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Lebanon complicates border-control efforts

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NAQOURA, Lebanon — Lebanon on Monday disputed the number of Israeli encroachments on its soil, complicating efforts to deploy U.N. peacekeepers along the volatile Lebanese-Israeli border.

Army Gen. Amin Hteit told reporters while touring the border area with a U.N. team that Israel had removed two violations along the line the United Nations drafted last month to verify the Jewish state's withdrawal from south Lebanon.

"But these are only two violations out of a total of 17. We have registered some complaints about the way other encroachments were rectified and I doubt that we will be able to finish our work today," he added.

The disputed encroachments could include military emplacements, roads used by the Israelis or any place where Israelis are considered to be using territory on the Lebanese side of the U.N.-drawn border.

Israel admits to nine violations of the so-called U.N. blue line and had promised to rectify them by the end of July.

Lebanon did not dispute the number of encroachments during a meeting with U.N. Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen last week, and a U.N. official described Hteit's comments as surprising.

The United Nations had hoped to increase its 4,500-strong U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) by 1,000 soldiers and deploy it along the border by July. The Beirut government has said it would only approve the deployment of UNIFIL and its own army to the border after Israel removed all violations.

The Jewish state ended its 22-year occupation of south Lebanon in May. The United Nations declared the pullout complete, describing the Israeli violations as minor.

During a Monday patrol, Israel sent two surveillance drones over the border area, breaching Lebanese air space. Lebanese radio mistakenly identified the planes as fighter aircraft, a member of the Lebanese team said.

UNIFIL's deputy force commander James Sreenan told reporters both teams would patrol the area by land and from the air on Tuesday. "The process is going well," he said.

Hteit is expected to relay his findings to the Lebanese government at the end of his mission. UNIFIL will report directly to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Deployment of UNIFIL and the Lebanese army would help ensure stability along the volatile frontier, which is effectively controlled by the Hizbollah guerrillas who fought Israel.

Sporadic violence has broken out since Israel's withdrawal, with civilians lobbing stones at Israeli soldiers, who sometimes fire back.