December 03/07

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 24,37-44. For as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. In (those) days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. So will it be (also) at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.

Releases. Reports & Opinions
Clear as mud-
By: Sami Moubayed -Al-Ahram Weekly-December 02/07

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for December 02/07
March 14 Alliance Cleares Baabda Way for Army Chief Suleiman-Naharnet
Ahmadinejad: Enemies can't harm strong ties with Syria-International Herald Tribune
EU must help find Mideast peace: Syria-EUbusiness (press release)

Significant Meeting between Gemayel, Geagea, Suleiman-Naharnet
Lebanon's Unease-New York Times
Lebanese-American pleads guilty in bid to aid Hezbollah
-Ya Libnan
One PA - with Hamas-Ha'aretz

Aoun - Murr parliamentary alliance is falling apart-Ya Libnan
Berri's Amal Accuses Feltman of Violating Diplomatic Rules-Naharnet
US Seems to Soften Syria Stance.Wall Street Journal
U.S. may be softening Syria

A Year On, 'Tent City' Paralyzes Beirut-The Associated Press
Hezbollah Hints at Support for Suleiman-Washington Post
Syrian archeologists discover ancient remains among famous ruins-International Herald Tribune

March 14 Alliance Cleares Baabda Way for Army Chief Suleiman
March 14 Alliance announced that it would accept army chief General Michel Suleiman as a compromise candidate for the vacant presidency, clearing the way to an end to a year-old stand-off with the opposition. The coalition "announces that it is going back on its initial opposition to an amendment to the constitution and... is supporting the candidacy of General Michel Suleiman for president," said a statement read by former president Amin Gemayel, a leading Christian coalition politician.
The meeting was held at the fortified Phoenicia Hotel were 40 Majority MPs have been residing for fear of assassination. The change of policy was intended to "put an end to the vacancy in the presidency" since pro-Syrian head of state Emile Lahoud stepped down last month without a successor in place, Gemayel said in the statement broadcast by Lebanese televisions. Suleiman's candidacy requires a change to the constitution as Article 49 bars public servants from acceding to the presidency within two years of stepping down. Coalition politicians had expressed opposition to any new change to the constitution after their regional foe Syria pushed through an amendment in 2004 paving the way for a three-year extension to Lahoud's term of office.(AFP)  A significant meeting took place Saturday at the Defense Ministry in Yarz between Suleiman, Gemayel and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea Sources said the atmosphere of the meeting which lasted for two hours was "very satisfactory." and it paved the way for the broader gathering today. Beirut, 02 Dec 07, 08:53

Hezbollah Hints at Support for Suleiman
Sunday December 2, 2007 12:46 AM
Associated Press Writer
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) - A senior Hezbollah official said Saturday that the militant group holds army commander Michel Suleiman in high regard, further improving his chances of becoming Lebanon's next president and averting a political crisis.
Hezbollah deputy leader Sheik Naim Kassem's comments came two days after the group's ally, Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun, said he will back Suleiman as a compromise candidate for president.
The parliamentary majority also expressed its support for Suleiman this week, setting up a potential resolution to months of conflict with the Hezbollah-led opposition over choosing President Emile Lahoud's successor
``We, in Hezbollah, ... have a positive view of Gen. Michel Suleiman in addition to our appreciation of Gen. Michel Aoun's stance and consider this alternative as a serious one,'' the white-turbaned cleric said on Hezbollah's al-Manar TV.
``There is a major opportunity for discussion in order to reach an accord on presidential elections,'' Kassem added.
Hezbollah officials have in recent days linked their support for any presidential candidate to Aoun's stance. Now that Aoun has publicly supported Suleiman, Kassem's comments were viewed as implicit support for the army commander.
Parliament is scheduled to meet Friday to vote for a new president. For Suleiman to be elected, the Parliament will have to amend the constitution, which prevents senior state employees, including army commanders, from running for the post while in office.
The army chief is seen as a neutral figure who can appeal to both the Western-supported majority and the pro-Syrian opposition, which is backed by Damascus.
The nation's top post has been vacant since pro-Syrian Lahoud left office without a successor on Nov. 23 because the feuding groups could not agree on a compromise candidate.
Failure to elect a president left Lebanon with a leadership vacuum not seen since the civil war, when rival governments ran the country in 1988-89.
The United States, which backs the government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, has in the past pressed to end Syria's influence in Lebanon. Syria's allies in Lebanon, in turn, have accused Saniora of selling out the country to the Americans. Meanwhile, some 5,000 opposition supporters held a rally in downtown Beirut to mark the first anniversary of a sit-in near Saniora's headquarters. The demonstration aimed to unseat Saniora's Western-backed government but has so far failed to do so.
Hezbollah legislator Hussein Hajj Hassan said at the rally that the opposition was ready for an agreement on a compromise president but would continue the sit-in if no agreement was reached. ``The Lebanese national opposition is ready for a political settlement through a compromise president and a partnership government,'' said Hajj Hassan. ``It is also ready, as this rally shows, today to continue with its (current) move.''

