent 34-day war against Hezbollah guerrillas.

The withdrawal would end a more than two-month troop presence in Lebanon, and complete the transfer of security responsibilities along the border to the Lebanese army and a beefed-up UN peacekeeping force.

Israel invaded Lebanon on July 12 after Hezbollah guerrillas crossed the border and killed three Israeli soldiers and kidnapped two others.

Since the August 14 cease-fire went into effect, Israel has slowly been withdrawing troops. But it has said it would not complete the pullout until the peacekeeping force was strong enough to secure the border and prevent Hezbollah from rearming.

Israel's army chief, Lieutenant General Dan Halutz, told a closed meeting of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee that all remaining troops would leave by the start of the Jewish New Year at sundown on Friday, committee member Ran Cohen said.

"He told me that this afternoon there is a meeting between the Lebanese forces and the UN forces and, if everything is OK, then all Israeli soldiers will be out of Lebanon by the eve of the holiday, on Friday," Cohen said.

Under the UN-brokered cease-fire, a 15,000-strong UN force is to deploy in the south to maintain the truce and assist the Lebanese army in re-establishing control over Hezbollah's southern stronghold.

About 5,000 international troops already have been deployed in south Lebanon, along with 9,000 Lebanese troops.

Some 150 French troops and dozens of military vehicles left Beirut Tuesday for south Lebanon to reinforce the peacekeeping mission. France is contributing the second-largest contingent of 2,000 soldiers and will command the UN force until early next year, when Italy is to take over.

On Monday, Premier Wen Jiabao confirmed that China would increase its UN peacekeeping presence in Lebanon to 1,000 troops.

When the fighting ended on August 14, Israeli soldiers were present in a strip of land along the length of the Lebanon-Israel border and in a corridor of territory leading north almost to the Litani River, 30 kilometers away.

Military officials declined to say how many Israeli troops remain. Cohen estimated the figure at several thousand. The troops are believed to be concentrated in three points along the border.

(China Daily September 20, 2006)


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