February 9/2007

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark 7,24-30. From that place he went off to the district of Tyre. He entered a house and wanted no one to know about it, but he could not escape notice. Soon a woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him. She came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth, and she begged him to drive the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, "Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs."She replied and said to him, "Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children's scraps." Then he said to her, "For saying this, you may go. The demon has gone out of your daughter." When the woman went home, she found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.

Free Opinions
Hezbollah Rising.By: James Rosen-FrontPage 09.2.07
The opposition's new plan: stalemate -By Michael Young 09.2.07
The Hariri court is something all parties should be able to agree on-Daily Star 09.02.07

Latest News Reports From miscellaneous sources For 8/02/07
Hizbullah Asks Authorities Bluntly to Return Seized Arms Truck-Naharnet
Truck Loaded with Weapons Intercepted Near Beirut -Naharnet
Ban Urge Restraint, Calls Clashes Ceasefire Breach-Naharnet
U.N. Truce Observers Arrive at Border after Shootout Between Israeli, Lebanese Armies -Naharnet
Truck Loaded with Weapons Intercepted Near Beirut -Naharnet
Saniora to U.N.: Lebanon 'Rejects' Israeli Violation -Naharnet
UNIFIL Commander Meets Berri -Naharnet
Hizbullah: Cabinet Sessions 'Thunderbolt' -Naharnet
Israeli General: Jewish State 'Prepared for all Scenarios' -Naharnet
U.N. Ratification of Tribunal 'Not Related' to Lahoud, Saniora Letters -Naharnet
LEBANON: Long-term environmental challenges ahead-Reuters
Clear message to Syria-Ynetnews
Bedein: Hezbollah Secretary General Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah:?Iran ...Evening Bulletin  -Naharnet
Lebanese, Israeli Troops Exchange Fire-CBS News
Lebanon, Israel armies swap fire on border-Independent Online
UNIFIL says Israeli-Lebanon border incident was serious-Monsters and

Syria Blunt in Support for Hizbullah, Hamas-Arutz Sheva
Syria says firm in support of Hizbullah, Hamas-Ynetnews
Israel's Peretz: Syria Is Letting Hezbollah Rearm-New York Sun
UN shifts toward aid projects in Lebanon-ReliefWeb (press release)
Netanyahu accuses Syria of 'indirect' war-United Press International
Bullet-proof cars a booming business in tense Lebanon-Monsters and
Lebanon praises German help with improving border security-Monsters and

Latest News Reports From  the Daily Star For 8/02/07
Qatari crown prince visits Lebanon, pledges continued support
Maronite Bishops liken clashes to 'coup d'etat'
LF: Gunman tried to shoot Geagea house
NGOs launch Web site on corporate governance
Harb calls on politicians to calm down
New group urges leaders to 'Resolve it, Solve it'
Emie confident dialogue will resolve Lebanese deadlock
Gemayel to meet Bush Thursday
Siniora skips Munich summit to avoid Livni
Rizk says creation of Hariri court 'is a necessity for all'
Peretz accuses Damascus of allowing Hizbullah to rebuild arsenal in South
Both US and Iran help rebuild bridges destroyed by Israel
New youth group seeks 'a new kind' of Lebanon
US groups hold workshop on better governance
UNDP report says devastation presents an opportunity

Truck Loaded with Weapons Intercepted Near Beirut
Naharnet: Defense Minister Elias Murr announced that security forces intercepted Thursday in Hazmieh, east of Beirut, a truck loaded with weapons.
Murr told a cabinet meeting the truck was on its way from the Bekaa valley. He did not disclose its final destination. However, a ranking security source told Naharnet a customs patrol "tailed the truck from Bekaa to Hazmieh, where it intercepted it at Sayyad traffic circle."The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said army units and police patrols intervened to support the customs patrol and the "whole case is now under the jurisdiction of the military investigator." He said the initial assumption of the customs patrol was that the truck is involved in smuggling "fuel that had been brought into the Bekaa illegally from the Syrian market.""Upon intercepting the truck, customs agents searched through packs of hay it was carrying and found a large quantity of automatic rifles, clips and ammunition," the source added without further elaboration. He stressed, however, that "the final destination of the truck remains unknown, pending completion of the investigation with its driver."

