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After Truce, the Sound of Silence
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Heavy fighting in southern Lebanon stopped abruptly Monday after a UN-brokered truce came into effect, but reports that Israeli troops killed two Hezbollah guerrillas underlined the fragility of the calm.

Security sources in south Lebanon said Israeli air strikes and artillery fire continued until just a few minutes before the truce took effect at 05:00 GMT (1PM, Beijing time).
Then there was silence.

Thousands of Lebanese displaced by five weeks of fighting headed south towards their homes, choking bomb-damaged roads with their cars. Drivers hooted their horns in celebration.

"I'm so excited to see my home," said Sanaa Ayyad, carrying a baby while two young boys followed her. "I'd heard news it was completely destroyed, but even if there's one room intact, I will stay there with my children."

In northern Israel, soldiers coming out of Lebanon were greeted with hugs and handshakes by their comrades. Streets became busier as residents emerged from homes and bomb shelters.

"I feel safer," said 12-year-old Johnny Wena, riding his bicycle through the streets of Metula. "I think Israel will have to go in again at some point, but for now I'm enjoying myself."

Around 1,100 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and 156 Israelis, including 116 soldiers, have been killed in the war that began after Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12.

Israel says around 530 Hezbollah guerrillas were killed in the war. Hezbollah has acknowledged only about 80 dead.

Army Radio and the Haaretz newspaper's website said a Hezbollah fighter was shot dead after he fired on Israeli troops in southwest Lebanon. It was the first reported clash since hostilities ceased.

A second Hezbollah guerrilla was killed in Lebanon by Israeli forces Monday afternoon when he attempted to approach Israeli troops near the village of Ghanduriya, the Israeli army said.

Thousands of Israeli troops remain in southern Lebanon, and are not expected to withdraw fully until an international peacekeeping force arrives alongside Lebanese troops.

"We are entering the stage of a ceasefire. The firing is over," a senior Israeli army officer said over the radio, giving orders to his soldiers.

"We hope the ceasefire will be kept."

Israel's government says it inflicted a heavy blow on Hezbollah in the war. "We did not fail in this war," Interior Minister Roni Bar-On said. "The capabilities of (Hezbollah's) long-range rockets have been minimized almost to zero."

Hezbollah has also claimed victory. A flyer distributed in Beirut proclaimed "a divine victory" and showed a Hezbollah flag flying above a rocket launcher and two guerrillas.

Israel said a ban on unauthorized traffic in southern Lebanon remained in place, and that any vehicles on the roads risked attack. An air and sea blockade of Lebanon would also continue, a military source said.

Aid groups said they needed swift access to southern Lebanon to help 100,000 people stranded in the area south of the Litani river, which has not been reached by aid convoys for a week.

"With the ceasefire in place, there can no longer be any no-go areas in Lebanon," David Shearer, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Lebanon, said in a statement.

Under a UN Security Council resolution adopted on Friday, Israeli forces must start to withdraw as foreign peacekeepers and Lebanese soldiers deploy in the south. Hezbollah must also pull its fighters out of southern Lebanon.

Hezbollah has said it accepts the UN resolution although it regards some aspects of it as unjust. The group has said it will co-operate with the peacekeeping force and Lebanese troops that deploy in the south, but has not said whether it will pull out its forces from the area south of the Litani river.

A UN spokesman said Monday that the Lebanese, Israeli and UN officers already met on the border to discuss the Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon and the Lebanese army deployment in the area.

The truce has not resolved many key issues including the fate of the two captured Israeli soldiers, the issue of whether Hezbollah will disarm and the status of the Shebaa Farms area which is claimed by Lebanon but occupied by Israel.

(China Daily August 15, 2006)


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