December 15/07

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 11,16-19. To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children who sit in marketplaces and call to one another,'We played the flute for you, but you did not dance, we sang a dirge but you did not mourn.' For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, 'He is possessed by a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, 'Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.' But wisdom is vindicated by her works."

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for December 14/07
Thousands Throng El-Hajj's Funeral-Naharnet
Probe into el-Hajj's Killing Focuses on Extremists Hiding in Ain al-Hilweh Refugee Camp-Naharnet
March 14: Choosing Aoun as Negotiator is 'Death Sentence' of Monday's Election Session-Naharnet
Challenged, Syria Extends Crackdown on Dissent-New York Times
Lebanon mourns slain army chief
-BBC News
DHS: Department of Hezbollah Security?The New American
Hizbullah Denies Report of Leadership Shake-Up-Naharnet
Report: North Korea May Have Aided Hezbollah and Tamil Tigers-Voice of America
Khamenei appoints Qassem as Hezbollah military commander-Ya Libnan
Ottawa to pay for emergency passport costs in Lebanon evacuation-Globe and Mail - Canada

Bush Denounces el-Hajj Killing, Urges Syria to End Interference in Lebanon-Naharnet
Sfeir for Speedy Presidential Election-Naharnet
4 Men Arrested on Suspicion of Involvement in Hajj Killing-Naharnet
Sheikh Naim Qassem Appointed Hizbullah Military Commander
U.N. Assistance In Probing el-Hajj Murder-Naharnet
Lebanon hunts general's killers-AFP
Lebanon presidential vote postponed again-AFP
Aoun Has a Written Document for Political Dialogue with the Majority-Naharnet
Presidential void challenges Lebanon's once dominant Maronites-Manila Times
Aoun Has a Written Document for Political Dialogue with the Majority-Naharnet
Opposition calls for 'document of understandings' to hasten election-Daily Star
Local, foreign figures express outrage over killing-Daily Star
Investigators hunt two men suspected of involvement in Hajj assassination-Daily Star
Israeli court indicts national deported from Lebanon-Daily Star
Resistance dismisses 'rumors' of high-level shakeup-Daily Star
The Hajj assassination and Lebanon's reality deficit-Daily Star
Haddad urges Lebanese business to improve quality of goods-Daily Star

UNIFIL commander says Lebanese Army 'stronger than ever-Daily Star
AUB hosts lecture on fear curtailing public space in US-Daily Star
Infighting further weakens once dominant Christians-AFP

Thousands Throng El-Hajj's Funeral
Thousands of mourners took part in the funeral procession for slain Brig. Gen. Francois el-Hajj Friday whose killing has worsened the political crisis in a country struggling to fill the vacant presidency.
Church bells tolled and mourners applauded as Hajj's coffin was carried by army officers into Our Lady of Lebanon basilica in Harissa, overlooking the bay of Jounieh north of Beirut. Mourners threw rose petals on the casket, draped in the Lebanese flag, as leaders from both the March 14 ruling majority and the opposition, backed by Syria and Iran, stood in somber mood. Dozens of soldiers and officers stood at salute, some weeping, as the coffin went by.
Hajj's assassination, the first attack on the military in a series of murders that have rocked Lebanon in the past three years, has been widely linked to the crisis over the presidency and the army's recent battle against al-Qaida-linked Fatah al-Islam terrorist group in the northern Nahr al-Bared refugee camp.
The crisis is the worst since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.
State prosecutor Saeed Mirza told AFP Friday that no one had been formally arrested in connection with Hajj's murder but that several people had been detained for questioning. Defense Minister Elias Murr said the probe has led to "serious leads," but did not elaborate.
"This is a great tragic loss; it is not just about an officer but about a nation thrown into the wilderness," a visibly angry Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir told mourners during the funeral ceremony. "Assassinations have continued without mercy for three years and today, the hand of treachery has reached the army and its brave leaders," Sfeir said. "The series (of assassinations) have continued to take place even after the end of the nightmare," he said in an apparent reference to the end in 2005 of 29 years of Syrian military and political domination in Lebanon.
Early Friday, Hajj's coffin was carried under heavy rain from the morgue of the military hospital in Badaro to his family home in Beirut's eastern suburb of Baabda where residents threw rice and rose petals. A military honor guard lined the street as the coffin was carried by officers and an army band played a funeral march.
A burial ceremony is due to be held later Friday for Hajj in his hometown of Rmaich, near the border with Israel. His bodyguard, staff sergeant Khairallah Hadwan, was due to be buried in his village in Hizzine in east Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.  Schools and universities across Lebanon have been asked to remain closed Friday as a mark of respect for the slain officer and flags were flown at half mast. Lebanon has been without a head of state since November 23 when incumbent Emile Lahoud stepped down at the end of his term, and with rival political parties unable to agree on a successor. Hajj had been tipped to replace as army commander General Michel Suleiman, who is the frontrunner for the presidency. However, the rival parties have been unable to agree on how to amend the constitution to allow for Suleiman's election and the make-up of the new cabinet. A parliamentary session is due to be held Monday to elect a president but it is widely believed it will be postponed, as has happened with eight previous ones since September.(Naharnet-AFP) Beirut, 14 Dec 07, 12:01

