The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on Wednesday said it had yet to receive a timetable from Israel for the completion of its troop withdrawal from neighboring Lebanon, despite a previous forecast which indicated the pullout would be completed by the weekend.
UNIFIL spokesman Alexander Avianco made the statement in response to Israel's army chief Dan Halutz saying that his nation's troops were unlikely to withdraw from Lebanon by Friday because more time was needed to work out the details for a final handover to the UN peacekeepers.
Halutz made the turnabout one day after he had told the Israeli parliament that the pullback could be accomplished by Friday evening.
Reports estimate the remaining Israeli army still numbered in its thousands in southern Lebanon, though the Jewish state will not reveal the number.
On Tuesday, Avianco said Israel would pull back all its troops from Lebanon by the end of this month. He also described the talks between Israel and Lebanon as progressing smoothly.
Under UN auspices, officials from both sides have met six times concerning the Israeli pullout from southern Lebanon, as well as the management of the takeover by the UNIFIL force.
The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1701 on Aug. 14, mandating the deployment of a 15,000-strong UNIFIL peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, where its presence reached approximately 5,000 with the arrival of contingents from France, Italy and Spain on Wednesday.
In his latest report on the resolution, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said there was a "general understanding" that Israeli troops would completely withdraw once the UN force reached 5,000 troops.
The conflict between Israel and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters erupted on July 12, following the abduction of two Israeli soldiers by the Shiite group. The war ended on Aug. 14 under UN Resolution 1701, which called for Israel's withdrawal and authorized the expansion of the UN force in Lebanon to 15,000 to help the Lebanese government take control of its southern territory which borders Israel.