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Wednesday, 24 May, 2000, 02:12 GMT 03:12 UK
Israeli press: Pullout recalls Saigon
Israeli newspapers have reacted to the chaotic withdrawal from south Lebanon with appeals for a rapid end to avoid further embarrassment.

Haaretz said Hezbollah had run rings around the Israeli Government, using returning refugees as a shield to slip into south Lebanon without having to fire a shot.

The South Lebanese Army (SLA) could not be blamed for losing its positions since Israel had alienated it from local people. They "may have had no choice", the paper wrote.

The scent of humiliation hangs in the air

Maariv newspaper

It was up to the government to ensure a peaceful end to the withdrawal and offer the SLA asylum "even if thousands are involved".

At a time when Israelis could not be sure their government and army were "able to respond correctly to the situation", it only remained for them to hope for a "new situation... on the northern border".

The Jerusalem Post saw hope in the fact that Shia villagers had flocked back to south Lebanon and predicted "the beginning of a return to normalcy".

Hezbollah may have won a "major propaganda victory", but now it faced the challenge of returning to civilian life.

Hezbollah sets the agenda

Maariv said that Hezbollah had shattered Ehud Baraq's vision of a dignified withdrawal from Lebanon.

"Hezbollah imposed its own script and painted an embarrassing Saigon-like picture," the paper wrote.

Good Morning, Hezbollah!

headline in Maariv newspaper

"Just like the last helicopter on the embassy's rooftop in Vietnam, we were exposed to a series of images which will forever be etched in infamy in our collective memory.

"Now we also know that there are no happy retreats, that there are no free withdrawals when the scent of humiliation hangs in the air."

The paper warned that Baraq would find it hard to sell the withdrawal to his people who were well known for being "sore losers".

The race to escape

Yediot Aharonot noted that the UN had little to be proud of either as the "collapse" of its mission wrecked the buffer between Israel, Hezbollah and, ultimately, Syria.

The paper remarked that Hezbollah could "turn the final withdrawal phase into a real inferno" if it tried to cut off the Israeli army and SLA exit routes.

It remarked that Hezbollah had caught Israel with "its pants down" and the only solution was a "rapid evacuation lasting several hours of all [Israeli] forces in Lebanon, with the UN or without it".

Israel had to accept that "a handful of warriors" had sent its high-technology army fleeing "with [its] tail between [its] legs".

The paper also referred to the Vietnam analogy, but said that whereas the US lost the battle but won the war against Communism, Israel had never produced "one sensible reason" for being in Lebanon.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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See also:

23 May 00 | AudioVideo
Chaos in south Lebanon
25 May 00 | Middle East
UN struggles to fill Lebanon vacuum
23 May 00 | Middle East
Analysis: What next in Lebanon?
22 May 00 | Middle East
Pictures: Southern Lebanon withdrawal
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