Da International Herald Tribune del 18/08/2006
Originale su http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/08/18/africa/web.0818mideast.php

Lebanese army sets up in Hezbollah's territory

di John Kifner, Sabrina Tavernise

MERJ 'UYUN, Lebanon Lebanese government soldiers, their national red, white and cedar tree flag waving from trucks and vintage armored personnel carriers, began crossing the Litani River at dawn Thursday in a deployment that was more about symbolism than security.

The Lebanese Army's move into the separate southern fief that Hezbollah ran for nearly two decades was the potential beginning of a diplomatic way out of the bitter monthlong battle with Israel, whose vaunted army bogged down against a smaller force of skilled and entrenched guerrillas.

But while Israel and the United States have said that the Lebanese Army is supposed to disarm Hezbollah under the terms of a United Nations Security Council resolution, the reality on the ground is a kind of murky backroom deal in which Hezbollah takes its weapons off the street and the army will not look too hard for them, if at all.

"Well, it's not like they will be breaking into houses, searching every store, looking into every ravine," said Mohammed Chatah, an adviser to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. "It's not a search-and-seizure operation."

But if the deployment was largely for show, it was one that the combatants seemed willing to accept - with a few belligerent proclamations - as a face-saving way out of the bloody impasse.

The agreement at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday night to deploy the army as part of the Security Council resolution to halt the fighting brought convoluted explanations from Lebanese officials.

"There will be no confrontation between the army and the brothers in Hezbollah," Ghazi Aridi, the information minister, said. "They are not going to chase or, God forbid, exert revenge."

Israeli officials were not quite so tolerant, at least in public. The Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mark Regev, said that "the resolution clearly calls for the creation of a Hezbollah-free zone south of the Litani River and anything less would mean the resolution is not being implemented."

Indeed, on Thursday the deployment had overtones of a photo opportunity. A Lebanese soldier in this town whose barracks was a hub of the deployment, stood on top of his armored personnel carrier in the morning, fiddling with the Lebanese flag for a rank of photographers.

"I'm working on it," he shouted down to the photographers stretching out the Lebanese flag.

Lebanese Army engineers put a steel bridge over a destroyed passageway over the Litani River, the natural geographic border to the south. Other troops went over mountain highways, and some were to travel by ship to the port of Tyre.

Thousands of soldiers landed in towns throughout the south Thursday, taking up positions in makeshift camps, houses and even a hospital, meeting the requirements of the United Nations-negotiated cease-fire and hoping to impose the government's will over the area.

But as soldiers barreled down highways looking authoritative, built bridges, bumped into cars and waved to onlookers, their exhibition of military might was marred by apparent inexperience and a degree of nervousness.

In Kafr Kila, a Hezbollah stronghold so close to the border fence that locals could watch Israeli farmers picking fruit, a boisterous funeral procession led by a Hezbollah ambulance blared funeral music from loudspeakers. Yellow Hezbollah flags flapped from the cars.

Nearby, several bearded young men were stringing up a giant yellow Hezbollah banner outside a store. It was one of many in nearby villages, one of which, in English, referred to a phrase from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who had said a "new Middle East" would arise from bloodshed in Lebanon.

"Rice, you will not see your new Middle East," it said. It was signed "Hezbollah."

One of the young men, wearing tinted sunglasses and, as usual, refusing to give his name, said the army deployment was just fine with him. "It's really good. Let them come," he said, untangling the blue rope attached to the sign. "We are all Lebanese. It's not a problem."

So it went across southern Lebanon on Thursday, with scores of Lebanese Army trucks packed with desks, spare tires and soldiers bouncing over narrow, rutted and bombed mountain roads.

In this largely Christian town of blue shutters and stone houses - once a headquarters of an Israeli-backed proxy militia - 31 vehicles, including 12 armored personnel carriers, were lined up on the road in front of the old army base. Soldiers in camouflage, berets and red helmets sat on the backs of trucks and languished in the shade on the sidewalk, waiting for orders to move that, even by noon, had not come.

One drank coffee from a tiny plastic cup. Some slumped in sleepy poses along the side of the road. Toward the end of the long line of army vehicles, a portly soldier with a bushy mustache sat on a small folding stool around 10:30 a.m., his mouth slightly open and his head leaning against a wall. He opened his eyes suddenly and looked up self-consciously. He had not slept in 24 hours, he explained.

In Tibnin, about an hour's drive east of Tyre, soldiers began taking up positions in and near the central hospital, unloading their personal belongings and equipment there and quickly setting up their sleeping quarters. They began clearing unexploded bomblets left by Israeli cluster munitions, exploding them with big bangs that made many in the area shudder.

The soldiers received an uneasy welcome from the community and Hezbollah. There seemed to be little interaction between the men, as each side politely greeted the other but kept their distance.

Many villagers greeted the troops with the traditional showers of rice and flowers given to conquerors. There seemed to be a hope - however fragile - that the army could be a symbolic, unifying force in this country, divided by 17 religions and so often the battlefield plaything of outside forces.

The Lebanese field commander of the initial force, Brig. Gen. Charles Shikani, tried to strike that note, telling his soldiers, "The Lebanese people are waiting for you."

"We salute on this solemn day," he said, "firstly, the martyrs who have shed their blood on the earth of the motherland. And we salute the resistance."

That brigade, numbering 2,500 of a force that is supposed to reach 15,000, is to be backed by international peacekeepers. But the contributions to that force appeared increasingly uncertain.

In what appeared to be another photo opportunity, an amphibious landing craft docked at the port in Tyre around 1 p.m., struggling for about 15 minutes before the soldiers managed the ropes and the first truck trudged down the ramp. Soon, the men, wearing well-ironed uniforms and smiling nervously for cameras rolled out in two trucks carrying their gear including an eight-foot-tall guard booth painted with the flag of Lebanon, nine armored personnel carriers and two Vietnam-era jeeps.

"This is our government," said Jawad Alayan, who watched with his sons, Muhammad, 11, and Ali, 6, as a company of about 200 soldiers barreled past on the road south of Tyre to take up positions on the coast. "We have to respect it. If you can't rely on your government, who can you rely on?"

"But for us, the resistance is one hand and they are the other."

There appeared to be an uneasy welcome for the government troops in Tyre, which was heavily bombarded. Many seemed to expect the army's unwelcome role might be to disarm Hezbollah, invariably shorthanded to "the resistance" when people speak.

"We welcome them, but we want them to support the resistance, not hamper it," said Mahmoud Salman, a store owner in Tyre. "I respect the resistance, and I am really concerned that the army will ultimately clash with the resistance."

Sabrina Tavernise reported from Merj 'Uyun, Lebanon, for this article, and John Kifner from Beirut. Hassan M. Fattah contributed reporting from Tyre, Lebanon,Robert F. Worth from Mukhtara, Lebanon, and Greg Myre from Jerusalem.
Annotazioni − Sabrina Tavernise reported from Merj 'Uyun, Lebanon, for this article, and John Kifner from Beirut. Hassan M. Fattah contributed reporting from Tyre, Lebanon,Robert F. Worth from Mukhtara, Lebanon, and Greg Myre from Jerusalem.

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