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Hezbollah (Arabic: Party of God)

Hezbollah (Hizballah, Hizbullah, Hizbu Allah, Hezbullah, Hisbullah)  is an Islamist Shi'ite  organization founded in Iran and having a branch in Lebanon. The name means "Party of God." The name is derived from Surra 5, verse 56 of the Qur’an: “Lo! the Party of God, they are the victorious.” This article discusses only the Lebanese Hezbollah, which is both a political party and a terrorist organization. The yellow flag of the Hezbollah shows an AK-47 reaching out from a rocket-launching truck with the entire globe in the background.

Lebanese Hezbollah began to coalesce in 1982, during the Israeli occupation of Lebanon,  from several other organizations such as "The wretched of the Earth," "Revolutionary Justice Organization." and "Islamic Jihad."

Hezbollah follows the Shi'ite theocratic ideology of the Islamic Republic of Iran. That is, it looks to the current Supreme Leader of Iran as the Marj-al Taqlid, a teacher to be emulated, and the "substitute" for the mythical 12th Imam or Mahdi, the "hidden Imam" who will return and revive the glories of Islam.

Hezbollah was formally founded in February 1985, with a letter that described its program - the elimination of Israeli and other foreign influence in Lebanon, and the creation of an Islamic republic there. To this was quickly added wording calling for the destruction of Israel:

We see in Israel the vanguard of the United States in our Islamic world. It is the hated enemy that must be fought until the hated ones get what they deserve. This enemy is the greatest danger to our future generations and to the destiny of our lands, particularly as it glorifies the ideas of settlement and expansion, initiated in Palestine, and yearning outward to the extension of the Great Israel, from the Euphrates to the Nile.

Our primary assumption in our fight against Israel states that the Zionist entity is aggressive from its inception, and built on lands wrested from their owners, at the expense of the rights of the Muslim people. Therefore our struggle will end only when this entity is obliterated. We recognize no treaty with it, no cease fire, and no peace agreements, whether separate or consolidated.

We vigorously condemn all plans for negotiation with Israel, and regard all negotiators as enemies, for the reason that such negotiation is nothing but the recognition of the legitimacy of the Zionist occupation of Palestine. Therefore we oppose and reject the Camp David Agreements, the proposals of King Fahd, the Fez and Reagan plan, Brezhnev's and the French-Egyptian proposals, and all other programs that include the recognition (even the implied recognition) of the Zionist entity

Iran sent about 1,000 to 1,500 Pasdaran revolutionary guards to Lebanon. These took over a Lebanese army base, and trained the Hezbollah and set them up. This process was recently described by an eye-witness and participant. Iran and Syria have also armed the Hezbollah with about 12,000 rockets of various ranges, anti-tank rockets, heavy mortars and other equipment of organized armies, as well as small weapons. Current estimates of Hezbollah fighting strength range from 4,000 to 7,000.

Hezbollah gained international renown for its attacks against the American, French, and Israeli forces deployed in parts of Lebanon, and later for kidnapping and holding of Western hostages. Terror attacks against US and French forces succeeded in driving the Americans and French out of Lebanon. Continued attacks on Israeli army units stationed in South Lebanon ultimately led to Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in the summer of 2000, allowing Hezbollah to claim a victory over Israel and enormously enhancing its prestige.  Hezbollah  emerged as the major political rival of the established Amal movement for the loyalty of Lebanon’s Shi‘ites. After the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, and during the abortive "Cedar Revolution," Hezbollah remained under arms, and thus became the dominant force in Lebanese politics. Its government representatives did the bidding of Syria and Iran, paralyzing the Lebanese government. Those who objected were quickly silenced. UN resolutions 1559 and 1680, which called for disarming of the Hezbollah along with other militias, were not implemented because of Hezbollah opposition, and the UN made no move to implement them.

Hezbollah established a network of social services funded apparently by Iran as well as forced and voluntary contributions from Lebanese and from collection agencies in the Americas. Iran contributed an estimated $100 million annually initially, until Hezbollah could develop alternate sources of funding They are allowed to organize and collect money relatively unhindered both in Europe, the United States and South America, though in the United States, individual channels such as the Wachovia bank eventually stopped transferring contributions destined for the Hezbollah. The United States state department lists Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, but the European Union does not.

