April 7/2007

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint John 18,1-40.19,1-42.
When he had said this, Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to where there was a garden, into which he and his disciples entered. Judas his betrayer also knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. So Judas got a band of soldiers and guards from the chief priests and the Pharisees and went there with lanterns, torches, and weapons. Jesus, knowing everything that was going to happen to him, went out and said to them, "Whom are you looking for?" They answered him, "Jesus the Nazorean." He said to them, "I AM." Judas his betrayer was also with them. When he said to them, "I AM," they turned away and fell to the ground.
So he again asked them, "Whom are you looking for?" They said, "Jesus the Nazorean."  Jesus answered, "I told you that I AM. So if you are looking for me, let these men go." This was to fulfill what he had said, "I have not lost any of those you gave me."
Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest's slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave's name was Malchus.
Jesus said to Peter, "Put your sword into its scabbard. Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?"So the band of soldiers, the tribune, and the Jewish guards seized Jesus, bound him, and brought him to Annas first. He was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. It was Caiaphas who had counseled the Jews that it was better that one man should die rather than the people.
Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Now the other disciple was known to the high priest, and he entered the courtyard of the high priest with Jesus. But Peter stood at the gate outside. So the other disciple, the acquaintance of the high priest, went out and spoke to the gatekeeper and brought Peter in. Then the maid who was the gatekeeper said to Peter, "You are not one of this man's disciples, are you?" He said, "I am not."
Now the slaves and the guards were standing around a charcoal fire that they had made, because it was cold, and were warming themselves. Peter was also standing there keeping warm. The high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his doctrine. Jesus answered him, "I have spoken publicly to the world. I have always taught in a synagogue or in the temple area where all the Jews gather, and in secret I have said nothing. Why ask me? Ask those who heard me what I said to them. They know what I said." When he had said this, one of the temple guards standing there struck Jesus and said, "Is this the way you answer the high priest?"
Jesus answered him, "If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?"
Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
Now Simon Peter was standing there keeping warm. And they said to him, "You are not one of his disciples, are you?" He denied it and said, "I am not." One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the one whose ear Peter had cut off, said, "Didn't I see you in the garden with him?" Again Peter denied it. And immediately the cock crowed. Then they brought Jesus from Caiaphas to the praetorium. It was morning. And they themselves did not enter the praetorium, in order not to be defiled so that they could eat the Passover.
So Pilate came out to them and said, "What charge do you bring (against) this man?" They answered and said to him, "If he were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you." At this, Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves, and judge him according to your law." The Jews answered him, "We do not have the right to execute anyone,"
in order that the word of Jesus might be fulfilled that he said indicating the kind of death he would die. So Pilate went back into the praetorium and summoned Jesus and said to him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?" Pilate answered, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?" Jesus answered, "My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants (would) be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here."
So Pilate said to him, "Then you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."Pilate said to him, "What is truth?" When he had said this, he again went out to the Jews and said to them, "I find no guilt in him. But you have a custom that I release one prisoner to you at Passover. Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?"They cried out again, "Not this one but Barabbas!" Now Barabbas was a revolutionary.Then Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged.
And the soldiers wove a crown out of thorns and placed it on his head, and clothed him in a purple cloak, and they came to him and said, "Hail, King of the Jews!" And they struck him repeatedly. Once more Pilate went out and said to them, "Look, I am bringing him out to you, so that you may know that I find no guilt in him." So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple cloak. And he said to them, "Behold, the man!" When the chief priests and the guards saw him they cried out, "Crucify him, crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and crucify him. I find no guilt in him." The Jews answered, "We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God."Now when Pilate heard this statement, he became even more afraid,
and went back into the praetorium and said to Jesus, "Where are you from?" Jesus did not answer him. So Pilate said to him, "Do you not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?" Jesus answered (him), "You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above. For this reason the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin."
Consequently, Pilate tried to release him; but the Jews cried out, "If you release him, you are not a Friend of Caesar. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar."
When Pilate heard these words he brought Jesus out and seated him on the judge's bench in the place called Stone Pavement, in Hebrew, Gabbatha. It was preparation day for Passover, and it was about noon. And he said to the Jews, "Behold, your king!" They cried out, "Take him away, take him away! Crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Shall I crucify your king?" The chief priests answered, "We have no king but Caesar." Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, and carrying the cross himself he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus in the middle. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, "Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews."
Now many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek.  So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, "Do not write 'The King of the Jews,' but that he said, 'I am the King of the Jews.'" Pilate answered, "What I have written, I have written."
When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four shares, a share for each soldier. They also took his tunic, but the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top down. So they said to one another, "Let's not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it will be," in order that the passage of scripture might be fulfilled (that says): "They divided my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots." This is what the soldiers did. Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son." Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.
After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I thirst."There was a vessel filled with common wine. So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth. When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, "It is finished." And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit. Now since it was preparation day, in order that the bodies might not remain on the cross on the sabbath, for the sabbath day of that week was a solemn one, the Jews asked Pilate that their legs be broken and they be taken down. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and then of the other one who was crucified with Jesus.
But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs,
but one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out. An eyewitness has testified, and his testimony is true; he knows that he is speaking the truth, so that you also may (come to) believe. For this happened so that the scripture passage might be fulfilled: "Not a bone of it will be broken." And again another passage says: "They will look upon him whom they have pierced."
After this, Joseph of Arimathea, secretly a disciple of Jesus for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus. And Pilate permitted it. So he came and took his body. Nicodemus, the one who had first come to him at night, also came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about one hundred pounds.  They took the body of Jesus and bound it with burial cloths along with the spices, according to the Jewish burial custom. Now in the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried. So they laid Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation day; for the tomb was close by.

Free Opinions
Beirut - Tehran: Kisses and Medals.Dar Al-Hayat
The Lebanese need insulation from the fallout of their leaders' rivalries. Daily Star. March 07/07
Human rights in Syria; Pelosi's silence.By Nadim Houry and Radwan Ziadeh. March 07/07
No magic wand-
Al-Ahram Weekly . March 07/07
A Lebanese Patriot Against Lebanese Sovereignty. By: Joseph Hitti. FrontPage . March 07/07
Welcome to Hizbullahland-Jerusalem Post . March 07/07

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous sources April 07/07
Berri Asks Saudis to Help End International Tribunal Dispute-Naharnet
Lebanon MP asks Siniora to replace resigned Ministers-Ya Libnan
US, UK, France pushing for UN cmte. to examine Lebanon arms smuggling-Ha'aretz
Opposition Divided Over Saudi Stand?Naharnet
Moussa: No Prospects for Lebanon Settlement-Naharnet
Russia urges caution on Lebanon's Hariri tribunal-Asharq Alawsat
AL Chief Moussa gives up on Lebanon settlement-Ya Libnan
Hizbullah Hints Captured Israeli Soldiers Alive-Naharnet
Israeli cluster bomb wounds woman in southern Lebanon-Monsters and
Photos show Hezbollah rearming-Cleveland Jewish News
S. Korea picks site for military camp in Lebanon
S. Korean UNIFIL soldiers coming soon to south Lebanon
-Ya Libnan
Sailors' release proof of more pragmatic Iran-AP
Saudis to help set up Lebanon tribunal in Hariri probe-Monsters and
Lebanon homicide trial goes to jury-Patriot-News
Lebanon: a court without the law-Le Monde Diplomatique
Spanish peacekeeping troops in Lebanon discover arms cache-Focus News
Lebanon's parliament speaker asks Saudis to help broker talks on ...Associated Press of Pakistan
The Lebanon-Israel tragedy-Charlotte Observer
Russia calls for territorial integrity of Lebanon-Saltanov-ITAR-TASS

