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Jumblatt himself was waiting for us on a stone staircase above a courtyard that overlooked the valley. Rail thin and wearing a corduroy jacket with elbow patches, the Druze leader looked like an Oxbridge don. A large white German shepherd dog followed at his heel as he escorted us past gardens and fountains into high-ceilinged, light-bathed rooms filled with his father's Asian art collection or lined with old maps and ancient muskets. We saw the room where he holds court, receiving petitions from the 300,000 Druze whose fate has depended on his leadership and ability to shift sides at the right moment. He also took us into the spacious library he had built, with its bound volumes of Foreign Affairs magazine and shelves filled with French novels.

Jumblatt's library in a converted stable block

Only Jumblatt's study reminded us that we were in Lebanon rather than Tuscany, and that our charming cultivated host was also a warlord. There were portraits of Marshal Zhukov and other Soviet heroes, and a Soviet naval uniform. Then, we saw the automatic pistol and loaded clip lying on top of the New York Review of Books on his desk, the three other loaded automatics in a case within easy reach and the revolver used as a paperweight on a side table. Leaning casually in a corner were three rifles. Jumblatt knows that he will not be forgiven by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for his role in the Cedar Revolution or by Hizbollah for his condemnation of the existence of its armed state within a state. His father was killed by the Syrians on the road from this house to Beirut - we passed the stone memorial to him, one of so many assassination markers in Lebanon - and Walid Jumblatt himself has been referred to as a "dead man waiting".

Paperweights on Walid Jumblatt's desk

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