Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - For the first time in 18 years, the American-owned Christian television station based in south Lebanon is not broadcasting Arabic news.
On Monday, Hizballah guerrillas, gaining ground in the wake of Israel's abrupt pullout from south Lebanon, captured Middle East Television's tower, which is located several miles from the station. The guards protecting the tower surrendered to the guerrillas.
Mike Gwartney, vice president of programming for the Christian Broadcasting Network's METV said losing the facilities in south Lebanon was not much of a surprise.
"We had hoped it would occur later in July," Gwartney said, when it would have been more of a "pullout" than a "pushout." But those hopes crashed when Israel made the snap decision to withdraw from south Lebanon this week, ahead of its July 7 target date.
In planning for the pledged Israeli withdrawal, METV already had moved the bulk of its operations to Cyprus. It started broadcasting from there via satellite on May 3. However, the nightly Arabic news program continued to be produced and broadcast from the station in south Lebanon until this week.
"The station is still alive," Gwartney emphasized. It is only the Arabic news that is now off the air, he said.
According to Gwartney, METV employees had already removed most of the broadcasting equipment before the pullout started, making it highly unlikely that the Hizballah could broadcast from the station.
The situation of the 25 people employed at the station is unclear. Some crossed the border into Israel but others, he said, did not.
As for the nightly Arabic news, Gwartney said METV is still "licking its wounds." He said it's uncertain if METV will continue to produce an Arabic news program from another location.
In an area of the world where the source of television news is primarily government sponsored and all but one state in the Middle East is run by some form of Islamic regime, METV's Arabic news was welcomed by Christian Arabs and many others.
Years ago, METV also produced the only non-governmental nightly English news available in the Middle East.
Prior to the advent of satellite and cable television in the Middle East, METV's signal could be picked up as far away as Beirut, Tel Aviv, Syria and Jordan and -- at certain times of the year -- in Cyprus and Egypt. There were rumors at one time that the late Hussein of Jordan enjoyed watching the station.
METV developed from a small evangelical television station known as "Star of Hope," which got its start in south Lebanon in the 1970's - run by High Adventure Ministries of Simi Valley, California.
In 1982, Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network of Virginia Beach, Virginia took over the station and changed the name to Middle East Television.
After the operating facility - a large mobile van - was car-bombed twice in 1983 and 1984, the station moved to a permanent facility in Marjayoun, into which CBN invested hundreds of thousands of dollars. It employed 65 Lebanese and Americans when it was fully operational.