US renews Lebanon pullout drive

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American envoys Philip Habib and Morris Draper were back in the Middle East Wednesday pursuing a new American plan for disengagement of Israeli, Syrian, and Palestinian forces in central Lebanon.

According to Monitor correspondent John Yemma, the plan is said to feature a phased withdrawal of these armies and interposition of the Lebanese Army, backed by an expanded multinational peacekeeping force. The first step entails a pullback of Israeli and Syrian forces from the Beirut-Damascus highway, a route Lebanese consider vital to their economic well-being.

The US diplomats are simultaneously working for an Israeli evacuation of the northern Shouf mountain region, where rival Druze and Maronite militias have been fighting for three months. Israeli forces would then be pulled back from the Beirut vicinity to near the coastal town of Damour.

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A full-scale pullout by Israeli, Syrian, and Palestinian forces from the country will take much more effort. The obstacles in the way are formidable, including the weakness of the Lebanese Army, Syrian and Israeli territorial interests in Lebanon, and Israeli insistence that the Lebanese government enter into direct peace talks with Israel, meeting in Beirut and Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, fighting between pro- and anti-Syrian factions in Tripoli, which has killed more than 30 people and injured 150 over the last week, intensified late Tuesday. State radio said 13 more people had been hurt.

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