The Israeli army completed the next-to-last stage of its withdrawal from Lebanon on Monday, and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin said his country will not disrupt the pullout to help Lebanese Christians, Israel’s former allies, who are under siege in the hill town of Jezzine.
Speaking to reporters in the ancient seaport of Tyre as Israeli troops evacuated the city Monday morning, Rabin said, “We have decided to put an end to our involvement in domestic Lebanese problems.”
By Monday afternoon, those Israeli soldiers who had not returned all the way home were redeployed within what Israel calls a narrow “security zone” just north of the Lebanese border. The zone is to be held by Lebanese forces equipped and financed by Israel after the last Israeli troops complete their pullback to the international border in about a month.
Rabin called the security zone “essential for the defense of Israel” and said the army will come to the assistance of any friendly Lebanese forces within the area who are threatened by outsiders.
Outside the Zone
However, the defense minister said, Jezzine is outside the zone, and Israel will not aid Christian forces battling there against Druze and Muslim militias who have already captured the Beirut-Sidon coast road and a string of Christian villages in the hills east of Sidon.
“Let the Europeans enter now and help the Christians,” Rabin told an Israel radio reporter without elaborating.
Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and his Shia Muslim ally Nabih Berri, both ministers in the Cabinet of President Amin Gemayel, are pushing for the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army to withdraw its reported 200 fighters from Jezzine. Jumblatt and Berri have pledged to spare Jezzine if the Christian-led militia pulls out.
However, there were reports Monday evening from Beirut that Muslim militias and the South Lebanon Army exchanged heavy artillery fire just west of Jezzine.
Israeli forces pulled out of Jezzine and positions farther east last Wednesday in the most complicated phase of their three-stage withdrawal from Lebanon.
Dancing and Kissing
As the last Israeli army vehicles rumbled south out of Tyre on Monday, thousands of men, women and children poured into the dusty and cratered streets, dancing, kissing and showering each other with rice and rose petals.
The happiness over the withdrawal was shared by the Israeli soldiers who returned to their own country. As they reached the border crossing at Rosh Hanikra on the Mediterranean coast, they celebrated by spraying cheering onlookers from bottles of champagne. Israeli policewomen stationed there responded by throwing carnations at the happy soldiers.
Israel captured Tyre on June 6, 1982, on the first day of an invasion ostensibly intended to destroy Palestine Liberation Organization strongholds in southern Lebanon. The city was to have remained in Israeli hands until Monday.
As the occupation wore on and the region’s predominantly Shia Muslim population turned increasingly against Israel, Tyre and an arc of villages to the east became focal points for the anti-Israeli resistance. Nearly half of all the casualties suffered by the Israeli army after the first three months of the war occurred around Tyre.
Lebanese Move In
Beirut radio and correspondents on the scene said Lebanese army units and militiamen from the Shia Muslims’ Amal movement took over Tyre immediately after the Israelis left Monday.
A United Nations’ spokesman in southern Lebanon said villagers throughout the area have assured U.N. troops that they will cooperate in keeping the peace.
The area evacuated by Israel on Monday embraces about 155 square miles and 125,000 residents, two-thirds of them Shia Muslims and the rest Palestinians, most of the latter living in two large refugee camps.
The new Israeli line starts on the Mediterranean coast about halfway between Tyre and the border and extends eastward roughly paralleling the border at a distance ranging from five to 10 miles.