February 22/2007

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 6,1-6.16-18.  (But) take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.

Free Opinions
Lebanon's politicians are adding new problems instead of solving old ones-Daily Star 22.02.07
Lebanon Will be First Victim of Iran Crisis, By Robert Fisk-The Independent 22.02.07

Latest News Reports From miscellaneous sources For 22/02/07
Olmert spells out tough line against Iran, Syria-Boston Herald
Israel's PM: No Compromise on Hamas, Iran and Syria-Voice of America
Syria tightens entry requirements for Iraqi refugees as population ...UNICEF (press release)
US doesn't want post-war reconstruction: Hezbollah-Washington Post
Lebanon shoots at Israeli UAV-Ynetnews

Top Bush Adviser to Hold Talks in Brussels on Lebanon-Naharnet
Israel Blows Up Hizbullah Cave-Naharnet
Government Asks U.N. to Extend Mandate of Brammertz' Commission-Naharnet
Lebanese Army Fires Anti-aircraft Guns at Israeli Fighter Jets-Naharnet

Tourists stranded in Lebanon's Cable Car service-Naharnet
Crossfire War - Tehran Initiates Campaign Against UNIFIL - S. Lebanon-NewsBlaze - Folsom,CA,USA
 Lebanon wants U.N. to extend Hariri assassination probe-AP
Lebanon Seeks Extension Of Hariri Probe-Guardian Unlimited
The Last Victim of Israel's Summer War Found-Naharnet
Israeli War Games at The Golan Inspired by Lebanon War-Naharnet
Washington planning UN arms embargo against Iran-Ha'aretz
France for Tougher U.N. Resolution on Iran-Naharnet
Hoss Due in Iran Next Week -Naharnet
'Jihad al-Bina' Unshaken by U.S. Blacklisting -Naharnet

Shutting Hizballah's 'Construction Jihad'-Washington Institute for Near East Policy - Washington,DC,USA
UAE grants Lebanon 300 million dollar-Monsters and
Lebanese army emerges as country's best defense against war-International Herald Tribune
Analysis: Another year of Dagan means continuity for Sharon's Iran ...Jerusalem Post
'Marriott International Sales' Renews Confidence in Lebanon-Naharnet
Israeli warplanes fly low over south Lebanon-Reuters

Latest News Reports From The Daily Star For 21/02/07
Hoss hopes Riyadh can break Beirut deadlock
Lebanon signs $300 million loan deal with UAE
Peres attempts to calm fears over Hizbullah's arms
Siniora Cabinet asks UN to renew Hariri probe
MP Saad pays visit to Sfeir at Bkirki
Sunni, Shiite clerics hold talks on Muslim unity
March 11 delegates meet with Qabbani
LF trumpets complaint against Al-Manar
Opposition urged to be 'brave' by calling off sit-in
Municipality orders UNIFIL medics out of village - security sources
Dignitaries pay tribute to Hariri at Paris ceremony
Local investment banks are going regional
Syrian Coast Guard kills fisherman whose boat strayed out of Lebanese waters
Lebanese Army defuses bomb in Bir Hassan
EU helps Lebanese universities improve standards
Phantom fires, kamikaze balloons: another day of drills aboard a French warship
University group leads resurgent push for creation of new electoral law

Treasury Designates Hizballah’s Construction Arm
Release/Press Room-February 20, 2007-HP-271
The U.S. Department of the Treasury today designated Jihad al-Bina, a Lebanon-based construction company formed and operated by Hizballah. Jihad al-Bina receives direct funding from Iran, is run by Hizballah members, and is overseen by Hizballah's Shura Council, at the head of which sits Hizballah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah.
"Hizballah operates Jihad al-Bina for its own construction needs as well as to attract popular support through the provision of civilian construction services," said Stuart Levey, Treasury's Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence (TFI). "We will take action against all facets of this deadly terror group."
Jihad al-Bina has used deceptive means to seek funding for projects from international development organizations. In cases when intended solicitation targets were thought to object to the group's relationship with Hizballah and the Iranian government, the organization employed deceptive practices, applying in the name of proxies not publicly linked to Hizballah. Following the summer 2006 conflict with Israel, Hizballah used Jihad al-Bina to raise funds for the terrorist organization and to bolster the group's standing by providing construction services in Southern Lebanon.
"At the same time that we are targeting Hizballah's construction company, the U.S. Government is also working to ensure that legitimate reconstruction efforts, led by the Lebanese Government, succeed," Levey continued.
In addition to the $230 million in humanitarian reconstruction and security assistance pledged by President Bush in August 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced an additional $770 million in aid to Lebanon at the January 25, 2007 Lebanon Donors' Conference in Paris, France. The aim of this assistance is to help all the Lebanese people rebuild their lives and country, while strengthening Lebanon's sovereign, democratic government and helping to ensure lasting peace.
Today's action prohibits transactions between U.S persons and the designated entities and also freezes any assets those entities may have under U.S. jurisdiction.
Identifying Information
Jihad al-Bina
AKAs: Jihad al-Binaa'
Construction for the sake of the holy struggle
Construction Jihad
Struggle for Reconstruction
Jihad Construction Institution
Jihad Construction Foundation
Jihad al Binaa Association
Holy Construction Foundation
Jihad Construction
Location: Beirut, Lebanon
Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
Southern Lebanon
Background on Hizballah
Hizballah is a Lebanon-based terrorist group, which, until September 11, 2001, was responsible for more American deaths than any other terrorist organization. Hizballah is closely allied with Iran and often acts at its behest, but it also can and does act independently. Though Hizballah does not share the Syrian regime's secular orientation, the group has been a strong ally in helping Syria advance its political objectives in the region.
Iran and Syria provide significant support to Hizballah, giving money, weapons and training to the terrorist organization. In turn, Hizballah is closely allied with and has an allegiance to these states. Iran is Hizballah's main source of weapons and uses its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to train Hizballah operatives in Lebanon and Iran. Iran provides hundreds of millions of dollars per year to Hizballah.
The Majlis al-Shura, or Consultative Council, is the group's highest governing body and has been led by Secretary General Hasan Nasrallah since 1992. Hizballah is known or suspected to have been involved in numerous terrorist attacks throughout the world, including the suicide truck bombings of the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut in 1983 and the U.S. Embassy annex in Beirut in September 1984. Hizballah also perpetrated the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847 en route from Athens to Rome, and has been implicated in the attacks on the Israeli Embassy in Argentina in 1992 and a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires in 1994. The U.S. Government has indicted a member of Hizballah for his participation in the June 1996 truck bomb attack of the U.S. Air Force dormitory at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. Most recently, in July 2006 Hizballah terrorists kidnapped two Israeli soldiers, triggering a violent conflict that resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties in Lebanon and Israel.
On January 25, 1995, the Annex to the Executive Order 12947 listed Hizballah as a Specially Designated Terrorist (SDT). The Department of State designated Hizballah as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) in 1997. Additionally, on October 31, 2001, Hizballah was designated as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under Executive Order 13224.
Please visit the following links for more information on the Treasury's efforts to stem the flow of support to Hizballah.
Treasury Targets Hizballah Fundraising Network in the Triple Frontier of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay (December 2006)
Treasury Cuts Iran's Bank Saderat Off From U.S. Financial System (September 2006)
Treasury Designation Targets Hizballah's Bank (September 2006)
Treasury Designates Key Hizballah Fundraising Organization (August 2006)

