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HEZBOLLAH AND ISRAEL WIDEN THE CONFLICT

 
 
BumbleBeeBoogie
 
  1  
Reply Thu 17 Aug, 2006 10:41 am
Preparing for the next war now
Preparing for the next war now
Ha'aretz OP Ed By Avraham Tal
Israel 8/17/06

A war that has ended in a tie and without an agreement between the sides being signed is destined to flare up again, sooner or later. In the conflict between Israel and Iran, by means of its proxy, Hezbollah, neither side achieved its strategic aim. Therefore, the prime minister was correct in telling the Knesset that it is necessary to ensure that next time "things will be done better."

How can this be ensured? One must start from the working assumption that the next confrontation will erupt relatively soon; for purposes of the discussion, let us assume two years from the eruption of the previous confrontation and to act in all areas as though this will happen with absolute certainty. Possibly there will be another round in the format of the second Lebanon war, but we must prepare for the possibility of something larger and more dangerous: an all-out war with regular armies, including the army of a regional power.

Lessons must be drawn from the blunders of the war, but not in the framework of a commission of inquiry. Such an inquiry, in the search for those responsible, will engage the heads of essential systems for months and will focus their attention and the public's on the past when the supreme obligation now is to concentrate on the future.

The first conclusion that is necessitated by the preparedness for August 12, 2008, is that it is essential to make security the country's top priority, in preference to both education and welfare. In the current state of security preparedness, Israel cannot assume it will be able to withstand a comprehensive attack using conventional means. To stand a test like that there is no recourse but to increase the defense budget, but not through additional allocations in a unilateral way.

In the security system, in rear units in the Israel Defense Forces and in the civilian sector there are lines of expenditure that can be cut without detracting from the system's effectiveness ("fat" and "waste"). The allocation of additional resources to defense must be done by the payback method: an additional shekel in return for a shekel that is cut. The defense minister and the chief of staff must shoulder the responsibility for the strict implementation of the cuts. Without detracting from the possibility that the next war will be different from the previous one, the IDF will have to find solutions for the problems that led to the tie in the war, among them: anti-tank missiles, Katyushas, emergency stores, intelligence and training, especially of reserve units. The National Security Council, or another compact body that will be established for this purpose, will have to define the arrangements to be implemented on the home front upon the declaration of an emergency. It will also supervise the operational planning of the passive defense arrangements for essential services and civilians.

The shelters throughout the country must be rehabilitated. and new ones built where there are no shelters.

The economic policy will be required to adjust itself for two years to the new preparations. There will be no alternative to temporarily relinquishing progress toward the long-term goal of reducing the government's weight in the economy. This means: The budget can grow from year to year at a rate higher than the rate of population growth (2.5 percent). In this way a recession will be prevented, and growth will be accelerated.

In parallel, it is necessary to ensure that the country's' financial status will not be harmed - if it will not be possible to continue to reduce the public debt, it must not grow. This means: There will not be exceptional budget deficits (over 3 percent), even if this necessitates the postponement of existing plans for reducing taxes and even a moderate tax increase.

As it is not out of the question that a regional power will be involved in the confrontation in an unmediated way, it is necessary to reconsider the possibility of a formal connection with the United States. Nearly complete coordination, both political and military, also exists now (as does the consequent restriction on Israel's freedom of action). A formal defense treaty would complete the deterrent system that has to be constructed around the country during the next two years
0 Replies
 
OCCOM BILL
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Aug, 2006 04:13 am
I am a busy guy, or I'm sure I wouldn't have left this message unsent on my computer... though I admit, I don't know how long it's been sitting here...

JTT wrote:
But Bill knows better. Jesus H Keeeeerist, Bill. Can you say thinking person?

You've just got to get rid of that signature line, the crap about a "good man". Good men don't wish and hope and encourage the murder of other human beings for BS "patriotic" reasons.
Generally, I try hard not to respond to idiocy... but I'm fairly certain I'll either get a pass this time or be gone long enough to not notice if I don't.