Hizbullah Asks Authorities Bluntly to Return Seized Arms Truck
Hizbullah said Thursday a truck seized by Lebanese authorities in east Beirut was carrying munitions destined for its fighters and asked for the weaponry to be returned. "Lebanese customs at midday Thursday confiscated a truck carrying munitions for the resistance," a statement said, adding that the truck was heading from the Bekaa Valley to southern Lebanon. "The Lebanese authorities should return the truck and the munitions to the resistance," it said.
Hizbullah justified its demand for the truck to be returned by what it called a "ministerial declaration" by Premier Fouad Saniora recognizing the right to resist Israeli occupation in Lebanon. Defense Minister Elias Murr earlier announced that the army and the customs intercepted the truck in Hazmieh on its way from the eastern Bekaa Valley. A ranking security source told Naharnet a customs patrol "tailed the truck from Bekaa to Hazmieh, where it intercepted it at Sayyad traffic circle."The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said army units and police patrols intervened to support the customs patrol and the "whole case is now under the jurisdiction of the military investigator."He said the initial assumption of the customs patrol was that the truck is involved in smuggling "fuel that had been brought into the Bekaa illegally from the Syrian market.""Upon intercepting the truck, customs agents searched through packs of hay it was carrying and found a large quantity of automatic rifles, clips and ammunition," the source added without further elaboration. Beirut, 08 Feb 07, 15:23

Hezbollah Rising
By James Rosen
Fox News | February 7, 2007
Hezbollah is presently receiving a "constant stream of armaments" from Syria, Iran and other foreign sources, senior Israeli officials said Tuesday, and the terror group is "preparing for violence" in an increasingly radicalized Middle East. "They are getting all kinds of rockets, advanced anti-tank missiles, command-and-control systems, training, finance," an Israeli official said. Asked if the group has fully reconstituted back to where it was before the war in terms of military capability, the official said: "They are certainly on their way." The official, a top-ranked officer in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and an accompanying aide briefed a handful of reporters on the condition the officials' names not be used. While Hezbollah has been unable to return to, or rebuild, bunkers and other fortifications it was using before the start of last summer's Israeli-Hezbollah war, the Israeli official said the group maintains an "operational" presence along the Lebanese-Israeli border, and cited as evidence the IDF's discovery Monday of a "cluster of explosives" near the border on the Lebanese side. Enabling Hezbollah's rearmament, the official said, is the "open border" Lebanon shares with Syria, and the lack of "real teeth for enforcement" in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718, which established a ceasefire in the Israeli-Hezbollah war last August.
At the same time, and in a similar way, the Israeli military officer said, foreign sources are providing Hamas with anti-tank missiles, high-trajectory rockets and missiles, rocket-propelled grenades and their launchers, explosive devices and automatic rifles.
The armament of the Hamas commanders is "intensive" and "incessant," the officer said, and intended for use against both their Fatah rivals and the Israelis.
Since the Israelis disengaged from Gaza, "tons" of weapons and fighters have been, and continue to be, smuggled through Rafah and other points along Gaza's border with Egypt, the IDF officer said. Israel believes the smuggling has only "intensified" since the end of the war last summer. The official and the aide claimed the IDF has had "no operational activity whatsoever" in Gaza for the last three months, since an informal ceasefire was established between the Palestinians and the Israelis in that area, but that in the same time Hamas fighters have launched more than 100 Qassam rockets across the border aimed at Israeli civilian targets. As further evidence of the problems originating in Gaza and its porous border with Egypt, the official pointed to the deadly homicide bombing on January 29 in Eilat, the first ever in the southern Israeli resort town, and said IDF officials "know for sure" the bomber came from Gaza. The official was skeptical about Western plans to shore up the Fatah security forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen. "Every meeting we have on this subject always ends in the conclusion, 'Bolster Abu Mazen, bolster Abu Mazen' as if that will solve all the problems," the IDF official said. "He was in power two years ago [before Hamas came to power], wasn't he?" the official asked. "What did he do then?"
The official said the Israelis themselves provide Abbas with weapons and money, and that some of the weapons have wound up in the hands of Hamas fighters. The officials looked with concern on the internecine warfare between Hamas and Fatah, which killed more than thirty people and wounded more than 200 others in clashes over the past week. "They are killing each other like hell," the official said, "in a very brutal manner." Even as Hamas and Fatah leaders met in Saudi Arabia for mediation talks, the official foresaw no immediate breakthrough in their efforts to reach a truce and establish a national unity government. Hamas remains "strong," the officer said, adding "they are far from giving up the power" and equally unwilling to change their ideology, which is sworn to Israel's destruction.

