Lebanon's Army Returns to Hezbollah's Turf

In Lebanon, troops from the country's army are taking up positions in towns and villages they haven't seen in decades.

It's been almost a week since Lebanese troops began deploying in the south of their country, where Hezbollah has been in control for years.

To help maintain the cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah, the Lebanese army has entered an area that was once ruled by an implicit agreement that they would not confront Hezbollah fighters or attempt to seize weapons.

The United Nations has agreed to dispatch about 15,000 peacekeeping troops to join the Lebanese army on the ground. But troop contributors have been slow to come forward and it's far from clear whether the Lebanese army will be strong enough to maintain the fragile cease-fire.

The Lebanese troops are hardly an impressive group. Their equipment is old. The Jeeps soldiers drive look like those used in the television show M*A*S*H. And the army has only about 100 tanks: Vietnam-era American M48s, which the Lebanese army has been using since 1975.

Truck after truck enters the base in the border town of Marjayoun, carrying troops from the north. A Lebanese military official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that about 7,000 troops have now been deployed to the south of Lebanon, in more than 20 villages.

There are only a few areas where Israeli forces are still present. Reporters who stopped at a Lebanese army checkpoint on one southern highway were told to look out for an Israeli post a few hundred meters down the road.

A retired army general who has a summer house in Marjayoun said on condition of anonymity that the Lebanese army cannot do anything in the south without Hezbollah's implicit consent. He says Hezbollah has regularly refused to allow the army into the area it's controlled — but that it now wants the army to help maintain the cease-fire.

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