Blatham, I wasn't terribly impressed with the site in the first place... though I suspect they're probably speaking a version of the truth.
0 Replies
 
OCCOM BILL
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Aug, 2006 04:19 am
Re: BBB
BumbleBeeBoogie wrote:
I say a pox on all religions---except capitalism, of course.

BBB
Shocked I am in complete agreement here, save the knowledge that 99% of your posts contradict the statement.
0 Replies
 
xingu
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Aug, 2006 04:39 am
Has Bush abandond the moderate Arabs?

Quote:

SOURCE
0 Replies
 
BumbleBeeBoogie
 
  1  
Reply Tue 22 Aug, 2006 10:11 am
Unhappy reservists have previously brought down two Israeli governement. Olmert's government may be doomed. ---BBB

Israeli Reservists Demand Olmert's Resignation
By STEVEN ERLANGER
Published: August 21, 2006
JERUSALEM

A group of reservist soldiers, angry about the conduct of the war in Lebanon, carried out a protest today demanding the resignations of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and the army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz.

One of the marchers, Roni Zwiegenboim of the Alexandroni Brigade, said, "Beyond the whole issue of the ammunition, the food and the water that wasn't, the issue was that there was no leadership." He added with disgust, "In the end it was just a mess and it all starts at the top."

The reservists, most of whom have gone back to civilian life, say that their training has been inadequate and that they were sent into Lebanon with unclear missions, inadequate supplies, outdated equipment and a lack of basics, like drinking water.

The protest reflects considerable domestic angst about the uncertain outcome of the war, the fragility of a cease-fire, general skepticism about the ability of any United Nations force to control Hezbollah and the failure to reach stated goals, like the release of captured soldiers.

Protests by reservists, who are allowed to criticize the army freely, unlike enlisted men and women, helped lead to the fall of the Golda Meir government after the 1973 war, when an Egyptian attack took Israel by surprise.

This war with Hezbollah is not considered that kind of failure, and the protests have not yet gathered enough momentum to shake the government.

Mr. Olmert and his new Kadima Party were elected on March 28, and there is little appetite here for another round of voting. Kadima and Labor are more likely to pull together to preserve their coalition, especially when the immediate beneficiaries are likely to be on the right. But Mr. Olmert and Mr. Peretz have been badly weakened, and their main campaign promise, of a sweeping new withdrawal of settlers from the occupied West Bank, has been shelved for now.

Mr. Olmert told the cabinet on Sunday that the government's priority should be to rebuild Israel's north.

But the call for a state inquiry is finding an echo in parliament, too. Mr. Olmert is moving to try to forestall such an inquiry, which might have legal powers to question him and other top officials.

Visiting the northern town of Kiryat Shmona, which was hit by nearly one-quarter of the nearly 4,000 rockets fired into Israel by Hezbollah, Mr. Olmert said the point was to concentrate on the future. "I won't be part of this game of self-flagellation," he said. "I won't be part of this game of slandering the army."

In a heated statement, Mr. Olmert said: "We have no other army, who is the I.D.F.? It's our children, it's our brother, it's our public, part of it in the regular army, part of it in the reserves. What are we going to do now? Stand them in a line and give them a slap on the face? Try them? Put them in front of commissions of inquiry each and every day, so they won't be able to properly assess the next conflict because they will be afraid we shall come complaining to them?"

Mr. Olmert has asked his attorney general to come up with alternatives to such a formal inquiry. A governmental investigation authorized by the cabinet, for example, could be better controlled by Mr. Olmert, even if its contains outsiders, and the cabinet could decide what is published.

Mr. Peretz, the defense minister, has already been criticized for establishing an inquiry into the army's performance led by one of his own advisers, former chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak. The committee has begun to take testimony, but is expected to grant the army's demand that such testimony be kept confidential.