Latest News Reports From The Daily Star for April 06/07
Pelosi praises King Abdullah for Arab peace initiative
Rice 'open' to talks with Iranian officials

Ban agrees to send UN legal chief to talks on court
Hariri welcomes Berri's call for dialogue in Saudi Arabia
Harb: Berri is 'still a friend' - but wrong on petition
Sfeir bemoans politicians' lack of 'independent will'
Group to mark Civil War anniversary in Beirut
Germans help perform survey of Syrian border
Eido rips resigned ministers for 'schizophrenic' behavior
Don't let Hariri court be used to divide country - Shiite leaders
Stubborn political crisis threatens to prevent return of investors
Free trade could be a blessing - or a curse - for Lebanon
AUB announces passing of renowned professor
'The smells have spread:' Dead cows foul beach and sea in Akkar
AUB alumni to hold international elections
Support group demands answers for families of Civil War-era missing
Lebanon Mountain Trail helps hikers get to know
Watchdog gives failing grade to officials in charge of testing Lebanese drivers

Berri Asks Saudis to Help End International Tribunal Dispute
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has asked Saudi Arabia to arrange a meeting of Lebanon's bickering political leaders to end the controversial issue of an international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri, the U.N. chief said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Berri had informed him of the request to Saudi Arabia and asked whether the U.N. could provide legal advice.Berri, a key opposition figure and a close Hizbullah ally, has been repeatedly accused by the ruling majority of blocking creation of the tribunal under pressure from Syria.
Speaking to reporters after briefing the Security Council on his recent Middle East tour, Ban said Berri had called for the Saudi-sponsored meeting to break the impasse over creation of the court.
"He (Berri) also asked specifically whether Nicolas Michel (the U.N.'s top legal adviser) would attend that meeting and provide the necessary advice," Ban said. Ban said he was willing to send Michel to the proposed meeting if the Lebanese sides agreed.
"I hope through those meetings the Lebanese government and people will be able to take the necessary constitutional procedures ... to establish at an early date, as urged by the Security Council, a special tribunal" to try suspects in Hariri's murder and related crimes, Ban said.
Hariri and 22 others were killed in a massive bomb blast in February 2005 in Beirut. An initial U.N. enquiry report implicated Damascus in the slaying but Syria has denied involvement. Ban was speaking a day after his office said the U.N. was studying a memorandum signed by 70 Lebanese lawmakers asking the Security Council to set up the proposed tribunal. MP Saad Hariri and son of the murdered five-time Prime Minister, handed in the memorandum, addressed to Ban. Hariri wants the Security Council to bypass the political paralysis in Lebanon over setting up the tribunal.
But the Hizbullah-led opposition objects to the way the government has handled plans to create the court under U.N. auspices. It has so far managed to block all moves to set up the court. The United Nations has signed a deal with the Lebanese government to set up the tribunal, but it must be ratified by the country's divided parliament. Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia provides substantial financial aid to Beirut and has close links with Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's government.
The Lebanon crisis has severely tested Riyadh's ties with predominantly Shiite Iran, a key supporter of Hizbullah.
But during talks in Riyadh early last month, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he and Saudi King Abdullah agreed to reduce tensions in Lebanon. Ban gave no further details on Berri's initiative and U.S. acting ambassador to the U.N Alejandro Wolff said his government was seeking more details about it. "We learnt about the initiative this morning. We need to look at what the proposal is," Wolff said. "We need to see what Prime Minister Siniora thinks about it as the head of government." (Naharnet-AP-AFP) Beirut, 06 Apr 07, 06:07

Opposition Divided Over Saudi Stand?
Despite a call by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri for a Saudi-brokered settlement to the Lebanese Crisis, a Hizbullah-affiliated columnist said Friday Riyadh opposes giving the opposition veto powers in a new Lebanese government. Columnist Yassir al-Hariri, a Shiite Muslim who is affiliated with Hizbullah's deputy leader Sheik Naim Qassem, wrote that "Saudi Arabia does not want to give a one-third guarantee (of cabinet seats) to the opposition and is buying time in favour of majority forces while awaiting clear regional and international indications as to whether the region is heading either towards a military operation against Iran, Syria and Hizbullah or a comprehensive settlement."Hariri's article was published by the pro-opposition ad-Diyar newspaper under the sub-headline: "Saudi Arabia does not want a 19-11 settlement formula." Contents of the article attributed to unnamed opposition sources, sharply contradicted with Berri's call for a Saudi-brokered settlement to the Lebanese crisis.
Berri, who also heads the Shiite AMAL faction, is a prominent figure in the Hizbullah-led opposition and has represented the alliance that is backed by Syria and Iran in negotiations with majority representative, MP Saad Hariri. MP Hariri in a statement distributed Thursday said the March 14 majority alliance was ready to go to Saudi Arabia to "declare a settlement" to the ongoing political crisis in Lebanon, not to negotiate one.
He was echoing the official Saudi stand that it is up to the Lebanese factions to agree on a settlement, after which the kingdom would host its declaration, thus guaranteeing its implementation. Saudi Arabia is keen on maintaining that it does not interfere in domestic Lebanese issues, although it uses its good offices with the various groups to help them reach a settlement. The opposition has been trying in vain since Dec. 1 to topple Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's majority government, which enjoys the backing of both the Arab and international communities, with the exception of Syria and Iran. Beirut, 06 Apr 07, 18:48

Cluster Bombs Harvest Additional Victim
A Lebanese woman was seriously wounded in the southern region Friday in the explosion of a cluster bomb dropped by Israeli forces during last summer's war, police said. Abdeh Mohammed Khanafer, 70, was gathering herb in a field at Aynata village near Bint Jbeil, six kilometres (four miles) from the Israeli border, when she touched a bomb that detonated, they said. She was seriously wounded in the face, arms and torso and was rushed to hospital in the port city of Tyre, 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of Beirut. According to the United Nations Mine Action Coordination Centre, more than 222 people have fallen prey to cluster bombs in the past six months. The victims included 190 civilians.At least 27 people have been killed by cluster bomb explosions since the conflict ended on August 14, 2006, according to an AFP tally. The munitions dropped by Israel during its devastating air war against Hizbullah included more than a million cluster bombs, around 40 percent of which failed to detonate on impact, according to the United Nations. Cluster munitions spread bomblets over a wide area from a single container. The bomblets often do not explode on impact, but can do so later at the slightest touch, making them as deadly as anti-personnel landmines.(AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, 06 Apr 07, 15:30

Moussa: No Prospects for Lebanon Settlement
Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa was quoted Friday as saying he sees no prospects in the near future for a political settlement to the ongoing Lebanese crisis. Moussa told the daily as-Safir the situation in Lebanon is "more tense than before and there are no prospects of a settlement in the near future. I believe that with time, the presidential elections would be the top item on the agenda."
He said that failure by parliament to convene to deliberate the International Tribunal bill and the letter sent by majority parliamentarians to the United Nations regarding the tribunal "complicate the situation and hamper Arab and international efforts aimed at finding an intra-Lebanese settlement."
President Emile Lahoud's extended term expires on Nov. 22 amid a wide split between the March 14 majority alliance and the Hizbullah-led opposition on a successor. The two sides also differ on the formation of an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri and related crimes. The majority blames the killings on Syria, which denies the charges. Majority MPs asked the United Nations in a letter signed by 70 legislators to follow whatever course needed to create the tribunal. Beirut, 06 Apr 07, 14:31