Significant Meeting between Gemayel, Geagea, Suleiman
A significant meeting took place between Commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces Gen. Michel Suleiman, former President Amin Gemayel and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea in a bid to embrace the army chief. Sources said the atmosphere of the meeting which took place Saturday at the Defense Ministry in Yarze was "very satisfactory." The daily An Nahar said Sunday the meeting which lasted nearly two hours also aimed at paving the way for a broader gathering of the ruling March 14 coalition in order to take a unified stance toward Suleiman's candidacy. Beirut, 02 Dec 07, 08:53

Lebanon - Overview
The current president of Lebanon is Emile Lahoud who was recently granted another term by the Lebanese parliment in September 2004 under great pressure from Syria. Though Lahoud is President and exercises considerable influence due to the backing of Syria, he is not the official commander-in-chief of the Lebanese Armed Forces. Lebanon has a unique system of government that shares power among the country's religious sects. The constitution of the country was amended in 1991, under a plan for national reconciliation called the Ta'if Accord. The accord established a new political order in which Muslims and Christians share legislative power through a unicameral National Assembly. Hizbollah, once a ragtag militia, is currently one of the most powerful parties in the National Assembly, occupying 12 of the National Assembly's 128 seats. It is a Shiite Muslim organization led by Sheik Hassan Nasrallah with 20,000 active members. Founded in 1982, Hezbollah has twin objectives -- the destruction of Israel and the creation of an Islamic state in Lebanon. The party runs hospitals, television stations and newspapers and is widely supported by the Lebanese. The Lebanese government regards Hizballah's mission as a legal resistance against Israel and allows it to operate freely within the country so long as the organization adheres to the law.
General Michel Sleiman is the current commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces. He has been in the Army since 1976 and slowly climbed up the chain of command finally being appointed as commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces in 1998. The Lebanese Armed Forces underwent their last transformation in 1991 and currently maintains a standing army of approximately 60,000 men. However, the miltary branches are not a balanced for joint military operations. The Navy and Air Force are vastly underfunded compared to the Ground Forces and lack the resources and equipment of a capable modern military. The Navy relies on small tracker boats and the Air Force mainstay are helicopters from the United States. In practice, both the Navy and Air Force are components of the internal security forces because their missions and operations are focused on domestic concerns.
The earlier incarnations of the Lebanese Armed Forces were marred by infighting, internal upheaval and general ineffectiveness as a national army. After the 1982 Israeli invasion, President Amin Jumayyil was convinced that a strong and unified army was necessary to rebuild the nation. He announced plans to create a 12-brigade 60,000-man army which would be equipped with French and American arms and trained by French and American advisers. He also planned to increase The Internal Security Forces to 20,000 men. Unfortunately weak recruiting could muster only about 22,000 men and the government decided on November 24, 1982, to impose a conscription law called the Law of Service to the Flag. The conscription law mandated one year of military service for eligible males. Additionally, other changes saw hundreds of new appointments were made on a nonsectarian basis.
The United States was instrumental in helping the Lebanese government rebuild the armed forces. In 1982 the United States proposed a Lebanese Army Modernization Program to be implemented in four phases. The first three phases entailed organization of seven full-strength, multiconfessional army brigades, to be created from existing battalions. The fourth phase focused on rebuilding the Navy and Air Force. The total cost of the first three phases was estimated at US$500 million but the United States pledged to pay US$235 million of this sum, with the Lebanese government paying the balance.
Initial progress was rapid. A new tank battalion equipped with M-48 tanks donated by Jordan was established and a new supply depot was built at Kafr Shima. About 1,000 vehicles, including hundreds of M-113 armored personnel carriers, were also transferred from the United States to Lebanon.
Still, there was a lack of effective military leadership which remained the Achilles heel. United States experts were aware of this problem and devoted considerable resources to solving it. A cadre of Lebanese lieutenants was given infantry officer basic training in the United States. Then a team of eighty United States military advisers, including fifty-three Green Berets, provided officer training in Lebanon. Lebanese officers were also attached to the United States MNF contingent for training in military unit operations.
Despite all these changes, new training and new equipment the Lebanese Army was routed in the 1983-84 battles in the Shuf Mountains and all suffered defeats by militia forces in West Beirut. In 1988, General Aoun who was Interim Prime Minister, declared a “War of Liberation” against the Syrians. Several months of fierce fighting followed but General Aoun has temporarily defeated Syria and its militia allies. The General's next campaign to absorb some of the remaining Lebanese militias met with disaster and months of fighting brought enormous losses and the destruction of Lebanese air and navla bases. Syria capitalized on Aoun's weak position and launched an air strike at the Presidential palace and the Ministry of Defence, followed by heavy artillery shelling. After he realized he could not win, Aoun surrendered and went to exile in France.
