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Powell Hopes to Stop Hezbollah Attacks Against Israel - 2002-04-15


Secretary of State Colin Powell has visited Lebanon and Syria in hopes of convincing both governments to crack down on Hezbollah guerrillas. Hezbollah rocket attacks from Lebanon into Israel have raised fears of creating a second Middle East battlefront. Regional political experts say Lebanon and Syria want to avoid an expansion of hostilities, but may feel powerless to do so.

Hezbollah, a group listed by the State Department as a terrorist organization, has stepped up attacks following Israel's incursion into Palestinian-controlled territories.

Lebanon's southern border with Israel has been under Hezbollah control since Israel ended its 22-year occupation of southern Lebanon in May of 2000. Hezbollah has representation in the Lebanese parliament and enjoys some measure of support among Lebanese citizens.

Secretary of State Powell asked Lebanese President Emile Lahoud to send the army to Lebanon's border with Israel. Lebanon has said any deployment of its military should be part of a final settlement between Lebanon, Syria, and Israel.

Syria has been Hezbollah's main backer in its confrontation with Israel.

Mohammad Kamal teaches political science at Cairo University. He says Lebanon and Syria want a peaceful settlement with Israel, but he believes Iran may be backing Hezbollah in an effort to aid Palestinians. "Both the Lebanese government and the Syrian government are in favor of de-escalating the situation in the south," he said. "They do not want to escalate violence. They do not want to open a new front with Israel at the moment. Lebanon does not want an Israeli attack that would destroy its infrastructure. And Syria, honestly speaking, does not have strong enough forces in Lebanon to respond to an Israeli attack. So I would say that it is probably Iran that is pushing Hezbollah to escalate and open a new front with Israel in order to alleviate the pressure on the Palestinians."

During the past several weeks Hezbollah guerrillas have staged raids against Israeli military outposts in the disputed territory of Shebaa Farms in the Golan Heights, which the United Nations has said belongs to Syria.

Abdullah el Ashaal is an expert on Arab affairs who lectures at several universities in Cairo. He says as long as Hezbollah fights Israeli occupation it will enjoy Lebanese and Syrian support. "Hezbollah's actions against Israel are taking the whole [Arab] street's emotions, and I think if Israel and the United States are trying to push the Lebanese government against Hezbollah this would be doomed to failure, because I think, in this case, the Lebanese are united behind Hezbollah as long as Israel is still occupying Shebaa," he said.

Magdy El Shobokshy is the bureau chief for the Middle East News Agency in Damascus. He says the Syrian government believes it has no right to interfere with Hezbollah's activities. Mr. El Shobokshy says Syria asserts that as a matter of law it cannot prevent Hezbollah from practicing its legal rights until it liberates every inch of Lebanon. He also says this is Syria's position according to international law decrees.

Israel has threatened Syria with retaliation for Hezbollah attacks.

Secretary of State Powell, who encountered angry protesters in both Lebanon and Syria, said "there is a very real danger of the situation along the border with Israel widening the conflict in the region."

The Hezbollah press office in Beirut issued a written response to Mr. Powell's visit to the region. Hezbollah says "it will continue carrying out its task of liberating what is left of occupied Lebanese territory, and will not comply with pressures from Secretary Powell".

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