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Lebanon vows to take charge

Leader counters a defiant boast by Hezbollah

BEIRUT -- The Lebanese prime minister warned yesterday that his army will seize all weapons shown publicly in southern Lebanon, offering a sharp retort to a boast from Hezbollah's leader that his fighters are on the border with Israel and won't leave.

A month into the UN cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah, the United Nations said the truce is holding well, but the comments underscored growing friction between the Islamic militant group and the Lebanese government, which is led by opponents of Hezbollah's patron Syria.

``I intend for the Lebanese army to prove its presence in the area south of the Litani River," Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said after talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo.

``We want this area to be under the army's and the Lebanese state's control. The army has all the authority to ban any armed appearances and confiscate those weapons," Saniora said.

Some 15,000 Lebanese soldiers, backed by an equal number of UN peacekeepers, are deploying in the zone between the Israeli border and the Litani, about 18 miles north, to enforce the truce and a ban on Hezbollah weapons.

Saniora made clear his troops will not actively hunt for hidden Hezbollah arsenals. But he insisted his Western-leaning government will no longer allow the Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hezbollah to dominate the south.

The UN cease-fire calls for the guerrillas to be disarmed eventually, but neither the Lebanese army nor UN soldiers want to provoke a confrontation with Hezbollah.

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said in an interview aired late Wednesday that Israel's monthlong offensive had failed to dismantle Hezbollah or push the guerrillas north.

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