- Nov 22, 2003
- Reaction score
Lasting quiet returns to south Lebanon
By HAMZA HENDAWI, Associated Press WriterSat Sep 23, 5:23 AM ET
Hezbollah fighters have vanished in south Lebanon, melting back into the population. Whether peace holds will depend on how they put up with the newest players in their longtime stronghold: the Lebanese army and a beefed-up U.N. peacekeeping force.
Hezbollah's huge rally in southern Beirut on Friday showed it won't fade away and that its guerrillas retain their weapons. But the new forces in the south aim to ensure they can't use them.
A lasting quiet in southern Lebanon could mean a new order in an area that for decades has been an active front in the Arab-Israeli conflict, constantly threatening to plunge the region into war.
Gaza and the West Bank would be the only flashpoints left since Egypt and Jordan have peace treaties with Israel and calm prevails on Israel's frontier with Syria, its only other Arab neighbor.
Lebanon badly needs a respite so it can rebuild a country in ruins after this summer's 34 days of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah.
U.N. peacekeepers in the south now number about 5,000. Israeli soldiers in the south believed to number several thousand are to be completely out soon.
Lebanon has long been a place where regional powers settled scores with each other and with their Western foes, and many believe that Hezbollah's benefactors Iran and Syria, seeking to serve their interests, will try and push the group into another fight with Israel.
"There is no way that Hezbollah can do away with its friendships with Syria and Iran," said Rafik Khoury, co-editor-in-chief of Al-Anwar daily. "They are friends who don't care whether calm returns to south Lebanon or not," he said. no shit, Sherlock
But for the moment the Hezbollah guerrillas who battled the Israelis have vanished from villages in the south, along with their weapons. not so, they've only 'melted in'.
Hezbollah's network of services remains above ground. Many residents whose homes have been destroyed confirmed they had received $12,000 from Hezbollah to rebuild and a senior official from the group said the party's activists were generally helping with rebuilding. Which may have been from counterfeit $100 US bill.
"Without Hezbollah, we would still be using candles at home," said Sadeq Bazi, a barber in the village of Bint Jbail, where some of the war's fiercest battles were fought. "My daughter's milk and diapers come from Hezbollah."
Nearly 10,000 Lebanese army troops have poured into the south since a U.N.-sponsored cease-fire halted the Israel-Hezbollah war on Aug. 14. An additional 5,000 soldiers will follow and the U.N. peacekeeping force is supposed to grow to 15,000.
Their mandate is to prevent Hezbollah from launching fresh attacks against Israel and ensure that the authority of the Lebanese government prevails over the region, reversing a situation that had lasted for close to 30 years.
The Lebanese-U.N. force has said it will confiscate any Hezbollah weapons it encounters but won't seek out hidden weapons caches. So far there have been no reports of weapons seizures.
Lebanese troops have fanned out over most of the south, maintaining positions in towns and villages all the way to the border fence with Israel. They have set up dozens of checkpoints, checking the identity of travelers and searching vehicles.
The Lebanese army's lack of modern weaponry is made up for by the cutting-edge hardware available to U.N. troops, such as Leclerc tanks and Cobra radar systems. U.N. forces are on patrol, some on foot, some using Humvees fitted with heavy machine guns.
Hezbollah has publicly accepted the U.N. Security Council resolution that ended the war, but its political chief in southern Lebanon has suggested the group was concerned that a more robust U.N. force may try to undermine its influence or attempt to search for and seize its weapons.
"Any diversion by the international force from its mandate will be considered a violation of the resolution, a threat to national security and unity," said the official, Hassan Ezzedin. Ie, UN put on warning, serious warning...
Hassan Nasrallah, its charismatic leader, boasted in a recent television interview that his armed guerrillas were still in the towns and villages near the Israeli border.
Hezbollah's Lebanese critics have called for the guerrillas to disarm but even they are not suggesting it be done forcibly.
"Hezbollah fighters can easily hide their weapons and turn into ghosts," said Sateh Noureddine, managing editor of the Beirut daily As-Safir and an expert on Hezbollah.
"But this is not the key question," he said. "It is how and when Hezbollah can ever use these weapons again."