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The BBC's Paul Adams
"This for Israel is the ultimate humiliation"
 real 28k

The BBC's Jeremy Bowen in Lebanon
"Now they have armour courtesy of an enemy"
 real 28k

Yitzak Herzog, Israeli Cabinet Secretary
"Should there be any outbreak of hostility, we will retailiate in a very harsh way"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 24 May, 2000, 14:19 GMT 15:19 UK
Israel quits Lebanon
Israeli soldiers
The last Israeli soldiers shut the border gate
Israeli forces have withdrawn from southern Lebanon - ending 22 years of occupation.

The last soldier crossed the border at about 0345 GMT, closing the gate behind him.

Hezbollah guerrillas swept south to fill the vacuum, following the near total collapse of Israel's allied militia, the South Lebanon Army (SLA).

Israel's army chief threatened to strike Syrian targets in Lebanon if northern Israel came under attack.

Hezbollah
Hezbollah fighters chanted anti-Israel slogans
"If there is an attempt to hit the northern residents or [Israeli] soldiers, we will hit all the power-holding elements in Lebanon including Syrian targets in Lebanon," chief of staff Lieutenant General Shaul Mofaz said on Wednesday.

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah has vowed to continue fighting to force Israeli troops from a strip of land known as the Shabaa farms, which adjoins the Golan Heights.

Lebanese Prime Minister Selim al-Hoss said he hoped the withdrawal would lead to peace on his country's border with Israel.

No casualties

As Israeli soldiers took up new positions along the frontier, a group of Hezbollah guerrillas waving flags and shouting anti-Israeli slogans gathered near Metulla on the Lebanon side.

22-year tragedy
1978
First Israeli invasion
1982
Israel seizes Beirut
Palestinians killed at Sabra and Shatila
1985
Security zone set up
1993
S Lebanon emptied by Israeli blitz
1996
Israel's "Operation Grapes of Wrath"
"April ceasefire"
1999
Barak pledges July 2000 pullout

Several, wearing military-style uniform, carried Kalashnikov assault rifles and anti-tank rockets, and brandished portraits of Sheikh Nasrallah.

Similar celebrations were taking place in villages throughout south Lebanon as hundreds of people returned to homes they had been forced to leave in previous years.

An army officer in northern Israel described the pull-out as a "complete success". He said troops had abandoned all their positions with no casualties.

Many Israeli military posts in south Lebanon were blown up as convoys ferried hundred of soldiers across the frontier.

The withdrawal - six weeks ahead of schedule - left Israel's SLA allies in disarray.

On Wednesday morning, some 180 SLA members surrendered to Lebanese police in Marjayoun, the former headquarters of both Israel and the SLA forces, as Hezbollah moved in.

Refuge

The SLA chief, General Antoine Lahd, who is in Metulla, is under a sentence of death for treason if he returns to Lebanon.

Israeli soldiers
Relief is written all over the faces of these Israeli soldiers back on home territory

Israel's Army Radio said General Lahd was due to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to discuss the fate of the SLA and the situation in south Lebanon.

More than 1,000 Lebanese, mostly SLA men and their families, have crossed the border seeking safety from possible reprisals from Hezbollah.

Israel has offered shelter to more than 5,000 Lebanese.

"They are getting visas and they have one year to decide if they want to live in Israel or Lebanon or start a new life abroad. It's entirely their choice," an Israeli Interior Ministry spokesman said.

Fighting on

Hezbollah has said it will not consider the occupation over unless Israel releases Hezbollah prisoners and withdraws from Shabaa.

Israel has said that the Shabaa lands are not part of Lebanon, but part of an area they captured from the Syrians in 1967.

The United Nations has also ruled that they were not part of the Israeli occupation.

However, Syria says it ceded the land to Lebanon.

Israeli Prime Minister Barak has accused Damascus of doing everything in its power to sabotage the withdrawal.

Syria maintains thousands of troops in Lebanon.

Unifil reinforcements

France on Wednesday welcomed the Israeli withdrawal and appeared ready to commit more troops to a beefed-up UN Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil).

El Khiam
Hezbollah fighters move into the town of El Khiam
However, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said the further French contribution would be conditional on Lebanon, Syria and Israel taking a responsible attitude to the new situation in Lebanon. France already contributes 240 soldiers to Unifil.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said the UN will verify the Israeli withdrawal. He also recommended that its current 4,515 peacekeepers in Lebanon should be reinforced to 5,600 men and then quickly increased to 7,900 to help the Lebanese government regain control of the area.

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See also:

24 May 00 | Middle East
Bitter retreat for the SLA
24 May 00 | Middle East
South Lebanon celebrates
24 May 00 | Middle East
Israeli relief over safe withdrawal
23 May 00 | Middle East
Hezbollah chief warns Israel
23 May 00 | Middle East
In pictures: Infamous prison stormed
23 May 00 | Middle East
Uneasy calm in southern Lebanon
24 May 00 | Media reports
Israeli press: Pullout recalls Saigon
23 May 00 | Middle East
In pictures: Israel pulls out
22 May 00 | Middle East
Annan warns of UN withdrawal
22 May 00 | Middle East
Arab concern over Israeli pullout
24 May 00 | Middle East
UN assesses Lebanon role
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