Probe into el-Hajj's Killing Focuses on Extremists Hiding in Ain al-Hilweh Refugee Camp

Investigation into the assassination of Brig. Gen. Francois el-Hajj and his bodyguard, staff sergeant Khairallah Hadwan, is focusing on suspects hiding inside the southern refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh and believed linked to the terrorist Fatah al-Islam group. In the southern port city of Sidon, security sources doubted that three suspects arrested on Wednesday were connected to the murder. The three detainees -- identified as fishermen Mohammed Masri, Talal Masri and Mohammed al-Atab were arrested in house raids in Taamir, a residential area adjacent to Ain al-Hilweh. The sources said a man identified as Hussein Nasser had sold the olive green BMW used in the bombing attack to the party that likely detonated the vehicle. They said Nasser sold the car without a registration document to two men only two days before the bombing attack, adding that interrogation is underway to pin down the buyers. The sources said the car did not enter the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp after its purchase and that it likely headed to Lebanese territory north of the Awali River. For this reason, the sources went on to say, efforts are focused on the activity of the extremist groups in areas of Mount Lebanon and elsewhere in Lebanon. Beirut, 14 Dec 07, 09:32

Murr: Serious Clues To Hajj's Assassins
Defense Minister Elias Murr said investigations in the assassination of Gen. Francois el-Hajj have revealed "serious and advance clues" leading to the culprits.
Murr said Hajj, who carried the rank of Brig. Gen. when a car bomb explosion killed him in Suburban Baabda on Wednesday, was honorary promoted to full-fledged General after his martyrdom. Such clues, Murr stressed, are "more serious than what has been previously discovered regarding similar crimes."
Murr blamed Hajj's killing on "hard line terrorist networks. But what is important is who took the decision and who issued the order."
Such networks, Murr added, are "not strange to the public opinion." He did not elaborate. Beirut, 14 Dec 07, 13:43

March 14: Choosing Aoun as Negotiator is 'Death Sentence' of Monday's Election Session
Sources with the March 14 alliance said the opposition issued an "indirect death sentence" of the presidential election session scheduled for Monday by naming Gen. Michel Aoun its negotiator. The sources said March 14 was not officially informed of the opposition's decision. They said talks between MP Saad Hariri and Speaker Nabih Berri were based on the concept that Hariri negotiates on behalf of March 14 while Berri for the opposition. "How can the role of the government be rejected (by the opposition) when it comes to constitutional amendments and accepted when it comes to holding an extraordinary (parliamentary) session?" one March 14 source asked. He accused the opposition as well as Syria and Iran of "once again seeking to show that blockage over (presidential) elections is an inter-Christian problem."Commenting on Berri's remarks regarding "new negotiators," which was interpreted as an indirect reference to Walid Jumblat who contacted the speaker hours after Wednesday's car bombing attack, a leading March 14 figure said Berri has no right to strip the majority of its negotiator. Aoun on Thursday said the opposition has assigned him to take part in political dialogue with the majority based on a written document.  Aoun refused to disclose details of the dialogue document. Beirut, 14 Dec 07, 12:01

