Lebanon, a nation that once proudly called itself the Switzerland of the Middle
East, is today a country in name only. Its government controls little more than
half of the nation\'s capital, Beirut. Its once-vibrant economy is a shambles.
And its society is fragmented - so fragmented, some believe, that it may be
impossible to re-create a unified state responsive to the needs of all its
varied peoples.

Lebanon lies on the eastern shore of the Mediterranea n Sea, in that part of
southwestern Asia known as the Middle East. Because of its location - at the
crossroads of Asia, Europe, and Africa - Lebanon has been the center of commerce
and trade for thousands of years. It has also been on the route of numerous
conquering armies.

With an area of 4,015 square miles, Lebanon is one of the smallest countries in
the Middle East. It is smaller than every state in the United States except
Delaware, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. Lebanon is sandwiched between Syria in
the north and east and Israel in the south. The maximum distance from the
nation\'s northern border to the southern one is only 130 miles. And the maximum
distance from the Mediterranean Sea to the Lebanon-Syria border is 50 miles. In
the south, along the border with Israel, Lebanon\'s eastern border is only 20
miles from the sea.

Although a tiny land, Lebanon boasts a great diversity in its landscape which
makes it one of the most picturesque countries in the world. The coast line is
br oken by many bays and inlets of varying size. At some points, the mountains
wade silently right into the sea - then climb suddenly tier on tier away from
the Mediterranean to the sky. Because of the limitation of flat agricultural
land, all but the steepest hillsides have been patiently and neatly terraced and
planted with garlands of twisted grapevines. The mountains lend a great variety
of hues - pale pink, rosy red, forest green or deep purple - to the landscape.
Depending on the time of day, they never appear the same twice, and from time to
time whipped white clouds hide all except their snow-capped peaks. Even on the
darkest night, the lights of the villages perched on the mountains shine in
small clusters as a reminder of their presence. On c loser view, the mountains
become a jumble of giant gorges, many of them over a thousand feet deep, with
rocky cliffs, steep ravines and awesome valleys. These unassailable bastions
have offered a secure hideaway, throughout history, for hermits and persecuted
groups seeking refuge.

Lebanon has four distinct geographical regions: a narrow - but fertile - coastal
plain; two roughly parallel mountain ranges that run the full length of the
country - the Lebanon, which rises in the west to an alpine hei ght of 11,000
feet while the eastern range, the anti-Lebanon, is crowned magestically by the
snow-capped Mount Hermon at 9,232 feet. The two chains of mountains shelter
between them a well-cultivated plateau extending seventy miles in length and
fifteen miles in width. This tableland is called the Bekaa. This is a fertile
strip of land 110 miles long and six to ten miles wide. Zahle, the third largest
city in the country, is in the valley. The country\'s two most important rivers,
the Litani and the Orontes, rise in the northern Bekaa near Baalbek, a city that
dates to Roman times. The Litani flows southwest through the Bekaa Valley and
then empties into the Mediterranean Sea north of Tyre. Its waters are used for
irrigation, so it becomes a mere tr ickle by the time it gets to the sea. The
Orontes rises not far from the Litani, but it flows northward between the two
mountain ranges, wending its way into Syria. Beyond the Bekaa and the anti-
Lebanon mountains, the Syrian desert only stretches east f or about 800 miles to
the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. This geography has been a
determining factor for millenia in keeping Lebanon turned toward the West.

The landscape cannot be described without mentioning the most celebrated tree o
f Lebanon, the cedar. Called by the Lebanese "Cedar of the Lord," this famed
tree retains somewhat of a sacred aura this day. It has become the symbol of
Lebanon and appears in the center of the flag, on the coins, and often on
postage stamps. Since an cient times the cedar constituted a valuable export
which provided King Solomon with timber for the construction of his Temple, the
Phoenicians with wood for their seafaring galleys , the Egyptians