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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hezbollah Secures Shiite Loyalty Through Charity

TYRE, Lebanon -- Hezbollah paid for his wife's Caesarean section. It brought olive oil, sugar and nuts when he lost his job and even covered the cost of an operation on his broken nose.

Like many poor Shiites across southern Lebanon, Ahmed Awali, 41, a security guard at an apartment building in this southern city, has received charity from Hezbollah for years. He says he is not a member. He does not even know the names of those who helped him.

Hezbollah fighters move like shadows across the mountains of southern Lebanon; its workers in towns and villages, equally as ghostly, have settled deeply into people's lives. They cover medical bills, offer health insurance, pay school fees and make seed money available for small businesses. They are invisible but omnipresent, providing essential services that the Lebanese government through years of war has been incapable of offering.

Their work engenders a deep loyalty among Shiites, who for years were the country's underclass and whose sense of pride and identity are closely intertwined with Hezbollah. "The trees in the south say, 'We are Hezbollah.' The stones say, 'We are Hezbollah,'" said Issam Jouhair, a car mechanic. "If the people cannot talk, the stones will say it."

Hezbollah is nowhere but everywhere. In this city, the gateway to the fighting and the location of several of southern Lebanon's largest functioning hospitals, clues about its fighters surface daily. On Wednesday, a mass funeral was canceled. Authorities cited the security situation. Minutes later, the sound of rockets being launched swooshed from an area near where the burial was to have been held.

The group is at once highly decentralized and extremely organized. Awali, whose job as a guard pays $170 per month, far lower wages than average, ran out of money for food shortly after his second daughter was born. He mentioned this to one of his neighbors, and days later, people with bags of groceries showed up at his tiny one-room apartment.

"They just put it down in the middle of the room and left," said Yusra Haidar, Awali's wife, sitting on a stoop outside their building, her young daughters, now 6 and 9, eating grapes at her feet. "This is what Hezbollah does," said Haidar Fayadh, a cafe owner, as the Hezbollah station Al-Manar flashed on the television screen behind him.

Most connections with the group are indirect. Its fighters are a part of the population, and identifying them can be close to impossible. On a mountain road not far from the Israeli border on Tuesday, a beat-up, rust-colored Toyota was parked with its doors open. Several men in were standing on the road. They were in a hurry. One was carrying what seemed to be a hand-held radio, the trademark Hezbollah talking tool.

"They are ghosts," said Husam, a thin unemployed man in a black T-shirt who was waiting for coffee at Fayadh's shop. "Nobody knows them."