August 18/07

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 19,3-12. Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?"He said in reply, "Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate." They said to him, "Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss (her)?"He said to them, "Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery."(His) disciples said to him, "If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry." He answered, "Not all can accept (this) word, but only those to whom that is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it."

Knterview with Hizbullah's Sheikh Naim Qasim
The resistance lives on.Hizbullah's Sheikh Naim Qasim speaks/Al-Ahram Weekly.August 17/07

Hizbullah Owns Sophisticated Weapons to Deny Israel Air Superiority, Analyst-Naharnet. August 17/07
US risks foreign-policy blunder with plans to slap terrorist label on Iran's military.The Daily Star. August 17/07
From Afghanistan and Pakistan, a recharged jihadism is rising.By Jasjit Singh. August 17/07

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for August 17/07-Naharnet
Sfeir Against Constitutional Amendments Unless They Are Meant to Rescue Lebanon-Naharnet
David Welch to Discuss Tribunal, Syria in France.Naharnet
U.S. Signs Weapons Deal With Israel to Counter Iran-Hizbullah-Naharnet
Bomb Kills One, Wounds Three at Junk Yard-Naharnet
Netherlands to Host Hariri Court-Naharnet
Army Resorts to Aerial Bombardment to Finish up Militants-Naharnet
Syrian killed in Lebanon bomb explosion.Ya Libnan
Jihadist Killers Use God, Guns to Win Recruits in Lebanon Camps.Bloomberg
Iran builds a presence in Lebanon.Los Angeles Times
Former Lebanon terrorism suspect jailed for Sydney shooting.ABC Online

Nassib Lahoud joins race for Lebanon's top post.Daily Star
Dutch set conditions for hosting Hariri tribunal
-Daily Star
France circulates draft to extend UNIFIL mandate
-Daily Star
Nassib Lahoud joins race for Lebanon's top post
-Daily Star
Future Movement MP rejects Suleiman's 'political advice'
-Daily Star
Helicopters bomb underground bunkers at Nahr al-Bared
-Daily Star
PLO to reshuffle command chain in Lebanon
-Daily Star
Accidental explosion kills Syrian in Bekaa
-Daily Star
'We have to take Nasrallah seriously,' says Israeli minister
-Daily Star
UNIFIL troops block work on overpass by Iranian team
-Daily Star
Foreign Ministry row stalls summit invite
-Daily Star
Interior minister meets with US officials to gain support for ISF
-Daily Star
Failure to modify boycott of PA was damaging
-Daily Star
UNRWA urges better refugee conditions
-Daily Star
Death toll from attacks in northern Iraq rises to 400
-Daily Star


Sfeir Against Constitutional Amendments Unless They Are Meant to Rescue Lebanon
Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir said Friday he was against constitutional amendments unless they were for the sake of Lebanon's salvation "because the constitution is not a game." "In principle, I object constitutional amendments … But I do not object if (amendments) will salvage the country," Sfeir said in an interview with the daily As Safir. "I am with the law, with the constitution, with discipline. What is going to happen? I don't know. If the army commander can rescue the country, then he is welcome," Sfeir said. Sfeir totally rejected a proposal that called for electing a new president for a two-year term.
"I'm against a president for a two-year (limit) because such a president may not accept the term and will do what he has to do to extend (his term)," Sfeir feared.
Sfeir perceived no wrongdoing in the formation of a secular state, but pointed out that the problem was that the "other" sects are more attached to their confessions than they are to their country. "This is shameful."
"In other countries, they resolved the problem by declaring a secular state. Can we do the same here, in the sense that all citizens are equal before the law?" asked Sfeir. Responding to a question that claimed Lebanon had been created for the sake of Maronites, Sfeir said: "…Of course, they (Maronites) were the first to arrive here, among others … then a lot of confessions arrived, for which each has its own structure and we have to respect one another."
"But if we want to form a secular state, everything has to be changed," Sfeir asserted, wondering whether the religious sects would accept that. "There are sects that would not agree," he concluded. Beirut, 17 Aug 07, 07:46

