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UN peacekeepers: Israeli troops still in Lebanon

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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- United Nations peacekeepers Sunday denied Israel's assertion that it had completely withdrawn all of its soldiers from southern Lebanon.

UNIFIL spokesman Alexander Ivanko told CNN Israeli troops still control the border village of Ghajar.

Israeli military sources had previously said the final phase of withdrawal took place on Sunday, when the last Israeli soldier withdrew.

When asked about the UNIFIL report, the Israel Defense Forces confirmed its forces are still operating near Ghajar and will continue to do so "until IDF, UNIFIL and the Lebanese army come to an agreement regarding the security arrangements in the area"

Israel had already withdrawn most of the 10,000 troops that entered Lebanon during the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, which began July 12 when Hezbollah militants kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and killed three. The conflict also followed months of sporadic rocket attacks by Hezbollah on northern Israel.

Israeli media had been reporting on Friday that the last Israeli forces would leave before the start of Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, on Sunday night. Yom Kippur is one of the holiest days in the Jewish calendar.

The fighting between Israel and Hezbollah generally ceased after the August 14 passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which called for an international force in southern Lebanon -- where Hezbollah is based -- to hand over power to Lebanese troops in an effort to prevent the militant group from again seizing control of the region.

Earlier this month, in a speech to thousands of cheering supporters in Beirut, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah declared victory over Israel and vowed that Hezbollah militants will never disarm.

"Those who say the resistance is weak, I want to say it's stronger than ever," Nasrallah said.

But in a televised interview last month, Nasrallah said that if he had predicted the extent of Israel's military response, Hezbollah would not have kidnapped the two soldiers.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called those remarks a "contrition speech" by Nasrallah and said, "It's absolutely clear that Hezbollah has been whipped."


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