PERSPECTIVE: The Switzerland of Middle East No More; as Lebanon Is Engulfed in Violence Martha Linden Looks at How the 'Switzerland of the Middle East' Descended into Destruction While Tim Moynihan Examines the Origins of the Latest Crisis

The Birmingham Post (England), July 21, 2006 | Go to article overview

PERSPECTIVE: The Switzerland of Middle East No More; as Lebanon Is Engulfed in Violence Martha Linden Looks at How the 'Switzerland of the Middle East' Descended into Destruction While Tim Moynihan Examines the Origins of the Latest Crisis


Byline: Martha Linden, Tim Moynihan

The name Lebanon derives from the Semitic word for white, a reference to the snow-capped Mount Lebanon in the country.

The small, largely mountainous country is located at the eastern edge of the Mediterranean and is bordered by Syria to the north and east, and Israel to the south.

The country was once known, before the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war in 1975, as the "Switzerland of the Middle East" because of its conflict-free status.

The capital, Beirut, was a byword for romance and elegance, with French-style architecture and boulevards.

The origins and development of the civil war are complex and have their roots in fighting between Palestinian refugees and indigenous groups in the south of the country.

Syria was drawn into the conflict and its forces remained in Lebanon, dominating its government and occupying the country until 2005.

Israel has a history of invading Lebanon - first in 1978 in what was called the Litani River Operation, launched after cross-border attacks by Palestinian groups in southern Lebanon against civilians in Israel.

In 1982 Israel again invaded Lebanon, with the aim of evicting the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) armed forces, only withdrawing from its designated "security zone" in 2000.

Hezbollah, a radical Islamic group meaning "Party of God", was established in 1982 to fight the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. It has long been seen as an ally of Syria.

The group is perhaps best known in Britain as the organisation behind the kidnap of Terry Waite, the former adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and others in the late 1980s. It built up a powerful base in southern Lebanon and has seats in the country's parliament.

Israel claims Hezbollah has been given Iranian missiles capable of hitting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv - well over 100 miles from the Lebanese border.

It has also alleged that Iranian troops are inside Lebanon helping Hezbollah mount the attack. Iran has denied the claims.

The recent crisis erupted last week when two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped by forces operating across the border and suspicions fell on Hezbollah.

Lebanese-born academics working in Britain spoke of their grief at seeing infrastructure - built up since the end of the war in 1990 - destroyed and a descent once more into tragedy and destruction. …

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PERSPECTIVE: The Switzerland of Middle East No More; as Lebanon Is Engulfed in Violence Martha Linden Looks at How the 'Switzerland of the Middle East' Descended into Destruction While Tim Moynihan Examines the Origins of the Latest Crisis
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