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World Council for the Cedars Revolution

Aug 04th
Home arrow News Content arrow Blog arrow Blog Items arrow Extremism In Lebanon arrow Hizbollah buys frontier land to attack Israel
Hizbollah buys frontier land to attack Israel PDF Print E-mail
Written by The Telegraph   
Sunday, 12 August 2007

Hizbollah is buying land beyond the reach of the UN
Hizbollah is buying land beyond the reach of the UN

Hizbollah is buying up large tracts of land owned by Christians and other non-Shias in southern Lebanon as the militant group rebuilds its defences in preparation for a new war with Israel, The Sunday Telegraph has been told.

The land grab is thought to be driven by the Iranian-backed guerrillas' efforts to rearm themselves and fortify the strategically important ravines north of the Litani River, just north of the front line in last year's 34-day conflict with its Jewish neighbour.

Here, Hizbollah has been free to press forward without harassment from the 13,000 United Nations peacekeepers and 20,000 Lebanese army troops who were deployed south of the Litani as part of the ceasefire agreement that ended the conflict.

Just south of the Litani, the UN is conducting hundreds of patrols each day in a bid to keep Hizbollah weapons out of the area, but the peacekeepers' mandate ends at the river.

The Lebanese army, meanwhile, is about 50 per cent Shia and seems to be turning a blind eye to Hizbollah activities north of the river.

In these rugged gorges, the group appears to be readying for round two with Israel, and many fear it is not far off after the inconclusive end to last year's war and reports of -Hizbollah rearming.

The area's forested wadis, or valleys, make ideal terrain for Hizbollah's brand of guerrilla warfare and, just 10 miles from the border, are within rocket range of Israeli cities.

The Shia encroachment into a mixed area of Christians, Shias and Druze Muslims threatens to disrupt Lebanon's delicate sectarian balance, which is already teetering after three years of political tumult.

"Christians and Druze are selling land and moving out, while the Shia are moving in. There is an extraordinary demo-graphic shift taking place," said Edmund Rizk, a Christian MP for the area until 1992.

On a scenic, sparsely populated ridge, the farming village of Chbail was once Christian. Today, the land belongs to a wealthy Shia businessman with alleged ties to Hizbollah. Its new residents are recent Shia transplants from the Hizbollah-controlled south.

Entry to the village is forbidden to outsiders - not by the Lebanese army that technically holds sway here, but by the chabab, the plain-clothed, bearded youths who act as look-outs in Hizbollah territory.

"The village is closed for security reasons," said a youth who had recently moved from a Hizbollah-controlled area near the regional capital, Tyre.

Like many neighbouring hamlets, Chbail has steadily decayed ever since civil war broke out in 1975. Fleeing first Palestinian guerrillas, then invading Israeli soldiers, and finally Hizbollah, villagers steadily migrated to seek better lives in Beirut or overseas.

While The Sunday Telegraph was at Chbail's outskirts, a rust-coloured Volvo station wagon rolled in, piled high with wooden building beams. A dozen or so other young men with dirt-caked fingernails came and went freely. On the wadis' western edge, a metal sign strung across an unmarked dirt track erased any doubt about what, or rather who, now lies beyond.

"Entry forbidden. Hizbollah area," the sign read in Arabic. The closure was manned by a pair of teenage gunmen in olive green fatigues, armed with walkie-talkies and AK47s.

The buy-up of land in Chbail and half a dozen Druze and Christian villages is said to be the work of a wealthy Shia businessman, Ali Tajeddine, who made his fortune trading diamonds in Sierra Leone before returning to Lebanon and starting a successful construction company.

Squat and bearded, Mr Tajeddine keeps a Hizbollah charity box in the waiting room of his Tyre office. He is believed to be a major player in Hizbollah's massive reconstruction programme called Jihad al Bina, or the Building Jihad.

During an interview, Mr Tajeddine fidgeted nervously as he denied any connection with Hizbollah. He said his projects at Chbail represent just a fraction of the dozens of developments he is building throughout Lebanon.

But his distinctive arc of land-buys around Hizbollah's new stronghold has triggered alarm among the district's Christian and Druze leaders, who say he is using Iranian funds to buy land from destitute villagers at up to four times the going rate. Druze sheikhs have responded by forbidding the sale of land to Shias and wealthy Christians have been asked to buy property in the area to stem the Shia tide.

In Chbail and two neighbouring Christian villages, Mr Tajeddine has already bought 200-300 acres of land, according to the mayor, Kamil Fares. "There are new people coming," he said. "Shias have moved into apartments belonging to Ali Tajeddine. But we're poor. What can we do?"

In the Druze village of Al Sreiri, the mayor, Hafed Kiwane, told a similar story. "We have nothing here, so it was good to see money coming into the area, but now we fear there are suspicious motives," he said.

Among the Hizbollah settlements is the fledgling village of Ahmediyya, where a billboard in Hebrew warns Israeli invaders: "Do not enter!"

Dozens of housing units have been built here in the past year. A supermarket is open for business, and 10 Shia families have moved in so far. Among them is project foreman Mohammad Atwa, 51. As two men photographed The Sunday Telegraph's car, he said: "The rockets of the resistance showed us there was someone to defend us."

