December 25/07

From the LCCC, I wish you and your families a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. May the New Year with the blessings of Jesus bring justice and tranquility to our beloved Lebanon and peace of mind to our people all over the world.
Yours Truly
Eias Bejjani

Bible Reading of the day
Like 2/8-14/ There were shepherds in the same country staying in the field, and keeping watch by night over their flock. Behold, an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. The angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be to all the people. For there is born to you, this day, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This is the sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth, lying in a feeding trough.” Suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Releases. Reports & Opinions
Lebanon, A Very Precious but Fragile Treasure-By: Kim Howell/British minister of State for Foreign Affairst/25 December/07
Home on Holiday, the Lebanese Say, What Turmoil?New York Times-December 24/07
Simple truths worth remembering at Adha and Christmas- The Daily Star-December 24/07

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for December 24/07
The Saniora Government Adopts Constitutional Amendment Bill and Corners Berri-Naharnet
Opposition Threats to Boycott Next Presidential Election Sessions-Naharnet

Sfeir: Deviation from Constitution Causes Lots of Trouble-Naharnet
Government to Issue Constitutional Amendment Draft Law Amidst Opposition Threats
Archbishop al-Raeii: Aoun Is a "Tool"-Naharnet
Berri Will Reject Amendment Draft Law-Naharnet
Hizbullah: We Will Not Relinquish Our Rights-Naharnet
March 14 Going Ahead with Suleiman Election-Naharnet
Israel OKs Defense Shield to Counter Rocket Attack from Lebanon, Gaza-Naharnet
Lebanon Crisis Threatens US-Syria Thaw-Wall Street Journal
Tanks deployed in Beirut to prevent possible violence-Ya Libnan
Hezbollah delegation in Tehran to thank Iran for its support-Ya Libnan

Lebanese turn down French offer to host talks-Daily Star  
Sfeir urges politicians to 'adhere to Constitution' and elect president-Daily Star  
Dutch government signs deal to host Hariri tribunal-Daily Star  
Mottaki says Iran always backed Lebanese consensus-Daily Star  
Would-be German train bomber identifies himself in video footage, gets life in jail- AFP
May the new year herald a sense of responsibility among Lebanese leaders-Daily Star
Lebanese celebrate holidays under shadow of political turmoil-AFP
For Palestinian refugees in Ain al-Hilweh, right of return not subject to negotiation-Daily Star  
UNIFIL troops long to be at home this Christmas-Daily Star  
Ahmadinejad under attack over inflation-AFP
Lebanon lagging in trade policies - report-Daily Star  

Archbishop Rahi: Aoun Is a 'Tool'

Maronite Archbishop of Jbeil Beshara al-Rahi slammed Free Patriotic Movement leader Gen. Michel Aoun and accused the Hizbullah-led opposition of exploiting him to provoke an inter-Christian conflict. Rahi, in an interview with Kuwaiti newspaper al-Rai, said that Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is the opposition's decision-maker, whereas Aoun is a "tool who can't take any decision on his own." Aoun lashed back at Rahi, describing his words as "silly and not fit for an archbishop." "His stance is immature, irresponsible and inexcusable," he added. Aoun reiterated "if Gen. Suleiman is no longer a candidate or didn't succeed in the presidential race then I will regain my candidacy." The Saniora Government Adopts Constitutional Amendment Bill and Corners Berri
Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's Government on Monday adopted a constitutional amendment bill to allow the election of army commander Gen. Michel Suleiman president. The government also adopted a motion calling for an extraordinary legislative session by parliament as of January 1, to tackle the amendment bill.
The bill amends the third clause of article 49 of the constitution, which bans the election of senior public employees for president. The house goes into a legislative recess for nearly three months as of Dec. 31, but retains its right to elect a new head of state in light of the persisting presidential void since Nov. 24. The move by the Saniora Government is apparently aimed at cornering Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri into either accepting the constitutional amendment and calling the house to tackle and ratify it, or rejecting the approach and, therefore, appearing as leading an effort to foil Suleiman's election. Beirut, 24 Dec 07, 14:01

