August 4/07

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 13,54-58. He came to his native place and taught the people in their synagogue. They were astonished and said, "Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds? Is he not the carpenter's son? Is not his mother named Mary and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? Are not his sisters all with us? Where did this man get all this?" And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and in his own house."  And he did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith.

The Lebanese Presidency Within the Regional Polarization.Dar Al-Hayat. August 4/07
By attending peace talks, Saudi Arabia will be putting its credibility on the line. The Daily Star. August 4/07
A popularity contest
.Al-Ahram Weekly. August 4/07

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for  August 4/07
Fires Rage at Nahr al-Bared as Army Pounds Militants-Naharnet
Bush Sends Warning Meant for Syria: Don't Meddle in Lebanon
.New York Times
Bush freezes assets of those tied to Lebanon violence-ABC News
Gemayel, Aoun Brace for Metn By-Election Battle after Compromise ...Naharnet
Pubs, Nightclubs Ordered Closed in Metn this Weekend-Naharnet
Bush freezes assets of persons undermining Siniora Cabinet -Daily Star
Arrest Warrants Issued for 6 Libyans in Sadr Disappearance Case-Naharnet
Fatah al-Islam fires rockets at power plant -Daily Star
Sfeir holds out hope for consensus in Metn by-election -Daily Star
Portugal backs efforts to establish stability in Lebanon -Daily Star
Interior minister outlines procedures to ensure security during elections -Daily Star
Lahoud refuses to hand presidency to March 14 -Daily Star
Israel delays release of report on cluster bombs -Daily Star
UN met with Hizbullah 20 times to discuss prisoner exchange -Daily Star
Sit-in protests closure of Baabda hospital -Daily Star
BLOM Bank signs 3-year deal to become main -Daily Star
As civil marriage remains firmly off the political agenda, couples head to Cyprus to say 'I do' -Daily Star
UN mediating prisoner swap between Hezbollah & Israel.Ya Libnan
Final report on 2nd Lebanon War management faces more delays-Ha'aretz
Polls in divided Lebanon test for presidential vote-Middle East Times

Gemayel, Aoun Brace for Metn By-Election Battle after Compromise Failed

Former President Amin Gemayel and Gen. Michel Aoun on Friday were braced for the Metn by-election battle after intense efforts by Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir to reach consensus failed. The daily An Nahar said that Bishop Samir Mazloum, dispatched by Sfeir to conduct negotiations aimed at reconciling the warring sides, was slated to meet jointly with representatives from Gemayel and Aoun. An Nahar said only Gemayels' delegates -- Salim Sayegh and Sijaan Qazzi -- showed up at the meeting held in Bkirki on Thursday. Gemayel and Aoun are set for the August 5 by-election showdown to fill the Metn seat left vacant by the assassination of Gemayel's son, Pierre Gemayel. By-election to fill the Beirut seat vacated by the murder of MP Walid Eido will also take place Aug. 5.
"If our efforts are not successful, then we hope our people, especially in the Metn, carry out their electoral duties in a democratic manner, without tension and avoiding conflict between the people," Sfeir said after meeting Lebanese Labor Party leader Maroun al-Khawli in Dimane on Thursday.
Aoun urged his supporters in Rabieh late Thursday to be all set and "vote your consciences," adding that the electoral battle was being fought to "assert the rights of the presidency which had been sold by the majority.""You all know Sheikh Amin (Gemayel) well," Aoun told the crowd. "I'm afraid of those who have been away and do not know him." "You all know Sheikh Amin (Gemayel) well," Aoun told the crowd. "I'm afraid of those who have been away and do not know him."
Aoun assured his followers he would reveal during a televised interview on OTV on Friday the "lies and deceptions" of his political opponents.
"Today there is an attempt to drag the country back to the 1970's mood. We will not allow this," Aoun vowed. "You can prevent it by voting."Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces, said the Metn by-election would be a vote for all of Lebanon. Geagea called for the election to be held in the spirit of sportsmanship which cannot be achieved through violence in the streets. Beirut, 03 Aug 07, 07:37

