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Calls for international force to intervene -

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Calls for international force to intervene

Reporter: Tim Hewell

KERRY O'BRIEN: World leaders are frantically working behind the scenes in efforts to contain the
deepening crisis. British Prime Minister Tony Blair and United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan
have called for an international force to be sent in, but with Israel and the US not responding
with any enthusiasm to such a force, there seems no chance of any early foreign intervention.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has emphatically declared that the aim of the attacks on Lebanon
is to destroy Hezbollah, while the leader of Hezbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, is talking of a
"war without limits". So what support does Hezbollah now have? And even if Lebanon had the capacity
to disarm the militant group, would it want to? Tim Hewell from the BBC Newsnight program filed
this report.

TIM HEWELL: Southern Beirut - nearly a week into a campaign, the Israeli Army said it would bomb
Lebanon back 20 years. The aim is to destroy a powerful militant organisation that is said to have
become a state within a state. Israel hopes that with every rocket it sends over, it's driving a
deeper wedge between Hezbollah and the Lebanese people, but the bombardment may simply be
destroying whatever chances this fragile state ever had of dealing with the militants in its midst.
Hezbollah is now praised by politicians from many different camps.

GENERAL MICHEL AOUN, LEBANESE PRIME MINISTER 1988-90: They are Lebanese. They are defending a
Lebanese territory. They are defending Lebanese prisoners.

TIM HEWELL: On a summer evening Beirut's Corniche would normally be packed with strollers and
joggers. Now they have almost all fled. Images of an attack that killed four just a few miles away
were recorded by this resident of south Beirut. He ferried the survivors to hospital and then
escaped here, though the bombardment is still almost too close for comfort. He is so shocked, he's
not yet had time to wash the blood off his car.

SMIR KOBEISSY (TRANSLATION): No one from Lebanon wants to see Hezbollah lay down its arms. We are
with the armed resistance. We are not afraid because God is with us. Our holy martyrs are with us.
Even Christ is with us.

TIM HEWELL: Hezbollah's main mouthpiece, Al-Manar TV, was one of the early targets of the bombing.
The channel is massively popular in the now badly damaged southern suburbs of Beirut where
Hezbollah has become a political force as well as a military one. It's the main defender of
Lebanon's Shia Muslims, perhaps a third of the population. It has it own MPs and supporters in the
Government.

IBRAHM MOUSSAOUI, AL-MANAR TV: Hezbollah here is deeply entrenched in the matrix of the Lebanese
politics. You are talking again about a serious political force. You are talking about a party that
has a discipline, well organised, helps the people. It is not corrupt. It's honest and straight
forward.

TIM HEWELL: But the tens of thousands who took to the streets a year ago in Lebanon's Cedar
Revolution didn't agree. They were incensed at Syria's alleged role in the merger of their former
prime minister, Rafik Hariri, and they demanded not just the withdrawal of the Syrian army, but
also the disarmament of Hezbollah, partly financed by Syria and widely seen as its political pawn.
The beaches of the Christian areas north of Beirut are now empty at the height of what should have
been the most profitable summer season in 20 years. There's an Israeli warship standing guard just
off the coast. But this local anti-Syrian activist who took part in last year's revolution doesn't
blame Israel for the new conflict. She blames the politicians who failed to rein in Hezbollah.

CLAUDE HAJJAR, ANTI-SYRIAN ACTIVIST: When Syria left, they should have started with Hezbollah and
asked for them to lay down their weapons and to let and to deploy the Lebanese Army in the Lebanese
- all Lebanese territory and they didn't do it. So this is why today we are here.

TIM HEWELL: Lebanon's Government, now surrounded by high security, includes several leaders of the
revolution, but they are all Christians like Nayla Moawad, or Sunni Muslims - too weak on their own
to challenge the organised might of Lebanon Shias.

NAYLA MOAWAD, LEBANESE MINISTER FOR SOCIAL AFFAIRS: We don't want to do anything that could lead to
a civil war. Let me be very clear about it. Hezbollah has been heavily armed by the Syrians and by
the Iranians. They have had their security islands on the Lebanese territory, they are a Lebanese
faction. They are supported by their people.

TIM HEWELL: Israeli helicopters offshore from Beirut are a reminder of the Lebanese state's
weakness. Its armed forces can't effectively attack Israel. Hezbollah's can and that's a particular
source of pride to most Shias in Lebanon. Their party and its arms have given them a status they
had never enjoyed before.

TIMUR GOKSEL, UN FORCES, LEBANON 1979-2003: The Shiites of Lebanon they are seen as feudal serfs.
It's been a very tedious, very difficult, in some cases very bloody road for the Shiites of Lebanon
to get to where they are today where they are respected, where they are represented, they're in the
Parliament and they even have a Minister in the Cabinet. This is not something we are going to give
up that easily. They'll fight for it.

TIM HEWELL: But Hezbollah's power in Lebanon doesn't just depend on its control of its heartland,
or on its links with Syria, which are probably now weaker than they were. In the complex web of
patronage and alliance that is Lebanese politics, in a country that was effectively ruled for
nearly 30 years by Syria, the militant group has many highly placed sympathisers far beyond its
formal ranks. Even in the last few days, the President of the country himself has told a closed
meeting of the Cabinet he was glad that it was Hezbollah and not the national army that was
patrolling the country's southern borders, otherwise, he said, Israel might have invaded. When
Israeli troops left Lebanon, there was military cooperation between the Lebanese Army and
Hezbollah. After that, the state allowed the militant group to control the Israeli border.

HASHEM JABER, FORMER LEBANESE ARMY GENERAL: A classical army cannot face Israel. Israel has an
army, a strong army, who have - which have the most sophisticated weapons. Experience has showed us
for 40 years that any - no one Arabic army could defeat or state, you know, to face Israel.

TIM HEWELL: As the pounding of Beirut continues, the Government here has managed to agree that in
the long run it wants it own army to control its own borders, a key Israeli demand. But there's not
much will and certainly no ability here to do that while the fires in southern Beirut are still
blazing.