Top Bush Adviser to Hold Talks in Brussels on Lebanon
U.S. President George Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, will be in Europe Wednesday for wide-ranging talks that would include the Lebanese situation, the White House said. Between Wednesday and Friday, Hadley will meet with NATO and European Union officials in Brussels, his German counterparts in Berlin and Russian officials in Moscow, said national Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
"They will discuss a wide range of issues, both bilateral and multilateral, including Afghanistan, Kosovo, Lebanon, issues in the Middle East," Johndroe said. Hadley also will likely discuss international efforts to convince Iran to halt its controversial nuclear activities, he said.
The trip was not prompted by any particular diplomatic development, Johndroe said. "This is part of continuing consultations and dialogue that Mr. Hadley has" with foreign officials, Johndroe said.(AFP-Naharnet) (AFP photo shows Hadley) Beirut, 21 Feb 07, 10:32

Government Asks U.N. to Extend Mandate of Brammertz' Commission

Naharnet: Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's government has approved a bill asking the U.N. Security Council to extend by one year the mandate of the commission investigating ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's assassination. LBC TV said Tuesday Justice Minister Charles Rizk proposed the bill early because he feared disputes between the pro- and anti-government camps in Lebanon could delay efforts to establish a tribunal to prosecute suspects in the murder.
The bill must now be forwarded to the Security Council for endorsement. The U.N. panel, headed by Belgian judge Serge Brammertz, is investigating the death of Hariri and 22 others in a massive bomb blast in February 2005 on the Beirut seafront. Its current mandate expires in June.
In two reports to the Security Council, the U.N commission implicated Syrian and pro-Damascus Lebanese intelligence officers in Hariri's death. Syria has denied any role in the assassination and other recent attacks. Outrage over Hariri's assassination forced Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon two months after his death, ending a 29-year presence. An international tribunal is supposed to be set up to judge suspects eventually charged in the killing but needs the approval of Lebanon, which has been blocked by the country's political crisis. An agreement between the Lebanese government and the U.N. on setting up the court was signed early in February but must be ratified by parliament. Speaker Nabih Berri, a key opposition figure, has refused to convene parliament until the political crisis is resolved.(AP-AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, 21 Feb 07, 07:26

Israel Blows Up Hizbullah Cave
Naharnet: Israeli forces on Wednesday uncovered and blew up a cave near the Jewish State's northern border with Lebanon that had been used by Hizbullah before last summer's war, the army said. The cave was found on the Israeli side of the Blue Line drawn by the United Nations to delineate the border between two countries. On February 7, Israeli and Lebanese soldiers traded cross-border fire for the first time in decades after Israeli sappers moved in to clear unexploded ordnance. Israel insisted its troops had remained on Israeli territory but Lebanon accused them of straying on Lebanese territory. It was the first shooting incident at the Israeli-Lebanese border since Israeli troops left Lebanon in October after the war with Hizbullah that killed more than 1,200 people in Lebanon and at least 160 Israelis. It was also the first border incident involving the Lebanese and Israeli armies in around three decades, given that Lebanese forces only redeployed to the border area after the August ceasefire for the first time in years.(AFP)
Beirut, 21 Feb 07, 17:04