Fires Rage at Nahr al-Bared as Army Pounds Militants

Lebanese troops and Fatah al-Islam militants were engaged in fierce battles on Friday inside the northern Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared, with fires reportedly raging in the small patch still controlled by the Islamists. An AFP correspondent saw two Katyusha rockets being fired from within Nahr al-Bared camp north of Tripoli by the militants, with one projectile hitting a nearby power station.
Deir Ammar, one of the main power stations in northern Lebanon, had already been hit by several rockets on Thursday, causing damage and forcing the facility to shut down. "The station is still out of service and a new rocket hit the facility today," Marie Tawk, a spokeswoman for the state-owned electricity company, told AFP.
"I don't know how extensive the damage is but the situation has become very dangerous for employees," she added. Tawk said production at the 400-megawatt facility has halted completely, leading to six-hour power cuts countrywide except in Beirut's administrative zone. The conflict at Nahr al-Bared has caused severe electricity shortages across Lebanon in recent weeks because ships have been unable to deliver oil to Deir Ammar. Most of the camp's estimated 30,000 residents have fled since the beginning of the fighting May 20, which has killed at least 200 people, including 128 soldiers. The only civilians remaining are around 60 women and children related to the Fatah al-Islam fighters. The army has accused the Islamists of using them as human shields, but other sources have said they are staying willingly.(AFP-Naharnet)
Beirut, 03 Aug 07, 08:16

Pubs, Nightclubs Ordered Closed in Metn this Weekend

Nightclubs, pubs, cafes and other entertainment facilities in the Metn province were ordered to close down this weekend ahead of parliamentary by-elections.
The decree, issued by Mount Lebanon Governor Antoine Suleiman, orders the closure of all nightclubs, pubs, cafes and other establishments that serve alcoholic drinks. The shutting, which also includes all pigeon-hunting clubs, is effective from noon Saturday until 8 am Monday. A by-election to fill the seats of Metn and Beirut that were left vacant by the killing of Pierre Gemayel and Walid Eido is scheduled to be held on Sunday, August 5. The governor's ruling also mandated the closure of all theaters and cinemas from 9 pm Saturday until 8 am Monday, in addition to banning the use of fireworks within the Metn region. Restaurants serving food only were exempted from the decree. Beirut, 03 Aug 07, 09:29

Bush Blocks Property of Persons Undermining Lebanon's Sovereignty and Reinstating Syrian Control

U.S. President George Bush on Thursday declared a "national emergency to deal with the threat in Lebanon" aimed at undermining Premier Fouad Saniora's government, reasserting Syrian control and undermining state sovereignty. Bush's move was made in an executive order and informed to congress for immediate application. It aims at blocking property of persons undermining the sovereignty of Lebanon or its democratic process and institutions, according to a White House statement. Bush said the move aims at confronting the "threat in Lebanon posed by the actions of certain persons to undermine Lebanon's legitimate and democratically elected government or democratic institutions, "to contribute to the deliberate breakdown in the rule of law in Lebanon, including through politically motivated violence and intimidation, to reassert Syrian control or contribute to Syrian interference in Lebanon or to infringe upon or undermine Lebanese sovereignty."
The move also targets persons "contributing to political and economic instability in that country and the region. Such actions constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States," Bush said in a letter to congress. He said the order will " block the property and interests in property of persons determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to have taken, or to pose a significant risk of taking, actions, including acts of violence, that have the purpose or effect of undermining Lebanon's democratic processes or institutions or contributing to the breakdown of the rule of law in Lebanon."
It also targets persons "supporting the reassertion of Syrian control or contributing to Syrian interference in Lebanon, or infringing upon or undermining Lebanese sovereignty.""The order further authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to block the property and interests in property of those persons determined to have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financing, material, logistical, or technical support for, or goods or services in support of, such actions or any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to the order; to be a spouse or dependent child of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to the order; or to be owned or controlled by, or to act or purport to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to the order," the letter said.
Bush concluded by telling congress that "I delegated to the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, the authority to take such actions, including the promulgation of rules and regulations, and to employ all powers granted to the President by IEEPA as may be necessary to carry out the purposes of my order." Beirut, 02 Aug 07, 19:55

