February 25/2010

Bible Of the Day
John 5/31-44: “If I testify about myself, my witness is not valid. 5:32 It is another who testifies about me. I know that the testimony which he testifies about me is true. 5:33 You have sent to John, and he has testified to the truth. 5:34 But the testimony which I receive is not from man. However, I say these things that you may be saved. 5:35 He was the burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. 5:36 But the testimony which I have is greater than that of John, for the works which the Father gave me to accomplish, the very works that I do, testify about me, that the Father has sent me. 5:37 The Father himself, who sent me, has testified about me. You have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his form. 5:38 You don’t have his word living in you; because you don’t believe him whom he sent. 5:39 “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and these are they which testify about me. 5:40 Yet you will not come to me, that you may have life. 5:41 I don’t receive glory from men. 5:42 But I know you, that you don’t have God’s love in yourselves. 5:43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you don’t receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. 5:44 How can you believe, who receive glory from one another, and you don’t seek the glory that comes from the only God?

Free Opinions, Releases, letters & Special Reports
Barack Obama can still avoid the Syria trap/By: Tony Badran/February 23, 10

U.S. stepping up engagement with Syria/By: David Schenker/February 19, 2010|

What Do Muslim Nations Think about Terrorists?/American Thinker/February 23/10
The degradation of Lebanon's Maronites/By: William Harris/February 23, 10

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for February 23/10
Ethiopian Airlines Insists 'No Human Error' behind Crash, Hout Says it Was 'Pilot Mistake'/Naharnet
Jumblat: If They Want Walid Jumblat to Go to Syria with His Community, They Will Have to Respect its Dignity/Naharnet
300-Strong Security Force on Alert for New Court Summoning Orders in Hariri Case/Naharnet
Baroud Meets Aoun: Municipal Elections on Time/Naharnet
Abbas with Lebanese Government's Decisions on Palestinian Arms
2 Wounded in Sidon Shootout, Unknown Body Found in Dora
Geagea Says No Need for Dialogue Table after Nasrallah Presented His Own Strategy
Voting Age Bill Failed to Pass Parliament/Naharnet
Phalange Party: Nasrallah's Speech Eradicates Illusions about Any Dialogue Table Achievements/Naharnet
3 Lebanese Plane Crash Victims still Not Identified
3 Men Charged in Florida with Financing Hizbullah
Hizbollah fighter explains why he fired on Lebanese army helicopter/National
US indictments offer glimpse into Hezbollah funding methods/Ynetnews
Lebanon parliament rejects bill to lower voting age/AFP
Arab patience wears thin with US/Financial Times
Syria Is Reasserting Its Regional Authority/Eurasia Review
Iran, talks with PA on Barak's agenda in Washington/Ha'aretz
US State Department lifts travel warning for Syria in sign of warming ties/The Canadian Press
Full report on plane crash due this week /Daily Star
Qabalan calls for stronger Arab ties with Iran/Daily Star
Geagea says Hizbullah's arms dangerous for Lebanon/Daily Star
Lebanese gold reserves largest in MENA region, 15th worldwide/Daily Star
Why raising taxes in Lebanon is unacceptable/Daily Star
Lebanese gold reserves largest in MENA region, 15th worldwide/Daily Star
Two newspapers fined for press violations/Daily Star 
Sidon youth perform for child-rights video/Daily Star 
Art exhibition aims to revitalize southern psychiatric hospital/Daily Star 
Students work to highlight poverty in Lebanon/Daily Star 
Protesters urge MPs to lower voting age/Daily Star 
Murr comments on defense strategy and military aid to Lebanon/Now Lebanon
Iran ready to buy reactor fuel or swap on own territory/Now Lebanon
Jumblatt: I will heal a great wound on March 16/Now Lebanon

Geagea says Hizbullah's arms dangerous for Lebanon
‘True defense strategy’ would be to avoid escalation with Israel

