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The BBC's Hilary Andersson in Jerusalem
"Israel has pledged to withdraw its troops by July, but it's not clear that this will end the fighting"
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Sunday, 7 May, 2000, 17:30 GMT 18:30 UK
Lebanese seek UN protection
Lebanese demonstrators
Lebanese civilians fear further instability after Israel pulls out

Thousands of residents of the Israeli-occupied zone in south Lebanon have demonstrated outside a UN office, demanding international protection following an Israeli military withdrawal from the area set for July.

The flag-waving protesters, from several villages in the so-called "security zone", gathered in the town of Naqoura and delivered a letter addressed to the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan,

It asked the international community to provide "security and stability" following the Israeli pullout.

UN observer
UN observers in southern Lebanon should soon see an Israeli withdrawal

"If the government fails to stand up to its responsibilities in the area after the Israeli withdrawal... we will be forced to carry weapons to defend ourselves," the letter said.

Hezbollah actions

UN Resolution 425, adopted after a 1978 Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon, calls for an unconditional Israeli withdrawal to the international border and a deployment of UN peacekeepers.

Lebanon has not said whether its army would deploy in the areas vacated by Israel.

There are concerns that Lebanese guerrillas would move close to the border and attack Israel or exact revenge on members of the Israeli-allied militia, the South Lebanon Army (SLA).

Israel has warned that such actions would invite harsh retaliation.

The Islamic Resistance Movement, Hezbollah, operates in the area and is backed by Syria and Iran, both of whom are hostile to Israel.

Many Lebanese civilians from other parts of the south consider SLA supporters to be traitors and want them to be jailed or killed.

Hezbollah guerrillas at prayer: the group is backed by Syria and Iran

UN role

Terje Larsen, a special UN envoy, has spent the last few days travelling around the region trying to broker an agreement which would allow the UN to provide security after the troop pullout.

The UN currently has 4,500 peacekeepers operating in the area.

But the BBC's Jerusalem correspondent says many more men and the support of all the warring factions will be needed if the UN is to be effective.

Israeli warning

An SLA militiaman was wounded on Sunday when guerrillas shelled his position in the "security zone," a militia source said. The attack was claimed by Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak warned that Israel would continue retaliating harshly for Lebanese guerrilla attacks.

"We will continue to respond with severe attacks, unconnected to plans for a future withdrawal," he told a weekly cabinet meeting.

If attacked after a withdrawal, Israel would respond even more harshly than it does now, he said.

Ehud Barak
Prime Minister Ehud Barak says Israel's response may get harsher
Cross-border tensions have escalated since the SLA killed two Lebanese civilians on Thursday during an artillery battle with Hezbollah.

Hezbollah responded by firing rockets at northern Israel, killing one soldier and wounding more than 20 people.

Israel then bombed Lebanese power stations and part of the Beirut-Damascus road. The raids left two civilians dead.

Israel announced on Friday that it would suspend military actions, but warned against any further attacks.

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See also:

06 May 00 | Middle East
Arab League condemns Israeli raids
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Analysis: Risky strategy exposed
05 May 00 | Middle East
Israeli planes bomb Lebanon
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Four dead in Lebanon clashes
29 Apr 00 | Middle East
Israel threatens major retaliation
06 Apr 00 | Middle East
Lebanon on UN agenda
03 Apr 00 | Middle East
Israel's allies to stay in Lebanon
04 May 00 | Middle East
Arab call for UN Lebanon role
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