Q: What is Hezbollah?
- A: Hezbollah is a coalition of radical Shiite Islamist organizations that was founded in 1982 in response to Israel's invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon. It has political, armed and welfare wings. Its name means Party of God.
Hezbollah's political wing holds 23 seats in Lebanon's 128-member parliament. Two Lebanese Cabinet ministers are Hezbollah members.
The group runs free schools, clinics, hospitals, orphanages, agricultural services and an extensive social welfare network designed to aid Lebanese Shiites. Shiites, about a third of Lebanon's population, are among the poorest Lebanese.
The group, which the Council on Foreign Relations estimates has several thousand members,operates mainly in southern Lebanon, parts of Beirut and the Bekaa Valley.
Hezbollah's armed wing has carried out or has been linked to hundreds of terror attacks. Among them:
• The 1983 suicide bombing that killed more than 200 U.S. Marines in their Beirut barracks.
• The kidnappings of Americans in Lebanon in the 1980s.
• The 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847.
When Israel withdrew its forces from southern Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah claimed credit for driving the Israelis out.
- A: In addition to its professed desire to destroy Israel, Hezbollah wants a Lebanon that is an Iranian-style Islamic republic.
- A: Iran and Syria are its main backers. Iranian Revolutionary Guards helped form the group and maintain close ties with it. A United Nations Security Council resolution, adopted in 2004, called for its disarmament.
- A: Hezbollah and its fighters operate with impunity in much of Lebanon. The government and its armed forces — composed of mainly Sunni Muslims and Christians — have been reluctant to try to force it to disarm for fear of sparking another civil war.
- A: Hassan Nasrallah is the group's senior political leader. Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah is its spiritual leader.
Sources: U.S. State Department, Council on Foreign Relations, Global Security, USA TODAY research.