Hizbollah’s ‘divine’ victory

BEIRUT — Hizbollah said on Monday it had scored a “divine victory” in its conflict with Israel while the Jewish state claimed the upper hand, saying the group now cannot “do what it likes in Lebanon”.

Hours after a UN-brokered ceasefire agreement took effect at 0500 GMT, Hizbollah supporters handed out posters claiming victory in the Shiite movement’s fight against Israel.

And as displaced Lebanese began to return to their shattered neighbourhoods, one of the two elected Hizbollah MPs in Lebanon’s government championed his movement’s success.

“They will return home, their heads high, in dignity, after the resistance achieved a great victory for them,” Hassan Fadlallah told reporters.

He was surrounded by fighters, standing in front of the rubble of flattened buildings and raising yellow Hizbollah flags bearing a Kalashnikov rifle and proclaiming: “Hizbollah will be the victor.” A smiling picture of Hizbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, whose name means “Victory of God”, graced posters distributed in Beirut’s Shiite stronghold southern suburbs, captioned: “The divine victory”. Posters showing pictures of Hizbollah fighters operating a rocket-launcher were handed out to displaced who were returning after fleeing southern areas that were heavily bombarded during the Israeli attacks. Nabih Berri, the parliament speaker and leader of the Shiite Amal movement, encouraged displaced Lebanese to return to their homes in the south “to cement the victory of the resistance and the Lebanese people”. “Let those who find their houses standing go home. And those who no longer have a place to live should lodge with friends or neighbours until their homes can be repaired,” Berri told journalists.

Five Amal fighters were also killed in fighting over the past month. Hizbollah fighters engaged in fierce ground battles with Israeli soldiers and fired around 4,000 rockets at Israel during the monthlong conflict, killing 41 civilians and 117 soldiers.

Lebanon’s casualties were drastically higher, with more than 1,150 people killed — most of them civilians — and 900,000 displaced due to the Israeli military offensive launched July 12 after Hizbollah captured two Israeli soldiers. Despite the ceasefire, Israeli soldiers killed two Hizbollah fighters in separate incidents Monday. But Israel, staunchly backed by the United States despite criticism from the rest of the world over disproportionate use of force against Lebanon, said its military might had succeeded in putting Hizbollah under international scrutiny.

“We have the diplomatic advantage as Hizbollah is now under the microscope of the international community,” said foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.

“Politically and militarily, Hizbollah can no longer do what it likes in Lebanon.” Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres went further Sunday, predicting that “Hizbollah will not finish as a huge hero, but with its tail between its legs.” Nevertheless, domestic criticism remained heavy in Israel over the offensive, which in addition to human losses forced hundreds of thousands of people to leave their homes and cost the economy more than $1 billion. “In another few weeks, a million people will ask: What was this all about? Why did they lose their homes? Thousands of reservists will ask the same questions. To say nothing of the bereaved families,” the daily Haaretz newspaper wrote.

Even Israel’s head of military intelligence admitted that the Shiite group had not been defeated.

“Hizbollah is weakened but has not been defeated,” Amos Yadlin said.

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