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Hezbollah havoc

"Hezbollah havoc" Continued...

Issue: "Mayberry no more," July 29, 2006

Now Lebanon is paying the price for this southern-grown time bomb. Israel sent its jets and gunboats to Lebanon, destroying power grids, crippling Beirut's airport, damaging key transportation routes, and killing more than 300 Lebanese in the process. Much of southern Beirut-a Shiite district home to Hezbollah headquarters-was damaged. Subsequently, the Israeli military ordered ground troops into the south July 18 in search of tunnels and weapons.

Halabi says Israeli leaders were waiting for an excuse to pounce on their northern neighbor and believes the damage and suffering is disproportionate: "The international community saw only the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers. They should also be just and see what is going on in Lebanon."

But Israel appears to be in no hurry to end the bombardment of Lebanon. While the intensity of attacks raises some international eyebrows, defenders of the action argue that Hezbollah's strategic location among civilians leads to unavoidable casualties.

Hezbollah also has been wreaking cross-border havoc for years with numerous casualties along the way. When Hezbollah engaged in its recent assault against Israeli soldiers on July 12, Bausch had flashbacks to October 2000, months after the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. Guerrilla forces crossed the border and captured three soldiers, one from Tiberias. All three died during the incursion.

She hopes this outcome will be different: "The leader of Hezbollah declared war, so everyone is saying that the government has to do something and try to get the soldiers back. It's very important in Israel to get our soldiers back."

It's a defining moment for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, both considered warfare rookies. Olmert, elected on a platform of instilling peace through further West Bank withdrawals and unilaterally drawing Israel's borders by 2010, is now plunged into a harsh reality: Not everyone respects borders. A recent poll, however, shows both leaders receiving high approval ratings among the Israeli public for the action in Lebanon.

As fighting entered its second week, Hezbollah continued to rain down Katyusha rockets in northern Israel while Hamas launched its Qassam counterparts from Gaza from the south. Israel removed troops from the northern part of the strip, but a day later sent tanks back into central Gaza where the capture of an Israeli soldier last month triggered an assault now taking backstage to the northern front. Meanwhile, dozens of Israelis have died from rocket attacks across the north and as far-reaching as Haifa.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has called on Arab nations to help deal Israel a "historic defeat," while Iranian Hezbollah's spokesman Mojtaba Bigdeli warned, "If America wants to ignite World War Three . . . we welcome it." The international community is cautiously watching for the emergence of a visible alliance among Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hezbollah that could spark a regional war.

President Bush took a step back during the first full week of fighting: "Everybody abhors the loss of innocent life," the president said. "On the other hand, what we recognize is that the root cause of the problem is Hezbollah. And that problem must be addressed . . . by making it clear to Syria that they've got to stop their support to Hezbollah." He pledged his support for the Lebanese government and encouraged Israel to be committed to its survival.

Meanwhile, Hava Bausch and her neighbors have set up camp in their apartment building's bomb shelter-a requirement in all new Israeli residential housing-waiting and hoping for a resolution that returns the captured soldiers and deals Hezbollah a crippling blow. Abbas Halabi knows war well enough not to let it cramp his livelihood-a trademark Lebanese trait-and continues to commute to his office in Beirut. Despite their differences, both await Hezbollah disarmament in order to win back what only weeks ago were normal lives.

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