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In Mideast, cease-fire is a start

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The UN cease-fire deal does not require Israel to withdraw immediately – a key Lebanese demand – nor Hizbullah to disarm, which has been an Israeli war aim from the start. It also does not address the two Israeli soldiers abducted by Hizbullah in a cross-border raid July 12, an act that sparked the massive Israeli response, or return by Israel of the contested Shebaa Farms area.

"The immediate results are a lot of destruction in Lebanon, but you can't judge because it's an assymetrical war, and the results will be assymetrical as well," says Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, an expert on Hizbullah at the Lebanese American University in Beirut.

"Israel did not achieve a single one of its aims through military force," says Ms. Saad-Ghorayeb. Hizbullah made a concession, accepting Lebanese Army and UN control of the south, which effectively pushes Hizbullah forces back from Israel's border.

"But overall that isn't much, considering what Israel expected to achieve out of this, and the US," she says. "That's how it is measured as a [Hizbullah] victory. Israel was defeated because it set the bar very high from the beginning."

The stakes have been raised further, with rhetoric from President Bush and top US officials who have framed Israel's offensive in Lebanon as crucial to the US "war on terror," and the necessary "birth pangs" of a democratic Middle East.

A frequent US and Israeli theme portrays the battle against Hizbullah as a blow to its "terrorist" patrons Iran and Syria, which have bankrolled and armed Hizbullah, or Party of God, for years. Frequently targeted in this conflict are roads from Syria to Lebanon used to transfer Iranian weapons to the guerrillas.

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