Abdullah Qassir, who represents the Shia Muslim Hizbullah
organization in the Lebanese parliament, is unimpressed with
President Bush's executive order to freeze the group's financial
assets. If anything, he takes pride in it.
"We feel strong when the United States deals with us as a worthy
adversary," Mr. Qassir says. "Hizbullah is known in the region as a
resistance party. We were never a terrorist group."
But Washington believes differently. At the beginning of the
month, Mr. Bush slapped the order on 22 groups listed by the State
Department as terrorist organizations in a bid to neutralize their
activities. Although the list encompasses organizations based around
the world, few Lebanese doubt that the executive order was primarily
aimed at radical organizations opposed to Israel and the stagnant
Middle East peace process.
Since Hizbullah's fighters ousted the Israeli army from South
Lebanon 18 months ago, ending a 22-year occupation, the
organization's activities have centered on a sporadic guerrilla
campaign against Israeli troops occupying a mountainous district
known as the Shebaa Farms along Lebanon's southeast border with the
Syrian Golan Heights. Some in Lebanon, including Prime Minister
Rafik Hariri, had begun to question the wisdom of the Shebaa Farms
campaign, fearing further instability in the country. But if Bush
thought the executive order would encourage the Lebanese government
to curb Hizbullah's activities, he was wrong.
"The US classification of Hizbullah as a terrorist faction is
unacceptable altogether," Mr. Hariri said. "The Lebanese government
holds Hizbullah in high esteem for expelling the Israeli army from
occupied south Lebanon last year, and the people of Lebanon are
united with the government in this stance."
The mood of outrage at the US decision crossed Lebanon's
sectarian divide, uniting right-wing Maronite Christians with Shia
Former Lebanese President Amin Gemayel, a Maronite whose father
founded the Phalange party, a key ally of Israel in the early 1980s,
described the executive order as "definitely an act of arrogance."
He said, "There is a difference between resistance to occupation and
terrorism, and we need no lessons from anyone in this matter."
Yet Hizbullah is connected to a bloody history of anti-American
attacks in war-torn 1980s Lebanon. They include the devastating
suicide truck bombing of the US Embassy in 1983 that killed 63
people. Six months later, another explosive-laden truck was driven
into the US Marines barracks beside Beirut airport. The blast killed
But since the end of Lebanon's civil war in 1990, Hizbullah has
undergone a considerable transformation, channeling its energies
into fighting Israeli forces in southern Lebanon. The organization
has turned into a respected political party, represented in
parliament. It has established an effective social welfare network
of schools, clinics, and hospitals, bringing basic services to those
impoverished parts of the country traditionally ignored by the
The US even tacitly recognized the organization as a legitimate
military force when it co-chaired with France a five-nation group to
monitor a 1996 understanding that forbid both Hizbullah and the
Israeli army from targeting civilians.
European diplomats in Beirut regularly meet with Hizbullah's