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Student power to the rescueBy Zeina Khodr
It was unprecedented: what started as a protest march ended up in the liberation of Lebanon's southern village of Arnoun from Israeli forces.
Lebanese students removing with their bare hands the barbed wire which sealed off the village of Arnoun in south Lebanon
On Friday, hundreds of unarmed students from across Lebanon marched to the village, which nine days earlier had been sealed off with barbed wire by Israeli troops and incorporated into the occupation zone. The students stormed through the barricades, chanting patriotic songs and singing the national anthem. Ignoring the signs warning of mines, 2,000 students, with their bare hands, removed the barbed wire. They raised the Lebanese flag and danced with villagers on rooftops. In less than an hour, Lebanon's youth had destroyed earth embankments surrounding Arnoun. It was the first direct civilian action against the almost 21-year-old Israeli occupation. Lebanese officials praised the residents of Arnoun, and the students for their "brave action" to end the village's isolation.
"What happened was a heroic example of Lebanon's legitimate national defence and people's attachment to their land," Prime Minister Selim El-Hoss said.
Students had bulldozed open the road linking the village with the rest of south Lebanon, bringing food and medicine to the beleaguered residents. They were undeterred by Israeli occupation troops positioned on a hilltop overlooking the village, who fired bursts of machine-gun bullets over the students' heads as they planted a Lebanese flag not far from the outpost.
The Israelis even tried to provoke the students by descending a few metres from their position. But the students stood their ground, and as news of the liberation spread, scores of Lebanese from across the country converged on the village. The government has now instructed workers to pave the roads in the village and install electricity poles and water networks.
"I took my children to visit Arnoun," Abu Mohamed, one of the hundreds of citizens who descended on the village, told Al-Ahram Weekly. "I wanted them to see what our people have accomplished and explain to them the Israeli aggression."
For three days, there was a party mood in the village, as Lebanese danced the traditional Lebanese dabke. But that mood of jubilation was marred after a 10-year-old boy was shot in the arm on Sunday by Israeli soldiers, when he tried to plant a flag up the road leading to their outpost.
The students have been applauded for achieving what the government was unable to through diplomatic contacts, while the authorities have come under fire from politicians and analysts for the way they handled the occupation of the town before its liberation. "The youths are stronger than diplomacy and the state," the daily An-Nahar newspaper wrote.
"The authorities should not have shelved plans to protest to the United Nations, even though any action against Israel would have been vetoed by the US," Sheikh Naem Kassem, Hizbullah's deputy secretary-general told the Weekly. "America was trying to procrastinate so that the annexation would become a de facto situation."
Lebanon had put on hold plans to protest against the annexation to the Security Council and had instead contacted UN member states to determine whether a Lebanese protest would succeed.
The government had first decided to take the issue of Arnoun to the five-nation cease-fire monitoring group in south Lebanon, established after the 1996 Israeli Grapes of Wrath aggression against Lebanon. But that group, which is made up of representatives from Lebanon, Syria, France, Israel and the US, had failed to decide on what action to take. The representatives had differing views on whether the annexation fell within the group's mandate to oversee a cease-fire understanding in the south.
The government, however, was reported to have been pressured by Washington not to take the case to the UN. Such a move would have embarrassed the US since it would have had to veto a resolution in favour of Lebanon.
But El-Hoss denied his government was pressured by the US. "The support was not enough for a Lebanese complaint to the UN," he said.
But some observers believe the US wanted the monitoring group to tackle the issue successfully since that would have opened the way to expanding its role. The US and Israel had initially wanted the group to deal with security issues such as UN Resolution 425 -- which calls on Israel to unconditionally withdraw from south Lebanon -- when it was created. But Lebanon had rejected broadening its scope insisting that the resolution is not negotiable.