Tourists stranded in Lebanon's Cable Car service
Naharnet: About 25 people were believed stranded in cable cars in the Jounieh-Harisa area north of Beirut Wednesday due to a technical failure that interrupted the tourist service, rescuers said. Sources at the Civil Defense Department told Naharnet that about 25 people were stranded in 15 cable cars when the service was suddenly interrupted. One source said the main pulley that controls the tug cable at the seaside Jounieh station was broken, which interrupted the whole line from the Harisa mount to the east down to the coast. The service suffered from a similar problem on March 2, 1989, and it took several days to rescue tourists stranded in the cabins over the wooded Harisa slopes. However, Joseph Sfeir, a technical adviser at the cable car company, told reporters the pulley remains in good shape, but the cable had skidded off its track and it takes a while to put it back and resume the service. He refused to set a scheduled for repair works. Beirut, 21 Feb 07, 17:23

The Last Victim of Israel's Summer War Found
Naharnet: The body of a Sri Lankan housemaid, missing since Israeli missiles struck the building where she worked during last summer's war in Lebanon, was found Wednesday, police said. The body of the 35-year-old woman, whose name was not disclosed, was found on the seventh floor of the building in the southern port city of Tyre. The building was badly damaged during an Israeli raid on the city on July 16, a few days after the Jewish state launched an offensive against Hizbullah. About 1.200 people were killed in the 34-day confrontation. At the time, 34 people were reported killed in the raid on the building, which housed the headquarters of the Lebanese civil defense department. Sri Lanka has more expatriate workers in Lebanon than any other country, with about 80,000 of them employed, mostly as housemaids and laborers.(AFP) Beirut, 21 Feb 07, 16:49

Israeli War Games at The Golan Inspired by Lebanon War
Naharnet:  Israel launched Wednesday its most important war games in five years at Syria's occupied Golan Heights based on lessons from the war with Hizbullah in Lebanon, Defense Minister Amir Peretz said. "Conducting these exercises in this area does not at all mean that they are connected to a possible conflict," Peretz told Israel Radio."These exercises are the army's most important for five years and mainly intend to absorb lessons learnt from the war," he added, referring to Israel's war with Hizbullah in Lebanon last summer. A regiment of paratroopers was taking part in the operation, together with infantry, sappers and the air force. Last December, Peretz said Israel had no intention of launching war against Syria despite local media speculation about a possible such conflict in the summer of 2007. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has rejected peace overtures made by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the past several months, saying Damascus must first stop supporting militant groups in Lebanon and Gaza. Israel annexed the Golan Heights in1981 and more than 15,000 Israelis live there. Peace talks between the two countries collapsed in 2000, in part because of disputes over the plateau.(AFP)

Lebanese Army Fires Anti-aircraft Guns at Israeli Fighter Jets
Naharnet: Israeli warplanes violated Lebanese airspace on Wednesday drawing anti-aircraft fire from the Lebanese army in south Lebanon, a military spokesman said. The Israeli planes had "violated Lebanese sovereignty, posing a challenge to U.N. Resolution 1701," the spokesman said, referring to the Security Council resolution that ended Israel's 34-day war with Hizbullah last August. The jets zoomed at low altitude over various areas, including the region of the port city of Tyre, security sources said. It was the first time that the Lebanese army had fired at Israeli aircrafts since the summer war.
Israeli warplanes have flown reconnaissance missions over Lebanon for years, despite protests from the Lebanese government. Israel has defended the overflights since the war as necessary to check that Hizbullah is not being re-armed in violation of the cease-fire.  The U.N. has warned that the overflights undermine the credibility of its peacekeepers in southern Lebanon and compromise efforts to stabilize the region. After the war, the Lebanese army deployed some 16,000 troops in southern Lebanon, where Hizbullah fighters had previously been in control. The U.N. has sent more than 12,000 troops to the area to monitor the cease-fire. On Feb. 7, Lebanese troops fired at an Israeli military bulldozer after it crossed into south Lebanon. The Israeli army fired back, but later said the bulldozer was still on the Israeli side of the U.N.-demarcated Blue Line.(AP-AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, 21 Feb 07, 13:14

'Jihad al-Bina' Unshaken by U.S. Blacklisting
Naharnet: Hizbullah's construction arm on Wednesday dismissed a decision by the Bush administration to freeze all U.S. assets owned by Jihad al-Bina.
"We are not concerned by this news, we are not concerned by what Washington declares," a spokesman for the company told Agence France Presse in Beirut."Despite such declarations, Jihad al-Bina will continue to work, build, serve the resistance and heal the wounds in all construction and development sectors," he said. On Tuesday, the U.S. government blacklisted Jihad al-Bina which it said was funded by Iran -- the main Hizbullah backer.
Under a presidential order, the Treasury froze any U.S. assets held by Jihad al-Bina and prohibited dealings anywhere between American interests and the group.(AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, 21 Feb 07, 13:37

Iraqis Welcome Withdrawal Plans by Britain-Denmark
Iraqis welcomed the news on Wednesday that Britain and Denmark are preparing to dramatically scale back their military forces in and around the unruly southern port city of Basra. British forces have been based in Basra, Iraq's second largest city, since the U.S.-led invasion of March 2003, fighting insurgents and illegal militia forces bent on controlling the region's lucrative oil industry. British officers say they plan to pull out of three bases in the city itself and a logistics base in Shuaiba outside the town, and gradually concentrate their forces at their headquarters at Basra airport.
Prime Minister Tony Blair announced Wednesday that British troop numbers in southern Iraq would be reduced from 7,100 to 5,500 in the months ahead. Denmark said its smaller force of 460 troops would be home by August. Sami al-Askari, a Shiite lawmaker and political adviser to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, said: "The withdrawal is the wish of the Iraqi government and all the political powers in the country." "We welcome any withdrawal of British forces from the centre of the city," said Hakim al-Mayahi, head of the Basra provincial Security Council, which has had a fractious relationship with the British.
On Tuesday, British commander Major General Jonathan Shaw announced that the Iraqi army's 10th division, which is based in Basra, will henceforth receive orders directly from its own government rather than Britain. "Today marks another important milestone on the road to Iraqi self-reliance," Shaw said.(AFP) Beirut, 21 Feb 07, 16:20

