February 20/2007

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark 9,14-29. When they came to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and scribes arguing with them. Immediately on seeing him, the whole crowd was utterly amazed. They ran up to him and greeted him.
He asked them, "What are you arguing about with them?" Someone from the crowd answered him, "Teacher, I have brought to you my son possessed by a mute spirit. Wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive it out, but they were unable to do so." He said to them in reply, "O faithless generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you? Bring him to me." They brought the boy to him. And when he saw him, the spirit immediately threw the boy into convulsions. As he fell to the ground, he began to roll around and foam at the mouth. Then he questioned his father, "How long has this been happening to him?" He replied, "Since childhood. It has often thrown him into fire and into water to kill him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us." Jesus said to him, " 'If you can!' Everything is possible to one who has faith."
Then the boy's father cried out, "I do believe, help my unbelief!" Jesus, on seeing a crowd rapidly gathering, rebuked the unclean spirit and said to it, "Mute and deaf spirit, I command you: come out of him and never enter him again!" Shouting and throwing the boy into convulsions, it came out. He became like a corpse, which caused many to say, "He is dead!" But Jesus took him by the hand, raised him, and he stood up. When he entered the house, his disciples asked him in private, "Why could we not drive it out?" He said to them, "This kind can only come out through prayer."

Latest News Reports From miscellaneous sources For 20/02/07
Israel Says Hizbullah is 'Stronger' than ever-Nahartnet
Sfeir Hopes Weapons Remain Restricted to Army-Naharnet
Suleiman Against Military Rule in Lebanon-Naharnet
Fneish Vows Hizbullah Will Not Surrender Weapons -Naharnet
Moussa: 'Some' Common Grounds Reached
Opposition to Resort to 'Civil Disobedience' if Settlement Not Reached Soon-Naharnet

Aoun: External Powers Want Return to Civil Strife-Naharnet
Iran Hangs to Death a Sunni militant
Khamenei: Nuclear Program is Iran's Destiny

Latest News Reports From the Daily Star For 19/02/07
Syria, Iran vow to defeat 'enemies' sowing discord
Arab initiative, Tehran talks, internal shifts mark crossroads for Lebanon
Hoss visits Saudi Arabia for talks with king
Son of ex-intelligence chief Johnny Abdo dies of stroke
Tyre's top Shiite cleric reports receiving threats
Berri signals refusal to convene House until government is remade
Italian Senate delegation visits peacekeepers in South
Sfeir says 'devils among us' are 'spreading fatal poison'
Azour approves exemptions from VAT penalties for some contractors
Lebanese artist dies in London
Youth group pays tribute to bus-bombing victims with overnight sit-in at museum
New database gives citizens tools to defend rights
Spanish peacekeepers have another scuffle in South
Wanted suspects surrender to army in Taamir
Old Chouf homes become new bed and breakfasts

