Last IDF Soldier to Leave Lebanon Today

The Israel Defense Forces began the final stage of its withdrawal from Lebanon last night. The last soldier is expected to cross into Israel this morning, two and a half months after the war began.

Only a few dozen infantry troops have remained in South Lebanon in recent days, manning positions close to the border in the central and eastern sectors.

Sources in the IDF said recently they were satisfied with the deployment of the soldiers of the Lebanese army and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). The two forces have been spotted recently in areas close to the border.

The Northern Command has been working on the rules of engagement for soldiers patrolling the fence. Sources close to Defense Minister Amir Peretz say he recently directed the IDF to make the rules of engagement "as strict as possible." The army has not yet finished defining the rules, but has said it will not tolerate provocations and groups of armed individuals near the border fence.

The Israeli withdrawal was delayed for the past two weeks because of disputes between the IDF and UNIFIL regarding the rules of engagement as they apply to armed Hezbollah militants.

The only place the IDF will remain in Lebanon is in the divided village of Ghajar, where agreement on security arrangements has not yet been reached. According to security sources, Israel wants to conclude the matter in the coming days and evacuate the area, but it will not leave a dangerous opening along the border.

Ghajar, located on the Hatzbani River,a major water source, was divided in 2000 between Israel and Lebanon, but no fence was erected. The residents of the village are Israeli citizens by virtue of the 1981 Golan Law.

Israel has proposed to Lebanon and the UN in recent weeks that the UN be responsible for security in the northern part of the village, which is in Lebanese territory, and Israel would handle security in the southern part. Israel would also be responsible for civilian affairs in southern Ghajar, and would send in to the northern part, as needed, technicians, doctors and other service providers, accompanied by UN personnel. UNIFIL would deploy north of the village to prevent free access from the village to Lebanon and back.