Israel maintains hold on southern Lebanon


JERUSALEM -- The Israeli government made clear yesterday that it has no intention of withdrawing from its security zone in southern Lebanon, even as the Lebanese army consolidates its control over Palestinians in the area.

The Lebanese government is reported to have asked U.S. representatives for help in prompting the Israelis to leave as part of an effort to take control of the whole country.

In Jerusalem, officials said the Israeli presence was not necessarily permanent but set terms suggesting that their army is unlikely to leave Lebanon for a long time.

"As long as there are foreign forces and a foreign presence in Lebanon -- and certainly not those sympathetic to Israel -- Israel has to do everything to defend its citizens and towns," Foreign Minister David Levy said last night.

Meanwhile yesterday, in Lebanon, the Lebanese Army disarmed fighters of the radical Palestinianfaction led by Abu Nidal as other troops swept through Sidon, closing offices of militias and rounding up gunmen.

An army spokesman said members of the Nidal group, Fatah-Revolutionary Council, handed over their weapons at a hilltop village near Sidon.

The elusive, 60-year-old Abu Nidal is not believed to be in Lebanon.

Palestinian guerrillas began delivering their heavy weapons to the Lebanese army Saturday night under a deadline imposed by the government.

Mr. Levy's obvious reference was to Syria. The Syrians, with about 40,000 troops in Lebanon, have become the military and political power behind the reinvigorated Beirut government.

This status was formalized under a treaty signed this spring.

Israel set up the border buffer zone in southern Lebanon years ago as a means to prevent border guerrilla attacks.

Mr. Levy, Defense Minister Moshe Arens and other senior officials now suggest that Israel can not withdraw from southern Lebanon now because that would seem to legitimize Syrian domination of the country.

"We are convinced that our control over the area is vital to ensuring the security of the north of the country," Mr. Arens said.

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