Sfeir says 'devils among us' are 'spreading fatal poison'
Daily Star staff
Monday, February 19, 2007
BKIRKI: Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir on Sunday slammed recent speeches made by politicians, saying that the harsh words of leaders prove "that devils have been distributed among us" Speaking during his weekly sermon at Bkirki on Sunday, the prelate said the "statements that we have never heard before and the extraordinary scenes that we have witnessed for the past three days prove that devils have been distributed among us, spreading their fatal poison and inciting people against each other." "If the Lebanese Army had not set up barriers between people, a massacre would have occurred," Sfeir said. "A war starts with a word ... as if we have never experienced wars and their repercussions," he added.
The patriarch urged Lebanese officials to give the army "special attention" and to provide it with the munitions and equipment it needs to fully accomplish its job "during the black days we are passing through." Referring to the truck full of Hizbullah weapons found in Hazmieh two weeks ago, the prelate said, "I hope that weapons being found in the country every now and then remain in the hands of the army, exclusively, so that the Lebanese people can live peacefully without fearing one another."
Sfeir also urged the Lebanese to work hand in hand in order to build a "just, free and independent state.""If this is done, the Lebanese will have confidence in their country and avoid leaving," Sfeir said. After the service, Sfeir met with Lebanese Forces (LF) MP George Adwan to discuss the latest political developments. Speaking after the meeting, Adwan said politicians should adopt "calm political speeches," and stressed the LF's openness to all Lebanese parties. "It is obvious that the main problem plaguing the country is that of the international tribunal [to try suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri] and other pending issues will not be resolved until the issue of the court is resolved with Syria," Adwan said.
Adwan also expressed the LF's support for the Lebanese Army. "The LF wants the army to have the exclusive right to carry weapons," he said.
In a separate development, the LF issued a statement on Sunday in response to Marada Movement leader former Minister Suleiman Franjieh's criticism of the prelate on Friday. Franjieh had criticized what he said was the biased position Bkirki has adopted toward the current political conflict. He had also said that Sfeir seemed to "bestow" all his support on parties which refuse to sign the "code of honor" put forth by the patriarch himself in a bid to avoid inter-Christian discord. The LF statement said that "Franjieh has forgotten that the patriarch first called for getting out of the street as a key to finding solutions [to all of the country's pending issues].""The LF's commitment to Bkirki's stands is nothing new and cannot be measured according to the date the latest declaration was issued," the statement added. - The Daily Star

Israel Says Hizbullah is 'Stronger' than ever
Naharnet: Hizbullah is militarily stronger today than before the 34-day war Israel waged against the group in Lebanon last summer, a senior Israeli officer told army radio on Monday. "Hezbollah has reinforced and it is stronger today than it was before the war in Lebanon," General Yossi Beidatz, a senior military intelligence officer, reportedly told Parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Syria, accused along with Iran of supplying arms to Hizbullah, is similarly reinforcing its military to prepare for the possibility of a new armed conflict in the region, Beidatza added. Israel sought to destroy the Shiite militia in a 34-day bombardment across Lebanon last July and August, but the Jewish state failed to achieve many of its war aims, leading to an official inquiry into the war's conduct. Israelis were incensed at their military's failure to slow the torrent of around 4,000 Hizbullah rockets that rained down on Israel during the war, killing 40 civilians. An additional 120 Israeli soldiers died in the conflict. An estimated 1,200 Lebanese died in the war as Israel deployed a pounding air assault on many parts of Lebanon. Israeli Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer recently said Israel should expect a new war with Hezbollah in 2007.(AFP) Beirut, 19 Feb 07, 16:42

Suleiman Against Military Rule in Lebanon
Naharnet: Army commander General Michel Suleiman said that while the conflict in Lebanon is sectarian, the military is not divided, declaring he is against military rule in Lebanon. "Despite all what has happened the soldier from Akkar and the soldier from Hermel carry out one order from one command, and sit together shoulder to shoulder to safeguard the country," Suleiman said in an interview published by the daily An Nahar on Monday.
He was referring to last month's street clashes that pitted activists from Saad Hariri's Al Mustaqbal group against Amal and Hizbullah supporters in Beirut. At least four people were killed and more than 160 wounded.
"They (troops) are even more conscientious than many leaders in this country," Suleiman said.
He expressed regret over the sectarian divide "even if it is given a political shape."
"If the Lebanese do not have the wish to build a unified country, it would be impossible to force them to," Suleiman told An Nahar.
"The military carries out the wish of the Lebanese, and is the tool that can implement the citizens' choice if they want one, free, independent and sovereign country," he added.
"My plan is to salvage (both) the country and the army; then the peaceful, democratic presidential elections," Suleiman went on. "After that I will quit the army command."
He said he was against military rule in Lebanon, emphasizing that "Lebanon is unique in its structure and cannot be governed militarily or dictatorially."
Asked whether he was considering running for presidential elections, Suleiman said: "I will not do anything against the constitution."
Beirut, 19 Feb 07, 08:21