Ban Urge Restraint, Calls Clashes Ceasefire Breach
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has called for restraint after Lebanese and Israeli troops clashed on the border, his spokeswoman said Thursday.
"The secretary general is deeply concerned about the exchange of fire between the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israel Defense Forces" across the border, spokeswoman Michel Montas told a press briefing. "The exchange of fire ... constitutes a breach of the cessation of hostilities as laid out in Security Council Resolution 1701." Lebanese officials said their troops opened fire on an Israeli army bulldozer that had crossed the border near the village of Maroun el-Rass, scene of heavy fighting in the summer. Montas said the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was investigating the incident, adding Ban encouraged the parties "to make use of the tripartite coordination mechanism in order to avoid similar incidents in the future.""All such violations of Security Council 1701 endanger the fragile calm that prevails in southern Lebanon," the spokeswoman added. "The secretary general calls on all parties to exercise maximum restraint, avoid provocative actions and display responsibility in implementing resolution 1701."Resolution 1701 brought an end to the summer war between Israel and Hizbullah on August 14. The 15-member U.N. Security Council, through its president for the month, Slovakia's U.N. Ambassador Peter Burian, issued a similar call on both sides to show restraint. The United States said that the firefight between Lebanese and Israeli forces appeared to be an "isolated incident." But the State Department called on both sides to take steps to avoid a recurrence of Wednesday's clash, which caused no casualties."So as far as we know, this is an isolated incident," said Tom Casey, the department's deputy spokesman.(AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, 08 Feb 07, 21:54

Cabinet Announces Total Shutdown Feb. 14
The cabinet on Thursday called for a total shutdown across Lebanon on February 14 in commemoration of the second anniversary of the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri. "The cabinet decided that next Wednesday will be a mourning day," said a statement read by Information Minister Ghazi Aridi at the end of the cabinet meeting. The statement said the cabinet took notice of the ratification of the international tribunal. Aridi also said the government hailed the Lebanese army's confrontation against the Israeli "enemy," in reference to Wednesday night's exchanges between the Lebanese and Israeli troops on the border. Beirut, 08 Feb 07, 22:05

