U.N. Inquiry to Seek Release of Abducted Finns
A United Nations commission of inquiry met Monday with Finnish U.N. troops and leaders of the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army militia in an effort to unravel conflicting accounts of events leading to the militia’s kidnaping Friday of 24 Finnish soldiers.
Israeli officials said they believe the inquiry will lead quickly to the freedom of the remaining hostages--three were released during the weekend. The hostages reportedly are now being held in Marjayoun, Lebanon, where the largely Christian militia makes its headquarters.
As the U.N. investigation began, the last large Israeli military unit stationed in Lebanon withdrew across the border at Metulla.
Rockets Near Settlement
In addition, military sources said that two Katyusha rockets fired from southern Lebanon landed Monday morning near Shomera, an Israeli agricultural settlement on the border about 10 miles inland from the Mediterranean coast.
The rockets--believed to be the first to strike northern Israel from Lebanon since the army began its withdrawal early this year--caused no injuries or damage, the sources said. Israel radio reported that two groups--the Palestine Popular Struggle Front and the Lebanese National Resistance--claimed responsibility.
Israel’s June, 1982, invasion of Lebanon was intended to destroy Palestine Liberation Organization forces in the south and end the threat of similar rocket attacks on Israel’s Galilee region.
There were reports that the unit that crossed back into Israel Monday represented the final move in the Israeli withdrawal. However, a spokesman for Israel’s northern army command denied Monday that the Lebanese adventure had come to its official end.
“We are almost out,” the spokesman said. He added that “as far as I know,” small numbers of Israeli combat troops remain in what Israel has described as a “security zone” extending up to about 10 miles deep into Lebanese territory.
Patrols ‘In and Out’
Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin said Sunday that the goal is to have “no fighting units of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) on a permanent basis in Lebanon.” He emphasized that Israeli patrols will continue to move “in and out” of the country and that he also does not include liaison personnel assigned to the South Lebanon Army.
Lebanese groups opposed to Israel have vowed to fight on until all Israeli personnel are out of the country and the South Lebanon Army, which they view as an Israeli proxy force, is disbanded.
Longstanding hostility between the South Lebanon Army and U.N. peacekeeping troops in southern Lebanon erupted into the most serious incident in years Friday when the Israeli-backed militia kidnaped the Finnish soldiers.
The action followed an earlier incident in which 11 South Lebanon Army troops wound up in the hands of a Shia Muslim militia known as Amal. U.N. officials originally maintained that the 11--all of whom are also Shia Muslims--voluntarily defected to Amal. The South Lebanon Army charged that Finnish troops disarmed the 11 and turned them over to Amal.