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Halt in Fighting Sends Lebanese Streaming Home

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) -- Lebanese civilians streamed back to their homes Monday after a U.N. cease-fire halted fighting in a monthlong conflict between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas that has claimed more than 900 lives and sent people fleeing on both sides of the border.

Lines of cars -- some loaded with mattresses and luggage -- snaked slowly around bomb craters and blasted bridges as people tried to reach southern Lebanon for their first view of what is left of their homes and property.

The rush to return and rebuild came despite the fragility of the cease-fire. Just hours after the truce, Israeli troops opened fire on a group of armed Hezbollah fighters approaching them "in a threatening way," the army said. One of the fighters was hit, but the army did not say if he had been killed or wounded.


Some 30,000 Israeli forces remained in Lebanon and Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, said the militia would consider them legitimate targets until they withdraw from the country. The next step -- sending in a peacekeeping mission -- still appeared days away.

A Lebanese cabinet minister told Europe-1 radio in France that Lebanese soldiers could move into the southern part of the country as early as Wednesday. The U.N. plan calls for a 30,000-member, joint Lebanese-international force to move south of the Litani River, about 18 miles from the Israeli border, and stand as a buffer between Israel and Hezbollah militia.

"The Lebanese army is readying itself along the Litani to cross the river in 48 to 72 hours," said Lebanon's communications minister, Marwan Hamade.

But implementation of the hard-won agreement was already in question Sunday night when the Lebanese Cabinet indefinitely postponed a crucial meeting dealing with plans to send Lebanon's half of the contingent to the region.

Lebanese media reported that the Cabinet, which approved the cease-fire plan unanimously Saturday, was sharply divided over demands that Hezbollah surrender its weapons in the south.


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