The government on Monday approved Defense Minister Benny Gantz's suggestion to award a medal of honor to IDF and South Lebanon Army (SLA) soldiers who fought in the buffer zone in southern Lebanon between September 1982 and May 2000.
"As the last soldier to leave Lebanon, it feels like a great privilege to give recognition to thousands of combat soldiers today, both those who have returned home and those who have not," Gantz said, who served as the last commander of the IDF's Lebanon Liaison Division during Israel's withdrawal from the security zone in southern Lebanon in 2000, said during a cabinet meeting Monday.
"Awarding this medal is also a symbolic message to the soldiers currently serving in the IDF, stressing the state's appreciation of its soldiers and their dedication, the risks they face and their work to protect the nation," he said.
Following Israel's invasion of Lebanon in June 1982, during which the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was expelled to Tunis, the IDF retreated back to a line of fortifications several kilometers from the Israeli border, which was held together with the SLA - a Christain militia armed and trained by Israel.
The IDF and the SLA held the fortification line from 1985 until Israel's withdrawal in May 2000.
The buffer zone, which spanned nearly 10% of Lebanon's total land area, was home to more than 150,000 residents in 67 Shi'ite, Maronite and Druze villages - whose daily lives were de-facto run by Israel and the SLA.
During that period, 559 IDF and 660 SLA soldiers were killed while serving on the fortification line.
Following Israel's withdrawal, nearly 6,000 SLA soldiers and their families fled to Israel to escape prosecution and death.