Moussa: 'Some' Common Grounds Reached
Naharnet: Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa declared that "some common grounds" have been reached in the ongoing power struggle between Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's government and the Hizbullah-led Opposition.
While he described the situation in Lebanon as "thorny," Moussa said that it "is not hopeless since the Lebanese are conscientious."
"It's true that the Lebanese are passing through difficult times, but I believe we will get out (of this crisis) at some point," Moussa told reporters in Qatar on the sidelines of the fifth annual U.S.-Islamic World Forum. His remarks were published by the daily As Safir on Monday.
Responding to a question as to where the Arab League mediation has come to, Moussa said: "We have reached some common grounds, but I am not willing to uncover them." He assured that the Opposition is not against the creation of a Special International Tribunal for Lebanon to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri. "There is no objection to the international tribunal," Moussa said. "However, there is disagreement on some of the details." Beirut, 19 Feb 07, 12:00

Opposition to Resort to 'Civil Disobedience' if Settlement Not Reached Soon
Naharnet: The Hizbullah-led Opposition has warned it would resort to 'general civil disobedience' if a settlement in the ongoing political crisis was not reached soon.  "The Opposition will not stay handcuffed. It is discussing alternatives in case the situation reached a dead-end," a leading Opposition figure told As Safir in remarks published Monday. He said the anti-government camp was "seriously considering resorting to general civil disobedience," adding that "we are still giving domestic and regional consultations a chance."The Opposition has been staging since Dec. 1 a sit-in outside government offices in downtown Beirut in a bid to topple Premier Fouad Saniora.(Naharnet file photo shows the opposition's tent city outside the Grand Serail) Beirut, 19 Feb 07, 11:03

Aoun: External Powers Want Return to Civil Strife
Free Patriotic Movement leader Gen. Michel Aoun has accused external powers of being determined to return Lebanon to violence and civil strife.
"External forces are striving to bring Lebanon back to the era of violence and discord," Aoun told NBN television channel late Sunday.
Aoun said that the ongoing power struggle between Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's government and the Hizbullah-led Opposition was not with the Shiites. "The partnership Battle (in the government) is not with the Shiites, but with the Christians, with us," Aoun said. "Christians are being blackmailed since 1990. I am talking as a Christian. I am speaking for the marginalized Christians," Aoun told NBN. "Our battle alongside Hizbullah is for the sake of participation," Aoun added.He assured the March 14 coalition that he will sign the treaty to create a Special International Tribunal for Lebanon to try the suspected killers of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri.

"I will personally sign it even if they did not listen to the Opposition's remarks," Aoun added.
Beirut, 19 Feb 07, 13:13 -Naharnet
Sfeir Hopes Weapons Remain Restricted to Army
Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir has expressed hope that weapons remain solely in the hands of the Lebanese army to abolish fears amongst Lebanese.
Sfeir, during his weekly sermon at Bkirki on Sunday, said: "I hope that weapons being found in the country every now and then remain only in the hands of the army, so that Lebanese citizens can live peacefully without fearing one another."
Sfeir was referring to a truckload of Hizbullah weapons that Lebanese authorities seized two weeks ago. While the Shiite group demanded the return of the arms, Defense Minister Elias Murr said the munitions were sent to the army in south Lebanon.
The Cardinal also urged the Lebanese to work hand in hand in order to build a "just, free and independent state." Beirut, 19 Feb 07, 11:20

