Lebanese Troops Patrol Near Fatma Gate Along Border With Israel

A Lebanese task force has dispatched a flag-showing patrol along the border with Israel on Wednesday for the first time in a quarter of a century amid speculations that Lebanon would halt the Fatma Gate stone-throwing hostilities.

The U.N. and Israel have all welcomed the deployment of the 1,000-strong Lebanese task force in the Israeli-vacated zone of south Lebanon, As Safir newspaper reported Thursday.

However, Hezbollah guerrillas were allowed by the 500 Lebanese army troops and 500 policemen to maintain their border "observation posts" in line with President Emile Lahoud's insistence that Israel must be kept feeling insecure.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah guerrillas, who had spearheaded a guerrilla war to oust Israeli occupation troops from the country, removed their flags from all towns and villages that have fallen within the task force's zone of operations.

Lebanese army and Internal Security Forces had been banished from the border with Israel sine the 1975 outbreak of the 15-year civil war. Israel invaded Lebanon twice, in 1978 and 1982, during the civil war to rout out Palestinian guerrillas from their main Middle East power base at the time.

A government statement in Beirut said the task force's deployment operation was completed in two hours before dawn of Wednesday.

The military portion of the task force was made up troops from the army's counter-espionage and counter-terrorism brigade along with military police and Internal Security Forces.

The task force has established command headquarters at the Christian-populated town of Marajayoun and the predominantly Shiite Muslim town of Bint Jbeil after the two-pronged push into the region. Some 640 soldiers and policemen took up positions in Marajayoun and 340 in Bint Jbeil.

Once the stationing process was completed, the force dispatched a patrol near the Fatma Gate, where the Lebanese have been stoning Israeli troops and farmers almost daily since the withdrawal on May 24, An Nahar and As Safir newspapers said.

Some of the Israeli soldiers watching the deployment operation came out from their steel-fortified border positions and waved to the task force patrolmen, who totally ignored the welcome gesture, As Safir paper said.

Israeli army maintained mechanized patrols along the entire border area to monitor the Lebanese task force deployment, complete with a camera-equipped spy balloon over the northernmost Israeli settlement of Metullah.

The Israeli government said that it hoped the task force deployment would soon bring the Fatma Gate hostilities to an end.

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