- LATAKIA, Syria (IPS) -- Hezbollah,
a group often misunderstood by Westerners, is a militant but also a political
- The Arabic name means 'Party of God'. Led by the charismatic
Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the Lebanese Islamist Shia group was set up in
1982 to resist Israeli occupation of Lebanon during the brutal civil war.
The group declared a political existence in 1985..
- Hezbollah achieved their goal when Israeli troops withdrew
from southern Lebanon on May 25, 2000. The Israeli withdrawal followed
sustained Hezbollah attacks on its troops.
- The political platform of Hezbollah calls for the destruction
of Israel, but the group has successfully transformed itself from a radical
extremist group into an effective political force which holds 18 percent
of the seats in the Lebanese Parliament.
- The United States, Britain, Israel and other Western
countries consider Hezbollah a terrorist organisation that they say has
received weapons and also financial and political support from Iran and
Syria. Both these countries deny supplying arms to Hezbollah.
- But both countries openly support the group politically.
Iranian leaders have produced angry rhetoric in support of Hezbollah. In
Syria massive demonstrations were held in Damascus, Latakia and several
other cites. Demonstrations in support of Hezbollah were also held in cities
across many Arab countries.
- Throughout most of the Arab and Muslim world, Hezbollah
is highly regarded as a legitimate resistance movement. The group follows
a distinctly Shia Islamist ideology developed by the leader of the Islamic
Revolution in Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
- In Lebanon the group had first hoped to transform the
whole country into a fundamentalist Shia state. But it has now abandoned
that objective for a more inclusive platform.
- About 60 percent of the 3.8 million population of Lebanon
is Muslim, most of them Shia. This is where Hezbollah draws its support.
The rest of the population is almost all Christian. A 15-year civil war
between Muslim and Christian groups ended in 1991.
- The Shia movement in Iraq led by Muqtada al-Sadr is following
in the footsteps of Hezbollah. It has won broad support in Iraq from millions
of impoverished Shias there for similar reasons.
- Hezbollah won the support of Shia Muslims by providing
social services, healthcare and welfare when the Lebanese government failed.
Hezbollah runs hospitals, news services and educational facilities for
its followers in Lebanon. It is behind a large number of economic and infrastructure
projects in the country.
- The recent Israeli strikes in Lebanon destroyed the Hezbollah
al-Manar Television station. But the group continues to broadcast messages
from Nasrallah by other means.
- Hezbollah has refused to integrate its forces into the
Lebanese army despite political pressure. It considers itself a legitimate
resistance movement in Lebanon that is also important to the entire Middle
- Hezbollah has long accused Israel of holding many of
its members in jail, some for more than 20 years, and continues to demand
their release. Hezbollah says it will continue to fight unless its prisoners
are also released.
- Hezbollah became the most powerful military force in
Lebanon after Syria withdrew its troops last year. It now has a seat in
the Lebanese cabinet.
- During the civil war, which brought Lebanon to its knees,
Hezbollah became infamous for its suicide bombings and kidnapping of Western
hostages, primarily journalists.
- The biggest Hezbollah suicide attack was the bombing
of the barracks of U.S. marines in Beirut in 1983. The attack killed 241
marines and led then president Ronald Reagan to withdraw all U.S. troops
from the country.
- The group is also widely believed to have carried out
an attack on the U.S. embassy, killing 63 people, and on the headquarters
of the French multinational forces, killing 58 French troops.
- Hezbollah's political rise came substantially after the
assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Harriri in February
2005. In May of that year Hezbollah won its biggest election victory.
- Hezbollah was invited to join the government in July
last year in hope that the move would bring national unity to Lebanon as
the country struggled for stability and peace.
- The current fighting between Hezbollah forces in Lebanon
and Israel has left more than 200 Lebanese dead, along with several Israelis.
Both Hezbollah and the government of Israel have declared open war with
one another. International intervention has been lacklustre to say the
least, and the crisis looks set to deepen.
- As through its chequered history, Hezbollah is again
winning praise and support from the Arab and Muslim world, while it is
accused of terrorism by the West. Hezbollah is about the most prominent
division points at present between the two worlds.
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