Hezbollah services include schools (Madrassahs) that teach Islamism, hospitals, a scouting group and charitable aid. Hezbollah  currently operates at least four hospitals, 12 clinics, 12 schools and two agricultural centers that provide farmers with technical assistance and training. It  has an environmental department and an extensive social assistance program. Hezbollah medical care is provided at lower cost than in most of the country's private hospitals and it is free for Hezbollah members.

Early History and background of Hezbollah

The foundations of Hezbollah arose long before the Iranian revolution. Strong ties bound the Shi‘ite ulema (religious scholars) of Iran and Lebanon. Many of these ulema studied together in the Shi‘ite theological academies in Iraq, especially in the shrine city of Najaf. During the late 1950s and 1960s, these academies became active in formulating an Islamic response to nationalism and secularism. Prominent ulema lectured and wrote on Islamic government, Islamic economics, and the ideal Islamic state. In Najaf, the Iraqi ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr and the exiled Iranian ayatollah Ruhollah al-Musavi Khomeini both subjected the existing political order to an Islamic critique. Lebanese ulema and theological students overheard and joined in these debates.

Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, the future religious mentor of Hezbullah, was a star student in the  Najaf academy, combining scholastic religious thought with fanatic radicalism. Fadlallah was born and raised in Najaf, where his father, a scholar from south Lebanon, had come to study. Returning to Lebanon in 1966, he set up a center of Islamic activism. In the 1970s, Fadlallah received reinforcements, when Iraqi authorities expelled about a hundred Lebanese theology students as part of a crackdown on Shi‘ite activists in the shrine cities. These expelled students became disciples of Fadlallah and later formed the core of Hezbollah.

Iranian Hezbollah began by association with members of Iran’s Islamic opposition who were refugees in Lebanon during the 1970s. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) coopted this opposition and gave the Iranian dissidents training and forged documents. Members of this group included Muhammad Montazeri,  son of a leading opposition cleric and future founder of the Liberation Movements Department of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards; and Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, future Iranian ambassador to Syria, who was to play a critical role in the creation of Hezbollah. Both of them joined Khomeini in Paris in 1978.

Following the Iranian revolution of 1979, Shi‘ite communication between Lebanon and Iran grew. Fadlallah and his disciples  visited Iran often. Former Iranian dissidents returned from Lebanon to Iran. In 1979, Muhammad Montazeri first attempted  to send six hundred Iranian volunteers to Lebanon, where they were to launch a jihad against Israel. However, at the request of the Lebanese government, the Syrians blocked their entry to Lebanon.   Muhammad Montazeri, accused “liberals” in the Iranian government of failing to support his mission. He died in a Teheran bombing in 1981.

The Israeli invasion of 1982 and the subsequent chaos made it possible for Iranian Hezbollah to link up with sympathetic elements in Lebanon. Syria  was determined to drive all other foreign forces out of Lebanon by  fomenting popular resistance, especially among the Shi‘ites. The main issue that had divided Lebanon was Maronite privilege, guaranteed under an older constitution, reflecting an earlier demographic reality. Many Shi‘ites were believed that Israel and the West planned to restore Maronite privilege by force. Iran offered to help organize the Shi‘ites, Syria approved, and allowed Iran to send about a thousand Pasdaran Revolutionary Guards to the Bekaa (Beqa) Valley in eastern Lebanon. There they seized a Lebanese army barracks and turned it into their operational base.

Fadlallah and a number of young ulema now declared jihad against the Western and Israeli presence in Lebanon while pledging their allegiance to Khomeini. A faction of the Amal militia led by former schoolteacher Husayn al-Musawi, went over to the Revolutionary Guards, accusing the Amal movement of failing to resist Israel’s invasion. The Iranian ambassador to Syria, Ali Akbar Mohtashemi , set up a council to govern the new movement. The council included himself, Lebanese ulema, and security strongmen responsible for secret operations and the movement’s militia. Later, the council created the post of secretary-general, held successively by Shaykh Subhi al-Tufayli, Sayyid Abbas al-Musawi, and Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah. Fadlallah himself refused  to hold formal office. Nonetheless,  his rhetorical genius and seniority assured his moral leadership.

