The Jerusalem Post
HAIFA (December 24) – A cease-fire in south Lebanon that began Tuesday morning and which was kept secret by all the sides expires today. It was brokered by the Grapes of Wrath monitoring group to enable humanitarian agencies to search for and recover bodies of Hizbullah gunmen killed in clashes in the security zone, some of which lay in the field for two years.
Western diplomatic sources told The Jerusalem Post that the cease-fire was kept under wraps to ensure the successful completion of the mission.
Hizbullah made it clear the lull in the fighting was only temporary and that it will resume military operations. Sheikh Nabil Kaouk, Hizbullah’s leader in south Lebanon, also denied reports that the organization has come under pressure to curb its activities because of the resumed Israel-Syria peace talks.
UNIFIL spokesman Timur Goksel confirmed the cease-fire began Tuesday morning and that the international peacekeeping force was involved in the mission to recover the bodies.
"The 24-hour period from 6 a.m. Tuesday to 6 a.m. Wednesday was the quietest since the inception of UNIFIL 22 years ago," he noted. "Not even one rifle round was fired in anger or in joy."
The recovery of the bodies was conducted by the International Committee of the Red Cross with the assistance of the Lebanese Red Cross and UNIFIL personnel.
In one case, the bodies of two gunmen had lain in the field near Shama village, in the western sector of the zone, since December 1997. Another body had lain near Arnoun village in the eastern sector since September this year and three more in the Wadi Saluki region since August.
Goksel revealed that he had been trying to achieve a cease-fire that would enable the recovery of the bodies from the Shama region since the time of former OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Amiram Levine.
Local cease-fires, however, had broken down for one reason or another and all previous attempts by the Red Cross to retrieve the bodies had been abandoned.
"The ICRC asked for UNIFIL’s assistance for aerial reconnaissance and in other matters. Sappers from the Polish contingent helped to seek for and clear any mines or other explosive devices in the Wadi Saluki region from where three bodies were recovered and taken by the ICRC to Tyre," said Goksel.
"While that was taking place one of our helicopters did a reconnaissance over the Shama region and pinpointed remains in two locations. ICRC officials and UNIFIL engineers later recovered remains from there which appeared to be those of one of the two missing in that area.
"Arnoun is not one of the areas in which UNIFIL operates, but engineers went there and late in the afternoon some remains were recovered, although it is not yet known if they belong to the missing person," said Goksel.
Hizbullah insisted it was not responsible for mortars fired at IDF and South Lebanese Army outposts at Karkum and Barasheet just after 3 p.m. yesterday. There were no casualties and IDF and SLA gunners did not return fire.
Kaouk, when asked if Hizbullah is under pressure to curb its activities, said such reports are media hype and that the press should ask him again "when we kill the next Israeli soldier."