Lebanese Refugees Return Home as Tense Cease-fire Holds

Thousands of Lebanese refugees, displaced by the war between Israel and Hezbollah, headed home to find destroyed villages and apartment blocks that had turned into rubble.

The Israeli army, which had deployed 30,000 troops into southern Lebanon to fight Hezbollah, plans to start handing over parts of the territory to U.N. troops within the next few days, Israeli officials and Western diplomats told Reuters.

The Lebanese army will begin moving in 15, 000 troops south of the Litani River on Thursday. Lebanese Defense Minister Elias al-Murr has said the army will not disarm Hezbollah soldiers in the south.

But the truce did not bring an end to all violence. Israeli soldiers shot five Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon on Tuesday and four Hezbollah mortar bombs landed near Israeli troops overnight.

As displaced villagers returned to their towns, they found leaflets dropped by the Israelis, warning of the danger of returning.

Israeli troops have left the Christian town of Marjayoun, the nearby town of Qlaiah and the village of Ghandouriyeh.

Officials believe that Israel’s quick withdrawal plans reflect concern that its ground troops are easy targets for Hezbollah rockets.

Hezbollah announced an aid and reconstruction plan Tuesday as part of a clean-up operation in the bombed-out suburbs of Beirut. Nasrallah issued a public statement saying, “Our brothers in the villages and towns and the cities as well, will take the initiative to contact the owners of these houses in order to provide aid directly and very quickly in order to begin the rebuilding of these houses as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile, Israeli officials continued to hail the weeks-long operation against Hezbollah as a success.

“They (Hezbollah) thought they will bring Israel on our knees. I don’t say it’s easy but we withstood it and we feel that we went out of it militarily in a good shape and politically in an even better one,” Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres told a news conference Tuesday.

At least 1,000 people in Lebanon and more than 150 Israelis were killed in weeks of fighting that ensued after Hezbollah guerillas kidnapped two Israeli soldiers on July 12.