The movement  especially appealed to some of the larger Shi‘ite clans of the Beqa valley, for whom the war in Lebanon had brought prosperity fueled by the expansion of smuggling and hashish and opium cultivation. Amal, based upon the Shi‘ite professional and commercial classes, failed to enroll the new power elite of the Beqa Valley. Encouragee by Iranians  based in the Beqaa, the clans flocked to Hizbullah. Ba‘albek, capital of the Beqa  province, became more or less an Autonomous Hezbollah zone. Buildings were plastered with posters of Khomeini and draped with Iranian flags.

Hizbollah also appealed to the Shi‘ite refugees who had fled to the dismal slums of southern Beirut. They included the Shi‘ites driven from their homes in the Phalangist assault on Palestinians in eastern Beirut (Nab‘a and Burj Hammud) in 1976 and many more who fled the south following the two Israeli invasions of 1978 and 1982. Fadlallah personified their grievance. His ancestral villages in the south (Bint Jubayl and Aynata) were occupied by Israel. He lost his first pulpit in Nab‘a during the Phalangist siege of 1976. These Shi‘ite refugees felt a strong sense of identification with the Palestinians and a deep resentment against Israel, the Phalangists, and the West. Many young Shi‘ite refugees even joined Palestinian organizations during the 1970s and acquired fighting experience. When Israel forced these organizations out of Beirut in 1982, the Shi‘ite fighters who remained behind joined Hezbollah, which promised to continue their struggle.

Hezbollah in Operation

Hezbollah worked openly, semi-clandestinely, and clandestinely. Fadlallah and the ulema openly preached the message of resistance to Islam’s enemies and loyalty to Khomeini in mosques and husayniyah (Islamic centers) which became the focal points for public rallies. The Pasdaran Revolutionary Guards trained the semiclandestine Islamic Resistance, a militia that conducted attacks against Israeli forces in south Lebanon. The Organization of the Islamic Jihad, the clandestine branch of the movement, operated against Western targets. It was supposedly led by Imad Mughniyya, a shadowy Shi‘ite figure from south Lebanon.

The Hezbollah Islamic Jihad suicide squads catapulted Hezbollah to prominence. Assassinations and kidnappings of individual foreigners escalated into massive bombings, some of them done by suicide bombers. They destroyed the U.S. embassy and its annex in two attacks in 1983 and 1984; they demolished the Beirut barracks of American and French peacekeeping troops in two attacks on the same morning in 1983; and command facilities of Israeli forces in the south in 1982 and 1983. Hundreds of foreigners died in these bombings, the largest of which killed 241 U.S. marines in their barracks. A US investigation concluded that the attacks were ordered by Iran and coordinated from Iran.

The bombings caused the United States and France withdrew their forces from Lebanon. This retreat in the face of terror was interpreted by the entire Arab and Muslim world as showing that the US was a "paper tiger" whose soldiers are afraid to fight, and as a victory for the doctrine of "armed struggle" and confrontation. Friend and foe alike concluded that America was not to be relied upon as an ally.

Israeli forces also came under attack by the Hezbollah. Israel was also shocked by the massacre in Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, perpetrated by the Phalangists under the inspiration of Syrian army intelligence. Israel retreated to a narrow security zone in the south. Islamic Jihad also bombed the U.S. and French embassies in Kuwait in 1983, in an effort to compel Kuwait to abandon its support of Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War. Hezbollah also carried out a number of fatal bombings in Paris in 1986, in order to force France to abandon its policy of supplying Iraq with arms.

Hezbollah also carried out attacks in order to free members  imprisoned by various Middle Eastern and European governments . They  hijacked an American airliner in 1985, to free Lebanese Shi‘ites held by Israel. They hijacked two Kuwaiti airliners in 1984 and 1988, to free Lebanese Shi‘ites imprisoned in Kuwait for the bombings there. The hijackers killed passengers in each instance to demonstrate their resolve.  Islamic Jihad and other Hezbollah affiliates kidnapped dozens of foreigners, mostly American, French, British, and German citizens, for the same purpose. Some of these were traded for American arms needed by Iran in the Iran-Iraq War in the Iran-contras deal However, the motive for the wave of abductions was  the release of Hezbollah terrorists imprisoned  elsewhere. When the hostage holding became a political burden for Iran, it forced Hezbollah to free the hostages. The last French hostages were freed in 1988; the last American and British hostages in 1991; and the last Germans in 1992.