The Lebanese Presidency Within the Regional Polarization

Walid Choucair Al-Hayat - 03/08/07//
How is it possible for Lebanon - in light of the region's current polarization - to elect a new president of the republic? Recent developments give little cause for optimism, as regional struggles may likely have their effect on the presidential election - transforming it into yet another card to be played in these conflicts. One party sees an advantage in threatening the other with a constitutional vacuum by not voting on the president; the other sees presidential elections - regardless of the constitutionality of the process - as an tool to be used against its political adversaries.
Since certain regional actors are pushing for this vacuum in hope of thrusting Lebanon into the same chaos we observe in the region today, foreign diplomats and mediators seem to have trouble grasping that parties will retain and use the option of a constitutional vacuum if compelled to by regional actors. Thus, they lobby for a course of action that would allow the Lebanese to avoid this vacuum by electing a president through a process acceptable to both sides rather than by one side at the expense of another.
These foreign mediators, in their naïveté, fail to see that the decision to push for or avoid a constitutional vacuum is not in Lebanese hands. The opposition may brandish the threat of boycotting the presidential election as a weapon. However, behind closed doors and away from the public eye, the conversation is different. The opposition recognizes that if Syria - in an attempt to counterattack America's policy of pressure, isolation and implementing the tribunal to try to the killers of Rafiq Hariri - sees a power vacuum in Lebanon to be in its interests, it will have little choice but to oblige Syria. This is the factor behind the several calls - including by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora himself - for talks with Syria and Iran. The hope is that such talks would eliminate the ransom card held by the opposition in the form of threatening a presidential vacuum.
Several opposition members anxiously await the phone call - from Arab or foreign actors to Syria and Iran - that would allow them to steer Lebanon away from this constitutional vacuum that their allies are forcing them to pursue. For the opposition understands the detrimental effect such a vacuum would have - in both the short and long run - on their future and that of their opponents. However, in the event of such a crisis, the strategy will be to deny any responsibility for its creation and to blame it on wider regional conflicts.
In recent weeks, the signs are that these conflicts are not close to being solved:
1- The deployment of U.S. arms to the Persian Gulf states, Saudi Arabia and Israel - and the subsequent backlash from Syria and Iran
2- The welcoming by various Arab countries of U.S. President Bush's call for a regional peace summit this autumn - and the resulting condemnation from Syria, symbolized by its withdrawal from a meeting of Arab foreign ministers
3- The establishment of a council of cooperation between Egypt and Saudi Arabia due to their impression that Damascus has become too close to Tehran - and Syria's belief that their purpose is its isolation and undermining of its position
4- The statement by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner following talks with Syria and Iran that it was essential to pressure these two actors to stop harmfully interfering in Lebanon's affairs and pushing the country to war
These signs point to nothing but increasing regional polarization and tension, after Syria and Iran have begun to digest the outcome of Hamas' coup in Gaza and the end of the Mecca Accords. In light of all this, will Lebanon's presidential election remain insulated from the region's polarization? Or will Lebanon become the scene of yet another regional coup - a Gaza, Lebanon-style

By attending peace talks, Saudi Arabia will be putting its credibility on the line

By The Daily Star
Friday, August 03, 2007
Even the most optimistic analysts did not expect to see US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice make major headway this week in prodding the Palestinians and Israelis toward peace negotiations. Everyone knows that Rice's last-minute peace mission comes in the final stretch of the Bush administration's second term in office, when the secretary of state has just 17 months to try to do what a host of world leaders have spent decades trying to achieve. Rice's mission also coincides with a period of unprecedented Palestinian disunity, as well as uncertainty about the future of Israel's leadership, which lost popular backing after its foray into Lebanon last year. In other words, both time and circumstance are working against Rice.
Despite these odds, however, Rice did manage to come away from her tour with a notable prize: she secured a tacit agreement from Saudi Arabia that it would participate in an international peace conference alongside Israel this fall. This is no small feat, considering that Riyadh still officially upholds its diplomatic and economic boycott of Israel and that a sudden reversal of this policy risks angering some segments of the Saudi population. If Saudi Arabia does in fact attend the international conference this fall, the Saudi leadership will essentially be putting its credibility on the line. The royal family risks undermining its own standing at home and across the broader Arab world if they send their own members to attend a peace conference that turns out to be nothing more than a publicity stunt and a heyday for speech writers.
Rice has already tried to offer assurances that US President George W. Bush wants the conference to be more than a "photo opportunity." However, Rice has already faced Israeli resistance to the idea of using the meeting to address the final-status issues. While the Palestinians would like to get to that stage, Israel would prefer to simply sketch a rough outline of what a Palestinian state might look like, while delaying discussions about thorny issues such as borders, the status of Jerusalem and the issue of Palestinian refugees.
But the region is in desperate need of something more substantive than just an Arab-Israeli talkfest. The strains of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are now compounded with the chaos in Iraq and these two swamps are breeding extremists at an alarming rate. Perhaps nobody understands this better than the Saudis, and that is probably why they are willing to gamble on the prospect that the conference might achieve something.
It is not just Saudi Arabia that stands to lose if the conference turns out to be just for show. Failure to make real progress toward peace will no doubt empower the region's opponents of the peace process who argue that the only way to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict is with guns and bombs.