Following Aoun's departure a new pro-Syrian government rebuilt the army again into its current form.
The Lebanese Armed Forces are not the only military force in Lebanon which at its height during the civil war was the battleground for 40 different armies. Syria maintained approximately 20,000 troops in the country a visible reminder of the power they have with the government. The Syrians originally had upwards of 30,000 troops in Lebanon but lowered its troop numbers after Israel withdrew from south Lebanon in 2000. Hizballah also has their own militia force of approximately 3,000 mostly located near the southern border in the Bekaa valley.
The autonomy of Lebanese Armed Forces' officials was limited due to widespread Syrian influence with government officials. Syria played a key role in Lebanese affairs and makes sure that high-ranking government officials are sypathetic to Damascus and Syrian interests. Consequently, international pressure on the Lebanese government and military officials to take action against groups like Hizballah that are operating in the country had little effect.
As of 2003 approximately 20,000 Syrian troops occupied the north of Lebanon above Tripoli, the Beqaa Valley north of the town of Rashayah, and the Beirut-Damascus highway. These numbers compare to 35,000 troops at the beginning of Syria's occupation. Between May 1988 and June 2001, Syrian forces occupied most of west Beirut. In October 1989, as part of the Taif agreements, Syria agreed to begin discussions on possible Syrian troop withdrawals from Beirut to the Beqaa Valley, two years after political reforms were implemented (then-Lebanese President Hirawi signed the reforms in September 1990), and to withdraw entirely from Lebanon after an Israeli withdrawal. While Israel has, according to the United Nations, complied with its obligations, the Syrian withdrawal discussions, which should have started in September 1992, had not begun as of early 2004.
A September 2004 vote by the Chamber of Deputies to amend the constitution to extend President Lahoud's term in office by 3 years amplified the question of Lebanese sovereignty and the continuing Syrian presence. The vote was clearly taken under Syrian pressure, exercised in part through Syria's military intelligence service, whose chief in Lebanon had acted as a virtual proconsul for many years. The UN Security Council expressed its concern over the situation by passing Resolution 1559, also in September 2004, which called for withdrawal of all remaining foreign forces from Lebanon, disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias, the deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces throughout the country, and a free and fair electoral process in the presidential election.
Former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 19 others were assassinated in Beirut by a car bomb on February 14, 2005. The assassination spurred massive protests in Beirut and international pressure that led to the withdrawal of the remaining Syrian military troops from Lebanon on April 26. In the months that followed Hariri’s assassination, journalist Samir Qassir and Lebanese politician George Hawi were both murdered by car bombs, and most recently, Defense Minister Elias Murr narrowly avoided a similar fate when a car bomb exploded near his convoy. The UN International Independent Investigative Commission (UNIIIC) headed by Detlev Mehlis iinvestigated Hariri’s assassination and reported its findings to the Security Council.
Parliamentary elections were held May 29-June 19, 2005 and the anti-Syrian opposition led by Sa’ad Hariri, Rafiq Hariri’s son, won a majority of 72 seats (out of 128). Hariri ally and former Finance Minister Fouad Siniora was named Prime Minister and Nabih Berri was reelected as Speaker of Parliament. Parliament approved the first “made-in-Lebanon” cabinet in almost 30 years on July 30. The new cabinet’s ministerial statement, a summary of the new government’s agenda and priorities, focuses on political and economic reform.
On July 12, 2006 members of Hizballah infiltrated the Lebanese-Israeli border near Shtula, an Israeli farming village, and claimed responsibility for an ambush conducted on two Israeli Army Hummvees. The attack resulted in the capture of two Israeli soldiers and the deaths of three others. Five more Israeli soldiers were killed in the ensuing pursuit of Hizballah members into Lebanese territory. The combined capture of two soldiers and the deaths of 8 others; was considered the worst loss for Israeli military forces in more than four years. Hizballah also claimed responsibility for two separate Katyusha rocket attacks on Israeli towns resulting in the death of 1 civilian and the injury of 25 others.
The 12 July 2006 attack resulted in immediate retaliation by the Israeli military, which responded to the hostilities against their troops and citizens by bombing roads, bridges, and power plants inside Lebanon. The specific targeting of al-Manar, the Hizballah controlled television station, and the Lebanese international airport as well as the blockading of Lebanon’s sea ports was an attempt to force the return of the captured Israeli troops and place greater pressure on Hizballah. These retaliatory actions by Israel resulted in the deaths of dozens of Lebanese civilians and threats of further rocket attacks by Hizballah. Additionally, on July 18, 2006 Israeli strikes killed 11 Lebanese soldiers, while Hezbollah rockets killed an Israeli in Nahariya. The 11 Lebanese soldiers were killed at a barracks east of Beirut.

