Israeli Army Says Lebanon Withdrawal Won't Come This Weekend

The Israeli pullout from Lebanon was unlikely to be completed before the weekend, a senior army officer said Wednesday.

Israel's Army Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, told lawmakers Tuesday that he hoped to bring the last soldier home before the start of the Jewish New Year, which starts at sundown Friday.

A top officer said that timetable was unlikely to be fulfilled. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The officer did not say why the withdrawal was proceeding slower than planned.

CountryWatch: Israel

Israel said it would pull out its troops from southern Lebanon once the number of Lebanese soldiers and international troops in the region was large enough to enforce the cease-fire that ended 34 days of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants last month.

Meanwhile, Maj.-Gen. Alain Pelligrini, the commander of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon, said UNIFIL troop levels have reached 5,000.

The United Nations force, which will eventually number 15,000, has been building up its strength as Lebanese army soldiers deploy in southern Lebanon and Israeli troops gradually withdraw.

About 9,000 Lebanese army soldiers are also now in the south.

Pelligrini said that a meeting Tuesday was attended by senior Israeli and Lebanese officers and the command of the U.N. peacekeepers.

"The meeting was positive, we are making progress. IDF withdrawals and LAF deployments are on track," he said, referring to the Israeli and Lebanese armies.

Israel invaded Lebanon on July 12 after Hezbollah militants crossed the border and killed three Israeli soldiers and capture two others.

Since the U.N.-brokered cease-fire went into effect Aug. 14, Israel has maintained a limited presence in Lebanon, seeking assurances that the peacekeeping force is strong enough to secure the border and prevent Hezbollah from rearming.

Also Wednesday, German lawmakers overwhelmingly approved their country's largest naval deployment since World War II, voting to send eight warships to the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon with a mandate to stop arms shipments to Hezbollah guerrillas.

The navy said Defense Minister Franz Jung would see the force off Thursday from the harbor at Wilhelmshaven in northern Germany.

Both Israel and Lebanon had given their approval to German involvement.

That was "a signal of trust in Germany, in the country in whose name the destruction of the Jews and World War II began," Chancellor Angela Merkel said before the vote. "We should take such a signal seriously."

To defuse opposition at home, Merkel ruled out sending combat troops.

The eight German ships, which are being accompanied by three more from Denmark, are expected to take between 10 and 14 days to reach the Mediterranean. Greek, Italian and French warships are patrolling the Lebanese coast until then.

Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands are also expected to send ships to join the U.N. force.