Opposition Threats to Boycott Next Presidential Election Sessions
The Hizbullah-led opposition threatened to boycott Saturday's parliament session to elect a new president unless the ruling coalition agrees to the shape of a future government ahead of the vote. The threat is likely to scuttle the presidential vote for the 11th time because the majority has rejected the opposition's conditions, saying the shape of the next government could be discussed only after the presidential vote. The opposition will participate in the presidential vote "only in the framework of a clear and integrated political agreement as part of a full package with clear guarantees," said Hussein al-Haj Hassan, a legislator from Hizbullah, which leads the opposition. "The opposition will not go to the voting session next Saturday and will not facilitate the election process," said Hassan in the statement.
The post has been empty since pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud's term ended Nov. 23, plunging the country into the worst political crisis since the end of the 1975-90 civil war. Lawmakers on both sides have agreed to back Suleiman as a compromise candidate, but parliament must first amend the constitution to allow a sitting military chief to become president. This process has been complicated by the opposition's demand for a new unity government that would give it veto power over major decisions, which the ruling coalition has rejected. "The political process is inter-linked. The presidency, the government and other issues cannot be separated from each other," said Hassan Fadlallah, another Hizbullah lawmaker.
The ruling coalition has accused the opposition of obstructing the presidential vote under orders from Syria and Iran, which back Hizbullah. In turn, the opposition claims pro-government groups in the parliament majority follow U.S. policies. "The problem is not with Gen. Suleiman as a consensus candidate, but with a group (the ruling coalition) that changes its political stands according to American dictates," said Hassan. Opposition lawmakers lashed out at U.S. President George Bush for urging the parliamentary majority to elect a president with a simple majority if necessary to resolve a long political deadlock.
Lebanon's sharply divided parliament has failed ten times to elect a president because the opposition has boycotted sessions, preventing a two-thirds quorum to convene a session. The ruling coalition has avoided trying to use its slim majority in parliament to elect a president, which would escalate tensions with the opposition. Bush urged such a step for the first time Thursday. "Bush didn't enter a country where he didn't cause wars and strife," said Fadlallah. "He is trying to spread his experiment to Lebanon." Opposition legislator Osama Saad agreed, saying Bush's call would plunge Lebanon into "chaos and expose it to dangers."
on his part, Telecommunication Minister Marwan Hamadeh said the government will approve the constitutional amendment bill and refer it to parliament, An Nahar daily reported He said Speaker Nabih Berri's rejection of the petition to amend the constitution is tantamount to "announcing to the world that he is blocking the election of a president just as he shut down the parliament for a year."(Naharnet-AP) Beirut, 24 Dec 07, 10:06

Hezbollah delegation in Tehran to thank Iran for its support

Sunday, 23 December, 2007
Beirut / Tehran: A Hezbollah delegation headed by Sheikh Mohammad Yazbek a member of Hezbollah’s Council of Command has arrived from Lebanon today and was welcomed by senior Iranian officials in the Iranian capital Tehran
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad welcomed the delegation and praised the leadership of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and all the members of Hezbollah in Lebanon for their victory against Israel during the 2006 summer war. Sheikh Yazbek thanked the Iranian leadership for its support to Hezbollah and vowed to continue the resistance in Lebanon and said “ the resistance in Lebanon is still very strong “Lebanese media reported during the summer war that Israel attempted but failed to kidnap Sheikh Yazbeck in 2006 from Boudai, a village in the Bekaa region . Yazbeck is a native of Boudai. There were several reports of reorganization of Hezbollah in Lebanon. One of the reports revealed that the Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei has stripped Nasrallah of his military authorities by appointing his deputy Sheikh Naim Kassem as the military commander of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah was created by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in 1982 and the Iranian government has been funding, training and supporting Hezbollah ever since, . The Lebanese parliament majority accuses Iran of destabilizing Lebanon by using Hezbollah for its proxy wars against Israel and the United States .Last Friday another Hezbollah delegation visited Syria to discuss the election of a Lebanese president to replace Emile lahoud, whose term ended on November 23. Lebanon has been without a president for one month, because the Hezbollah-led opposition , which is supported by Iran and Syria has been blocking the election by trying to force the majority to accept a basket of demands prior to any elections. The majority called these demands extortion and blackmail

Sfeir: Deviation from Constitution Causes Lots of Trouble
Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir on Sunday said that that deviation from the constitution causes "lot of trouble and this is what we see and feel."
Sfeir, during his Sunday sermon, expressed hope that "we adhere to the constitution and take the initiative to elect a President who would run the state with his supporters so we won't have regrets." Beirut, 23 Dec 07, 11:19

