Key facts about Lebanon’s Hizbollah

BEIRUT, June 2 (Reuters) – Lebanon’s Hizbollah movement is contesting parliamentary elections in the south on Sunday in alliance with Amal, the other major Shi’ite Muslim group.

The Hizbollah-Amal slate could sweep all 23 seats allotted to south Lebanon in the 128-member parliament.

Following are key facts about Hizbollah:

* Hizbollah, or Party of God, was founded by Iranian Revolutionary Guards during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It was inspired by Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who vowed holy war on Israel and its Western allies.

* Funded and armed by Tehran, the group began a guerrilla war to evict Israeli forces from Lebanon. Shadowy groups linked to Hizbollah launched suicide attacks on Western targets and took Westerners hostage in Beirut. The most spectacular attack was a suicide bombing that destroyed the U.S. Marine headquarters in Beirut in October 1983, killing 241 servicemen.

* Hizbollah announced its political platform in 1985, aiming at turning Lebanon into an Iranian-style republic, a goal since dropped. It fought rival Lebanese groups until the civil war ended in 1990 and kept up attacks on Israeli occupation forces.

* An Israeli helicopter strike killed Hizbollah chief Sheikh Abbas al-Musawi in February 1992. Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah replaced Musawi, who had set up a welfare arm for Lebanon’s long-deprived Shi’ites. Hizbollah won seats in the first postwar election in 1992, implicitly giving up its dream of an Islamic state. It has 12 deputies in the outgoing parliament.

* Hizbollah withstood Israeli bombing campaigns in 1993 and 1996, gaining some international recognition that its guerrilla attacks on Israeli troops were justified acts of resistance.

* Israel ended its 22-year occupation in Lebanon in May 2000. Lebanese of all religious and political stripes hailed Hizbollah as liberation heroes. The group vowed to keep fighting Israeli troops occupying the Shebaa Farms border area, which the United Nations says is Syrian but Lebanon claims.

* U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, sponsored by the United States and France and adopted in September 2004, called for all militias in Lebanon to disband and disarm. Hizbollah says it is a resistance group, not a militia, and will keep its weapons, including more than 12,000 rockets, to defend Lebanon.

* Hizbollah is believed to have a core of 3,000 full-time guerrillas, with militia-like reserves of more than 10,000 men.