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Inside the Mind of Hezbollah

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Inside the Mind of Hezbollah


By Robin Wright

Sunday, July 16, 2006; Page B01


Hasan Nasrallah is exactly where he always wanted to be.


"Ever since I was 9 years old, I had plans for the day when I would start doing this," the Hezbollah chief reflected on his leadership quest, when I visited him in the southern slums of Beirut not long ago. "When I was 10 or 11, my grandmother had a scarf. It was black, but a long one. I used to wrap it around my head and say to them that I'm a cleric, you need to pray behind me."


Nasrallah is a man of God, gun and government, a cross between Ayatollah Khomeini and Che Guevera, an Islamic populist as well as a charismatic guerrilla tactician. The black head wrap -- signifying his descent from the prophet Muhammad -- is now his trademark, and he is Lebanon's best known politician. Lines from his speeches are popular ring tones on cellphones. His face is a common computer screensaver. Wall posters, key rings and even phone cards bear his image. Taxis play his speeches instead of music.


At 46, Nasrallah is also the most controversial leader in the Arab world, at the center of the most vicious new confrontation between Israel and its neighbors in a quarter-century. Yet he is not the prototypical militant. His career has straddled the complex line between Islamic extremist and secular politician. "He is the shrewdest leader in the Arab world," Israeli


Ambassador to the United States Daniel Ayalon told me on Friday, "and the most dangerous."


Until this eruption of violence along the Lebanese border -- the most dramatic cross-border acts of war by Israel since its invasion of Lebanon in 1982 -- Nasrallah had largely succeeded in being both. A fiery populist, he extolled the virtues of democracy to me in one breath, then argued that only suicide bombers can secure that democracy. "As long as there are fighters who are ready for martyrdom, this country will remain safe," he bragged in a speech earlier this year. But now the man who helped create Hezbollah may finally have to make a choice.


When we met in his office, before this new battle with Israel, Nasrallah claimed to see peaceful political activism as Hezbollah's future.


"We have ministers, we have members of parliament, we have municipal council members, leaders of unions and syndicates," he boasted as we sat on faux French brocade furniture at his now-bombed headquarters. "If we are maintaining our arms until now, this is due to the fact that the need for it is still there, due to the permanent or constant Israeli threats against Lebanon. Whether we keep on with the resistance or stop the resistance, we are effectively now a full-fledged political party."


The outskirts of Beirut are known as the dahiya , Arabic for "suburbs." It has come to mean the poor, dense and sometimes dangerous maze of slums that is also Hezbollah-land. Its dirty alleys are crammed with concrete-block shanties. Gnarled masses of wire run from one building to the next, illegally tapping into electrical, phone and television lines. While lights burn brightly in trendy downtown Beirut, the dahiya is often eerily dark because of sporadic electricity.


Hezbollah has become an enterprise in the dahiya, often outperforming the state. It runs a major hospital as well as schools, discount pharmacies, groceries and an orphanage. It runs a garbage service and a reconstruction program for homes damaged during Israel's invasion. It supports families of the young men it sent off to their deaths. Altogether, it benefits an estimated 250,000 Lebanese and is the country's second-largest employer.


In the dahiya, Nasrallah is an icon, famed for his oratory and revered as a champion of Lebanon's long-dispossessed Shiite minority.


Born in a Christian suburb of Beirut in 1960, the first of nine children, Nasrallah only joined Hezbollah after the Israeli invasion. Trained in Islam at the top seminaries of both Iraq and Iran, he became one of the original military leaders in Iran's new training camps.

"I was then 22 years old," Nasrallah told me. "We used to discuss issues among ourselves. If we are to expel the Israeli occupation from our country, how do we do this? We noticed what happened in Palestine, in the West Bank, in the Gaza Strip, in the Golan, in the Sinai. We reached a conclusion that we cannot rely on the Arab League states, nor on the United Nations," he said. "The only way that we have is to take up arms and fight the occupation forces."


With a force of between 600 and 1,000 full-time fighters, along with thousands of backups pulled from the streets willing to become human bombs, Nasrallah managed what the tens of thousands in the armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan were unable to do for a half-century -- force Israel to retreat. Today, his is the last private army left in Lebanon.



Nasrallah became the movement's secretary general in 1992, at age 32, after Israeli helicopter gunships assassinated his predecessor. His first major decision was to shift a movement best known for its terrorism spectaculars against the United States, France and Israel into politics -- and run candidates for parliament.


"They resist with their blood," declared Hezbollah campaign posters at the time, featuring suicide bombers. "Resist with your vote."


But Hezbollah's shifts under Nasrallah should not be mistaken for moderation. As with other Islamist groups in the Middle East, change was about survival of both cause and constituents. The end of Lebanon's 15-year civil war in 1990 had altered the environment. From then on, Hezbollah needed to participate in the political system -- or face loss of the weapons that gave it power.


Today, Hezbollah holds 14 seats in parliament, one of the larger blocs, and in 2005 joined the government for the first time. This year, Nasrallah even made an unlikely alliance with a right-wing Christian who was once a Lebanese army general -- while still accepting what U.S. intelligence has pegged at about $100 million annually from Iran in goods, cash and arms, including an estimated 13,000 rockets and missiles.