Hizbullah: We Will Not Relinquish Our Rights

Hizbullah sources have said that France has presented a new plan to the Syrians in an effort to put an end to the ongoing political crisis in Lebanon.
The sources, quoted by the daily An Nahar on Sunday, said the proposal stipulates that the new government be based on a "percentage representation" such as the President is given five ministers without having to impair the opposition's key demand of a one-third veto power. Hussein al-Khalil, political assistant to Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, believed that electing army commander Gen. Michel Suleiman "is part of the solution."Khalil, however, stressed that "we have got to achieve a national unity government before elections." He said "France should stand up against America" if it wants a settlement for Lebanon. Khalil also asked that Paris stop exerting pressure on Syria with the intention that the opposition relinquishes its rights "because the opposition will not relinquish any of its rights." Beirut, 23 Dec 07, 10:43

Israel OKs Defense Shield to Counter Rocket Attack from Lebanon, Gaza
The Israeli government earmarked more than 200 million dollars (140 million euros) on Sunday for the development of an advanced defense system aimed at countering rocket fire from Gaza and Lebanon. The security cabinet allocated 811 million shekels (207 million dollars, 144 million euros) towards the development and manufacture of the system over the coming five years, a defense ministry spokesman told AFP. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the system -- dubbed "The Iron Dome" -- would be operational within 30 months. "I hope that the first systems will be deployed near Sderot then," Barak told reporters in parliament, referring to the hard-hit town in southern Israel which comes under nearly daily rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. The defense ministry first ordered the system's development by the Israeli arms firm Rafael in February. The Iron Dome is part of a multi-layered defense system aimed at protecting Israel from both short-range missiles and rockets fired by militants in Gaza or Lebanon, and longer-range missiles in the arsenals of regional foes Iran and Syria. The Israeli army has had little success in ending the nearly daily rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, which has killed 12 people in southern Israel since the start of the second Palestinian uprising in September 2000. On Sunday, a rocket fired from northern Gaza hit a factory in the town of Ashkelon, home to 120,000 people, causing damage to the factory but no casualties, the army said.(AFP) Beirut, 23 Dec 07, 18:54

Syria Accuses Washington of 'Torpedoing' Lebanon Deal

The Syrian information minister accused Washington Sunday of torpedoing French and Libyan efforts to end the political deadlock in Lebanon, according to the official Syrian news agency Sana. "At the moment when Syria and France were searching for a way forward on Lebanon, the U.S. scurried to send two envoys to Lebanon --- Elliott Abrams and David Welch -- known for their partiality to Israel, with the aim of torpedoing an accord between the different factions in Lebanon," Mohsen Bilal said. The most recent proposals from U.S. President George Bush were aimed at "ensuring the failure of the French-Syrian efforts," he added.
Asked last week whether he would talk to Syrian President Bashar Assad to work on ending Lebanon's political crisis, Bush said his patience had run out with the Syrian leader. "My patience ran out on President Assad a long time ago, and the reason why is because he houses Hamas, he facilitates Hizbullah, suiciders go from his country into Iraq and he destabilizes Lebanon," said Bush. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem has already accused Washington of blocking what he said were Syrian and French efforts to end the Lebanese deadlock.(AFP) Beirut, 23 Dec 07, 23:39