By Elias Sakr/Daily Star staff
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
BEIRUT: Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said Monday that Hizbullah’s presence drew dangers to Lebanon given the Resistance’s ties with Tehran at a time when tensions between Iran and Israel are rising on strategic levels. “Hizbullah is not only a Lebanese resistance since the party’s [leader] Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in May 2008 that he is proud to be a member of the faqih rule in Iran,” Geagea said, in reference to the cleric-led form of governance in the Islamic Republic. Geagea added that “if it was not for the special ties between Hizbullah’s military wing and Iran, there would be no issue with the resistance in Lebanon.”
He also stressed that Lebanon would avoid an upcoming aggression if war and peace decisions were restricted to the Lebanese state, since this would lead to a separation between Iran and Lebanon’s domestic issues. “Thus the Lebanese Cabinet would be able to affirm during talks with the international community its rejection of any aggression and its monopoly over war and peace decisions,” Geagea added. Geagea also slammed Nasrallah’s accusation that certain parties had effectively called on Israel to launch an aggression against Lebanon.
During the commemoration of the party’s martyrs on February 16, Nasrallah questioned certain Lebanese parties’ claims that the Resistance’s existence was in itself an excuse for Israel to wage war. ­­­He added that such claims “either provide Israel with an excuse to attack Lebanon or urge Israel to attack.”
Commenting on Nasrallah’s remarks, Geagea said the accusations “were unacceptable,” and claimed that a majority of the Lebanese people had rejected the Sayyed’s stances during the June 2009 parliamentary elections. The Hizbullah-led opposition won the popular vote in the 2009 election by a margin of over 100,000 ballots, but Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing formula ensured the March 14 Forces’ victory. Geagea also questioned the benefits of Nasrallah’s threats against Israel as he stressed that inflicting damage on both sides would not lead to any change in regional situation or with regard to the Palestinian cause.
“It would only harm Lebanon far more than Israel given the latter’s stronger destructive power,” Geagea said. Nasrallah has warned that his group would bomb Israel’s airport and refineries in response to any similar attack against Lebanese infrastructure. “Israel has been building shelters and equipping them for three to four years and I wonder if Nabatiyeh is equipped with the same facilities to face a war; the issue is very dangerous and serious and what we possess is primitive compared to Israel,” Geagea said. “The true defense strategy is to protect Lebanon from any escalation in the region,” Geagea added.
Also in response to Nasrallah’s statements that the international community was only concerned with the interests of the powerful, Geagea said that force has many forms, including political and diplomatic power rather than only military. “Hizbullah’s military wing did not push Israel to return Shebaa Farms to Lebanon,” Geagea said, adding that former Premier Fouad Siniora’s government tackled the issue with the right side which was the UN as Lebanon awaited Syria’s recognition of Lebanese sovereignty over the territory.
Geagea added that Nasrallah had anticipated discussions during national dialogue sessions regarding a national defense strategy during his latest speech, adding that the Sayyed announced a comprehensive confrontational plan on behalf of 4 million Lebanese citizens. “His speech is a comprehensive confrontational plan which is not the responsibility of his party but rather the Lebanese state since it affects the life of 4 million citizens who did not delegate to Nasrallah that responsibility during the June 2009 parliamentary elections,” he said. Geagea added that Nasrallah had assumed before foreign states the Cabinet’s role which reflected negatively upon the Lebanese state’s image and made it appear like a “failed Lebanese state.”

3 Men Charged in Florida with Financing Hizbullah
Naharnet/Three men were charged in an indictment unsealed with illegally exporting electronics and video games to a South American shopping center that U.S. officials claim funnels money to Hizbullah. The men, along with a fourth still being sought in South America, are accused of violating a U.S. ban on transactions involving people or entities on a Treasury Department list of suspected terrorist fundraising networks. Hizbullah is considered a terrorist group by the U.S. The shopping center, Galeria Page in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, was included on the banned list in December 2006 along with owner Mohammed Yosusef Abdallah. Abdallah is described as a senior Hizbullah leader in a region of South America long considered a haven for counterfeiting, smuggling, piracy and other crimes. The suspects arrested in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigation were identified in court documents as Khaled Safadi, 56, and 43-year-old Emilio Gonzalez, both of Miami; and 46-year-old Ulises Talavera-Campos, a citizen of Paraguay. Attorney Michael Tein represents Safadi, whom he said is innocent. "Terrorism?" Tein said. "More like 'The Great Sony Playstation Caper.' The indictment literally charges them with selling Playstation 2 video games to Paraguay. That's some weapon of mass destruction." It wasn't immediately clear if the other two had attorneys, and a bail hearing was scheduled for Wednesday. The men also face charges of conspiracy and smuggling. They face a maximum of 35 years each in prison if convicted. According to the indictment, the three men ran companies that used the Port of Miami to move goods including Sony Playstation video game consoles, digital cameras and other items that eventually wound up at the Paraguay destination. About $1 million in exports were identified by ICE, the FBI, Treasury officials and other investigators with Miami's Joint Terrorism Task Force. The men allegedly used fake invoices, false addresses and phony names to mask the true destination of the goods. The companies involved also were indicted. John Morton, assistant Homeland Security secretary for ICE, said the arrests will disrupt a network involved in "the illicit trade of commodities that support terrorist activities and ultimately threaten the national security of the United States."(AP) Beirut, 22 Feb 10, 07:05

3 Lebanese Plane Crash Victims still Not Identified

Naharnet/Lebanese army divers on Monday continued to search for more victims of the deadly Ethiopian plane crash after retrieving several bodies over the weekend. Media reports on Monday said only three Lebanese victims have not been identified. Beirut, 22 Feb 10, 09:44

Geagea Says No Need for Dialogue Table after Nasrallah Presented His Own Strategy

Naharnet/Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea on Monday snapped back at Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah over his latest speech on Hizbullah's "Anniversary of Martyr Leaders", urging him to submit his defensive strategy through Hizbullah ministers in the Cabinet. "I wanted to talk about traffic jam, social security, or even social problems, but some parties don't want for the Lebanese to take a break from speaking about war, despite the fact that we're not among the nuclear nations club," Geagea told a packed news conference in Maarab. "Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah's speech does not concern all of the Lebanese, and the Lebanese people have not granted Nasrallah the right to decide an all-out confrontation with Israel," he added. Geagea stressed that "the Lebanese granted the 128 MPs, the government, and the president the right to determine their fate and they didn't grant it to one of the parties." "Nasrallah's speech gives the impression that Lebanon is a failed state."
Geagea compared the losses of Lebanon and Israel in the July 2006 war saying "war caused 126 Israeli fatalities and 1026 Lebanese martyrs."
He added that the Israeli financial loss "reached $3 billion while we suffered a $10 billion loss.""Israel is equipping its shelters … while we only have some primitive shelters," Geagea added.
"If war implied the destruction of Lebanon and the reclamation of half of Palestine, then I would support it. But if it was only to demonstrate muscles in return for destroying Lebanon, then I would definitely oppose it."Geagea stressed that Hizbullah is not "a mere Lebanese resistance provided that Nasrallah says he's proud of being a member in Faqih Rule's party, therefore Hizbullah is the party of Faqih Rule.""The confrontation is between Iran on one side and the west and Israel on the other side. All of those confronting Iran are taking into consideration the existence of Hizbullah as Iran's military wing in Lebanon," he added. Geagea reiterated that placing the decisions of war and peace with the Lebanese government is what would spare Lebanon another war. "This thing is easy for the Lebanese, but it may be difficult for Hizbullah," he added. "We can't act diplomatically before giving those decisions to the government and separating Hizbullah militarily from the Faqih Rule." Beirut, 22 Feb 10, 19:35

