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JOINING FORCES.

As violence in the Occupied Territories continues, some staunch supporters of the Intifada 2000 outline their positions and indicate where they are prepared to go from here.

In mid-October Hizbullah upped the ante in the current Palestinian-Israeli confrontation by abducting three Israeli soldiers in the contested Shebaa Farms area, in south-east Lebanon. The group had refrained from operations since the Israelis pulled out of South Lebanon in May. Initially Hizbullah demanded freedom for 19 Lebanese in Israeli jails, but then rapidly escalated its demands to include release of over 1,600 Palestinians as well.

A correspondent from The Middle East (TME) visited Hizbullah's Beirut press office, in the southern suburb of Haret Hreik, to ask Mowafak Al Jamal, head of the group's central information office, about Hizbullah's current agenda and intentions.

Speaking through an interpreter, Al Jamal said: "We believe a huge massacre is being perpetrated against the Palestinian people and as we have said many times we are on their side. When will the governments of the world wake up? Our planned response to current events is secret and to be kept within Hizbullah. But the capture of the three Israeli soldiers is part of our support for the Palestinians and their Intifada."

The Hizbullah action was guaranteed to further inflame politicians in Tel Aviv. Did Hizbullah not regard Israel's withdrawal from South Lebanon as an olive branch, a gesture to be reciprocated rather than rejected? Seemingly not. Mr Al Jamal responded emphatically: "Let us be clear, there was no withdrawal, there was a defeat after 18 years of resistance. Remember, the Shebaa Farms [a disputed area at the foot of the Golan Israel still regards as occupied Syria, but which Lebanon claims as its own] are still occupied by Israel. That means we captured occupying soldiers."

On many occasions in the past Hizbullah has invoked UN Resolution 425, demanding Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon. Now the UN has declared Israel has indeed withdrawn (Shebaa Farms notwithstanding), and, given that even Kofi Annan has accused Hizbullah of violating Resolution 425 by its abduction of the Israeli soldiers, is Hizbullah not guilty of adopting a pick' n' mix approach to the UN, as it has long accused Israel of doing?

"Regardless of Resolution 425, the Shebaa Farms are still occupied, they still hold prisoners, and the Lebanese government agrees; Resolution 425 was not completely implemented," Al Jamal responded.

It could be said that Hizbullah does itself no favours by refusing Red Cross, EU, UN and US requests for neutral access to the soldiers for humanitarian reasons. The group refuses even to say if they are alive. Does this not undermine their own complaints about Israeli treatment of prisoners, and amount to an abandonment of the moral high ground?

"We have our own ethics," says Al Jamal. "We do not consider ourselves the chosen ones ... everyone is human. But regarding these soldiers, we are in a war situation and if we're going to release any information, Israel must pay a price."

In the future, assuming a peace could be reached, does Hizbullah believe the Arabs can co-exist with Israel? "We believe Israel is an illegitimate entity on occupied Palestinian land taken by force. Even if the whole world recognises that Israel exists, we will never recognise it.

"Look, if someone takes your house by force, do you accept it? And if he then negotiates with you to keep part of your house, do you accept such a thing?" Al Jamal asked.

So what, then, is Hizbullah's final objective regarding Israel?

"Let's be frank. The first objective is to force the Israelis off the land and the second is not to allow their plan to destroy our [Arab] identity in the region to succeed. Let the Israelis leave Palestine and Al Quds [Jerusalem], let the settlers who came from all over the world return to their countries."

Recently there has been speculation that Hizbullah is acting in an increasingly autonomous fashion, taking less direction from Iran and Syria. Analysts say that the seizure of the Israeli soldiers was Hizbullah's way of securing its own seat at the table in a situation in which it felt increasingly marginalised. Is Hizbullah really increasingly asserting its own will? "Syria and Iran are our allies and we do not deny they give us political support. We may consult, but ... our actions are in our own hands and more specifically in the hands of the secretary-general."

In terms of the fighting in Israel and the Palestinian territories, Lebanon risks deeper involvement through its population of Palestinian refugees, who number around 350,000. During the peace process members of the Palestinian diaspora have become, if anything, more frustrated than their counterparts in the Occupied Territories, perceiving they are being marginalised by both sides in negotiations.

The Lebanese army is cordoning off Palestinian refugee camps in the south of the country, such as Al Bas in Tyre and Ain El Helweh in Sidon, to prevent the Palestinian dispossessed from exacerbating the situation on the southern border.