For six years, Hezbollah also demonstrated some military restraint. When Israel ended its 18-year occupation of Lebanon in 2000, Nasrallah declared, "We have liberated the south. Next we'll liberate Jerusalem." Yet until last week, Hezbollah's increasingly infrequent offensives were largely limited to the disputed border town at Shebaa Farms.


But the transition is far from complete; Nasrallah still wants it both ways. A few weeks before I saw him, he gave a speech about the publication in a Danish newspaper of cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad, which triggered rioting worldwide and more than 100 deaths. Nasrallah condemned "those fools that did wrong to our prophet," but he also criticized the attack on the Danish Embassy in Beirut. "Let us stop this nonsense," he said. "As Muslims and Christians, we should continue to cooperate and unite in order to reject the offense to our prophets and our holy belongings."


Yet Hezbollah still has refused to comply with U.N. Resolution 1559, which calls for the dismantling and disarming of Hezbollah's militia. "The Israeli Air Force could destroy the Lebanese army within hours, or within days, but it cannot do this with us," Nasrallah told me. "We exercise guerrilla warfare. . . . Lebanon still needs the formula of popular resistance."


Whenever Nasrallah talks about the terrorist tactics with which Hezbollah has become synonymous, the message is still tortuously two-faced. Our exchange about al-Qaeda and the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks was typical:


"What do the people who worked in those two [World Trade Center] towers, along with thousands of employees, women and men, have to do with war that is taking place in the Middle East? Or the war that Mr. George Bush may wage on people in the Islamic world?" he asked me. "Therefore we condemned this act -- and any similar act we condemn."


But the Pentagon?


"I said nothing about the Pentagon, meaning we remain silent. We neither favored nor opposed that act," he replied. "Well, of course, the method of Osama bin Laden, and the fashion of bin Laden, we do not endorse them. And many of the operations that they have carried out, we condemned them very clearly."


The use of terrorism is a difficult subject for the head of a group that succeeded in redefining extremist tactics. Hezbollah deployed the first Islamic suicide bombers in modern times. It was also the first to carry out multiple attacks simultaneously. Al-Qaeda and Hamas and Iraq's insurgents -- all Sunni movements -- have copied these tactics.


Nevertheless, Nasrallah has only disdain for bin Laden and the Taliban. In April, an al-Qaeda cell in Lebanon tried to assassinate him. And the late al-Qaeda chief in Iraq this spring condemned the Shiite movement as an "enemy of the Sunnis" -- ironically, in hindsight -- for protecting Israel by preventing Palestinian attacks from Lebanon. "The worst, the most dangerous thing that this Islamic revival has encountered . . . was the Taliban," Nasrallah told me. "The Taliban state presented a very hideous example of an Islamic state."


Yet Hezbollah has not abandoned its extremist origins, even as it tries to establish conventional political legitimacy.


"It is unacceptable, it is forbidden, to harm the innocent," he told me, reflecting on Iraq. "To have Iraqis confronting the occupation army, this is natural. But if there are American tourists, or intellectuals, doctors, or professors who have nothing to do with this war, they are innocent, even though they are Americans, and it is forbidden. It is not acceptable to harm them."


In 2004, Hezbollah issued a communique condemning the beheading of American contractor Nicholas Berg by al-Qaeda in Iraq as a "despicable act" that did "grave damage to Islam and the Muslims." But the day before we talked, a suicide bomber had detonated a bomb at a Tel Aviv restaurant during the busy lunch hour, killing 11 and wounding more than 60 civilians. The bomb was laced with nails and other projectiles; the injuries were particularly gruesome. Islamic Jihad, another Iranian-backed group, claimed credit.


I asked Nasrallah how he applied his metric on civilians to Israelis. He described the issue of what he calls "occupied Palestine" as "complicated."


"It is our opinion that in Palestine, women and children need to be avoided in any case," he responded. "But it came after more than two months of daily Israeli killing of Palestinians, and the destruction of houses and schools, and the siege that is imposed on the Palestinians. There is no other means for the Palestinians to defend themselves. That is why I cannot condemn this type of operation in occupied Palestine."





Robin Wright, Washington Post diplomatic correspondent, interviewed Nasrallah for her upcoming book, "Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East" (Penguin Press).





Arabic translation of above .. By Elaph.com.. The Suadi sponsored web magazin



بماذا يفكر حزب الله

GMT 19:00:00 2006 الإثنين 17 يوليو








ترجمة سامية المصري: إن حسن نصر الله الآن في المكان الذي طالما أراد أن يكون فيه. هذا ما قاله المراسل الدبلوماسي لصحيفة الواشنطن بوست روبن رايت بعد لقائه معه قبل أن تبدأ الحرب الإسرائيلية على لبنان. "منذ أن كنت في التاسعة كانت لدي خطط لليوم الذي سأبدأ فيه هذا العمل،" يقول الأمين العام لحزب الله في مسعاه للقيادة حينما زرته في الأحياء الفقيرة الجنوبية من بيروت منذ مدة ليست بعيدة. وقال: "عندما كنت في العاشرة أو الحادية عشر كان لدى جدتي وشاح أسود طويل، كنت ألفه على رأسي وأقول لهم: أنا إمامكم، وعليكم أن تقفوا خلفي لأداء الصلاة."