Hezbollah's religious leadership have pretended to have no direct knowledge of these violent attacks. Nonetheless, their mosques filled with new adherents, and they enjoyed wide media popularity. However, they also became the targets of assassination and abductions. Fadlallah narrowly missed death in a massive car bombing in 1985, which killed eighty persons; Israel abducted a local Hezbollah cleric, Shaykh Abd al-Karim Ubayd, in 1989; and Israeli helicopter gunships killed Hizbollah’s secretary-general, Sayyid Abbas al-Musawi, and his family, in an attack on his motorcade in 1992.

Hezbullah's growing popularity made it an enemy of the Shi'ite Amal movement. Hezbollah sought free access to the south, to pursue the struggle against Israel. Amal regarded this as an encroachment on its last strongholds. Beginning in 1988, occasional skirmishes with Amal escalated into open war, killing over a thousand combatants and civilians in a struggle characterized by atrocities and assassinations. Hezbollah usually enjoyed the upper hand in fighting, but Syrian intervention denied it the fruits of victory. The strife ended with the Ta'if accord that put an end to the Lebanese civil war. Syrian occupation forces allowed the Hezbollah to continue their existence and remain under arms in order to fight Israel, but any opposition to Syrian dictates was met with death.

During the Syrian occupation, a faction of Hezbollah acted as opponents of the Syrian plan. They opposed implementation of the- Ta’if Accord, which called for Muslim-Christian parity in government, and instead advocated a  referendum on an Islamic state. Christians would be entitled to protection as Dhimmi, not to parity. However, Iran effected a compromise, and  got Hezbollah to participate in the 1992 parliamentary elections, the first held in twenty years, though the elections still apportioned seats by confession. In the Beqa Valley, Hezbollah swept the Shi‘ite vote. The movement made a credible showing in the south, receiving eight parliamentary seats - the largest single block in the fragmented parliament. When Hezbollah General Secretary Mussawi was killed by Israel in 1992, Hassan Nassrallah a successful military commander, was installed as General Secretary through the influence of Iranian leader Ali Akbar Rafsanjani. Hezbollah was not disarmed by the Syrians, but their military operations were limited to the south. Under Nasrallah, with increased Iranian backing, Hezbollah scored increasing successes against Israel, and were used effectively by Syria as a means of pressuring Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights on Syrian terms. In 2000, Israeli PM Ehud Barak decided to withdraw unilaterally from Lebanon, meeting UN demands, and hoping to deprive Syria of a pressure point against Israel.

The Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon raised the fortunes of Hezbollah, who claimed that they were now fighting to free Sheba farms in the occupied Golan heights and seven villages on the Israeli side of the international border, as well as fighting to free Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners and aid Palestinian terror. Sheba farms is an area in the Golan heights that is shown as part of Syria on international maps. Israel occupied this area in 1967. Hezbollah pushed the Lebanese government to claim that the area is part of Lebanon.  The strip bites into the contours of the Syrian border and and cuts the village of Ghajjar in half.  The UN investigated and ruled in 2000 that Sheba farms is part of Syria. In 2000, Israel withdrew from Lebanon, and the UN ruled that Israel was in compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 425. Hezbollah nonetheless continued its "resistance" to the "occupation." Bowing to Hezbollah pressure, the UN has agreed to review the status of Sheba farms, but has made no ruling on it as yet (August,2007).

Hezbollah finances its charities and terror activities in a variety of ways. Part of the funding comes directly from Iran. Part of the funding comes from lucrative trade in  hashish, manufactured from abundant marijuana plantations in the Beqaa valley, which used to be the support of the Syrian Assad family. Some of the funds are derived from Latin American drug smuggling activities, and some are raised through charitable contributions by Lebanese Shi'a businessmen in Lebanon and abroad. The Islamic Resistance Support Association is the financial arm of the Hezbolllah in Lebanon.