Tanks deployed in Beirut to prevent possible violence

Friday, 23 November, 2007 @ 8:10 PM
Beirut, Lebanon - Tanks rolled onto the streets of Beirut today amid fears of unrest as a parliament session to elect a new president by a midnight deadline was postponed for a week, with political rivals deadlocked. Armored vehicles took up position on main avenues and crossroads, particularly around the downtown area where the opposition have been holding a mass sit-in outside government headquarters since last year.
“There are more army soldiers and tanks than people and cars on the streets this morning," said Salim Kantar, a bank employee.
“I don't think there will be civil war again, but we fear incidents can happen on the streets as the two sides seemed to have reached a political dead-end over the presidency,” he said. In scenes reminiscent of the 1975-1990 civil war, heavily armed soldiers sealed off roads leading to the parliament building in the city centre where MPs were due to convene at 1:00 p.m. to pick a successor to President Emile Lahoud, whose term ends at midnight.
However, parliament Speaker Nabih Berri announced the postponement of the vote until next Friday when it became clear that no compromise could be reached.
The army erected cement blocks and metal barriers to shut roads around the nearby seafront Phoenicia hotel where dozens of MPs from the ruling majority have been staying for security reasons. A number of prominent anti-Syrian figures have been killed in a wave of attacks over the past three years which many have blamed on Lebanon's former powerbrokers in Damascus. The MPs were transferred to the parliament aboard a convoy of armored vehicles, before Berri announced the postponement of the vote. The ruling coalition on Thursday had called on all MPs to attend Friday's parliament session but the opposition, backed by Syria and Iran, warned against any attempt to force through a vote.
Four previous sessions in the last two months to pick a successor to Lahoud have been called off because of the standoff and Friday's session was expected to meet the same fate, several officials said. Many ordinary people were staying indoors.
“We're staying home. We were watching the news on television, but in the end we opted for a comedy show because I don't want the children to become anxious,” said Rama Ghaziri, a mother of three. Many schools and universities in Beirut remained shut, while shops and banks were open although very few customers were venturing in to the centre.
“I don't know if the school is open but I did not send my children this morning to be on the safe side,” said Souad Haidar, a resident of the Hamra commercial district. “We don't care who becomes president anymore, we want to live safely and normally. We've had enough wars and political conflicts which have brought nothing but hardships to our country,” she said.
Main boulevards are still lined with Lebanese flags, a day after the country marked its 64th Independence Day and the 18th anniversary of the assassination of then president-elect Rene Mouawad. A gigantic Lebanese flag hanging across the Ras An-Nabeh Boulevard leading to the downtown area read: “All for the nation,” which is the first phrase of the national anthem. “If they can't agree on a president, let the army take over until there is an agreement. The army has proven that it can be trusted with the way it handled the Islamist uprising in the summer,” said Marwan Sidani. “If no president is voted in, and there are no incidents until Monday, I think it would prove that we can safely stay without a president. It would be one less politician in Lebanon, and that's better,” he said. Source: Now Lebanon

Berri Will Reject Amendment Draft Law

Parliament speaker Nabih Berri has said that he will not receive the constitutional amendment draft law which the government will refer to him on Monday.
"The draft law will be written down by an unconstitutional and illegitimate government," Berri told al-Diyar daily in remarks published Monday.
He said: "We don't need to amend the constitution if they want to elect (Army Commander) Gen. Suleiman president as article 74 is clear in this matter."
Berri stressed that he will keep calling for presidential sessions until an agreement was reached. Hizbullah-led opposition sources warned Premier Fouad Saniora's government against taking executive decisions. The sources said the "opposition will respond by taking appropriate measures." Beirut, 24 Dec 07, 12:05

March 14 Going Ahead with Suleiman Election
As the majority March 14 alliance pushed for electing Gen. Michel Suleiman, with reports it could meet very soon to fulfill the need to fill the presidential void, the opposition seemed more clung to its preconditions. Finance Minister Jihad Azour told the Voice of Lebanon radio station on Sunday that the cabinet will meet in the coming few hours to discuss the presidential election issue in light of the ongoing vacuum and the "clear intent on blocking" the vote.
The daily An Nahar on Sunday, citing a governmental source,said the cabinet which is expected to meet soon will take appropriate measures to fill the vacant presidential seat and "exert maximum efforts to bring Suleiman to the presidency." He said in the forefront of these measures is a call for an extraordinary parliamentary session, to be put in the form of a draft law, in the event that the ordinary session set for Dec. 29 to elect a new president ended without success.
A ministerial source, however, said the move to deal with the presidential void is to fend off the Syrian scheme which "wants to push Lebanon into the abyss of a vacuum so that its institutions would disappear, the army would scatter and the country would plunge into chaos." Beirut, 23 Dec 07, 08:30

Home on Holiday, the Lebanese Say, What Turmoil?

