DAILY NEWS BULLETIN
Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 1,5-25.
In the days of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah of the priestly division of Abijah; his wife was from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.Both were righteous in the eyes of God, observing all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren and both were advanced in years. Once when he was serving as priest in his division's turn before God, according to the practice of the priestly service, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to burn incense. Then, when the whole assembly of the people was praying outside at the hour of the incense offering, the angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right of the altar of incense.
Zechariah was troubled by what he saw, and fear came upon him. But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of (the) Lord. He will drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will be filled with the holy Spirit even from his mother's womb, and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord." Then Zechariah said to the angel, "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years."
And the angel said to him in reply, "I am Gabriel, who stand before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news.
But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time." Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah and were amazed that he stayed so long in the sanctuary.
But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He was gesturing to them but remained mute. Then, when his days of ministry were completed, he went home. After this time his wife Elizabeth conceived, and she went into seclusion for five months, saying, So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others.
Reports & Opinions
Clash? What clash?Guardian Unlimited-December 19/07
Lebanon's pact: prelude to a postmortem-By Michael Young-December 19/07
Saudi-Iranian rapprochement opens up some intriguing possibilities-The Daily Star-December 19/07
Anarchy and Lebanon-Middle East Times-December 19/07
Latest News Reports From
Miscellaneous Sources for December 19/07
Rice Cancels Visit, March 14 Leaders Warn: Amend Constitution or the Government will Act-Naharnet
Grand Mufti Kabbani Urges MPs to Elect a President on Saturday-Naharnet
Berri Expresses 'Feeble Hope' over Saturday's Session-Naharnet
Khalilzad: Hariri Tribunal to be Set Up Next February-Naharnet
Sarkozy Gives Assad 'Last Chance' Over Election Demands-Naharnet
Presidential Crisis Overshadows Holiday Season-Naharnet
Lebanon Indicts 31 Over Al-Qaida-Linked Plots-Naharnet
Saniora: We would Not Succumb to Terror-Naharnet
Aoun: No Negotiations with Me, No Presidential Election-Naharnet
Lebanese Man Jailed for 12 Years in Germany on Terror-Related Charge-Naharnet
Welch puts onus on Berri to resolve crisis by convening presidential vote-Daily Star
Beirut court jails man for 12 years in German bomb plot-AFP
Safadi lauds new travel rates-Daily Star
UN investigators visit scene of Hajj killing to lend 'technical assistance-Daily Star
Rice outlines discussion of Lebanese crisis with Sarkozy-Daily Star
Pandering to the public's hopes is not political progress-Daily Star
Holiday spirit eludes ministers as crisis keeps them in office-Daily Star
Evangelical leader hosts Union for Lebanon group-Daily Star
AUB creates new Chair in Mathematical Sciences-Daily Star
Palestinian laborers in South have little choice but to brave Israeli cluster bombs-Daily Star
Beirut cashes in on wealth of archaeological sites-Daily Star
U.S. Concerned Over Presidential Void, Urges Speedy Election of a New Head of State-Naharnet
Saniora: We would Not Succumb to Terror-Naharnet
Assad Reiterates Opposition's Demand for National Unity Government-Naharnet
Hariri for a President who can Reclaim Christian Power-Naharnet
Welch surprises Lebanon again with another visit-Ya Libnan
US envoy back in Lebanon to discuss crisis-AFP
Lebanon's Hariri blames stalemate on Syria-Washington Post
Year-end holidays in shadow of crisis
(AFP)19 December 2007
BEIRUT - Lebanese, both Christian and Muslim, are preparing to celebrate their end of year holidays under the shadow of the country’s worst crisis since the 1975-90 civil war. As Muslims began celebrating Eid Al Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice, and Christians prepared for Christmas, Beirut streets were choked with traffic and decked with holiday decorations. But retailers reported that consumer confidence has been badly dented by the standoff between the Western-backed government and the Iranian- and Syrian-backed opposition that has paralysed the government’s legislative agenda for a year and left the country without a president for more than three weeks. Shopkeepers say sales have been yoyoing in line with the rhythm of the assassinations and political setbacks that have punctuated the crisis.
“Business is largely dependent on the political and security situation,” said Jacques Hokayem, president of the merchants’ association in the Christian resort town of Jounieh, just north of the capital. “When the majority and the opposition finally agreed to endorse the candidacy of army chief General Michel Sleiman for the presidency, sales increased by 30 to 40 percent,” Hokayem told AFP.
