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Lebanese divided on Hezbollah -

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Lebanese divided on Hezbollah

Broadcast: 23/08/2006

Reporter: Sally Sara

It's just over a week into the ceasefire and Lebanon is confronting a new reality. Hezbollah's
political and military status has been given a boost by its conflict with Israel and it's had a
polarizing effect on the people of Lebanon.

Transcript

TONY JONES: Well, it's just over a week into the cease-fire and Lebanon is confronting a new
reality. Hezbollah's political and military status has been given a boost by its conflict with
Israel and it's had a polarising effect on the people of Lebanon. Supporters of Hezbollah are
increasingly fervent. But others are critical, saying Hezbollah took the country to war without
consulting the people and they're fearful of what the future holds. From Beirut, Sally Sara
reports.

SALLY SARA: In south Beirut, Hezbollah supporters are still counting the cost of the war. Despite
the damage from the Israeli air raids, many of the people in this neighbourhood believe the war was
worth it. This is Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah's heartland in the capital.

RAMI KHOURI, EDITOR AT LARGE, 'THE DAILY STAR': He and Hezbollah by their actions have polarised
Lebanese society. There's a lot of people who support them and that support increased during the
war because they were fighting against this terrible Israeli onslaught. But at the same time, more
and more Lebanese started to criticise them.

SALLY SARA: Hezbollah fought the war, whether the nation liked it or not, it was a costly campaign.

DR PAUL SALEM, CARNEGIE MIDDLE EAST CENTRE:: Their policies and their cross-border actions helped
trigger this war, which ended up costing the Shi'ites of Lebanon, the Lebanese in general, more
than any other war in the recent history.

SALLY SARA: Hezbollah began in 1982 with backing from Iran to fight against Israel. Ironically,
some of those who lost the most in latest war are Hezbollah's strongest supporters.

ALI HAJ, HEZBOLLAH SUPPORTER (TRANSLATION): I lost my house for Hezbollah and Sheikh Nasrallah and
a house can be rebuilt. It's just a stone over a stone, but it brought us a lot of pride and
self-reliance. Pride for our people and our country.

SALLY SARA: But others, especially Lebanon's Christians, believe that Hezbollah dragged the country
into war and sacrificed years of progress.

NOEL LTIEF, BEIRUT RESIDENT: We've been building this country for almost 10 years now and new
generations are starting to evolve in this country, starting to grow up much in this country and
suddenly you have war at your hand just like that.

SALLY SARA: The war has also increased fears that Lebanon will be caught up in the escalating
tension between the United States and Iran. Hezbollah's close links with Iran have drawn Lebanon
deeper into a regional power struggle.

RAMI KHOURI: Lebanon is only a utilitarian tool for the United States to deal with the challenge
that the US sees in Iran THEN Lebanon will be a wasteland. It will be completely destroyed and the
Israelis, I think, gave us a hint of that when they did this massive attack all over the country.
They were basically saying, "This is just a taste of what we are going to do if you really get us
angry."

SALLY SARA: But the real challenge lies within. In the eyes of its supporters, Hezbollah has
affirmed its political and military legitimacy and it is eager to broaden its appeal across
Lebanon's historical divisions.

DR PAUL SALEM: This mix is what gives Lebanon its specificity, its identity. Lebanon is a country
of Christians and Muslims who generally live peacefully together, joined together in government.
They have much in common. The Sunnies and Shi'ite who are almost in civil war in Iraq here, despite
some tension, are governing together and working very well together.

SALLY SARA: In the short-term in the focus is on reconstruction. The government estimates it will
take at least two years to repair the physical damage from Hezbollah's war with Israel. Sally Sara,
Lateline.