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Lebanon truce holds despite clashes

Thousands return home as Lebanese, U.N. forces prepare

A soldier directs traffic as refugees return to southern Lebanon.


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TYRE, Lebanon (CNN) -- A tense, tenuous cease-fire between Israeli troops and Hezbollah militants appeared to be holding early Tuesday, despite a number of clashes and mortars fired inside southern Lebanon.

Lebanese forces were making preparations to move into southern Lebanon to try to prevent a return of the violence that claimed more than 1,000 lives on both sides of the border.

The Israel Defense Forces reported that about four mortar rounds were fired inside southern Lebanon after the cease-fire, which went into effect early Monday. But none of them hit Israeli territory, and Israel decided not to respond, an IDF spokesman said. (Watch tensions remain as cease-fire begins -- 1:09)

Several small clashes between Hezbollah fighters and Israeli soldiers were also reported, in which at least six Hezbollah militants were killed. But so far, there have been no large-scale violations of the U.N.-brokered cease-fire.

Explosions were heard in southern Lebanon after nightfall, but the IDF attributed them to the ongoing destruction of Hezbollah weapons caches and unexploded rockets.

Meanwhile, thousands of Lebanese civilians displaced by the 34-day conflict clogged southbound roads, trying to return home despite warnings from the Israeli military that it was not yet safe. (Watch Lebanese return to ruins -- 2:29)

Highways into southern Lebanon were packed with displaced civilians, driving through bomb craters with mattresses piled high on their cars.

Lebanese officials have said 850,000 people were displaced by the conflict. Video showed one man kissing the ground as he returned home.

Some took advantage of a newly repaired bridge over the Litani River, just north of Tyre, which also sped the arrival of humanitarian aid.

Unexploded ordnance killed two people and wounded nine others, Lebanese civil defense officials said.

In Israel, where a million people fled their homes for shelter in the south, there was no quick return northward.

Hours after the cease-fire took effect, senior military representatives from the Lebanese and Israeli armies met separately with the head of U.N. forces in southern Lebanon to discuss how to implement the agreement, according to a U.N. statement.

The Lebanese army plans to deploy 15,000 troops into southern Lebanon, and the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon will be expanded from 2,000 to 15,000.

Nouhad Mahmoud, Lebanon's special envoy to the United Nations, said his country's forces should begin moving into areas south of the Litani River by the end of the week.

"Everything is in preparation now, politically and practically on the ground," Mahmoud told CNN.

As part of the U.N.-brokered cease-fire agreement, Israel agreed to stop offensive military operations and, once the combined Lebanese-international force is in place, withdraw its forces from the region of Lebanon south of the Litani River. In return, Hezbollah is to disarm south of the river.

However, the looming question is whether Hezbollah will comply with the U.N.'s demand that it disarm completely.

Mohamad Chatah, an adviser to Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, said his government's goal is to convince Hezbollah to become "a normal political party, having the same rights and obligations as others."

"Hezbollah says that can happen," Chatah told CNN. "We cannot have two armies anymore."

Both sides claim victory

In a televised address Monday night, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gave mixed signals on the disarmament question.

While saying he was willing to discuss the issue, he also said he does not believe Lebanese government troops are yet capable of defending the country.

"Some people say that disarming the resistance is an essential condition to building a strong government, and I say the opposite," Nasrallah said. (Full story)

He also blasted Lebanese government leaders for publicly discussing details of their talks with Hezbollah, in which they indicated the group was unwilling to give up its weapons.

"We do not want to get into this argument because it only serves the enemy, which has its own debates and disagreements right now," he said.

When Nasrallah's speech ended, celebratory gunfire and fireworks echoed throughout Beirut. (Watch returning refugees declare Hezbollah the victor -- 1:47)

In a speech to Israel's Knesset Monday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made it clear that if Hezbollah does not disarm, Israeli will continue with what he termed "a long, hard, arduous, complex fight." (Full story)

"We will continue pursuing them," Olmert said. "This is our ethical duty with respect to ourselves. And we have no intention whatsoever of apologizing or asking for permission to do this."

Olmert also announced he was appointing Ofer Dekel, a former deputy head of Israel's security service, to lead efforts to secure the release of two soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah in a cross-border raid on July 12.

That attack ignited the conflict, and the cease-fire agreement calls on Hezbollah to return the soldiers.

In their speeches Monday, both Olmert and Nasrallah claimed victory -- declarations Mahmoud said could help keep the peace.

"We hope that will give them incentive to hold to what they've got so far and hold to the cease-fire," he said.

In Washington, President Bush blamed Hezbollah, and its supporters in Iran and Syria, for the war, which he said was "part of a broader struggle between freedom and terror." (Full story)

Bush also dismissed Nasrallah's claims that the war was a victory for Hezbollah.

"How can you claim victory when you were a state within a state in southern Lebanon, and now you're going to be replaced by an international force?" Bush said.

Airstrike in Gaza

Hours after the bombings stopped in Lebanon, Israeli military forces launched an airstrike on the Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza, the IDF said.

The IDF said the target on Monday night was a Palestinian Islamic Jihad command center. There was no immediate word on causalities.

Also in Gaza, two Fox News employees were taken against their will Monday, according to the network's Jerusalem bureau.

Negotiations are ongoing to secure their release, a Fox News reporter said on air.

The Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement calling for their release.

"We are gravely concerned about our colleagues' safety and call for their immediate and unconditional release," said Executive Director Joel Simon.

Israel, Lebanon count their dead

The conflict resulted in 908 Lebanese deaths and 159 Israeli deaths, authorities in the two countries said Monday.

Of the 159 Israeli deaths, 41 were civilians killed in Hezbollah rocket attacks on northern Israel, according to the Israel Defense Forces. The IDF reports more than 1,000 wounded, including 600 civilians.

Lebanese Internal Security Forces reported 3,877 wounded since Israel began its military campaign July 12.

Nearly 4,000 Hezbollah rockets hit northern Israel since July 12, according to Israeli police.

CNN's Chris Lawrence and Jim Clancy contributed to this report.

Copyright 2006 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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