Jumblat: If They Want Walid Jumblat to Go to Syria with His Community, They Will Have to Respect its Dignity
Naharnet/Druze leader Walid Jumblat said he will make a statement "that will close up a big wound" on March 16 on the occasion of the 33rd anniversary of his father's assassination "and after that, I will not utter a word." "On March 16, the 33rd anniversary of Kamal Jumblat's assassination, I will say words that will seal a big wound. These will be the final words. I will not utter a word afterwards," Jumblat said in an interview published Tuesday by the daily Al-Akhbar. Jumblat refused to reveal the content of his March 16 speech. On the much-talked-about visit to Syria, Jumblat said he does not know why this delay, expressing fear over the existence of "conditions in exchange for reconciliation." "If PM Saad Hariri visited Damascus by means of a mediator, then this is something else. I don't have this liaison. "True, that my sect as well as the Christians are on the threshold of extinction, but they remain the same in Mount Lebanon and in Jabal al- Druze, although I prefer to call it Jabal al-Arab," Jumblat added. He stressed that "there should be respect for the minority and for its struggles."
"Do they want Walid Jumblat to go to Syria alone or with his sect?" he asked. "If they wanted him to go with his community, then they must respect its dignity." "I hear they remind me of the time I said that I lied to the Syrians 25 years. This was due to an emotional outburst. I was wrong. "Everybody makes mistakes. President Assad, in turn, said Syria has made mistakes in Lebanon and has admitted them. "He (Assad) certainly made a mistake by extending Emile Lahoud's term. Jumblat, however, believed that the biggest mistake was U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559. "It was the biggest trap for Lebanon and Syria." "I was against the Bristol group (March 14 alliance) when they supported this resolution, and I was against them when they dispatched a delegation to Los Angeles at the time. "(MP) Marwan Hamadeh and I had refused that after we agreed with the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri that Taef Accord is the base," he concluded. Beirut, 23 Feb 10, 08:11

Ethiopian Airlines Insists 'No Human Error' behind Crash, Hout Says it Was 'Pilot Mistake'

Naharnet/A dispute raged between Ethiopian Airlines and Beirut over the reasons behind last month's plane crash that killed all 90 people on board. "Reports that a pilot error was the cause of the disaster are just a guess," said Ethiopian Airlines' executive director. The Boeing 737-800 bound for Addis Ababa crashed minutes after takeoff from Beirut airport in stormy weather on January 25."Investigations may take a while before the cause of the crash is determined," he added. He backed a statement made by Ethiopian Airlines earlier this month in which it did not rule out that "sabotage" may have caused the crash. Middle East Airlines Chairman of the Board of Directors Mohammed Hout, meanwhile, said a "pilot error" was behind the crash.
"According to reliable information made available (about the disaster), an error by the pilot of the ill-fated Ethiopian plane was the reason that led to the fall and crash," Hout said in remarks published Tuesday. Beirut, 23 Feb 10, 10:05

300-Strong Security Force on Alert for New Court Summoning Orders in Hariri Case

Naharnet/The Special Tribunal for Lebanon reportedly plans to request from the Lebanese government to assign 300 Lebanese army soldiers and officers to be ready for the summoning orders to be issued by STL President Daniel Bellemare against a number of Lebanese personalities. The daily Al-Liwaa on Tuesday said Bellemare will refer the orders to the STL Beirut office. It quoted Lebanese judicial sources as saying that the move comes as part of the completion of investigations into the crime in preparation for issuing the charge sheet, which may be delayed pending finalization of investigation. Beirut, 23 Feb 10, 09:21

Abbas with Lebanese Government's Decisions on Palestinian Arms

Naharnet/Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said he backed any decision taken by the Lebanese government on Palestinian arms inside and outside refugee camps.
"We are with Lebanese authorities, with the Lebanese government and with Lebanese sovereignty. We as Palestinians are not above the law," Abbas said Monday during a press conference with his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris. "We are with everything that the Lebanese government says on weapons outside camps … Our stance is clear and won't change," he told reporters. The Palestinian official also condemned latest clashes at the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain el-Hilweh in southern Lebanon. "We hope the clashes that happed at Ain el-Hilweh would not be repeated because … they pose a danger to Palestinian-Lebanese ties." Beirut, 23 Feb 10, 10:33

2 Wounded in Sidon Shootout, Unknown Body Found in Dora
Naharnet/Two people were wounded in a shootout in the southern port city of Sidon overnight and an unknown body was found in an abandoned building on the Dora-Karantina seaside road. Local media on Tuesday said an argument between the families of Bazazo and al-Janzouri quickly developed into exchange of gunfire. They said security forces stepped in and contained the clash. Also overnight, an unknown body was found in an abandoned building behind Medco Center on the Dora- Karantina seaside road. Beirut, 23 Feb 10, 10:15