Syrian President vows to keep supporting Hezbollah, Hamas
By Reuters
Syrian President Bashar Assad vowed to keep supporting Hezbollah and Hamas on Wednesday, despite United States pressure on Syria to stop backing the groups, Baath Party members said. According to the party officials, Assad made the comments during a speech at the start of a two-day conference of the ruling Baath Party central command, which is expected to set a date before July for a referendum on the renewal of the president's seven-year term.
"The president was clear that Syria's support for the two movements will continue and that their resistance to regain occupied land was a legitimate right," Baath Party member Mostafa al-Meqdad told Reuters.
Washington imposed sanctions on Syria in 2004, mainly for backing the two groups and threatened in September to widen the embargo.
Members of Hamas' leadership, including the group's leader Khaled Meshal, live in exile in Syria. Hezbollah is attempting to oust Lebanon's Western-backed government, which it views as unrepresentative. Washington accuses Damascus of causing instability in Lebanon. Syria, which pulled its forces from Lebanon in 2005 under duress, denies interfering in Lebanese affairs and says it supports efforts to reach a deal that would involve giving Hezbollah's bloc more ministers in the cabinet. "President Assad told the conference Lebanese unity must be preserved," another Baath Party member said.
State news agency SANA said Assad told delegates the key to Middle East stability was a comprehensive peace deal that returned all Arab territory occupied by Israel since 1967, including the Golan Heights. The 41-year-old president, who succeeded his late father, Hafez Assad, in 2000, is expected to win the referendum easily. His rule has been marked by a slow liberalization of the economy and deteriorating ties with the United States, Israel's chief ally. Assad said there would be no major changes to the policy of gradually opening the economy to private investment while maintaining a public sector that employs hundreds of thousands of people. Assad gave no indication that the Baath Party, which has monopolized power since mounting a coup in 1963, would allow opposition parties to operate in the country.

U.N. Truce Observers Arrive at Border after Shootout Between Israeli, Lebanese Armies
United Nations truce observers arrived at the Lebanese-Israeli border on Thursday hours after Lebanese troops and Israeli soldiers exchanged fire in the first such incident since the end of the war last summer between the Jewish state and Hizbullah. The National News Agency, NNA, said French and Italian troops, backed by armored vehicles, also took up positions along a five-kilometer (three-mile) stretch between the villages of Yaroun and Maroun al Ras, where the shooting took place overnight. NNA also said an unmanned Israeli reconnaissance plane flew over Maroun al Ras, Yaroun, Bint Jbeil, Rmeish and Ein Ibl before midday Thursday.  The U.N. Inerim Force in Lebanon described as a "serious incident" the nighttime clashes which were sparked by an Israeli bulldozer crossing a fence.
Peacekeepers contacted both sides, "urging them to cease hostilities with immediate effect," said Liam McDowell, a UNIFIL spokesman.
He said the exchange was "initiated by the Lebanese army" and that the Israeli bulldozer crossed the "technical fence" to clear mines. His statement did not clearly define whether the Israelis had crossed the border, but indicated the Israelis were still on their side when the shooting erupted.
The shooting lasted for a few minutes, military officials said. McDowell said the clash ended before midnight.
Lebanese officials said their troops opened fire on an Israeli army bulldozer that had crossed the frontier near the border village of Maroun al-Rass, scene of heavy fighting in the summer. The bulldozer crossed the so-called Blue Line -- the U.N.-demarcated boundary -- and entered about 20 meters (22 yards) into Lebanon, Lebanese military officials said. The officials said the army fired volleys of .5 caliber machine guns toward the bulldozer, drawing Israeli forces to return with five anti-tank grenades that targeted an army armored vehicle and a transport jeep.
Lebanese troops did not suffer any injuries. There was no immediate word of any Israeli casualties. Israel confirmed the exchange -- with security officials saying Israel's army returned fire with tanks and light weapons -- but denied its troops had entered Lebanon. It was the first time that shooting erupted across the border since Israeli troops withdrew from Lebanon in October in the aftermath of the Aug. 14 cease-fire that ended the 34-day war between Israeli forces and Hizbullah fighters.
In Jerusalem, the Israelis said the army was clearing land, searching for bombs near where explosive devices were planted by Hizbullah on Monday, under the cover of bad weather. Hizbullah has denied the allegation, saying the explosives were planted before the summer war.
The Israeli army said troops operating in Israeli territory along the frontier came under fire, and that the source of the shooting was apparently Lebanese troops nearby. When the attackers refused to quit firing, the Israeli troops opened fire at them, the army said. UNIFIL is a peacekeeping force deployed to assist the Lebanese army patrol southern Lebanon to enforce the cease-fire. About 15,000 Lebanese troops deployed to south Lebanon under the U.N. resolution that included the cease-fire which ended the fighting.
Hizbullah still maintains a presence in southern Lebanon, along the border, its leaders say. But it has largely gone underground, hiding weapons and keeping a low profile. The Lebanese army, which deployed to the area for the first time in three decades, and the 28-nation UNIFIL, now numbering 12,000, are in charge of security. Wednesday's incident was not expected to undermine the overall cease fire, which has also faced other difficulties since taking effect. Israel has sent warplanes repeatedly over Lebanon on reconnaissance flights which the UNIFIL termed as a violation of the cease-fire resolution. Israel maintains such flights are necessary to monitor any weapons smuggling for Hizbullah. Defense Minister Amir Peretz has said they would continue because arms smuggling to Lebanese militants hasn't stopped.(AP-Naharnet)

