Lebanon truce takes hold

Guns fell silent across southern Lebanon on Monday morning as a United Nations ceasefire halting Israel's month-long war against Hezbollah came into effect, Lebanese security forces say.

    The war has left deep scars across southern Lebanon

    Half an hour after the ceasefire took hold, Israeli warplanes were absent from skies across Lebanon, including the Bekaa Valley, where air strikes had hit about an hour before.

     

    "Suddenly, just after 0800 (0500 GMT) there was complete quiet in south Lebanon," a Reuters

    source said shortly after the ceasefire came into effect.

    In the southern port city of Tyre, people began to venture out of their homes for the first time since a curfew was imposed on roads there.

    In a park in Beirut and in camps across the country refugees were seen packing up their belongings and preparing to return to homes they had fled weeks ago. Many do not know if their homes are still standing.

    Meanwhile Israeli military officials said the army had begun withdrawing troops from south Lebanon.

    However, Israel has said it will continue its blockade around Lebanon, "until a mechanism is put in place to control smuggling of arms [to Hezbollah]".

    In Beirut in the hours immediately after the ceasefire came into effect, Jihad Azour, the Lebanese finance minister, told France 2 television that the truce appeared to be holding.

    "The situation is stable along the whole border and the zones of hostilities," he said.

    Stand off

    The final hours before the truce
    saw some of the fiercest fighting

    Israel and Hezbollah have said that they would observe the truce, but that they also reserve

    the right to defend themselves.

    Israeli aircraft flew over Beirut hours before the truce came into effect, dropping leaflets

    that said: "To the Lebanese citizens: Hezbollah which is serving its Iranian and Syrian masters

    has led you to the edge of the abyss.

    "Know that Israel defence forces [the Israeli military] will return and work with the required force against any

    terrorist act that will be launched from Lebanon to harm the state of Israel."

    Hezbollah has said that it would observe the truce once it began but would reserve the right

    to fight Israeli soldiers still on Lebanese soil.

    Residents were seen tearing up the leaflets, according to an AFP correspondent in Beirut.

    Peacekeeping

    The UN Security Council resolution envisages a phased withdrawal of Israeli troops from south

    Lebanon and the deployment of 15,000 Lebanese troops to the region alongside a further 15,000

    UN peacekeeping troops.

    "I think we will be able

    to guarantee that the force, as far as the Europeans are concerned, will be robust"

    Javier Solana, EU foreign policy chief

    Javier Solana, EU foreign policy chief, said that he would like to see international troops

    start deploying to southern Lebanon this week or early next week. The UN has said that the

    deployment could take up to 10 days.

    "I've been speaking to several countries during the day and night and I think we will be able

    to guarantee that the force, as far as the Europeans are concerned will be robust," Solana

    said.

    The force which will be led by the French is to include up to 300 troops from Italy. Portugal, Finland and

    Spain are considering deployments. Solana listed Australia, Canada, Malaysia and Indonesia as

    non-EU nations prepared to help.

    The Haaretz newspaper reported that the Israeli government was willing to discuss a possible

    release of prisoners in exchange for the freeing of the two captured Israeli soldiers.

    Casualties of war

    In the final hours before the ceasefire came into effect, Some of the fiercest fighting between Israeli troops and Hezbollah fighters, since the war began one month ago, was reported in the early hours of Monday.

    In total, 17 civilians and four soldiers were killed in Lebanon on Sunday, police said, as Israel continued its bombardment of the country. Israeli air strikes hit Beirut's southern suburbs, destroying 11 residential buildings and killing up to 16 people, witnesses and security sources said.

     Israeli missile hit Akkar in
    northern Lebanon on Sunday

    Dozens of Lebanese were killed and injured in Bekka and Balbaak by Israeli air strikes shortly before a ceasefire was implemented.

    Israeli security forces reported that Hezbollah had launched 250 rockets killing a man and

    wounding about 90 people. The port city of Haifa was hit in the heaviest bombardment since the

    war started.

    Two Israeli soldiers were killed in clashes with Hezbollah in south Lebanon on Sunday. The two reservists were killed near the village Qantara, said the military. Another five soldiers were killed in clashes on the same day.

    The Israeli military have said that 530 Hezbollah fighters have been killed in the fighting, however, Hezbollah acknowledge only a handful of fighters are dead.
      
    Around 1,000 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and 154 Israelis, including 114 soldiers, have been killed in the war to date, according to Reuters.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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