BAALBECK, Lebanon -- The pro-Iranian Hezbollah began Monday to evacuate its main base in eastern Lebanon in preparation for handing it over to the Lebanese army, security sources said.
The move was in line with a government plan to regain control of all public institutions that have been used as bases for the various militias during 16 years of civil war.
Witnesses said Hezbollah trucks loaded with ammunition and weapons as well as military vehicles including tanks were seen leaving the Sheikh Abdallah barracks, the main Hezbollah base, near the ancient city of Baalbeck, 52 miles east of Beirut.
Hezbollah seized the barracks from the Lebanese army in 1983. The base was later used as the military headquarters of some 1,500 Iranian Revolutionary Guards who provided training and political guidance for the Hezbollahis.
An army communique released late Sunday said the army troops would take control of the barracks within hours. It said the eviction of militias from government institutions was part of a week-long plan to take over all public property.
The plan started last Thursday and will continue until next Thursday with the takeover of the Hezbollah base.
Security sources said contacts were under way between Syria and Iran to convince Hezbollah leave the barracks peacefully.
The sources said the fundamentalist group would need more than 10 days to withdraw all its military equipments from the barracks.
A number of Westerners held hostage for many years in Lebanon were believed to have been detained at the Sheikh Abdallah barracks.
The army has so far evicted the Christian hard-line Lebanese Forces militia from its headquarters in Beirut's district of Karantina and Shiite and Sunni fundamentalists from bases in northern and southern Lebanon.
The Progressive Socialist Party of Druze leader Walid Jumblat also handed over the presidential summer resort of Beit Al Dine in the Shouf mountains.