Hundreds of reserve soldiers from the Alexandroni Brigade met on Sunday with General Halutz and told him there was a crisis of confidence between them and senior officers. He promised a thorough investigation.

In another protest, reservists from the Spearhead Paratroop Brigade complained that soldiers were prevented from winning the war. In an open letter to newspapers, they said the war was marked by indecision; they complained that their missions were continually canceled. "This led to prolonged stays in hostile territory without an operational purpose and out of unprofessional considerations, without seeking to engage in combat with the enemy."

The letter continued, "To us, the indecisiveness expressed deep disrespect for our willingness to join the ranks and fight and made us feel as though we had been spat at."

The letter, signed by several hundred reservists, called for an extensive state inquiry into the conduct of the war, just what Mr. Olmert is trying to avoid.

Another kind of protest came on Sunday from Brig. Gen. Yossi Hyman, who is leaving as chief infantry and paratroops officer of the army. "We were guilty of the sin of arrogance," General Hyman said at a ceremony marking his departure. "Despite heroic fighting by the soldiers and commanders, especially at the company and battalion level, we all feel a certain sense of failure and missed opportunity."

He said he took blame for not preparing the infantry better and for not preventing "burnout among professional companies and platoons," adding, "I feel no relief whatsoever in the face of the array of excuses."

A group called the Movement for Quality Government has set up two protest tents facing the prime minister's office and the Supreme Court, one supposedly aimed at the political echelon and the other at the military. The group also wants a state inquiry. One sign reads, "You've lost the north," which in Hebrew also means, "you've lost your way."

Mr. Olmert also rejected a suggestion from his public security minister, Avi Dichter, a former head of Shin Bet, that Israel should pursue peace talks with Syria, a key Hezbollah sponsor, even if it means giving up the Golan Heights, which Israel conquered in 1967.

Mr. Olmert said he favored negotiations, but not while Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad continues to support groups Israel and the United States label terrorist, like Hezbollah and Hamas.

"Before we negotiate with Syria, they should stop financing terror," Mr. Olmert said. "Before we negotiate with Bashar Assad, let him stop launching missiles by means of Hezbollah onto the heads of innocent Israelis. And before we sit down to negotiate, let them stop funding Hamas murder, sabotage and terror. If they meet all these tests we shall negotiate with them."

Even the deputy prime minister, Shimon Peres, said that Israel has other priorities now. "We have the burden of Lebanon and we have negotiations with the Palestinians," he said.

Still, to explore the idea that secular Syria might be pulled out of the orbit of Shia Iran, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni named Yaakov Dayan, formerly her chief of staff.
0 Replies
 
BumbleBeeBoogie
 
  1  
Reply Tue 22 Aug, 2006 10:40 am
Many Lebanese fear next conflict will be with Hezbollah
Many Lebanese fear next conflict will be with Hezbollah
By Hannah Allam and Leila Fadel - McClatchy Newspapers
8/21/06
BEIRUT, Lebanon

Glossy new billboards touting Hezbollah's "divine victory" over Israel line Beirut's highways. The capital's famed nightspots are full again with scantily clad students drinking to make up for a month lost to war. Leaders of the country's political dynasties appear nightly on live television, urging their weary constituents to rebuild, forgive and move on.

But this rosy image of resilience, a week after a U.N.-brokered cease-fire brought a halt to Israeli airstrikes, masks a growing realization among Lebanese that the next battle Lebanon faces probably will be among its own.

From beautifully appointed salons in Beirut to the scorched villages of the south, there is blame, aimed at Hezbollah and its Iranian and Syrian patrons as well as Israel and its American backers. There's also concern among Lebanon's disparate ethnic and sectarian groups about Hezbollah's newfound power after the 34-day conflict.

