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Lebanon says it doesn't control Hezbollah

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  • Greg Cannon
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 14, 2006
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      Lebanon says it doesn't control Hezbollah

      By HAMZA HENDAWI, Associated Press Writer Thu Jul 13,
      5:58 PM ET

      BEIRUT, Lebanon - Israel has held Lebanese leaders
      responsible for Hezbollah's capture of two soldiers,
      but the government here says it has no real control
      over the guerrillas — and taking action to rein them
      in could tear the country apart.

      Wracked by divisions over relations with Syria, the
      Western-backed government of Prime Minister Fuad
      Saniora has yet to muster the political will, or the
      courage, to disarm the guerrillas of the Shiite
      Hezbollah, allowing them to continue to operate with
      almost total autonomy in southern Lebanon.

      Successive Lebanese governments have maintained that
      replacing the guerrillas by Lebanese army troops would
      be tantamount to offering Israel a free service —
      protecting its northern border from guerrilla attacks.

      Many in Lebanon — particularly opponents of its ally
      Syria — resent Hezbollah's free hand and feel that the
      government should do more to assert its authority.
      However, the dangers of taking on the group over its
      arms and the state-within-state role it has assumed in
      southern Lebanon carries serious risks.

      "The 'state of Lebanon' held responsible by Israel for
      yesterday's Hezbollah operation does not exist and may
      never exist in the foreseeable future," wrote Sarkis
      Naoum, political editor of the Beirut daily An-Nahar,
      in a column Thursday.

      "How can such a state exist when the war-and-peace
      decision is not in its hands and its influence on the
      Lebanese who have it, that's if indeed they have it,
      is little or in fact nonexistent?"

      Denouncing Hezbollah as a "group of terrorists,"
      President Bush alluded to the weakness of the Lebanese
      government in comments made in Germany on Thursday. He
      said Israel had a right to defend itself, but also
      expressed worries the Israeli assault could cause the
      fall of Lebanon's anti-Syrian government.

      "We're concerned about the fragile democracy in
      Lebanon," he said.

      The Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hezbollah is seen by
      Lebanon's 1.2 million Shiite Muslims, the largest
      single community among Lebanon's diverse 4 million
      people, as the fruition of a long and painful journey
      to empowerment, emerging from the fringes of a society
      long dominated by Christians and Sunni Muslims to
      become a power to be reckoned with in the last 30

      With the name Hezbollah, or party of God, almost
      synonymous now with Lebanese Shiites, any attempt to
      disarm the organization or undermine its leverage in
      the Shiite-dominated south and east of Lebanon could
      firmly place Lebanon on the road to a second civil
      war, with the Shiites sure to feel that others are
      seeking to send them back to the political wilderness.

      Disarming Hezbollah, listed as a terrorist
      organization by the United States, was called for in a
      U.N. Security Council resolution adopted in 2004, but
      Lebanese authorities, perhaps with an eye on the
      consequences of any unilateral action, have not
      implemented it, trying instead to reach national
      consensus on the issue.

      Hezbollah's charismatic leader, Sheik Hassan
      Nasrallah, has presented Lebanese leaders with a
      blueprint for a strategic defense strategy. The
      document, of which very little is known, remains on
      the agenda of national reconciliation talks that have
      made little progress since they started in March.

      Still, the government has sought to distance itself
      from Hezbollah's latest action, saying it did not know
      in advance of the cross-border raid and doesn't
      support it.

      Anticipating the government's stance, Nasrallah served
      it a warning Wednesday. "No one at home should act in
      a way that encourages the enemy to escalate against
      Lebanon," he told a news conference, adding that
      Hezbollah had no intention to drag Lebanon or the
      entire region to war.

      Nasrallah, a cleric, has in the past used strong
      language when touching on the question of disarmament,
      recently warning that anyone who attempts to
      unilaterally take away his guerrillas' arms would have
      his arm cut off and eyes gauged.

      Founded in 1982 with Iranian help, Hezbollah has
      evolved from a secretive group linked to a series of
      suicide bombings targeting U.S. installations in
      Lebanon and the kidnapping of some 50 Westerners in
      the 1980s. It later became a national resistance
      movement, waging a war of attrition against Israeli
      forces occupying a southern Lebanon border strip.
      Faced with rising casualties, Israel withdrew its army
      in 2000, ending a 22-year military presence there.

      The withdrawal crowned Hezbollah as a heroic
      organization seen by many Lebanese as a liberator that
      won back territory without negotiations or
      concessions. The group has since focused on charity
      work in the south and the eastern Bekaa Valley,
      operating schools, hospitals, dental clinics and
      rebuilding roads and houses destroyed in fighting in
      the south.

      It continues to fight for a small, disputed border
      area, the Chebaa Farms, through sporadic attacks in
      the area. But its association with Syria, widely
      blamed in Lebanon for the assassination last year of
      former prime minister Rafik Harairi, has hurt its standing.
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