idf troops 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
A day after Israel completed its withdrawal from Lebanon, a high-ranking Hizbullah leader warned that violence could recur if Israel did not immediately withdraw from the Shaba Farms and the northern part of the village of Ghajar. In response, IDF officers said Hizbullah and Lebanon would suffer if Israel was attacked by the guerrilla group.
On Sunday morning, two and a half months after invading Lebanon, the IDF withdrew the last of its troops, fulfilling a key condition of the UN cease-fire that ended the monthlong war with Hizbullah in August. IDF officials said the last soldier exited Lebanon just after 2:30 a.m.
Under the cover of darkness, the roar of IDF armored vehicles could be heard moving over the border. An armored column creaked across the border near Moshav Avivim, creating a large cloud of dust that was illuminated by the vehicles' headlights. Later, the last soldiers were seen boarding a bus at nearby Moshav Zarit.
Sheikh Naim Kassem, Hizbullah's deputy secretary-general, was quoted in the Arab media on Monday as saying that there would be a renewal of violence if the IDF did not withdraw from the Shaba Farms, also known as Mount Dov, on the Golan Heights, and from the northern section of the village of Ghajar, split in half by the international border between Lebanon and Israel.
"We will not tolerate this and have the right to confront it at the timing and in the way we choose," Kassem said.
Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a close ally of Hizbullah, also warned that guerrilla attacks could resume if Israel did not implement the UN cease-fire resolution and if "all Lebanese territory is not regained." "Our right of resistance is always there," he told As-Safir newspaper on Monday about efforts to regain captured territory.
A high-ranking IDF officer said Hizbullah provocations would meet a strong and swift response. "If we are provoked we will hit back with full force," the officer said.
Israel has kept a small number of troops inside the northern section of Ghajar pending an agreement with UNIFIL over the transfer of security responsibilities for the village. The IDF said it hoped to reach an agreement with the UN force in the coming days according to which UNIFIL would be charged with security control for the northern part of the village and Israel for the southern part. The Lebanese army, which completed deployment along the border with Israel on Monday, would be in charge of preventing Hizbullah from entering the border town under such an agreement.
UNIFIL commander Maj.-Gen. Alain Pellegrini hailed Israel's withdrawal as "significant progress" but said the pullout would not be complete until Israeli soldiers left the northern part of Ghajar. He confirmed that the IDF had withdrawn from the south with that exception.
"I expect that they will leave this area in the course of the week, thus completing the withdrawal in line with the [UN] Resolution 1701," he said. "UNIFIL is also in close contact with the IDF to facilitate a speedy withdrawal from the area of Ghajar."
A UNIFIL statement said peacekeepers were "in the process of confirming" that there were no IDF troops in the areas that Israel declared as vacated. It said Lebanese army troops would begin taking over the area.
It added that after a full Israeli withdrawal, UNIFIL, in cooperation with Lebanese army, would inspect the entire length of the border to ensure that there are no violations of the so-called Blue Line.
According to the UN, Shaba Farms is part of Syria, not Lebanon, although Security Council Resolution 1701 calls for the issue to be discussed.
Meanwhile Monday, Lebanon's army commander raised his country's flag on a ridge overlooking Israel.
Gen. Michel Suleiman told about 500 soldiers that the army won't allow any attacks from Lebanon that could undermine the cease-fire - an apparent reference to Hizbullah rockets.
"Stay vigilant to uphold the law and deter whoever undermines the course of security and stability," Suleiman said.
He said that although his army was no match for Israel, it would fight if necessary. "I call upon you to confront the Israeli aggressions and violations with whatever meager capabilities that are available," he said.
AP contributed to this report.