UNIFIL Commander Meets Berri
Naharnet: The Italian commander of U.N. peacekeepers in south Lebanon said Friday that the role of his troops is to support the Lebanese army in the volatile region abutting Israel.Gen. Claudio Graziano said the role of the U.N. Interim Force In Lebanon (UNIFIL) is to "support the Lebanese army in line with U.N. Security Council resolution 1701" which ended on Aug. 14 a 34-day war between Hizbullah and Israel. Graziano, talking to reporters after meeting Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri in Beirut, said an Israeli attempted incursion into the southern sector of Maroun el-Rass late Wednesday, which was intercepted by the Lebanese Army, is "under investigation." He said the attempted Israeli incursion was a "serious incident I do not want to comment on it before completion of the investigation."Hizbullah has accused UNIFIL of "doing nothing" while Israel violates Lebanon's sovereignty.

Saniora to U.N.: Lebanon 'Rejects' Israeli Violation
Naharnet: Prime Minister Fouad Saniora on Thursday informed the United Nations of the government's rejection of Israel's "new aggression against Lebanon's sovereignty."The premier was referring to Israel's attempted incursion into Lebanese territory at the southern Maroun el-Ras sector overnight which was confronted by the Lebanese army. A press release said Saniora relayed the government stand to Gier Pederson, the United Nations representative in Lebanon. The attempted Israeli incursion, according to Saniora, was a "further violation of the Lebanese sovereignty added to violations of Lebanon's airspace which have not ceased since the cease-fire was called in August." The cessation of hostilities went into effect on Aug. 14 in line with U.N. Security Council resolution 1701 which ended a 34-day war between Hizbullah and Israel.
The statement said the army command "maintained contact with Premier Saniora yesterday (Wednesday) to follow up the situation in the south. Premier Saniora issued clear directives to confront any Israeli violation of Lebanon's sovereignty."

U.N. Ratification of Tribunal 'Not Related' to Lahoud, Saniora Letters
Naharnet: A U.N. source in Beirut said the United Nations' ratification of the international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was not related to letters sent to the international body by President Emile Lahoud and Prime Minister Fouad Saniora.
The daily An Nahar on Thursday quoted the U.N. source as saying the signing of the agreement to set up the Special International Tribunal for Lebanon was a "routine measure." The source denied the U.N. ratification was a "political message" aimed at any Lebanese faction.
Meanwhile, the Middle East News Agency, MENA, said from New York that the United Nations does not want to get involved in the controversial issue of the international tribunal which has become a major point of contention between Saniora and the Hizbullah-led Opposition.
The U.N. on Tuesday signed a treaty for creating the court to prosecute Hariri's suspected killers hours after Lahoud sent a letter to the U.N. asking the international body to disregard Saniora letters on the court. Lahoud has said that h is rival, Saniora, violated the constitution by sending to the United Nations an approval of the Special International Tribunal for Lebanon. Last week, Saniora sent a signed copy of the agreement for creating the court to the United Nations.

