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Lebanon

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Lebanon is in the Middle East. It borders the Mediterranean Sea and the nations of Israel and Syria. Lebanon is a small country, about 70 percent the size of Connecticut and inhabited by only 4 million people.

Lebanon is made up of mostly rugged terrain, but a narrow plain runs along its Mediterranean coast. The climate is mild to cool, with wet winters and hot, dry summers. Lebanon’s mountains experience heavy winter snows. The country’s natural resources include limestone, iron ore, and salt. Unusual for this part of the world, there is also a surplus of water, and 16.3 percent of the land is arable.

Ninety-five percent of Lebanese are Arab, 4 percent are Armenian, and the remaining 1 percent claim other ethnicities. Many Christian Lebanese do not identify themselves as Arab and prefer to be called Phoenician. About 60 percent of the population professes Islam, while 39 percent is Christian, and 1 percent professes other religions. Lebanon’s official language is Arabic but French, English, and Armenian are also spoken.

Lebanon’s history dates back thousands of years to the ancient Canaanites. In fact, most Christian Lebanese believe they are direct descendents of the Canaanites. Following World War I, France acquired the area known as Syria today and carved out a region called Lebanon in 1920. The country achieved its independence from the French in 1943. A long and devastating civil war ravaged Lebanon from 1975 to 1990. For years after the war, Israel and Syria occupied parts of the country.

Israel left Lebanon in May 2000, but Syria remained. The assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister, blamed on Syria by most Lebanese, sparked the Cedar Revolution. Under pressure, the Syrians left the country in June 2005.

Shortly after, in the summer of 2006, Israel launched an attack on the militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon for kidnapping two Israeli soldiers. By the end of the conflict, hundreds had been killed and much of Lebanon’s infrastructure was left in ruins. Despite these major setbacks Lebanon is moving forward politically, as a new unity government was formed in July 2008.

Many Lebanese are poor, and around a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line. The presence of the military wing of Hezbollah, defined as a terrorist group by many in the West, also poses great challenges to Lebanon. Any actions launched from Lebanon by Hezbollah against Israel could lead to another devastating conflict with the Jewish state.