- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2000

KFAR KELA, Lebanon For almost 25 years, the border fence's Fatima Gate was a symbol of friendly exchange between Israel and inhabitants of the southern Lebanon "security zone," which Israel maintained to keep Islamic guerrillas away from the Jewish state's territory.
But as Israel completed its hasty withdrawal from the region yesterday and the last of its tanks and troop carriers streamed through the gate, an Israeli officer padlocked the gate for good.
Now only barbed wire and about fifteen yards separate the Israeli frontier road from the Lebanese one. And because of that, the Fatima Gate yesterday became the platform for another kind of exchange.
To the amusement of thousands from all over Lebanon who made it the impromptu shrine on their pilgrimage around Lebanon's newly restored province, young men clambered onto the roofs of cars to hurl insults and invectives at the Israeli soldiers guarding the other side.
Some waved Hezbollah flags. Some were armed and draped in bandoliers of ammunition. The crowd was excited but good humored, savoring Hezbollah's triumph.
On the Israeli side, a military jeep with a mounted machine gun stood by. Elsewhere, some Israelis and guerrillas took souvenir snapshots; some simply gawked.
It remains to be seen whether Israeli's departure will defuse the last active Arab-Israeli front line or bring the conflict right up to Israel's border. Leaders of the Lebanese guerrillas who have moved in to what was the security zone Israel carved out in 1985 have not made clear whether they will continue attacks.
Israelis and Hezbollah now are eyeball-to-eyeball along the 45-mile frontier.
Unlike other front lines of the Arab-Israeli conflict, where Israel withdrew its troops only after long negotiations, the Lebanon pullout came without security guarantees that Israel's northern communities would be safe from cross-border guerrilla attacks.
"This is the first victory in 50 years of Arab-Israeli conflict," Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said in Beirut. Prime Minister Salim Hoss declared today a national holiday "The Day of the Resistance and Liberation" and said the Israeli army withdrew "terrified and defeated, wagging behind him the tails of a crushing defeat."
Under fire from guerrillas and with the swift demise of local allies, Israel's government had little choice but to order the pullout weeks ahead of a self-imposed July 7 deadline.
Throughout the former buffer zone, teams of Hezbollah guerrillas were collecting a rich haul of military hardware that the Israeli-allied South Lebanon Army (SLA) left behind.
Between the former crossing point, near the market town of Nabatiyah, there were at least six abandoned tanks, scores of armored cars, jeeps and other vehicles.
Tuesday night and early yesterday, hundreds of Israeli soldiers returned to Israel. The last tank rolled through the Fatima Gate crossing at 6:41 a.m. local time.
At the old, hilltop French fort at Khiam, which until yesterday served for 22 years as one of the most notorious prisons in the Middle East, Sheik Nabil Kaouk, the Hezbollah chief for south Lebanon, said the future held "more defeats for the enemy," Israel.
He said there were still the so-called Shebaa farms to liberate, about 38 square miles of territory, at the junction of Israel, Syria and Lebanon, on which Israel has built a ski resort and a settlement for Ethiopian Jews.
This article is based in part on wire service reports

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