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CNN Today

Israelis Consider Absence of Long-Held Buffer Zone on Lebanese Border

Aired May 31, 2000 - 2:33 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Syria is sending signals today it is pleased by the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon. Often seen as the true source of power in Lebanon, Syria has told the U.N. the Israeli pullout need not include a certain disputed enclave.

CNN's Jerrold Kessel is stationed at the Israeli-Lebanese border. He reports today on how Israelis think about losing their long-held buffer zone.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New dawn or false dawn for the people of northern Israel after Ehud Barak hauled the Israeli Army out of South Lebanon, creating, he says, a dynamic new reality?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I don't think about it, I don't feel it. But when I think about it, I'm scared.

KESSEL: Fear the dominant emotion in the biggest Israeli border town where Katyusha rocket attacks have regularly, over the past three decades, forced people into bomb shelters. Few in this town of 20,000 believe Mr. Barak has ended the threat.

"You'll see," says this man. "It will be even worse. It won't be long before our children will be sleeping again in the bomb shelters."

There's talk of a quarter of the residents wanting to move away. But from this family, a feeling that things have changed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The situation before was no peace and no war. Now it will be war or peace.

KESSEL: As people return to normal pursuits, the unexpected aftermath of the withdrawal, when, for several days, armed guerrillas appeared with supporters at the border fence, draws this unexpected conclusion.

"Suddenly," he says, "there they were right next to us with their guns. Yet they didn't fire. That's a good sign."

(on camera): The withdrawal is seen as the biggest gamble of Ehud Barak's career, a calculated risk. And down here below ground, people do know a thing or two about a gamble.

(voice-over): The bomb shelter has been enterprisingly adapted for a dual purpose. The pool hall manager, however, doesn't pin his hopes on Hezbollah.

"Those guys," he said, "do what they're told to do. The Syrians are the ones who tell them. If they give them the go-ahead, they'll fire."

The pullback brings the border fence literally to the front door of several farming villages and kibbutz collectives. But while they worry about their own future, most here are glad that what was seen as Israel's nightmare inside Lebanon is over.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now we have a border. If there is a war, it's a war.

KESSEL: A few soldiers have been temporarily installed to help guard this kibbutz, but the only thing people here say that will change their lives permanently is if ways can be found to forge a proper peace with their neighbors across the border.

Jerrold Kessel, CNN, northern Israel.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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