Fneish Vows Hizbullah Will Not Surrender Weapons
Naharnet: Hizbullah cabinet member Mohammed Fneish, who resigned last November along with four other Shiite ministers just two days before the government was due to discuss a draft U.N. document on an international tribunal to try Hariri's suspected killers, has vowed that Hizbullah will not surrender its weapons. "We hold on to our weapons since their employment is not over yet," Fneish said in remarks published by the daily Al Mustaqbal on Sunday. "The resistance will continue to confront Israeli aggressions. It (resistance) is still a necessary force to protect Lebanon," stressed Fneish.
He assured that neither Hizbullah nor its weapons are for bargaining, saying: "no one can argue its legitimacy." Hizbullah was the only armed group which was not asked to surrender its weapons after Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war because it was considered a "resistance group" then fighting Israel's occupation of Lebanese territory. U.N. Security Council resolutions have called for the disarming of all militias in Lebanon. Hizbullah was expected to disarm under U.N. Res. 1701 which brought an end to the 34-day Israel-Hizbullah war this summer.
All five Shiite ministers and one Opposition Christian in the 24-member cabinet of Prime Minister Fouad Saniora resigned in advance of a vote that approved the creation of an international tribunal to probe the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Beirut, 18 Feb 07, 11:4

Spanish peacekeepers have another scuffle in South
Army detains 15 youths after stone-throwing clash near marjayoun
By Iman Azzi and Mohammed Zaatari -Daily Star staff
Monday, February 19, 2007
BEIRUT: Lebanese youths threw stones at Spanish troops from the UN peacekeeping forces during an evening patrol in the village of Debbine over the weekend, while Hizbullah unveiled a monument along the Southern border of an armored personnel carrier with two fake rockets pointed toward Israel.
A spokesman for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) confirmed that teenagers in the Southern village of Debbine had thrown stones at Spanish peacekeepers during a regular patrol. "It was a minor incident involving youngsters who threw stones," Milos Strugar told The Daily Star Sunday. Strugar said the incident took place around 10 p.m. on Saturday. According to the National News Agency (NNA), a group of teenage boys were gathered in front of an Internet cafe along the highway from Debbine to Marjayoun when the contingent passed by. Following an altercation in which the youths threw stones at the contingent, the Lebanese Army intervened to defuse the situation and arrested 15 residents. The army released all but one after brief interrogations, according to the NNA statement. The last youth was detained after two Kalashnikov bullets were found in his possession, the NNA reported. The army determined the incident was not done by a political party.
The incident was the latest in a series of confrontations between Southern residents and UNIFIL which included previous reports of minor clashes due to language barriers and accusations of house searches or theft. Last week Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah dismissed allegations that his party was trying to spark conflict with UNIFIL. "There are no problems between us and the UNIFIL and we don't oppose their presence in the South," he said on Friday. Mohammad Sharif Ibrahim, the mukhtar of Debbine, denied the incident had occurred in his village, saying it was in front of an Internet cafe in Marjayoun owned by a resident of Debbine.
"There was no conflict between our boys and the Spanish troops. We want to have a good relationship with them," said Ibrahim, who also denied anyone was still under arrest, claiming the "bullets" were nothing more than a keychain. This came a few hours after resigned Energy and Water Minister Mohammad Fneish of Hizbullah unveiled a monument representing resistance rockets in the area of Qassimiyeh at the entrance of Tyre.
"The persistence of the party to face the enemy isn't for the love of killing or for a love of holding weapons but it is for a love of life," Fneish said, in front of the monument, which was unveiled as part of the annual commemoration of the killing of two senior Hizbullah officials in 1984 and 1992.
"The resistance will continue to confront Israeli aggression. [The resistance] is still a necessary force to protect Lebanon," stressed Fneish.
Fneish and five other opposition ministers resigned last November, days before the Cabinet was to discuss the UN international tribunal to try former Premier Rafik Hariri's assassins. "We hold on to our weapons since their use is not over yet," he said, adding that "no one can argue with its legitimacy."
A sign hanging from the monument declared: "[Hizbullah] has more than 20,000 rockets." During the 2006 summer war, Hizbullah reportedly fired over 4,000 rockets into northern Israel. According to a local daily, Al-Balad, over the weekend Israel claimed that Hizbullah had acquired two types of anti-aircraft missiles: Russian SA-7s and the QW1 from China. Israel and the United States maintain that Hizbullah has actively been receiving arms shipments from across the Syrian border since the war and despite a UN cease-fire resolution banning the import of arms by any party other than the state. Hizbullah denies the claim. Over the past month, Hizbullah has increased its presence in South Lebanon, hanging Hizbullah flags and portraits of fighters killed during the war across the region and near the UN-demarcated Blue Line along the border with Israel.