Critics fear that Ahmediyya will further stretch the Shia reach to the north-east, as part of a grand scheme to create a strip of Shia-controlled land connecting the south to Hizbollah's other power centre in Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley.

"It is part of Hizbollah's plan to create a state within a state," said Walid Jumblatt, a Druze leader. He also pointed to the four-lane road being built to connect the Hizbollah stronghold of Nabatieh in the south to the western Bekaa.

Banners openly proclaim the source of the road's funding: "510km of new roads paid for by the Iranian Organization for Sharing in the Building of Lebanon".

Previous Articles from The Telegraph (www.telegraph.co.uk )

Northern Israel hit by rockets
By Carolynne Wheeler in Jerusalem
Last Updated: 1:09am BST 18/06/2007

The two rockets landed in the town of Kiryat Shmona, Israeli police said, one damaging a parked car. There were no casualties.

Lebanon's Hizbollah guerrillas, who fired thousands of Katyushas into Israel a year ago, denied they had launched the first such attack since that war.

Israeli forces did not retaliate and the government made clear it wanted no escalation into another border war.

"Israel will not be drawn in," an Israeli official said. "It seems that it was Palestinians, not Hizbollah."

The United Nations' UNIFIL peacekeeping force in the area called it a "serious breach" of last year's ceasefire and urged restraint. It sent out patrols, along with the Lebanese army, to find the attackers and prevent further incidents.

The attack came a few hours after a new, Western-backed Palestinian emergency government was formed in the West Bank after a week of bloody Palestinian factional fighting that saw the Islamist group Hamas seize control in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas and Hizbollah follow different sects of Islam but have some things in common, including support from Iran and Syria.

The 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have also been affected in recent weeks by fighting between Lebanese troops and al-Qa'eda-inspired Palestinian Islamists in a camp in the north.

Lebanese security sources said they had found a wooden launch platform for four Katyushas near the village of Taibeh. Three rockets had been fired using a timer - the third had landed inside Lebanon - and a fourth had failed to launch.

Why Hizbollah is suddenly ready to share
By Con Coughlin
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 25/05/2007

It's not as though Lebanon doesn't already have enough on its plate. Still trying to come to terms with the aftermath of having its former prime minister Rafik Hariri blown to pieces by a car bomb, the Lebanese government has spent the past two years trying to prevent the Iranian-backed Hizbollah Shia militia from taking over the country.

Hizbollah was responsible for inflicting the worst devastation the country had suffered since the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war, when it provoked last summer's conflict with Israel. Since then, with Teheran's encouragement, the group has been trying to bring down the government of the current Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora.

This is because Mr Siniora, together with the majority of Lebanese, is determined to identify and prosecute those responsible for Mr Hariri's gruesome death. The United Nations-led inquiry has uncovered convincing evidence that Syria, Lebanon's jealous neighbour, was deeply implicated in the Hariri assassination plot.

To save it from the embarrassment of being hauled before an international criminal tribunal, the Syrians have linked up with Iran, their long-standing strategic ally, to get Hizbollah to effect the collapse of the Siniora government. This ruse nearly worked earlier this year when Hizbollah's decision to withdraw its ministers from Mr Siniora's government almost precipitated its demise.

But, much to Syria's chagrin, Mr Siniora's government has somehow managed to hang on. Moreover, it has continued its close cooperation with the UN investigation into the Hariri murder to the extent that only last week the Security Council discussed practical measures for setting up a special tribunal to pass judgment on the available evidence.

It was at this point that Syria decided to open another front in its seemingly relentless campaign to destabilise - and ultimately bring down - the Lebanese government.

Officially, Damascus says it has nothing to do with Fatah-al-Islam, the obscure Palestinian group responsible for provoking the appalling violence that has this week been visited upon the northern Lebanese port of Tripoli. Yet all the evidence suggests otherwise.

Fatah-al-Islam is led by Shaker Youssef al-Absi, a Palestinian militant who has been trained by the Syrian Air Force, the same military body that has been heavily implicated in the Hariri murder. Mr al-Absi's involvement in Islamic terrorism is well-documented. He was sentenced to death in absentia in July 2004 by a Jordanian military court after being found guilty of conspiring in a plot that led to the assassination of American diplomat Laurence Foley.

The Lebanese military believes that Mr al-Absi and his 200-strong sect infiltrated the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Tripoli six months ago with the express purpose of undermining the Siniora government. One of the more surprising - and alarming - aspects of the emergence of this new radical Islamic group in Lebanon is Fatah-al-Islam's links with Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'eda.

Ever since bin Laden's organisation emerged as a serious terrorist threat in the mid-1990s, al-Qa'eda's leaders have been trying to engender support among the millions of dispossessed Palestinians around the Middle East.

Bin Laden's early propaganda made no mention of the Palestinians, and the Palestinians consequently displayed little interest in helping to achieve his objectives.

More recently, though, al-Qa'eda has had more success in extending its franchise on waging global jihad to some of the more extreme Palestinian groups. The process started in 2002 during the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, when Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin, became al-Qa'eda's point man. Zarqawi, who also began his terrorist career in Jordan, went on to become one of the most feared Islamic militants in post-Saddam Iraq.