Baroud Meets Aoun: Municipal Elections on Time

Naharnet/Interior Minister Ziad Baroud stressed Tuesday that municipal elections will be held in a timely manner. His remark was made following a meeting in Rabiyeh with Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun. The meeting, which was attended by Energy and Water Minister Jebran Bassil and FPM MP Ibrahim Kanaan, focused on reforms regarding municipal elections. Baroud refused to go into details raised with Aoun. Beirut, 23 Feb 10, 11:07

Phalange Party: Nasrallah's Speech Eradicates Illusions about Any Dialogue Table Achievements

Naharnet/Phalange Party on Monday criticized the latest speech of Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, saying "it eradicates a lot of illusions about the possibility of reaching any achievement at the (national) dialogue table or putting a defensive strategy for Lebanon.""The conferees condemned showing Lebanon as a war arena that is open to all possibilities and that there is a party leader who puts himself in place of the entire nation and speaks to the president of a foreign nation (Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) neglecting the presence of constitutional democratically-elected institutions that alone have the right under constitution to take sovereign and national resolutions," a statement issued after Phalange Party's politburo weekly meeting said. Beirut, 22 Feb 10, 22:06

Voting Age Bill Failed to Pass Parliament

Naharnet/A draft law to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 did not pass in Parliament on Monday after the House failed to secure a two-thirds majority.
Sixty-six MPs representing major parliamentary blocs such as PM Saad Hariri's Mustaqbal Movement, Walid Jumblat's Democratic Gathering, Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement, The Lebanese Forces headed by Samir Geagea and Amin Gemayel's Phalange Party abstained from voting. The 34 lawmakers who voted in favor of the bill included members of Jumblat's Progressive Socialist Party, Hizbullah's Loyalty to the Resistance bloc, Speaker Nabih Berri's Development and Liberation bloc as well as MPs from the Syrian Social National Party and the Baath Party, in addition to MPs Mohammed Safadi, Tamam Salam, Nicola Fattoush, Omar Karami, Imad Hout and Qassem Abdulaziz. MP Serge Torsarkissian alone voted against the bill. Local media had predicted that the bill will be dropped not because of lack of quorum, but due to a large number of MPs who will refrain from voting. Hariri as well as Christian political parties from both the majority and the opposition call for linking the draft law with other proposals --giving Lebanese expatriates the right to vote and allowing Lebanese citizenship by descent. Meanwhile, youth activists held a sit-in in Riad Solh Square, demanding lowering the voting age to 18. Beirut, 22 Feb 10, 07:51

Qabalan calls for stronger Arab ties with Iran
By The Daily Star
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
BEIRUT: The vice president of the Higher Shiite Council, Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, stressed during a meeting Monday with head of the Middle East Research Center of the Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry, Hamid Dahkani, the need to strengthen of Arab-Iranian relations. He said Arab-Iranian relations, especially Egyptian-Iranian ties ought to be promoted to safeguard the public welfare of the Islamic nation from colonizing conspiracies aiming against it. Qabalan and Dahkani’s talks focused on recent developments on the Lebanese political scene and religious Islamic issues. Qabalan also received on Monday the head of Jinan University, Dr. Mona Yakan, and later on, the envoy of Sayyed Moqtada Sadr, Haidar Jaberi. Talks tackled general conditions on the Iraqi scene. Separately, Hamid Reza Dehghani, the director of Persian Gulf and Middle East studies at Iran’s Institute for Political and International Studies told As-Safir newspaper in comments published on Monday that Iranian support for Hizbullah extends only to the ideological level. He added that Hizbullah’s weapons were a matter of Lebanese defense. Lebanon’s Cabinet platform recognizes the right of Hizbullah, a member of the Lebanese government, to maintain an armed resistance in order to counter an Israeli threat. Border tensions between Lebanon and Israel escalated in 2009 with both sides blaming the other for violating the terms of a UN-brokered cease-fire to a 2006 war.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last week praised Hizbullah leaders for his stark rhetoric against Israel. However, Dehghani downplayed the possibility of renewed conflict between Hizbullah and Israel, saying that Israel can no longer act without approval from Washington or Europe. He went on to dismiss claims that Iran was directing Hizbullah activity in the region. “Iran sponsors the resistance’s activity at the ideological and intellectual levels only,” he told Lebanon’s As-Safir. – The Daily Star

Full report on plane crash due this week
By The /Daily Star /Tuesday, February 23, 2010
BEIRUT: State Prosecutor Saeed Mirza is expected during this week to receive a detailed account about the January crash of the Ethiopian Airline plane, a security source told The Daily Star on Monday. The source added that the report to be delivered to Mirza will include details on the plane’s 90 passengers. Meanwhile, Lebanese commando divers pursued efforts at retrieving the bodies of the passengers who were aboard the ill-fated Ethiopian airplane. The list of the 90 travelers who are presumed to be dead has shrunk to only three believed to be still missing. Remains presumed to belong to a number of passengers were recovered Saturday and Sunday after which they were handed over to the Rafik Hariri Universal Hospital for required tests. Medical teams are still unable to figure out whether some remains that they have belong to one of the three still missing or to all three. As-Safir newspaper said Monday that conducting DNA tests and taking samples of the retrieved remains was getting more difficult with the passage of time. The staff at the Rafik Hariri Universal Hospital and the team of forensic experts have been using additional techniques to identify the remains they are receiving due to the level of decomposition they underwent. Separately, memorial services were held Monday for a number of the air crash’s victims in the villages of Zibkeen and Abbasiyya in south Lebanon. The Ethiopian airplane ET 409 crashed off Lebanese territorial waters a few minutes after taking off from Rafik Hariri International Airport on January 25. All travelers aboard the plane are presumed dead. – The Daily Star