Where Living in Fear Starts at the Top
Published: December 2, 2007
For more than a year, fearing assassination, the prime minister has lived in his office in the ornate government building, surrounded by concentric circles of barbed wire, soldiers and armored vehicles that separate him from antigovernment demonstrators. Some 40 members of Parliament from the razor-thin majority are holed up in the luxurious, gaudy Phoenicia Hotel a few blocks away, behind three tiers of metal detectors, internal security police and drawn curtains. The two majority leaders are in fortress-like family palaces, one high in the mountains, the other with surrounding city streets sealed off for blocks.
Answer: Lebanon, where one good barometer of whether it is moving toward a peaceful future is how safe — or threatened — the nominal leaders feel, living in the shadow of Syria.
Assassination is, so to speak, a way of life in Lebanon; by one count there have been at least 36 assassinations of major political figures in the country’s 64 years of independence. It is particularly dangerous to be president or prime minister. And the last two years have been as dangerous a time as any.
It was the assassination of a former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in 2005 that set off demonstrations and international condemnation that forced the end of nearly 30 years of domination by Syria. A United Nations investigation has implicated Gen. Asef Shawket, the head of Syrian military intelligence and brother-in-law of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad. Four top Lebanese security officers have been arrested.
But even with its troops withdrawn, Syria retains allies and agents in Lebanon. And Lebanese politics have been deadlocked between the Western-backed March 14 Coalition of Sunni Muslims, Druse and Christians on one side, against the Syrian-backed Shiite Muslims of Hezbollah and some Christians.
France, once Lebanon’s ruler, left a system that favors the Christians: The president is a Maronite Catholic, the prime minister a Sunni; Parliament’s speaker is a Shiite and seats are allocated by sect. To keep the balance, there has been no census since 1932.
Last week, the country seemed to be easing an impasse over finding a new president whom all sides might trust. A consensus was reached on a constitutional amendment that would allow a serving general, Michel Suleiman, to be elected by Parliament.
But even if the deal holds, the lawmakers may stay barricaded — haunted by the list of anti-Syrian figures assassinated since Mr. Hariri was: Antoine Ghanem, Walid Eido and Pierre Gemayel, Parliament members; Samir Kassir and Gibran Tueni, journalists; and George Hawi, the Communist Party leader.

