Israel Withdraws From Lebanon
Israel Withdraws From Lebanon
May. 24, 2000
MARJAYOUN, Lebanon (AP) _ Hundreds of armed guerrillas descended to the Israel-Lebanon border fence today and stared into enemy territory, barely two hours after the last Israeli soldier left southern Lebanon.
About 300 loaded cars, horns honking and Hezbollah flags fluttering from the windows, drove along the road between the villages of Adaisseh and Kfar Kila to reclaim the last pockets vacated early today by Israeli troops.
Although armed with AK-47 and M-16 assault rifles, the hundreds of guerrillas were in a festive rather than a fighting mood. Many cried ``Allahu akbar,'' or ``God is great.''
The motorcade stopped occasionally and gunmen walked by the metal border fence. Guerrillas stared into the horizon, where less than half a mile away lies the Israeli frontier town of Metulla. A car drove on a road on the Israeli side. The driver waved and the guerrillas waved back.
It remained to be seen whether the departure of the Israelis would defuse the last active Arab-Israeli front line or bring the conflict right up to Israel's border. Lebanese guerrillas who have moved into what was the Israeli security zone carved out in 1985 have not made clear whether they will continue attacks.
Unlike on other front lines of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Lebanon pullout came without a peace agreement or guarantees that Israel's northern communities would be safe from cross-border guerrilla attacks.
``This is the first victory in 50 years of Arab-Israeli conflict,'' Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said in Beirut.
The Israeli withdrawal, originally set to be completed by July 7, was hastened by this week's collapse of the South Lebanon Army. Hundreds of fighters from the militia that Israel armed, trained and paid have surrendered to Lebanese authorities to stand trial for collaboration or have fled with their families toward Israel.
Some 163 former SLA militiamen gave themselves up at the Greek Orthodox diocese today and later were handed over to Lebanese police.
``It was a bitter period,'' Greek Orthodox Bishop Elias Kafouri said, referring to the occupation.
Throughout most of Lebanon's predominantly Shiite Muslim south, fighters and civilians kissed and hugged each other and waved the flags of Shiite guerrilla groups. In Christian towns, which feared reprisals, the response was subdued, though guerrilla leaders have sought to reassure the jittery population.
The Christian town of Marjayoun _ the former headquarters of the SLA and the Israeli army's Lebanon garrison _ quietly emerged today to a new reality: No SLA militia or Israeli army. Guerrillas picked up the tanks, armored vehicles and ammunition left behind as the militia collapsed.
Others broke into the home of SLA leader Antoine Lahd _ who is thought to be in Israel _ and hauled away a TV set, communications equipment and even kitchen pots. Drawers were left open; pictures and shoes were scattered on the floor.
Guerrilla fighters later drove out of Marjayoun in two old Soviet T-55 tanks and three U.S.-made armored vehicles used by the SLA until just a few days ago.
As they rolled toward nearby Qlaiaa, they hoisted Hezbollah's bright yellow banners, emblazoned with a Kalashnikov rifle rising from the Arabic word for God, ``Allah.''
In Qlaiaa, birthplace of the SLA's forerunner, the Army of Free Lebanon, Hezbollah and Amal guerrilla flags were planted along the roads. Guerrillas dismantled weapons from abandoned SLA vehicles and collected ammunition and other gear left behind.