'LAF to deploy in South within 72 hours'

Lebanese minister says army readying itself; Hizbullah refuses to disarm.

Lebanon soldiers 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Lebanon soldiers 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Lebanon's communications minister told French radio Monday that the Lebanese army was preparing to cross the Litani River into the troubled south within two or three days, despite uncertainty about a future UN force for the region. "The Lebanese army is readying itself along the Litani to cross the river in 48 or 72 hours," Marwan Hamade said on Europe-1 radio. It will then be flanked by "the first contingents of an international force," he added, likely from France, Turkey, Spain and Italy. He did not give a timeframe. He spoke shortly after a UN-imposed cease-fire went into effect across the region, halting a month of fighting. But implementation of the resolution was in question after the Lebanese Cabinet on Sunday indefinitely postponed a crucial meeting dealing with plans for the deployment. Lebanese media reported that the Cabinet was sharply divided over demands that Hizbullah surrender its weapons in the south. Hamade said the Lebanese government would try Monday to find a "formula" for implementing the resolution. Lebanon's industry minister, Pierre Jemayel, a member of a majority anti-Syrian bloc in parliament, told Al-Siyassah daily, "Hizbullah has to deliver its weapons to the Lebanese army, and its light weapons to the police." "Its fighters are welcome to join the military force and the state will then quickly regain control of all Lebanese territories." "I'm not telling Hizbullah to surrender its weapons to Israel, or to the international community," Jemayel told the daily. "(I am telling it) to surrender them to the Lebanese army." Jemayel blamed the guerrilla group for starting the war with its July 12 cross-border raid "without consulting with anyone." Jemayel also took a jab at the sway of Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah. "If the secretary-general of Hizbullah has become the president of Lebanon, he has to let us know," Jemayel said. Lebanon's ambassador to the UN said that his government would not use force to ensure the dismantling of Hizbullah, sources said early Monday morning. He claimed that Hizbullah would independently be responsible for leaving south Lebanon. "We could have completed a cease-fire by Sunday morning, but Israel insisted on destroying the essence of Lebanon," the ambassador commented while being interviewed by CNN. Earlier, another Lebanese cabinet minister said that the Lebanese army would not deploy in southen Lebanon if Hizbullah retains its weapons. "The army will not deploy in the south unless there are no arms in the south except those of a legitimate military force and UNIFIL," the minister said. Hizbullah, however, has resisted calls to disarm and its refusal to follow through threatened the deal. A top aide to Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said the cabinet meeting had been indefinitely postponed but would give no reason.