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Lebanon Peacekeepers Met With Skepticism

Srour, the gas station owner, had the same feeling of unease.

"They came here and they said they were going to bring security, but security for whom?" he asked.

That sentiment is often pronounced in southern Lebanese towns such as Bazouriya. There is a sense among residents that the U.N. force was designed to protect Israel, a notion reinforced by German Chancellor Angela Merkel's comments last week that her country's participation in the U.N. force was designed to bring peace to the region, and in view of Germany's responsibility for "Israel's right to exist." Her remark was repeated in conversation after conversation in the south as evidence of a hidden agenda for the U.N. force.

"The way I see it, the presence here is for the security of Israel," said Srour.

The second floor of Srour's gas station, which served as his home, was missing its roof, destroyed by a missile that he said struck 10 minutes before the cease-fire ended the fighting. Hezbollah has given him $10,000 to cover rent elsewhere; it has promised $80,000 more to repair the gas station, which he had opened only a year before. He expected to begin rebuilding in a week. A calendar featuring Hezbollah's leader, Hasan Nasrallah, hung on his wall, and he mentioned with pride that Bazouriya was Nasrallah's birthplace.

"Until now, they're not occupiers, but after a little while -- " He shrugged his shoulders. "If they become occupiers, they won't stay long."

The United Nations has recorded only two incidents so far against its peacekeepers. Both involved stone-throwing.

"I worked in the Balkans and this wouldn't even register on my radar screen," said Alexander Ivanko, the U.N. spokesman.

He credited war fatigue on the part of Israel and Hezbollah as a stabilizing factor. It was a sentiment that was echoed in southern Lebanon, where the infrastructure is still in tatters. Even by those wary of the intentions of the U.N. force.

"A fire needs fuel, a fuse and air," said Hassan Salameh, a 50-year-old resident of Bazouriya. "It doesn't start on its own."

Salameh stood in his electric appliance store, joined by a cousin and a customer, down the road from an Italian contingent.

The U.N. troops "put me at ease," he said. "When you see them, you know there won't be another war."

The customer, Abu Mohammed Qassem, 25, jumped in.

Why aren't there U.N. troops on the Israeli side of the border? he asked. What about Merkel's comments last week? "All the people are waiting to see the intentions of the United Nations and the countries that are coming to Lebanon," he said. "Are their intentions pure or are they coming to protect Israel? If they're coming to protect Israel, protect Israel on its land."

"And if they're here to protect Lebanon, we welcome them," Salameh interjected.

"You have your opinion and I have mine," Qassem answered.

Salameh's cousin, Abu Ali, 60, then volunteered his opinion, bleak even by the admission of the others.

"The Americans in '82 came to protect Israel, then the French came to protect Israel, not to protect Lebanon, and they left in coffins," he said. "Let's see what they're up to." The politics of it all, he added, were ghamda , ambiguous or inscrutable.

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