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Wednesday, 24 May, 2000, 16:40 GMT 17:40 UK
Beaufort Castle suffers in Israeli retreat

The imposing silhouette dominates south Lebanon
Retreating Israeli troops appear to have destroyed parts of Beaufort Castle in Southern Lebanon, despite appeals by the Lebanese prime minister for the Crusader fort to be spared.



The symbol of foreign occupation in Hezbollah's hands
Local residents reported that a huge explosion engulfed the castle at about midnight local time on Tuesday night.

The blast lit up the sky and rocked the area around the castle, just after Israeli troops withdrew from the castle under artillery and air cover.

The castle had been a garrison headquarters and the nerve centre of Israel's 22-year occupation of southern Lebanon.



I brought my kids here to teach then a lesson about how we defeated Israel

Lebanese villager visiting Beaufort Castle
Lebanese Prime Minister Salim al-Hoss wrote to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other world leaders on Sunday, imploring them to prevent Israel destroying one of Lebanon's most famous historic sites.

Abandoned castle

When Hezbollah fighters and local residents moved into the abandoned castle at dawn they found smouldering wreckage and clothing discarded by the retreating forces.

Explosion near Beaufort Castle in southern Lebanon
Retreating Israel soldiers blow up an outpost near the Beaufort Castle
Concrete bunkers at the castle had been blown up, bringing down part of the historic stone wall.

"I brought my kids here to teach them a lesson about how we defeated Israel," said Salem Sweidan, escorting his two young children through the smoking debris.

Symbol of shifting power

The cliff-top Crusader castle, which has changed hands countless times over the centuries, is seen as a symbol of shifting power in southern Lebanon.

Beaufort Castle in southern Lebanon
Lebanese villagers reclaim the castle
Beaufort Castle was completed in 1139 by the Crusaders. It stands on a sheer escarpment almost a 1000m above the valley below, overlooking the Litani river.

T E Lawrence once described it as the finest medieval castle in the Arab world.

Every invading army since the Crusades has seized, held and lost Beaufort, from Saladin in the 12th century right down to Palestinian guerrillas, who occupied the castle in the 1970s.

For the past eighteen years, Beaufort has been held by the Israeli army, which drove out the PLO in a fierce battle during which much of the castle was destroyed.

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