Hizbullah Owns Sophisticated Weapons to Deny Israel Air Superiority, Analyst

Hizbullah possesses sophisticated weapons to deny Israel air superiority over Lebanon, retired Lebanese army Gen. Elias Hanna said after Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah promised Israel a "big surprise" if it attacked Lebanon. In a speech marking the first anniversary of the cease-fire that ended the Israel-Hizbullah war Aug. 14, Nasrallah warned Israel against striking Lebanon. "You Zionists, If you think of launching an aggression against Lebanon, I won't promise you surprises like those that have happened, but I promise you a big surprise that could change the course of war and the destiny of the region, God willing," Nasrallah said.
Nasrallah did not elaborate on his threat but reiterated that his group possessed long-range rockets that could reach deep into Israel. Nasrallah has earlier said Hizbullah possesses 33,000 rockets. His comments have not been independently confirmed, and the number and type of weapons Hizbullah owns are not known.
The U.N.-brokered cease-fire that ended the war a year ago demands that Hizbullah disarm and prohibits the group from receiving arms shipments.
But Hizbullah has refused to lay down its arms, saying the weapons were needed to defend Lebanon against Israeli threats.
Retired army Gen. Elias Hanna told The Associated Press that he believes Nasrallah's speech shows that Hizbullah possesses thousands of advanced anti-aircraft missiles. "Israel has air superiority. So Hizbullah must act to deny Israel this superiority by using advanced anti-aircraft missiles," Hanna said.
He said that in addition to Hizbullah's possession of long-range missiles, "there is a possibility that Hizbullah may have some sleeper cells inside Israel that could be activated in the event of war." He also warned that Hizbullah could have sleeper cells abroad, though the militant group has denied this allegation.
In Israel, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said while there has been an improvement in security situation on Israel's northern border, concerns still remain.
"We are concerned, however, as to continued attempts of Hizbullah to rearm. Specifically, we are concerned that there is a flow of illicit weapons from Iran and Syria to Hizbullah in direct violation of the U.N. resolution, and we believe the international community should act against countries who by continuing to supply weaponry to Hizbullah are acting to undermine a U.N. security council resolution," Regev said. Israeli Cabinet Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer also said he recommended taking Nasrallah's comments seriously.
"Nasrallah has never lied. He is cocky, he is arrogant, but at least from our experience with him, to my regret, what he has said, he has done. And when he says 'I have 20,000 missiles' I believe him," Ben-Eliezer told Israel's Army Radio on Wednesday. Earlier this month, the U.N. Security Council expressed "grave concern" at reports of arms smuggling to Lebanon, but dropped a direct call to Syria and Iran, Hizbullah's main allies, to enforce the U.N. arms embargo. The council also voiced "deep concern" about recent statements by Nasrallah "that it retains the military capacity to strike all parts of Israel." The war erupted on July 12, 2006, when Hizbullah fighters crossed the border into Israel and attacked an Israeli patrol, killing three soldiers and capturing two. More than 1,000 Lebanese and 159 Israelis were killed in the war.(AP-Naharnet) Beirut, 16 Aug 07, 07:30

Nassib Lahoud Enters 2007 Presidential Race
Former legislator Nassib Lahoud announced he is running for President. He said that he was currently working on finalizing his presidential platform.
By announcing his candidacy, Nassib Lahoud became the third leader from the pro-government March 14 coalition to announce his candidacy for the September 25 elections. The other two presidential candidates are deputies Butros Harb and Robert Ghanem. Harb said he would formally announce his candidacy for the presidential post after nascompletion of his platform around the end of August. Beirut, 17 Aug 07, 12:15

David Welch to Discuss Tribunal, Syria in France
Top American diplomat for Middle East affairs will travel to France, Libya and Oman next week to discuss Syria, which has been implicated in a U.N. probe over the 2005 murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, and efforts to resolve the Palestinian issue. U.S. State Department said Thursday that David Welch's first stop will be Paris. They will talk about "the US-French partnership on supporting Lebanon, supporting (efforts to) bringing to justice the killers of former prime minister Hariri," said department spokesman Sean McCormack.  The Netherlands plans to host the international court that will try suspects in Hariri's murder. The tribunal will also have jurisdiction over other attacks against anti-Syrian Lebanese figures carried out between October 2004 and December 2005 if they are linked to the Hariri slaying.
In Libya, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs Welch will help lay the groundwork for a potential visit by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Tripoli.
Rice had expressed willingness to visit Libya soon, following the recent return to Bulgaria of six medics freed from life sentences in the north African state.
U.S. President George Bush had recently named a US ambassador to Libya for the first time in decades and Rice's trip could signal the beginning of a new era in relations. In May 2006, Washington renewed diplomatic ties with Libya, ending a 25-year-old diplomatic battle with Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi and taking the country off the US list of nations accused of supporting terrorism. In Oman, Welch will discuss regional issues, including Iraq and efforts to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict, McCormack said.
The United States is striving to forge a deal for the establishment of a Palestinian state ahead of an international meeting called for by Bush in the last three months of 2007. Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said last week he had positive talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the West Bank city of Jericho, the first time in seven years that such a high-level meeting has taken place on Palestinian territory.(AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, 17 Aug 07, 11:12

