Hezbollah raises its flag across border

TYRE, Lebanon, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- Hezbollah's flags were erected across southern Lebanon near the Israeli border Friday as U.N. peacekeepers there changed commanders.

Some 30 large green-and-yellow banners were raised across southern Lebanon, just several meters from the Blue Line that divides Lebanon and Israel, for the first time since last summer's war between the two sides.


The 34-day war ended with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which called for the deployment of the Lebanese army and an enlarged U.N. International Forces in Lebanon to replace Hezbollah fighters in southern Lebanon.

As Hezbollah elements were raising the flags on poles, there was movement of Israeli military patrols and a helicopter on the other side of the Blue Line. A Lebanese army patrol and UNIFIL patrols also showed up, but did not attempt to take the flags down.

Analysts see the raising of the guerilla group's flags for the first time since July as a message from Hezbollah to Israel that despite the deployment of an expanded UNIFIL force and the Lebanese army, the group was still present in southern Lebanon.

One Lebanese observer said, "It's as if they're saying 'our military action might have ceased, but we are still here and we were not defeated.'"


The organization claimed victory in its last war with Israel and is credited for having ended Israel's 22-year occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000.

Italian Maj. Gen. Claudio Graziano Friday took over command of the UNIFIL forces, which currently stand at 12,000 but is to expand to 15,000 peacekeepers. In a ceremony at UNIFIL headquarters in the southern coastal town of Naqoura, Graziano took over from French Maj. Gen. Alain Pellegrini, who has headed the force since February 2004. UNIFIL has been in the area since 1978.

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