Tyre's top Shiite cleric reports receiving threats
Daily Star staff-Monday, February 19, 2007
TYRE: The senior Shiite cleric in Tyre and the Jabal Amel region, Sayyed Ali al-Amin, said Saturday that he has been receiving threatening e-mails, in addition to a number of letters that he earlier forwarded to Lebanese judicial authorities. Amin is known to be one of the few Shiite clerics in Lebanon to oppose Hizbullah. He has attacked the ideology and stands of the group on several occasions, calling them was "extremist and oppressive."
He also opposes Iranian policy in Lebanon and denounces what he has called Iran's "blatant intervention" in Lebanese domestic issues.
Amin is a supporter of the March 14 Forces. Recently he delivered a speech at the two-year commemoration of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's assassination. In his speech, Amin stressed the importance of the formation of an international court to try those involved in Hariri's murder, adding that "the tribunal will put an end to the string of assassinations that shook Lebanon in the past couple of years." Another Shiite cleric, Sheikh Youssef Kanj, warned Sunday that any attacks on the "wise and moderate" Amin would not go unanswered. Kanj added that in Lebanon there exists a struggle between "education and freedom as characterized by the stands undertaken by Sayyed Amin," as opposed to "ignorance and servitude that are espoused by others." - The Daily Star

Berri signals refusal to convene House until government is remade
Both sides consider options if no deal is reached by mid-march
By Hani M. Bathish -Special to The Daily Star
Monday, February 19, 2007
BEIRUT: The chances of Parliament resuming business before the current political deadlock is resolved appeared to fade on Sunday, as a spokesperson for parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri told The Daily Star that as long as the government remains "unconstitutional and unrepresentative," Berri will not convene the legislature. In addition to the controversial ratification of an international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, there are many draft laws waiting for the next ordinary parliamentary session, scheduled for mid-March.
The March 14 Forces have previously said they could convene an ordinary session headed by Deputy Speaker MP Farid Makari should Berri refuse to do so. MP Boutros Harb told The Daily Star that convening Parliament without its speaker would be a political step, not a legal one.
"There is no text, as such, either in the Constitution or in the internal bylaws of the Chamber of Deputies that forces the speaker to convene an ordinary session of Parliament," Harb explained. The MP said the issue of convening Parliament did not come up during a meeting with Berri last week.
"There is still time until March," Harb said. "We hope the matter is resolved by then." Asked if the deputy speaker could assume the duties of speaker to convene an ordinary session if the speaker refused to do so, Harb said that "The only time the deputy speaker assumes the duties of the speaker is when the speaker is incapacitated, unable for health reasons to assume his responsibilities; for example if he has an accident or lost his memory."
However, Harb added that "some people" were suggesting that, "in so far as the political situation does not allow the speaker to convene a session," a case could be made that this should be considered a situation in which the speaker was incapacitated, albeit politically.
Harb told reporters after meeting Berri on Saturday that the two main political obstacles in the country - disagreement over the make-up of the government and the international tribunal - are linked and that should an agreement be reached on these issues, "the road would be open for a comprehensive solution to the political deadlock."
MP Robert Ghanem, chairman of Parliament's Administration and Justice Committee, told Al-Mustaqbal in an article published Sunday that there were no obstacles to convening an ordinary session. "I am surprised the speaker would not call to convene an ordinary session as he is entrusted with the democratic system in the country and is responsible for ensuring the country's institutions continue to function," Ghanem said.
Article 65, Section 4 of the Constitution stipulates that the Cabinet can dissolve the Parliament upon the request of the president if the chamber, for no compelling reason, fails to meet during one of its regular sessions, or fails to meet for two successive extraordinary periods, each longer than one month.
"If the speaker does not call the Chamber of Deputies to convene during an ordinary session, I do not think there will be a reluctance on the part of the Chamber of Deputies to assume its responsibilities," Ghanem said, explaining that the parliamentary majority submitted a petition to Berri in mid January calling for an extraordinary session. The petition was ignored. Lebanese Democratic Party leader and former MP Talal Arslan told An Nahar in an article published on Sunday that Berri will not convene Parliament because "he does not recognize the legitimacy of the government."

