IDF: Troops Can Shoot Lebanese Stone-throwers if Lives Threatened

UN troops won't open fire on armed Hezbollah militants on border; IDF withdrawal stalled until UNIFIL role spelled out; Lebanese boy killed by cluster bomb explosion.

Israel Defense Forces soldiers have been instructed to shoot Lebanese stone-throwers along the border if they feel their lives are in danger, IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said on Wednesday.

Cabinet ministers at Wednesday's weekly meeting were outraged over a protest Friday in which several dozen yellow-clad Hezbollah supporters on the Lebanese side of the border threw stones at soldiers on the Israeli side of the border. Some of the ministers criticized the army for not responding to the violent protest.

Halutz was quoted by officials in the Cabinet meeting as saying he has ordered to soldiers to shoot stone-throwers in self-defense.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a 34-day war that began July 12 after Hezbollah guerrillas attacked an IDF patrol on Israel's side of the border, killing three soldiers and capturing two others. The fighting ended last month after the United Nations brokered a cease-fire.

Minister Gideon Ezra said Wednesday that the situation in Lebanon escalated because Israel failed to respond to Hezbollah's deployment along the border following Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000. Israel should not make the same mistake after it pulls out from southern Lebanon this time, he said.

"We can't accept any Hezbollah deployment to the [border] fence, not with stones, not with flags, and not with anything else," Ezra told Israel Radio. "We won't go back to the same situation that we had before. It's forbidden that we agree to such a trend, even if it means we have to take action."

But Prime Minister Ehud Olmert brushed off the threat of stone-throwing Hezbollah supporters, saying none of the guerrilla group's fighters are wandering around south Lebanon armed.

UN troops won't open fire on armed Hezbollah militants at borderA disagreement with Israel over the rules of engagement for United Nations peacekeepers and the Lebanese Army is causing a delay in the withdrawal of the remaining IDF troops from southern Lebanon.

The main issue that has still not been finalized revolves around the way that Lebanese Army troops and peacekeepers will deal with armed Hezbollah militants who are identified south of the Litani River.

Israel's interpretation of Security Council Resolution 1701, which brought about the cease-fire, expects that both UNIFIL and the Lebanese Army will initiate efforts to locate arms depots and armed Hezbollah militants and disarm them.

In the IDF the view is that after the withdrawal is completed, if Israeli soldiers along the border fence feel threatened and the peacekeeping forces do not deal with the situation, the soldiers will be entitled to defend themselves.

However, the UN view of the role of UNIFIL is that of a police force, which will only fire if it is fired upon, in an act of self-defense.

On the basis of this argument UNIFIL is also unlikely to disperse Hezbollah demonstrations along the fence, and limit its actions to "demonstrating presence" so that the demonstrators will be convinced to leave the area.

Israel is waiting for clarifications from the UN on the creation of a mechanism for dealing with emergency situations. Such a mechanism, said a senior IDF officer last night, should be "a well-oiled mechanism for tactical coordination in dealing with problems in real time."

Nonetheless, Defense Minister Amir Peretz promised Tuesday that in spite the differences, the IDF withdrawal will be completed in the near future and the "last soldier will leave southern Lebanon by Yom Kippur," which begins on Sunday evening.

The timetable for the withdrawal of IDF troops from southern Lebanon was altered several times in recent weeks. Initially, the IDF estimated that by September 15, the troops would be in Israel. Then Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said that the withdrawal will be completed by the Jewish New Year, September 22.

The French commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), General Alain Pellegrini, said this week that he expected the IDF withdrawal to be completed by month's end.

Currently there are several hundred IDF soldiers in southern Lebanon, mostly in the central front.

A team of IDF officers headed by Brigadier General Udi Dekel, head of the strategic planning division in the Planning Directorate, met Tuesday at the UNIFIL headquarters in Naqoura, a beachfront town in southern Lebanon, close to the border with Israel, with representatives of the Lebanese Army and UN officers.

This was the ninth such meeting since the cease-fire went into effect on August 14.

Boy killed by cluster bomb in LebanonA nine-year-old boy was killed and four other people wounded in south Lebanon on Wednesday in two separate cluster bomb explosions, security officials said.

Mohammed Hassan Sultan was instantly killed when a cluster bomb exploded near his house in the village of Sawwaneh, some 17 kilometers north of the Israeli border. Three men were also wounded in the explosion.

In Qaaqayiet al-Jisr, about 10 kilometers farther north from Sawwaneh, a 36-year-old woman was wounded in another cluster bomb explosion.

So far, 14 people have been killed and around 90 wounded from unexploded ordnance since the August 14 cease-fire that stopped the month-long fighting between Israel and Hezbollah.