Army Resorts to Aerial Bombardment to Finish up Militants
Lebanese army helicopters pounded Fatah al-Islam positions in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in a bid to quash Islamist militants who have been holed up there for close to three months. Two helicopters dropped four bombs while two others hovered nearby, an Agence France Presse correspondent reported.
Aerial bombardments have become a prominent feature of the army's campaign against the militants of Fatah al-Islam over recent weeks.
"We are using air strikes as shelling them with tank fire is no longer effective or sufficient," said an army spokesman.
"We are trying to clear the small area around where the Islamists are holed up so that our tanks and military equipment can get through," he added.
Army Commander in Chief General Michel Suleiman said on Tuesday that only around 70 Fatah al-Islam fighters are left in the camp, dug in to subterranean shelters that the military is trying to break through. Most of the 31,000 refugees for whom the camp was home fled at the start of the fighting which began on May 20 and which has killed more than 200 people, including 136 soldiers. It is not known how many Islamists have died.(AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, 17 Aug 07, 09:51

U.S. Signs Weapons Deal With Israel to Counter Iran-Hizbullah
The United States signed a deal on Thursday to boost its military aid to Israel to 30 billion dollars over the next decade aimed at countering a "resurgent" Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas. "The United States has an abiding interest in the state of Israel," U.S. Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns said before signing the memorandum of understanding for the aid package with the director general of the Israeli foreign ministry in Jerusalem.
"The United States understands that Israel lives in an increasingly dangerous region ... where Iran is resurgent, where Iran is seeking a nuclear capability, where it is seeking to expand its conventional power," he said. "There is now a nexus of cooperation between Iran, Syria, Hezbollah ... and other groups that are responsible for conflict in this region," including the Palestinian Hamas, he said.
A statement from the office of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who met the U.S. envoy late Wednesday, said the deal "illustrates the depth of the relationship between the two countries and the commitment of the United States to the defense of Israel and preserving its qualitative superiority."
The package, unveiled by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on July 30, is part of a new military pact with U.S. allies in the region aimed at countering the "negative influences" of the Al-Qaida terror network, Lebanon's Hizbullah militant group and arch-enemies Iran and Syria.
The bonanza includes a 20-billion-dollar weapons package for Saudi Arabia, one of 13 billion dollars for Egypt, and reportedly arms deals worth at least 20 billion dollars for other Gulf allies. The aid to Israel reflects an increase in value of more than 25 percent, with Olmert describing it as a considerable improvement and an important element for national security. With current U.S. defense aid to Israel standing at 2.4 billion dollars a year, the new package will raise the value of assistance by 600 million dollars a year on average, officials said.
The total 30 billion dollar figure represents almost 4,286 dollars for each Israeli citizen. The deal includes what Burns described as a "unique" clause to U.S. military foreign aid, which allows Israel to use 26.3 percent of the annual aid to buy equipment from its own defense industry.
Burns, who will stay in the region until Friday, will meet other senior Israeli officials later on Thursday for "discussions on regional security, including the challenge posed by Iran," the U.S. State Department said. Washington and Israel, which is widely considered to be the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear power, are increasingly alarmed by Iran's nuclear program, which they suspect is a cover for developing atomic weapons. Tehran insists the program is for peaceful, civilian energy purposes.
Israel views the Islamic republic as its arch-enemy after repeated calls by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for it to be wiped off the map.(AFP-Naharnet)
Beirut, 16 Aug 07, 14:50

Bomb Kills One, Wounds Three at Junk Yard
A bomb exploded at a junk yard in east Lebanon's Bekaa Valley Thursday killing one person and wounding three people, police reported. The Fatality was identified as Hassan Qadry, owner of the lot in the village of al-Rawda near the provincial capital of Zahleh.The blast also wounded Qadry's three sons who work at the family business, a police statement said. Police sappers searched the yard for further bombs as ambulances evacuated the victims to hospitals in the Bekaa, the state-run National News Agency (NNA) reported. It did not disclose further details. Beirut, 16 Aug 07, 14:37