Parliament fails to lower voting age
Only 34 lawmakers back amendment, 66 abstain, and 27 don’t even show up

By The Daily Star and Agence France Presse (AFP)
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Parliament on Monday shot down a bill to lower voting age from 21 to 18, a proposal which has sparked fears of an upheaval of the multi-confessional country’s power-sharing political structure. Only 34 out of Lebanon’s 128-strong Parliament voted in favor of the bill, while 66 abstained and one voted against. Twenty-seven MPs did not attend the session. Lowering the voting age to 18 has been an issue for years, with Hizbullah and Amal pushing for the measure as their young followers are believed to outnumber those of other factions in Lebanon, which has not had an official census since 1932. The controversial bill has sparked fears of a shake-up of Lebanon’s political structure, a complex power-sharing system between Christians and Muslims that has helped preserve a fragile peace since the end of the 1975-90 Civil War.
Analysts estimate that lowering the voting age would add more than 50,000 Christians to the electorate, mainly Maronites, and about 175,000 Muslims, roughly equally split between Shiites and Sunnis. Christian Maronite MPs have demanded that Lebanon allow expatriates to cast ballots abroad if the voting age is lowered, banking on their ability to rally their diaspora to help balance out internal demographics. On Monday, Future Movement, Lebanese Forces, Phalange Party and Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) MPs abstained from voting over the amendment while Hizbullah’s Loyalty to Resistance and Amal Liberation and Development blocs voted in favor of the law. Meanwhile, MPs of the Progressive Socialist (PSP) Party also cast ballots in favor of the amendment while the rest of the Democratic Gathering bloc members headed by PSP leader MP Walid Jumblatt abstained from voting.
“We made sure that the amendment was subject to consensus and we only came forward with it after we received the approval of the major parliamentary blocs … as it was approved by a majority in Parliament and among Cabinet members; but I do not know what changed today,” Hizbullah MP Hassan Fadllalah added. However, Future Movement lawmaker Ammar Houri stressed that parliamentary blocs had agreed last March to pass the amendment but tied it, based on a political rather than legal accord, to the issue of allowing expatriates’ to vote.
In response to Houri, Berri said lowering the voting age could be implemented in the municipal polls but added that Parliament could agree to pass the amendment during the current session but to be implemented in the 2013 parliamentary elections. In addition, Amal Movement MP Ali Hassan Khalil said that his party believed in the expatriates’ right to vote but added that this right should not be tied to the youth’s right to participate in the elections. “The political regime would fail every time a certain right would obstruct another right,” Khalil added.
Meanwhile, March 14 and Batroun MP Butros Harb said certain parties had expressed concerns about approving the amendment for the time being and thus decided on the need for postponement until consensus over the issue was reached. “No one is against the content of the bill but the context is problematic,” FPM MP Alain Aoun told AFP. “Reform should be comprehensive and not selective,” said Aoun, whose bloc is allied with Hizbullah. “We have to show our people that there is no subjectivity in dealing with sensitive issues that affect all Lebanese.” Aoun said his camp also was pushing for a law that would allow descendants of Lebanese emigrants who did not hold citizenship to reclaim Lebanese nationality.
Maronites are currently estimated at around 30 percent of the 4 million population. On another note, Parliament elected members of the higher council to try presidents and ministers and approved several draft laws passed by the Cabinet. – The Daily Star, with AFP

