Israelís Withdrawal from Lebanon

ADL Press Release
ADL Statement on Israel's Withdrawal from Lebanon

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On May 24, 2000, Israel completed the withdrawal of its forces from southern Lebanon in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 425. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak pledged during his March 1999 election campaign to withdraw Israeli troops from Lebanon by July 2000.

Israelís Involvement in Lebanon

The purpose of Israelís presence in Lebanon has always been to ensure the security of its northern border. In March 1978, Israel launched Operation Litani, taking control of southern Lebanon in an effort to curb cross-border attacks by Palestinian terrorists. Immediately following the start of Israelís military operations in Lebanon, the U.N. Security Council passed two resolutions. Resolution 425 called for Israelís withdrawal from all Lebanese territory and Resolution 426 established the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), a peacekeeping force that remains in Lebanon today.

In June 1982, after the continued shelling of northern Israel by Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) forces based in Lebanon, Israel launched a full-scale invasion of Lebanon, eventually driving the PLO out of the country. Israeli troops completed a phased withdrawal from Lebanon in June 1985 and created a 9-mile wide security zone in Southern Lebanon controlled by Israel and its Lebanese allies, the South Lebanon Army (SLA).

Continued tension along the Israeli-Lebanese border led to frequent clashes between Israeli forces and the Syrian-Iranian backed Hezbollah. In July 1993, following the killing of seven Israeli soldiers in Southern Lebanon, Israel launched "Operation Accountability" against Hezbollah terrorists. Then in April 1996, Israel launched "Operation Grapes of Wrath," striking at targets in Lebanon to retaliate for Hezbollah rocket attacks on northern Israel. During the course of its operations in Lebanon, Israel always maintained that it would terminate its counterattacks if Hezbollah would cease launching Katyusha rockets into northern Israel.

Hezbollah is a militant, terrorist organization whose goal is to destroy Israel and it continues to threaten Israeli and Jewish targets worldwide. It is financed, armed and trained by Iran and given the green light to maneuver in Lebanon by Syria. Hezbollah is believed to be responsible for a number of terrorist incidents in the Middle East, western Europe and Asia, including two bombings in Buenos Aires Ė the 1993 bombing of the Israeli embassy and the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community building.

Background to Withdrawal

The increase in Israelís casualty count in Lebanon over the past few years led to growing domestic pressure for an end to Israelís military presence in Lebanon. Prime Minister Ehud Barak won a sweeping victory in the May 1999 elections with his pledge to pull Israeli troops out of Lebanon within the year.

On March 5, 2000, the Israeli cabinet voted unanimously for a full troop withdrawal from Lebanon by July. The expectation was that such a withdrawal would be part of an agreement with Syria and Lebanon. However, after negotiations with Syria broke down and Syrian President Assadís refusal to continue talks with Israel, such coordination was not possible.

The Withdrawal

Israel began its unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon on May 22, 2000 and it was quickly completed by May 24 in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 425. According to Resolution 425, the U.N. will take action to fill the vacuum that is created following the withdrawal of Israeli forces, and deploy appropriate armed forces to restore effective authority in the area.

Israel has reiterated that it remains committed to its goal of concluding peace treaties with Syria and Lebanon and hopes that following its withdrawal, peace and security will be restored to both sides of the international border. Israel also expects that the Government of Lebanon will take effective control of southern Lebanon and fulfill the remaining obligations of Resolution 425, particularly, the restoration of international peace and security to both sides of the Israel-Lebanon border. As part of its obligations under Resolution 425, the Government of Lebanon will bear the responsibility for preventing terrorist attacks against Israel from within its borders. Israel maintains its right to act forcefully if terrorist attacks on northern Israel continue after the withdrawal.

As Israeli troops were withdrawing from southern Lebanon, members of the SLA and their families fled their homes in fear of advancing Hezbollah forces. Israel is admitting SLA personnel and their families into Israel. They are being sent to hotels and guest houses throughout Israel and Interior Ministry staff will visit each family and provide them with one-year residency permits that include the right to work, health insurance and other social benefits. Special arrangements are being made for the schooling of their children.

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