A popularity contest

A by-election in a Christian heartland this weekend will take the pulse of Lebanon's sparring factions. Lucy Fielder reports from Beirut
Sunday's by-elections in Mount Lebanon and Beirut threaten to be heated and messy, judging by this week's cacophony of mud-slinging and rhetoric from leaders and media representing Lebanon's opposing camps. At stake are two seats vacated by the assassination of MPs Pierre Gemayel and Walid Eido, both from the ruling "14th March" movement.
Most Lebanese see the vote in Metn, a predominantly Christian mountain region north of Beirut, as a referendum on the relative popularity of opposition Christian leader Michel Aoun and the "14th March" ruling movement.
Former president Amin Gemayel is contesting the seat left empty when his son Pierre was gunned down last November. Metn has been a safe seat for the Gemayel clan for decades and the Phalange Party it founded in the 1930s has its headquarters in the lofty village of Bikfaya. Pierre Gemayel's assassination is likely to rally "14th March" supporters behind his father. Large billboards of Pierre have flanked Gemayel in his rally speeches and Bikfaya held a mass commemorating its dead son this weekend. Nonetheless, the polls' favourite is Camille Khoury, candidate for Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement.
Two factions have played tug-of-war with Lebanon since the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Al-Hariri in February 2005 forced Syrian troops to withdraw. Prime Minister Fouad Al-Siniora's government and its supporters pull Lebanon towards an ever more involved United States and accuse Syria of the string of assassinations that have shaken Lebanon. At the other end of the rope, Hizbullah tries to keep Lebanon in an eastern orbit with its allies Iran and Syria.
Polls predict the Beirut seat will stay with the Sunni Future Movement of Hariri's son Saad, who heads the "14th March" parliamentary majority. A car bomb killed Hariri ally Walid Eido in June on the seafront in Beirut and the favourite to replace him is Mohamed Amine Itani. Of Lebanon's major sects, the Sunnis are overwhelmingly behind Hariri, the Shia behind Hizbullah, and the numerically small but politically significant Druze minority follows "14th March's" Walid Jumblatt. Only the Christians are significantly divided.
Aoun's alliance with Hizbullah endured Israel's bombardment of Lebanon and the ensuing internal blame- game -- with a significant proportion of Lebanese blaming Hizbullah for drawing Israel's fire by kidnapping two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border attack last July. Most observers believe the axis has cost Aoun Maronite support but he remains the single most popular Christian leader, ahead of far-right Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, a "14th March" leader.
Abdo Saad, head of the Beirut Centre for Research and Information, said a poll he conducted on Friday forecast a clear win for Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement. "But it's not easy to predict in a volatile area such as Metn, it could all change," he said. Twenty per cent of Metn voters have no political affiliation and could go either way, he said. And in shock-prone Lebanon, major upheaval before then is always possible.
Saad said he was unable to release the results of the privately commissioned poll, but the margin was clear. For Gemayel to change the result, Aoun's allies, MP Michel Murr and the Armenian party Tashnaq, would need to renege on their promised support and the former president would need to attract 70 per cent of independents. "I would be surprised if the tayyar [Aoun's FPM] didn't win," he said.
Aoun and Gemayel traded insults this week and rival supporters kicked, punched and beat each other with sticks on the streets northeast of Beirut. Gemayel described Aoun as pro-Syrian and his alliance with Hizbullah as an "alliance against nature", depicting the by- election as a "struggle for Lebanon's survival". Aoun responded by slamming the former president as a "failure" as a politician. "Not you, nor anything you boast of reaches to below my waist level," he said.
Aoun has contested the constitutionality of the election because Prime Minister Siniora signed off on it after pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud refused. After a Free Patriotic Movement legal appeal against the election failed, Aoun decided against a threatened boycott and put Khoury's name forward. However, he still portrays the contest as a battle against the violation of the constitution. The constitutional council was re-considering the validity of the election at the time of writing.
Aoun would consider the cancelling of the election a victory as much as winning the seat said Charles Harb, an American University of Beirut psychology professor and political analyst. "But if Aoun wins he'll be able to say the candidates that Hariri is putting forward lack credibility. It would put a serious dent in the '14th March' if Gemayel does not get re-elected in his own constituency."
A fierce battle for Lebanon's presidency looms in September. Former general Aoun has long had his eye on the post, traditionally reserved for a Maronite Christian under Lebanon's sectarian system. Gemayel, who was president with US backing from 1982-88 at the height of the war, may be planning to stand again. "This by- election will strengthen the hand of the winner for the presidential elections," Harb said.
He described the relationship between Aoun and Gemayel as a "tumultuous history" of "marriage ending in divorce". The two were allies during Gemayel's presidency, and in 1988 it was he who appointed Aoun, then commander of the army, as prime minister, despite the Sunni claim to that position. Parallel governments and Aoun's doomed military campaign against the Syrians were to ensue. But the two have squared off in the political dispute of the past two years.
Maronite divisions have rattled Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, who sees them as diminishing the clout of the traditionally powerful sect. He urged his followers to unite this week and appeared to hint that Aoun should bow out by pointing out the seats in question belonged to assassinated MPs. He called for the by-election to be postponed or a "consensus" MP found.
Khaled Saghieh wrote in the independent, pro- opposition Al-Akhbar newspaper last week that the patriarchate usually pleaded for "unity of the ranks" at times of electoral battle. It appeared that the patriarch was "jealous" of the other major sects, which have overwhelmingly adopted one opinion and one leader, he said.
"Thus, the Maronite patriarch came up with a special recipe that includes democracy but without threatening the unity of the ranks. What does this mean? It means simply that the Christian political leaders have no role to play and the differences and disagreements between them are secondary to the higher interests of the sect, determined by the church and its master, the patriarch from Bkirki," Saghieh wrote. © Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. All rights reserved