Hizbullah Hints Captured Israeli Soldiers Alive
Hizbullah has for the first time hinted that the two Israeli soldiers, whose capture by its fighters triggered last summer's devastating war on Lebanon, are still alive, an Arab-Israel newspaper said on Friday. Hizbullah politburo member Mahmoud Qamati told the Arabic-language Al-Sinara that prisoners currently held by the group were receiving humane treatment. That was an implicit reference to Israeli servicemen Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, captured last July in a cross-border raid which sparked Israel's 34-day assault on Lebanon. "When the enemy soldier becomes a prisoner he receives humane treatment. This is how our current prisoners are being treated," Qamati was quoted by the Nazareth-based paper as saying.
Goldwasser and Regev are the only known captives in Hizbullah custody. In a statement from Beirut, Hizbullah denied the report and said Qamati had told the newspaper "he was not authorized to speak on the subject." But a tape recording of the interview played for AFP suggests that the newspaper accurately quoted Qamati.
Hizbullah is known for its tough prisoner-negotiating tactics and has refused to provide any information about the welfare of the captured soldiers without receiving something in exchange. Relatives of the two captured soldiers were unmoved by Qamati's statements. "If they are so proud that they take care of them and that their condition is good -- let us see them," Ehud Goldwasser's wife, Karnit, told Israel's Maariv newspaper. "We want proof," she added.
In December, Israeli military officials said the two soldiers had been seriously wounded in the attack that led to their capture, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has suggested the soldiers may have died from their wounds. After the July 12 attack, in which three other soldiers were killed, Israel launched a pounding air, sea and land assault on Hizbullah. Around 1,200 Lebanese and 160 Israelis died in the month-long war before a U.N.-brokered truce was declared on August 14.(Naharnet-AFP) Beirut, 06 Apr 07, 11:00

Sfeir bemoans politicians' lack of 'independent will'
'Country stands still while matters deteriorate'
By Maroun Khoury -Daily Star correspondent
Friday, April 06, 2007
BKIRKI: Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir criticized in a Thursday sermon politicians "who wait for instructions from other countries" before making decisions, describing the leaders as having "no independent will" and blaming them for the country's internal divisions.
Sfeir said that political leaders are "distracted with arguments over who is right and who is wrong and disagree over everything: the electoral law, the blocking or guaranteeing third, and the international tribunal between chapters 6 and 7 of the UN Charter, while fear of assassinations has led people to hide in their homes."Poor leadership has led to further economic deterioration, which hits the poorest and most vulnerable hardest, Sfeir said.
The patriarch said Lebanon was like a "carriage with horses in front of it pulling in one direction and horses at the back pulling in the other."
"The result is the country stands still while matters deteriorate further," he said.
Sfeir said the resurrection of Jesus, celebrated on the Christian holiday of Easter which falls on Sunday, should be "a symbol of our resurrection from the uncountable disasters we are plunging into.""Those disasters are getting worse day after day ... our country is falling apart in front of our eyes and we do not rush to rescue it," he said. "This is the mission of all the Lebanese, especially officials." Sfeir said that the split in the country had struck all of the state's institutions. "No sooner has a certain party unveiled an opinion than the opposite party issues a counter-opinion," he said.
"But we will not lose hope to improve the current situation if we know how to stand united and deploy strenuous efforts to get the country out of its crisis."
The prelate said that "foreign officials visit us to express their regret over what is going on in the country, as if they come to check on a patient's health and leave while the Lebanese situation remains as it is."
Separately, Sfeir met on Thursday with March 14 Forces MP Samir Franjieh. Speaking after the meeting, Franjieh said that a petition sent by pro-government MPs to the UN secretary general on Tuesday calling for UN action on the establishment of an international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri ended "barter between the international tribunal and the government."A petition signed by 70 MPs was delivered to Geir Pedersen, the UN's special coordinator in Lebanon, to be forwarded to Ban Ki-moon. Franjieh said that a statement issued by the Council of Maronite Bishops on Wednesday "constitutes a road map for the future of Lebanon." The bishops said that presidential elections must be held on time and called for Parliament to convene. They also expressed support for the formation of the tribunal."The Maronite Church calls for activating dialogue within constitutional institutions, especially Parliament," the council said. - With additional reporting by Hani Bathish

Ban agrees to send UN legal chief to talks on court
By Rym Ghazal -Daily Star staff
Friday, April 06, 2007
BEIRUT: United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday that he has agreed to send UN Legal Counsel Nicolas Michel to a possible meeting among rival Lebanese politicians in Saudi Arabia, as per a request issued by Speaker Nabih Berri - but only "if it is agreeable to the parties."
"I referred to Speaker Berri's announcement, invitation, asking Saudi Arabia to initiate some consultation meetings, and he also asked specifically whether Mr. Nicolas Michel would attend that meeting and provide the necessary advice," Ban said during a briefing to the UN Security Council on Thursday.
"If it is agreeable to the parties, I am willing to dispatch Mr. Nicolas Michel to that conference," said Ban.
He refused to confirm or deny reports that he would visit Syria at the end of April.
This came as former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton warned on Thursday that the international tribunal to try those accused of killing ex-Premier Rafik Hariri and others is "not sufficient enough" to try Syrian President Bashar Assad. In a preview of an interview to be televised late Thursday on the political talk show "Kalam al-Nass" on the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, Bolton said that "it is important for everyone to understand that forming the court is not sufficient enough to bring Assad to justice if he was found guilty as a culprit or linked to the culprits behind the assassination."
Bolton also admitted during the program that UN Security Council Resolution 1701 was not perfect, and was "intended" to be a stepping stone to a "possible peace treaty with Israel.""There were some issues not dealt with in 1701, like the disarmament of Hizbullah which I believe is the primary threat to democracy in Lebanon," he said. The UN secretary general had earlier briefed the Security Council on his recent tour of the Middle East.
Ban told the council that allegations that arms are being smuggled into Lebanon "should be independently assessed."
"This is very important, full compliance of 1701 is crucially important in maintaining peace and security there," Ban said.
"Arms smuggling into Lebanon is a violation of 1701," he added. Several Lebanese officials have denied Israeli allegations that arms smuggling was taking place along the border. They insist the Lebanese Army is monitoring the border effectively. Ban also briefed the council on Berri's invitation for Lebanese leaders to meet in Saudi Arabia for dialogue. When asked about the petition signed by 70 MPs from the ruling coalition, requesting that the secretary general allow the Security Council to take over the creation of the international court, Ban said: "Speaker Berri, as I told you, has announced such an intention, asking the Saudi government to initiate a certain international meeting there, so let us [see] how the situation develops."
As for the petition, Ban said: "At this time, what I would like to emphasize is that since the United Nations has signed it, and returned [it] to the Lebanese government. The Lebanese government should take the necessary measures as soon as possible, according to their constitutional procedures at this time."
However, Ban also stressed that it is "crucially important" to establish the court "at an early date," as urged by the Security Council.
Asked by reporters about the direction the UN Security Council might take, Ban said he was "not in a position to say anything at this time about what kind of future measures should be taken." - With agencies