Italian Senate delegation visits peacekeepers in South
By Mohammed Zaatari -Daily Star staff
Monday, February 19, 2007
NAQOURA/TIBNIN: A delegation from the Italian Senate paid a visit Sunday to the Italian contingent of the UN Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) at its headquarters in Tibnin in the South. A joint delegation from the Italian Senate's Foreign Affairs Committee led by Senator Lamberto Dini, and Defense Committee led by Senator Sergio De Gregorio met with the head of the Italian contingent, General Paolo Gerometta, as well as other top-ranking officers.
Speaking to reporters in Naqoura, Dini said he had no information on the presence of an Al-Qaeda cell in Lebanon, but hoped the mission of the peacekeepers in the South "continues to run as smoothly and calmly." Defense Minister Elias Murr has said there are "intelligence reports" of a possible Al-Qaeda threat against UNIFIL. The peacekeepers urged the senators to press on Rome to increase its funding for the Italian mission so they can help the residents of the South. The Italian delegation had earlier met with the newly appointed UNIFIL commander, General Claudio Grazioni, in Naqoura. A statement said they discussed recent political developments in Lebanon and issues pertaining to UNIFIL's mission. The delegation is expected to visit a number of Lebanese officials, including Premier Fouad Siniora, on Monday. The senators will also assess the outcomes of their visit to Lebanon in a news conference to be held at Rafik Hariri International Airport on Monday afternoon.

