Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - The defection of an officer in the South Lebanon Army has highlighted the pressures faced by the mainly Christian militia as Israeli allies prepare to withdraw from southern Lebanon within the next three months.
Major Emile Nasr, 42, the highest-ranking officer in the SLA to defect, reportedly surrendered voluntarily to the Lebanese army.
Nasr commanded the SLA forces in Jezzine until the Christian enclave was evacuated and the SLA pulled further back into the "security zone" last June.
An SLA source was quoted as saying that Nasr made his way out of the Israeli-controlled security zone a few days ago and turned himself over to Lebanese forces.
SLA spokesman Raymond Abu Mrad told CNSNews.com that Nasr had "left the SLA a few months ago, and they don't know anything about him now." However, he confirmed the militia "had heard that he put himself under the Lebanese government."
The planned departure of the Israeli Defense Force from the area has thrown into question the future of the SLA members and their families, whose lives and livelihoods have been largely dependent on Israel for more than a decade.
The Lebanese government views SLA members as traitors, and the Iranian-backed Islamist militia Hizballah has vowed to kill them if they do not defect. Israel has offered to harbor any of the SLA who wish to leave.
However, Mrad dismissed the idea that SLA members would leave their homes.
"Nothing has changed about the SLA," Mrad said. "We've been here all our life. This is our land. We've been here before the IDF came in 1978. We've been here for our own defense, our own land, our own dignity ... It's sure we will be here after July."
The United Nations has agreed to oversee the Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon in terms of UN Resolution 425 that calls for an international force to be established for that purpose.
However, it remains still unclear what role the UN peacekeepers will play and what protection, if any, they will be able to offer to the SLA. The militia also may be forced to disarm.
Meanwhile, Israel reportedly has begun to dismantle outposts in the security zone it has maintained for the past 15 years as a buffer against cross-border terror attacks.
Army trucks containing fences, mobile homes and water tank components were seen crossing the border into Israel on Tuesday. Also, troops have been checking the electronic warning border fence and carrying out mine-clearing operations in the area.
However, the Israeli army spokesman's office would only confirm to CNSNews.com that work on preparing Israel's northern border had begun and denied that any dismantling had yet taken place.
Hizballah has kept up its attacks on Israeli and SLA positions in recent days, and some Hizballah rockets have fallen in Israel.