Returning to a part of their country many have never entered as soldiers, the Lebanese army has begun deploying in the south to set up a buffer zone keeping Israel and Hizbollah apart. Some 15,000 troops gathered at several different areas, with the first units crossing the Litani river at around 5.30am CET. It is an historic day for the under-equipped and untested force, the first step towards the government reasserting full control over the entire country.
Their job is to hold the fort until the international UNIFIL force arrives, taking over Hizbollah strongholds in the frontier zone up to the Litani, but it is unclear how vigorously they will search out stockpiles of weapons, even if the army has stated it will not tolerate the presence of armed groups. Officials have already said it will be impossible to deny civilians access to their shattered villages.
Meanwhile, Israel’s foreign minister Tzipi Livni, questioned in UN headquarters in New York, insisted the UNIFIL force’s Muslim contingents be from Islamic states that are not hostile to Israel.