نصر الله هو من رجال الله والبندقية والحكومة، تقاطعٌ ما بين آية الله الخميني وتشي غيفارا، قائد بشعبية إسلامية بالإضافة إلى كونه خبيراً في التخطيط الفدائي المؤثر. لقد أصبحت العمامة السوداء الآن علامته المميزة، وهو السياسي الأكثر شهرة في لبنان. نجد مقاطع من خطاباته أصبحت كنغماتٍ على الهواتف الخليوية، وصورته باتت ضمن شاشات التوقف الأكثر شيوعاً في أجهزة الحاسب الآلي. الملصقات على الجدران والميداليات وحتى بطاقات الهاتف باتت تحمل صورته. وتسمع خطاباته في سيارات الأجرة بدلاً من أنغام الموسيقى.


في عامه السادس والأربعين يبقى نصر الله القائد الأكثر إثارة للجدل في العالم العربي في مركز المواجهة الجديدة الوحشية بين إسرائيل وجيرانها في ربع قرن من الزمان. لكنه ليس عسكرياً نموذجياً, فقد تخطت وظيفته الخط المعقد بين المتطرف الإسلامي والسياسي العلماني. وكان السفير الإسرائيلي في الولايات المتحدة دانيال أيالون أخبرني الجمعة أنه "القائد الأكثر فطنة في العالم العربي, والأشد خطراً."


وإلى أن تفجر العنف على طول الحدود اللبنانية – حيث تجري الأحداث الأكثر دراماتيكية عبر الحدود من قبل إسرائيل منذ احتلال لبنان عام 1982 – نجح نصر الله بشكل كبير في أن يكون الاثنين معاً. وبشعبيته المتقدة أطرى مزايا الديمقراطية ثم ناقش مسألة أن التفجيرات الانتحارية وحدها يمكنها أن تحمي الديمقراطية. وقال بفخر في أحد خطاباته بداية السنة: "طالما هناك مقاتلون مستعدون للشهادة, فستبقى هذه البلاد آمنة." والآن على الرجل الذي ساعد في تكوين حزب الله أن يتخذ قراره في النهاية.


عندما التقينا في مكتبه قبل معركته الأخيرة مع إسرائيل, قال نصر الله إنه يعتبر أن النشاط السياسي المسالم هو مستقبل حزب الله.


وقال مفتخراً: "لدينا الآن وزراء وأعضاء في البرلمان وأعضاء في المجلس البلدي وقادة للاتحادات والنقابات. إذا كنا نُبقي على سلاحنا حتى الآن فذلك يرجع إلى حقيقة أن الحاجة إليه ما تزال موجودة, باعتبار التهديدات الإسرائيلية المستمرة ضد لبنان. وسواء واصلنا المقاومة أو توقفنا عنها فنحن الآن نشكل حزباً سياسياً."


تُعرف أطراف بيروت بالضاحية, وهي تدل على متاهة من الأحياء تتسم بالفقر والكثافة السكانية والخطورة كونها معقل حزب الله. ممراتها المتسخة مكتظة بالأكواخ, والأعداد الكبيرة من الأسلاك تنتقل من بناية إلى أخرى, في سحب غير قانوني لأسلاك الكهرباء والهاتف والتلفزيون. وبينما تضيء المصابيح ليل مدينة بيروت العصرية, تبقى الضاحية وسط الظلام بشكل مخيف بسبب انقطاع التيار الكهربائي.


أصبح حزب الله يشكل مؤسسة في الضاحية؛ فهو يدير مشفىً رئيسا إضافة إلى المدارس والصيدليات المخفضة ومحال التموين وميتم. كما يدير خدمة لتنظيف المنطقة وبرنامجاً لإعادة إعمار المنازل التي تضررت أثناء الاحتلال الإسرائيلي. كما يدعم عائلات الشباب الذين يرسلهم إلى حتفهم. وبصورة عامة, فهو يستفيد من حوالي 250000 لبناني, ويُعتبر ثاني أكبر صاحب عمل في البلاد.


في الضاحية يُعدّ نصر الله رمزاً, اشتُهر لخطابته ووُقِّر باعتباره نصيراً للأقلية الشيعية في لبنان. لم يكن انضمام نصر الله, الذي ولد في منطقة مسيحية من بيروت عام 1960, إلى حزب الله سوى بعد الاحتلال الإسرائيلي. وبتلقيه الدروس الإسلامية من الكليات المختصة في كلٍ من العراق وإيران, أصبح أحد أهم القادة العسكريين في معسكرات التدريب الإيرانية الحديثة.


