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The BBC's Hilary Andersson
"Nerves are on edge"
 real 28k

Monday, 29 May, 2000, 16:45 GMT 17:45 UK
No decision on Lebanese detainees

Rare appearance for Sheikh Obeid and Mr Dirani
Two Lebanese Shi'a militants imprisoned without trial by Israel have made their first public court appearance in years, but the judge postponed any decision on their release.

The release of Sheikh Abdul Karim Obeid and Mustapha Dirani, who were abducted in 1989 and 1994, is demanded by the Lebanese Government, and by guerrillas as a condition for ceasing their attacks against Israel.

Israel troops watch outpost being blown up
Israel has continued to "dismantle" occupation infrastructure
Judge Uri Goren's postponement of a decision on their fate until 12 July could have a significant impact on the security on the Israeli-Lebanese border after Israel's withdrawal from occupied southern Lebanon.

The border, which has witnessed ugly scenes between Israeli border guards and angry Arab civilians, was reported calm on Monday after the Lebanese army and guerrillas restricted access to it.

Still bargaining

Responding to the Obied-Dirani verdict, Prime Minister Ehud Barak said: "In my view, we have to hold on to them for a variety of reasons, and this is not the place to detail what they are."

The men had been held as what Israel terms "bargaining chips" for the return of Israeli troops missing in Lebanon.

If they return to Lebanon they will not be tending roses

Lawyer Dvora Hen
However, in April the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the authorities could not detain people without trial in this way, unless they posed a threat to security.

That prompted the release of 13 Lebanese detainees, but not Mr Obeid and Mr Dirani, who had been senior members of the Hezbollah and Amal movements respectively.

Peace on the border: Israeli Arabs meet refugee relatives
Peace on the border: Palestinian Israelis meet refugee relatives
"If they return to Lebanon, they will not just be tending roses," said prosecutor Dvora Hen.

The men's lawyer, Zvi Rish, countered that they had "never attacked an Israeli civilian" and their continued detention actually threatened Israeli security.

The detainees - who are held in solitary confinement in a secret location - said nothing. They looked tired and paid little attention to the proceedings.

Call for 'restraint'

United Nations special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen is in Beirut for talks with government leaders to discuss the border situation, before moving on to Syria, the main power-broker in Lebanon.

He has called for an end of "provocations" from the Lebanese side and restraint from the Israelis.

The UN special envoy, Terje Larsen
Special envoy Terje Larsen: UN still verifying border positions
After Sunday's violence - stones were thrown at Israeli guards, who returned fire for the first time - Hezbollah guerrillas placed concrete barriers, rocks and earth at the flashpoint Kfar Kila crossing point.

The Lebanese army has for its part closed off access to the former occupied zone.

Mr Roed-Larsen said the United Nations had confirmed Israel's withdrawal from the interior of Lebanon but was still verifying border positions.

UN confirmation that Israel has finally complied with Security Council Resolution 425 on withdrawing from Lebanon, issued in 1978, would allow for the deployment of Lebanese forces in the zone.

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See also:

27 May 00 | Middle East
In pictures: Lebanon border tension
27 May 00 | Middle East
Lebanese return south
26 May 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Lebanon's fragile peace
25 May 00 | Middle East
Race to fill Lebanon vacuum
24 May 00 | Middle East
UN assesses Lebanon role
23 May 00 | Middle East
Hezbollah chief warns Israel
27 May 00 | Middle East
Inside Lebanon's 'torture' prison
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