“But when Brigadier General Francois el-Hajj was assassinated, the market dropped,” he said. Hajj was tipped to replace Sleiman as head of the armed forces in the event of his successful election as president but he was killed by a car bomb during the morning rush hour on December 12. His murder was the latest in a wave of political assassinations that has rocked Lebanon since the killing in February 2005 of billionaire ex-premier Rafiq Hariri. “We are constantly glued to our televisions sets for news about political and security developments and this is affecting the mental stability of our children,” said Nina Sahili as she toured the Mar Elias shopping district. Sahili tugged her seven-year-old daughter behind her as she shopped for a new dress for the child to wear on Eid Al Adha. “The children want to celebrate the holidays. They are not to be blamed for the political crisis,” she said. Across town, Muslim shopkeeper Ahmed Safa said people were being much more selective about their purchases in the run-up to the festive season. “Often the shop is full of customers but only a few of them are actually buying new clothes or gifts for the holidays,” he told AFP.
Rana Chamoun said she had cut her Christmas shopping list down to a single item — a present for her teenage brother. “The prices are too steep. I can’t afford to buy gifts for my mother and father as well,” the 20-year-old student said. “I still get pocket money from my father. He sells insurance and has been facing financial problems lately because many of his clients are unable to pay their premiums,” she said. Rita, a 28-year-old sales assistant in a furniture showroom, said she had already spent her whole salary for December as well as part of her 13th-month bonus to buy gifts for her family.
“I will be cash-strapped in January but holidays are meant to be celebrated, this is something you can’t take away from the Lebanese,” she said. The Jounieh merchants’ association chairman said he was still hopeful that retailers would get by despite the political and security problems hanging over the festive season.
“The Lebanese people are resilient,” Hokayem said. “They are shopping and buying gifts, despite everything.”A decision by parliament to hold a new session — the 10th since September — to elect a new president at noon Saturday (1000 GMT) has alarmed merchants in downtown Beirut, where the parliament building is located.
“We consider Saturday our most important business day of the year,” said the coalition of merchants, whose businesses face closure on the last major shopping day before Christmas for security reasons when parliament meets. In an “SOS message” carried by the state-run National News Agency, the merchants appealed to speaker Nabih Berri to reschedule the time of the session to 8:00 am (0600 GMT). “If we close on Saturday it would be spell the end of our livelihoods,” the statement said.
Sarkozy Gives Assad 'Last Chance' Over Election Demands
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has warned of "confrontations" if Lebanese presidential elections were not held on Saturday, giving Syria a "last chance" to comply with his demands. Al Hayat daily said Wednesday that Sarkozy told Arab reporters in Paris he has held three telephone conversations with Syrian President Bashar Assad to push him into facilitating the election of a Lebanese head of state. Sarkozy said he was "from now on" waiting for "deeds" and not just "words and promises."
The French president also announced that he has asked Assad to "use his influence for the election of a president in Lebanon" and stressed the "importance of delaying discussion of the formation of a cabinet until after the elections." Sarkozy said he warned Assad that he will have to reveal details about the obstruction of the parliamentary session scheduled for Saturday if the legislature failed to meet again. "The last chance is Saturday. If there was no election, I will reveal my analysis to what has happened," Sarkozy told Assad, warning that "confrontations could erupt again and two (competing) governments could be formed."
Fears are already running high that failure to meet Saturday's deadline could spur the formation of two governments, a grim reminder of the end of Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war when two competing administrations battled it out. Beirut, 19 Dec 07, 06:41
Grand Mufti Kabbani Urges MPs to Elect a President on Saturday
Grand Mufti Mohammed Kabbani called on the nation's MPs Wednesday to salvage their country by electing a new president during a parliamentary session scheduled for Saturday. Kabbani, in his Eid al-Adha sermon at al-Omari Mosque in Beirut's central district, said: "We failed ourselves and failed the nation" by not electing a new president after a three-week vacuum. "I call on our honored MPs to attend the parliamentary session on Saturday and elect a president according to constitutional norms to revive the institutions that protect both the nation and the people," he said. "We wasted a lot of time and caused pain and grief to the people...who can endure no more," he lamented. Lebanese Sunni Muslims mark the beginning of Eid al-Adha Wednesday whereas Shiite Mufti Abdul Amir Kabalan announced the beginning of the holiday on Friday and prominent Shiite Sheikh Mohammed Fadlallah said the Eid starts on Thursday. Prime Minister Fouad Saniora, al-Mustaqbal movement leader Saad Hariri and Beirut's Mayor Abdul Moneim Ariss attended the prayers before visiting ex-premier Rafik Hariri's gravesite. Beirut, 19 Dec 07, 13:06
Berri Expresses 'Feeble Hope' over Saturday's Session
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri predicted a 10th postponement of a parliamentary session to elect a new president if a breakthrough wasn't reached in ongoing negotiations. As Safir daily reported Wednesday that Berri has "feeble hope" over Saturday's session, however, he will call for consecutive sessions until year end.