أخبرني نصر الله: "كنت في الثانية والعشرين حينذاك. اعتدنا أن نناقش المواضيع مع بعضنا. إذا كان علينا أن نطرد الاحتلال الإسرائيلي من أرضنا فكيف علينا أن نقوم بذلك؟ لقد شاهدنا ما حدث في فلسطين, في الضفة الغربية وقطاع غزة, وفي الجولان, وفي سيناء. توصلنا إلى قرارٍ بأننا لا يمكن أن نعتمد على الدول العربية ولا على الأمم المتحدة. كانت الطريقة الوحيدة التي أمامنا هي أن نحمل السلاح ونواجه قوات الاحتلال."


وبقوةٍ تتكون من مقاتلين يتراوح عددهم من 600 إلى 1000 مقاتل بالإضافة إلى آلاف المساندين الذين يرغبون في أن يصبحوا قنابل بشرية, نجح نصر الله في ما لم تستطع عشرات الآلاف من الجيوش في مصر وسوريا والأردن تحقيقه منذ نصف قرن, وهو إجبار إسرائيل على الانسحاب. واليوم, يبقى جيشه الجيش الخاص المتبقي في لبنان.


أصبح نصر الله الأمين العام للحزب عام 1992, في سن الثانية والثلاثين, بعد أن اغتالت المروحيات الإسرائيلية سلفه. وكان قراره الأول هو أن يحوّل الحركة المعروفة بعدائها للولايات المتحدة وفرنسا وإسرائيل إلى حركة سياسية وأن يقدم المرشحين للبرلمان. كانت ملصقات حملة حزب الله في ذلك الوقت تضع عبارة "إنهم قاوموا بدمائهم, فقاوموا بأصواتكم", وتضع صوراً للمفجرين الانتحاريين.


ولكن التغييرات التي حدثت في حزب الله بقيادة نصر الله يجب ألا تُفهم بالخطأ أنها باتجاه الحداثة. كبقية الجماعات الإسلامية في الشرق الأوسط كان التغيير حول بقاء القضية والناخبين. فقد جاءت نهاية الحرب الأهلية في لبنان التي استمرت 15 عاماً عام 1990 لتغير المناخ السياسي. ومنذ ذلك الحين احتاج حزب الله إلى المشاركة في العملية السياسية وإلا واجه خسارة السلاح الذي كان يمنحه بعض القوة.


واليوم لدى حزب الله 14 مقعداً في البرلمان وهو إحدى الكتل الكبرى, وفي عام 2005 انضم إلى الحكومة للمرة الأولى. وفي العام الحالي أقام نصر الله تحالفاً غير متوقع مع مسيحي يميني كان أحد جنرالات الجيش, بينما ما زال يقبل بما تشير إليه الاستخبارات الأميركية من حوالي 100 مليون دولار سنوياً من إيران في صورة بضائع وأموال نقدية وأسلحة تشمل 13000 صاروخ وقذيفة حسب التوقعات.


ولمدة ست سنوات أظهر حزب الله ضبط النفس العسكري. عندما أنهت إسرائيل احتلالها للبنان الذي استمر 18 عاماً في عام 2000 صرح نصر الله: "لقد حررنا الجنوب, وتحرير القدس سيكون المرحلة التالية." وحتى الأسبوع الماضي كانت الهجمات القليلة لحزب الله محصورة في المنطقة المتنازع عليها, مزارع شبعا.


لكن الانتقال ما زال بعيداً من الاكتمال, ما زال نصر الله يريده من الجهتين. قبل أسابيع من لقائي به ألقى خطاباً عما نُشر في إحدى الصحف الدنماركية من رسومٍ تسخر من النبي محمد وتسببت في اضطرابات حول العالم وأكثر من 100 قتيل. أدان نصر الله "هؤلاء الحمقى الذين أساءوا إلى نبينا", كما انتقد الهجوم على السفارة الدنماركية في بيروت. وقال: "فلنوقف هذه التفاهة. مسلمين ومسيحيين علينا أن نواصل التعاون ونتوحد لرفض إيذاء أنبيائنا ومعتقداتنا الدينية."


وما زال حزب الله يرفض الامتثال لقرار مجلس الأمن 1559 الذي دعا إلى تفكيك ميليشيات حزب الله ونزع السلاح منها. وكان نصر الله أخبرني: "يمكن للقوة الجوية الإسرائيلية أن تدمر الجيش اللبناني خلال ساعات أو أيام, لكنها لا تستطيع ذلك معنا. نحن نمارس حرباً فدائية ... ولبنان ما يزال بحاجة إلى تشكيل للمقاومة الشعبية."


وفي حين يتحدث نصر الله عن التكتيكات الإرهابية التي أصبحت مرادفة لحزب الله تحمل رسالته وجهين. وفي رده على القاعدة وهجمات 11 سبتمبر 2001 يقول: "ما ذنب الأشخاص العاملين في هذين المبنيين (مركز التجارة العالمي) من آلاف الرجال والنساء في الحرب التي تحدث في الشرق الأوسط؟ أو الحرب التي يشنها جورج بوش على الشعب في العالم الإسلامي؟ ولذلك نحن ندين هذا التصرف وكل عملٍ مشابه."