Don't let Hariri court be used to divide country - Shiite leaders
Daily Star staff-Friday, April 06, 2007
BEIRUT: The Higher Shiite Council said Thursday that attempts to internationalize the Lebanese crisis under the pretext of calling for the approval of a special tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri would only worsen the deadlock.
In a statement issued after its monthly meeting, the council called on all Lebanese officials to abide by the Constitution.
"The council warns against the obvious violation of the Constitution ... since a certain Lebanese party is trying to monopolize [authority]," the statement said, referring to the March 14 Forces. "What is more, that party is trying to attack constitutional institutions and Parliament's role," the statement added. "This promotes the logic of constitutional and political chaos which will lead Lebanon into the unknown, should it continue."
The council highlighted what it described as the "dangerous" situation in the region due to US policies.
The council also praised the Lebanese Army for its efforts to maintain security and stressed the need to provide Palestinian refugees with the right of return to their homeland and establish a Palestinian state, which it said, "is the basis of stability in the whole region."
Meanwhile, senior Shiite cleric Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah warned religious figures against taking part in the ongoing political discord.
"This might intensify the current divisions and aggravate the political situation in the country, leading to political and non-political explosions," Fadlallah said in a statement. Fadlallah said recent visits by Western officials did not aim to hammer out solutions to the four-month-old political deadlock, but to exert more pressure on the country. "Those who represent Lebanese society, whether they are MPs or officials occupying social, economic and political posts, should play their role and express their own stands instead of echoing requests made by foreign officials," Fadlallah said.
He also urged the American people to keep US President George W. Bush under control.
"Bush's new adventures might attack the world economy and have destructive repercussions on the Middle East," he warned. - The Daily Star

Wednesday, April 04, 2007
AKOURI TO PELOSI: Bring home Lebanese detainees out of Syria
Letter to House Leader highlights plight of captives
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, John Akouri, former Senior Advisor and Press Secretary to US Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-MI), in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), urged her to bring home all Lebanese Detainees out of Syria as she departs Damascus. The letter went on to say:
“Madame Speaker, though I disagree in the strongest terms possible with your visit to Syria at this time, while there, I urge you to demand the immediate and unconditional release of all Lebanese detainees held in that country and to insist upon the return of remains of any POW’s to their families in Lebanon.”
In the letter, Akouri cited a report published by the Associated Press just last week noting: “Human rights groups and families say they have evidence of at least 176 Lebanese in Syrian jails, many of whom have been there for more than a decade. The list includes dozens of soldiers, two Maronite Christian monks and at least one politician.”
According to the report: “International human rights groups say hundreds of Lebanese have been taken to Syria since it first sent troops into Lebanon in 1976. The detainees were from various Muslim and Christian sects and different political factions, from right-wing Christians to Muslim extremists.”
Akouri also stressed the global call for the freedom of these detainees. Just last month, Montreal's Lebanese Community campaigned for prisoners arbitrarily held in Syrian jails with a presentation of this tragic human rights crisis, which shed light on the fact that hundreds of Lebanese prisoners have been held in Syrians jails under the cruelest conditions for over a decade. These individuals, who have been kidnapped and taken as prisoners, are regularly subjected to extreme forms of torture.
Syria's denial of holding these prisoners is making their release a near-impossible task. However, some human right activists are fighting back. A humanitarian NGO known as SOLIDE (Support of Lebanese in Detention and Exile) along with the families of the detainees, have been holding an open-ended sit-in in front of the United Nations building in Beirut since April 11, 2005, hoping that their cry for justice might prompt some action.

A statement from the Lebanese Information Center on the visit by the congressional delegation to Syria, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
April 04,2007
The Lebanese Information Center (LIC) is grateful to the members of congress led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for their visit to Lebanon earlier this week. The Speaker’s historical support for Lebanon’s independence and the statements she made during her recent visit to Beirut were consistent with her earlier support of HR1828, the “Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003”.
Commenting on HR 1828 on October 15, 2003, then Congresswoman Pelosi stated, "…Syria’s assistance to terrorist organizations is well known, and the State Department continues to list Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism, in violation of resolutions on that issue by the United Nations Security Council. The Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, which Syria controls, provides a haven and the site of training facilities for Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist groups. These activities could not occur without the assent of the Syrian government….”
Regrettably, despite the withdrawal in April 2005 of regular Syrian Army personnel from Lebanon in the aftermath of the Cedar Revolution, which had climaxed on March 14, 2005, Syria continues to provide “a haven and the site of training facilities for (…) terrorist groups”. Additionally, it continues to instigate and to materially support an attempted counter-revolution in Lebanon that seeks to overthrow Lebanon’s democratically-installed Government and to create instability in Lebanon. Furthermore, its destabilizing role in Iraq and in the Palestinian territories continues unabashed. Therefore, the US administration has been successful in isolating the Syrian regime, an isolation which would and should end only when the latter changes its behavior, abandons its support for anti-American insurgents in Iraq and for terrorist organizations in the Palestinian territories, shuts down the headquarters of Hamas and its ilk in Damascus and stop its meddling in Lebanon’s internal affairs.
Given the continued intransigence of the Syrian regime and House Speaker Pelosi’s historic support for the Lebanese pro-democracy movement, her visit to Damascus is regrettable. Irrespective of the Speaker’s good intentions to conduct a fact-finding trip to the Middle East, the Syrian regime had already started to misrepresent this visit even before the above referenced delegation arrived to Syria as a break in the US’ isolation of its rogue regime. It has peddled the visit of the Speaker and her accompanying delegation as a thaw in US-Syrian relations, which is a representation that could not be farther from the truth.
While we can well understand the logic of dialogue as a general rule, we reiterate Speaker Pelosi’s own words, “…Rhetoric has thus far not been effective in encouraging the Syrian government to cease its assistance to terrorists…” To her words of wisdom we add, “And it won’t”.

Beirut - Tehran: Kisses and Medals
Zuheir Kseibati Al-Hayat - 05/04/07//
The Lebanese opposition deserves credit for preferring political suicide over what the ruling powers describe as the 'suicide of the nation', as it did not wish for more suicides in the country, or for the physical elimination of some of the pro-government symbols. But it also stands accused of the same charges it levels against what it calls connivers, both among the government and the March 14 Forces, whom it claims are dragging Lebanon into the precarious unknown and breaching tacit agreements to ease tension following the collapse of the covenant of honor.
Scenes of handshakes and kisses exchanged between MPs from both sides in their struggle for the international tribunal and the three inoperative legitimacies only provoked a feeling of bitter irony among the Lebanese, as most of the public are saying: they threaten us with ruins while they exchange kisses, and the ruins in Basra are not far.
Nothing 'new' has happened after the Arab Summit, during which the nation was represented as two 'Lebanons', except for the return of the clouds of pessimism over the resolution of the standoff over the tribunal and the 'participation', especially in light of what is being reported on plans to trigger a possible security explosion, which are simultaneous with intelligence reports on the smuggling of arms that no side seems to be fond of re-exporting from Lebanon. Similar to the justifications given by the March 14 side to avoid 'murdering the tribunal', the March 8 bloc has not waned its veracious opposition that returned once again to slandering campaigns aimed at the head of government, Fouad Siniora, who it accuses of attempting to 'smuggle' the tribunal's draft resolution.
What is new after the summit, by the end of which Syria was keen to cling to the notion of Syrian-Saudi 'reconciliation', is giving the Lebanese reason for optimism over the prospects of a parallel reconciliation at the heart of Beirut, between Martyrs and Riyadh Al-Solh squares, especially as no one has any doubts about the earnestness of the Saudi and Egyptian efforts to bury the sedition. What is also new is another turn in the path to the tribunal that both the March 8 and March 14 sides are justifying as: protection against further internationalization following the failure of 'Lebanonization' - in reference to the attempt to pass the bill in Parliament - or in defense of the insistence of the head of Parliament to close the hall of the public body.
What Speaker Berry, Premier Siniora, the head of the Future Movement, MP Saad al-Hariri, Hezbollah's leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, MP Walid Jumblatt, and the head of the executive authority of the Lebanese Forces Party, Samir Geagea have in common is that they are all opposed to blackmail, making it seem as though such opposition has become the only common and uniting denominator.
However, this is certainly not enough to ensure the death of sedition, just as it does not eliminate the principal of agreeing on the federation of sects. What is truly a reason for concern is the possibility that this attrition would lure everyone into the pitfall of a test of strength.
What Berry has been quoted to have said is that some pro-government figures have been 'swimming in Syrian waters', before the winds shifted in their sails, and this does not justify to the government and a broad segment of the Lebanese the opposition's withholding of the secrets of its remarks over the draft of the tribunal, while repeating, night and day, allegations of the government's evasion of transparency and monopoly over decisions.
A prominent Arab diplomat argues that different sides of the Lebanese impasse have not held the interest of the country above all else, concluding that this is where the comprehensive solution should start; the question of when, however is a different issue.
Meanwhile, Damascus and a number of allies are certain that French President Jacques Chirac will not hesitate to face the 'impossible' in order to back the passing of the tribunal's draft resolution at the Security Council in a few days, just before he leaves the Élysée.
It is clear that what the opposition refuses to acknowledge is the other side's strong opposition to keeping the tribunal hostage at square one without guarantees; that is: to postpone its sanctioning at Parliament until after enlarging the Siniora government through 'sharing'.
This is exactly where questions seem to arise over the impacts of the outcomes of the Arab Summit, or the Syrian role to facilitate reaching solutions in the region and, consequently, whether this would include attempts to salvage the federalism of sects by salvaging a consensus that is said to be democratic, but in rations. Damascus excelled in coordinating with the Iranian ally and in picking the right moment when British Prime Minister Tony Blair requested its intervention to persuade Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to release the sailors held by the 'revolutionary guards'.
While it may be true that Ahmadinejad will capitalize on his decision to pardon the sailors to improve his image in the West, it is also true that Syria is bound to make a major breakthrough in the sphere of Europe's solidarity with US politics. While Ahmadinejad may have, even if temporarily, succeeded in averting the threat of a US military strike against Iran, as seen in his celebration by decorating the guards with medals after the release of the British sailors, the pending answer in Lebanon continues to hang over the game of prices, where regional sides take turns in the game of interests.
Wasn't it Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa who said upon leaving Beirut that the channels to the solution in Lebanon lie in channels abroad

