Israel Withdraws Last Troops From Lebanon

By Matti Friedman
Associated Press
Sunday, October 1, 2006

MOSHAV ZARIT, Israel, Oct. 1 -- Israeli military officials said the army withdrew the last of its troops from Lebanon early Sunday, fulfilling a key condition of the cease-fire that ended a month-long war with the radical Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah.

The pullout ended a nearly three-month troop presence and cleared the way for the full deployment of an international peacekeeping force that will police the border. The U.N. resolution calls for 15,000 peacekeepers to work with an equal number of Lebanese soldiers to prevent another outbreak of fighting.

Israeli military officials said the last soldiers returned to Israel around 2:30 a.m. ahead of the onset of Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, which begins at sundown.

During the withdrawal, the military censor imposed a blackout on all details of the troop movements.

Israel had reduced its troop presence since the Aug. 14 cease-fire from a peak of 30,000 during the war to several hundred.

Israel sent the troops into Lebanon shortly after Hezbollah guerrillas captured two soldiers and killed three others in a July 12 cross-border raid. More than 150 Israelis, mostly soldiers, and 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, were killed in 33 days of fighting.

The cease-fire prohibits unauthorized arms transfers to Hezbollah, a powerful militia backed by Syria and Iran that has long operated with autonomy in the south.

The cease-fire also calls for the unconditional release of the soldiers. The United Nations has appointed a mediator to try to win the soldiers' freedom, likely through a prisoner swap with Israel.

Israeli officials had been reluctant to withdraw the last of the troops because of concern about the force's ability to prevent Hezbollah, which launched 4,000 rockets into Israel during the fighting, from rearming.

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