The resistance lives on
Hizbullah's Sheikh Naim Qasim speaks to Omayma Abdel-Latif about the resistance movement one year after the US-backed Israeli war on Lebanon
There will be no fresh war in the near future between Hizbullah and Israel, according to the Islamic resistance movement's deputy secretary-general. Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly from his office in Dahiya, Beirut, Sheikh Naim Qasim said Hizbullah does not expect an imminent Israeli attack. He also stressed that the party does not intend to attack Israeli targets for the time being.
"From day one, our resistance has been one of self-defence. We do not initiate war against the enemy; rather we respond when we are being attacked," Sheikh Qasim said. Qasim adds that in the belief of Hizbullah, Israel did not restore its capacities to wage war on Lebanon. "Any adventure in that direction is likely to implicate Israel in a deadlock that is much more complex than the July [2006] war. We therefore believe that Israel is incapable of launching an aggressive war during the forthcoming period."
Hizbullah, continued Qasim, remains vigilant and continues its preparations for worst-case scenarios.
When asked if Hizbullah would respond if Iran and Syria -- said to be its two regional allies and backers -- are attacked by the US and/or Israel, Qasim responds: "Iran can defend itself and Syria can defend itself if attacked. But the question is what form this aggression will take. This aggression might extend to include other parties in the region, and since we don't know what form the aggression will take, we cannot rule out any possibility. What we can say is that the region will be extremely in danger."
Regarding Lebanon, Qasim says that the current political conflict can be summed in one theme: refusing a US mandate over Lebanon, or accepting it. "If we, as Lebanese political forces, can reach an understanding over issues of contention we can then stop the US mandate over Lebanon. The problem lies in this," he said.
On Tuesday, Lebanon commemorated one year after the end of the 33-day US- backed Israeli war last summer that left 2,023 civilians dead and 3,740 wounded, razing to the ground entire villages and towns in south Lebanon. Lebanon's Shia population were made to pay the heaviest price during the war. The ostensible goal was to break its support and sympathy for Hizbullah, destroying the resistance movement's social and political base.
The reverse effect occurred. Qasim says that the party's popularity in the aftermath of the war was never higher. "Sympathy for the party grew during and after the war, and so too our popularity. We have full support from our constituency." Qasim points out that Hizbullah has been inundated with requests, most from Lebanese youth, to join the resistance.
Qasim dismisses reports of a decline in the movement's popular standing after its soaring popularity during Israel's war. "The model the resistance presents continues to command the ability to mobilise across the region. By this I mean the cultural and spiritual mobilisation that is achieved by taking the example of the ethos of resistance. This does not necessarily mean interfering in the internal affairs of any country." Hizbullah, he continues, in resisting US hegemonic schemes and the "new Middle East" project, reflects the position embraced by Arab citizens across the Arab world. "Illusions about a decline in Hizbullah's popularity only exist in the minds of the enemies of the resistance," Qasim says.
"The resistance was able to force change and abort all attempts to establish the new Middle East through the Lebanese gate. It also proved to our partners in power in Lebanon that they should acknowledge that Hizbullah is an effective political force and that only agreement over internal policies through partnership can work -- not by dictating orders." The victory of the resistance, according to Qasim, means the Arab world is no longer easy prey for US- Israeli schemes: "One great consequence of the war is the revival of the notion of military and political resistance across the region, and on this basis Hizbullah considers itself victorious."
Hizbullah's detractors charge that the resistance's involvement in the Lebanese political scene and its opposition to the Western-backed government of Fouad Al-Siniora has turned traditional political rivalry in Lebanon between Muslim and Christian constituencies into Shia-Sunni tension between Hizbullah on the one hand and Tayyar Al-Mustaqbal (Saad Al-Hariri's Future Movement) on the other. In response, Qasim explains that the 1989 Taif Agreement, which ended the Lebanese civil war, has "protected Lebanon's sects from one another and has been fair to all of them." Any rhetoric about Sunni-Shia rivalry, Qasim continues, "has no foundation because there is a quota for every sect in a manner that cannot be infringed upon. Whatever the Sunnis or the Shias do they have a certain number of seats in parliament that will not be changed. This sectarian-based distribution of power set by Taif cannot be changed by demographic factors."
Some viewed Hizbullah's fall 2006 civil disobedience campaign as a coup against Taif. Was there any truth to this? "No one in Hizbullah's leadership made a statement about changing or amending the Taif Agreement," Qasim responds. "Our discourse has always been one of honouring Taif because it is an agreement that Lebanon reached after a period of suffering that lasted for 15 years, and therefore we cannot talk about a new agreement."