"I will keep calling for (parliamentary sessions to) elect a president and nothing will deter the practice of this constitutional right," he stressed.
Nine legislative sessions to elect a new head of state have already been postponed placing the country in a presidential void since former President Emile Lahoud's term ended in November. Berri told As Safir that a "precious opportunity" to elect a president was lost during last Monday's session because of "the majority which rejected a proposal that gives it 55% of the overall representation in the (new) cabinet in return for 45% to the opposition."
Berri is scheduled to meet on Wednesday with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch and Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams. Welch returned to Beirut Tuesday in an unscheduled visit, which is the second in four days, to help ease the presidential crisis.
The U.S. official, after a meeting with al-Moustaqbal movement leader MP Saad Hariri, urged Berri to call MPs to elect a new head of state, accusing the Hizbullah-led opposition of blocking the move and putting Lebanon in danger. Beirut, 19 Dec 07, 10:13
Khalilzad: Hariri Tribunal to be Set Up Next February
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad told Al Hayat daily Wednesday he expected the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to be set up next February.
Khalilzad said U.N. top legal adviser Nicolas Michel informed him that the world body's office for legal affairs has received "important funds" which have put the court's formation in February on the right "path." However, Khalilzad expressed concern over the ongoing delay in holding presidential elections in Lebanon.
He said he was holding consultations with other Security Council members to issue a new statement calling for the election of a new head of state.
The international tribunal will try suspects involved in ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's assassination and related crimes.
Presidential Crisis Overshadows Holiday Season Lebanese, both Christian and Muslim, are preparing to celebrate their end of year holidays under the shadow of the country's worst crisis since the 1975-90 civil war. As Muslims began celebrating Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice, and Christians prepared for Christmas, Beirut streets were choked with traffic and decked with holiday decorations.
But retailers reported that consumer confidence has been badly dented by the standoff between the government and the opposition that has paralyzed the government's legislative agenda for a year and left the country without a president for more than three weeks.
Shopkeepers say sales have been yoyoing in line with the rhythm of the assassinations and political setbacks.
"Business is largely dependent on the political and security situation," said Jacques Hokayem, president of the merchants' association in the Christian resort town of Jounieh, just north of the capital. "When the majority and the opposition finally agreed to endorse the candidacy of army chief General Michel Suleiman for the presidency, sales increased by 30 to 40 percent," Hokayem told Agence France Presse. "But when Brigadier General Francois el-Hajj was assassinated, the market dropped," he said. Hajj was tipped to replace Suleiman as army commander in the event of his successful election as president but he was killed by a car bomb during the morning rush hour on December 12. "We are constantly glued to our televisions sets for news about political and security developments and this is affecting the mental stability of our children," said Nina Sahili as she toured the Mar Elias shopping district.
Sahili tugged her seven-year-old daughter behind her as she shopped for a new dress for the child to wear on Eid al-Adha. "The children want to celebrate the holidays. They are not to be blamed for the political crisis," she said. Across town, Muslim shopkeeper Ahmed Safa said people were being much more selective about their purchases in the run-up to the festive season. "Often the shop is full of customers but only a few of them are actually buying new clothes or gifts for the holidays," he told AFP. Rana Chamoun said she had cut her Christmas shopping list down to a single item -- a present for her teenage brother.
"The prices are too steep. I can't afford to buy gifts for my mother and father as well," the 20-year-old student said. "I still get pocket money from my father. He sells insurance and has been facing financial problems lately because many of his clients are unable to pay their premiums," she said. Rita, a 28-year-old sales assistant in a furniture showroom, said she had already spent her whole salary for December as well as part of her 13th-month bonus to buy gifts for her family.
"I will be cash-strapped in January but holidays are meant to be celebrated, this is something you can't take away from the Lebanese," she said.
The Jounieh merchants' association chairman said he was still hopeful that retailers would get by despite the political and security problems hanging over the festive season. "The Lebanese people are resilient," Hokayem said. "They are shopping and buying gifts, despite everything."
A decision by Speaker Nabih Berri to hold a new session -- the 10th since September -- to elect a new president on Saturday has alarmed merchants in downtown Beirut, where the parliament building is located. "We consider Saturday our most important business day of the year," said the coalition of merchants, whose businesses face closure on the last major shopping day before Christmas for security reasons when the legislature meets.(AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, 19 Dec 07, 07:32
Rice Cancels Visit, March 14 Leaders Warn: Amend Constitution or the Government will Act
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's expected visit Wednesday was canceled only to be replaced by a series of meetings by her assistant for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch and Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams with March 14 leaders.
