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Lebanese Skeptical Israeli Election will Result in Better Relations

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 two Israeli soldiers. Many Lebanese say they hope for better relations, but they doubt that's possible.

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

Mahmoud Yassin says compensation they 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.

"There was no obligation, there was no need. Hezbollah saw that we were sleeping in the streets after our home was destroyed and decided to help us," Um Ali Yassin said.

More than 1,000 Lebanese - many were young men - died in the 2006 war with Israel. But the compensation has kept Hezbollah in good stead.

Although the United States, European Union and Israel call Hezbollah a terrorist organization, few people here see it that way or even blame the group for causing the hostilities.

The 2006 war began after Hezbollah fighters attacked an Israeli patrol along the border, killing three soldiers and seizing two others.

Israel responded with bombing raids in southern Lebanon, Beirut and near the Syrian border - and a ground invasion.

Karim Makdisi is assistant professor of international relations at the American University of Beirut. He 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," Makdisi said. "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."

That sentiment is echoed on the streets of Beirut.

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.

"It is the American policy, 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," el-Natour 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, I'm sure of it," he said.

From the hills of South Lebanon, Israeli towns and villages are visible in the distance. They seem peaceful. But many Lebanese believe that achieving peace will be a huge challenge - for Israel, Lebanon and the new US administration.