Beirut, March 14th...
March 13th, 2007
The February 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafic Hariri had resulted in public outrage and eventually the departure of the Syrian troops that had occupied Lebanon for the past two decades. Although a series of assassinations of anti-Syrian political figures had created a climate of fear, there
was a general optimism about the reconstruction and the future of Lebanon. The summer of 2006 was supposed to signal the return of Lebanon as a full-fledged tourist destination with 1,6 million tourists expected to visit the country.
 
Then, on July 12, 2006, the armed Shia fundamentalist group Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers on the border in an attempt to force Israel into a prisoner exchange. Israel reacted with an all-out war against Hezbollah positions in the South but also launched a massive bombing campaign against Lebanon's infrastructure. The 34-day war caused more than 1,000 casualties in Lebanon, uprooted 1 million
people from the South and Beirut's Southern suburbs and caused billions of dollars of damage to the infrastructure and the economy.
 
The 2006 conflict exacerbated already existing tensions over Hezbollah's arms. Hezbollah - officially referred to as the Resistance - is the only militia in Lebanon to have kept its weapons after the civil war. The reason for this was the continued occupation of a part of South Lebanon by Israel. After Israeli troops withdrew from South Lebanon in 2000, some politicians started questioning Hezbollah's right to hold on to its arms. The matter gained urgency during and after the 2006 war; Hezbollah had ordered the kidnapping of the Israeli soldiers without consulting its partners in the Lebanese government.
 
At the same time, Hezbollah claimed a "divine victory" over Israel in the July-August war and started calling for a bigger representation in the Lebanese government. (Hezbollah wants a third of a new government of national unity which would give it a veto over any government decision, including the one to establish the Hariri tribunal.) When the other parties refused, the Shia ministers resigned and the opposition took to the streets in an attempt to bring down the Siniora government which it accuses of siding with the United States and Israel. Opposition activists have been holding a permanent sit-in outside the government's headquarters in downtown Beirut. The
government has so far refused to give in to the opposition's demands.
 
Roughly speaking, the Siniora government is supported by Saudi-Arabia, the United States and the European Union while the opposition, esp. Hezbollah, is aligned with Iran and Syria.



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