ماذا عن البنتاغون؟


فأجاب: "لم أقل شيئاً عن البنتاغون, مما يعني أننا التزمنا الصمت. لم نبارك ولم نعترض على هذا العمل. نحن, بالطبع, لا نقر أسلوب أسامة بن لادن ومن يسير على نهجه. وقد قمنا بإدانة عديد من العمليات التي نفذوها بشكلٍ واضح."


إن استخدام الإرهاب موضوع صعب لرئيس جماعة نجحت في إعادة تعريف التكتيكات المتطرفة. كان حزب الله أول من نشر المفجرين الانتحاريين المسلمين في العصر الحديث, كما كان أول من نفذ هجمات متعددة في الوقت نفسه. وقد تبنّى كل من القاعدة وحماس والمتمردون في العراق هذه التكتيكات – وهي جميعاً حركات سنية.


على الرغم من ذلك, كان نصر الله يستخف بابن لادن وطالبان. وفي نيسان (أبريل) حاولت إحدى خلايا القاعدة في لبنان اغتياله. وأدان زعيم القاعدة الأخير في العراق الحركة الشيعية باعتبارها "أحد أعداء السنة" لحمايتها إسرائيل بمنع الهجمات الفلسطينية أن تنطلق من لبنان. وأخبرني نصر الله أن: "الأمر الأسوأ والأشد خطراً الذي واجهته النهضة الإسلامية ... كان طالبان. دولة طالبان أعطت صورة قبيحة جداً عن الدولة الإسلامية."


لم يتخل حزب الله عن أصوله المتطرفة حتى في الوقت الذي يحاول فيه تأسيس شرعية سياسية تقليدية.


وأخبرني في حديثه عن العراق: "من غير المقبول ومن المحرم إيذاء الأبرياء. من الطبيعي أن يواجه العراقيون جيش الاحتلال, ولكن إذا كان هناك سياح أو مثقفون أو أطباء أو أساتذة ليس لديهم ما يقدمونه تجاه هذه الحرب فإنهم أبرياء وإن كانوا أميركيين, ومن المحرم التسبب بالأذى لهم."


وفي 2004 أصدر حزب الله بياناً أدان فيه قطع رأس المقاول الأميركي نيكولاس بيرغ على يد القاعدة في العراق ووصفه بأنه "عمل حقير سبب أذىً عظيماً للإسلام والمسلمين." ولكن في اليوم الذي سبق حديثي معه قام مفجر انتحاري بتفجير قنبلة في مطعمٍ في تل أبيب خلال ساعة الغداء متسبباً في قتل 11 وجرح أكثر من 60 مدنياً. كانت القنبلة مغلفة بالمسامير والمقذوفات فكانت الإصابات موجعة جداً. وتبنت حركة الجهاد الإسلامي, التي تدعمها إيران, هذه العملية.


سألت نصر الله كيف يطبق مقياسه على المدنيين في إسرائيل. فوصف الوضع في فلسطين المحتلة بأنه معقد.


وأجاب: "في رأينا أنه في فلسطين لا بد من تجنب إصابة النساء والأطفال بأي حالٍ من الأحوال. لكن هذه العملية جاءت بعد اكثر من شهرين للقتل الإسرائيلي اليومي للفلسطينيين وتدمير المنازل والمدارس والحصار الذي فُرِض على الفلسطينيين. ليس هناك من وسيلة اخرى للفلسطينيين للدفاع عن أنفسهم. ولذلك لا أستطيع إدانة هذا النوع من العمليات في فلسطين المحتلة."

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Bombings Bring Season of Fear to Seaside Resort




Published: July 18, 2006

TYRE, Lebanon, July 17 — Just a week ago, Tyre was an idyllic seaside town on the Mediterranean Sea, a fledgling tourist spot with everything from scuba diving to fishing cruises, populated by a mixture of Christians and Shiite Muslims.


Graphic: Hezbollah's ArsenalPosters herald a concert by Nancy Ajram, one of the hottest pop singers in the Arab world. But this town is also the gateway to Hezbollah country, where Hezbollah controls everything from local administration and schools to security. Hezbollah has its footprint everywhere here, from its signature yellow banners to portraits celebrating fallen martyrs.


So since the current conflict began, Israeli aircraft have sought to bomb Tyre and the area south of here into submission, while refugees fleeing the bombing have turned the town into a way station on the path to safety in the north.


“This is a war of nerves,’’ said Khalid Mehdi, 50, a fisherman who sat near the city’s harbor with several of his friends on Monday in a rare moment of quiet. “Don’t be fooled by quiet. Be afraid of it.’’


On Saturday and Sunday, Israeli warplanes carried out their heaviest bombing yet of southern Lebanon, and there was enough horror to go around. On Sunday, at least 10 people, including children, were killed when a bomb aimed at the civil defense headquarters here demolished the top two floors of the building. Their mangled bodies were pulled out of the rubble on Monday.