Souheil El Natour is a senior official of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) based at the Mar Elias refugee camp in the southern suburbs of Beirut. The DFLP, along with Yasser Arafat's Fatah and George Habash's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), is one of three core groups of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. It espouses a Marxist-Leninist ideology.

Speaking to TME, Souheil El Natour made no secret of the DFLP's dissatisfaction with the outcome of last year's Camp David summit. "We oppose the concessions of Camp David and Oslo but we do not oppose the settlement and negotiation process in general. Our interpretation is that the Camp David agreement is not going to lead to the independence of the West Bank and Gaza as a sovereign state. That is why we do not participate in the Palestinian Authority."

But what are the alternatives to the Oslo process?

"The alternative to Oslo is the application of UN resolutions. We abide by UN resolutions but the problem is that the UN itself accepts Israel's non-compliance and stubbornness concerning the Palestinians' right of return and their right to an independent state. It is a humanitarian task that the whole world must participate in."

But what can the Palestinians do? "We have said many times that the main confrontation site is on the spot, in the West Bank and Gaza. The masses in their demonstrations against the Israeli occupation forces are already involved in confrontation. If you are talking about armed struggle, we intend that one day our people in the Occupied Territories -- if the Israelis insist on their hawkish attitude -- will transform these popular demonstrations into a popular resistance. There are now indications of the willingness of the people to go forward with this if the Israelis refuse the Palestinians their freedom and independence.

"Frankly we currently lack the means to do this, which is why our young men face Israeli bullets with their chests."

Events in the Occupied Territories are easy to monitor on CNN and other international television news channels. Watching their dreams and aspirations unravel, the patience of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, as well in as other Arab countries, must be wearing thin. Does Hizbullah anticipate a new wave of cross-border attacks or some form of organised unrest within those host countries?

"Well let's look at this another way," says El Natour. "Why should only the Palestinians in these countries be losing patience with the Israelis? Why not the whole Arab masses? Only a few days ago in Sana'a in Aden, attacks against a US Navy ship and the British embassy indicated that the Arabs are fed up with all the promises of peace and fed up also with the way America and the West gives its backing to Israel. Any loss of patience and the resulting reactions will not be limited to the Palestinians.

"We do not want to create problems between the Palestinians and their host countries. Gestures of support must be co-ordinated with the governments of the host countries and with the general mood of the masses. We are not going to harm our relations with them," the DFLP spokesman concluded.

Hizbullah -- the Party of God

Hizbullah (the Party of God) appeared in Lebanon during the Israeli invasion of 1982, when its suicide bombers inflicted carnage on Israeli forces. A Shia Muslim fundamentalist group, it derives much of its support and direction from Iran, but also has strong links with Syria. During the Lebanese war Hizbullah devoted much of its resources to fighting Amal, the other major Shia group, but subsequently mounted an increasingly successful guerilla campaign against Israel and its proxy militia in occupied South Lebanon. Among other things this allowed Syria to indirectly pressure Israel to return the Golan Heights without provoking a Syrian-Israeli war. In May 2000 Israel unilaterally withdrew from South Lebanon, although Hizbullah does not accept this withdrawal (see above). An armed force of around 800 men remains in training, and unofficial reports from the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) suggest Hizbullah continues to ferry arms and explosives around South Lebanon. The recent abduction of three Israeli soldiers vividly illustrates Hizbullah's continuing state of readiness.

In recent years Hizbullah has tried to recast itself as a pan-Lebanese resistance organisation. However, many in Lebanon would argue the group remains committed to its original aim -- the establishment of a fundamentalist Shia state in Lebanon. The group forms the largest single bloc in Lebanon's parliament, and indeed is the political group that most closely resembles an organised party, rather than a confessional fiefdom. Its popular power base is further reinforced by its provision of considerable social and medical services in impoverished parts of Beirut, the South and the Bekaa. Even Hizbullah's fiercest critics concede that the group is remarkably uncorrupt by Lebanese standards.

Hizbullah also fields a well organised propaganda machine, including Al Manar, its Lebanese television station, which carries footage of attacks against the Israelis, and a press centre. There are also several websites, one of which, www.Hizbullah.org, is in English. However, at the time of writing all of the websites were out of service as a result of electronic attack by Israelis and Israeli sympathisers.

Mariam Shahin Ramallah
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Publication:The Middle East
Geographic Code:70MID
Date:Dec 1, 2000
Words:1710
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