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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 May 2007, 13:27 GMT 14:27 UK
Hezbollah's secret nectarines
In southern Lebanon, where the Israeli army and Hezbollah fighters fought last year, an uneasy peace reigns. But as Darius Bazargan reports, Hezbollah remains a force to be reckoned with.

"Modern live/work space available to buy or rent: 400 sq metres in a sun drenched Mediterranean valley. Electricity, hot/cold running water, shower, fitted kitchen, air con, reinforced concrete construction, all metal walls, 100 metres under a mountain. Can withstand all known ordnance and most air strikes."

If you are looking for a place in the sun with a difference, head for Lebanon. The south of this country is riddled with such des-res properties.

hezbollah bunker
Hunting for Hezbollah
Thursday 31 May 2007
1900 BST on BBC Two

They are the secret bunkers of Hezbollah, recently abandoned by the Shia Islamist guerrillas after last year's ceasefire took hold. You can find them in amongst the cluster bombs and debris of war.

I spent many a sweaty day stumbling up and down the precarious slopes of Lebanese mountains, looking for such heavily disguised sites for a documentary I was filming.

But where had all the fighters and their heavy weapons gone?

Defensive line

With over 10,000 UN peacekeepers now patrolling the ground between the Israeli border and the Litani River, it has become increasingly difficult for the militants to operate in their old stamping ground.

But I had heard that they were reinforcing a defensive line north of the Litani, just outside of the UN zone. From here, they could launch longer range rockets into Israel, over the heads of the peacekeepers.

Dawoud Indahoud
Dawoud Indahoud is a former Shia militiaman
As we drove into the misty mountains, my trusty driver Dawoud - himself a Hezbollah supporter from south Beirut - regaled me with stories about how "The Party of God" dealt with espionage during last summer's war.

"I don't know what equipment they had. But they caught these spies red-handed, put 'em up against a wall and shot the three," Dawoud said.

We drove on in silence.

"Killed 'em dead," he added.

Mysterious activity

This was not what I needed to hear at the time. We were all alone in an extremely hostile environment.

Live minefields spread out as far as the eye could see, the earth was also seeded with unexploded and unmapped cluster bombs.

All across this region, mysterious activity. Bulldozers, diggers and cement mixers could be seen abandoned on hilltops, or by the roadsides, in the middle of nowhere - but no new buildings.

There were fresh roads above us, but they were blocked off. Occasionally, cars packed with grim looking, black clad figures, sat guarding the entrances.

All around, the Lebanese Army was manning roadblocks with an unusual alacrity, but leaving the final decision as to who they should let through to a number of other bearded gentlemen, also dressed in black and who carried Motorola walkie-talkies.

Most locals were too apprehensive to do interviews, but one told us to be careful. "Hezbollah are everywhere," he said. "But you will not see them, they will see you."

Another recounted how Hezbollah had restricted her family's movements on their own farmland.

"The Boys", as she called them, had dumped several hundred tonnes of sand at the bottom of her garden and were shipping it out by truck. She had no idea where they were taking it or what they were doing.

Sand is a vital ingredient for mixing concrete. And concrete is a vital ingredient if you are building underground bunkers.

Detained by Hezbollah

We drove down one of the new roads.

What had started as a muddy cart track suddenly became a metalled road, with saplings planted on either side.

Large tennis court-sized areas had been completely smoothed off and were followed by a number of squat concrete buildings, a sentry box and painted a sign declaring the area a security zone and Hezbollah territory.

My driver panicked. In a grinding of gears he spun the vehicle around and got us out of there at high speed.

But just as we thought we had made a lucky escape I saw a dark green truck approaching. I had pushed our luck too far.

We got picked up and detained by a Hezbollah patrol.

They made us an offer we could not refuse. We were to accompany them to the dingy looking farmhouse and they would find someone who could "help us to do even better filming."

Inside the farmhouse were the rest of the Hezbollah cadre and we feared the worst.

They did not shoot us though. They sat us down in front of a big yellow Hezbollah flag and offered us sweet tea.

Hezbollah flag
Hezbollah flags are flown all over southern Lebanon
Then they questioned me and my driver and went through the tape in my video camera. It was blank. Luckily I had been able to swap it when they were not looking.

The Hezbollah men told me that we were in a restricted military security zone, but admitted that Hezbollah had indeed been taking over the land in the area.

"We are not forcing Christian or Druze off their land," one Hezbollahi insisted. "We're offering them a good price. They're moving of their own free will. Anyone can buy land here," he added, seemingly forgetting that it was a strict military zone.

But what to do with their surprise guests?

One man favoured formally arresting us and calling Hezbollah security agents from Beirut. Others said we were clearly a pair of nervous hacks, not spies, and just to let us go.

Secret gardens

Thankfully the latter argument prevailed. Flushed with relief, we walked back to our car. But as we were about to drive off, the strangest thing happened.

One of the Hezbollah men came running up and insisted that I had to tell the truth about what the Party of God's activities are in those forbidding mountains.

Hezbollah were not building new bunker networks, missile bases or anything military, he said. They were, in fact, moving into fruit production.

"We are going to import nectarine plants from Italy," he said. "Then we will sell our fruits on the world market. It is most important you tell the world what we are doing."

I told him absolutely, yes, of course, I would tell everyone all about the nectarines if I could just go now. Please?

It was completely unprofessional of me. But I was in such a hurry to get home safely, that I forgot to ask him whether or not Hezbollah's nectarines were going to be grown organically.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Thursday, 31 May, 2007 at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

This World: "Hunting for Hezbollah" will be broadcast on Thursday 31 May 2007 at 1900 BST on BBC Two.

Hunting for Hezbollah
31 May 07 |  This World

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