Soldiers, Refugees Return Home

Israeli soldiers ride in a truck after returning from southern Lebanon in northern Israel Monday, Aug. 14, 2006.
AP Photo/Baz Ratner
Hundreds of Israeli soldiers walked out of Lebanon on Tuesday — some smiling broadly and pumping their fists, others weeping or carrying wounded comrades — as a cease-fire with Hezbollah solidified after a shaky start. The process was expected to accelerate over the coming days.

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:

  • Israeli forces killed a senior Hezbollah leader just before the U.N. cease-fire took effect, the army said Wednesday. The army said its forces killed the head of Hezbollah's special forces, who they identified as Sajed Dawayer. There was no immediate confirmation from Lebanon.
  • Despite the U.N. cease-fire, Hezbollah guerillas fired at least 10 Katyusha rockets into southern Lebanon early Tuesday, the army said. None of them reached Israel and no injuries were reported. Hezbollah has said it will attack Israeli forces in southern Lebanon despite the truce.
  • The Palestinian president and prime minister were intervening Tuesday in the case of two Fox News journalists who were kidnapped a day earlier and remained missing.
  • Trying to build on a cease-fire in Lebanon, U.S. civil rights leader Jesse Jackson launched an effort Tuesday to arrange the release of prisoners held by Hezbollah and Israel. "The cease-fire is a step in the right direction," Jackson said after talking to the Israeli and Syrian ambassadors. "Release of prisoners would reinforce the positive direction."
  • Televangelist Pat Robertson, who prayed for victory last week with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, contends that the cease-fire with Hezbollah has rendered the entire bloody conflict pointless. "Israel went in, but what have they done? Is the word of Isaiah true? — 'We writhed in pain but we gave birth to wind' — I'm afraid so."

    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.