Rice's change of plans came as March 14 leaders, in a late night meeting, set Saturday as an ultimatum for holding a "fruitful" parliamentary session aimed at amending the constitution, well informed sources told naharnet. The meeting grouping al-Moustaqbal leader MP Saad Hariri, Druze leader Walid Jumblat, Phalange Party head Amin Gemayel, Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea and Premier Fouad Saniora warned against further postponement of the legislative session to elect a president.
The March 14 leaders rejected attempts to "interpret the constitution apart from the known basic rules," and called for pursuing constitutional norms and channels in amending the constitution thus allowing the government to be a fundamental part of this process.
"If Speaker Nabih Berri didn't convene the parliament on Saturday and the opposition's MPs didn't attend the session...the government will meet before Christmas to write down a bill to amend the constitution allowing the election of Gen. Michel Suleiman president and refer it to parliament to force MPs to shoulder their responsibilities," the majority leaders warned. On his part, Welch urged Berri, after talks with Saniora Tuesday, to "assume his constitutional responsibilities and a leadership role... and allow parliament to meet and to vote."
"Members of parliament should elect a president without conditions and without any further delay," he reiterated after a meeting with Hariri. The U.S. official, on his second visit in four days, will hold a meeting with members of the March 14 alliance later Wednesday.
He has accused the opposition of blocking the presidential vote in parliament and said Berri should call a session without further delay to elect a successor to Emile Lahoud, who quit at the end of his term on November 23. The vote has been postponed nine times since September amid a tug-of-war between the majority and the opposition, with the last session Monday delayed again until Saturday. The majority and the opposition have agreed in principle to elect Suleiman but remain at odds on how to amend the constitution to allow a senior public servant to become president.
The majority wants the vote to go ahead as soon as possible, but the opposition is demanding that it be preceded by a "basket" of guarantees on who would lead a new government and how many cabinet seats each camp would get. Berri dismissed Welch's criticism in a statement issued by his office on Tuesday. "Speaker Berri knows very well his responsibilities and hopes that others know theirs too. "Welch should put pressure on those who listen to him and obey him so that they, too, shoulder their responsibilities," the statement said, in reference to the Western-backed majority. Free Patriotic Movement leader Gen. Michel Aoun, a pillar of the Hizbullah-led opposition and top negotiator for the opposition, slammed U.S. policies in Lebanon and Welch's failure to meet with him. "U.S. policies represent a danger for Lebanon. Welch's visit is incomplete and will not lead to a solution," he added.(Naharnet-AFP) Beirut, 19 Dec 07, 06:06
Lebanon Indicts 31 Over Al-Qaida-Linked Plots
A Lebanese military judge on Tuesday indicted 31 Al-Qaida-linked suspects, including a Saudi national and four Syrians, on charges of plotting to carry out terror attacks in the country, officials said. Judge Rashid Mezher charged the so-called "Bar Elias terror network" of "plotting to carry out terrorist operations" in the eastern Christian city of Zahle, the state-run National News Agency reported. It quoted the charge sheet as saying that as part of their plans the suspects were preparing to "fire rockets on Zahle". The charge sheet identified the plot's mastermind as Saudi national Fahd Abdelaziz al-Ghames and said that the group, including four Syrian nationals, a Palestinian as well as a number of Lebanese, "is linked to Al-Qaida." Most of them, including Ghames, have been arrested in various sweeps since June.
The NNA did not give further details nor did it say when a trial would start. In June, Lebanese security forces dismantled bombs in three booby-trapped cars in the eastern village of Bar Elias, near Zahle, following confessions by two Syrians, an Iraqi and a Palestinian who were arrested for possessing weapons.(AFP) Beirut, 18 Dec 07, 20:37
Saniora: We would Not Succumb to Terror
Premier Fouad Saniora said Tuesday the Lebanese are eager for a settlement to the ongoing political crisis that is hampering the presidential election.
But Saniora vowed: "We would not succumb to terror, the gleam of weapons and assassinations."
The premier stressed that being ready for a compromise means "making concessions by the majority in return for the other side giving up its attempt to block" the presidential election. Such a compromise also requires providing the new head of state, when elected, with the capabilities to rule, Saniora said, addressing a book-signing ceremony. He said the factions that block the presidential election are "Lebanese" in an apparent reference to the Hizbullah-led opposition, which is backed by Syria and Iran. Saniora said the opposition wants a "Hands cuffed president" to "dismantle the Lebanese system under the slogan of seeking partnership."
He cautioned, however, that in such a case "the ceiling would fall on us all.""That would not happen," Saniora pledged. Beirut, 18 Dec 07, 19:43