Hezbollah Commemorates Costly 'Divine Victory' One year after its bloody six-week war with Israel, Hezbollah guerrillas celebrate the clash that brought Israel to a bloody standstill and polarized Lebanon.
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Hezbollah Commemorates Costly 'Divine Victory'

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Hezbollah Commemorates Costly 'Divine Victory'

Hezbollah Commemorates Costly 'Divine Victory'

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

It's been a year since the end of the war between Israel and the Hezbollah guerillas of Lebanon. The conflict erupted when Hezbollah launched a cross border raid and captured two Israeli soldiers.

(Soundbite of air strikes)

NORRIS: Israeli warplanes unleashed waves of air strikes against Lebanon and sent troops and tanks across the border. Hezbollah retaliated by firing Katyusha rockets at Israeli cities and towns.

By the time a cease-fire was reached, 158 Israelis had been killed, most of them soldiers. More than twelve hundred Lebanese were dead, most of them civilians.

From Beirut, NPR's Ivan Watson reports.

IVAN WATSON: A year after the bloody six-week war, Hezbollah is celebrating the anniversary of what it calls the divine victory.

Mr. ALI AHMAD (Exhibit Designer): The anniversary of the divine victory. This war - begins a war, but ends with a divine victory.

WATSON: Ali Ahmad is one of the designers of a new Hezbollah exhibit directed near the Shiite movement's headquarters in the southern suburbs of Beirut.

(Soundbite of gunfire and bombing)

WATSON: The exhibit features lifesize models of underground Hezbollah bunkers, photos of fighters firing Katyusha rockets, and an elaborate light show reenacting a battle around a captured Israeli tank.

Ahmad says he deliberately placed captured Israeli helmets, weapons and parts of a downed helicopter, underground and underfoot, in glass display cases.

Mr. AHMAD: In order to let the people know and feel that the Israeli came to the Lebanon, and they sink in the sands of Lebanon.

WATSON: For the past 50 years, Arab countries have faced one humiliating defeat after another in wars with Israel. This time, Hezbollah's militia fought the Israelis to a bloody standstill. For many Arabs, says analyst Timur Goksel, that is an accomplishment.

Mr. TIMUR GOKSEL (Former Spokesman, United Nations Peacekeeping Force): This will be referred to as the day the Arabs regained their dignity.

WATSON: But that cost was enormous, especially for Lebanon's Shiite community, which makes up the backbone of Hezbollah's support. In the Shiite southern suburbs of Beirut, where plain-clothed Hezbollah agents on mopeds, stopped and interrogate visiting foreigners, workers are still tearing down the ruins of bombed out buildings.

(Soundbite of music)

WATSON: Meanwhile, in battle-scarred southern Lebanon, some villages appear to have gotten more reconstruction aid than others.

WATSON: In the hilltop village of Qana, a yellow Hezbollah flag flaps in the winds next to a recently constructed memorial for 27 civilian victims of an Israeli air strike.

On July 30th, 2006, a bomb pancaked a house here where dozens of Lebanese women and children had been hiding in the basement. Israel later justified the attack by accusing Hezbollah of firing rockets from the village.

Some of the survivors now play and Qana's still eerily empty streets.

Mr. HASSAN SHALHOUB (Qana Resident): My name is Hassan Shalhoub.

WATSON: Five-year-old Hassan Shalhoub and his 8-year-old cousin, Ali, are both dressed in Spider Man T-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops. Both have scars on their faces from last summer's bombing.

Mr. H. SHALHOUB: (Foreign language spoken)

Mr. ALI SHALHOUB: (Foreign language spoken)

WATSON: We were over there and the stones fell on us, Ali explains.

Mr. H. SHALHOUB: (Foreign language spoken)

WATSON: My sister died, says Hassan, and Ali's brother, Asum(ph), also died.

One of the boys' relatives is a tobacco farmer named Youssuf Shalhoub. He says the war's anniversary is a sad, yet, triumphant occasion.

Does it feel like the divine victory?

Mr. YOUSSUF SHALHOUB (Tobacco Farmer): (Through translator) Yes, definitely. You know, victory, victory only comes from God. It was God that gave these people the strength to fight an army or a force that no other Arab nation has been able to make a dent in. It's, that definitely is a divine victory.

WATSON: But a half-hour's drive away in the village of Mansouri, retired plantation worker Hani Srour and his wife Zahra disagreed.

Mr. HANI SROUR (Retired Plantation Worker): (Through translator) Yes, it's a victory for them, for the resistance. But for us, it's not a victory. It's not a victory for a lot of people. I mean, how can it be a victory when so much was destroyed and so many people were killed.

WATSON: On July 23rd, Hani's son, Mohammed, and his son-in-law, Darwish, packed family members into a car and raced northwards to escape the war zone. An Israeli missile struck the car, burning the two men to death, and wounding several children.

(Soundbite of recorded audio)

WATSON: In this recording made in a hospital emergency room moments after that attack, doctors treated nine-month-old baby Merriam(ph) and 12-year-old Mahmoud who'd been severely burnt on the face, chest and arms.

(Soundbite of people talking)

WATSON: Today, these traumatized children are still recovering from their injuries, and their grandparents worry about the future of two large families that are now fatherless and without sources of income.

Since the ceasefire, thousands of Lebanese army soldiers have deployed for the first time in decades to the southern border region, where they serve alongside 15,000 United Nations peacekeepers. But no one believes Hezbollah's dedicated fighters have left the south.

Mohammad Shattah is a senior adviser in the Lebanese government, which is currently locked in a bitter dispute with Hezbollah that has split the country into two opposing political camps.

Mr. MOHAMMAD SHATTAH (Senior Adviser to Lebanon's Prime Minister): That's true. We cannot control Hezbollah. Hezbollah is still an autonomous military force.

WATSON: Shattah says the war failed to resolve any of the lingering disputes between Israel and Lebanon. And today, all across Lebanon, people are asking not if, but when there will be another war.

(Soundbite of construction)

WATSON: But despite those fears, residents are rebuilding their houses in Khiam, a Lebanese town that sits within site of the Israeli border.

(Soundbite of drilling)

WATSON: Over the last year, aid money has poured in here from Qatar and from Iran, which distributed Persian carpets, hot food, and stoves to Khiam's residents.

Ms. AZIZAH AHUBDAH (Khiam Resident): (Foreign language spoken)

WATSON: This is the third time our house has been destroyed, says Azizah Ahubdah(ph). She's a grandmother who lived here throughout the Israeli military's 20-year occupation of Khiam.

Ms. AHUBDAH: (Foreign language spoken)

WATSON: As long as we're alive, she adds, we will keep rebuilding.

Ivan Watson, NPR News, Beirut.

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