Israeli forces have begun leaving the border region of Lebanon as their counterparts from the Lebanese Army prepare to move south. Israel sent 30 000 troops over the border during the course of the conflict with Hizbollah. Army leaders plan to start handing over some pockets of territory to UN troops within the next two days, say officials. It was difficult, said one soldier; we were fighting phantoms. In line with the UN resolution that halted the fighting, Beirut will begin moving 15 000 troops south of the Litani River tomorrow.
The UN will try to deploy more peacekeepers in the area as soon as possible, said Secretary General Kofi Annan, who added:
“The UNIFIL force will help the government of Lebanon do the job, but disarming Hizbollah is not the direct mandate of the UNIFIL force.”
The exact composition of the UN peacekeeping force is as yet undecided. Around 40 nations interested in contributing soldiers to the 3 500 strong deployment will meet tomorrow to discuss the options. Several EU states have expressed interest, but are awaiting commitment from France, whose participation is said to be the key to the operation. From further a field, Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia are also potential contributors.