Robert Fisk: Lebanon Will be First Victim of Iran Crisis
By Robert Fisk-The Independent
How easily the sparks from the American-Israeli fire fall across the Middle East. Every threat, every intransigence uttered in Washington and Tehran now burns a little bit more of Lebanon.
It is not by chance that the U.N. forces in the south of the country now face growing suspicion among the Shiites who live there. It is no coincidence that Israel thunders that the Hizbullah are now more powerful than they were before last summer's July war. It is not an accident that Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbullah's leader, says he has brought more missiles into Lebanon.
Why, the Lebanese ask, did Syrian President Bashar Assad visit Iranian President Ahmadinejad last weekend? To further seal their "brotherly" relations? Or to plan a new war with Israel in Lebanon?
The images of Iran's new missile launches during three days of military maneuvers - apparently long-range rockets which could be fired at U.S. warships in the Gulf - were splashed across the Beirut papers Tuesday morning, along with Washington's latest threats of air strikes against Iran's military. Be certain that the Lebanese will be the first to suffer.
For the West, the crisis in Lebanon - where Hizbullah and its allies are still demanding the resignation of Premier Fouad Saniora's government - is getting more serious by the hour. Over 12,000 U.N. troops - including battalions of Spanish, French and Italian forces - are now billeted across the hillsides of southern Lebanon, in the very battleground upon which the Israelis and the Hizbullah are threatening to fight each other again.
If Israel is America's proxy (which the Lebanese don't doubt), then Hizbullah is Iran's proxy. The more the United States and Israel warn Iran of its supposed nuclear ambitions, the more Hizbullah increases the pressure on Lebanon.
Already, there are dangerous signs of what may be to come. Spanish troops were stoned by youths in a Lebanese village last week. French soldiers who arrived at Maroun al-Ras with their weekly medical convoy for local Lebanese civilians were told in no uncertain terms that they were not welcome. The French left immediately. Was this because President Jacques Chirac, busy commemorating his murdered Lebanese friend Rafik Hariri in Paris on Monday, is now talking of placing U.N. forces not just along the Lebanese border with Israel but along the country's frontier with Syria as well?
Chirac is warning that last summer's war between the Hizbullah and Israel could "re-plunge Lebanon into a deep crisis". If the Lebanese don't pull themselves together, the French President added, they could "slide once more into a fatal chasm". These are not words which are likely to commend themselves to President Assad or his opposite number in Tehran.
Add to this the statement by Brigadier Yossi Baidatz, Israel's head of research for military intelligence - disputed by Amir Peretz, the country's Defense Minister - that Hizbullah "is building up more firepower than it had before the war... some is still en route from Syria", and it's not difficult to see why a visiting delegation of Italian senators in Beirut have been expressing their fears for their own country's U.N. troops in southern Lebanon.
An Italian major general, Claudio Graziano, has just taken command of the multinational force, UNIFIL, and has been described by the Israelis as an expert in "counter-terrorism" - not quite the praise that General Graziano is likely to have wanted from the Israelis as he faces the dangers of the coming weeks and months. In fact, generals seem all the rage in Lebanon these days, the latest of whom - the Lebanese army commander General Michel Suleiman - has made a speech of remarkable common sense, effectively blaming Lebanon's politicians for not creating the unity which might resolve its problems. In last month's street fighting in Beirut and other towns, Lebanese army soldiers achieved the extraordinary feat of repeatedly breaking up riots without killing a single one of their own citizens. "Lebanon cannot be governed by its military or through a dictatorship," he said. "It is a country satiated with democracy... but such a great amount of democracy in Lebanon might lead to chaos."Soldiers are even more conscientious than many leaders in this country," Suleiman said. Beirut, 21 Feb 07, 10:27

Lebanon's politicians are adding new problems instead of solving old ones
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Editorial-Daily Star
Lebanese leaders have repeatedly quashed the hopes of their citizens, many of whom had mistakenly believed that their politicians were capable of solving problems instead of creating new ones. Most Lebanese citizens would undoubtedly like to heed the advice of the community and religious leaders who have urged them not to abandon their country by joining the thousands of their compatriots who have already fled. But their politicians give them little choice and even less hope that the local political situation, which has floundered in a state of turmoil for more than two years, will improve anytime soon.
The politicians have ignored the pleas of their citizenry, including those of mothers and students who have formed new groups to urge politicians to resolve their differences before Lebanon is plunged into civil war. Although both sides profess willingness to engage in dialogue, the two camps remain entrenched in their uncompromising positions.
Nearly four weeks ago, one London newspaper aptly described the crisis as a game of chicken in which neither side "has been willing to blink as the stakes keep rising higher." Since that article appeared in print, both the opposition and the ruling coalition have continued raising the ante in what was already a dangerous gamble. The opposition is now threatening to launch a new campaign of civil disobedience, a strategy which could deal a huge blow to every one of the country's institutions. Likewise, the Cabinet, which has lost six of its members and which about half the country views as illegitimate, is relying on badly stretched security forces to impose a false sense of order, while pressing ahead with a sweeping agenda and no clear mandate- a scenario that promises to create new problems further down the line. It seems that nothing can stop the two sides from their reckless politicking, which is pushing the country's fragile institutions beyond their breaking points. Lebanon's politicians, it seems, are hell-bent on frittering away the country's future.
And it is not only local players who are raising the stakes. Lebanon's power struggle is being played out in the context of a worsening regional crisis. Iran and the United States are conducting military operations in close proximity in the Gulf. Israel and the international community are increasing the pressure on the Palestinians and pushing them toward civil war. If the past six years are any indication of how things will evolve, external pressures such as these will only continue to build so long as US President George W. Bush remains in office. When their own leaders only act to add to this pressure, who could blame the Lebanese for wanting to pack their bags and leave?