The New York Times
December 24/07
Tamara Abdul Hadi for The New York Times
Lebanese partygoers pause for a photo in Beirut. Young Lebanese have flocked home for the holidays regardless of recent unrest.
Published: December 24, 2007
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Lebanon may seem an unlikely holiday spot: the government has collapsed, car bombs go off periodically and foreign envoys warn of an impending civil war.
And yet, so many people have been streaming into this tiny, embattled country in recent days that the flights are all overbooked, and some well-heeled travelers are driving 18 hours from the Persian Gulf. Beirut’s restaurants, bars and malls are all packed with revelers.
Why? The answer is that the Lebanese diaspora reverses itself on holidays, as the migrants who sustain the war-shattered Lebanese economy all year return from jobs across the globe to spend time with their families. Nothing will deter them — not bad weather, not interminable flights and certainly not the Grinch-like mood of Lebanon’s endlessly feuding politicians.
“My plane was full of Lebanese flying home, and when it landed we all shouted ‘Beirut’ and clapped,” said George Elias, 23, who works for an investment firm in Japan.
He and a dozen friends — mostly Lebanese who work abroad — were in the midst of a pub crawl in Gemayze, a fashionably bohemian district. All of them wore identical white T-shirts with “Free Hug” printed across the front, and they were hugging everyone they saw, in a puckish campaign of mass affection.
“Politics is causing problems in Lebanon, so we want people to think about something else,” Mr. Elias said.
When a Lebanese Army soldier appeared on the street, the group besieged him with free hugs. He obliged with a smile, his machine gun jostling at his waist with each hug.
Across town in western Beirut, the malls were packed with glamorously dressed shoppers, and even outdoor cafes were full, despite the 50-degree chill.
“Look at all these people — there’s a political crisis, but do they care?” said Ali Hasbini, a burly 30-year-old sitting at a cafe table with three other young Lebanese overseas workers in the Verdun district. “Of course not.”
The table was a panorama of the diaspora: one of the men lived in Singapore; one in Aden, Yemen; one in Jidda, Saudi Arabia; and one in Dubai. All had come home to see the families they helped sustain.
The fact that Christmas almost coincided this year with the Muslim holiday Id al-Adha may have prompted more emigrants to return. In other ways, it is an ominous time: Lebanon has been without a president since Nov. 23, when Émile Lahoud stepped down without any agreement on a successor. Since then, Parliament has delayed voting on a new president 10 times, and negotiations have grown steadily more rancorous.
Mr. Hasbini, who works for a television and film equipment company in Jidda, waved it all aside. “We get fed up,” he said. “It’s like W.W.F. or a soap opera, except here we get it live.
“Politics? Khalas, you’re home,” he added, using the Arabic word for “enough.”
For some families, Lebanon has become little more than a reunion site.
“We’re all here for the holidays but none of us live here anymore,” said Maria Pamoukian, 28, an urban planner based in Abu Dhabi who was born in Beirut. There are 10 people in the family — seven adults and three children — she added, all now scattered across the globe, though they still maintain a big apartment here.
Like many others, Ms. Pamoukian said she struggled to find a plane ticket, and succeeded only after pleading with the airline to give her a break because a friend was getting married. They gave her a ticket to Damascus, and she drove the rest of the way, she said. The trip took 16 hours.
Tarek Masri, 26, said he had almost given up on getting a flight from Saudi Arabia, where he works, until a car bomb east of Beirut killed one of Lebanon’s top army generals last week. That prompted a cancellation, and he got his ticket home.
Beirutis like Mr. Masri are too hardened by years of civil war to be intimidated by a bombing.
“It’s usually Gulfi tourists who cancel when that happens,” he said. “It’s not the Lebanese. We’ve heard it all before, seen it all before.”
But there is a corollary to this ritual of return: much of the middle class — including many of its best and brightest — no longer live in Lebanon. The pace of emigration appears to have picked up after the violence of the 2006 war with Israel and the political crisis that has followed, said Guita Hourani, a sociologist at Notre Dame University in Zouk Mosbeh, north of Beirut, who has studied migration patterns.
The oil wealth in the gulf region has also helped lure away more young Lebanese. “It’s getting harder to find skilled people,” said Nassib Ghobril, the head of research and analysis for Byblos Bank. “Gulf companies come here and poach people from banks and other sectors. They recruit whole classes of graduating seniors.”
These migrants supply Lebanon with about $1,400 per capita every year, Mr. Ghobril said — one of the highest rates of remittances in the world. Those transfers are one of the pillars sustaining the consumer economy, he added, though they do not make up for the country’s soaring public debt, the lack of long-term investment here, or the slow bleeding of the country’s main natural resource — its people.
But there is another way of looking at it.“Perhaps instead of talking about brain drain we should talk about brain globalization,” Mr. Ghobril said with a mischievous grin. “The globalization of Lebanon.” Beirut, 24 Dec 07, 11:25

