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Israeli strikes may boost Hizbullah base

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"Our fate is to confront this plan ... we are waging a war for the liberation of the remaining occupied lands and the liberation of our detainees," Mr. Nasrallah said.

Ms. Saad-Ghorayeb says that Hizbullah's goals have changed, "assuming a wider strategic importance" in which the party is at the forefront of opposition to the Bush administration's agenda of transforming the Middle East into a series of pro-Western democracies.

"Hizbullah is in a unique position to confront the US agenda which if successful will be, by extension, a victory for Syria, Iran and Hamas," she says.

Hizbullah's top guerrilla fighters are mounting a stubborn campaign against the region's most powerful army in and around Bint Jbail, the largest Shiite town in the border district where support for the party runs high.

Hizbullah has had six years – ever since Israel withdrew from south Lebanon – to prepare for this climactic showdown. Instead of storing weapons and ammunition in vulnerable stockpiles, they are scattered throughout the south in natural caves, tunnels, and homes. Hizbullah officials say they have sufficient ammunition and high morale tofight for months.

Hizbullah's frontline fighters are battle-hardened veterans after fighting Israeli forces in the 1990s. They are armed with advanced Russian antitank missiles, which have proved deadly against Israel's vaunted Merkava tanks and use classic hit-and-run guerrilla tactics.

"Hizbullah is doing what it does best, harassing the enemy," says Timur Goksel, who served 24 years with the UN peacekeeping force in south Lebanon.

Indeed, Nasrallah has announced the launch of the "second phase of our struggle" in which his long-range rockets would "go beyond Haifa," Israel's third–largest city. Israeli officials have been bracing for possible rocket attacks on Tel Aviv, which would mark a major escalation in the conflict.

"If Hizbullah hits Tel Aviv, I think that Israel will totally wipe off the map Bint Jbail, Khiam, Tyre and Nabatieh," says Nizar Abdel-Kader, a columnist for Ad-Diyar newspaper and a retired Lebanese army general.

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