Friday, July 21, 2006


From Monsters and

Middle East Features
Hezbollah back in the spotlight after capturing soldiers
By Weedah Hamzah
Jul 12, 2006, 19:00 GMT

Tyre, Southern Lebanon - Lebanon\'s pro-Syrian Shiite movement is back in the spotlight after capturing two Israeli soldiers on Wednesday, plunging the country into a crisis that could lead to new violence in the region.

According to analysts here, Hezbollah followed in the footsteps of the Palestinian movement Hamas, whose militants last month captured an Israeli soldier sparking a massive Israeli offensive into the Gaza Strip.

Despite the fear of a wide-scale Israeli assault operation similar to Gaza\'s offensive, the capturing of the two soldiers have prompted many Lebanese, especially followers of the Shiite movement, to celebrate with gunfire. The kidnapping was described by Hezbollah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah as the \'honest promise to all Lebanese prisoners.\'

In the afternoon, the scene changed in the streets of southern Lebanon, which was the target of 32 Israeli raids that mainly targeted areas near the area where the two soldiers were captured in Aita al Chaab, close to the border with Israel.

\'We support Hezbollah\'s drive to release the prisoners, but we are afraid of an assault that will make us live the dark days of bombing our bridges and infrastructure,\' Mahmoud Saeed, a fisherman told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

\'We are used to the Israeli tactics ... they will use destruction means, to scare us but we are here to confront them,\' Ahmed Yacoub, a vegetable vendor said.

Two Lebanese civilians were killed and 11 others were wounded in the Israeli raids that targeted areas in southern Lebanon throughout the day, while the Israeli military said that eight of its soldiers had died.

The fear of the possible assault did not stop youths loyal to Hezbollah from roaming the streets of the southern port cities of Sidon and Tyre, waving Hezbollah flags and distributing candies to celebrate the seizure of the two Israeli soldiers.

\'The two Israeli prisoners will only return home through indirect negotiations and an exchange of prisoners,\' Hezbollah chief Nasrallah told a press conference.

\'This is the only available way to release Lebanese prisoners held in Israel,\' said Nasrallah while insisting the \'Israelis always first say they do not wish to negotiate, but eventually they accept.\'

In January 2004, Israel and Hezbollah carried out a swap through German mediation that saw hundreds of Arab detainees released, along with the bodies of three soldiers, and the freeing of an Israeli businessman.

According to Nasrallah the capturing of the soldiers was also aimed at \'drawing the attention of the world and highlight the ordeal of Arab detainees in Israeli jails.\'

\'Hezbollah will now secure the release of all Arab prisoners from the Israeli jails,\' said Palestinian student, Ahmed Alya.

\'Israel will be forced to implement a ceasefire to secure the release of its soldiers,\' Fatima Badreddine told dpa in Tyre.

Mosques in Tyre continued to announce throughout the evening Wednesday the news of the capturing of the two soldiers.

The capturing of the two soldiers has brought Hezbollah back into the spotlight of Lebanese politics, though the Shiite movement has been part of the political mainstream for some years. It currently has 14 MPs in parliament.

Hezbollah is still regarded in the West as the chief suspect in the bombing of foreign targets and kidnapping foreigners during the Lebanese Civil war in the 1980s.

The movement, which is called the Party of God, was formed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It is lauded in Lebanon for its role in forcing Israel in 2000 to end its 22-year occupation of the south of the country.

© 2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur

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