Infighting further weakens once dominant Christians

By Agence France Presse (AFP)
Friday, December 14, 2007
Hala Boncompagni
Agence France Press
BEIRUT: Lebanon's once dominant Maronite Christian community, from which the president is traditionally drawn, is faced with the dual challenge of infighting and a vacuum for the top post that could drag on for months. The void emerged when Emile Lahoud ended his term as head of state on November 23. Parliament has since September postponed eight times a session to elect a new president. Although December 17 has been set as the next date, politicians believe the vote will be delayed again until next year or even March as a result of the ongoing power struggle between the ruling coalition and the opposition.
Newspaper columnist Rosana Bou Mouncef says the Christians now have a golden opportunity to elect a strong president, noting that the vote will be the first since the end of nearly three decades of Syrian military domination of Lebanon.
"For the first time the new president will not be designated by Damascus like Lahoud and [predecessor Elias] Hrawi, and therefore he must face up to the challenge and represent the Christians fully," she said. She recalled that Lahoud, acting under Syria's influence, angered his Maronite community by snubbing the annual commemorative Mass for the patron Saint Maron, early on in his term.
The editor in chief of the French-language daily L'Orient Le Jour, Nagib Aoun, agreed.
"Lahoud weakened the presidency because he took sides. The new president must be a referee," he said.
Lebanon - the only Arab state with a Christian head of state - has not held a census since 1932 when Christians accounted for 54 percent of the population.
Three-quarters of a century later, the number of Christians in Lebanon has significantly declined, largely as a result of emigration, and the community no longer constitutes a majority of citizens in the country. However, no one knows exactly how small the community has become, since official data is unavailable.
Leadership is a thorny issue for the Maronites who make up the largest Christian community in Lebanon, which is home to 18 religious sects, including a tiny number of Jews.
By tradition Sunnis hold the prime minister's post and the Parliament speaker is a Shiite.
In the latest political imbroglio, Christian opposition leader and head of the Reform and Change bloc MP Michel Aoun angered many in his community by insisting that certain demands be met before he gives full support to the election of a consensus candidate, commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces General Michel Suleiman, as president.
Aoun has demanded that Suleiman serve less than two years, until legislative polls due in the spring of 2009, instead of six years as stipulated by the Constitution, and also wants agreement on the next government ahead of a vote.
His critics accuse him of deliberately blocking Suleiman's election because he wants the top job for himself, but Aoun insists he is only trying to protect the rights of Christians. "Michel Aoun is a toy in the hands of Hizbullah. They are using him to destroy the Christians and he believes they will lead him to the presidency," charged Christian legislator and majority MP Antoine Andraous. Many Christians also feel they have been left out in the cold since the 1989 Taif Accord that ended the 1975-1990 Civil War and reduced the powers of the presidency while bolstering those of the Sunni-led Cabinet. Paul Salem of the Carnegie Middle East Institute disagreed, saying the community would remain a cornerstone of Lebanon's social and political fabric as "partners through the presidency," rather than as the dominant force it once was.
"The Christians are not in a desperate position but the Christian presidency will remain strong or weak depending on developments," he said.
Lebanon needs a strong president "who is proud of his Christian identity," Nayla Tueni, daughter of slain Christian MP and press magnate Gebran Tueni, said at a memorial service for her father on Sunday. Summing up the mood in the Maronite community, weakened by decades of political conflict, wars and demographic changes, she said a new president must "help Christians regain self-confidence and emerge from marginalization."

Ottawa to pay for emergency passport costs in Lebanon evacuation

From Friday's Globe and Mail
December 14, 2007 at 3:52 AM EST
The federal government is providing one last benefit to thousands of Lebanese-Canadians who were evacuated from war-torn Lebanon last year - it's reimbursing their emergency passport fee. The government evacuated 15,000 people, many of them dual citizens, during the summer of 2006 when Israel attacked Hezbollah positions in Lebanon. More than 2,000 evacuees had to get an emergency Canadian passport before they could leave. This week, the government quietly adopted a regulation to reimburse any passport fees incurred by evacuees. The move was taken because "it is in the public interest to do so," the regulation notes.
The order "grants those Canadians who were evacuated from Lebanon during the period beginning on July 20, 2006, and ending on Aug. 21, 2006, remission of the fee paid or payable, and any interest payable on that fee, for emergency passports," said a notice in the Canada Gazette on Wednesday.
It's not clear how much the provision will cost. Canadians who live abroad have to pay $100 to obtain a passport, but in some emergency situations the fee can be paid later. Figures released by Foreign Affairs show that the government issued 2,400 new passports in Lebanon that summer, most emergency passports. The evacuation cost $94-million in total. John Chant, an economist at Simon Fraser University, said he couldn't understand the government's decision to cover the cost of the passports. "It does seem puzzling to me," he said yesterday. In a study earlier this year for the C.D. Howe Institute, Prof. Chant recommended that non-resident citizens pay a much higher passport fee than resident Canadians. An estimated 2.7 million Canadians live abroad. Roughly 1.7 million of them are believed to be permanent residents of another country.

Sfeir Criticizes Party Receiving Orders from Syria, Iran

Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir on Thursday criticized unidentified factions for receiving orders from Syria and Iran, in a clear reference to Hizbullah and other forces of the opposition that are backed by Damascus and Tehran. Sfeir also called for speedy presidential elections in light of the consensus on Army Commander Gen. Michel Suleiman. He stressed to visitors that the "ongoing void in the presidency is not justified in light of the consensus on Gen. Suleiman." Beirut, 13 Dec 07, 17:56