First Israeli pull-out from Lebanon soon

WITHIN THE next few days, Israel is expected to withdraw its surrogate South Lebanese Army (SLA) from a strategic enclave just north of the self-proclaimed security zone in Southern Lebanon.

The evacuation of an SLA battalion from Jezzine, a wooded mountain resort town where troops have been stationed for 14 years, is an admission that the Islamic Hizbollah militia is winning the war of attrition there and a test of the Leban-ese army's capacity to fill the vacuum, if and when Israel pulls back from the security zone as a whole.

The incoming Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, vowed during the election campaign to "bring the boys home" within one year of taking office. He hopes to negotiate an agreement with the Beirut government and its Syrian patron under which the Lebanese army would keep the border quiet.

The Jezzine decision was taken in consultation with the Labour leader by the caretaker Likud Defence Minister, Moshe Arens. It is being projected as the free choice of the SLA commander, General Antoin Lahad. Israel is helping him to save face by increasing its subsidy to the militia and the communities from which they are recruited. The SLA soldiers' monthly wages will go up from $400 to $500 (pounds 315). Israel will also upgrade their fortifications and weapons.

General Lahad's position had become untenable. At Israel's behest, his troops were stationed in Jezzine, a Christian town whose population has dwindled from 35,000 to 3,000 since 1985 as residents fled. In recent weeks they have been harassed by Hizbollah, who seriously wounded a battalion commander and killed his deputy. Yet Israel refused to let the SLA hit back, fearing retaliation against Israeli civilian targets south of the border.

Jezzine controls the road between the Syrian garrison in the Bekaa valley to the east and the security zone and the Mediterranean coast to the south and west. Once the SLA pulls out, it will be much easier for Hizbollah to supply its fighters with arms and ammunition from the Bekaa.

Israeli sources denied yesterday that there had been any deal with Beirut or Hizbollah. They hope, however, that the Lebanese army, which maintains a company in the vicinity, will protect the remaining pro-SLA population from Hizbollah revenge. The Lebanese Prime Minister, Salim el-Hoss, said this week that his Government would take "appropriate measures" if Israel's allies withdrew.

The Jezzine initiative coincides with quickening diplomatic activity in anticipation of Mr Barak's accession. King Abdullah of Jordan visited the Palestinian President, Yasser Arafat, in Gaza on Wednesday. They agreed to co-ordinate Arab positions when peace negotiations resume.

The King is trying to convene a summit with Mr Arafat and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.

Syria's President, Hafez al-Assad, has been more cautious in welcoming Mr Barak's victory, but the official Damascus daily, Al Baath, wrote in a front-page editorial on Wednesday: "It is necessary that the Arabs adopt a united stand, which is more imperative at this stage than ever before."

Mr Barak has completed the first, exploratory stage of coalition-building. Negotiations with potential partners began in earnest yesterday, though he will probably need another two or three weeks before he can present his government.

The defeated Likud Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was expected to announce last night that he was resigning from parliament, as well as the party leadership.

Likud has been racked by reports this week that an unnamed senior minister acted as a Labour mole in the Netanyahu campaign headquarters. He is said to have wanted to hasten Mr Netanyahu's political demise.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific