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Israel says hands over most of south Lebanon to UN

Written by: Staff
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JERUSALEM, Sep 17 (Reuters) Israeli forces have withdrawn from more than 80 per cent of Lebanese territory conquered during the offensive against Hizbollah, handing it over to UN peacekeepers, the Israeli army said today.

Media reports have quoted top Israeli military officials as voicing hope for a complete withdrawal from southern Lebanon by the Jewish new year, on September. 24.

But the army has said the pace of pullouts depended on the full deployment of a UNIFIL contingent.

''There is no set date for a complete withdrawal. It depends on many things including developments in the field. But we want a full withdrawal as soon as possible,'' an army spokeswoman said.

Israel went to war after Lebanese Hizbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight in a July 12 cross-border raid. Nearly 1,200 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and 157 Israelis, mostly soldiers, were killed.

Since the fighting ended with a shaky ceasefire on August. 14, the Israeli army has been handing over control of southern Lebanon to UNIFIL II, an expanded version of the original peacekeeper garrison in the area.

The UN Security Council resolution that led to the ceasefire called for 15,000 troops to join a similar number of Lebanese army troops deploying in the south of the country.

There are currently 4,600 international troops in southern Lebanon. The mandate of the strengthened international force is still under dispute.

Israeli forces maintain control of a narrow strip of land along the southern border.

REUTERS MQA RK1747

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