Lebanon, A Very Precious but Fragile Treasure
Kim Howells Al-Hayat - 24/12/07//
Waiting in the departure lounge for my plane after my recent visit to Beirut, I was looking for a Christmas gift to take home when a security official from the army bid me farewell, adding with a smile: "All we need for Christmas is a President - a Christmas President". While this is now looking over-optimistic, the sentiment summed up in a nutshell the aspirations of all the sides I had talked to during my visit. Or at least their stated aspirations. Everybody I met recognised the importance of filling the political vacuum left by the departure of President Lahoud on 23 November with no replacement and resolving the worst political crisis since the 1975-90 war. Everybody wanted to find a way of unlocking the political process and moving towards a functioning government capable of addressing the issues that really matter to the ordinary Lebanese -security, stability and the economy. Many of those I spoke to shared common views about the political formulas that could move the agenda forward. But hanging over it was a cloud of pessimism about the very formidable obstacles standing in their path.
Before arriving in Beirut I had made a flying visit to Paris for a meeting scheduled at the last minute by Ban Ki Moon to discuss Lebanon - a sign of the serious concern over developments there by key Arab and European countries and the US. Everyone at the meeting was clearly dismayed by the lack of progress and called for unconditional presidential elections without delay and allowing the parliament to convene and fulfill its duties. The murder of General Francois al-Hajj, the Army Chief of Operations, was also strongly condemned. This killing, the latest in a long line of political assassinations, was an urgent reminder of the need to reduce tensions through a political solution.
It is also vital that all of Lebanon's neighbours in the region follow the example of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the Arab League and others in helping to break the deadlock. In my recent meetings with senior Syrian figures I made the point very strongly that Syria must not be seen to be obstructing a solution and must be sending unambiguous signals to those in its political orbit of the need to unblock the situation and bring Lebanon back from the brink.
Interference by any foreign party in domestic Lebanese affairs is unacceptable and I made in very clear to all sides that while Britain is fully committed to doing all it can to help the parties break the deadlock, we and others are impartially acting in the interests of all Lebanese.
During my visit to Lebanon I also went to see the destruction at the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared. It was a grim and moving experience. I saw many desperate Palestinians struggling to rebuild their homes and their lives after the destruction wreaked , destroyed by three months of fighting between the army and militants from the extremist group Fatah Al Islam. Various agencies, including UNRWA and Islamic Relief are helping alleviate the immediate humanitarian crisis.
This throws into relief the importance of looking at the bigger picture of the situation on Palestinian refugees. Although Nahr al-Bared is an extreme case, the humanitarian situation is terrible in many of the other camps in Lebanon. Living conditions are cramped and harsh. There are huge problems with sanitation, access to basic foodstuffs, unemployment, education and the growing presence of extremist groups who have moved in to exploit underlying grievances and ferment terrorist atrocities.
The international community has a moral duty to support and fund the work of organisations like UNRWA and to ensure that the money finds its way to the people it is meant to help, rather than funding inefficient bureaucracies. We must work harder to find a political solution to the issue of refugees. The UK has promised $100m dollars to UNRWA over the next five years for Palestinian refugees across the region. This problem is one of the trickiest unresolved issues in the Middle East. The process that started in Annapolis takes us a little way closer to creating a framework to resolve this, but work also needs to be done in host countries to ensure that Palestinians are given hope and prospects for building a better future for them and their families. In the case of Lebanon, the presence of such large numbers of refugees has, on numerous occasions, exacerbated political and social pressures. This makes it all the more important that we take this issue with the utmost seriousness.
Lebanon is like a very precious but fragile treasure buried in the heart of the Middle East; it contains one of the most developed democratic systems in the region; it is a complicated patchwork of confessional and ethnic groups well-practiced in the art of coexistence; its progressive and enlightened society has always been a beacon for other parts of the region. Yet for all the same reasons it is also deeply sensitive to regional and international pressures. Lebanon's friends are very alive to the challenges and risks ahead and are doing all they can to work with the different sides to broker a solution. Whether or not Lebanon gets its wish and receives a new president for Christmas, let's do all we can to ensure that 2008 is a better year for the Lebanese people.
*Kim Howells is British minister of State for Foreign Affairs