Clear as mud
By: Sami Moubayed
Al-Ahram Weekly-29/11/07
Last Christmas, the Maronite Patriarch Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir told Lebanese Christians, "Do not be afraid." At first glance, the Lebanese did not seem afraid, not a bit. Despite all the turmoil they were going through, they still managed to put up their Christmas trees, go to nightclubs, dine at fancy restaurants and attend Fayruz. At second glance, however, the Lebanese had every reason to be afraid back then, and even more so today, one year later. Lebanon continues to suffer from the Israeli war in 2006, and the continued assassinations that have badly hit Lebanon's economy -- and tourism -- since 2005. Then came the massive sit-in launched by the Hizbullah-led opposition starting 2 December 2006 which at the time of writing, continues, with the aim of bringing down the cabinet of Prime Minister Fouad Al-Siniora. Now comes vacancy at the Presidential Palace.
On 23-24 November 2007, Beirut seemed divided between those rejoicing at the exodus of President Emile Lahoud and those paying homage to a man whom they considered a great struggler, due to his nine-year alliance with Hizbullah and the Syrians. Lahoud left a vacant post at Baabda Palace. After weeks of negotiations, the Lebanese were unable to agree on a replacement. Neighbourhoods loyal to parliamentary majority leader Saad Al-Hariri celebrated with fireworks and young people dancing in the street. Those occupied by Hizbullah and the Amal movement of Nabih Berri were quiet, filled with glowing images of the ex-president. In nearby Damascus, the mood was strongly pro-Lahoud. Syrian television aired a special documentary about him, saying that he was the man who helped unite Lebanon, in his capacity as army commander, in the 1990s. He helped liberate South Lebanon in 2000, and prevented Lebanon from becoming a satellite state of the United States and Israel.
Very few in Lebanon remained as loyal to the Syrians as Lahoud. Other strong examples are Maronite chief Suleiman Franjiyeh, former prime ministers Omar Karameh and Najib Mikati, parliament speaker Berri, and Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah. All of them upheld Lahoud as a constitutional president, after the Syrians departed in April 2005. Shortly before that, Nasrallah gave a memorable speech, which was much appreciated in Damascus, saying, "Beirut was destroyed by Sharon, rebuilt by Rafik Al-Hariri, and protected by Hafez Al-Assad!" Ever since entering Lebanon in 1976 and unceremoniously leaving in 2005, Syria has had few loyal friends. Former allies like Fouad Al-Siniora and Walid Jumblatt immediately turned against Damascus when it became clear that the Syrians were not staying long in Lebanon. They had actually been the ones, headed by Rafik Al-Hariri, to support and legitimise the Syrian presence in Lebanon during the 1990s. All of them had supported the election of Lahoud in 1998, handpicked by Hafez Al-Assad. Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV aired footage this weekend of Lahoud's 1998 inauguration speech, showing Nayla Mouawad, one of the figures of 14 March who at the time was pro-Syrian, clapping with pleasure at the new pro-Syrian president coming to power in Beirut. Mouawad and 14 March are now the strongest anti-Syrian voices in Beirut, described by the world as "historically" anti-Syrian statesmen who "struggled" for the liberation of their country from Syrian "occupation." The Syrians know better, however, and so does Lahoud. Lahoud was not like that and that is why the Syrians are sad to see him go, remembering, too well, that they had brought him to power in 1998 and renewed his mandate in 2004, at the expense of their friendship with Rafik Al-Hariri. The former prime minister, however, had eventually said yes to renewing Lahoud's mandate at Baabda Palace. Lahoud's friendship with the Syrians led to numerous accusations against him, with 14 March claiming that he was responsible for the murder of Al-Hariri in 2005, as reported in the first UN commission enquiry, known as the Melhis report. At the time of his exodus from Baabda in 2005, his top generals remain behind bars in connection to the Melhis report.