Arrest Warrants Issued for 6 Libyans in Sadr Disappearance Case

Examining Magistrate Samih al-Hajj, who is looking into the disappearance of Imam Moussa Sadr, issued arrest warrants in absentia for six Libyans, including ex-cabinet ministers, ambassadors and army officers.They were identified as al-Mirghany Massoud al-Toumy, Ahmad Mohammed al-Hattab, al-Hady Ibrahim Moustafa al-Saadawi, Abdul Rahman Mohammed Ghawila, Mohammed Khaleefa Hahyoun and Issa Massoud Abdullah al-Mansouri.The warrants were issued after their full names were provided to the Lebanese judiciary. Al-Hajj also issued warrants to establish the identities and whereabouts of Mahmoud Mohammed Bankoura, Ahmad al-Atrash, Abdul Salam Gloud, Issa al-Ba'ba', Ashour al-Fourtass, Ali Abdul Salam Alturaiki, Ahmad Shahti, Ahmad Massoud Saleh Ibrahim Khalifa Gandour, Mohammed al-Tarhini Mahmoud Wild Dada.The warrants could be referred to International Police (Interpol) for follow up. Beirut, 03 Aug 07, 13:57

Sfeir holds out hope for consensus in Metn by-election

Clashes break out in burj hammoud
By Hani M. Bathish
Daily Star staff
Friday, August 03, 2007
BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir on Thursday said he hoped that his efforts during the coming days to avoid an electoral battle in Metn would bear fruit, while supporters of Metn candidates clashed in the streets of Burj Hammoud in the tense run-up to Sunday's voting. "If our efforts are not successful, then we hope our people, especially in the Metn, carry out their electoral duties in a democratic and proper manner, without tension and avoiding strife between the people," Sfeir said.
No sooner had those words been uttered from Dimane than clashes erupted in Burj Hammoud between dozens of supporters of former President Amin Gemayel's Phalange Party and those of Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader MP Michel Aoun, according to witnesses. A Tashnag Party source denied that any clashes of a political nature had taken place in the mostly Armenian neighborhood.
Sfeir said there was a great need for calm, patience and wisdom. "The Lebanese are brothers, and brotherly feelings and wisdom must overcome ignorance and all things that harm the Lebanese, their future and their children's futures," Sfeir said after meeting Lebanese Labor Party leader Maroun al-Khawli in Dimane on Thursday.
Aoun addressed supporters in Rabieh Thursday evening, urging them to be ready and vote their consciences. He said the electoral battle was being fought to assert the rights of the presidency, which he said had been "sold" by the majority. President Emile Lahoud did not sign the government decree calling for the by-election in the Metn and Beirut's second district.
"I don't have to say much to convince you. You all know Sheikh Amin [Gemayel] well - I am afraid of those who have been away and do not know him," Aoun said, speaking of his political opponent in the by-election. "Let the fathers and grandfathers who know him well tell their children and grandchildren. They would be more convincing than I would."
Aoun promised his supporters he would uncover during a televised interview on OTV on Friday the lies and deceptions of his political opponents, adding that he would be silent no longer. "Today there is an attempt to take the country back to the mood of the 1970's. We will prevent this. You can prevent it by voting. You can do it. Do not think you have little impact - your impact is great," Aoun told his supporters.
