- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2000

The State Department says it is "concerned" by reports that the Syrian-controlled Hezbollah militia has taken over a television station owned by the U.S.-based Christian Broadcasting Network in the southern Lebanese city of Marjayoun.

"This is an issue we are looking into. We are concerned, and we are trying to get the facts," a State Department official said Tuesday on the condition of anonymity. "This is an American-owned company, and we are going to do what we can to support them, but first let's find out what happened."

The Middle Eastern Television (METV) station in Marjayoun was "captured" by Hezbollah "during Israel's abrupt pullout" from southern Lebanon last week, the Virginia Beach-based Christian Broadcasting Network said in a press release. Evangelist Pat Robertson founded the Christian Broadcasting Network in 1960 and continues to act as its chairman.

METV employed some 30 Maronite Christians, who because of the station's support of Israel, are now considered traitors, said Michael Little, an METV director who just returned from the region.

In the chaos of Israel's withdrawal from the region it had occupied for 22 years, seven of METV's employees, and their families, managed to cross into the Jewish state, where they are now seeking visas to come to the United States. The rest of the METV staff are in hiding or keeping a low profile in their homes in Marjayoun, Mr. Little said.

"They are not under death threat, but they are definitely in danger," he said.

METV has been broadcasting for 18 years from southern Lebanon to 17 countries with a potential audience of 200 million people. In anticipation of the Israeli pullout, METV set up facilities in Cyprus and has been test-broadcasting since early May. Now the Cyprus facility is handling the METV signal full time.

Mr. Little said the Hezbollah had taken over its building and some $5 million in property and equipment. He said his primary concern was the safety of the employees. He said that Syria, which is the main power broker in Lebanon, seemed to have limited what the Hezbollah can do.

"It is not an organized Nazi-style house-to-house search, but we are concerned about pockets of self-empowered extremists [taking revenge]," he said.

Hezbollah took control of southern Lebanon after Israel's withdrawal last week from the security zone it had occupied for 22 years to protect its northern residents from cross-border attacks.

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