Not far from here, near the village of Marwaheen, a van filled with fleeing families was bombed Saturday, and 16 of the 20 aboard were killed. And on Monday afternoon, a bomb fell near an irrigation canal on the edge of the city where three children were swimming, severely wounding them. Hours later, another group of children was wounded in a nearly identical incident. Late Sunday, a residential building adjacent to the Amel Hospital on the outskirts of town was bombed repeatedly, local residents said.


The bombing feels sporadic — an apartment demolished in one part of town, a home bombed in another, a residential tower abutting a hospital destroyed — but for many that only rattled nerves further.


“If there were heavy bombing you could find ways of avoiding it,’’ said Mr. Mehdi, who was jailed by the Israelis when they occupied southern Lebanon in the 1980’s.


At the Amel Hospital, Dr. Ali Mroue took stock of what he had seen in recent days: decapitated bodies, severe burns, disfigured faces. The hospital has lost 25 patients, he said, but saved 100.


But most of all, he lamented the death of a 2-year-old girl, whom he tried desperately to save. She had severe burns on half her body, internal bleeding and her eyes were perforated, but she fought to live, he said.


“She was a mere child,” he said, as his voice cracked. “She had nothing to do with this. Maybe you can accept the death of an adult, but she had so much ahead of her.’’


He was surrounded by families that rushed to the hospital for care and stayed there for safety. Hundreds of men and women lay in the hospital basement, not sure where to go or when they could return home.


“We drove and drove, and the bombs kept coming behind us,’’ said Saada Ashour, who raced here with her family of five from the nearby town of Shaqra. “We hoped the United Nations would help us, but they did nothing.’’


Ali Khalil’s family was in his aunt’s house when a bomb hit it on Saturday morning, he said. Some in the family rushed to the hospital in a convoy of three cars with several of the wounded. The rest decided to camp out in the basement.


But even the protection of the hospital did not prove strong enough when warplanes hit a residential tower adjacent to it on Sunday evening, bringing the structure down. Several bodies were still buried beneath the rubble Monday.


“We only ask one thing: keep the hospitals out of this,’’ said Dr. Mroue. “We just want to do our job and help the people.’’


The sight of ambulances screeching through the city was so disturbing to residents that Muhammad and Ahmed, two ambulance drivers who gave only their first names, decided to park on a side street under the trees Monday, awaiting emergency calls rather than cruising the city looking for them.


“We’re trying not to drive through any of the cities,” said Muhammad. “It is just too difficult for the people to see them, so we have decided to stay here.’’


Tyre was cut off from the rest of Lebanon on Monday as the Israeli bombings of bridges and roads have turned this city into a virtual island. To leave here, residents have had to take back roads, dirt roads and makeshift bridges to cross the valleys and streams. The obstacles have turned a two-hour drive to Beirut into a daylong trip through the Shouf mountains over twisting roads marked periodically with signs commemorating ambushes of Israeli soldiers.


Many residents, acting on Israeli warnings in leaflets dropped over the area, gave up their stand Monday and decided to brave the drive. A seemingly endless line of cars, packed with families and piled with bags, crossed the mountain passes leading out of here.


Mr. Mehdi was one of those who stayed behind. The cost of a trip to Beirut had reached $500, an impossible sum for someone of his means, he admitted. But even if he could, he would not leave, he said, because he had to defend his home.


“I’m better off dying here,’’ Mr. Mehdi said, as a fighter jet broke the evening quiet overhead. “You can’t go to badWord from here because you already are in badWord.’’

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In Israel’s North, Waiting Out Rocket Attacks



Published: July 18, 2006

NAHARIYA, Israel, July 17 — As members of the Siboni family whiled away Monday afternoon in lawn chairs just outside their bomb shelter, knitting, smoking and reading the Torah, Hezbollah’s rockets suddenly fell with their signature thump.

Workers rescued a wounded man from a building in Haifa hit by a Hezbollah rocket on Monday.

“Go inside, go inside,” advised Talia Siboni, age 2, who was clutching her doll. “This really scares me.”


The family swiftly complied, and over the next hour the thunder of eight crashing rockets was audible in this coastal town, several miles south of the Lebanese border.


With Hezbollah firing rockets on northern Israel for a sixth straight day on Monday — including one that destroyed part of an apartment building in nearby Haifa — tens of thousands of Israelis in the region remained holed up in bomb shelters that, while apparently rocket-proof, are hot and uncomfortable.


In this part of the country, where Hezbollah rockets have been a threat for decades, taking cover in bomb shelters has become as commonplace as bracing for a hurricane is in Florida.


This time, many families have evacuated to the south, waiting out the fighting with relatives. Of the 12 families in the Sibonis’ four-story apartment building, 9 have left.


But Shlomo Siboni, a 45-year-old retired army major, offered a typical Israeli response when asked why his family was staying: “This is my home. Why should I leave? And besides, something could happen to you anywhere in this country.”


The shelters are simple concrete boxes with minimal facilities that usually include bunk beds that fold out from the walls, a toilet and a sink. Electricity allows for cooking on a hot plate, watching television and running a fan.


