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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 August 2006, 14:44 GMT 15:44 UK
Hezbollah's post-war strategy
By Roger Hardy
Middle East analyst, BBC News

Children remove a carpet from rubble in south Lebanon
Many homes have been destroyed in a month of fighting
A Lebanese opinion poll suggests the population is split down the middle over whether Hezbollah should be disarmed - one of the demands in the UN resolution which ended a month of fighting between it and Israel.

Two weeks into the ceasefire, what is Hezbollah's post-war strategy?

Hezbollah is savouring its triumph but also licking its wounds.

Virtually all commentators, including those most hostile to it, have acknowledged that the Lebanese movement has emerged from a month of fighting with its military and political prowess enhanced.

But at the same time, its leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, seems well aware that Lebanon and the Lebanese paid a heavy price for its actions.

In a televised interview on Sunday, the Hezbollah leader came as close to an apology as he is likely to get.

"If I had known that the operation to capture the soldiers would lead to this result," he said, "we would not have carried it out."

It was Hezbollah's abduction of two Israeli soldiers in July which triggered the conflict.

The sheikh gave the interview to a privately-run Lebanese TV station rather than to Hezbollah's own station, al-Manar.

It was an obvious attempt to reach out to the wider Lebanese public.

His message of reassurance was that Hezbollah would not act recklessly to endanger the current ceasefire.

Hearts and minds

While the movement has won a new prestige on the Arab street, it cannot afford to alienate the different factions in Lebanon's complex communal balance.

A Lebanese soldier stands next to a Lebanese fla
The Lebanese army is reluctant to have to disarm Hezbollah

An opinion poll published on Monday suggests that half the country favours Hezbollah's disarmament - one of the demands made in the UN ceasefire resolution.

The poll, in a French-language Lebanese daily, found 51% in favour and 49% against.

Not surprisingly, an overwhelming majority of Shia - the bedrock of the movement's support - think it should keep its weapons.

But most Christians and Druze want it to disarm.

Hezbollah is confident that is not going to happen.

Neither the Lebanese army nor the UN multinational force which is currently being strengthened in the south want to take on the task.

Sheikh Nasrallah is not averse, however, to firing a symbolic shot across Kofi Annan's bows.

The UN secretary-general was jeered by Hezbollah supporters on Monday when he visited the ravaged southern suburbs of Beirut.

It looked like an orchestrated gesture of defiance, a none-too-subtle hint that a UN force might be tolerated but would not be welcomed.

Consolidation

But Hezbollah is nothing if not pragmatic.

It clearly wants the ceasefire to hold, at least for now, in order to consolidate its position.

To buttress support in its Shia constituency, it is spending tens of thousands of dollars helping rebuild homes and getting basic services up and running again.

At the same time it is signalling to all the Lebanese that it will think twice before provoking such devastation again.

It knows that the dominant mood is a profound war-weariness.




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