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The BBC's Brian Barron reports from Tyre
"The border zone remains calm"
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The BBC's Beirut correspondent Christopher Hack
"These are the first steps towards providing security in the area"
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Friday, 26 May, 2000, 10:34 GMT 11:34 UK
Peace advances in Lebanon

UN is providing security until Lebanon takes over
United Nations peacekeepers equipped with armoured cars have begun patrolling the former Israeli-controlled zone in southern Lebanon.

At the same time, Lebanon has sent about 600 armed police officers into local towns and villages to increase security.

The UN deployment follows pledges by the Syrian and Lebanese governments to respect its decisions.

UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen
Terje Roed-Larsen plans to visit the zone

There has also been a statement from the militant Hezbollah organisation that its fighters will soon pull out of southern Lebanon.

"Within a few days, I believe the Lebanese internal security forces will enter the various areas and, in this case, there will be no reason for the presence of Hezbollah gunmen or any others," Hezbollah Deputy Secretary-General Na'im Qasim told Qatari Al-Jazeera satellite TV on Friday.

'Force and fire'

His comments were in contrast to an earlier statement by Hezbollah that it was ready to fight Israel if it did not withdraw from a disputed area in south Lebanon along the Syrian border.

"Shebaa farms is Lebanese and the resistance is committed to returning it by force and fire," political bureau chief Mohammad Raad told Reuters news agency.

A young Lebanese boy celebrates
A young Lebanese boy celebrates

He also warned Israel that Hezbollah guerrillas would launch strikes against Israeli settlements if the Jewish state attacked Lebanon.

The UN's Middle East envoy, Terje Roed-Larsen, is travelling to southern Lebanon on Friday - his first visit since the Israeli withdrawal.

Addressing a Beirut news conference, he paid tribute to the speed with which the Lebanese government was assuming its security responsibilities.

The UN wants the Lebanese army, with the help of almost double the number of UN peacekeepers currently deployed in Lebanon, to fill the vacuum left by Israel's unilateral withdrawal.

UN redeployment

Mr Roed-Larsen said UN officials were meanwhile confirming that the border fence had been pulled back to its correct position.

Once this had been done, the 4,500 UNIFIL troops would be redeployed to permanent positions along the border, he said.

Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara had earlier welcomed Israeli leader Ehud Barak's call to "extend a hand for peace", but warned that the Arabs had had enough of Israel's muscle-flexing.

Israel is disappointed because it hoped to provoke sectarian troubles in south Lebanon

Syrian FM Farouq al-Shara
"If there was anything wrong, it would come from the Israel side. It would only take place because the Israelis want to extend their muscles," Mr Shara said after meeting European Union officials in Lisbon.

Israel has warned it will hold Damascus and Beirut responsible for any attacks by guerrillas who have taken control of the area vacated by Israel forces.

Militia dilemma

Israeli TV has reported that hundreds of Lebanese refugees from among the 6,000 who fled Hezbollah's advance into the occupied territory might opt for Israeli citizenship.

SLA refugees: First ever Arab exodus to Israel
The refugees, former members of Israel's client militia in southern Lebanon, the SLA, have been given one-year "tourist visas", which permit them to work in Israel.

Correspondents say the fate of the SLA has provoked a strong reaction in Israel, where people have mixed feelings of guilt and respect for Lebanese soldiers who fought alongside Jewish forces.

However, community leaders of Israel's million-strong Arab population have opposed the admission of Lebanese refugees.

It is the first time in the 52-year history of the Jewish state that Arab refugees have flowed into Israel.

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See also:

25 May 00 | Middle East
Race to fill Lebanon vacuum
25 May 00 | Middle East
Israel urges peace with Lebanon
24 May 00 | Middle East
UN assesses Lebanon role
23 May 00 | Middle East
Hezbollah chief warns Israel
24 May 00 | Media reports
Israeli press: Pullout recalls Saigon
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