"What's happened in the last month and a half has polarized Lebanon even more and caused people to speak out a little more radically," said Rami Khouri, a political analyst and columnist for the Daily Star, Lebanon's main English-language newspaper. "The war we just had heightened the concerns of people. None of these are new concerns."

Even before Hezbollah provoked the latest conflict by capturing two Israeli soldiers July 12 in a deadly operation, Lebanon had been mired in a thorny national dialogue over putting to rest resentments from its 15-year civil war and divvying up power in the vacuum left last year by Syria's withdrawal. There was excitement over the pro-democracy movement known as the Cedar Revolution and talk of national reconciliation, but both were fizzling long before Hezbollah's raid. Israel's broad attacks finished them off.

In Lebanon's latest war-ravaged landscape, age-old tensions that were never properly addressed are more raw and public than ever. Many Christians grumble aloud that Israel should have "finished the job." Sunni Muslims are caught between satisfaction at seeing Israel taken down a notch and the terror of being sidelined by Hezbollah, an Iranian-bankrolled Shiite Muslim force. Shiites, who form the backbone of Hezbollah's support base, were the conflict's biggest victims, losing relatives, homes and jobs.

Many Lebanese from all backgrounds fear that Hezbollah, now the most powerful political and military force in the country, will inch back to its early goal of establishing Islamic rule over Lebanon.

Misbah Ahdab, a Sunni legislator from the ruling parliamentary bloc, said Hezbollah was creating "a parallel system" instead of making overtures to back the central government. Fear of angering Hezbollah is keeping many politicians silent, he said, even though they fret privately over the future of a country led by a militant Islamist group.

"It's totally ridiculous to begin rebuilding again when it's going to be destroyed in two years," he said. "And people are talking about unity."

Already, the militant Shiites of Hezbollah effectively rule the country: They alone have the power to keep the Lebanese end of the cease-fire, endless piles of dollars for reconstruction and the vast support of regional Arabs, who were so thrilled to see Israel bloodied that they overlooked non-Arab Iran's financing of their triumph.

In Lebanon, many non-Shiites are watching to see how Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah deals with the new power he's been handed. Nasrallah, keenly aware of the concerns over his stature, quickly set about portraying his militia's battlefield success as a point of national pride that transcends Lebanon's strictly drawn ethnic and sectarian lines, but not everyone is persuaded.

"I can understand that people, the fanatics, support Nasrallah," Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said in an interview. "OK, he's saying he did well, and he did well. But will he offer this victory to a Lebanese state or will he offer this victory to himself? I want the state."

The Lebanese state, however, is plagued by infighting and a weak military that one government official privately described as "a bunch of Boy Scouts." Nasrallah, whose televised addresses became more presidential as the fighting raged on, overshadows the embattled Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, best remembered during the conflict for crying on camera during a speech to Arab foreign ministers.

Since the introduction of a fragile truce, Saniora and his allies in the Western-backed ruling bloc known as the March 14 Forces have struggled to reclaim power. The Lebanese military was deployed in southern Lebanon, Hezbollah's heartland, but most acknowledge that its presence is cosmetic. The army is outgunned by Hezbollah militants and doesn't have the authority to search for the militia's weapons.

There's also growing concern that Hezbollah's gloating - on multilingual billboards, in official statements and on Arabic-language satellite TV - not only will invite Israeli retaliation but also will aggravate Lebanon's internal strife. Lebanese don't want another round of Israeli airstrikes and most don't seem to have the stomach for another civil war, though both possibilities can't be discarded as Lebanon faces an uncertain future.

"Hezbollah is claiming victory at halftime," said Hilal Khashan, an expert on Hezbollah who teaches at the American University of Beirut. "The war is not over yet."
---------------------------------------------

Fadel reports for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
0 Replies
 
BumbleBeeBoogie
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Aug, 2006 10:28 am
Hezbollah Expected "Limited Damage"
Hezbollah Expected "Limited Damage"
Reuters
26 August 2006

Beirut - The magnitude of the Israeli response to Hizbollah's cross-border operation in July took the Lebanese guerrilla group by surprise, Hizbollah deputy leader Naim Qassem said in an interview published on Saturday.