Syria, Iran vow to defeat 'enemies' sowing discord
'A rift among muslims is their latest weapon'
Compiled by Daily Star staff -Monday, February 19, 2007
Syria on Sunday denied any rift between Damascus and Tehran during a visit to Iran by President Bashar Assad, who accused the "enemies" of the Islamic countries of trying to sow discord. Assad's visit comes at a time when some Arab diplomats have said Syria feels betrayed by Iran because of a joint Iranian-Saudi Arabian effort to clamp down on sectarian tensions in Iraq and violence in Lebanon. Syria has largely alienated many of its traditional Arab allies but has had close ties to Iran for years. Arab observers have said there are also newfound tensions between majority Shiite Iran and majority Sunni Syria over their differing interests in Iraq. "The creation of a rift among Muslims is their latest weapon, which is more dangerous than their previous plans," Assad was quoted as saying on the Iranian state television's Web site on Sunday. The Syrian president also accused the US and Israel of having "ominous aims." During his visit, Assad met Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani.Ahmadinejad described Assad's visit as fruitful and called for greater cooperation between their countries.
"Current situations in the region, especially in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon and Afghanistan, have doubled the need for cooperation and coordination between Iran and Syria, particularly to confront plots by enemies," state television's Web site reported Ahmadinejad as saying. The Al-Baath newspaper of Syria's ruling party also insisted Sunday relationship between Syria and Iran is still strong even if their views are not identical on all issues.
In a published editorial, the newspaper said the two countries generally agree when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the situation in Iraq.
About Iraq, Al-Baath wrote, "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." Assad warned that the US and Israel were seeking to sow division of the region's different ethnic and religious groups, particularly in Iraq and Lebanon.
"They want to push the peoples and the governments to make use of ethnicities and create divisions in the Islamic world. It is this final card that they are trying to play," Assad declared before leaving Tehran. "If they succeed in this, they will succeed in all their plans," he said.
Ahmadinejad for his part agreed on the need to "draw the attention of all the Islamic governments to the plot of the enemies to create divisions between different ethnic and religious groups." Assad's trip was aimed at bolstering the two countries' already robust diplomatic ties, hailed by Khamenei as the "the oldest and deepest of the countries in the region." Khamenei told the Syrian president that "the aims of the United States in Iraq have not been realized and there is no sign that they will be realized."
Washington has accused Syria and Iran of having a hand in escalating violence in Iraq. Damascus and Tehran have denied the accusations.
US officials also accuse Iran and Syria of interfering in Lebanon and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through supporting Hizbullah and Hamas.
Assad's visit comes days ahead of another United Nations deadline regarding Iran's disputed nuclear program. In December, the UN Security Council gave Iran 60 days to halt uranium enrichment, otherwise it will consider taking additional measures beyond the sanctions in place.
As tensions rise over the nuclear standoff with the West, the US and Iran have pursued an escalating series of military moves, with Washington sending more aircraft carriers to the region and Iran responding with more frequent maneuvers. The official Islamic Republic News Agency said Sunday that the elite Revolutionary Guards will launch their second war games in a month on Monday.
"The guards will practice various kinds of fighting tactics including tactics of asymmetrical warfare," the report said. The games are to take place in 16 of Iran's 30 provinces, IRNA reported. Some 60,000 troops were expected to participate. On the eve of Assad's visit, Ahmadinejad described Iran and Lebanon as "limbs" of the same body, adding, "unfortunately, the Lebanese part of it is wounded," according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). IRNA said Ahmadinejad praised the "brave" Lebanese people, saying that "broader relations between Tehran and Beirut would foil plots knitted by the enemies of the two nations." He also praised Hizbullah's "spectacular resistance" during the war with Israel last summer. - Agencies, with Naharnet

Arab initiative, Tehran talks, internal shifts mark crossroads for Lebanon
By Rym Ghazal -Daily Star staff
Monday, February 19, 2007
BEIRUT: The head of the Arab League voiced optimism over the weekend on negotiations to end Lebanon's political stalemate, as internal talks were put on hold pending the outcome of weekend meetings between Syrian President Bashar Assad and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The dynamic of internal talks also appeared to shift, with Hizbullah taking a back seat in negotiations to opposition ally Amal. Amal leader Nabih Berri and Future Movement leader Saad Hariri were expected to meet this week. The Tehran-Damascus talks were expected to shed light on Syria's position with respect to a draft proposal to establish an international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri, a key sticking point in Lebanon.
In an interview with Al-Jazeera television Saturday, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said that the Arab initiative is "moving forward."
"There are great efforts in keeping channels of communication open between all the sides in Lebanon, and between Lebanon and other countries, Arab and non-Arab," he told the television station.
After failing to break the deadlock in the first round of mediation efforts, Moussa's return to Lebanon would signal a breakthrough in the ongoing deadlock, but as of yet he has not set a date of return. A recent trip by his aid, Ambassador Hisham Youssef, was unsuccessful, with Youssef leaving the country "worried." "The most critical point to accomplish in the Arab initiative is that there should no victor or vanquished and no preference for any side," said Moussa. Meanwhile, Youth and Sports Minister Ahmad Fatfat said Sunday that "we are on the way to making internal compromises."
"Reconciliation can be achieved on the Lebanese field, but there is no denying that the solution here is connected to the current regional developments," Fatfat said in a statement.
The minister stressed that meetings in Saudi Arabia and Iran are "critical" to what is happening in Lebanon. A shift in the opposition's negotiating strategy was signalled in a speech on Friday by Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, who said that the best solution now would be "bi-lateral" meetings between an official from one camp and the other. Although he said that he had personally given up on dialogue with the March 14 Forces, he added that "the opposition is not just Hizbullah, so meetings between its allies and the other camps are the same as meeting Hizbullah.
Meeting with our allies is like meeting with us." Resigned Health Minister Mohammad Khalifeh, who is close to the Amal Movement, called on Sunday for dialogue, adding that the "only substitute for communication is chaos."
"It is not enough to have all these outside Arab initiatives," he said. "They help, but not enough to solve the political crisis. We need internal meetings between the different sides."Khalifeh confirmed that the meeting between Amal leader Berri and Future's Hariri would take place "soon," but did not specify the date. Hariri is currently in Saudi Arabia. The vice president of the Higher Shiite Council, Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, also called for compromise and a return to dialogue. "The country is in a tight spot, and still leaders refuse to meet and reach some sort of a compromise," said Qabalan on Sunday during a religious ceremony. "We need to be just one hand, a united one between all the religions and sects before we can reach an understanding." However, statements by Hizbullah officials were more escalatory over the weekend, with less optimistic views on a break in the crisis.
"The country is about to collapse because of the actions of the ruling team," Hizbullah MP Mohammed Raad said Sunday.
Speaking during a celebration in Nabatieh, Raad said that the "ruling majority doesn't want to reach a solution because the US doesn't want the country to stabilize until it has a better grip on what is happening in Baghdad and Palestine." Hizbullah continued its anti-government campaign on Sunday with a protest by teachers. Pro-Hizbullah schoolteachers held a sit-in outside the UN headquarters in Naqoura to demand that UNIFIL stop supporting Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government.Some 150 teachers met French UN troops and held up signs in English, stating: "The solution is by having early parliamentary elections" and "The Siniora government is an illegal one on all sides."

