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Last Updated: Thursday July 20 2006 08:37 GMT

Hotseat: Questions on the Middle East

Map of the area

Hundreds of people have been killed and many more injured during recent fighting in the Middle East.

It's a confusing story so we've asked a BBC expert on the Middle East to answer your questions about what's going on there.

Why did the Lebanese kidnap the soldiers?
Liz, 10, Darlington

The Lebanese group Hezbollah say they captured the soldiers to pressure Israel to release thousands of Palestinian and Arab prisoners in its jails.

They say it is also to show support for the Palestinians who are living under Israeli occupation.

Why are people acting as if Lebanon is worse off than Israel? Israel has said it doesn't want to hurt any civilians but the Hezbollah bases are in the middle of civilian villages. Hezbollah has retaliated by purposely firing rockets all over the north of Israel.
Lana, 14, Hendon

Both sides are suffering. The Israeli army says it is trying to avoid killing civilians, but it says Hezbollah bases are near villages. It will continue attacking south Lebanon until Hezbollah stops firing its rockets into Israel.

Hezbollah has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, including villages and towns. The group says it will attack Israel "without limits".

I have a friend who lives in Tel Aviv. Will she be OK?
Louisa, 12 Brussels

So far no Hezbollah rockets have reached Tel Aviv. It is not clear whether the group has rockets that could reach Tel Aviv but so far the city has not been targeted.

Unfortunately, however, nowhere in Israel or the occupied territories is entirely safe.

Is Britain against the Israelis or the Lebanese? And is the European Union doing anything or getting involved?
Alice, 11, London

Tony Blair has been very critical of Hezbollah's actions so far. He says it must release the soldiers and end its rocket attacks.

Until it does, he supports the Israeli military operation, but he has said that it is important that the response of Israel does its best to minimise civilian casualties.

The European Union is also involved. Its foreign policy chief is in the region talking to various leaders to try to end the crisis. The EU has also said it will give five million euros for humanitarian relief in Lebanon.

Will the UN pass a resolution for peace in the area?
Jamie, 12, Washington

Quite possibly, although we won't know that for sure until the UN Security Council meets again.

At the moment there is a senior UN team in the region talking to all the governments. They are on their way back to New York where they will brief the Council. Then it is up to the Council to decide the best way forward.

There are already lots of UN resolutions about the Middle East.

One in particular is referred to a lot at the moment. Resolution 1559 calls for all armed non-army groups in Lebanon to get rid of weapons. Although it does not mention Hezbollah by name, Hezbollah is one of the groups it is referring to.

The resolution also calls for the Lebanese government and army to make sure they control the whole country.

Hezbollah is very powerful and largely controls southern Lebanon. So the Lebanese government is also under pressure to act against Hezbollah.

People have been blaming Iran, but I don't see what they've got to do with it. Please explain.
Yasmin, 12, Glasgow

Both Israel and the United States have linked Iran - and Syria - to the current situation.

The reason is both countries believe Iran and Syria support Hezbollah, which they consider a terrorist group.

Iran has provided money and weapons to Hezbollah, including rockets, and the Iranian government has publicly supported Hezbollah.

Israel, the US and Britain are already worried about Iran because they think the Iranian government wants to develop a nuclear weapon.

Was there something in particular that started off all the problems in the Middle East?
Christina, 11, Norwich

The history to the conflict is very complex.

You can find out more about Israel and the Palestinians and Israel and Lebanon by reading our guide to the situation.

Will the UK be brought into this in any way?
Gemma, 13, Ipswich

The UK is already involved. The government is talking to regional governments to try to end the crisis. The UK is also a member of the UN Security Council and will be involved in any decisions the Council makes.

The Royal Navy are evacuating Britons from Beirut at the moment.

Tony Blair has talked about setting up an international force to Lebanon.

There is already a UN force in South Lebanon and it is not clear whether a new force will be created or who it will involve.

There has not been any talk about sending British forces to Lebanon yet, except to help with the evacuation.

Do you think that the Israelis and the Lebanese people will settle the crisis, or do you think it will escalate into a full-on war?
Tasha, 14, Essex

It is very difficult to say. The amount of attention it is receiving from world leaders reflects how concerned they are that it could get worse.

The main thing to remember is this is a clash between Israel and Hezbollah.

Lebanese people are suffering from Israeli attacks but not all Lebanese support Hezbollah's actions.

There have been wars in the past between Israel and her Arab neighbours.

Why is there so much tension between the Arab countries and Israel?
Euan, 14, Newbury

Many Arab countries don't like the way Palestinians continue to live under Israeli occupation. Only Egypt and Jordan have signed peace agreements with Israel.

You can find out more about the history of Israel and the Palestinians and Israel and Lebanon by reading our guide to the Middle East.

One of the girls in our class has moved to Saudi Arabia. Will she be in danger?
Year 3, Ashford, Middlesex

Saudi Arabia is a long way away from Israel and Lebanon so she won't be affected by the rockets and bombings.

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