August 22, 2006

Lebanese ponder post-war life with Hizbollah

By Alaa Shahine

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Sharbel Mansour, a Christian in a
Christian district of Beirut, sees a convoy of cars pass by,
yellow Hizbollah flags waving in celebration of the Shi'ite
Muslim guerrilla group's declaration of victory over Israel.

He says he feels enraged and worried.

Enraged because in Lebanon, a country still scarred by the
sectarian civil war of 1975 to 1990, crossing another
community's neighborhood for a political statement is a

And worried alongside many Christians, Sunni Muslims and
Druze Lebanese who think Hizbollah gained strength in
withstanding 34 days of Israeli attacks.

"They will not give up their weapons. They don't feel they
have to after the war," said Mansour, who runs a kiosk selling
coffee and newspapers. "As a Christian, it worries me that
Hizbollah could emerge stronger."

Mansour supports the Lebanese Forces, a Christian faction
and part of an anti-Syrian coalition that dominates government.

Even before the war, which began when Hizbollah captured
two Israeli soldiers on July 12, the coalition was at odds with
the group over its arms.

Many critics of Hizbollah had hoped in private the war
would deal it a blow, leading to disarmament.

But with a fragile truce in place, they are afraid
divisions over Hizbollah's status will widen, weakening a
fragile government and damaging the economy.

Some fear another civil war -- a possibility largely
dismissed by analysts. Others worry over a vague threat.

"Something will go wrong. From the Israelis, Hizbollah. I
don't know, but Lebanon will not recover," said Bashir Sekkar,
24, a jobless photographer who has decided to emigrate.

"Hizbollah is celebrating the victory while people are
buried under the rubble. The whole country is screwed and
destroyed," he said. More than 1,100 Lebanese, mostly
civilians, were killed in the conflict.


Hizbollah tried to address those worries when its leader,
Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, said last week that the "victory" was
for all Lebanese.

But Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a fierce critic of
Hizbollah, said the group faces distrust, despite its decision
to help rebuild thousands of homes destroyed in the conflict.

"Construction is very easy. But the trust the Lebanese
people had that they will not be dragged again to another round
of the war ... has been destroyed and it's much harder (to be
rebuilt)," he said.

"Is this resistance a Lebanese resistance? Or ... a tool of
the Iranian-Syrian axis on the Lebanese land? This is a
question that needs to be resolved." Hizbollah receives support
from Iran and Syria.

Other critics of Hizbollah say the guerrilla group is a
product of the divisions and sectarian politics enshrined in
the country's institutions since independence in 1943.

"Lebanon's sectarianism made Hizbollah exclusively Shi'ite,
and made the Lebanese Forces exclusively Christian," said Sami
Talib, a secular-minded writer, who has also decided to leave
the country.

"Any solution to the current crisis will be cosmetic
because it won't tackle the core problem. It will only be a
matter of time before the next crisis."