Lebanon's 'A-Team of terrorists' valued for social services
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Fuad Taha, the US-educated director of the Saleh Ghandour hospital, says Hizbullah took over the hospital when the Lebanese government showed no interest in it. With funds from Iran, Hizbullah's main backer, and donations, the group spent some $1.5 million to upgrade facilities. The 42-bed hospital treats an average 250 people per day regardless of faith, charging about 25 percent of standard Lebanese fees.Skip to next paragraph
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Dr. Taha cheerfully admits that last year the hospital lost about $27,000 a month, but insists that making money is not the point. "It is the duty of every Muslim to step in and help," he says. "We are very honest in what we are doing. We are not here to make a profit."
Critics may dismiss Hizbullah's social efforts as nothing more than an operation to win backing of the Shiite population for the organization's militant activities against Israel. But Professor Harik says it is much more than that.
"According to Islam, there is more than one way to participate in jihad [holy struggle]," she says. "The collection and disbursement of financial donations [to social services] is extremely important to the overall image of Hizbullah as a believable and credible Islamic group."
Hizbullah's presence in south Lebanon is palpable - from the yellow party flags snapping in the warm breeze and the billboards glorifying suicide operations against Israeli occupation troops to the handfuls of plainclothes Hizbullah fighters monitoring the border fence from small posts.
Hizbullah has been stockpiling weapons and ammunition in south Lebanon since the Israeli troop withdrawal and threatens to use them should Israel attack. The party has provided support - both material and moral - for Palestinian militants. But its overt military activities have been limited to periodic mortar bombardments of the Shebaa Farms, a remote mountainside occupied by Israeli troops running along Lebanon's southeast border.
Israel has warned it cannot tolerate Hizbullah's military presence along the frontier indefinitely and the US has repeatedly demanded the group's withdrawal from the area and the full deployment of Lebanese troops to the border. Some 1,000 Lebanese soldiers and military intelligence agents provide security in the southern frontier district, but they are not deployed along the border fence.
Yet according to Mr. Goksel, the UN official, Hizbullah's pervasive presence in south Lebanon and its coordination with the Lebanese military has deterred cross- border attacks into Israel by rogue Palestinians and Islamist militants fired up by the intifada and the war in Iraq.
"Today's calm in south Lebanon is due to the Lebanese Army, Lebanese intelligence and Hizbullah," Goksel says. "Hizbullah's local intelligence-gathering has no match. Their input [to maintaining calm] cannot be ignored at all."
Goksel, who retires this month, says that the US "misunderstands the Hizbullah reality." "Hizbullah is very much a local force in south Lebanon. They are dedicated and motivated ... but also realists who are not going to jeopardize their own people here by starting a war with Israel," he says. "Why do people keep wanting to impose a reality [on Lebanon]? There's already a reality here, and it needs to be listened to."