Examining Syria's Fears
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Examining Syria's Fears
STRATFOR: Global Intelligence Brief
In the Middle East, there was a series of events on Sunday that point toward growing pressure for Syria.
First, Syrian President Bashar al Assad paid a visit to Tehran, where Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told him Damascus needs to support the government in Iraq, and al Assad spoke out against rumors of a rift between Syria and Iran. The state-owned al-Baath daily in Damascus seemed to support his statements, writing -- in the context of Iranian-Syrian relations -- that, "Though their visions are not identical on everything, they however agree on two basic issues: Iraqi unity and the departure of the occupation forces, and the support of the political process in Iraq."
Meanwhile, Stratfor received word of a deal that Saudi Arabia has offered to Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who (along with some other Hamas officials) is based in Damascus. Riyadh apparently has offered to provide protection and diplomatic status to Meshaal and other members of the movement's politburo, without preconditions, should they experience any pressure from Iran or Syria to renege on the agreement signed in Mecca with the rival Fatah party.
The implications of such an offer to Hamas are, for Syria, significant. The Syrians have been harboring Hamas and other rejectionist Palestinian groups in hopes of using them as a bargaining chip with Israel, from which Damascus would hope one day to regain the Golan Heights. The Saudis, however, recently were able to bring Hamas and Fatah leaders together to forge a power-sharing deal -- one which appears to be making progress. This raises concerns that Damascus might be losing its influence over Hamas. The concerns are underscored by the offer Riyadh reportedly made to Meshaal, since it means the Islamist Palestinian movement could find an alternative sanctuary.
An even more terrifying prospect for the Syrians, however, would be for Iran to pursue its own national interests in partnership with others, leaving Damascus completely out in the cold, regionally speaking. This is not necessarily an irrational fear -- and it would explain al Assad's decision to visit Tehran at this particular time, as well as a comment he made, in calling for closer cooperation between Iran and Syrian, that the United States and Israel are trying to sow discord among Muslim states.
It is clear that securing its influence in Iraq is one of Tehran's primary goals, and Syria recognizes that Iran might be willing to cooperate with the United States and the Arabs to achieve this end. Moreover, the Alawite-Baathist regime has not been blind to recent negotiations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, or the fact that Iran has called for cooperation between Hamas and Fatah. The perception is that Iran is willing to help ease the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in exchange for U.S. concessions in Iraq.
The Syrians' worst nightmare, of course, would involve Iran and Saudi Arabia working out a deal to stabilize Lebanon. Saudi-Iranian dealings in recent weeks prompted Hezbollah to back away from demonstrations that had been designed to bring down the Lebanese government. And it would not be beyond the pale for Iran to acquiesce to a broader agreement between Hezbollah (its proxy) and Saudi Arabia's Sunni allies, if Tehran was able to secure its goals in Iraq in exchange.
Such a deal would be immensely detrimental for Syria, given its significant interests in Lebanon. The only way to ensure that something like this does not come to pass is for Damascus to work closely with Tehran. Iran, of course, wants Syria to cooperate on Iraq, as Khamenei clearly stated on Sunday.
At this point, it remains to be seen whether Iran and Syria can work out a mutually acceptable arrangement. But from all appearances, the rumors of a rift between Iran and Syria may indeed have some merit.

