The return of tens of thousands of Lebanese made slower progress with roads in gridlock, reports CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey. Altogether, the U.N. estimated that 6,000 people an hour were heading south from Beirut.
Lebanon's Council of Development and Reconstruction put the damage at $2.5 billion in the first two weeks of the war alone, Pizzey adds. By some estimates, the country has been set back 25 years.
The international community looked to build a U.N. peacekeeping force for south Lebanon, but it remained unclear how quickly such a force could be deployed. The guerrillas' patrons, Syria and Iran, proclaimed that Hezbollah won its fight with Israel — claims the Bush administration dismissed as shameful blustering.
Many of the infantry soldiers smiled with joy as they crossed back into Israel. Members of one unit carried a billowing Israeli flag. Some sang a traditional Hebrew song with the lyric: "We brought peace to you." Others wept as they returned to their country, exhausted by the fighting.
Some of the troops had been so disconnected from the news that they asked if Israel had managed to free two soldiers whose capture by Hezbollah on July 12 sparked the fighting. Israel had not. Several tanks headed back into Israel as well, including one that had been damaged and was being towed by a military bulldozer.
At times as they headed south, the soldiers crossed paths with Israeli civilians traveling in the opposite direction, back to the homes they abandoned weeks ago under Hezbollah rocket fire.
In other developments:
Areas of northern Israel that were turned into closed military zones weeks ago were reopened to civilian traffic, and the tanks, bulldozers and other heavy military vehicles that had lined the roads were gone. At one main junction, teenage girls handed out flowers to returning soldiers, thanking them for protecting their homes.
In the battered Israeli town of Kiryat Shemona, residents emerged from grimy bomb shelters and began cleaning up the wreckage caused by more than a month of Hezbollah rocket attacks.
The partial Israeli withdrawal came in preparation for a Lebanese troop deployment across the Litani River, some 18 miles north of the Israeli border. Lebanon's deployment was expected to begin Thursday and eventually put its army in control of war-ravaged south Lebanon with the help of U.N. peacekeepers, military officials on both sides of the conflict said.