U.N. Forces Evacuate Lebanese Soldiers From Southern Town Occupied by Israelis

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U.N. peacekeepers were dispatched Friday to evacuate about 350 Lebanese soldiers and police detained by Israeli forces in Marjayoun a day after Israeli soldiers swept into the southern Lebanese town, security officials said.

Two armored vehicles from the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, a 2,000-member peacekeeping force deployed in southern Lebanon, headed to Marjayoun, which Israeli forces occupied on Thursday.

They will escort the Lebanese troops out of their Marjayoun barracks in a convoy that will take them into government-controlled territory further north, the Lebanese security officials said.

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On Thursday, Interior Minister Ahmed Fatfat said Israeli troops entered the garrison in Marjayoun in the afternoon "and asked to share it with Lebanese troops there."

He said the troops refused and wanted to leave, but the Israelis did not let them.

"We consider them captives," Fatfat said, adding that the government was trying to win their release.

Lebanese and Arab media reports said that France and the United States intervened to arrange for the evacuation of the Lebanese troops.

There are more than 1,000 Lebanese troops in southern Lebanon conducting security duties. But Hezbollah guerrillas actually control most of the south.

The government has pledged to send 15,000 troops to the border with Israel as part of a peace package to end one month of brutal fighting and bombardment by Israel and Hezbollah. Israel has insisted on staying in southern Lebanon until a robust international force is deployed, which could take weeks or months.

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