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Israel to fully withdraw from Lebanon in days: MP

Reuters | September 19 2006

The Israeli army will complete a pullout from Lebanon within a few days, a legislator quoted the military's chief of staff as saying on Tuesday.

Israeli forces have been gradually withdrawing from territory the army captured in southern Lebanon during the 34-day war with the Hizbollah guerrilla group.

Ran Cohen, a legislator with the left-wing Meretz party, said Lieutenant-General Dan Halutz told him all troops would return to Israel by the Jewish New Year, which begins at sunset on Friday.

"He told me unequivocally that he estimates, that if everything goes well, all Israeli soldiers will be out of Lebanon by the eve of the Jewish New Year," Cohen told Israel Radio after Halutz appeared before a parliamentary committee.

Senior officials have privately said Israel intends to complete the troop withdrawal by the Rosh Hashanah new year holiday.

Earlier this week the army said it had withdrawn from more than 80 percent of territory conquered during the offensive, handing it over to U.N. peacekeepers. The army has said there was no date set to complete the withdrawal.

There are currently 4,600 international troops in southern Lebanon under UNIFIL II, an expanded version of the original peacekeeper garrison in the area. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said Israel should be able to complete its withdrawal once 5,000 peacekeepers were on the ground.

The U.N. Security Council resolution that led to a ceasefire on August 14 called for 15,000 troops to join a similar number of Lebanese army troops deploying in the south of the country.

Israel went to war after Hizbollah captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight in a July 12 cross-border raid. Nearly 1,200 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and 157 Israelis, mostly soldiers, were killed in the conflict.

Israeli forces maintain control of a narrow strip of land along the southern border.


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