Schools were closed in southern Lebanon on Thursday, but schools and government offices remained open in Beirut and other cities.

 

Hezbollah led a guerrilla war against Israel's 18-year occupation of a border zone in southern Lebanon, which ended on May 24, 2000.

 

It once enjoyed widespread support in Lebanon for its military campaign against Israel, but that support has faded since Israel's pullout, relegated to mainly Shia areas in the south, the Bekaa Valley in the east and in Beirut's southern suburbs.

 

After Israel's withdrawal, the government declared May 25 a national holiday. But this year, the government, dominated by anti-Syrian politicians, decided to cancel the holiday as part of what it described as a policy to cut down on official holidays.

 

Hezbollah planned to mark the occasion with festivities on Thursday in formerly occupied villages, including a mass rally in the port city of Tyre where Shaikh Hasan Nasr Allah, Hezbollah leader, would deliver a speech.

 

The Lebanese government considers Hezbollah, labelled a terrorist organisation by the United States and Israel, a legitimate resistance movement fighting Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory.

 

Pressure

 

But the government has come under US and UN pressure to disarm Hezbollah in accordance with a 2004 UN Security Council resolution that calls on Lebanese and Palestinian factions to lay down their weapons.

 

Some anti-Syrian leaders have accused the group of using its arsenal to serve Syrian and Iranian interests, a charge Hezbollah denies, though it receives support from both countries.

 

Hezbollah, which holds 11 seats in parliament and has two members in the cabinet, has refused to give up its weapons.

 

"Those who call for disarming the resistance are conspiring against Lebanon"

Emile Lahoud,
president of Lebanon

Lebanon's president praised Hezbollah on Wednesday, saying the group should keep its weapons until the Arab-Israeli conflict ends.

 

Emile Lahoud said during a visit to southern Lebanon: "The resistance should stay until a just and comprehensive peace is achieved in the region.

 

"Those who call for disarming the resistance are conspiring against Lebanon."

 

Lahoud is a strong ally of Syria and Hezbollah, and many anti-Syrian politicians in Lebanon have called for his resignation, though they do not have enough votes in parliament to oust him.