IDF says free to hit Syrian arms convoys

IDF: We will do our best to uphold cease-fire until new UNIFIL deploys.

Despite the cease-fire between Israel and Hizbullah, the IDF is allowed to destroy Syrian weapons convoys that cross into Lebanon to reach Hizbullah guerrillas, a top IDF officer said Tuesday. At the same time, the officer said, the IDF will do its best to uphold the cease-fire until the newly upgraded UNIFIL deploys in southern Lebanon together with the Lebanese Army. "We see ourselves allowed to strike at convoys moving into Lebanon," the officer said. During the 34 days of fighting, the IAF attacked such convoys on an almost daily basis. On Tuesday, the cease-fire that went into effect a day earlier held, except for two incidents in which five Hizbullah gunmen were killed. The IDF said in both cases soldiers were defending themselves and it was doing everything possible to uphold its end of the UN-brokered agreement. Thousands of soldiers, mostly reservists, began to leave Lebanon as their comrades who remained inside took up positions in the old security zone Israel held until 2000. "If everything goes as planned and the cease-fire agreement lasts, the last soldier will leave Lebanon in seven to 10 days," IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz said. A force composed of UNIFIL observers backed by the Lebanese Army is to begin taking control of parts of southern Lebanon on Wednesday. The IDF, a senior officer said Tuesday, was surprised that Hizbullah was abiding by the cease-fire. "We predicted that Hizbullah wouldn't keep its side of the agreement and that fighting would start again," the officer said. With the cease-fire so far intact, the IDF is implementing a two-stage plan, firstly withdrawing from the Litani River back to the old security zone, and secondly releasing the tens of thousands of reservists drafted to fight in the war. Another symbol that the fighting had ended was Halutz's decision to order his deputy, Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, to return to General Staff from Northern Command where he served as his personal representative. With the war seemingly almost over, the IDF is now preparing for another grueling process - the investigations. Even if a full-blown state commission of inquiry was not established, Halutz said he planned to appoint a senior officer to investigate the IDF's overall management of the war. "There are many questions that need to be answered, from the level of the chief of General Staff until the last soldier," the high-ranking officer said. "Everything will be checked." The army is also preparing for expected negotiations for the release of the two reservists kidnapped in the Hizbullah cross-border attack on July 12. The IDF believes that the bodies of dead Hizbullah fighters it has seized as well as the guerrillas it currently has in custody have improved Israel's negotiating position and could serve as valuable bargaining chips in the talks expected to be brokered by a third party. Halutz also promised to investigate claims by reservists of a lack of equipment and training. Every reservist soldier, he said, would receive a special form to be used to voice their concerns. Halutz also said the IDF "would not be an obstacle to the formation" of a commission charged with investigating the management of the conflict.