Dan Halutz, Lieutenant-General of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) said the last of the troops will leave Lebanon by the Jewish new year.

 

Halutz told parliament's foreign affairs and defence committee "he hoped the last troops will leave southern Lebanon by the eve of  Rosh Hashana [which takes place on Saturday]," according to a member of the panel.

 

Israeli forces have remained in southern Lebanon for more than a month after an August 14 ceasef-ire ended the 34-day deadly war between the Jewish state and Shia guerrillas Hezbollah.

 

More French troops

 

Troops have gradually redeployed south of the volatile border as French-led international forces, under a UN mandate, and the Lebanese army assume control in southern Lebanon - the latter for the first time.

 

About 150 French troops and dozens of military vehicles arrived in south Lebanon on Tuesday, launching a week-long deployment to reinforce the UN peacekeeping mission.

 

About 900 French soldiers had gathered at a temporary camp in Beirut awaiting orders to move south to a base in Deir Kifa, east of the port of Tyre.

 

France is contributing the second-largest contingent of 2,000 soldiers and will command the UN force - known as UNIFIL - until early next year, when Italy is to take over.

 

Halutz, who has been criticised at home for perceived failures during the war, was reported to have said that officers planned to meet UN representatives in southern Lebanon on Tuesday to discuss the remaining handover.

 

Assurances

 

"If the army tells us that these conditions have been met, the prime minister will give the go-ahead for the final withdrawal of the Israeli forces"

Miri Eisin, a spokewoman for Ehud Olmert

Israel said it would leave Lebanon once it has assurances from the United Nations about the deployment of 5,000 troops under the UNIFIL mandate.

 

"If the army tells us that these conditions have been met, the prime minister will give the go-ahead for the final withdrawal of the Israeli forces," said Miri Eisin, a spokewoman for Ehud Olmert, Israel’s prime minister.

 

Halutz was quoted as telling the parliamentary committee that Hezbollah "has been thoroughly respecting the cease-fire agreement" and that its guerrillas refrain from carrying weapons in the open.

 

Under UN Security Council Resolution 1701, Israeli troops were to withdraw from territory occupied during an offensive that began on July 12 after Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers during a cross-border raid.

 

More than 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers, were killed during the fighting.

 

Israel has launched a government inquiry into the conduct of the war after widespread public pressure to investigate the offensive that failed to halt Hezbollah rocket attacks or retrieve the two captured soldiers.