Friday, August 24, 2007

Hezbollah exhibits 'victory' over Israel

Yahoo! News
Hezbollah exhibits 'victory' over Israel
By ZEINA KARAM, Associated Press Writer

A replica of a long-range missile greets visitors, and posters mock Israel and the United States.

Welcome to "Spider's Web," a museum south of Beirut that has become Hezbollah's latest propaganda tool — showcasing what it says was a divine victory over Israel in last summer's war.

The museum exhibits war souvenirs — helmets, boots, ammunition and armored vehicles captured from the Israelis or left on Lebanon's battlefields. And it has gruesome photos of Lebanese civilians killed in Israeli airstrikes.

The exhibit has drawn condemnation from Israel. In Lebanon, there has been no overt criticism, although the war deepened divisions among Lebanese, many of whom opposed Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers that set off the conflict on July 12, 2006.

The museum opened last month in the Dahieh district, a Hezbollah stronghold pounded to rubble by missiles during the war, and runs until Sept. 10.

Its name was inspired by a speech in which Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said Israel's military might was flimsy and weaker than a spider's web — staple rhetoric from a militant group facing an enemy armed with a powerful air force and thought to hold nuclear weapons.

The idea is to "commemorate Hezbollah's historic, strategic and divine victory in an honest and artistic way," Ali Ahmed, a spokesman for Hezbollah's media activities unit.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said the exhibit "glorifies hatred, extremism and violence, and should be condemned as such."

During the war, more than 1,000 Lebanese were killed in 34 days of Israeli airstrikes. Hezbollah launched nearly 4,000 rockets at Israel; the Israeli death toll was 119 Israeli soldiers and 39 civilians. Most experts agree that Israel failed to achieve its declared objectives of crushing Hezbollah and freeing its soldiers — a point the museum plays off heavily.

A replica of a Hezbollah Khaibar missile is at the museum entrance. Inside, Hezbollah guides walk visitors past mannequins depicting Hezbollah guerrillas and dead Israeli soldiers.

"See here how Israel was defeated and humiliated by the resistance," said one guide, pointing out a large metal chunk from the wreckage of an Israeli Yasur CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter.

The guide, who goes by the name Abu Ali, carried a walkie-talkie as he eagerly lectured visitors. "What you see here constitutes only 1 percent of what we have," he said.

A French woman touring the museum said she had mixed feelings.

"They are using modern ways of communication to get their message across," said the woman, who would only identify herself by her middle name, Marie, for security concerns. "Who knows if that's good or not?"

The museum displays a poster ridiculing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for saying during the war that the fighting was part of the "birth pangs of a new Middle East."

Another poster mocks Israel's former chief of staff, Dan Halutz, quoting him as saying at the war's start: "We will eradicate Hezbollah within three days." Halutz resigned in January after widespread criticism of his performance.

The Israeli-made Merkava tank features prominently in the museum. One tank seized by the guerrillas is displayed in a huge crater, surrounded by mannequins of dead Israeli soldiers.

The exhibit is not the first organized by Hezbollah, but new elements have been added this time, including replicas of sandbagged Hezbollah bunkers.

One section is devoted to a new computer game, "Special Force 2: Tale of the Truthful Pledge," that allows players to shoot mock Israeli soldiers and blow up tanks. "Be one of God's men," says the advertisement for the game, shown on Hezbollah's Al-Manar television.

The game sells for $10 at a shop at the exhibit, along with Hezbollah DVDs and key chains.

The exhibit ends with an audiovisual presentation featuring what are said to be the cries of dying and wounded Israeli soldiers, followed by Nasrallah saying: "The time of victories has started and the time for defeats is over."

That show left Roula Sabra, a 36-year-old mother of three, clapping tearfully.

"I've come to show my children what victory and dignity is," she said. "You feel such pride and security."