But as far as the world is concerned, all of that is now history. What matters is the new president of Lebanon. Despite all the bickering, and French heavy-handed diplomacy, the Lebanese have indeed created a power vacuum for themselves. Saad Al-Hariri is frantic. For one reason, if chaos returns to Lebanon his investments in Beirut will suffer. Setting politics aside and speaking purely in business terms, he cannot sit back and watch civil war erupt in Lebanon. Currently, the Maronite seat is vacant and the Shias, formerly represented in government, are also now in opposition to Prime Minister Fouad Al-Siniora. This leaves Saad Al-Hariri's Sunnis in temporary control of Lebanon. That is alarming for the Syrians. Saad Al-Hariri has ambitions to become prime minister of Lebanon after a Christian president is elected. Constitutionally he can do that, although advisors are telling him that this would be political suicide. Saad Al-Hariri cannot tolerate a strong Christian president who would overshadow his Sunni prime minister. That is why he preferred keeping Lahoud (although he detested the former General and accused him of conspiracy in the killing of his father in 2005), rather than bringing somebody like Aoun to Baabda.
Many wrongly believed that due to his alliance with Hizbullah, the Syrians wanted Aoun for president. That was trumpeted by the 14 March coalition in an attempt at tarnishing Aoun's image in the Christian streets. The truth is the Syrians would be very uncomfortable with somebody like Aoun. They do not forget his war of liberation against the Syrian army during the final stages of the civil war, and that he had led the Lebanese opposition in exile in the 1990s, calling for withdrawal of Syrian troops. Aoun also played a pivotal role in getting the US to pass the Syria accountability law of 2003. He is only allied to Hizbullah because he realises that he cannot rule Lebanon without the support of the 40 per cent of its population who are Shias. True that would end his reputation as a Christian leader -- something Aoun never strove to become -- and establish him as a cross-confessional Lebanese leader. The Syrians have no idea how he would act as president. He would certainly be better however, than either of the 14 March candidates Boutros Harb or Robert Ghanem.
But if the Syrians are able to get their way, they would opt for Michel Suleiman, the current army commander. Washington DC is not too enthusiastic about him because he is politically independent; too independent for Washington's taste. He is committed to combating Israel, supporting Hizbullah, and friendship with Syria. His one slogan has been "Israel is the enemy", something that greatly pleases Damascus but is frowned upon by 14 March. If elected, he would certainly work for a greater role for Hizbullah in the government, and might even turn a blind eye to their activities in south Lebanon, as did Elias Hrawi in the early 1990s, and Lahoud in 1998-2006. Also to the displeasure of 14 March was a recent remark by the army commander, "Fatah Al-Islam is linked to Al-Qaeda not Syria."
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