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From The World Factbook:

Following the capture of Syria from the Ottoman Empire by Anglo-French
forces in 1918, France received a mandate over this territory and separated out
a region of Lebanon in 1920. France granted this area independence in 1943. A
lengthy civil war (1975-1990) devastated the country, but Lebanon has since made
progress toward rebuilding its political institutions. Under the Ta'if Accord -
the blueprint for national reconciliation - the Lebanese established a more
equitable political system, particularly by giving Muslims a greater voice in
the political process while institutionalizing sectarian divisions in the
government. Since the end of the war, Lebanon has conducted several successful
elections, most militias have been disbanded, and the Lebanese Armed Forces
(LAF) have extended authority over about two-thirds of the country. Hizballah, a
radical Shi'a organization listed by the US State Department as a Foreign
Terrorist Organization, retains its weapons. During Lebanon's civil war, the
Arab League legitimized in the Ta'if Accord Syria's troop deployment, numbering
about 16,000 based mainly east of Beirut and in the Bekaa Valley. Damascus
justified its continued military presence in Lebanon by citing Beirut's requests
and the failure of the Lebanese Government to implement all of the
constitutional reforms in the Ta'if Accord. Israel's withdrawal from southern
Lebanon in May 2000, however, encouraged some Lebanese groups to demand that
Syria withdraw its forces as well. The passage of UNSCR 1559 in early October
2004 - a resolution calling for Syria to withdraw from Lebanon and end its
interference in Lebanese affairs - further emboldened Lebanese groups opposed to
Syria's presence in Lebanon. The assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq
HARIRI and 20 others in February 2005 led to massive demonstrations in Beirut
against the Syrian presence ("the Cedar Revolution"). Syria finally withdrew the
remainder of its military forces from Lebanon in April 2005. In May-June 2005,
Lebanon held its first legislative elections since the end of the civil war free
of foreign interference, handing a majority to the bloc led by Saad HARIRI, the
slain prime minister's son. Hizballah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in July
2006 leading to a 34-day conflict with Israel. UNSCR 1701, which passed in
August 2006, called for the disarmament of Hizballah.

From BBC News:

Lebanon is the most politically complex and religiously divided country in the
Middle East, which is what makes it such a potentially explosive factor in an
unstable region.
Tiny Lebanon baffles outsiders. Even people in the Middle
East find its politics confusing.
Set up by France after World War I as a
predominantly Christian state, Lebanon is now about 60% Muslim, 40% Christian.
It has 18 officially recognised religious sects and sharing power between
them has always been a complicated game.
Lebanese Muslims have tended to
look east for support from the other Arab states and from Iran. The Christians
have tended to look west to Europe and the United States.
The country's
proximity to Israel - and the presence of a large number of Palestinian refugees
on its soil - mean it is also intimately tied to the Arab-Israeli dispute.
While Lebanon has plenty of problems of its own, it has also become the
arena where many of the region's conflicts and rivalries are played out.

Syrian influence
The long conflict which ravaged
the country from 1975 until 1990 was both a civil war and a regional war.
left Lebanon firmly under Syria's thumb, and with a southern strip of territory
occupied by Israel as a buffer zone.
Israel has repeatedly intervened in
Lebanon to protect its northern border.
The civil war also drew in Iran to
fight Israel and support the Lebanese Shia.
In 1982, with Iranian help, the
Shia created Hezbollah, the Party of God, which has evolved into a major player
in Lebanese politics and an important ally of Iran and Syria.
Israeli forces
eventually withdrew in 2000 and Syrian forces in 2005.
But while Syria no
longer has a military presence, it has retained political influence through its
relationship with Hezbollah.

Israeli onslaught
is against this backdrop of conflict and polarisation that the war on the
Lebanese-Israeli border unfolded during the summer.
The capture of two
Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah provoked a month-long Israeli onslaught.
areas where the Shia movement enjoys support - south Lebanon and the southern
suburbs of Beirut - bore the brunt of the Israeli offensive.
This caused
large-scale death and destruction but failed to secure the soldiers' release or
Hezbollah's defeat.
Hezbollah claimed it had won a "divine victory".
the aftermath of the war, the country began the task of physical reconstruction
- but was still plagued by its old divisions.

The government is badly split between anti-Syrian and pro-Syrian
The first is a loose alliance of Sunnis, Christians and Druze (a
heterodox offshoot of Islam) and enjoys the support of the United States.
The second is an essentially Shia grouping dominated by Hezbollah, with the
backing of Syria and Iran.
Symbolising the polarisation is the fact that the
president is pro-Syrian and the prime minister anti-Syrian.
The political
deadlock has persisted into 2007, defying the mediation efforts of various Arab
Relations with Syria are complicated by ongoing efforts to establish
an international tribunal to investigate the killing of the former Lebanese
prime minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005. Many Lebanese hold Syria responsible for
the assassination - something Damascus staunchly denies.
The UN Security
Council has indicated that, if Lebanese politicians are too divided to agree on
the setting up of a tribunal, it will become the UN's task to do so.
outbreak of fighting in the north of the country on 20 May has added a new twist
to Lebanon's problems.
Clashes between the Lebanese army and a shadowy group
called Fatah al-Islam, based in a Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli, have
left dozens dead.
The Lebanese government sees the hand of Syria behind
Fatah al-Islam.
Others see a different but no less worrying possibility -
that radical Islamists of the al-Qaeda type now see Lebanon, like other failing
states, as attractive terrain in which to establish a foothold.

NYTimes: Lebanon

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