Qassem told an-Nahar daily that Hizbollah had expected an Israel attack at some stage as part of a joint plan with the United States but it had no indication it would come in July.

"We were expecting the Israelis would respond at the most by bombing for a day or two or some limited attacks or targeting certain places, such that it would not go beyond three days and some limited damage," he said.

After Hizbollah fighters seized two Israeli soldiers on July 12, Israel started bombing Lebanon's civilian infrastructure in a one-month war which displaced more than 900,000 people.

Israeli attacks killed close to 1,200 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and did damage worth billions of dollars. Israel lost 157 people, mostly soldiers inside Lebanon.

Qassem said: "Frankly we were surprised by the great size (of the Israeli response) and by this serious attack."

Two days after the war began, Hizbollah learned that Israel and the United States had been planning an attack in September or October. U.S. media have also said the United States was enthusiastic about Israeli plans to strike at Hizbollah.

"Israel was not ready. In fact it wanted to prepare for two or three months more,but American pressure on one side and the Israeli desire to achieve a success on the other ... were factors which made them rush into battle," Qassem said.

The Israeli army said it would not comment on the state of its planning at the start, saying this was a "political matter."

Leading up to the war, the Israeli government showed little public interest in Hizbollah, focusing on isolating Hamas after the Islamist group won Palestinian elections and on a now-shelved plan to reshape the occupied West Bank.

Soldiers returning from the front say training in recent years focused too much on dealing with action in Palestinian streets, not on fighting a more formidable force like Hizbollah.

The Hizbollah official said the guerrilla group would co-ordinate with the Lebanese army as it moves into parts of south Lebanon dominated by Hizbollah.

But Hizbollah will not give up the concept of resistance against Israel, on the grounds that Israel continues to occupy the Shebaa farms region, holds Lebanese prisoners and overflies Lebanese territory almost every day.

"The justifications for ending it (resistance) are not yet there. When we agree on a defense plan to confront Israel, defining the job of the resistance, the army and the Lebanese people, then we will see what the rules and roles are," he said.

The Shebaa Farms is a small patch of land claimed by Lebanon, but occupied by Israel since it captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 war. The United Nations deems the territory Syrian until such time as Syria cedes it to Lebanon.
0 Replies
 
BumbleBeeBoogie
 
  1  
Reply Mon 28 Aug, 2006 10:44 am
Nasrallah close to admitting that kidnappings were a mistake
Nasrallah comes close to admitting that kidnappings were a mistake
By Matthew Schofield and Leila Fadel
McClatchy Newspapers
8/26/08
BEIRUT, Lebanon

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah came close to admitting Sunday that his group had made a mistake when it kidnapped two Israeli soldiers on July 12 and set off 34 days of intense fighting.

"We did not think, even one percent, that the capture would lead to a war at this time and of this magnitude," Nasrallah told Lebanon's New TV network. "You ask me, if I had known on July 11 ... that the operation would lead to such a war, would I do it? I say no, absolutely not, for humanitarian, moral, social, security, military and political reasons. Neither I, Hezbollah, prisoners in Israeli jails nor the families of the prisoners would accept it."

Nasrallah also said he did not foresee renewed hostilities anytime soon, citing rebuilding efforts being undertaken by Israelis displaced by Hezbollah rocket attacks during the month-long conflict.

"Someone who acts like that doesn't seem to be going to war," he said. "We are not heading to a second round."

The nearly two-hour-long interview was a surprising expression of contrition from Nasrallah, who had defiantly declared Hezbollah victorious when a cease-fire ended the fighting two weeks ago.

