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12 Jul, 2007 12:24

No breakthrough one year after Israel-Lebanon war

On the eve of the first anniversary of the second Lebanon war, the Israeli and Lebanese Prime Ministers have one thing in common – both are facing a dissatisfied and disgruntled public at home.

It was a war that lasted 34 days. A war in which more than 1,200 people were killed in Lebanon and 160 in Israel. It started when guerillas from the Shiite movement Hezbollah, kidnapped two Israeli soldiers from across the border. Israel responded with a massive air, sea and land assault that left Lebanon’s infrastructure in tatters and hundreds of people destitute.

A year later, the Prime Ministers of both countries are still struggling to deal with the fallout.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah is claiming success and sent its supporters to the streets eight months ago to demand greater government representation. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has so far refused, but the political deadlock has all but paralyzed his government.

“One year ago, the Lebanese people found themselves under the mercy of the cruel Israeli military machine which transformed Lebanon's hopes and dreams into nightmares and its stability into destruction,” Fouad Siniora noted.

Much of Lebanon’s battered infrastructure has been restored, including the building of nearly a dozen bridges by Russian soldiers.

But a string of assassinations and bomb explosions, all blamed on Syria, have let Lebanese jittery ahead of September’s presidential elections.

Tourists and foreign investors are also staying away for the second straight year.

While on the other side of the fence Israel has also paid a heavy price.

An inquiry found the Prime Minister, Defence Minister and Chief of Staff led an ill-prepared and hurried war.

Mr Olmert is accused of “severe failures” and will probably face new calls for his resignation when the commission releases its full report next month.

But the Prime Minister has defended his position, saying the decision to go to war was the right one.

“The Lebanese border was until last year a danger zone that didn't allow anyone to pass by.  Now it is secured and no Hezbollah terrorists are along the border.  It is protected by the Lebanese army and by the international force,” Ehud Olmert stressed.

But the Israeli public remains disgruntled. The two soldiers are still being held with no sign whether either of them is alive. And along the border with Lebanon, Hezbollah guerillas are less visible but just as threatening.

The situation along the Israel-Lebanon border remains tense. Israel is trying to learn from the mistakes of the war. While Hezbollah, behind the international troops, is rearming making sure it wins the next round.

It’s a charge the group denies, but intelligence reports suggest the militants have managed to rearm themselves to the levels they were before last year’s war. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has criticized the failure to reach a permanent ceasefire and expressed concerns about a long-term solution.