The Lebanese need insulation from the fallout of their leaders' rivalries
Friday, April 06, 2007-Editorial-Daily
Lebanese leaders have been taking their time in putting an end to the bitter standoff between the opposition and the ruling coalition - a power struggle that has kept the country in a state of paralysis for the past four months. Yet for many of the country's citizens, who have little recourse when it comes to resolving disputes among their leaders, the time for a negotiated deal to break the deadlock has long passed.
Some of the country's most prominent investors, who opted to pour billions of their dollars into income-generating projects in Lebanon, ignoring the advice that they put their money in more stable places like the United Arab Emirates, have publicly warned that their patience is wearing thin. Although Lebanon still has tremendous appeal and the potential to rival any other major hub in the region, the country's economy is not insulated from political rivalry. Nothing could better serve to discourage a potential investor than the lessons provided by recent history: that Lebanese politicians will consistently put their own special interests above just about everything else.
Disputes over the political direction of a country are not unique to Lebanon, and contests for control are ordinarily a healthy sign of a vibrant democracy. Rivalry among politicians is usually not, however, allowed to drive away investors and bring the lives of ordinary citizens to a screeching halt. Almost every Lebanese citizen can point to a relative or friend who has lost a job or suffered a similar personal setback as a result of this political crisis. Looking for employment in today's market can be an extremely daunting task for this country's young graduates, increasing numbers of whom are deciding it would be better to search abroad. Opposition partisans, government loyalists, investors, workers, rich and poor have all been affected by the results of the deadlock: an economic crisis which is perhaps the only thing in the country that has transcended political, class and religious boundaries.
Governing a country does not give a person a right to hold its citizens hostage, or to cling to the seat of power at all costs. Nor does opposing the government permit a party to act without any regard for the wellbeing of the people. Only a negotiated solution between the rival camps can resolve the deadlock in the short term. What Lebanon will need in the longer term, however, is a mechanism that would prevent political disputes from wreaking such havoc on the economy. Only when Lebanese leaders stop prioritizing their own interests and consider the people whom they purportedly represent will they be able to start drafting legislation and designing tools to promote economic growth instead of killing it. Knowing that their politicians cannot gamble with their futures is the only thing that will keep investors and bright young Lebanese from leaving.

Human rights in Syria; Pelosi's silence
By Nadim Houry and Radwan Ziadeh
Commentary by
Friday, April 06, 2007
US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's visit to Damascus this week caused quite a stir. Before she even landed in Syria, the White House was calling her decision a "really bad idea." Pelosi's spokesman was quick to defend the visit by saying that the speaker intended to use her trip "to discuss a wide range of security issues affecting the United States and the Middle East." No one doubts that security is essential in the region. But Pelosi appears to have committed the same mistake as other recent visitors to Damascus, who decided not to raise the issue of Syria's appalling human rights record.
Pelosi was the most senior American public figure to visit Damascus since Colin Powell visited in 2003 as secretary of state, but she came on the heels of other high-profile visitors. Last weekend, three Republican congressmen, Frank Wolf, Joe Pitts and Robert Aderholt, traveled to Syria to meet with President Bashar Assad. Last month, Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief, also paid a visit. The message from these various visitors has generally been consistent: Syria needs to cooperate on Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, and Iraq.
Pelosi's visit fits the mold. At a press conference in Damascus, Pelosi told reporters that the she had expressed to Assad her concern about Syria's support for Hizbullah and Hamas, and that they discussed the "issue of fighters slipping across the Syrian border into Iraq." Pelosi also reportedly passed a message from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert about Israel's readiness to engage in peace talks, and she raised the issue of three Israeli soldiers abducted by Palestinian militants in Gaza and by Hizbullah in Lebanon. There is no indication, however, that she told Assad or other Syrian officials that Syria needed to improve its human rights record to truly become a positive player in the region.
The Syrian government strictly limits freedom of expression, association, and assembly. Emergency powers, imposed in 1963, remain in effect, and the government bans hundreds of political and human rights activists from traveling. The authorities treat Kurds, Syria's largest non-Arab minority, as second-class citizens subject to systematic discrimination.
Pelosi's visit took place at a time when several Syrian political and human rights activists are facing trial for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Former prisoner of conscience Kamal al-Labwani is due back in court on April 10. He was arrested in November 2005, on his return to Syria after several months in Europe and the United States, where he met with officials to call for peaceful democratic reform inside Syria. He is charged with "encouraging foreign aggression against Syria." Prominent writer Michel Kilo and human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni have been detained since May 2006, following their signature of the Beirut-Damascus Declaration, which called for improved relations between Syria and Lebanon.
Many analysts fear that emphasizing human rights concerns will weaken the objective of getting Syria to change its regional behavior. Better not anger Damascus by asking for internal reforms, they argue. But these fears are misplaced. First, US foreign policy behavior has often addressed this "tension" by reflecting both a concern for security cooperation and respect for human rights. Pelosi herself is a staunch advocate of human rights in China at a time when the US and China need to cooperate on many critical security issues, including the rise of North Korea as a nuclear player.
Second, more democratic governance and rule of law in Syria will surely be a more positive influence in the Middle East.
Journalists and commentators will use a lot of ink debating the merits of Pelosi's visit. But one thing is clear. She missed an opportunity to send a strong message to the Syrian authorities that Washington's desire to cooperate with Syria does not mean it will turn a blind eye to Syria's human rights violations. She also missed the opportunity to send a message to Syrians and other Arabs that the US still values respect for human rights.
**Nadim Houry is Syria researcher at Human Rights Watch. Radwan Ziadeh is director of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies. They wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.

