Israel plans Lebanon pullout by June 1. Cabinet decides that no Israeli troops will remain in security zone
Jerusalem — Israel's Cabinet voted overwhelmingly Sunday to end this nation's occupation of south Lebanon by the first week in June. The Cabinet also decided on how deep a ``security belt'' Israel will keep above the international border, but no description was released. A government official who participated said that a decision also was made that no Israeli troops will remain stationed inside the security zone, although there will be some patrols in the first months after the pullout.
One surprising aspect of the 18-to-3 vote was that Ezer Weizman, minister without portfolio, voted against the withdrawal. Mr. Weizman, known for his dovish views, joined Moshe Arens and Ariel Sharon -- hawkish ministers from the Likud bloc -- in opposing the withdrawal.
Weizman voted ``no'' because of Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin's wish to allow continued Israeli Army patrols after the withdrawal, a spokesman for Weizman said.
Mr. Sharon was the architect of the June 6, 1982, invasion. He eventually was forced to resign as defense minister after an Israeli commission of inquiry found him ``indirectly responsible'' for the massacre by Israel's Christian Phalangist allies of several hundred Palestinian refugees in the Beirut camps of Sabra and Shatila. Mr. Arens served as defense minister through much of the occupation.
Arens and Sharon argued that Israel should maintain a much deeper security zone inside south Lebanon than that advocated by Mr. Rabin. Sharon also advocated maintaining some Israeli troops in permanent positions inside the security zone.
Rabin's plan called for keeping a narrow belt above the border, ranging from 11/2 to 10 miles in depth. He envisions Israeli-backed militias patrolling these zones with instructions to keep out Palestinian and other guerrillas who might fire on Israel's northern settlements or attempt to cross the border.
The Israelis have said they would prefer to hand over control of the entire south to Amal, the mainstream Shiite Muslim militia that has attacked Israeli troops almost daily for months. But there is no indication that Amal is willing to reach an agreement with Israel.
The decision to end what was initially called Israel's ``first war of choice'' was first made in January. By then the war was viewed by many Israelis as this nation's greatest military debacle. The withdrawal has been conducted in stages. The first stage pulled Israeli troops out of the Sidon area. The second, due to be finished within days, will withdraw them from the Bekaa Valley in east Lebanon where the Army is deployed within sight of Syrian troops.
The final stage of the withdrawal will bring Israel's troops back from the Litani River to a border that the Israelis now are spending millions of dollars to refortify.
It has been a costly war for Israel. Army figures put the number of soldiers killed during the occupation at 650. Some 4,485 soldiers reportedly have been wounded in Lebanon.
The invasion, called ``Peace for the Galilee,'' was touted as the way to rid Israel of the threat posed by a Palestine Liberation Organization infrastructure that developed in south Lebanon during the 1970s. Eventually, Israeli troops drove all the way to Beirut, where they forced PLO chief Yasser Arafat and his fighters to evacuate.
But Rabin has said that the war created a far more dangerous enemy for Israel than the Palestinians. The Lebanese Shiites, who three years ago welcomed the invading Israelis into their villages, have in recent months fought them ferociously.
In March, a Shiite driving a car packed with explosives rammed into an Israeli Army convoy just north of the Israeli border town of Metullah. Twelve soldiers were killed. Several more attempts, some successful, have been made on convoys since then.
The mounting casualties have turned Israeli public opinion against the war. Prime Minister Shimon Peres promised when he took office last September that he would withdraw the troops as soon as possible.
Israel tried to negotiate with Lebanon an agreement to safeguard the security of its northern border. However, Syrian President Hafez Assad objected to any agreement's being reached with Israel.
United Nations-sponsored talks between Israel and Lebanon broke down in December, the Israelis opted to withdraw unilaterally.