Hezbollah has been funding Palestinian terror groups and apparently trained crew members of the Karine-A vessel, used in an attempt to smuggle arms into Gaza. Unit 1800 of the Hezbollah is allegedly responsible for recruiting and operating Palestinian cells inside the Israeli occupied territories, mostly for attacks against Israel. Hezbollah carried out a number of attacks and raids, mostly against Sheba. In 2004, they kidnapped and killed 3 Israeli soldiers. UNIFIL troops filmed the incident but did not intervene. They also managed to kidnap a former Israeli operative who was currently a drug dealer, Elchanan Tennenbaum. In a controversial deal, the Israeli government agreed to  trade Tennenbaum and the three bodies for hundreds of prisoners and bodies. The Hezbollah did not inform the Israelis the soldiers were dead until after the deal had been made.  

In 2004, the UN passed Security Council Resolution Resolution 1559. This was an attempt to prevent Syrian interference in Lebanese elections. The Syrians wanted to amend the Lebanese constitution to allow their puppet, Emile Lahoud, to run for president again. The resolution also called for an end to foreign occupation and disbanding of all militias.

This resolution was opposed by the Lebanese government, controlled by Syria and the Hezbollah. A Lebanese representative made the following remarkable statement, quoted in the UN Press Release

MOHAMAD ISSA, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants of Lebanon, said that there were no militias in Lebanon. There was only the national Lebanese resistance, which appeared after the Israeli occupation and which would remain so long as Israel remained. The resistance force existed alongside the Lebanese national forces. Lebanon determined the presence and size of the force, depending on the country’s need. The authority of Lebanon extended to all parts of Lebanon except those areas occupied by Israel.


Hence, saying that Syria supported radical movements in Lebanon was not true. To the contrary, Syria supported the Lebanese national resistance, which desired to liberate the territories occupied by Israel. The draft resolution was talking about supporting free and just elections in Lebanon. He did not believe that that internal matter had ever been discussed in the Council relating to any Member State. It was an internal matter, he stressed. The United Nations had not interfered in that matter with regard to any other State. There was no justification for the draft resolution, which constituted an interference in the internal affairs of a Member State.

Officially, then, the Lebanese government declares that the Hezbollah is a part of the Lebanese state, and acts on its behalf, and that Lebanon recognizes the armed wing of the Hezbollah, the Islamic Resistance (Al-Mowqawama al-Islamiyya) as acting on its behalf. However, it must be taken into account that the Lebanese government is not free to act without the influence of Syria and the Hezbollah, and does not represent the Lebanese people.

The Lebanese parliament, tightly controlled by Syria, passed the amendment, ignoring the UN resolution, and Lahoud was reelected. However, on February 14, 2005, Lebanese politician Rafiq Hariri, immensely popular because of his contribution to rebuilding Lebanon after the Israeli occupation and civil war, was assassinated when a huge bomb blew up his motorcade. Formerly an ally of Syria, Hariri had now been calling for an end to Syrian occupation. Though it was never proven, it was widely suspected that Syrian agents had assassinated Hariri. Lebanese organized a huge spontaneous demonstration in favor of Syrian withdrawal. However, Hezbollah organized a very large demonstration implicitly supporting Syria.  Syria was forced to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, but used its agents and the Hezbollah to maintain control. In subsequent elections, Hezbulla captured 14 seats in parliament and in combination with the Shi'ite Amal party controlled 23 seats, all from the Shi'ite districts. Hezbollah tightened its hold on the Lebanese government.

Hezbollah controls the Lebanese government and media through an intelligence apparatus that is now the largest in Lebanon, and it threatens retribution against any critics.  Gebran Tueni, the young editor of the popular Lebanese daily an-Nahar was killed when his automobile went over a mine. He had been very critical of Syria and the Hezbollah. Others have met a similar fate. Not surprisingly, critics of the organization tend to be reticent.

Different Lebanese may or may not have genuine admiration for the Hezbollah owing to their role in forcing Israeli withdrawal. The status of Hezbollah in Lebanon is highly irregular, as they  a part of the political apparatus and formerly part of the government. At the same time, the Lebanese government insists that they are not responsible for Hezbollah attacks on Israel, and the Hezbollah attacks and undermines the Lebanese government.

