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Friday, 26 May, 2000, 23:46 GMT 00:46 UK
Analysis: Lebanon's fragile peace
Looter flees after setting fire on cars
Peace in South Lebanon is still fragile
By Beirut correspondent Christopher Hack

Lebanon is fully at peace for the first time since the outbreak of the civil war in 1975 following Israel's withdrawal from the south of the country.

The biggest winner from the pullout is the Shia Muslim group Hezbollah, which has spearheaded the campaign against Israel.

It has gained huge popularity among the majority Muslim community - and even to an extent among the minority Christians for winning the war.

Hezbollah has said publicly that combat will continue if Israel does not release Lebanese detainees in Israeli prisons and withdraw from a small area of disputed land - the farms of Shebaa.

Fragile peace

But most analysts do not expect the organisation to jeopardise its victory so lightly. They think the war is effectively over.


Hezbollah rally in Southern Lebanon
Hezbollah gained huge popularity
In the immediate future, the peace in south Lebanon is fragile.

Never before have armed Muslim radicals in Lebanon been so close to the Israeli border.

The Lebanese Government is reluctant to deploy the army in the south, because Syria - which dominates Lebanese politics - does not want to see Israel's border secure until Israeli troops withdraw from the Syrian Golan height mountain range it has occupied since 1967.

Nobody expects any organised attack on Israel.

But many fear the "lone wolf" scenario - where one person may launch a small attack on Israel, perhaps with a machine gun.

If there are casualties, Israel is committed to react disproportionately - perhaps bombing the Lebanese capital, Beirut. This would lead to a major escalation.

Peacekeepers

The UN, with the robust backing of the Security Council, is seeking to boost the existing peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, which would go a long way towards ensuring peace in the area.

But there is a dangerous vacuum while the force is being prepared.


Israeli and US flags burning during demonstration
Nobody expects any organised attack on Israel
Within domestic Lebanese politics, the victory of Hezbollah will provide a boost for the party.

Parliamentary elections are due in August, and many expect Hezbollah - which currently has MPs in the 128-seat parliament - to see a rise in support.

But because of a religious quota system, Hezbollah has long complained that its number of seats will never truly reflect its political support.

Fair treatment

Hezbollah is expected to build on this military victory by demanding "fairer treatment", and this could further alienate the Christian community.

Specifically within the Shia Muslim community, the victory will also put pressure on the Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, who has long considered himself representative of the Shia community, but may now be eclipsed by Hezbollah.

Economically, the withdrawal will have two effects.

South Lebanon depended on Israel for income which was received by residents in the form of salaries for SLA members and Lebanese who worked in Israel.

This will have to be replaced.

But on a positive note, if the peace lasts, it could provide a boost to the country's economy and investment.

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See also:

25 May 00 | Middle East
Race to fill Lebanon vacuum
26 May 00 | Middle East
Hezbollah leader celebrates victory
24 May 00 | Media reports
Israeli press: Pullout recalls Saigon
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