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Thursday, 4 April, 2002, 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK
Who are Hezbollah?
Hezbollah guerrillas celebrate
Hezbollah guerrillas forced Israel to withdraw from Lebanon

Hezbollah - or Party of God - emerged in Lebanon in the early 1980s and became the region's leading radical Islamic movement, determined to drive Israeli troops from Lebanon.

In May 2000 - due partly to the success of the party's military arm - one of its main aims was achieved. Israel's battered and bruised army was forced to end its two-decade occupation of the south.

Hezbollah now serves as an inspiration to Palestinian factions fighting to liberate occupied territory.

Palestinian demonstrators
Hezbollah has embraced the Palestinian cause
The party, in turn, has embraced the Palestinian cause and has said publicly that it is ready to open a second front against Israel in support of the intifada.

Hezbollah was conceived in 1982 by a group of clerics after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. It was formed primarily to offer resistance to the Israeli occupation.

Inspired by the success of the Iranian Revolution, the party also dreamt of transforming Lebanon's multi-confessional state into an Iranian-style Islamic state. Although this idea was abandoned and the party today is a well-structured political organisation with members of parliament.


Hezbollah's political rhetoric has centred on calls for the destruction of the state of Israel. Its definition of Israeli occupation has also encompassed the idea that the whole of Palestine is occupied Muslim land and it has argued that Israel has no right to exist.

Hezbollah's spiritual head Sheikh Fadlallah
Hezbollah's spiritual head Sheikh Fadlallah is close to Iran

The party was long supported by Iran, which provided it with arms and money.

In its early days, Hezbollah was close to a contingent of some 2000 Iranian Revolutionary guards, based in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, which had been sent to Lebanon in 1982 to aid the resistance against Israel.

As Hezbollah escalated its guerrilla attacks on Israeli targets in southern Lebanon, its military aid from Iran increased.

The movement also adopted the tactic of taking Western hostages, through a number of freelance hostage taking cells: The Revolutionary Justice Organisation and the Organisation of the Oppressed Earth, which seized Terry Waite.

For many years, Hezbollah was synonymous with terror, suicide bombings and kidnappings. In 1983, militants who went on to join Hezbollah ranks carried out a suicide bombing attack that killed 241 US marines in Beirut.

Passionate and demanding

The party has operated with neighbouring Syria's blessing - with the guerrilla war against being a card for Damascus to play in its own confrontation with Israel over the occupation of the Golan Heights.

Over the two decades, Hezbollah evolved into a movement with thousands of trained guerrillas, members of parliament and a dynamic welfare programme benefiting thousands of Lebanese.

Hezbollah fighters
Hezbollah proved to be a formidable fighting force
It was passionate, demanding of its members and devoted to furthering an Islamic way of life.

In the early days, its leaders imposed strict codes of Islamic behaviour on towns and villages in the south - a move that was not universally popular with the region's citizens.

But, despite the early history of coercion, the party emphasises that its Islamic vision should not be interpreted as an intention to impose an Islamic society on the Lebanese.

Political moves

In recent years, Hezbollah has won considerable backing within Lebanon. Its social services programme was popular with the Shia community.

The group's successful hit-and-run guerrilla war on Israel's much-vaunted army assured it some support and a lot or respect from other religious communities.

While, the US listed the group as a terrorist organisation, the government in Beirut declared it a national resistance movement.

Its popularity with the Shia community - which makes up almost 40% of Lebanon's three million people - was confirmed in the 1992 parliamentary elections when Hezbollah led a successful campaign and won eight seats in parliament.

But it is not popular with all of Lebanon's different communities - the Christians, for example, have accused it of trying to destabilise the country.

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See also:

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