"In Hizbullah we believe that what is needed is to implement Taif and not to amend it. We were surprised that it was 14 March (the Hariri-led Western-backed parliamentary majority) that promoted a rhetoric suggesting that it is the opposition that wants to change the balance of power by talking about power-sharing ( Al-Muthalatha) between Sunni and Shia and Maronites, instead of the traditional formula of Muslims and Christians. They have made up this problem."
Qasim accuses the Western-backed government of violating the Taif Agreement by continuing to rule despite the fact that a whole sect (the Shias, led by Hizbullah) is now excluded from the power-sharing process. For Qasim, this is part of a larger attempt to stir Sunni-Shia strife in Lebanon. He acknowledged that there were forces working to sow seeds of sedition among Lebanon's Muslims. "We have confronted those attempts and we have strived to stay away from fitna (strife). Hizbullah's Secretary-General [Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah] said that even if 1,000 of us are killed we would not respond, in order to stop the strife."
Many question, however, in light of the unprecedented sectarian rhetoric embraced by key Lebanese political forces, what guarantees Hizbullah can provide that Lebanon will not slip into a replay of the 1975 opening of civil strife. Qasim acknowledges that the conditions for Sunni-Shia strife, or Muslim-Christian strife, exist because "there are those who use sectarian language day and night to stir sectarian sentiment, and we know that the Americans are pioneers of 'constructive chaos' of which sectarian strife is one form." Qasim insists, however, that there will be no sectarian strife in Lebanon because "there is a strong will on Hizbullah's part, and on the part of the Lebanese opposition in general, to prevent strife among the Lebanese. We engage in counter- mobilisation."
Qasim further denies that Hariri's Future Movement fans the flames of fitna : "It does not incite on such action; however, part of its discourse needs to be amended because there cannot be a separation between the rhetoric and practice." Qasim disclosed that meetings take place between figures in the Future Movement and Hizbullah to abort attempts to stir sectarian strife among Sunnis and Shias.
Hizbullah's position regarding the confrontation between the Lebanese army and the Fatah Al-Islam group in the Nahr Al-Bared refugee camp is, according to Qasim, proof that the resistance movement wants to steer clear of attempts to exacerbate any existing Shia-Sunni divide. "Whoever monitors our discourse lately will find that we have avoided getting into a war of words with some takfiri [one in the Muslim faith that accuses another Muslim of disbelieving] groups. Hizbullah's top priority is to confront Israel and to obstruct the US mandate over Lebanon, whereas the priorities of some takfiri groups are different altogether. If we appear to be competing with them via the media we will plunge into strife."
Qasim believes that the US-inspired classification of "moderates" versus "extremists", or rather moderate Sunni regimes versus extremist Shia regimes, "poses a great danger to our region". "The problem has never been one between Sunnis and Shias. The problem has always been with the existence of Israel that disrupted the balance in the whole region and made us pay the price of the occupation and the Israeli entity. There is no other more important problem. For example, some time ago we witnessed how Iranian-Saudi relations progressed, and relations with Egypt were improving, but US meddling disrupts this progression."
According to Qasim, Hizbullah rejects any form of "mandate", regardless from whence it comes. The Syrian mandate over Lebanon, he said, was the result of an agreement made by the Saudis, the Syrians, the French and the Americans. "There were regional and international conditions that allowed Syria to be in Lebanon. It was an international rather than an internal decision," he said. Now that Syria is out of Lebanon, the US, according to Qasim, wants to lay its hands fully on Lebanon in the service of Israeli interests and its regional schemes. "We have got to stop this mandate, but we also don't want to replace one mandate by another. We want, as Lebanese political forces, to reach an understanding amongst ourselves in order to stop any attempted foreign intervention."
Hizbullah, according to Qasim, understands the US decision to send arms supplies to some Arab countries as an attempt to goad Arab regimes into confronting Iran and Syria. "Iran and Syria are the two countries that stand in the face of US schemes in the region while other countries chose to be part of the US plan." Qasim says that Hizbullah does not believe that any of the Arab states considered part of the "axis of moderates" wants to launch a war against Iran or Syria. The US, he explained, is pushing these regimes to fulfil its own strategic interests.
"We do not fear the arming of Arab countries. I am confident they are not going to use their weapons against other Arab regimes," Qasim said. These countries, he continued, are free to take weapons from the US, but they should not become American political tools causing strife in the Arab world. "We should realise that the real crisis in the region is the Israeli occupation. We don't want to divert attention from this."
© Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. All rights reserved

