A ceremony inaugurating a monument in memory of those who fell among the South Lebanon Army and the awarding of campaign medals to members of the organization who fought alongside Israel took place Sunday, 21 years after the withdrawal from the south Lebanon security zone.
The SLA was a Lebanese militia founded in 1977 during Lebanon's civil war, and operated until May 2000, when Israel withdrew from Lebanon. The militia was backed by Israel, becoming its ally in the fight against Hezbollah. During that time, Israel and the SLA patrolled and protected a strip of land in south Lebanon, which was also known as South Lebanon Security Belt.
The ceremony was attended by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Chief of General Staff Aviv Kochavi, SLA members and bereaved families. Medals were awarded for fighting alongside Israel during its years in the security zone, and a special memorial prayer in Arabic was recited.
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In his speech, Kochavi spoke of the alliance formed between the SLA and Israel during the years of fighting in Lebanon between 1982 and 2000. “Lebanese and Israeli soldiers were deployed side by side, reported to each other and covered each other. I stand here not only as chief of staff, but as someone who served in Lebanon with you. In all your roles, I saw your dedication, sacrifice and heroism,” he said.
The monument in memory of the SLA fallen was erected next to the Good Fence in Metula, the gate through which IDF forces would enter and exit Lebanon. The memorial site covers 2,800 square meters (3,000 square foot) and replaces the original monument that had been erected in the southern Lebanese village of Marjayoun, but was blown up by Hezbollah forces after the withdrawal in 2000.
Kochavi said that the monument is of great importance, as it will make Israeli citizens aware of the commitment of Lebanese fighters to the alliance with Israel during the fighting. “The awarding of a medal to SLA soldiers is a special event, the first time in Israel’s history that we are awarding combat medals to fighters who aren’t Israel Defense Forces fighters,” he said.
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Kochavi pledged to address the plight of SLA families who came to Israel after the withdrawal in 2000, saying that “over the years we have not done enough as an army, society and state to take care of you.” He added that, “with the help of the new government, new and significant steps are being taken on this issue.”
He also addressed the security situation along the Lebanese border and blamed Hezbollah for “choosing to turn it into a military space that erupts once in a while.” He added, Hezbollah had, “created for itself a marginal, ridiculous and historically and legally baseless reason to hold hostage the residents of southern Lebanon, and of Lebanon altogether.”