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The BBC's Christopher Hack in Beirut
"Israeli troops are now abandoning military positions on a daily basis, leaving just a few hundred soldiers behind"
 real 28k

The BBC's Paul Adams in Jerusalem
"It is clear that pressure is mounting in favour of an early Israeli withdrawal"
 real 28k

Israeli Government spokesmen Moshe Fogel
"No specific date set as of yet" for withdrawal
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Sunday, 21 May, 2000, 23:07 GMT 00:07 UK
Israel and Hezbollah exchange fire
Lebanese villagers return to Qantra
Villagers offer thanks at their destroyed house in Qantara
Israel and Hezbollah exchanged fire on Sunday as hundreds of Lebanese civilians drove in convoys of vehicles into villages in the south of Lebanon abandoned by an Israeli-backed militia that had occupied them for 22 years.

Israeli war planes struck at the Hezbollah stronghold in Iqlim al-Tuffah in southern Lebanon.

The Israeli planes made two attacks, firing four missiles near Luayzeh, according to Lebanese security officials. No casualties were reported.

The raids appear to be in retaliation for the first Hezbollah attacks in 11 years on an Israeli army post near the Golan Heights.

The guerrilla group says it used mortars and machine guns to attack the post in a remote area known as Shebaa Farms, at the point where the borders of Israel, Lebanon and Syria meet.

Lebanon says the Shebaa farms are part of its territory, but Israel has said it will not withdraw from the area.

Village pullout

The Israeli-backed militia, the South Lebanon Army (SLA), has been steadily pulling out of strategic hilltop villages in advance of Israel's declared intention to withdraw completely from southern Lebanon by 7 July.

Israeli-Lebanese border
Israelis have withdrawn from positions near Taibeh
On Sunday, the militia left their posts at Qantara, Aadshit al-Qsair, Aalman and Deir Sirian, all in the central part of the occupied zone.

The SLA also abandoned their post at Hamra on the Mediterranean coast, 14km south of Tyre.

Hundreds of people drove in a noisy convoy across the dangerous area of no-man's-land, to triumphantly arrive in the villages.

BBC Beirut correspondent Christopher Hack says Israeli troops are themselves abandoning military positions on a daily basis, leaving just a few hundred soldiers behind.

Early pullout denied

Israeli government officials have denied reports that they are planning to accelerate the withdrawal process to be completed within two weeks.

The Defence Ministry has said simply that there are no plans for a withdrawal on 1 June.

BBC Jerusalem correspondent Paul Adams says it is clear that pressure is mounting in favour of an early withdrawal.

However, Israeli Government spokesman Moshe Fogel acknowledged in a BBC interview that the Israeli army was under instructions to be ready to move out at any time.

But he said "no specific date" had been set for completing the withdrawal and that the government had still to determine a timetable.

He added that SLA members would have "the option" of living in Israel after the pullout if they wished

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See also:

21 May 00 | Middle East
Air raid hits Bekaa base
15 May 99 | Middle East
Khatami meets Palestinian hardliners
18 May 00 | Middle East
Lebanon fighting 'heavy'
14 May 00 | Middle East
Hezbollah raises stakes in Lebanon
07 May 00 | Middle East
Lebanese seek UN protection
06 May 00 | Middle East
Arab League condemns Israeli raids
05 May 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Risky strategy exposed
09 Feb 00 | Middle East
Q & A: Southern Lebanon
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