Al-Qa'eda's attempts to export its particularly savage form of Islamic militancy to more mainstream factions, such as the radical Palestinian group Hamas, have met with less success, not least because Hamas obtains much of its backing and financial support from Iran.

In purely religious terms, the Sunni Muslim Hamas leadership should be more inclined to associate itself with al-Qa'eda, which follows the same Islamic tradition, rather than Iran, which is Shia Muslim. But the turbulent politics of the modern Middle East make for some strange bedfellows, which is what makes this latest development in northern Lebanon so intriguing.

One of the iron laws upon which the brutal business of Middle Eastern politics is conducted is that the rival traditions of Sunni and Shia Islam must forever be at loggerheads. You have only to look at the appalling sectarian strife in Iraq between rival Sunni and Shia insurgent groups to see the deep-seated historical hatred that exists between these two groups.

And yet even in Iraq there have been reports that Iran is in contact with some of the more extreme Sunni groups that dedicate their efforts to attacking coalition forces. Further evidence that Iran is willing to work with Sunni extremists emerged this week with The Daily Telegraph's front page report that Iran is equipping the Taliban, another radical Sunni group, with sophisticated weaponry in Afghanistan.

In terms of religious extremism, Lebanon until now has been the domain of Hizbollah, an exclusively Shia Muslim militia that is funded, equipped and trained by Iran.

Since it first emerged in Beirut in the early 1980s Hizbollah has had a free run at importing radical Islamic ideology and, if the traditional religious rivalries were to be upheld, would resist any attempt by a rival radical Sunni sect trying to establish a foothold on its turf.

But somehow I don't believe this is going to happen. Iran, Syria, Hizbollah and Fatah-al-Islam all share the same goal - to bring down the Lebanese government and prevent any embarrassing tribunal into who killed Rafik Hariri. As that hoary Middle East saying goes, my enemy's enemy is my friend.

Iran rebuilds Lebanon to boost Hizbollah
By Kitty Logan in Ghandouriyeh
Last Updated: 1:50am BST 31/07/2007

In the blazing heat of south Lebanon, men drenched in sweat labour over a cratered road. The sun is relentless and so is the pace of work in the village of Ghandouriyeh.

One year after the war with Israel, triggered by Hizbollah's cross-border rocket attacks, Lebanon's roads are still in desperate need of repair.
Iran has funded reconstruction work to the tune of about £60million in Hizbollah-controlled areas of Lebanon

But the task of reconstruction has become doubly important. The rebuilding now taking place across the country is an intensely political race for the support of Lebanon's people.

Almost unnoticed by the outside world, Iran has seized the chance to win popular approval.

"From the people of Iran to the people of Lebanon", reads the slogan carried on countless hoarding, all trumpeting achievements like "200 projects" and "510 km of roads".

Iran's old ally, Hizbollah, was also an early entrant into the race, handing out cash to people with war-damaged homes within days of the ceasefire in August last year.

"Iran can't live in stability and peace when others are being targeted by aggressors," said Hussam Khoshnevis, the local Iranian official representing the reconstruction drive. "We can't stand back and watch. There was an urgent need for us to be present here and act quickly to help the Lebanese people get back to normality."

So far, Iran has rebuilt 200 schools, 150 places of worship, 30 clinics and 25 bridges. The official budget for this year is about £60 million and the key priority is repairing the national road network.

Israel's air strikes last summer left large craters in southern Lebanon's roads, already pot-holed by years of neglect. In many places, they became almost impassable.

But Iran's motive is not solely humanitarian. With Lebanon's presidential elections due in September, the key aim is to bolster Hizbollah and increase Teheran's direct influence.

"Iran ultimately would like to see Hizbollah play a major role in Lebanese politics," said Prof Hilal Khashan, a political scientist from the American University of Beirut.

"Hizbollah is a strategic ally and in order for it to emerge as a political player, it needs support."

Many ordinary Lebanese have already been won over.

Hussein Subeiti, who lives in Ghandouriyeh, said: "We're expecting the Iranians to do a good job.

"I think now the road will be much better than before. We are very grateful to the Iranian government for their contribution."

The failures of Lebanon's own government under Fouad Siniora, the prime minister, have also helped Teheran's ambitions.

"Had the government been able to drive reconstruction, Iran couldn't have penetrated the political system," said Prof Khashan. "But the government has neglected the south for years and Iran did not miss an opportunity."

Hizbollah runs most of the local councils in the areas where the projects operate. Here, construction work is given to local companies - but only those managed by Hizbollah supporters.

One contractor said there was no contest for a lucrative Iranian deal - he was simply called and offered the job.

"I'm very frightened by this meddling," said Misbah Ahdab, a pro-government MP. "The money channelled through Hizbollah and backed by Iran is ensuring that everything is being done to undermine the Lebanese state."

Mr Ahdab added that the government was powerless to prevent Iran from funding independent projects.

"The money is going directly to Hizbollah, so we can't stop it. What they are doing is working on their own state, which is not part of Lebanon."

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