No magic wand
Al Ahram: Last week's Arab summit yielded little but disappointment as far as most Lebanese were concerned, as the country drifted back into its now habitual state of waiting. Lucy Fielder reports from Beirut
For the second year running, two Lebanese leaders headed to the Arab summit, representing the sharp split down the middle of the country. Pro- Syrian President Emile Lahoud -- who has lately intimated that he may stay on even beyond the end of his term in September if there is no "legitimate" government -- was the official representative in Riyadh. But close Saudi ally Prime Minister Fouad Al-Seniora headed a rival delegation because he and the "14th March" anti- Syrian movement view Lahoud as illegitimate since his term was extended, after a constitutional amendment, under pressure from Damascus in 2004. Neither delegation brought back the only thing the long-suffering Lebanese are waiting for either -- a solution to the paralysis that has gripped the country since last summer's Israeli war on Lebanon. Lahoud had objected to a reference to the Lebanese government, rather than state, in the summit's final statement. He said the government was "unconstitutional and absent".
Many Lebanese had eagerly awaited the summit, with analysts and politicians predicting it would yield a breakthrough. But such hopes proved to be mere clutching at straws. Arab leaders had no magic formula to resolve the two main issues dividing the government and opposition. Opposition demands for a national unity government with a "blocking third" veto over decisions, which the government rejects, and the establishment of an international court to try suspects in the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri.
The most significant event of the summit as far as Lebanon was concerned was the meeting between Saudi King Abdullah and Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. That appeared to represent a thaw in relations that have been frosty since the killing of Hariri, who had close ties to the kingdom and whose death the "14th March" movement blames on Syria. Relations reached their nadir last summer after Israel's war on Lebanon, when Assad denounced as "half-men" those Arab leaders who had failed to back the Shia Hizbullah guerrillas in their fight against Israel.
However, in his public address to the summit, Abdullah appeared to give support to Seniora when he said, "We reject the turning of common streets into hotels", a criticism of the opposition protest encampment that has sprawled across two central Beirut squares since December.
Paul Salem, head of the Carnegie Endowment's Middle East Centre in Beirut, said the only important outcome of the summit would be if Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed to the Saudi peace initiative.
As well as bringing Israelis and Palestinians back to the table, that could have a calming effect in Lebanon, particularly if pressure were placed upon Israel to withdraw from the Syrian Golan Heights.
"The Saudis did everything they could, and now there's a sense of drift in Lebanon," Salem said.
"The general sense is that people are waiting to see if there's going to be a big change between the US and Iran in April, because there could be two major wars in the offing, between the US and Iran and Israel and Hizbullah." He described such wars as a "serious possibility but not a likelihood".
Talk of a war between the US and Iran, which backs Hizbullah, preoccupied many Lebanese this week and fears that this summer will yield more bloodshed in the troubled country are rampant on both sides of the divide.
Hizbullah Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qassem told a gathering in the southern suburbs of Beirut on Tuesday night that the US administration had told members of the pro-US "14th March" forces, "that a war is coming in the region through a strike on Iran, and it asked those forces to wait until two months from now, because Iran will weaken, and with it, regional states and the opposition and Hizbullah; then you'll get what you want."
Lebanon also witnessed a flurry of diplomacy this week, but with no concrete results. The most high-profile visitor was UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who met leaders from both sides and called for dialogue. Ki-Moon said he had received intelligence reports that weapons are being smuggled across the border from Syria to arm Hizbullah.
"There are intelligence reports that arms are being smuggled. I am concerned by that kind of arms smuggling, which will destabilise the situation in Lebanon," he told reporters at the headquarters of the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon. Lebanese leaders and army chiefs denied the claim.
Ki-Moon also urged progress in the establishment of the international tribunal into Hariri's killing, as did German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who also flew in. Merkel said Syria should contribute to supporting Lebanese democracy so that Lebanon develops as an independent state and that it recognises Lebanon diplomatically.
But there was more good news for Syria this week when US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, visited Damascus after dropping in on Beirut. Pelosi met Assad, provoking the indignation of the White House for going against official policy of isolating the Syrian leadership and becoming the first high-ranking US official to meet the president since former President Bill Clinton met his father Hafez Al-Assad in 1994.
Berri and parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri are expected to recommence in the next few days a series of meetings they have held to try to break the domestic deadlock. Lebanon has been split since Hariri's assassination, but last summer's war plunged it into a political crisis that became an outright standoff with the resignation of six ministers last November.
But with the failure of the summit, and apparent dead-end that Saudi efforts have run into, it is not clear that either has anything new to bring to the table. Once again, all eyes are on outside developments, particularly between the US and Iran, to determine the fate of tiny, divided Lebanon.
Opposition media said that the "14th March" ruling parliamentary majority had jeopardised the dialogue on Tuesday when it handed a petition to the United Nations, calling upon it to do whatever it deemed fit to establish a tribunal, which was demanded by UN Resolution 1595. That step was widely seen as potentially paving the way for the imposition of the court using Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, by which the UN could impose the tribunal without Lebanon's official consent because Hariri's killing was deemed an act of "international terrorism".
Justice Minister Charles Rizq told reporters that while resort to Chapter 7 was legally possible, it was the "least desirable course". Use of Chapter 7 would be likely to antagonise the opposition, led by Syrian-backed Hizbullah, and at the very least exacerbate the split down the middle of Lebanese society. Qassem said that establishing the court under Chapter 7 would constitute "an attack on Lebanon".
Salem said a breakthrough with Syria over the court, perhaps through a back-room deal, would be the only route out of the current crisis. "The Syrians must be realising they have to come up with a formula to deal with the court issue. Chapter 7 is a real possibility to my mind," he said.
Ruling majority MPs gathered for the third week in a row on Tuesday outside parliament to pressure Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri to convene the legislature for its spring session. He has refused to call the session, despite opposition accusations that his actions are unconstitutional, saying that Lebanon's dangerous divide would only spread to the legislature and dialogue should resolve key issues first.
"14th March" has the parliamentary majority and accuses the opposition of attempting at Syria's behest to stall ratification of the draft law to establish the international tribunal.

