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The Lebanese Army began its deployment in southern Lebanon yesterday. It is the first time the state armed forces have made their presence felt in the south since the late 1970s. A total of 2,000 men were deployed out of a total expected force of 15,000.

Convoys of military vehicles made their way south, crossing the Litani River on makeshift bridges. Twenty tank-carriers moved into Marjayoun along with troop carriers, all flying Lebanese flags.

At the main army base in Marjayoun, where IDF forces arrested 350 members of Lebanon's security forces during the fighting, the commander of Lebanon's 10th Brigade, Charles Shihani, began a military ceremony by reading the orders to the troops. In his statements, it was obvious that the Lebanese Army was wary of a direct confrontation with Hezbollah.

"Today, in the name of the overall national wish, the army is returning to deploy on the land of wounded southern Lebanon, and this along with the resistance [Hezbollah] and the nation," he said. "This is the nation that stunned the world by its strength of will and steadfastness, and that broke the army that was said to be invincible," he added.

The army convoys were welcomed by the locals with the traditional welcoming act of throwing rice and by handing out sweets and flowers.

In Marjayoun, where many of the citizens are Christian, many expressed hope that with the army present, Hezbollah would stop operating in the area.

"I feel safer now," Shadi Shamas, 30, a resident in the town. "Now, if Hezbollah has guns, the army will be able to take them away. This was not so in the past."

"Today is a new beginning for us in southern Lebanon. It will take us time to feel secure but this is an excellent start," George Najm, a resident of the town of Kalia told the Associated Press.

According to the arrangements between the UN, Israel and Lebanon, the deployment of the Lebanese forces will permit an IDF withdrawal.

On the basis of a Lebanese government decision Wednesday, Hezbollah will refrain from overt displays of its weapons but the organization will not be required to give up its arms or transfer them north of the Litani River.

Both the UNIFIL and Lebanese army forces prefer to avoid a confrontation with the group.

Lebanon's president, Emile Lahoud, welcomed the completion of the first stage of the army's deployment in the south.

"The army will carry out the mission decided by the government. It will bring to the people of the south security and stability and will assist in returning their lives to normalcy, and protect Lebanon's sovereignty, independence and its borders," Lahoud said.

Meanwhile, opposition intensified in Lebanon to the possible participation of Turkish forces in the bolstered peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon. The pro-Syrian president, Lahoud, suggested this attitude following a meeting yesterday with the country's defense minister, Michel Mor.

"It is important that [the UN forces] be from countries that do not have military agreements with Israel so that they can be neutral in the domestic affairs of Lebanon," he said.