Israeli Raid Prompts Concerns About Cease-Fire

An Israeli raid in the Bekaa Valley this weekend threatened to unravel the week-old cease-fire between Hezbollah and Lebanon. Renee Montagne talks to NPR's Jamie Tarabay in Tyre, Lebanon, about the Israeli's raid and United Nations' efforts to forge an international peacekeeping force.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

It's been a week since the cease-fire between Hezbollah and Israel went into effect. An Israeli commando raid deep into the Bekaa Valley over the weekend threatened to end the truce, while the United Nations is still trying to get countries to contribute to an international peacekeeping force.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay is in Tyre in southern Lebanon and joins us now. And, Jamie, has the situation on the ground been changed by the Israeli raid? Is the cease-fire still holding?

JAMIE TARABAY reporting:

So far it seems to, yes. Here in the south we've seen more and more Lebanese returning to the villages that were pretty much destroyed in the 34 days of fighting. But there are still some places around the border where the residents have yet to go back because there are still some Israeli forces there.

There's also concerns among some of the villagers that it's not safe to return because of a lot of unexploded ordnance in their areas, and also that following this raid in the Bekaa Valley that they'll be a renewal of hostilities.

This raid on Saturday caused a lot of outrage here. The prime minister called it a flagrant violation of the cease-fire, and Kofi Annan, the secretary-general of the U.N., agreed. But Israel insisted it was working to keep the cease-fire when it carried out this operation, and it says it was trying to prevent Hezbollah from rearming.

On the Lebanese side, Lebanon's defense minister said yesterday that he was sure Hezbollah wouldn't retaliate with any rocket attacks. And he also warned any other militant groups to also hold to the truce because there are fears here that a Palestinian militant group inside Lebanon might try to reignite the conflict by launching an attack itself. But so far, the cease-fire seems to be holding.

MONTAGNE: And, Jamie, from your position there in Tyre, what is the latest that you know on that international peacekeeping force that's being sent in to support the Lebanese army?

TARABAY: Well, over the weekend, around 50 French military engineers landed and we're still waiting to hear about any more arrivals. The U.N. says it wants to have 3,500 troops on the ground by next Monday, but that doesn't look like it'll happen at all.

And Israel's prime minister made things just a little more complicated yesterday by saying that he didn't think countries without diplomatic relations with Israel should be allowed in the force. This includes countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh, which have all offered front-line troops.

We also understand that in the phone call with the Italian prime minister, Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, also requested that Italy lead the force now, instead of France. And this is also just only slowing down the whole process of putting this force together.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much. NPR's Jamie Tarabay in Tyre in southern Lebanon.

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