In 2006, the UN passed Security Council Resolution 1680, again calling for disarmament of the militias, and demanding an end to the flow of arms into Lebanon. However, the UN took no effective action at all to disarm Hezbollah. UNIFIL troops in South Lebanon were stationed next to Hezbollah bases, openly flying the Hezbollah flag, but did nothing to disarm them or interfere with their activities.

On July 12, 2006, Hezbollah began mortar and Katyusha rocket fire on Israeli towns near the moshav of Zarit, and then attacked an IDF patrol inside Israel, killing three soldiers and taking two prisoners. When an IDF tank tried to give chase, it was destroyed by a mine placed their for that purpose. Israel began bombing Hezbollah targets inside Lebanon, closing the road to Syria to cut off supplies, bombing bridges, and the Beirut international airport, and eventually invading Lebanon to hold a small security strip.  Hezbollah responded with a daily barrage of several hundred rockets on Israeli towns, reaching Haifa, Hedera, Tiberias, and the West bank, rocketing a hospital and other civilian targets, and killing several people. During the war, Emile Lahoud, President of Lebanon, declared that the Lebanese state and the Lebanese cabinet are behind the Hezbollah, and PM Fouad Seniora, supposedly a client of the USA and France, praised the Hezbollah as heroes who defend South Lebanon.

Fighting was concluded August 14, 2006 by UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which established the deployment of the Lebanese army in the south and called for an enlarged UN Security force. Hezbollah was not disarmed and the kidnapped Israeli soldiers were not returned. It is not clear if they are alive. Since Hezbollah and their leader, Hassan Nassrallah. had survived the attack, they declared a victory. However, Israel had destroyed about 15,000 houses during the fighting and killed about 1,200 Lebanese, of which about 685 are believed to have been Hezbollah fighters. Prime Minister Seniora stated that this scenario must not repeat itself.

Since that time, Hezbollah has acted as the agent of Syria in Lebanon, attempting to block the United Nations initiated international tribunal to try the murderers of Rafiq Hariri, a prominent opponent of Syria, including suspects in the Syrian government. Its minister and political allies left the government and for a time, Hezbollah maintained a threatening mass presence in Beirut. Opponents of Syria have been intimidated. In particular, Saad Hariri, son of Rafiq Hariri and leader of the March 14 movement opposition to Syrian interference, have left the country, after several anti-Syrian and anti-Hezbollah legislators were assassinated. Hezbollah has reportedly rebuilt and entrenched a fortified area north of the Litani river, which is well stocked with rockets supplied by Syria, apparently of Iranian and Russian manufacture.

Synonyms and alternate spellings: ;Hizballah, Hezbullah, Hizb Allah etc.  

Further Information: See History of Islam and the Arabs Islam

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Note - This encyclopedia is a work in progress. It is far from complete and is being constructed and improved all the time. If you would like to contribute articles or expansions of existing articles, please contact news (at) mideastweb.org.  Suggestions and corrections are welcome. The concise version of this dictionary is at our Middle East Glossary.

Spelling - Spelling of words in Middle-Eastern languages is often arbitrary. There may be many variants of the same name or word such as Hezbollah, Hizbolla, Hisbolla or Husayn and Hussein. There are some conventions for converting words from Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew There are numerous variant renderings of the same Arabic or Hebrew words, such as "Hizbollah," "Hisbulla" etc. It is not possible to find exact equivalents for several letters. 

Pronunciation - Arabic and Hebrew vowels are pronounced differently than in English. "o" is very short. The "a" is usually pronounced like the "a" in market, sometimes as the "a" in "Arafat."  The " 'A " is guttural.  " 'H "- the 'het ('Hirbeh, 'Hebron, 'Hisbollah') designates a sound somewhat similar to the ch in "loch" in Scots pronunciation, but made by touching the back of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. The CH should be pronounced like Loch, a more assertive consonant than 'het.

The "Gh" combination, and sometimes the "G," designate a deep guttural sound that Westerners may hear approximately as "r." The "r" sound is always formed with the back of the tongue, and is not like the English "r."

More information: Hebrew, Arabic

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