Syrian Diplomat in U.S. Writes Blogs

The Associated Press
Thursday, August 16, 2007; 1:08 PM
DAMASCUS, Syria -- His job is managing Syria's stormy relations with the United States, but Damascus' ambassador in Washington still finds time to blog, writing about everything from art and music to diaper changes for his newborn daughter.
Imad Moustapha's blog _ full of personal musings and photos, even one of his wife in the hospital after their baby's birth _ is unusual for any diplomat. But it's even more surprising for an official from Syria, where the government is among the most tightlipped in the Middle East.
Damascus' ambassador in Washington Imad Moustapha talks in an interview with The Associated Press during a vacation in Damascus, Syria in this Sunday, July 8, 2007 . Moustapha's job is to deal with Syria's stormy relations with its top rival, the United States, but Damascus' ambassador in Washington still finds time to write an Internet blog about everything from art and music to diaper changes for his newborn daughter. (AP Photo/Zeina Karam) (Zeina Karam - AP)
"You have to remember that I belong to a, generally speaking, younger generation of Arab politicians. ... We are by nature more open than the older generation," Moustapha, 47, told The Associated Press during a recent vacation in Damascus.
"I have a very, very difficult post and you need an outlet, a way of escape," he said of the blog, which he began in 2005.
Moustapha's fans say his English-language blog is more than a diversion.
"It does a lot toward changing the perception of Syria and what a Syrian diplomat would be like," said Sami Moubayed, a Syrian political analyst in Damascus. "The blog has art, paintings, cultural stories. ... It does Syria a great service."
Among Americans, Syria can use all the favorable publicity it can get.
Syrian-U.S. relations have been icy at best the past few years, particularly since the time Moustapha took up his Washington job in 2004. Relations plummeted after the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, an attack which many blamed on Damascus.
The U.S. pulled out its ambassador to Syria and clamped a diplomatic boycott on the country, accusing it of destabilizing Lebanon, sending insurgents to Iraq and supporting the militant anti-Israel groups Hezbollah and Hamas.
Syria, which has for years been on a U.S. State Department list of nations that support terror, denies involvement in Hariri's assassination and calls the groups it supports legitimate resistance movements.
"It is not an easy job. Sometimes I almost feel depressed," Moustapha wrote of his job at one point.
That's about as close as he comes to discussing politics in the blog.
My blog is my personal sphere. If I want to write about politics, which I do, I would publish it in the mainstream media," he said.
Moustapha said he does not think Syrian President Bashar Assad is aware of his blog. "I never told the president about it," he said.
Damascus' ambassador in Washington Imad Moustapha talks in an interview with The Associated Press during a vacation in Damascus, Syria in this Sunday, July 8, 2007 . Moustapha's job is to deal with Syria's stormy relations with its top rival, the United States, but Damascus' ambassador in Washington still finds time to write an Internet blog about everything from art and music to diaper changes for his newborn daughter. (AP Photo/Zeina Karam) (Zeina Karam - AP)
Moustapha, who holds a doctorate in computer science from the University of Surrey in England, says he opposes the tight Internet restrictions in his country, where Web sites critical of the regime are frequently blocked.
"I do not believe that imposing restrictions is a good thing ... yet I understand that things need to move gradually," he said.
That echoes his government's position that change in Syria will take place at its own pace.
Several Syrian bloggers have been arrested for political writings on the Internet in recent years amid the explosion of blogging across the Mideast. Most bloggers based in Syria now avoid discussing politics.
In his blog, Moustapha writes about Syrian artists, his favorite books and the diplomatic hobnobbing he does on the job.
The blog is full of pictures of vacations with his wife, Rafif al-Sayed, to Europe and Santa Fe, N.M. _ and accounts of their new role as parents since the birth of their daughter, Sidra, in January.
"Rafif and I have made an agreement regarding Sidra: she was to be in charge for everything that goes into the baby, I will be responsible for every thing that comes out of her. Accordingly, I became fully responsible for changing her diapers and bathing her," Moustapha wrote.
He tells of how he put a Web cam in Sidra's nursery so he can check in whenever he misses her.
"It is not out of the ordinary nowadays that, for example, while attending a meeting at the embassy with, say, the leaders of the American Jewish pro-peace organizations, I would excuse myself for a couple of minutes, rush to my adjacent office, check my Internet browser, assure myself that Sidra is blissfully asleep" and then return to work, he wrote recently.
Moustapha said he thinks Syrians are "pleasantly surprised" when they stumble across his blog. He also hopes it changes perceptions of Syria in the United States, citing e-mails he gets from Americans voicing surprise at a different look at his country.
"A drop in an ocean, but it's a drop," Moustapha said. "And this makes me happy."