Welcome to Hizbullahland
I drove to Hizbullah's stronghold in South Lebanon to survey the devastation from the war last July, to check in on the United Nations peacekeeping force and to talk to civilians who were used as human shields in the battle with Israel.
My American colleague Noah Pollak from Azure magazine in Jerusalem joined me. We went under the escort of two professional enemies of Hizbullah who work for the Lebanese Committee for UNSCR 1559, an NGO which advises and lobbies the Lebanese government and the international community on the disarmament of illegal militias.
It was probably better that way. Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah hysterically accuses Toni Nissi, the man Henry and Said work for, of heading up "the Beirut branch of the Mossad." Best, I thought, to show up in Hizbullah's bombed-out southern "capital" of Bint Jbail in a rental car rather than one that might be recognized.
It's not worth taking Hizbullah's Mossad accusation seriously. Nasrallah also says Prime Minister Fuad Saniora is a "Zionist hand" because he is pushing for Hizbullah's disarmament.
Normally you can drive from Beirut to the Israeli border in just over two hours. Lebanon, though, isn't normal right now, especially not in the south. The Israel Air Force bombed most, if not all, the bridges on the coastal highway. Reconstruction moved along quickly enough, but snarled traffic had to be rerouted around the construction sites, at times onto side roads that were too narrow and small to handle the overflow.
"What do you think about Israel's invasion in July?" I asked Said and Henry.
"Of course what Israel did wasn't good," Said said. "They only care about themselves. Hizbullah doesn't pay taxes, so the rest of us have to pay for all the infrastructure the Israelis destroyed."
"What do you think about Israel in general?" I asked. "Aside from the war in July?"
"I have nothing against Israel," Henry said. "They are good people and they do good for themselves. We need to make peace with everyone. They are open-minded people, but we have no way to communicate with them since the Syrians came."
"Is UNIFIL doing much in the south?" Noah asked from the back seat.
"The multinational forces don't have the authority to stop Hizbullah unless they are smuggling weapons out in the open," Said said. "The Lebanese army is not taking sides because of the volatile political situation and the violent clashes taking place in Beirut."
The Lebanese army has actually confiscated a small amount of Hizbullah's weapons smuggled in across the Syrian border. One of Nasrallah's recent demands is the return of those weapons, even though Hizbullah's existence as an autonomous militia is against Lebanese and international law.
Said is right, though, that the army does not have the authority to disarm Hizbullah. Hizbullah is better armed, better trained and overall more powerful than the army, which suffered 15 years of deliberate neglect and degradation under Syrian overlordship. Some of the army's top officers were also installed by the Syrians, and they are still loyal to the regime in Damascus. Most important, though, are fears that the army would break apart along sectarian lines if orders to militarily disarm Hizbullah were given. The army split during the civil war, after all, and would likely do so again. More than a third of the soldiers are Shi'ite conscripts. Many are more loyal to Hizbullah than they are to the legal authorities.
"The Lebanese army is partly controlled by Syria, not like before 1975," Henry said. "Before 1975 the Lebanese army was pro-Western and neutral toward Israel."
A SHORT WHILE after we passed through the conservative Sunni coastal city of Saida, a young man stood in the middle of an intersection and waved glossy pamphlets at cars. Said pulled alongside him and said something in Arabic.
"What is he handing out?" Noah asked and rolled down his window.
"Hizbullah propaganda," Henry replied.
Said stepped on the accelerator.
Noah tried to grab one of the pamphlets.
"I want one of those," he said. But the Hizbullah man kept the pamphlets tightly clutched in his fingers.
"He is selling them," Said said, "not giving them away."
"Oops," Noah said. "I wasn't trying to steal one."
"He doesn't care about money or propaganda," Said said. "He is watching. This is the beginning of their territory. He reports on who is coming and what they are doing."
"Whenever you see something blown up from here," Henry said, "it is because it was owned by Hizbullah people or because Hizbullah had something to do with it."
If you're familiar with Lebanese politics, it's obvious whose territory you're in just by looking at roadside political adverts and posters. The Shi'ite regions are divided between the Hizbullah and Amal parties. Amal, also known as the Movement of the Disinherited, is Hizbullah's sometime rival and sometime ally. It's a secular party that was founded by the Iranian cleric Moussa Sadr to advance the interests of the long-neglected and voiceless Shi'ites, the poorest and most marginalized Lebanese sect. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri is the chief of Amal today, and he has forged an uneasy alliance with Hizbullah and with the Syrians. Berri's face is plastered up everywhere in Amal strongholds, and Nasrallah's face is even more ubiquitous in Hizbullah territory. Occasionally you'll see both Berri and Nasrallah together.
What you rarely see in either Hizbullah or Amal areas are Lebanese flags. The Sunni, Druse and Christian parts of Lebanon are blanketed with the national cedar-tree flag, as well as those of various political parties and movements. Only the Shi'ite towns and villages are bereft of noticeable signs of patriotism.
Another striking difference between the Shi'ite regions and the rest is which kind of "martyrs" are famous. Hizbullah and Amal strongholds venerate "resistance" fighters killed in battles with Israel.
You never see anything like this in the Sunni, Christian or Druse parts of the country. Instead you'll see portraits of more liberal and moderate Lebanese who were car-bombed by the Syrians.
Billboards in and around Beirut say "No war, teach peace" and "I love life." Hizbullah would never allow anything of the sort to be erected in its parts of Lebanon, even though I know lots of Shi'ites who agree with those sentiments.
WE VENTURED deeper into the south, into the steep rolling hills that make up the region known as Upper Galilee.
"It's beautiful here," Noah said, and kept saying. He had never been there before. "This would be a great place for an artist's retreat if it weren't so dangerous."
"Beautiful country, fanatic people," Said said.
Most of the villages and towns were more or less intact.
We did, however, drive past the occasional damaged house or places where buildings recently stood and that now were fields of cleared rubble.
"Can we get out and talk to people around here?" I asked.
"I do not recommend it," Said answered. "They cannot talk freely. The watchers will come up to us if we get out of the car, and they will make sure anyone who talks to us only tells us what they are supposed to say."
Soon we reached Bint Jbail, Hizbullah's de-facto "capital" in south Lebanon. The outskirts were mostly undamaged, but the city now looks like a doughnut. Downtown was almost completely demolished by air strikes and artillery.
"So this is our victory," Said said. "This is how Hizbullah wins. Israel destroys our country while they sleep safely and soundly in theirs."
Said parked in the center of what used to be the central market area. The four of us got out of the car. Noah and I walked around, dizzied by the extent of the 360-degree devastation.
Three severe looking men walked up to Said and Henry.
"Who are they, who are you, and what are you doing?" asked the man in charge.
"They are international reporters," Henry replied. He purposely did not say we were American reporters. "They are here to document Israel's destruction of our country."
The men seemed satisfied with that answer and left us alone. Presumably they would continue to leave us alone as long as we didn't try to interview any civilians.
The photos don't do "justice" to the extent of the damage. The destruction was panoramic and near absolute in the city center.
Apparently the outskirts of town were not seen as threatening by the Israelis. Most of Bint Jbail beyond downtown was unscathed.
We got back in the car. Said looked for the road to Maroun al-Ras, the next hollowed-out southern town on our itinerary. The streets, though, were confusing now that many landmarks no longer existed. Only after a few laps around town could Said reorient himself.
"Three times on the same road, not good," Henry said.
It looked - and felt - totalitarian in Bint Jbail. Everyone watched us. If Said was right that the locals weren't allowed to speak freely (assuming they dissented from Nasrallah's party line), it must feel totalitarian to people who live there as well.
We reached Maroun al-Ras only a few minutes after leaving Bint Jbail. This was the first Lebanese village seized by the IDF during the war. The scene was familiar - much of the center of town had been reduced to rubble.
One site stood out, though. At the top of a hill overlooking the Israeli border stood a mostly intact mosque surrounded by panoramic destruction.
Israel may have overreacted in July and selected targets (the milk factory, bridges in the north, etc.) that should not have been hit. But the stark scene on the hill of Maroun al-Ras demonstrated that the Israeli military did not bomb indiscriminately as many have claimed. Unlike Hizbullah, the Israelis are able to hit what they want and they don't shoot at everything. That mosque wouldn't be standing if they dropped bombs and artillery randomly in the villages.