Analysts said his remarks may be an effort by the 46-year-old leader to defuse ongoing anger inside Lebanon over the scale of the destruction wreaked by the fighting and an indication that Nasrallah is trying to mend political fences ahead of a visit to Beirut Monday by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

"Hezbollah has received so much blame for having provoked this Israeli onslaught," said Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a leading Lebanese expert on Hezbollah. "The less negative impact would be to say, `Of course, we wouldn't have done it if we had known.'"

Israeli officials offered no comment on the interview.

Lebanon's Christian tourism minister, Joe Sarkis, a frequent Hezbollah critic, called the Shiite leader's words an admission of guilt.

"It confirms that what they did was wrong," Sarkis said. "He feels that although he has the support of Hezbollah loyalists he has lost the support of most of the Lebanese. He is now trying to prepare himself and his movement to go from a military organization to a political organization."

Nasrallah remained harshly critical of the government, which he said was riven by religious splits and slow to respond to people's needs during and after the fighting. He said that Hezbollah moved quickly to provide aid in part because it feared the government would move slowly to heighten anger at Hezbollah for the destruction. He again said his forces would not disarm and that the role of an expanded U.N. force was not Hezbollah's disarmament.

"We have no problem with UNIFIL as long as its mission is not aimed at disarming Hezbollah," Nasrallah said, using the acronym for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.

But Nasrallah's words appeared also aimed at calming fears that his group would attempt to take over the country in the wake of the fighting. He said his group would never "force" its beliefs on the religiously diverse nation.

Nasrallah also said "contacts" had been made about a prisoner swap and that Italian officials were interested in acting as a go-between for negotiations for the release of the two Israeli soldiers and an undisclosed number of Arab prisoners now in Israeli jails.

"The Israelis have acknowledged that this (issue) is headed for negotiations and an exchange," he said. "Contacts recently began for negotiations."

Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Isen said, however, that her government would not be involved in any negotiations with Hezbollah.

"We don't negotiate with terrorists," she said.

But she added that the unconditional return of the two soldiers remains "our top priority."

Sunday, the Egyptian government-owned Al-Ahram newspaper reported that: "High-ranking officials have mentioned that the prisoner's swap between Israel and Hezbollah may take place within two or three weeks at the most."

The newspaper reported that German mediators were helping to broker a prisoner swap - as they have in the past.

"The swap will be either simultaneous, or the German side will give Hezbollah a guarantee: if the two Israeli soldiers are freed first the Lebanese prisoners would be freed in the following two days," the paper said.

Schofield reported from Jerusalem, Fadel from Beirut. McClatchy Newspapers special correspondent Miret El-Naggar contributed from Cairo, Egypt.
0 Replies
 
BumbleBeeBoogie
 
  1  
Reply Mon 28 Aug, 2006 10:51 am
South Lebanese city poses challenge to government authority
South Lebanese city poses challenge to government authority
By Hannah Allam
McClatchy Newspapers
8/27/06
SIDON, Lebanon

The children of this Lebanese port city grow up with the legend of their ancestors burning down their homes rather than submit to a Persian invasion in 351 B.C. But for their modern-day enemies - Israel and the United States - many locals favor a different ending to the ancient tale.

"Now we prefer to burn invaders rather than burn ourselves," Abdul Rahman Bizri, Sidon's mayor, said with a hearty chuckle.

Sidon is the birthplace of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, as well as his close friend, the billionaire former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, whose assassination last year fueled a pro-democracy movement that the Bush administration hoped would become a model for the Middle East.

But the residents of Sidon hardly embrace the same vision. As Saniora and Hariri grew closer to their Western allies, the more local support diminished for Sidon's famous sons.

Now, with its shifting political alliances and a militant movement fueled by Hezbollah's declaration of victory over Israel, Sidon encapsulates the battle the government faces in extending its authority throughout Lebanon. To win over the south, Saniora - and his backers from the Hariri family - must first get past their hometown.

"The Hariri bloc has no chance of extending its power beyond the perimeter of Sidon. Actually, they have difficulties within the city itself," said Hilal Khashan, a political science professor at the American University in Beirut. "There are other competitors now."

