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2000: Hezbollah celebrates Israeli retreat

The Hezbollah leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has been greeted by tens of thousands of supporters during a victory rally to celebrate the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon.

He said disputed land and prisoners still held by Israel should be returned to Lebanon - but made no reference to achieving it through combat.

His speech followed a statement from Hezbollah - which fought to drive the Israeli army out of Lebanon - that its fighters will soon pull out of southern Lebanon, now that the Israelis have withdrawn.

Earlier, United Nations peacekeepers equipped with armoured cars began patrolling the former Israeli-controlled zone in Lebanon.


"I promise you that every prisoner will soon be returned and the farms of Shebaa will return to Lebanon"

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah leader

The UN special envoy, Terje Roed-Larsen, said they would be deployed in permanent positions up to the Israeli border after the organisation had verified full Israeli withdrawal.

The Lebanese Government has also deployed about 600 armed police officers in the newly-evacuated area.

But Beirut refused to send in the army saying it prefers to wait for official confirmation of Israel's pullout.

In the victory rally at Bint Jbeil, near the border with Israel, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah prayed to God "that the victory be fulfilled with the liberation of the whole territory and the release of all prisoners".

He was referring to an area known as the farms of Shebaa on Lebanon's borders with Syria but occupied by Israel since 1967.

"I promise you that every prisoner will soon be returned and the farms of Shebaa will return to Lebanon," he told the crowd.

Sheikh Nasrallah said Israel had no alternative, saying that Hezbollah "considers that all occupied Lebanese territory must be restored".

But the Shia Muslim leader did not speak about the consequences if Israel refrained.

The Hezbollah leader has also called for a severe punishment of those who "collaborated" with Israel during its years of occupation.

A total of 1,500 members of the militia have given themselves up to the authorities or to Hezbollah.

Collaboration can carry the death sentence in Lebanon.


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