When 30,000 UN troops and Lebanese army soldiers were deployed across southern Lebanon at the end of last year's Second Lebanon War, Hizbullah's presence shrank in the villages and hills facing the Israeli border and its influence seemed likely to diminish as well.
But more than a year later, the militant Lebanese group appears to be again solidly entrenched across the country's south - looking, in fact, as if its fighters never really left but merely went underground.
The Shiite Muslim militia's banners hang everywhere, boasting of the "divine victory" over Israel and thanking its chief sponsor, Shiite-majority Iran, for helping with post-war reconstruction. Judging from villagers' reports, the militia's recruitment of young men is booming and its popularity is firm.
A few things are different. Hilltop posts near Israel once held by Hizbullah are now in control of the Lebanese army. And the UN peacekeepers are helping the army to establish its authority and maintain a buffer zone between the Litani River and the border - from 3 miles to 18 miles (5 kilometers to 29 kilometers) at various points - that's supposedly free of Hizbullah fighters.
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