Son of ex-intelligence chief Johnny Abdo dies of stroke
Daily Star staff-Monday, February 19, 2007
PARIS: The son of Lebanon's former intelligence chief, Johnny Abdo, died on Saturday in Paris after suffering a debilitating stroke. Ronald Johnny Abdo, 34, suffered the stroke five days ago. He was married to Joanna Judith and the father of a 4-year-old girl, Emma.
After the announcement of his death numerous Lebanese and French figures, including Nazik Hariri, the widow of slain Premier Rafik Hariri, and renowned author Amin Maalouf, visited the Abdo residence in Paris to pay their respects. The former intelligence chief also received calls from Beirut and other parts of the world expressing sympathy. Funeral services will be held at noon on Monday, February 19, at Notre Dame du Liban Church in Paris.
Condolences can be paid after the funeral at the hall of the Notre Dame Church in Paris and on Tuesday, February 20 and Wednesday, February 21 at the Abdo home in Paris. Johnny Abdo was chief of Lebanese intelligence in the late 1970s and early 1980s. During his tenure as intelligence boss, Abdo was widely reputed to have helped arrange Bashir Gemayel's election as president in 1982, shortly after the Israeli military had invaded Lebanon as far north as Beirut. Gemayel was assassinated by a bomb before he could officially take office. In the early 1990s Abdo served as Lebanon's ambassador to France. - The Daily Star

Lebanese artist dies in London
Monday, February 19, 2007
London-based Lebanese artist, author and publisher Mai Ghoussoub died suddenly this weekend. Ghoussoub took a BA in literature from the American University of Beirut before moving in 1979 to London, where she studied sculpture at Morley College. Her art has been exhibited extensively in Europe. She has written and edited numerous books, first attracting attention with "Leaving Beirut: Women and the Wars Within" (Saqi, 2001), which blends fiction and autobiographical essay.  More recently, she co-edited "Imagined Masculinities" (Saqi, 2006) and contributed to "Lebanon, Lebanon" (Saqi, 2006) a collected work published to raise money for those displaced in Israel's 2006 bombing campaign against Lebanon.