Slow recovery in south Lebanon
By Kim Ghattas
BBC News, south Lebanon
Unifil hopes to prevent further armed confrontations on the border
A massive French battle tank swings its turret slowly from left to right, its cannon barrel pointing straight at Israel down below.
About a dozen French peacekeepers from the United Nationals Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil), stand by two other military vehicles parked along the road. The picturesque, lush green scenery, with rolling fields on either side of the border fence is deceptively peaceful.
But a rare exchange of fire between the Israeli and Lebanese armies took place just a few hundreds meters away, 12 days ago, the first serious incident on the border since the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel ended six months ago.
UN peacekeepers reinforced their presence in the area hoping to make sure it would be the last one.
Under pressure
The reticent French soldiers had little to say other than "Tout est calme", all is quiet.
If anything happens, people will take off, no-one wants to get stuck here no more
Ali Faraj
A Lebanese army jeep with a couple of officers drove past, heading further down the valley, closer to the border fence.
Lebanese troops hadn't had a presence in the area for decades, until UN resolution 1701, which ended the 34-day conflict, paved the way for the deployment of about 10,000 Lebanese and 11,000 more UN peacekeepers.
That is why Hezbollah is feeling under pressure in south Lebanon.
Under the UN resolution, only the Lebanese army and Unifil are allowed to carry weapons in the border area.
Gone are the small Hezbollah positions and the yellow and green Hezbollah flags fluttering in the face of Israelis soldiers.
But these were only the visible signs of the Shia guerrilla group's presence along the border.
Hezbollah forces are still operational in the area, and they work hard to conceal their true strength.
Caught in conflict
In the southern town of Bint Jbeil, a Hezbollah stronghold, still heavily scarred by the fighting, life is very slowly returning to normal.
Kids play on the street, shops are full of fresh vegetable produce - but memories of the war are still vivid.
Many towns in south Lebanon were left in total ruin
"Everybody went to the gas stations to fill up on gas," said Ali Faraj, recalling the latest border incident.
"If anything happens, people will take off, no-one wants to get stuck here no more," he says speaking English picked in Dearborn, Michigan, in the United States.
Thousands of Lebanese emigrated to the US over the years and Dearborn is a popular destination for people from the south.
Ali and his friend do not see any problem if Hezbollah units work alongside the regular army in the south.
"The Lebanese army is not strong enough to defend south Lebanon.
"What the army can do against Israeli planes?" asks his friend, also with a strong American accent.
Anger at government
Surrounded by bombed-out buildings, torched cars and a badly damaged mosque, you can really feel the frustration and many people say they've been abandoned by their government.
It's a disgrace, they take our taxes but they don't even come to see us
Ali Bazzi
Head of Bint Jbeil municipality
"Nobody got any help from the government. In any self respecting country, the government would have come to visit the damaged area, we didn't see a single minister," said Ali Bazzi, the head of the Bint Jbeil municipality.
"It's a disgrace, they take our taxes but they don't even come to see us. Given the current political situation in Beirut, we have no relations with the central government in Beirut."
The cash-strapped government has lobbied international donors and brought in international teams to help with reconstruction.
But it was no match for the speed and organisation of Hezbollah, which distributed around $300m in cash straight after the war.
The group's vast social network is highly appreciated by locals. But if you're not a Hezbollah supporter you can be left out.
'Turned away'
"Hezbollah say they don't differentiate between Lebanese people," said Sita Balhas, a mother of five in the village of Siddiqine.
"But when my son was wounded in the war, he went to one of Hezbollah's medical centre, they told him: your legs are not for Hezbollah, so we won't treat you."
The Balhas tobacco crop was mostly burned during the conflict, their butchers shop destroyed, but they say they didn't receive any aid from Hezbollah.
They haven't received anything from the government either - but their anger seems mostly directed at Hezbollah.
"The government is powerless, they don't have money. Hezbollah started the war, they should pay us compensation," said Sita.
Hezbollah wields enormous power and control over the Shia community so it's unusual to hear criticism of Hezbollah among ordinary people, but disgruntled voices are starting to be heard occasionally.
Widening rift
The nearby Christian village of Ain Ebel is practically a ghost town.
Those villagers who remain blame Hezbollah for the conflict - which started after Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers - but are glad about the deployment of government forces in the area.
"After the war it's so different, after so many years in an area without any Lebanese security forces here we see now the army, we see the checkpoints," said Emad Lallousse, a translator for Unifil.
He dismisses claims that Hezbollah is needed to "defend" south Lebanon.
"We can live without any war, like the Egyptian, like the Jordanians, like the Syrians, why do we always have to worry about defending south Lebanon?"
Tensions in south Lebanon about who should defend - and control - this region are amplified in Beirut where the political standoff continues between the government and the Hezbollah-led opposition.
Although most people in the south still support the Shia group, the country as a whole is split down the middle and the rift is only widening.

