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Israel exits village amid rift in Lebanon

Nearly two months after the rest of its army left southern Lebanon, Israel agreed Sunday to pull its few dozen remaining soldiers from the Lebanese part of a village divided by the border, yielding control to U.N. peacekeepers.

The decision regarding the village of Ghaja came as Israel's Cabinet discussed the 3-day-old siege of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's government by masses of pro-Hezbollah demonstrators in Beirut. Commentators in Israel called the troop pullout a diplomatic gesture aimed at shoring up Saniora's position, but some said it would be little help.

Saniora, emboldened by Arab and international support for his U.S.-backed government, vowed on Sunday to stay in office despite the ongoing protests.

Israeli officials are alarmed by the crisis in Lebanon, fearing that a collapse of the moderate regime could bring to power an Iranian proxy state on Israel's northern border and lead to another war like the summer's inconclusive 34-day conflict with Iranian ally Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, Israel is under pressure from sporadic attacks from the Gaza Strip, in violation of a week-old truce with the Palestinians. Defense Minister Amir Peretz told a meeting of Israel's top security officials Sunday that 15 rockets had been fired from the coastal territory during the week.

Abu Ahmed, a spokesman for the militant group Islamic Jihah, one of several Palestinian parties to the cease-fire, said the accord was "on the verge of collapse."

The Palestinians have called for Israeli restraint in the West Bank, which is not covered by the truce accord. Israeli troops there have killed at least six people in the past week, including a 15-year-old boy shot in the head Sunday when soldiers opened fire on stone-throwers.

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