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Lebanese Doubtful Israel Election Will Improve Relations

  • Mandy Clark

Israelis go to the polls in general elections Tuesday with hard-liner Benjamin Netanyahu expected to become the country's next prime minister. Israel's neighbor to the north is concerned. Lebanon is still rebuilding after its war with Israel in 2006, set off when the Shi'ite militant group, Hezbollah, kidnapped three Israeli soldiers. Many Lebanese say they hope for better relations, but they doubt that is possible.

The Yassin family has seen their home in southern Lebanon destroyed three times in past conflicts with Israel.

Sixty-eight-year-old, Mahmoud Yassin says the compensation his family received from the militant group, Hezbollah, was 100 times better than what the Lebanese government gave them.

Um Ali Yassin, his daughter-in-law, says Hezbollah's payments allowed them to rebuild their home in the south of the country after the latest war.

She says, there was no obligation from Hezbollah, but they saw that the family was sleeping in the streets after their home was destroyed and decided to help them.

Although the United States, the European Union and Israel consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization, few Lebanese citizens share that view or even blame the group for causing the hostilities.

The 2006 war began after Hezbollah fighters attacked an Israeli patrol along the border, killing two soldiers and seizing three others. Israel responded with bombing raids in southern Lebanon, Beirut and near the Syrian border - and a ground invasion. More than 1,000 Lebanese - many of them young men - died in the violence.

Karim Makdisi, an assistant professor of international relations at the American University of Beirut, says the Israeli election will not improve relations with Lebanon.

"For over the past 20 years there has been a lot of violence in this region. It doesn't seem to matter if it's Likud, Kadima or Labor. They have all declared war, they all had their foreign adventures in Lebanon and other parts. So it doesn't seem to me much of a difference," said Makdisi.

That sentiment is echoed on the streets of Beirut.

"They are always a threat to us, and they are always looking at us from a threatening eye," said this women.

"I personally believe that it is in the interest of Israel to see, to have a destabilized Lebanon continuously, so irrespective of who comes into government," said this man.

But Soheil El-Natour, a Palestinian refugee from 1948, is hopeful. He works as a legal advisor for a Lebanese charity in a refugee camp. He says hope lies with the new American administration.

"If they, I mean the Americans, change, to be at least moderate, not against Israel but at least moderate with the rights, human rights, national rights of every part of the Middle East. We can find a way," he said.

Back in southern Lebanon, the Yassins say peace is what they want most of all. Eighteen-year-old Ali is hoping for it.

"There will be peace in Lebanon one day," he says.

But many Lebanese believe that achieving peace will be a huge challenge - for Israel and Lebanon and the new U.S. administration.

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