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The BBC's Christopher Hack
"The clock is ticking in south Lebanon"
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The BBC's Hilary Andersson reports
"Israel's troop pull-out was remarkably peaceful, though it took place under immense pressure"
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The BBC's Paul Adams
"Two decades of occupation are being erased"
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Thursday, 25 May, 2000, 09:00 GMT 10:00 UK
Race to fill Lebanon vacuum
Hezbollah supporters at Israeli border
Hezbollah supporters are a stone's throw from Israel
The United Nations is urgently pressing to secure a safe border between Lebanon and Israel after the retreat of Israeli forces from south Lebanon.

UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen arrived in the Lebanese capital Beirut less than 24 hours after the last Israeli soldiers left the occupied land.

Both the Israelis, and the Hezbollah guerrillas who drove them out of Lebanon, have issued stern warnings about any cross-border aggression by the other side.



The speed of Israel's retreat - without the agreement of the UN or Lebanon - took the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) by surprise and has left a power vacuum filled by Hezbollah, and other militias.

The UN intends to mark the international border and confirm that Israel has completely withdrawn.

Hezbollah fighters are reported to have set up roadblocks across 1,000 sq km of territory and are busy rooting out suspected Israeli collaborators and collecting abandoned weapons.

"I believe that we all understand that the coming days will be decisive," Mr Larsen said on Wednesday night.

"Despite the generally positive developments, the cost in human life remains high," he added.

Volatile

The UN envoy said he would meet Lebanon's president and prime minister to discuss increasing the number of peacekeepers in southern Lebanon.



Traditional celebrations are continuing in former occupied zone
In report on Monday, Secretary-General Kofi Annan spoke of increasing Unifil from its present strength of 4,500 troops to 7,900 to "calm the situation".

Lebanese government forces are also expected to take up positions along the border.

But Lebanese army commander General Michel Sleiman said his troops would never become "Israel's border guards".

"There will not be any kind of security arrangements with the enemy outside the framework of a just and comprehensive peace," General Sleiman said in a written order.

For the first time on Wednesday, Hezbollah troops stood facing their Israeli enemies across the international border.


Barak with IDF soldiers
Barak has won admiration for pulling out the troops
There was no more violence, but observers said it was a highly volatile situation which could explode at any time.

An emotional Ehud Barak, the Israeli prime minister, told a news conference that the withdrawal marked a joyful day but also a painful day, because of the hundreds of Israeli soldiers "who did not return".

He also warned that any future attack on Israeli soil would be regarded as "an act of war".

Last post

Israeli sappers have dynamited an evacuated outpost at the eastern end of the border, close to the potential flashpoint of the Shebaa farms.



President Lahhoud made a first tour of the liberated area
An army spokeswoman declined to say whether the outpost, known as Astra, was the last Israeli stronghold left in Lebanon.

The area around Shebaa is claimed by Lebanon, but Israel has remained in occupation, saying any withdrawal would be negotiated with Syria, which it says is the rightful owner.

Hezbollah leader Shaikh Hassan Nasrallah has vowed to continue fighting until Israeli troops withdraw from the area and released Lebanese citizens held captive in Israel.

SLA 'betrayed'

While Israel's Lebanese enemies have been celebrating the end of a 22-year-long occupation, many members of Israel's locally-recruited militia, the now-defunct SLA, have been settling down in transit camps and holiday resorts in northern Israel.



Gen Lahd's villa in Marjayoun has been ransacked
SLA men heckled their former commander, Antoine Lahd, when he surfaced in Metulla on Wednesday.

"Where have you been? You betrayed us," former militia shouted at the general, who had flown to Israel from France just before the final collapse of his militia which precipitated Israel's lightning retreat.

Mr Lahd said the withdrawal had been illogical, unreasonable and had humiliated his soldiers, according to a report on Voice of Israel radio.

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See also:

24 May 00 | Middle East
Abed Takoush - our tower of strength
24 May 00 | Media reports
Mideast press crows over Israel 'defeat'
24 May 00 | Middle East
Israeli relief over safe withdrawal
23 May 00 | Middle East
Hezbollah chief warns Israel
24 May 00 | Media reports
Israeli press: Pullout recalls Saigon
24 May 00 | Middle East
UN assesses Lebanon role
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