The Sibonis use a shelter on the ground floor of their building, though most are typically in basements. Most larger apartment buildings have their own shelters, and local governments also provide them.


As the days drag on, tedium sets in, increasing the temptation to spend time outside, particularly for restless children. Mr. Siboni said that he made occasional trips to the store, and that the family had been going upstairs at night to sleep in their third-floor apartment.


When two rockets suddenly landed back-to-back in the distance, Talia offered her own analysis: “The eggs are breaking, the eggs are breaking.”


Mr. Siboni said he and his wife, Kathy, tried to explain the rockets to Talia by saying they were falling eggs that belonged to the egg delivery man. For now, Talia seems to accept that, though she periodically asks, “How do the eggs fly?”


Ms. Siboni’s sister and her family of five visit each summer from Los Angeles for a month or more, and this year they arrived just in time for the rocket barrage. After two days, they retreated to the safety of Tel Aviv and are planning to return home, Ms. Siboni said.


As the rockets hit Monday, the family was joined in the shelter by their neighbor, Avraham Daniel. He was praying in a nearby synagogue last Thursday when a Katyusha landed outside, shattering the windows and showering him with glass.


“They took a few pieces of glass out of my head at the hospital and told me to stay and lie down, but I came home,” said Mr. Daniel, 60.


A grown daughter has urged him to stay with her in Tel Aviv, a little over an hour away by car and out of rocket range. But Mr. Daniel has refused.


“I’ve lived in this apartment for 35 years,” he said. “I’m a Katyusha veteran. I know how to take care of myself.”


Communities in northern Israel have a well-developed game plan for helping their residents when the rockets fall. The town hall in Nahariya has a 24-hour hot line, and municipal workers in flak jackets carry food, water, medicine and even diapers to families running low on supplies in the shelters. The elderly are transported to senior citizens’ homes in safer regions.


The town also organizes activities inside the shelters. Singers from around the country give impromptu concerts. Artists set up craft centers for painting and woodworking. Soldiers are sent to entertain children.


“Unfortunately, we are all too familiar with this,” said Galia Mor, a spokeswoman for Nahariya, which has about 60,000 residents.


While communities farther north have had bomb shelters for many years, the government ordered all homes in Israel to have safe rooms after the Persian Gulf war in 1991, when Iraq fired dozens of Scud missiles into the country.


Still, the past two days have brought an ominous new development, with Hezbollah firing rockets much more powerful than the Katyushas it has been launching for more than two decades.


Since Sunday, at least 20 rockets have hit in or near Haifa, a major port and Israel’s third largest city, which is about 20 miles south of the border. While many homes in Haifa have some kind of bomb shelter arrangement, the city had never been hit until last Thursday.


On Sunday, one of the new rockets killed 8 workers and wounded 20 at a maintenance building in the railroad yard in Haifa. On Monday, a rocket slammed into the top floor of a three-story residential building, destroying apartments on all three floors on one side of the building. One person was critically wounded and at least five others were hurt, the police said.


On Monday, much of Haifa was empty. As Mayor Yona Yahav surveyed the damaged apartment building, he said people did not need to leave the city, but he urged them to remain inside. The city was trying to maintain some semblance of normality and the port was operating, he said. Still, he acknowledged the potential damage to the local economy.


“Hundreds of thousands of people come every summer to festivals here,” Mr. Yahav said. “Without this, our local economy will be hurting.”

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Tide of Arab Opinion Turns to Support for Hezbollah




Published: July 28, 2006

DAMASCUS, Syria, July 27 — At the onset of the Lebanese crisis, Arab governments, starting with Saudi Arabia, slammed Hezbollah for recklessly provoking a war, providing what the United States and Israel took as a wink and a nod to continue the fight.


Forum: The Middle EastNow, with hundreds of Lebanese dead and Hezbollah holding out against the vaunted Israeli military for more than two weeks, the tide of public opinion across the Arab world is surging behind the organization, transforming the Shiite group’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, into a folk hero and forcing a change in official statements.


The Saudi royal family and King Abdullah II of Jordan, who were initially more worried about the rising power of Shiite Iran, Hezbollah’s main sponsor, are scrambling to distance themselves from Washington.


An outpouring of newspaper columns, cartoons, blogs and public poetry readings have showered praise on Hezbollah while attacking the United States and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for trumpeting American plans for a “new Middle East” that they say has led only to violence and repression.


Even Al Qaeda, run by violent Sunni Muslim extremists normally hostile to all Shiites, has gotten into the act, with its deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, releasing a taped message saying that through its fighting in Iraq, his organization was also trying to liberate Palestine.


Mouin Rabbani, a senior Middle East analyst in Amman, Jordan, with the International Crisis Group, said, “The Arab-Israeli conflict remains the most potent issue in this part of the world.”


Distinctive changes in tone are audible throughout the Sunni world. This week, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt emphasized his attempts to arrange a cease-fire to protect all sects in Lebanon, while the Jordanian king announced that his country was dispatching medical teams “for the victims of Israeli aggression.” Both countries have peace treaties with Israel.


