IN THE NEWS #430 - Israeli Withdrawal From Lebanon

By George Grow

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS.

Israel withdrew its soldiers from southern Lebanon this week, after more than twenty years of occupation. There was surprise at how quickly the troops left. Prime Minister Ehud Barak had planned to complete the withdrawal by July seventh. But the government decided to speed up the move after the breakdown of the Israeli-supported South Lebanon Army.

As Israeli soldiers and their allies left southern Lebanon, Hezbollah guerrillas and Lebanese civilians returned to the area. Celebrations took place.

Different groups have long used southern Lebanon to launch attacks against Israel. Israel said it needed to occupy the border area for security.

Israeli forces first attacked southern Lebanese villages in Nineteen-Seventy-Eight. Their aim was to halt raids across the Israeli border by Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

Four years later, in Nineteen-Eighty-Two, Israel invaded Lebanon. This time, Israel was largely successful in ending the threat from Palestinian guerrillas. However, six-hundred-fifty Israeli soldiers were killed in the military campaign. Israel officially established its security area in Nineteen-Eighty-Five to protect its northern settlements.

Israeli soldiers in Lebanon increasingly became targets of a local resistance force, Hezbollah. Syria and Iran provided support for the group. Hezbollah guerrillas launched attacks almost daily. United Nations peacekeeping forces in the area could not stop the attacks.

A year ago, Israelis elected Ehud Barak as prime minister. As a candidate, he promised to withdraw Israeli soldiers from southern Lebanon.

Mr. Barak approved the rapid withdrawal this week. Later, the Israeli leader appealed to all groups in the area to show restraint. He called for peace with Lebanon. But he said Israel would react forcefully to any attacks against northern Israel.

Mr. Barak accused Syria of doing everything in its power to prevent and sabotage the Israeli withdrawal. Syria has about thirty-five-thousand troops in Lebanon.

Hezbollah guerrillas now control parts of Lebanon near the Israeli border. Many people living in northern Israel worry for their safety.

Hezbollah declared the withdrawal a victory. Arab countries welcomed the Israeli action. But some newspapers expressed concern about a period of uneasiness in southern Lebanon.

Most Israelis support the withdrawal. The popularity of Mr. Barak and his peace efforts may increase if the area remains calm. However, experts say any new fighting could lead to another Middle East war.

This VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS was written by George Grow. This is Steve Ember.

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