Lebanese soldiers have taken control of the south of their country for the first time in almost 40 years. De-mining operations were the first stage in manoeuvres that should see a force of some 15 000 soldiers take command of a region that they have never really mastered since Palestinian forces fled here in 1968. The local population appeared to welcome the arrival of soldiers who came in a convoy of some 100 trucks, troop carriers and jeeps, approaching to within just a few kilometres of the Israeli border.
Under the terms of the United Nations resolution that underpins the mission the soldiers’ job is to control areas of the country south of the Litani River that were until recently Hizbollah strongholds. Day one of the operation went according to plan, with Hizbollah fighters making themselves scarce, apparently retreating into the hills.
But the wider question remains: how to disarm the Shiite lead Hizbollah?
General Alain Pellegrini, the head of the small United Nations contingent already in place certainly does not see that job as part of his mission: ‘For the moment this problem is not a UNIFIL problem,’ he said, ‘It is a Lebanese problem.’
Hizbollah has said it will cooperate with Lebanese and UN troops but has made it clear it does not intend to disarm or leave the region – an incompability with the ceasefire fire terms that renders the peace uncertain.