Soldiers at the front ask, 'What cease-fire?'

News of the possible cease-fire was having a mixed effect on the IDF soldiers at the Metulla border crossing on Thursday night. All through the evening, convoys were driving north: trucks carrying ammunition and explosives, and tank transporters and buses - some filled with soldiers and other empty ones going up to take battle-weary troops out for some rest. An elderly woman with a large kettle and a sleeve of plastic cups trudged up the road and offered tea. Occasionally an artillery round was fired nearby. South of the border - a traffic jam composed of military vehicles, reservists' private cars and jeeps carrying camera crews. Most of the soldiers first heard of the impending cease-fire from reporters asking for their reaction. "What cease-fire?" was the instinctive answer. Others debated the desirability of a cease-fire at this point in the battle. Some were visibly relieved. At the side of the road, a row of Merkava 3 tanks stood with their cannons pointed southward. The company's soldiers sat behind the tanks; each one gave his name and a few details about himself. The reserve unit had gone into Lebanon the previous night, but was pulled out a few hours later. Now they were taking the opportunity to get to know one another. The company was created from two groups of soldiers: veteran reservists and a younger group who had only recently finished their regular service. A young officer's birthday added a festive touch. "We're pleased to be out of there. It's dangerous for tanks," said one soldier who preferred not to be named. "Hizbullah has so many antitank missiles and we were totally unprepared for that." The company didn't see combat; they were ordered to turn back to clear the narrow road for a returning armored battalion that had had many of its tanks damaged by the missiles. One of the stories being told by the tankists was that of an advanced Metis missile that managed to hit a tank from a range of six kilometers. "This is a job for infantry," the soldier said. As he spoke, two columns of reserve infantry, wearing flak jackets and camouflage helmets, were marching into Lebanon in combat formation. Over the last few days, the practice of sending infantry only in armored personnel carriers - prevalent in the first weeks of the ground war - has been changed when they turned out to be convenient targets for Hizbullah missile-teams that had melted into the hills. The fresh troops were forbidden to talk to the journalists. At least for them, this war is still far from over.