Israeli military sources said Hizbullah fighters and operatives were seen returning with tens of thousands of Lebanese residents to the communities from which they had fled in July. The sources said some of the Hizbullah fighters were seen with weapons and communications equipment.
“They are quite open about it,” a source who tracks Hizbullah movements said. “The Lebanese know it and even our soldiers at their posts in Lebanon see them.”
Under a United Nations-arranged ceasefire, Hizbullah operatives were not allowed to bring their weapons to southern Lebanon. The Security Council resolution also called for the surrender of Hizbullah weaponry.
However, Israeli and Lebanese sources said armed Hizbullah operatives arrived with flags of the Shi’ite militia. They said some of the operatives planted flags throughout southern Lebanese villages while others distributed food and supplies.
On Saturday, an Israeli commando was killed in a clash with Hizbullah operatives near Baalbek in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Military sources said an Israeli special operations force sought to block Iranian weapons shipments from Syria.
“The goal of the operation was to disrupt and prevent smuggling of weaponry from Iran or Syria to Hizbullah,” an Israeli military statement said. “The goals of the operation were achieved in full.”
The Lebanese Army has been sent to the Israeli-Lebanese border. On August 18, the Lebanese army was seen patrolling the 75-kilometer border.
Lebanese sources said the army planned to construct checkpoints and towers along the border area to enforce security. The army’s 10th Brigade established bases within 1.5 kilometers of the Israeli border, the first such deployment since 1968.
Three battalions of the Lebanese Army’s Fifth Brigade were also deployed near the Syrian border. Hizbullah has been receiving shipments of Iranian weapons from Syria.
The UN has sought contributors to an enlarged international force to help patrol southern Lebanon. So far, several NATO members, such as France and Turkey, have refused to issue commitments amid concern that their soldiers would become targets of Hizbullah.
“You can’t send in men and tell them: ‘Look at what is going on, [but] you don’t have the right to defend yourself or to shoot,'” French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie told the French radio RTL.