Barack Obama can still avoid the Syria trap
Tony Badran, February 23, 2010
Now Lebanon/Syrian President Bashar al-Assad shakes hands with US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns during the latter’s recent trip to Damascus. (AFP photo/Louai Beshara)
The Obama administration last week made a major diplomatic opening to Syria. It dispatched Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns to Damascus for talks, thereby elevating the level of diplomatic contact and further making good on a pledge to engage with countries that George W. Bush’s administration shunned.
Administration officials leaked to the media, on background, that the Burns visit was intended to “isolate Iran” by wooing Damascus away from Tehran and other allies, particularly Hezbollah and Hamas.
This strategy will not work. Indeed, it may be no strategy at all. Despite its eagerness to engage with Syria, the United States must avoid giving too much up until the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, makes verifiable and substantial concessions on key Washington demands, not least surrendering Syrian support for Hamas and Hezbollah. Otherwise, Assad may dictate the avenues, conditions and aims of the engagement process.
Why Syria, and why now? The Obama administration’s efforts to open a dialogue with Iran have been ineffective. To undermine Iran’s nuclear program, the administration must contemplate actions that will exacerbate relations with Tehran and might endanger the US withdrawal from Iraq and surge in Afghanistan. The administration has always regarded Arab-Israeli settlements as necessary to temper regional animosities. However, given its failure to restart Palestinian-Israeli talks, Washington believes the only alternative is to advance on the Syrian track.
Obama, as The New York Times has reported, also hopes to “benefit from a global perception” that he has “reached out to North Korea, Cuba and even Syria.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton argues that the resumption of high-level contacts with Syria has proven the administration’s “willingness to engage.” But this begs the question: Which audience is Washington trying to impress? And how would these impressions actually further American interests in the Middle East?
Important actors in the region are unnerved by the fact that the administration appears incapable of hearing the most pressing concerns of its anxious allies. Consider Clinton’s recent trip to the Gulf. The secretary spoke of imposing more sanctions on Iran and repeated her earlier statement about extending a US defense umbrella to protect Gulf allies. In doing so, however, she failed to convince America’s primary Gulf ally, Saudi Arabia. The Saudi foreign minister, Saud Al-Faysal, bluntly told Clinton that sanctions were an inappropriate response to the urgency of the Iranian threat. This was not the first time this past year that he publicly rebuked the administration over one of its chief initiatives.
What Washington’s allies want, instead, is a coherent US strategy. The administration has responded with tactical maneuvers that American allies regard as sideshows. Instead of wasting time on secondary measures such as engaging Syria, the administration should be focusing on what everyone across the Middle East agrees is the most pressing objective: preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons capability, and weakening the influence of the Iranian-led regional axis.
American media outlets friendly to the White House praised Barack Obama’s efforts to move closer to Syria, describing it as a step toward driving a wedge between the different parties in that axis. However, more sober observers recalled that Washington has tried to pry Syria away from Iran for over 25 years, to little avail. The argument mistakenly turns the Syria-Iran dynamic into a subcategory of the peace process, when the relationship was always broader and more ambitious in scope.
That is partially why the leaked justifications for the US opening to Syria sounded so unconvincing. They were designed to play up engagement with a relatively weak regional player like Bashar al-Assad as something that would make Iran nervous, though exactly how was never explained.
There is incoherence in the Obama administration’s position. For example, the administration is spinning its engagement of Syria as a move aiming to achieve two sets of outcomes – those achievable in the short term and those in the long term. However, moving Syria away from Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas – propositions Damascus has repeatedly dismissed – are only described as Washington’s long-term objectives. If s0, how will the US approach today isolate Iran, whose centrifuges continue running?
The administration is setting a perfect trap for itself by giving Syria the time and space to pursue its actions without American benchmarks to verify if engagement is working. This will be exploited to the fullest by Assad. The US would do well to abandon the ill-advised “short term vs. long term” approach that allows Syria to obtain rewards for minor concessions while allowing its regime to pursue a policy of destabilization.
Further complicating matters, the administration’s outreach couldn’t have had worse optics. While Burns was visiting Syria, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Syria was developing a covert nuclear program with North Korean help. This came a few days after a report disclosed that North Korea and Syria had resumed cooperation on “sensitive military technology” in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. In a sign of what’s in store for the Obama administration, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem declared that Damascus would continue to ignore IAEA calls for cooperation.
Washington can still pull back from the trap. Until now it has conceded little of substance to Syria. Until Assad gives something up that the US can take to the bank, the administration must maintain the existing sanctions regime, some conditions of which are due for renewal in May. Moreover, it should avoid supporting Syria’s application to the World Trade Organization, as has been rumored it might do.
The Obama administration’s Iran policy is in disarray and its signature Mideast initiatives are in shambles. Running after the Syria mirage too hastily, without ensuring that Bashar al-Assad will satisfy American exigencies in return, may only make matters worse. What the administration most urgently needs is an integrated strategy, not disjointed initiatives that will only end up favoring its enemies.
**Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

There can be no delays

February 22, 2010
Now Lebanon
Lebanese lawmakers continue to push back debate on electoral reform. (NOW Lebanon)
Monday saw the debate on lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 sidelined. The parliamentary vote on the draft law to extend suffrage did not get the required two-thirds majority, with 66 MPs, mainly from the March 14 coalition, abstaining. This and other electoral reform proposals – the redrawing of the voting districts and the issue of establishing a system of proportional representation – could be used as a political tool to postpone the municipal elections, now slated for June.
Originally scheduled to be held in May, they have already been pushed back once. For the sake of Lebanon’s democratic credentials, there must be no more delays. If we are to retain any vestige of the political gains made in 2005, the national timetable must be respected and elections held on time.
The issues are legitimate, especially the discussion on suffrage. When global trends, especially in Europe, are driving the voting age to 16, Lebanon still languishes among the world’s least progressive nations on this matter. But progressiveness is a luxury that comes at a price, and a compromise package that will also allow expatriate votes (to ensure that any new law will not upset the sectarian balance) will in all probability need to be thrashed out. The redrawing of the electoral districts – especially in Beirut, where Prime Minister Saad Hariri looks poised to do well – is also a bone of contention.
If, as it looks likely to, the electoral reform debate drags, it must not be used as an excuse to delay elections, especially as one feels that for many of the parties that make up the March 8 coalition, the upcoming polls are more of a nuisance than anything else. Hezbollah, by all accounts, does not want to go head to head with Amal, while Michel Aoun is nervous that his Free Patriotic Movement will not do as well in his Metn powerbase. Ditto Walid Jumblatt, who, in the Chouf, will be wary not to upset his delicate balance of power.
We have played the delaying game before. The process to elect a president took an eternity, and although the June 2009 parliamentary ballot was held on time (and, it must be said, on one day) it too was the product of the 2008 Doha Accord and the calculations of the pro-Syrian opposition, which felt it would prevail. When it didn’t, we then had to wait five months for a new government, a period during which the election results were a mere afterthought to regional horse trading.
What is even more worrying is Lebanon appears to be sliding back into its old ways. Delays and postponements are a legacy of the Syrian era, one that saw our institutional credibility used as a mop. Any delay in the municipal elections will be another indication that Lebanon is slipping into bad habits, further proof, if you like, that Syria is getting its feet under the desk, and that the country is once again a regional vassal rather than a beacon of democracy and genuine political reform.

