Israel to quit Lebanon today

BEIRUT (Agencies) — Israel plans to pull out the last of its troops from south Lebanon on Sunday in line with a UN resolution that ended a bloody war with Hizbollah, security sources in Israel said on Saturday.

The sources said the aim would be to get the soldiers out before the start of Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, which starts at dusk on Sunday.

And public radio said yesterday the Israeli defence minister has given the green light for the army to fully withdraw from Lebanon on Sunday.

Lebanese officials, who declined to be identified, said the commander of UN peacekeepers in Lebanon Major General Alain Pellegrini had informed Prime Minister Fuad Siniora that Israel planned to complete its withdrawal by Sunday.

“We have to wait and see if the Israelis will stick to their word this time,” one official said. “We’ve had similar promises in the past that did not materialise.”

Pellegrini’s spokesman had no comment on the report. The Israeli army did not comment.

Israeli forces have gradually been pulling out of territory they captured during a 34-day war with Hizbollah fighters. The war ended with a truce on August 14.

Israeli officials had said they hoped to pull out all troops by last weekend, but this was delayed while discussions with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on rules of engagement continued.

Israel is worried that the peacekeepers and Lebanese army would not end Hizbollah’s presence near its border.

UN Resolution 1701, which ended the war, authorises up to 15,000 UNIFIL troops to join a similar number of Lebanese army troops in deploying in the south as the Israelis leave.

The resolution calls for a demilitarised zone south of the Litani River patrolled by the Lebanese army backed by UNIFIL.

Hizbollah has rejected international calls for it to disarm.

Around 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 157 Israelis, mostly soldiers, were killed in the fighting, which started when Hizbollah captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.

Assassination?

An Israeli Cabinet minister said on Saturday Israel should assassinate Hizbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah when the opportunity arises to do so without causing a large number of bystander casualties.

“Nasrallah’s life is forfeit,” Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told Israel’s Army Radio.

“He’s bad for the Jews, he’s bad for the Arabs, he’s bad for the Christians. We should wait for the right opportunity and not leave him alive.”

Nasrallah’s prestige at home and in the Arab world was boosted by Hizbollah’s survival in the face of the Middle East’s mightiest military — which heavily bombed several suspected Hizbollah headquarters, Nasrallah’s home and his office.

Nasrallah spent the war with Israel in hiding, emerging last week, under heavy security, to address a large “victory rally” in Beirut. His appearance stirred speculation that Israel could assassinate him.

But Ben-Eliezer said he would have opposed this.

“Yes, we should eliminate him. But we have to make sure that thousands of people aren’t vulnerable (to injury),” he said.

Nasrallah’s predecessor, Sayyed Abbas Musawi, was assassinated in a 1992 Israeli helicopter air strike that also killed his wife and child.

Grenade

In another development, unknown assailants on Saturday threw a grenade under the car of a Lebanese judge who is investigating a string of bombings that has come under the scrutiny of the international probe into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

No casualties resulted from the blast, but there was some material damage, a security official said.

The assailants appear to have thrown the hand grenade from a speeding car shortly after midnight Friday, targeting one of three cars used by Judge Salah Mokheiber that was parked in the garage of his residence in Beit Meri, a mountain town east of Beirut.

The car and several others parked in the garage were damaged, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give statements to the press.

No one was in the vehicles at the time of the incident. Mokheiber is a senior judge at Lebanon’s Appeals Courts, but the motive for the attack was not immediately clear. He is one of several Lebanese judges overseeing the investigation into a string of bombings in Lebanon that began in October 2004 but mostly followed the assassination of Hariri in Feb 2005.

The attacks, mostly in Christian areas, killed or maimed several anti-Syrian politicians and journalists. Police officials said they were investigating Saturday’s incident.

On September 25, the latest report by Serge Brammertz, the head of the United Nations-appointed investigation into Hariri’s death, said investigators have a strong belief that many of the 14 bombings are linked.

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