Israel revives talk of pulling troops out of Lebanon

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reiterated that Israel would consider withdrawing from southern Lebanon if the Lebanese government promises to ensure that no attacks are launched from its territory.

Netanyahu made these remarks in response to overtures from Syria indicating that Damascus is interested in resuming peace negotiations with Israel, according to the Israeli daily Ma'ariv.

Negotiations between the two countries were suspended by Israel in March 1996 when Syria failed to condemn a series of Hamas suicide bombings in Israel.

Netanyahu said Friday of last week that he had "no qualms" about the 20-year-old United Nations Security Council resolution 425, which calls for an immediate Israeli troop withdrawal from southern Lebanon.

But the prime minister told his Cabinet that Israel would not unilaterally withdraw from southern Lebanon because it believed such a move would intensify Hezbollah attacks into northern Israel.

Lebanon has said it rejects the possibility of granting security guarantees to Israel in exchange for an Israeli pullback. Lebanon also has demanded that Israel unconditionally remove its troops from the zone.

Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai is scheduled to discuss ways to implement resolution 425 in discussions with his French counterpart this weekend in France. During a previous visit, the Israeli defense minister raised the possibility of stationing French troops in the security zone.

Calls for an Israeli pullout from Lebanon have increased in the Jewish state over the past year as Israeli deaths have mounted.

Four Israeli soldiers have been killed in Lebanon since the year began, three of them in a mortar attack on their position in the security zone on Feb. 26.

Three Israeli soldiers were wounded in that clash, and another four were wounded in fighting over the weekend. Israeli media reported that at least four Hezbollah fighters were killed in a series of clashes with Israeli troops over the weekend.