- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2005

BEIRUT — Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon in compliance with a U.N. Security Council resolution has led to growing support for the second part of the resolution — a demand that the Hezbollah militia give up its arms.

With parliamentary elections to begin this weekend, both politicians and citizens are questioning whether Hezbollah should be left with the sole responsibility for ?resistance? against Israel.

?We can’t let Hezbollah decide alone whether there will be peace or war in Lebanon. They have to consult with the other Lebanese factions,? said Massoud Ashkar, a 47-year old Christian businessman.

According to Michel Lourna, a columnist for Lebanon’s French-language daily, Louraine Du Jour, most of the political parties that oppose continued Syrian influence in Lebanon also support forcing Hezbollah to give up their weapons.

If a coalition of anti-Syrian parties wrests control of parliament from the pro-Syrian loyalists that dominate the present government, the issue of Hezbollah disarmament is likely to be come a priority for the new government.

?There is a large consensus in Lebanon that Hezbollah must sooner or later give up their arms,? Mr. Lourna said. ?But the leaders insist that this issue should be resolved within the government, and among the Lebanese people.?

In the five years since Israeli troops pulled out of southern Lebanon, Hezbollah has insisted that the ?liberation? was incomplete, pointing to the disputed Shebaa farms region.

The Shi’ite militia, whose name translates to ?Party of God,? has used the complaint as a pretext to shell Israeli positions on a mountain overlooking Shebaa, as well as cities along the northern border.

Critics argue that a solution to the Shebaa dispute should come from the United Nations.

They note that it is not clear whether the territory in fact belongs to Syria, which would also weaken Hezbollah’s campaign.

Mass protests demanding Syrian withdrawal after the February assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri focused Lebanon’s and the world’s attention on U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559.

Approved in the fall, the resolution calls for the dismantling of all Lebanese militias in addition to an exit of Syrian troops.

Today, Hezbollah is the only one of several militias that fought during Lebanon’s civil war to retain its weapons.

Since demonstrations demanding Syria’s withdrawal, Hezbollah has mobilized hundreds of thousands of its Shi’ite followers in a counterdemonstration that branded the anti-Syrian faction as puppets and tools of U.S. intervention.

Hezbollah argues that the upheaval known as the ?Cedar Revolution? simply replaced Syrian domination with American and French domination of the country.

Leaders of the Islamic organization — which controls 13 of the 128 seats in parliament — have argued that they’ve defended Lebanon against Israel over the past five years by remaining armed.

?When they wanted to take away the arms of Hezbollah, everybody went into the streets,? said Hassan, a 60-year old businessman who attended a rally on Wednesday. ?It could have become an uprising. If somebody does something good for the country, you should treat him well.?

Hassan, who owns a business in the Beirut slum of Dahiyeh where Hezbollah’s main offices are located and where women dress in all-covering burqas, said he contributes to the group because it has set up a social network of schools and hospitals that help the country’s Shi’ite underclass.

Hezbollah killed hundreds of Americans in the 1980s in bombings of the U.S. Embassy and of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut. It also kidnapped Western journalists, teachers and aid workers.

The Iranian-financed group is considered a terrorist organization by the United States.

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