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Hezbollah rejects call to disarm -

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Hezbollah rejects call to disarm

Reporter: Mark Willacy

KERRY O'BRIEN: It's been a historic day for Lebanon and its people. Under intense international
pressure and mass protests after the February assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq
Hariri, Syria has fallen into line with a UN resolution to withdraw the last of its troops after
nearly 30 years of occupation. Even so, Lebanon faces an unstable political future with elections
due at the end of May. The chief threat to security is the country's only private army, Hezbollah,
which has been a loyal supporter of Syria and sworn enemy of Israel. UN Resolution 1559, with US
and Israeli backing, calls on Hezbollah to disarm. But the militant group, blacklisted by the US
and Australia as a terrorist group, enjoys solid grassroots support and says it will never give up
its vast arsenal of weapons. In fact, Hezbollah is developing new and more sophisticated weapons
with which to confront Israel. Middle East correspondent Mark Willacy reports from southern

MARK WILLACY: Across a thin strip of no-man's land between Israel and Lebanon, two sworn enemies
eye each other warily from their bunkers. The only thing keeping Israel and Hezbollah apart is the
United Nations peacekeeping force. But if President Bush and the UN Security Council get their way,
Hezbollah's battle-hardened militia could soon be stripped of its arms.

GEORGE W BUSH, US PRESIDENT: We view Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation and I would hope that
Hezbollah would prove that they're not by laying down arms and not threatening peace.

TIMUR GOKSEL, FMR UN PEACEKEEPER: Any attempt by force to disarm Hezbollah now will bring about the
worst civil war that we have ever seen in the annals of Lebanon and we have seen real bad ones MARK
WILLACY: Hezbollah is Lebanon's only private militia. Translated as "the party of God", Hezbollah
was conceived by Shi'ite clerics in 1982 to resist Israeli troops who had stormed into Lebanon to
drive out Palestinian militants based there. Funded and armed by Iran, Hezbollah's young fighters
successfully employed hit-and-run guerilla attacks and suicide bombings against the Israelis. But
Israelis weren't the sole target. In 1983, the finger of blame was pointed at Hezbollah for the
Beirut bombings of the US Embassy and military barracks which killed 241 US marines and 56 French
soldiers. Throughout the rest of the 1980s, the group was behind a spate of airline hijackings and
kidnappings in the Middle East, resulting in both the United States and Australia black listing
Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation. Despite its international reputation, however, Hezbollah did
win admirers. Large sectors of the Lebanese community applauded its role in forcing Israel to
withdraw from Lebanon five years ago.

WALID JUMBLATT, LEBANESE DRUZE LEADER: Hezbollah is one of the pillars of independence of Lebanon.
Hezbollah did a good job getting the Israelis out, liberating the south of Lebanon.

MARK WILLACY: But after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in February, there
are question marks over Hezbollah's militant role. Under United Nations Security Council resolution
1559, Hezbollah must be disarmed - a move backed by some opposition members inside Lebanese

GIBRAN TUENI, CHRISTIAN OPPOSITION MP: We cannot allow any political party to become a militia,
armed militia, under any pretext. They're acting like a government within the government, a state
within the state.

MARK WILLACY: Hezbollah was the only militia allowed to keep its arms after Lebanon's brutal
15-year civil war. It then used those weapons to humiliate Israel, pushing the region's most
powerful army back over this border and out of southern Lebanon. Hezbollah says it will never
surrender those weapons while Israel remains a threat. But the most senior Shi'ite cleric in
Lebanon and the man widely described as Hezbollah's spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Mohammad
Hussein Fadlallah, says without its military muscle, the group would not be able to protect the
impoverished people of southern Lebanon.

of Hezbollah and its weapons which has prevented Israel from making new invasions of Lebanon.
That's why we always have to be vigilant and cautious.

MARK WILLACY: Hezbollah's supporters point out that the group isn't just a well-armed militia. It
has 12 members of parliament and a massive social services network. At this school in southern
Lebanon, these year 8 students are learning English. This school was built by Hezbollah, and the
group pays for the education of most of these children from poor Shi'ite families.

ZAINAB REDA, TEACHER: People think it's like military, it's like bad, it's this and that, but no,
they give a lot of money, they help people. It's really nice. It's really good.

MARK WILLACY: As well as schools, Hezbollah runs hospitals clinics throughout southern Lebanon.

DR MOHAMMAD SCHOMAN, MEDICAL DIRECTOR: Just for a medical check-up by a doctor in Beirut sometimes,
it reaches about $50, just a check-up like this by a doctor. Here, you pay for - it's paid for
about $5, $7, like this.

MARK WILLACY: That's because Hezbollah helps out?

DR MOHAMMAD SCHOMAN: Yes, yes. MARK WILLACY: However, opposition MP Gibran Tueni says if Hezbollah
is is serious about protecting the poor it should focus on its social programs an disband its
guerilla forces.

GIBRAN TUENI: What we're doing now through Hezbollah is illegal. We do not want Lebanon to be in an
illegal position internationally.

MARK WILLACY: Rather than disarms, Hezbollah is building more sophisticated weapons to confront
Israel with. This month it released video of of a pilotless drone aircraft which it flew over
Israel. Some fear it could be eventually armed with chemical weapons supplied by Iran or Syria.

ABDULLAH KASSIR, HEZBOLLAH MP: We first flew a drone a few months ago, but it only flew for a few
minutes. Our latest flight was much more successful. It flew over Israel all the way to Haifa and
it came back over the sea. The Israeli military missed it. This is a victory not only for
Hezbollah, but also for Lebanon as a whole. From weakness, we are creating strength.

MARK WILLACY: Walid Jumblatt is the leader of Lebanon's most powerful Druze clan and a member of
the country's opposition. He fears that if the party of God is pushed, it could respond with force,
planting the seeds of another Lebanese civil war.

WALID JUMBLATT: We might say that well the weapons of Hezbollah are necessary to defend Lebanon,
included in the Lebanese army, but we don't accept and we will not accept the American agenda about
1559 disarming Hezbollah.

MARK WILLACY: The party of God has built its success on humiliating the Middle East's most
formidable army. Having pushed Israel back over the border, Hezbollah says it must keep its weapons
to ensure its arch enemy never comes back. And it's prepared to stare down Israel, the UN and the
United States to hold onto its arsenal.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Nonetheless, hope for Lebanon ahead.