Aoun slammed politicians in the ruling majority, saying they had accused him of being anti-Syrian when they were bowing to Syria before 2005, while now that Syria has left Lebanon they were accusing him of aligning himself with Syria. He dubbed those behind the accusations "slippery politicians."
"They continue to say in the media that there is an initiative to end this electoral battle," Aoun said in reference to his political opponents.
"They are lying to you, so you are not ready to vote. Be ready, elections are on Sunday as planned," he added.
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said the Metn by-election would be an election for all of Lebanon, and he renewed his call for the vote to be democratic and conducted in the spirit of sportsmanship. He said that good sportsmanship was not achieved through violence in the streets.
Liberal National Party (LNP) leader Dory Chamoun called for a strong voter turnout Sunday, saying that Gemayel represented a certain political path. Chamoun said all political differences that existed between the LNP and the Phalange Party had been set aside and he declared his support for Gemayel. He said if Aoun won the by-election, "he will present the Metn as a bouquet of flowers to Syria and its allies."
Former MP August Bakhous on Thursday also announced his support for the former president in the upcoming by-election, "out of respect for traditions." Speaking to the Now Lebanon Web site, Bakhous said it was not possible for anyone to monopolize the Christian vote, insisting that the FPM was split and that there was a lack of enthusiasm for the electoral battle among FPM allies MP Michel Murr and the Tashnag Party.
In a statement issued on Thursday, Change and Reform Bloc MP Nabil Nicholas refuted reports that Armenians in the Metn did not support the FPM and that Murr was not keeping his word. Nicholas said that Murr was "stubborn with his enemies and faithful to his allies," adding that the Armenians in the Metn were faithful and "do not stab anyone in the back."He said the State Shura Council had been politicized, as had all other institutions in Lebanon, and he said the by-elections were illegal because Lahoud had not signed the decree. Nicholas said he considered the elections a referendum and left it to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri to decide how to deal with the victorious candidates in the by-elections.
Responding to talk about the anti-Syrian FPM garnering the support of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), Nicholas said that the his party would "represent any person who finds himself unrepresented, and if the SSNP agrees with us concerning secularism, that is also good."

All pubs, cafes to close in metn Sunday

BEIRUT: Mount Lebanon Governor Antoine Suleiman issued a decree on Thursday concerning the closure of certain establishments within the Metn district, where a by-election is scheduled to be held this Sunday. The decree orders the closure of all cafes, nightclubs, pubs and places that serve alcoholic beverages, as well as all pigeon-hunting clubs, from noon Saturday until 8 a.m. Monday.
The decree also orders the closure of all theaters and cinemas from 9 p.m. Saturday until 8 a.m. Monday. The decree also bans fireworks within the Metn from noon Saturday until Monday morning.The only public establishments exempt from the decree are restaurants that serve only food.

UN met with Hizbullah 20 times to discuss prisoner exchange
Resistance rejected two-stage deal

