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UN Pushes Ahead With 425 Plans
The UN Security Council on Thursday formally acknowledged and welcomed Israel's official letter of notification committing the IDF to a withdraw from the south Lebanon security zone by July 7, and gave the go-ahead to draft plans for a UN role in the pullout based on UNSC resolution 425.

The council adopted a statement confirming receipt of the written announcement signed by Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy and delivered on Monday to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. "The Security Council shares the view expressed by the secretary-general .... that cooperation by all parties concerned will be required in order to avoid a deterioration of the situation," the statement said.

Annan has verbally assured Israel the UN will use its "mandate" under resolution 425 to assist with and certify Israel's withdrawal and act to restore calm along the border area. On Wednesday, he again indicated he likely will ask the Security Council to strengthen UNIFIL peacekeeping forces in the area to fill the resulting security vacuum, with most sources reporting the current contingent of 4500 troops will be boosted to 7000. "Obviously we will have to go in with the right strength and the right force to be able to undertake our mandate, to defend our mandate and ourselves," Annan said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the London-based Arabic newspaper AL-HAYAT reported yesterday that South Lebanon Army leaders will be going to Washington next week for a series of meetings with US State Department officials to discuss the future of their local militia after the pending IDF withdrawal. The article claimed the US will agree to accept endangered SLA officers and militiamen who seek asylum in America.

Other reports circulating on the internet and confirmed in the Beirut daily AN-NAHAR on Thursday say the IDF will be ordered to disarm the SLA in the weeks ahead of a withdrawal. The reports, citing French and Israeli sources, indicate the Israeli army will move to pull out all tanks, heavy artillery, armor, armed vehicles, anti-aircraft guns, and sophisticated equipment in the SLA's possession. SLA barracks, communication systems and command posts also will be dismantled, leaving SLA soldiers with only light personal weapons.

SLA troops and thousands of other residents of the security zone - who contend they are true Lebanese patriots - fear they will be subjected to harsh reprisals by Hizb'Allah and other hostile Islamic and pro-Syrian elements after an Israeli pullout, and they want to retain enough weapons to defend themselves from such heavily armed groups.

Further north in Lebanon, hundreds of Christian students continued in recent days to demonstrate against the presence of 35,000 Syrian troops in the country. At previous rallies this week, there was violence and arrests at the protests.

The anti-Syrian mood in the country is growing, after prominent Arabic newspapers in Beirut and London broke a taboo and began openly criticizing Syria's stranglehold over Lebanon. Yesterday, for the first time since this campaign began, Damascus responded to the criticism of its policies. AL-BA'ATH, the official voice of Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad's ruling party, ran an editorial attacking one such dissident - the editor-in-chief of AN-NAHAR. "Suddenly, all the devils are dancing in Lebanon," it said. "A lightweight journalist of no ... value hasn't found in Lebanon's circumstances anything else of importance except to call for a pullout of Syrian forces."

More ominously, on Tuesday bombers targeted a barracks for Syrian workers at a construction site south of Sidon for the third time this month. No injuries were reported.

Lebanese Prime Minister Salim Hoss, an Assad puppet, spent his day yesterday complaining to the French ambassador to Beirut about the recent shift in government policy in Paris, which has begun to openly advocate the removal of Syrian forces alongside the much smaller IDF presence. After the French defense minister said this week that Assad prefers his domination over Lebanon to a return of the Golan, Hoss charged Paris with "interfering with internal affairs, which Lebanon did not accept." But a defense ministry spokesman confirmed that the entire French cabinet "values Lebanon's sovereignty and respect of UN Security Council resolutions concerning it."

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