THE FOUR of us arrived in the Christian village of Ein Ebel just outside Bint Jbail. A man was there waiting for us who would tell us about Hizbullah's brutal siege of his town in July. First we stopped for lunch, though, and ordered some pizza and sandwiches. Henry and I sat at a table while we waited for food. Said hovered over us, as did Noah with his camera.
"We have been screaming about this conflict for 30 years now," Henry said as he dealt himself a hand of solitaire from a deck of cards in his pocket. "But no one ever listened to us. Not until September 11. Now you know how we feel all the time. You have to keep up the pressure. You can never let go, not for one day, one hour, not for one second. The minute you let go, Michael, they will fight back and get stronger. This is the problem with your foreign policy."
Leaving Beirut. Since the war, billboards in and around the capital read 'No war, teach peace' and 'I love life.'
Photo: Michael J. Totten
One on One: 'Whatever we do, we will not get peace'
"Since 1975 we have been fighting for the free world," Said said. "We are on the front lines. Why doesn't the West understand this? America can withdraw from Iraq, you can go back to Oregon, but we are stuck here. We have to stay and live with what happens."
Ein Ebel is a mere handful of kilometers from the fence on the border with Israel. It is often said that Lebanon is a victim of geography; few Lebanese are as unlucky as those who live in this small Christian town. For decades they have been caught between the anvils of the PLO and Hizbullah on one side, and the hammer of the IDF on the other.
Alan Barakat from the Ein Ebel Development Association waited for us outside a small grocery store owned by his uncle. He agreed to tell us about what happened to his community during the war in July, when Hizbullah seized civilian homes and used residents as human shields.
"There is a valley just below Ein Ebel," he said. "I will take you there later. Until the army came after the war, Hizbullah closed it. It was a restricted military area. They built bunkers there, and stored Katyusha rockets and launchers. When the war started they moved the launchers out of the valley and into our village. When the Israelis shot back, they hit some of our houses."
Hizbullah controlled Bint Jbail and Maroun al-Ras both during and before the war. Houses were used to stockpile weaponry and were often otherwise turned into military targets.
Ein Ebel, however, was used only as a place to hide and as a place from which Hizbullah could launch rockets at the Israelis. Katyusha launchers weren't placed inside houses. They were, for the most part, placed next to people's houses. Most of the property damage, then, was caused by shrapnel rather than by direct air strikes. Israeli targeting in south Lebanon wasn't random or indiscriminate. It varied considerably from place to place, depending on what Hizbullah was doing in each place.
Reconstruction had progressed more there than elsewhere. In Bint Jbail the only noticeable improvement was that most of the rubble had been cleared out of the way. Ein Ebel was less damaged, so there was less work to be done.
"Were people still living in Ein Ebel during the war?" I asked.
"Yes, of course," Alan replied. "Most of us stayed in the village for the first 18 days."
"Were people were still living in the houses that Hizbullah seized?" I asked.
"No," Alan said. "Hizbullah only took over houses that had no one in them."
We came across a crater in the middle of a residential street on the edge of town left by an Israeli artillery shell.
"Did anyone here try to stop Hizbullah?" I asked.
"How?" Alan said. "We have no weapons. Some people told Hizbullah to leave, but they pointed guns in our faces. Shut up, go back into your house, we were told."
At the southern edge of town is an open field with a direct view to the south toward Israel.
"Hizbullah could have set up their rocket launchers here instead of in town," Noah said. "It's a straight shot into Israel."
"The houses and trees gave them better cover," Alan said. "The valley below, though, gave them even better cover than the village. If that's all they cared about they would have stayed there."
WE WALKED back downtown and found another civilian who had stayed in the village during the war. He said he would happy to talk to me as long as I promised not to publish his name. He didn't even tell me his name, so he has nothing to worry about. I'll just call him "Jad."
"At what point did Hizbullah come to the village and fire their missiles?" I asked.
"During the war they took some uninhabited houses at the edge of our village and stayed there," he said.
"Uninhabited?" I asked.
"Yes, uninhabited. Nobody was there, so they took them. They were eating in there, sleeping in there and maybe doing some reconnaissance."
"Did they ever go into houses where people were still living?" I asked.
"No," he replied. "They chose specific houses because nobody was living there and nobody would know."
"Did they choose to come to this town for strategic or tactical reasons?" Noah asked. "Or was it because it's a Christian town?"
"Strategically, of course," Jad said. "It's a high peak. It is very good strategically. But they could have chosen these parts, these lands..." He gestured with his arm toward the valley below, the place Alan promised to take us next. "It would have been more protection for them than this village. So why did they come here? I think it's because it's a Christian village. They do this."
"Did anybody who lives here try to get Hizbullah to leave the village?" I asked.
"We don't have any arms," Jad said. "Hizbullah has arms. But there was this incident that happened. Next to a guy's place they were firing Katyushas - you know, missiles. They were firing from the house. This guy went out and said, 'Please, do not fire from our home, from in front of our house. My father is very ill and there are some children in the house.' They came to him and said, 'Shut up, go into your house, this is none of your business.'"
What Jad said closely matched what Alan had told me.
He then said that 18 days after the start of the war a large group of civilians decided it was time to leave Ein Ebel and flee to the north. They were no longer willing to stay while Israel fired back at Hizbullah's rocket launchers. It was too dangerous, and Hizbullah insisted on staying and endangering those who lived there.
So they fled the area in a convoy of civilian vehicles. It was safer, they figured, to travel in a group than alone.
On their way out of the village, Hizbullah fighters stood on the side of the road and opened fire with machine guns on the fleeing civilians.
I was shocked, and I asked Alan to confirm this. Was it really true? Hizbullah opened fire on Lebanese civilians with machine guns? Alan confirmed this was true.
"Why?" I had an idea, but I wanted a local person to say it.
Because, Alan said, Hizbullah wanted to use the civilians of Ein Ebel as "human shields." I did not use the phrase "human shields." These were Alan's own words.
ALAN THEN took me, Noah and Said down into the valley below the village, the previously restricted military zone where Hizbullah built bunkers, dug foxholes and stashed weapons before it moved its operations into civilian areas.
Alan told us to stay on the road because Israeli land mines might still be around. There are, perhaps, more land mines in south Lebanon than there are people.
Some camouflage netting was stashed in one of the bushes. Noah pulled it out. "Radar scattering," he said as he read the tag. "This is American."
The valley did seem like it would have provided better cover for Hizbullah than the village. The sky above was open enough that Katyusha rockets easily could be fired directly at Israel. Camouflaged foxholes and bunkers among the bushes and trees provide much better protection than houses that can be easily spotted by the IAF and that show up prominently on satellite and aerial surveillance photographs. No Israeli infantry would want to go into that valley without first softening up the area with air strikes and artillery. It was the perfect environment for ambushes and sniper attacks.
There is a destroyed bunker up ahead," Alan said as he stepped off the road. "Come on."
There was no sound in the valley but our own footsteps and breath. The cold light of dusk faintly illuminated the sky, but all was dark in the valley on the trail beneath the trees. I tried to imagine what it must have been like if Israeli soldiers walked the same path only a few months before. Did they feel like American soldiers in the jungles of Vietnam? Some Hizbullah fighters wore IDF uniforms. They used night-vision goggles. They hunkered down in foxholes and waited.
The bombed-out bunker was just up ahead under some trees. It was, indeed, very well hidden.
"If I were going to build a bunker, this is where I'd put it," Noah said.
Nevertheless, it was hit. And it was hit badly. Anyone who was inside during an air strike would surely have been killed. But I didn't see any blood or other evidence that it was occupied at the time.
We dug through the rubble. It was impossible to tell when the bunker was hit, whether it was at the beginning, the middle or the end of the war. Since there was no evidence that anyone was inside when the strike came, I assumed it was hit in the middle or at the end, after Hizbullah had already moved into the village.
Everything Alan told me about Hizbullah relocating to Ein Ebel during the war seemed to add up and match the physical evidence I could see. The valley obviously was used as a military area, and so was the village.
We walked back to the car in absolute darkness and drove for a minute or so. Alan parked alongside an open ditch next to the road.
"The Israelis were here," he said. "They left some of their food."
At my feet was an empty can of tinned fish. Some of the words on the can were written in Hebrew.
Alan was right. The Israelis were there, recently enough that no one had bothered to pick up their trash yet. I tossed the can of fish back in the ditch, thinking with a grim almost certainty that they would be back.