The degradation of Lebanon's Maronites
William Harris, February 22, 2010
Now Lebanon/
The anti-Semitic outburst of Maronite parliamentary deputy Nabil Nicolas at the Hezbollah gathering in Jdeideh last week represented more than just fawning before Lebanon's would-be super power. It also encapsulated the contemporary degradation of Lebanon's Maronite community and the vacuum left at the heart of Lebanese politics by Christian abdication of political responsibility.
Most sensible demographic analysis indicates that Lebanon roughly divides into thirds - Shia, Sunni and Christian. This is particularly the case if Christians are considered together, and Druze treated as mostly in alignment with the Sunnis. In politics there is no sign of the thirds. Under the national unity government Hezbollah effectively commands Lebanon. The Party of God is no longer a state within the state - in a very real sense it is the state.
Lebanon can either be considered a unity, where the writ of the hegemonic party of the Shia community is termed "consensus" and is literally the law of the land, or - by an increasingly long stretch of the imagination - as a Shia/Sunni dyad. The Christians have fragmented into the satellites of Hezbollah and the subordinate partners of the now dead and buried March 14movement. Since Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri gave way to the realities of power and terror - the condition of his being prime minister - the latter have become simply irrelevant.
Lebanon's Maronites and Christians are still probably 20 percent and 30-35 percent of the country's population, respectively. They behave like a dhimmi relic of five percent. Compared with Shia and even Sunnis they have no serious leadership whatsoever. Their predominant sentiment is a mindless hysteria that "the Christians are finished," combined with a deeply humiliating lemming-like rush for Shia, Sunni or Syrian cover. Muslims undoubtedly regard them with the contempt that they deserve.
Yet modern Lebanon only exists because of the Maronites. The leadership of the Maronite community and church, with the virtually sole exception of Emile Edde, insisted that France create and sustain the Greater Lebanon of 1920. There were all sorts of motivations, from the will for a Maronite dominated country to the commercial drive of the Christian (mainly Orthodox and Greek Catholic) high bourgeoisie of Beirut. Given the conclusive loss of a Christian majority by the 1930s and the radically different aspirations and orientations of most Maronites compared with most Sunnis and Shia, the enterprise was probably doomed to grief from the outset. However, under the cover of the ersatz pluralism of Michel Chiha, the political and commercial elites of the various communities found enough in common to keep the show on the road for about half a century.
Maronite insistence on modern Lebanon and the long Christian leading role in Lebanon mean that Maronites and Christians have a fundamental historical responsibility for the fate of Lebanon. On any objective consideration they continue to have the weight to make a difference, in terms of defending tolerance, real pluralism and real freedoms in the multi-communal entity that they, above all others, brought into being. They also have a leading responsibility for the reputation of Lebanon in the global community, a charge that Nabil Nicolas has trashed. Lebanon's Christians cannot run away from these burdens.
Of course there are those who deny that Lebanon has sectarian identities, so discussion of communal responsibility is meaningless. This denial is like denying that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Lebanon is a country where civil marriage is impossible, and where the most prominent political parties are nothing but sectarian. Given that Shia are under the shadow of the current overlords of Iran, and Sunni leaders are subject to any Saudi flirtation with the Syrian regime, articulating a distinctive voice depends heavily on Christians. A few courageous Shia cannot carry pluralism largely alone, nor can a few small non-government organizations like the Foundation for Human and Humanitarian Rights.
And of course there is international responsibility, although this is not an excuse for the Lebanese. Everything that has come out of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to date indicates that international justice will betray the victims, and will never reach the masterminds of the most devastating series of political murders in contemporary world history. Substantially as a result, Lebanese democracy has ceased to function and formerly vocal Lebanese politicians have bowed to circumstance. It may well be asked, in a country where there is impunity for murder and where the judicial and legal apparatus - not to mention the political system - is therefore a farce, why should anyone pay a traffic fine?

Saad Hariri
February 22, 2010
On February 21,, carried the following report:
Prime Minister Saad Hariri said that “the only way to fight extremism is through stability, security and peace,” adding he supports the vital role played by Italy and UNIFIL in enhancing stability in the South. He also said he hoped that “Italy will not reduce the number of its troops or change its policies.”
In an interview with the Italian Corriere della Sera newspaper during his visit to the Vatican, Hariri asked, “Why are the Christians and others leaving the region? Because there is no peace, stability or security. There are a million Iraqi refugees in Syria and at least 500,000 others in Jordan. The problem faced by the Christians is that they are a small community and feel they must leave.”
“There is equality between the Christians and Muslims and it will remain forever. Lebanon is the only country in the Arab world with a Christian president,” he said, reiterating, “The fighting of extremism is secured by shedding light on the common issues. That is why I suggested we proclaim March 25, the day of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary a national holiday. I want to reassure the Christians that we are one people.”
Hariri commented on some of the immigration problems in Europe, saying, “We know about this crisis, but before anyone else, we the Muslims must conduct a reassessment. Our extremists have become more radical and I can say for myself that I am extremist in my moderation. Therefore, I will not tolerate any pretext given by any extremist.”
In response to whether the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) has lost its momentum, he said, “There is a tribunal and we must let it do its work. We are lucky we got this far within five years since it took seven years in Sierra Leone to secure the issuance of an international resolution to establish an international tribunal.” Regarding his visit to Syria in December, Hariri said that he was now a prime minister, adding, “I have to take Lebanon’s national interests into consideration and do all that is possible for the country’s unity. The establishment of good relations with the neighbor Syria is vital for Lebanon. I did not go to Damascus to establish personal relations with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but to ensure equal relations between the two countries. Now the situation is different from the way it was in the past, especially since we recently opened embassies for the two countries in both capitals and are dealing with each other on the basis of equality.”
Asked about his feelings on meeting with President Assad for nine hours, he answered, “It felt [as though] I was representing Lebanon, and I was happy to hold a press conference in our embassy in Damascus. Some people belittle the importance of this step because they do not know the reality of the relations between Lebanon and Syria. For years, Syria refused the establishment of diplomatic relations between us and this behavior was similar to the one which existed between Iraq and Kuwait when the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein refused to recognize Kuwait’s existence.”
Regarding the fact that Syrian Ambassador to Beirut Ali Abdel Karim al-Ali was quasi nonexistent, Hariri said, “For the time being maybe. But there is no need to rush. My father, Rafik Hariri, taught me to see the full half of the cup and that something good can come out even in the worst times.”
Regarding the possible eruption of a confrontation with Israel, Hariri assured, “Israel is threatening with war every day, saying that because of Hezbollah’s presence in the government, the entire government was responsible for any action. However, let me remind you that Hezbollah was participating in the government in 2007, 2008 and 2009. Why is this issue being raised at this point in time? Because Israel wants a justification for war.” Asked in this context whether or not he felt that he and his government were the hostages of Hezbollah and its arms, he completely rejected that by saying, “There are problems between our political parties but my job as a prime minister is to unify the Lebanese people. We have suffered enough vertical divisions and wish to be calm and wise. We want to resolve the disputes around the national dialogue table because in the end, we are all Lebanese.”