Wedged between the government seat north in Beirut and Hezbollah's vast southern fiefdom, Sidon's residents call their town "the gateway to the resistance." It's also the portal for a look inside the swirl of ideologies, religions, sects and dynasties that make Lebanon so difficult to govern, especially in the tumultuous aftermath of war.

Sidon, the largest city in southern Lebanon, is a Sunni Muslim bastion in a Shiite Muslim crescent. But even the Sunnis here are far from homogenous - they're a mishmash of secular Arab nationalists, Western-friendly reformists, moderate Islamists and militant zealots.

The city's environs include Christian villages with their own political diversity, as well as Shiite Muslim villages that are strongholds for Hezbollah or the more moderate Amal party. And then there's the dismal Ain el-Hilweh, Lebanon's largest Palestinian refugee camp and a hotbed of Sunni fundamentalism.

A traffic roundabout in Sidon displays the array of political forces doing battle in the city: There are Hezbollah's bright yellow flags, portraits of the late Hariri, a graffito that reads "Yes to Saddam Hussein," and photos of President Bush and French President Jacques Chirac embedded in text from the Quran that warns of invaders.

Lebanese electoral law groups Sidon with other southern cities in the same district, which means Sunni politicians from the city must court Shiite voters.

For years, Lebanese political analysts say, there's been an agreement with Shiite leaders that each of Sidon's major Sunni families -the Hariris, the Bizris and the Saads - would get a share of the political pie. For now, a Bizri is the mayor, while a Saad and a Hariri ran uncontested for Sidon's two seats in parliament.

The Bizris and the Saads, both from Arab nationalist parties, play to the militant strands of the population with their support for "the resistance" and harsh criticism of the government in Beirut. By all accounts, they're on good terms with Hezbollah, Palestinian factions and many Sunni Islamists.

"The politics of Bizri aren't the same as those of Hariri. He's with the resistance," Abu Ahmed Fadel, the leader of Ain el-Hilweh's branch of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, said referring to Bizri. "The Hariris have nothing here, only big, luxurious villas. They have no power."

The Hariri bloc is the anchor of the so-called March 14 Forces, a grouping of several Christian and Sunni politicians that forms the backbone of the Saniora administration. They came to power after the death of Rafik Hariri and the end of Syria's military domination of Lebanon.

The recent conflict with Israel, many Lebanese say, exposed the cracks in the government's calls for change: political infighting, a weak military, close ties to Western supporters of Israel, and virtual paralysis when it came to coping with a catastrophic humanitarian crisis.

A reporter made four telephone requests and one visit to the offices of Bahiya Hariri, the pro-government legislator from Sidon. Her aides said she was not available.

Many political analysts believe the Saniora administration will pay a heavy political price for its handling of the war, starting in the premier's birthplace: Sidon.

"People see the March 14 people as related to the United States," said Sheikh Mohamed Eid, a Pakistan-trained Sunni cleric who said his followers don't believe the government represents them. "Before, we used to think that resisting politically was a good way. But the United States started putting pressure on the U.N. to make rules against Arabs and Muslims, and (the government) didn't say anything. Now, no one thinks the political way is the best way."

During the conflict, Israeli airstrikes took out Sidon's bridges, three gas stations and a Shiite religious school. On the outskirts of the city, warplanes destroyed water reservoirs, a power plant and a tissue factory. Shiites fleeing villages farther south descended on Sidon, almost doubling its normal population of about 125,000.

Bizri, the mayor, said private donations far outstripped the government's meager aid to Sidon. He said residents were outraged at the American-backed government in Beirut and added "the credibility of the state is being questioned here every day."

"There is a strong culture of resistance here," Bizri said. "It's a difficult city to neglect or marginalize. Sidon has always been the source of good or, unfortunately, bad in Lebanon."
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