PolicyWatch #1202
Shutting Hizballah's 'Construction Jihad'
By Matthew Levitt
February 20, 2007
On February 20, the U.S. Department of the Treasury designated Jihad al-Bina, Hizballah's construction company in Lebanon, effectively shutting the terrorist group's firm out of the international financial system. While the designation will not take effect at the United Nations -- sanctions under UN Security Council Resolution 1267 only target elements associated with al-Qaeda or the Taliban, to the exclusion of any other terrorist groups -- international lenders and donors, including financial institutions, NGOs, and governments, are unlikely to want to assume the reputational risk of working to rebuild Lebanon in partnership with Hizballah instead of the Lebanese government. Moreover -- and contrary to conventional wisdom -- the designation presents a rare public diplomacy opportunity in the battle of ideas in the war on terror.
In July, Hizballah dragged Lebanon into a war with Israel that proved devastating for Israeli and Lebanese civilians alike and left much of Beirut in shambles. In the aftermath of Hizballah's costly military adventure, the United States pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to support Lebanon's reconstruction, including $230 million pledged in August 2006 and an additional $770 million pledged last month. But Hizballah, ever adept at building grassroots support by providing free and heavily discounted social services, has been doing much the same with significant financial support from Iran. Indeed, according to the U.S. government, Iran provides hundreds of millions of dollars per year to Hizballah, is the group's main source of weapons, and uses its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) to train Hizballah operatives in Lebanon and Iran.
'Construction for the Sake of the Holy Struggle'
Offering insight into the firm's business philosophy, Jihad al-Bina is also referred to as "Construction for the Sake of the Holy Struggle," a loose translation of its Arabic name. Said to be modeled after a similar firm established in Iran after the Islamic revolution, it should not surprise that Jihad al-Bina selects projects "based on political considerations that serve the overall objectives of Hizballah," according to a 1999 UN report by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia. According to the Treasury Department, "Jihad al-Bina receives direct funding from Iran, is run by Hizballah members, and is overseen by Hizballah's Shura Council, at the head of which sits Hizballah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah."
In 1993, a senior Hizballah official noted that Jihad al-Bina had only a $1.8 million budget, though he added, "We are promised more from Iran and concerned individual financiers." By November 2006, Hizballah officials were quoted as having some $450 million earmarked just for operations south of the Litani River. Though it was a small-time operation hardly worthy of concern in the early 1990s, today Jihad al-Bina is one of Lebanon's most significant construction firms, funded and controlled by Iran.
Flush with money from Iran and operating under the guidance of senior Hizballah leadership, Jihad al-Bina has followed up on the July war with an accelerated reconstruction campaign aimed at building grassroots support for Hizballah. According to information made public by the Treasury Department, after the 2006 war with Israel, "Hizballah used Jihad al-Bina to raise funds for the terrorist organization and to bolster the group's standing by providing construction services in Southern Lebanon."
But Jihad al-Bina not only functions in a manner intended to maximize grassroots support for Hizballah, it also facilitates the group's less magnanimous activities. It should be no surprise, for example, that Jihad al-Bina has used deceptive means to seek funding for projects from international development organizations. According to the Treasury Department, "In cases when intended solicitation targets were thought to object to the group's relationship with Hizballah and the Iranian government, the organization employed deceptive practices, applying in the name of proxies not publicly linked to Hizballah." Indeed, Hizballah operatives have mastered the art of denial and deception, learned at the hands of IRGC trainers, to further a variety of illicit activities from terror financing to arms smuggling. Consider a few examples:
•In September 2006 the Treasury designated two Hizballah controlled financial institutions, Bayt al-Mal and the Yousser Company for Finance and Investment, which served as a bank, creditor and investment arm for Hizballah and secured loans and financed business deals for Hizballah companies.
•In November 2006, the Italian press, filing stories on the new Italian commander for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, reported that a ship said to be carrying refrigerators to Lebanon was impounded in Cyprus after it was found to contain eighteen trucks with mobile anti-aircraft radars and other vehicle-mounted monitoring equipment.
•In December 2006, the Treasury Department designated nine members of a Hizballah financing network in the tri-border area (TBA) of South America, including Sobhi Mahmoud Fayad. Fayad was descrtibed as "a senior TBA Hizballah official who served as a liaison between the Iranian embassy and the Hizballah community in the TBA. . . . Fayad received military training in Lebanon and Iran and was involved in illicit activities involving drugs and counterfeit U.S. dollars."
A Public Diplomacy Opportunity
There are sure to be those -- including some in the intelligence and policymaking communities -- who will complain that any entity engaged in the reconstruction of Lebanon, even one operating as an arm of Hizballah, should not be subjected to targeted financial measures. Rebuilding Lebanon, the argument is sure to go, should be of paramount concern at this delicate point in Lebanese internal politics. Others are sure to oppose any action targeting a Lebanese political party, even if that party also maintains an independent, extralegal militia and an international terrorist arm.
But while these arguments miss the point, the designation of Jihad al-Bina offers a rare opportunity to engage in what amounts to a critical component of the battle of ideas as it affects the campaign to disrupt terrorist financing. Indeed, it should not go unnoticed that while the U.S. government is designating one reconstruction company that is engaged in activities of both an overt humanitarian and covert illicit nature, it is also allocating significant funding for reconstruction efforts that come with no strings attached. As undersecretary of the treasury Stuart Levey explained, "At the same time that we are targeting Hizballah's construction company, the U.S. Government is also working to ensure that legitimate reconstruction efforts, led by the Lebanese Government, succeed."
To the credit of the interagency bureaucracy responsible for terrorism designations, the government press release announcing this designation highlighted the public diplomacy facet of this action. The purpose of the humanitarian reconstruction and security assistance pledged last summer and the additional funds pledged at last month's Lebanon Donors' Conference in Paris, the press release notes, is "to help all the Lebanese people rebuild their lives and country, while strengthening Lebanon's sovereign, democratic government and helping to ensure lasting peace."
That is a public diplomacy message that resonates in a region worried about the growing strength of a radical "Shia crescent." Conservative regimes like Egypt and Saudi Arabia expressed public opposition to Hizballah's actions when the war with Israel began, and it remains an obvious if unstated consensus that Hizballah -- with Iranian support -- should not be allowed first to drag Lebanon into a devastating war and then take credit for rebuilding the country it nearly destroyed.
Whether targeting an Islamist NGO financing al-Qaeda or a "reconstruction company" financing Hizballah, the decision to subject a person or entity to targeted financial measures should be taken solely on the merits of the case at hand. At times such action may engender charges of targeting Muslim charities or social service organizations simply because they are Muslim, but that should not prevent authorities from taking action against bad actors. To the contrary, these cases -- always based on sound evidence and interagency consensus -- are public diplomacy opportunities. Preventing Jihad al-Bina from furthering Hizballah's cause while working hard to fund and facilitate Lebanon's reconstruction is a textbook example of how to leverage these two critical components of the war on terror.
****Matthew Levitt is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute and director of the Stein Program on Terrorism, Intelligence, and Policy at the Institute. From 2005 to early 2007, he served as deputy assistant secretary for intelligence and analysis at the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