Compiled by Daily Star staff
Friday, August 03, 2007
UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process Michael Williams revealed that the UN had met about 20 times with Hizbullah leaders concerning the exchange of the two Israeli soldiers captured last summer in return for the freeing of Lebanese prisoners.
"We have held about 20 meetings now with Hizbullah," Williams told UN Radio late on Wednesday. However, Williams said the meetings with high-ranking Hizbullah officials were not able to produce "a formula whereby there could be an exchange."
Williams said Hizbullah was not interested in a two-stage exchange deal. According to Israel's Haaretz newspaper, Jerusalem was willing to release a certain number of prisoners in the first stage of the deal, in exchange for information and proof that Israeli soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser are alive. Hizbullah has rejected the offer, insisting instead on a single exchange of all prisoners. "Now we are trying to do a deal in one phase for the repatriation of the soldiers and in return the repatriation of the Lebanese prisoners," Williams said.
Government sources in Jerusalem told Haaretz that Williams' mission was not restricted to the prisoner issue and included many other components. They said this suggested that he might not be completely well-versed in all the details of the negotiations.
Williams said, "It's about a year now since the summer war, and there is a great deal of progress in the implementation of UN Resolution 1701, and the two governments of Syria and Lebanon are both still very committed to the resolution."
Regarding the Lebanese-Syrian border issue, Williams said the UN was concerned about the presence of weapons flowing over the Syrian border to militants in Lebanon. "We have had proof of this in the last 1701 [progress] report. The Lebanese government itself provided information about weapons that have gone to the Palestinian militant groups," he said. Williams spoke about a number of indications that the weapons "had come from somewhere and may have crossed the Syrian border." With regard to the Shebaa Farms issue, Williams said that despite accomplishing much progress, the UN had still not arrived at a full settlement on the issue or the question of the Lebanese-Syrian border. He also said the UN found documents in French archives.
The Lebanese government has also submitted documents and maps, and a UN cartographer is planning to visit Israel and the Shebaa Farms area in the next few weeks. - Agencies

Polls in divided Lebanon test for presidential vote

Rouba Kabbara
AFP-August 3, 2007
BEIRUT -- Rival Lebanese factions face off this weekend in disputed elections to replace two slain MPs, in a showdown seen as a test for the country's divided Christian factions ahead of presidential polls.
Sunday's by-elections are being held to replace two anti-Syrian MPs killed earlier this year in attacks blamed by the Western-backed ruling majority on former powerbroker Damascus, which backs the Lebanese opposition.
The campaign leading up to the polls has exacerbated tensions within the Christian camp, which has been divided since the November resignation of six pro-Syrian cabinet ministers.
The polls also come amid an 11-week standoff at a Palestinian refugee camp between the army and Islamists.
The two MPs being replaced are industry minister Pierre Gemayel, a Christian member of parliament who was gunned down in a Beirut suburb November 21, and Sunni Muslim MP Walid Eido, killed in a car bombing in the capital June 13.
Although the elections to replace Eido in Beirut are virtually guaranteed to be won by the candidate of the ruling majority, the vote in the Metn region, a Christian stronghold northeast of the capital, has the country in suspense.
Former president Amine Gemayel is vying to replace his son, Pierre, while the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) of Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun has presented Camille Khoury, a doctor, as its candidate.
Observers say that the election outcome will be an indicator as to which way the Christian camp is leaning ahead of presidential elections to replace pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud by a November 25 deadline.
Parliament elects the president, traditionally a Maronite Christian, while the prime minister is a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament a Shiite Muslim.
"Aoun wants to prove that he is the only representative of the Christians and therefore the candidate for the presidential elections," Joseph Abu Khalil, an aid to Gemayel, said.
But Antoine Nasrallah, spokesman for the FPM, said that the vote will set the record straight as to which leader is more popular and where the presidential elections are headed. "If Gemayel fails, he will lose any chance for the presidential elections ... and if Gemayel wins, he will kill any ambition for Aoun to become president," Nasrallah said.
He added that he was confident that his camp will win Sunday "by a good margin."
Aoun's movement won a vast majority of the Christian vote in 2005 legislative polls, but his popularity has slipped since a shock alliance last year with the Iran- and Syria-backed Shiite militant group Hezbollah.
Tension has been rising in the country ahead of Sunday's polls in the Metn where a brawl among rival supporters last week forced the army to intervene.
A war of words between Gemayel and Aoun has also escalated, prompting influential Maronite Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir to warn that "any house which becomes divided will crumble."
Lahoud has meanwhile refused to counter-sign the government's decree on holding the by-elections, on grounds that the cabinet was "illegitimate" since the resignation of the pro-Syrian ministers.
Parliament's challenge is to elect a successor to Lahoud. The president is elected by a two-thirds majority in parliament, failing which a second round is held with only an absolute majority needed.
While the majority controls enough seats to elect a president, it still needs the opposition to take part for the two-thirds quorum that parliament traditionally needs to convene.