Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World: Middle East
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
Monday, 3 April, 2000, 21:14 GMT 22:14 UK
Israel's allies to stay in Lebanon
Hezbollah parade
Hezbollah has refused to offer security guarantees
Israel's militia allies in southern Lebanon will not flee when Israeli forces leave, but intend to stay on, the group's leader, Antoine Lahd, has said.

He told a news conference that fighters of the South Lebanon Army and their families wanted to remain, and were prepared to die on their land rather than become refugees or submit to the Lebanese state.

We are not ready to surrender this region to Hezbollah. We will fight if we have to

Antoine Lahd, SLA leader
However, he said the SLA would lay down its arms if the Lebanese Government agreed not to punish fighters and their families.

There are widespread fears of revenge attacks and a struggle for control of the area following Israel's planned July withdrawal.

The resistance movements Hezbollah and Amal have long been fighting to oust Israeli troops and the SLA from Lebanon.

The authorities in Beirut want to prosecute all SLA members - numbering around 2,500 - and other residents of the Israeli occupied zone accused of collaborating with Israel.

No security guarantees

Some members of the SLA have been offered sanctuary in Israel following the withdrawal after more than 20 years of occupation.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, has promised to pull out Israeli troops by July with or without a peace agreement with Syria - the main power broker in Lebanon.

Mr Barak has said he would prefer the withdrawal to be part of a peace deal, in which the Lebanese army would have taken over the zone and ensured the rule of law.

South Lebanon Army
The SLA has already withdrawn from some areas
But Beirut has insisted that without an unconditional agreement with both Syria and Lebanon, it will not provide any security guarantees.

A recent summit between US President Bill Clinton and Syrian President Hafez al-Assad failed to reach an agreement under which Syrian-Israel peace talks, which broke down in January, could resume.

General Lahd's remarks - carried by the SLA's radio station the Voice of the South - raised fears of violence in the area.

"We are not ready to surrender this region to Hezbollah. We will fight if we have to," he said.

Power vacuum

For its part, Hezbollah refused to offer any security guarantees after an Israeli pull-back, but stopped short of explicitly threatening attacks.

"Even in the case of a total Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon, there will be neither guarantees nor security arrangements," Hezbollah second-in-command, Sheikh Naim Kassem, was quoted as saying by Lebanese newspapers.

Some analysts have warned of scenes reminiscent of the beginning of the Lebanese civil war, with rival groups staking out fiefdoms close to Israel's frontier.

Mr Barak, who has himself raised fears of an escalation of violence if Israel pulls out without a comprehensive peace deal, said on Monday he was counting on the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) to ensure a safe Israeli withdrawal.

Unifil, which has some 4,500 troops in southern Lebanon, has a mandate to oversee an Israeli withdrawal and help Lebanon reassert control in the region.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
Middle East Contents

Country profiles
See also:

25 Jun 99 | Middle East
Q & A: Southern Lebanon
01 Apr 00 | Middle East
Syria dismisses Lebanon troop idea
26 Mar 00 | Middle East
No breakthrough on Mid-East talks
05 Jan 00 | Middle East
The Golan: Territory and security
23 Jul 99 | Middle East
President Assad: Master tactician
Links to other Middle East stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Middle East stories