U.S. stepping up engagement with Syria
February 19, 2010
By David Schenker/Los Angels Times
However, Damascus' support for Iran and the lack of a peace deal with Israel provide little hope for a significant improvement in the U.S.-Syrian bilateral dynamic.
OpinionFebruary 19, 2010|By David Schenker
Five years ago this month, Washington withdrew its ambassador to Damascus to protest the Assad regime's presumed role in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. For the State Department, which instinctively believes in the power of diplomacy, yanking its top diplomat was equivalent to the nuclear option. But after decades of Syrian targeting of Americans and Washington's regional allies, the Hariri slaying proved a bridge too far. On Tuesday, President Obama nominated Robert Stephen Ford to be the new ambassador to Syria. Also this week, the State Department's top career diplomat -- Undersecretary of State William Burns -- met with Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. Two years ago, Barack Obama campaigned for president on a pledge to reestablish dialogue with Damascus, so these moves are not surprising. Yet it's unclear what's driving the administration's elevation of contacts at this time.
After all, the Obama administration's year of "engaging" with the Assad regime has yielded few, if any, achievements. While Syrian facilitation of insurgents into Iraq has slowed, top U.S. generals and senior Iraqi officials say the problem remains. At the same time, an increasing body of evidence suggests that Damascus has provided the terrorist organization Hezbollah with a new generation of sophisticated weaponry -- including advanced antiaircraft weapons -- that changes the equation along the Israeli-Lebanese border.
Meanwhile, just weeks ago, it was reported that North Korea had resumed its shipment of sensitive military technology to Syria, the first such transfer since Israel bombed the Assad regime's nuclear weapons facility in 2007.
Taken together, persistent Syrian support for terrorism and development of weapons of mass destruction does not suggest a regime trying to improve its bilateral relationship with Washington. Still, under increasing economic pressures and facing a severe drought, Damascus no doubt is hoping to get relief from long-standing U.S. economic sanctions. But given Syria's behavior, removal of these sanctions in the near future is unlikely.
So Assad instead is again floating the idea of negotiations with Israel as the preferred avenue to full rapprochement with Washington. In this context, it's been widely rumored that Assad has assured George Mitchell, U.S. envoy to the Mideast, that he's ready to discuss a deal with Israel. While this message of peace may be appealing, it's not particularly credible.
In early February, after a war of words that led many commentators to speculate that Israel and Syria were on the verge of war, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country was open to resuming negotiations with Syria. But in recent years, the Israeli consensus position on any deal with Syria has changed. Israel is no longer seeking a land-for-peace agreement, but a deal based on land for strategic reorientation. That would require a demonstrable Syrian shift away from its 30-year strategic ally, Iran.
Assad rejected this formula prima facie, making a deal unlikely. Indeed, Assad's defense minister last week said Syria would continue to support Iran in the face of international pressure over Tehran's nuclear program.
Not surprisingly, without changes in Syrian behavior and/or a peace deal with Israel, there is little hope for a significant improvement in the U.S.-Syrian bilateral dynamic.
Despite the frustrations of the past year, the Obama administration this week appears to be doubling down on Damascus. The policy is driven by the desire to loosen, if not sever, the ties between Damascus and Tehran and thereby increase pressure on the clerical regime.
Syria is already saying the U.S. gambit will fail. Meanwhile, the Assad regime is declaring a victory. The re-posting of a U.S. envoy represents nothing less than the confirmation of the centrality of Syria in U.S. Middle East policy, a misreading that could embolden the longtime rogue regime.
The one potential benefit of a senior U.S. diplomat returning to Damascus is said to be a quid pro quo involving the imminent departure from Washington of Syria's longtime ambassador, Imad Moustapha. Since 2000, Moustapha has served as chief regime propagandist and spinmeister, and his incessant leaking and mischaracterizations of U.S. policy initiatives have proved a complicating factor in the relationship.
While the latest U.S. diplomatic moves may improve communication between Washington and Damascus, absent progress on terrorism or the Middle East peace process, the new U.S. ambassador in Syria will have little of substance to discuss with the Assad regime. Instead, like his predecessor, the ambassador will be occupied with delivering diplomatic demarches -- government nasty-grams -- conveying Washington's ongoing disappointment with Damascus.
**David Schenker is director of the program in Arab politics at the Washington Institute