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Tuesday, 23 May, 2000, 12:44 GMT 13:44 UK
Q & A: Leaving Lebanon

Israeli shells frequently target the rugged terrain
Why is Israel pulling out?

Israel's long and messy involvement in southern Lebanon, which it first invaded in 1978, was becoming increasingly unpopular with the Israeli electorate.

To many, the conflict seemed pointless. In 1985, a so-called "security zone" in southern Lebanon was set up, supposedly to stop guerrilla attacks on civilians living in northern Israel.

But the guerilla fighters' main aim was to end the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. Each year they killed dozens of Israeli soldiers.

Finally, the human price of the war became too high. In 1999 Prime Minister Ehud Barak was elected on a pledge to withdraw Israeli forces from Lebanon within a year.

What is Hezbollah?

Hezbollah has gained strength and confidence
Hezbollah ("the Party of God") is the most prominent and successful guerrilla group fighting Israeli occupation of south Lebanon.

It emerged as a military force in the early 1980s during Israel's second invasion and subsequently branched out into civil and political activity.

According to its manifesto, "Islamic resistance units" are fighting "for the liberation of the occupied territories and the ejection of the aggressive Israeli forces".

The guerrillas have received ideological inspiration and financial assistance from Iran, and have been denounced by the United States as a terrorist group.

Israel argues that Hezbollah acts under the aegis of Syria, and certainly neither the Lebanese Government nor Syria have disarmed the guerrillas.

Who are the SLA?

Many SLA soldiers will now be fearing reprisals from returning Lebanese Muslims
The South Lebanon Army is a mainly Christian militia that is armed, trained and financed by Israel.

Formed during the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon in 1978, its future is now in jeopardy.

As the Israelis began withdrawing, many SLA fighters fled to Israel; others have been rounded up by the Hezbollah guerrillas.

Over the years, the SLA suffered far higher losses than the Israelis because it has traditionally manned the zone's most dangerous and exposed outposts.

It also used to run the notorious al-Khiam prison, where hundreds of Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners were held in appalling conditions, mostly without charge or trial.

What future for the region?

Israel's withdrawal is no guarantee of a peaceful solution to the problem of southern Lebanon.

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There are still unresolved issues, in particular disagreement about where the border is, and the continued detention of Lebanese prisoners in Israel.

Hezbollah has demanded that Israel also withdraws from the disputed area of Shabaa. But Israel says it is not part of Lebanon.

The withdrawal leaves a power-vacuum in southern Lebanon, and the risk that Hezbollah fighters may engage in cross-border attacks.

Israel's failure to reach an agreement with Damascus before the withdrawal leaves Syria as the only outside power in Lebanon.

Israel has threatened to attack Syrian targets in Lebanon in the event of cross-border attacks by Hezbollah guerrillas.

Did the occupation enhance security?

Hardly at all. The Israeli forces and the SLA suffered a steady flow of casualties over the years.

The fighting tended to come in cycles, and for Israelis living in northern Galilee any escalation in clashes meant the danger of Katyusha rocket attacks from near or inside the "security zone".

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On the Lebanese side inhabitants lived in constant fear of being caught up in the fighting. In 1993 more than 100 civilians were killed in a seven-day Israeli blitz while hundreds of thousands fled north to safety.

Three years later, during Israel's "Operation Grapes of Wrath", a similar number were killed in a single attack as they sheltered at a UN peacekeepers' base.

That campaign ended with the so-called April 1996 accord in which Israel and the guerrillas agreed to avoid involving civilian areas in the conflict.

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