The Saudi royal court has issued a dire warning that its 2002 peace plan — offering Israel full recognition by all Arab states in exchange for returning to the borders that predated the 1967 Arab-Israeli war — could well perish.


“If the peace option is rejected due to the Israeli arrogance,” it said, “then only the war option remains, and no one knows the repercussions befalling the region, including wars and conflict that will spare no one, including those whose military power is now tempting them to play with fire.”


The Saudis were putting the West on notice that they would not exert pressure on anyone in the Arab world until Washington did something to halt the destruction of Lebanon, Saudi commentators said.


American officials say that while the Arab leaders need to take a harder line publicly for domestic political reasons, what matters more is what they tell the United States in private, which the Americans still see as a wink and a nod.


There are evident concerns among Arab governments that a victory for Hezbollah — and it has already achieved something of a victory by holding out this long — would further nourish the Islamist tide engulfing the region and challenge their authority. Hence their first priority is to cool simmering public opinion.


But perhaps not since President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt made his emotional outpourings about Arab unity in the 1960’s, before the Arab defeat in the 1967 war, has the public been so electrified by a confrontation with Israel, played out repeatedly on satellite television stations with horrific images from Lebanon of wounded children and distraught women fleeing their homes.


Egypt’s opposition press has had a field day comparing Sheik Nasrallah to Nasser, while demonstrators waved pictures of both.


An editorial in the weekly Al Dustur by Ibrahim Issa, who faces a lengthy jail sentence for his previous criticism of President Mubarak, compared current Arab leaders to the medieval princes who let the Crusaders chip away at Muslim lands until they controlled them all.


After attending an intellectual rally in Cairo for Lebanon, the Egyptian poet Ahmed Fouad Negm wrote a column describing how he had watched a companion buy 20 posters of Sheik Nasrallah.


“People are praying for him as they walk in the street, because we were made to feel oppressed, weak and handicapped,” Mr. Negm said in an interview. “I asked the man who sweeps the street under my building what he thought, and he said: ‘Uncle Ahmed, he has awakened the dead man inside me! May God make him triumphant!’ ”


In Lebanon, Rasha Salti, a freelance writer, summarized the sense that Sheik Nasrallah differed from other Arab leaders.


“Since the war broke out, Hassan Nasrallah has displayed a persona, and public behavior also, to the exact opposite of Arab heads of states,” she wrote in an e-mail message posted on many blogs.


In comparison, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s brief visit to the region sparked widespread criticism of her cold demeanor and her choice of words, particularly a statement that the bloodshed represented the birth pangs of a “new Middle East.” That catchphrase was much used by Shimon Peres, the veteran Israeli leader who was a principal negotiator of the 1993 Oslo Accords, which ultimately failed to lead to the Palestinian state they envisaged.


A cartoon by Emad Hajjaj in Jordan labeled “The New Middle East” showed an Israeli tank sitting on a broken apartment house in the shape of the Arab world.


Fawaz al-Trabalsi, a columnist in the Lebanese daily As Safir, suggested that the real new thing in the Middle East was the ability of one group to challenge Israeli militarily.


Perhaps nothing underscored Hezbollah’s rising stock more than the sudden appearance of a tape from the Qaeda leadership attempting to grab some of the limelight.


Al Jazeera satellite television broadcast a tape from Mr. Zawahri (za-WAH-ri). Large panels behind him showed a picture of the exploding World Trade Center as well as portraits of two Egyptian Qaeda members, Muhammad Atef, a Qaeda commander who was killed by an American airstrike in Afghanistan, and Mohamed Atta, the lead hijacker on Sept. 11, 2001. He described the two as fighters for the Palestinians.


Mr. Zawahri tried to argue that the fight against American forces in Iraq paralleled what Hezbollah was doing, though he did not mention the organization by name.


“It is an advantage that Iraq is near Palestine,” he said. “Muslims should support its holy warriors until an Islamic emirate dedicated to jihad is established there, which could then transfer the jihad to the borders of Palestine.”


Mr. Zawahri also adopted some of the language of Hezbollah and Shiite Muslims in general. That was rather ironic, since previously in Iraq, Al Qaeda has labeled Shiites Muslim as infidels and claimed responsibility for some of the bloodier assaults on Shiite neighborhoods there.


But by taking on Israel, Hezbollah had instantly eclipsed Al Qaeda, analysts said. “Everyone will be asking, ‘Where is Al Qaeda now?’ ” said Adel al-Toraifi, a Saudi columnist and expert on Sunni extremists.


Mr. Rabbani of the International Crisis Group said Hezbollah’s ability to withstand the Israeli assault and to continue to lob missiles well into Israel exposed the weaknesses of Arab governments with far greater resources than Hezbollah.


“Public opinion says that if they are getting more on the battlefield than you are at the negotiating table, and you have so many more means at your disposal, then what the badWord are you doing?” Mr. Rabbani said. “In comparison with the small embattled guerrilla movement, the Arab states seem to be standing idly by twiddling their thumbs.”


Mona el-Naggar contributed reporting from Cairo for this article, and Suha Maayeh from Amman, Jordan.


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