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Unresolved: disarming Hizbullah

Cease-fire took hold Monday as residents returned after five weeks of intense conflict.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / August 15, 2006


Moments after a cease-fire calmed Israeli and Hizbullah guns Monday morning, loyalists of the Lebanese guerrillas were on the streets, handing out preprinted posters announcing a "divine victory."

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Peace, however fragile, finally prevailed after a five-week war that has taken more than 1,250 lives. Lebanese Shiites – some celebrating Hizbullah's resistance, some tearful with grief – began flooding back to ruined homes.

But the conflict has not settled a key issue: the fate of Hizbullah's arms. Disputes over disarmament postponed a Lebanese cabinet meeting Sunday. How far Hizbullah can present the conflict as victory in a necessary war, to Lebanese and the wider Muslim world, may determine how it withstands pressure to disarm.

Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, in a televised statement Monday night, said his fighters had won a "strategic and historic victory" over Israel, and that it is the "wrong time" to discuss disarming.

"Who will defend Lebanon in case of a new Israeli offensive?" Mr. Nasrallah asked, adding that the Lebanese Army and new UN force were "incapable of protecting Lebanon."

It is "immoral, incorrect, and inappropriate" to discuss disarming Hizbullah publicly now, Nasrallah said. "It is wrong timing on the psychological and moral level, particularly before the cease-fire."

Nasrallah promised that from Tuesday morning, Hizbullah teams would assess and repair damage to homes as well as pay a year's rent and the cost of furniture to every owner of some 15,000 destroyed homes.

In the hours after the cease-fire, yellow Hizbullah flags flew triumphantly, along with posters of Nasrallah and Katyusha rocket launchers, that read in Arabic: "Believe in God's Promise."

"It's no matter when we come back, we don't mind living in a tent," says Salina Maki, a mother of three who returned to her half-wrecked apartment to retrieve children's shoes and kitchenware. She says the war was worth it. "The destruction of Israel is the most important thing," insists the black-clad Mrs. Maki. "God help the resistance, and Sheikh Nasrallah."

Other returnees, clearly shaken by the damage, and unconvinced, refused to give their names, and sometimes even to speak. Some just wept.

Nasrallah has promised to abide by the UN deal and cooperate with a Lebanese Army deployment to the south. The UN Security Council resolution passed Friday does not demand that Hizbullah disarm, though past resolutions require all militias to give up their weapons. Friday's resolution does forbid Hizbullah from bearing arms south of the Litani River.

Until this conflict, debate in Lebanon swirled around the issue, often along sectarian lines among Lebanon's Shiites, Sunnis, and Christians. Earlier this year, the Lebanese government designated Hizbullah a "resistance" group, to skirt the requirement to disarm "militias."

Speaking last year, in the context of a national dialogue that raised the question of political parties with arms, Nasrallah warned that "any thought of disarming the resistance is pure madness," adding that "any such step is an Israeli act, and any hand reaching for the resistance's weapons is an Israeli hand and we will chop it off."

That quote reverberated across Lebanon, where some used it as a ring tone on their cellphones.

"It is one of the more medieval references that Nasrallah usually doesn't employ, which means 'We're [very] serious about this,' " says Nicholas Noe, a Hizbullah scholar and editor of in Beirut. "It's going to be immensely difficult, and Hizbullah won't [disarm], unless you remove the reasons for Hizbullah having arms."

The UN began to marshal a 15,000-strong peacekeeping force to bolster 15,000 Lebanese Army troops due to take control of south Lebanon. As UN, Lebanese, and Israeli commanders met Monday to work out details, divisions emerged in the Lebanese government.

Some believe that Hizbullah accepted disarmament when it agreed to cede complete control of the south to the Lebanese Army. Others – including the two Hizbullah ministers in the government – refute that, and say that pulling back is enough.