Lebanese President Emile Lahoud claims Israel is destroying his country and Hezbollah has his respect.
Lahoud: I myself built up this army following the civil war and integrated all the religious groups: Muslims, Christians and Druze. This army is there to secure internal peace, but it is not an army to fight a war.
SPIEGEL: United Nations Resolution 1559 demands that the army should control the whole country -- up to the border with Israel.
Lahoud: It (the army) does that. But it wasn't the army that freed the occupied south of the country, rather it was the resistance which achieved that. Without this resistance Lebanon would still be occupied today.
SPIEGEL: You're talking about Hezbollah. But Israel's withdrawal happened six years ago. Why has the state still not fulfilled the task set by the UN?
Lahoud: Naturally the strongholds of the resistance are not known. Despite the hail of bombs, the Israelis have been unable to produce one single photo of a destroyed resistance base, because they don't know where they are. Army bases, on the other hand, are well known and this is why they are invariably destroying our armed forces and, above all, civilian targets.
SPIEGEL: The fact remains that Beirut has failed to establish any authority in the south -- and this is exactly how Israel is justifying its attacks.
Lahoud: But that authority is what Israel is wrecking. The Israeli armed forces are destroying Lebanon, and the international community isn't trying to hold them back, but giving them more time to complete their plan of destruction.
SPIEGEL: Should the kidnapped soldiers, as Israel demands, be returned without conditions? Or do you consider it legitimate to use them as a bargaining chip?
Lahoud: The exchange of prisoners has always worked perfectly in the past. The Germans above all were very helpful in this process. It is unclear whether that will happen this time. It's a charged atmosphere.
SPIEGEL: Please explain your relationship to Hezbollah. What do you think of Hassan Nasrallah?
Lahoud: Hezbollah enjoys utmost prestige in Lebanon, because it freed our country. All over the Arab world you hear: Hezbollah maintains Arab honor, and even though it (Hezbollah) is very small, it stands up to Israel. And of course Nasrallah has my respect.
SPIEGEL: The United Nations want to defuse the problem through a massive deployment of international troops in southern Lebanon.
Smoke rises from a Hizbollah stronghold in southern Beirut after an Israeli air strike.
SPIEGEL: Why the Palestinians?
Lahoud: We have today around half a million Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, their birth rate is three times higher than the Lebanese. That is a time bomb. It is the basic problem of our country, it led to the outbreak of civil war in 1975 and still remains unsolved today. Everybody today is talking about UN resolution 1559, but nobody mentions resolution 194, which recognizes the Palestinians' right of return (to Israel). Lebanon is small and can't integrate the Palestinians.
Interview conducted by Volkhard Windfuhr and Bernhard Zand