The SOLIDA Movement (Support for Lebanese Detained Arbitrarily)
Invites you to join it to its PRESS CONFERENCE This Friday February 23, 2007 at 3:00 PM To be held at SOLIDA’s Offices – Mar Youssef Center – 12th Floor – Dora – Beirut
TOPIC: The Hariri Case
Only an adherence to international norms will guarantee the truth NO to arbitrary detentions under the cover of the International Community
Today there are 8 individuals – namely, Ayman Tarabay, Mustafa Talal Mesto, Ahmad Abdel-Aal, Mahmoud Abdel-Aal, General Jamil Al-Sayyed, General Ali Al-Hajj, General Mustafa Hamdane, and General Raymond Azar – who are detained as part of the inquiry into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri without any charges being held against them.
Their imprisonment in many ways violates international norms on detention, and this and other flaws in the legal process gravely jeopardize the future work of the International Tribunal in this case.
A SOLIDA official will discuss the case in the presence of the families of the detainees.
Media Contacts: Marie DAUNAY at: 03 887 108 or Wadih AL-ASMAR at: 70 950 780

Commentary: Syria can make a difference
By: Alon Ben-Meir
February 21, 2007
NEW YORK -- US administration officials are talking increasingly about the wisdom of possibly engaging with Syria, gaining its support and participation in preventing the already chaotic situation in the Middle East from further deterioration. Although it would have been prudent to approach Syria from the first, dialoguing directly with Damascus at this juncture has never been more urgent nor of greater importance to the United States and its allies in the region. Whether Washington likes it or not, Syria does matter, and so it is imperative for the Bush administration to put aside thoughts of regime change in Damascus and view the country as a potential partner rather than an adversary.
Syria matters because it is at the heart of the Middle East and is the key to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace. In Lebanon, Syria matters because, embedded in Lebanon's social, economic, and political make-up, it continues to exert tremendous influence over Hezbollah.
As a predominantly Sunni state, Syria matters because it can shift the dynamic of the Middle East's Shiite-Sunni conflict away from a dangerous escalation that has the potential to engulf the entire region.
Moreover, in any effort to contain Iran's nuclear ambitions, Syria is crucial because luring Syria out of the Iranian orbit would isolate Tehran and weaken its resolve. Syria is a lynchpin in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, too, because more than any other Arab state, it not only provides a sanctuary for Palestinian radical leaders, but it is also the keeper of the flame of the Palestinian national movement.
In Iraq, meanwhile, Syria now plays a role more key than at any other time, given that George W. Bush desperately wants and needs his policies there to succeed and Damascus has the potential to be extremely helpful in any campaign aimed at stabilizing the fractured, war-ridden nation.
For the Israelis, too, Syria matters because without peace between Jerusalem and Damascus, Israel will always remain insecure on its northern front.
Finally, Syria matters in the so-called "war on terrorism" because it has the capacity to help in gathering vital intelligence and reining in many of the radical Islamic elements.
Of course, one can debate the degree of Syria's importance in searching for solutions to the Middle East's many all-consuming conflicts. But one cannot discount that Syria impacts directly and indirectly on all the region's major issues, and, therefore, its constructive engagement has the potential to dramatically realign the forces behind much of the troubles. Bush administration officials insist that approaching Syria is tantamount to rewarding Damascus for its mischievous behavior and transgressions. And I cannot say that Syria is totally innocent. But even if we were to assume that at least some of these charges were valid, does it still not stand to reason to sit down with Syrian officials and deal with such complaints?
To suggest, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently has, that Syria knows what it must do to "qualify" for a direct dialogue with the United States - effectively asking Damascus to first admit to the whole world that it is "guilty as charged" and then to accept President Bush's terms of engagement - makes far less sense.
Regardless of its so-called sins, Syria would reject these terms because they would be a form of submission, which, among other things, would seriously weaken its negotiating position. It is true that Syria needs economic aid, modern technology, and a host of other benefits that the normalization of Syrian-US relations could offer. That said, the United States needs Syria just as much. In fact, considering the ever-deteriorating situation in the region, Bush actually needs Syria more than the other way around.
The current administration's refusal to negotiate with Iran and North Korea for more than six years has done nothing but embolden these nations to defy the United States - and to do so with impunity. Six years of concerted efforts to isolate Damascus have only pushed it into Iran's embrace, and, instead of diminishing its regional role, made Syria even more crucial to the hunt for Middle Eastern remedies.
The policy toward Syria must now be reassessed and President Bush must regard Syria as a part of the solution, not the problem; otherwise, he is simply compounding the region's woes.
On more than one occasion, Bush's administration has, in fact, worked with Syrian officials, especially in the immediate aftermath of the 2001 9/11 attacks, sharing intelligence and tracking Al Qaeda operatives. There is no reason to hinder the resumption unconditionally of cooperation between the two nations, particularly now that the Middle East has been thrust into so much turmoil and Syria's constructive involvement has become even more necessary.
Of course, Syria will not readily abandon its ties with Tehran or Hezbollah should Washington initiate direct talks with Damascus. Nonetheless, Syria's serious engagement would have a dramatic impact on the political wind throughout the region.
Along with the Iraq Study Group, many political leaders, academics, and think tanks have recommended that the present administration engage with Syria. Bush has not simply refused to heed these calls; he has also failed to come up with any alternative policy to deal with the pre-dominantly Sunni nation as an inseparable part of the larger regional picture.
Damascus can wait this administration out, but it is highly doubtful that the Bush White House has the luxury of time when it comes to resolving any of the Middle East's problems without an active and constructive dialogue with Syria.
**Alon Ben-Meir is Professor of International Relations at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University, teaching courses on international relations and Middle Eastern studies. He may be reached at Acknowledgement to United Press International.