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Expert Looks at Aftermath of July War in Lebanon

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Expert Looks at Aftermath of July War in Lebanon

Middle East

Expert Looks at Aftermath of July War in Lebanon

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DEBORAH AMOS, host:

Coming up later in the program. Punk rock inspired by Harry Potter.

But first...

(Soundbite of bombing)

Unidentified Man #1: The Israeli Army continues to battle Hezbollah.

Unidentified Man #2: In Lebanon, Hezbollah guerillas have continued to fight fiercely.

Unidentified Woman: Israeli warplane also bombed the bridge in the north of the country, killing at least 11 people.

Unidentified Man #3: ...workers have been storing the bodies of hundreds of victims...

AMOS: One year ago this week, Israeli defense forces attacked targets in Lebanon with air strikes and artillery fire. Beirut International Airport was hit. Also bridges and key supply roads. Israel was responding to a cross-border raid by Hezbollah, the Shiite movement that controls southern Lebanon. A kidnap team killed three Israeli soldiers and took two others hostage. It was a 33-day war, not the brief and triumphant campaign Israel had expected. When it was over, more than a thousand Lebanese and dozens of Israeli civilians were dead.

At the start of the war, we spoke to Middle East scholar Fawaz Gerges. He and his three children were in Lebanon at that time on vacation. They found themselves stranded like thousands of other Americans trying to evacuate. At the time, Gerges told DAY TO DAY that his eight-year-old daughter Hannah was having trouble making sense of the violence around her.

Professor FAWAZ GERGES (Author, "Journey of the Jihadist: Inside the Muslim Militancy"): She does not seem to be able to understand why people would kill. Why this madness? Why the bombings of the civilian infrastructure? I don't seem to understand myself.

AMOS: Fawaz Gerges joins us again today.

Professor Gerges, welcome back to the program.

Prof. GERGES: Thank you.

AMOS: First, you were in Lebanon last summer for a family vacation. What was the mood like right before the war?

Prof. GERGES: The mood was extremely positive. The economy was improving. The country was expecting to receive more than a million tourists. Lebanese politicians were talking about their differences and what to do with Hezbollah's arms. Few Lebanese had expected the sudden earthquake that devastated their country in July and August 2006.

AMOS: And now a year later things couldn't be worst in Lebanon. Why are things are falling apart so fast?

Prof. GERGES: Well, I think what the crisis did last summer was to expose multiple fault lines. And now, I think, three major fault lines are splitting the Lebanese apart. The first is that the pro-Western government is pitted in a power struggle with the opposition led by the dominant Shiite party, Hezbollah. Second, the pro-American Lebanese government is pitted in a crisis with the Syrian government. In fact in a way there is a mini-war taking place between Beirut and Damascus. There is a third fierce battle taking place between the American-led alliance and the Iranian/Syrian coalitions.

AMOS: Now, tell us about one more thing, and this is also a crisis, the emergence of al-Qaida-inspired groups in Lebanon. That's fairly new.

Prof. GERGES: Al-Qaida-inspired factions and groups in Lebanon has emerged in the country since the late 1990s, and in particular in post-2001. And you're talking about the Palestinian group in north Lebanon and the Palestinian refugee camp called Nahr al-Bared.

AMOS: Lebanon has about a dozen Palestinian refugee camps. Why are these places such hotbeds for radicalism?

Prof. GERGES: You have about 450,000 Palestinian refugees in the country. They live a very dismal and miserable life. They have no legal status. Most of them live below the poverty lines. They have no access to the educational system in Lebanon. There's a great deal of anti-Palestinian sentiment throughout the country. If the Lebanese government and the international community does not take the crisis within Palestinian camps seriously, I fear that al-Qaida will likely establish infrastructures and bases in the country which basically not only endanger the security of Lebanon but regional security and international security as well.

AMOS: Fawaz, there are some Lebanese who worry that their country may become a failed state. Do they have reason to worry?

Prof. GERGES: Yes, they do. I mean imagine in tiny Lebanon 40 percent of the four million Lebanese live in poverty. Lebanon historically has served as a battlefield for outside players. The Lebanese are deeply divided today. Neither the economy nor the political system is functioning as it should. And this is why I think the Lebanese, who basically are concerned about their country becoming a failed state, have legitimate concerns.

AMOS: Fawaz Gerges, thank you for joining us on DAY TO DAY.

Prof. GERGES: It's my pleasure.

AMOS: Fawaz Gerges is the author of the book "Journey of the Jihadist: Inside the Muslim Militancy."

More coming up on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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