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First friction between UN peacekeepers, Israeli troops in Lebanon

DPA | September 28 2006

Tanks belonging to French contingent of UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon were involved in a brief confrontation with Israeli tanks Thursday on a road where Israeli troops had been erecting checkpoints.

Four French Leclerc tanks with UN peacekeepers moved to the entrance of the border village of Marwaheen where at least five Israeli Merkava tanks were operating in the area for the past two days, preventing civilians and journalists from entering the village.

Standing some 50 metres from each other, the tanks of the two sides were caught in a 20-minute face-off, according to Lebanese security sources.

According to the sources, the French tanks withdrew from the area after twenty minutes and handed their post to observers of the UN Truce Supervision Organization deployed in the area.

The French force is part of UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which has been sent to boost the force and supervise the fragile truce between Israel and Hezbollah.

Israeli movement inside Lebanese territory have caused great dismay in the Lebanese government which is considering filing a complaint to the UN Security Council over Israel's delay in withdrawing troops, a foreign ministry source told Deutsche Presse- Agentur dpa.

'Israel is stalling and not withdrawing. They are violating our airspace and erecting checkpoints inside our territory and also stealing water from the Wazzani river,' the source said.

'We have complained to the UNIFIL command in southern Lebanon, but we are looking into filing a complaint with the Security Council on (Israel's) failure to comply with the terms of UN resolution 1701,' the source said.

Implemented on August 14, UN Security Council Resolution 1701 set up a ceasefire that ended a month-long war between Israel and the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

The resolution as well called on Israel to pullout of Lebanon and for all militias in Lebanon including Hezbollah to be disarmed.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Seniora who is currently on a visit to Germany called on Israel to pull its troops out immediately or risk jeopardizing the ceasefire.

Despite the tension between Lebanon and Israel, UNIFIL spokesman Alexander Ivanko remained hopeful, saying the United Nations continued to hope for a withdrawal by Israel by the end of the month.

Israeli troops have maintained 10 border positions since the July- August war, UNIFIL said.

Disputes over how the Lebanese army and international peacekeepers will deal with Hezbollah fighters is holding up the Israeli troop withdrawal, according to Israeli reports.

Hezbollah has agreed to abide by the ceasefire but refused to lay down arms until Israel has ended its occupation of Lebanese land.

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