Hizbullah: Cabinet Sessions 'Thunderbolt'
Naharnet: Hizbullah MP Mohammed Raad has warned that a cabinet session to be held by Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's government Thursday which is expected to ratify the Hariri murder tribunal was a "thunderbolt." "The ruling team persists with its schemes," Raad told reporters on Wednesday after a meeting between Hizbullah legislators and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. "This team's determination on holding so-called cabinet sessions is a thunderbolt that blasts the crisis and collapses salvation efforts trying to find a political solution to the crisis," Raad added.
An Opposition source also described as "serious escalation" Thursday's cabinet session. The daily An Nahar quoted the source as saying the upcoming session was a "serious escalation which could drag the country into more crises."Hizbullah also issued a statement attacking Saniora for sending what it said two letters to the United Nations on the issue of the international tribunal. The statement said the ultimate motive behind the letters was to "torpedo Parliament's role and contribute to the serial agitation against the parliament speaker." Last week, Saniora sent a signed copy of the agreement for creating the court to the United Nations. U.N. Undersecretary-General for Legal Affairs Nicolas Michel signed the agreement in New York on Tuesday and returned it to Lebanon for ratification.

Israeli General: Jewish State 'Prepared for all Scenarios'
Israel will increase air flights over Lebanon a general said Thursday, hours after Israeli and Lebanese troops exchanged fire across the border for the first time since the end of the July-August war."We are going to continue our flights and even bolster our aerial activities over Lebanon," General Alon Friedman told Israeli public radio.The exchange of fire late Wednesday came after Israeli sappers moved in to clear unexploded ordnance just across the border, both sides said. They withdrew early Thursday after completing their mission, the Israeli army said.
"We expect the calm to return but we are prepared for all scenarios," Friedman said.  "Our orders to fire have changed since the end of the war. We can fire on anyone who opens fire on us, who has explosives or who poses a threat to us."The war came to an end on August 14 under a U.N.-brokered cease-fire resolution. Public Security Minister Avi Dichter told army radio that he believed none of the relevant parties had any interest in a new armed escalation.(AFP-Naharnet) (AFP photo shows Israeli soldiers watching as a Hizbullah bunker is blown up near the Lebanese border in January)

The opposition's new plan: stalemate
By Michael Young
Daily Star staff
Thursday, February 08, 2007
Syria's and Iran's strategy in Lebanon is changing. So too, by extension, is that of their local allies. Having realized that the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora will not be brought down through street protests, the opposition and its regional backers are now implementing a policy of putrefaction: Impede everything and drive Lebanon into grinding disintegration, so the government will scream first.
There are several reasons for the new approach. Michel Aoun is no longer capable of playing boulevard politics, after his followers' appalling performance just over two weeks ago, when the only thing allowing them to obstruct traffic for a respectable amount of time was the army's protection. The general can dispatch his hardcore supporters to the tent city in the Downtown; he can assemble them on a football field; but he's no longer in a position (if he ever was) to do much in the streets. Hizbullah has carefully used non-Shiite front men against the government - Aoun, Suleiman Franjieh, Talal Arslan, Fathi Yakan, Omar Karami - to avoid any impression that it's about Shiites versus Sunnis. Aoun was the best of the lot, so his vulnerabilities mean that Hizbullah now has much less of a margin to block roads and surround public facilities.
Hizbullah must also factor in what happened on January 25, when Sunnis and Shiites clashed near the Arab University. If Aoun's humiliation damaged the party's ability to sustain the illusion of a broad cross-sectarian opposition, the Tariq al-Jdideh rioting exposed the obvious - that the main fault line dividing the opposition and the government is a Sunni-Shiite fault line. The message that day was plain, if alarming: The Sunnis had reached the end of their tether, and if the game ever became one of cutting off roads, then Hizbullah and the Shiite community in and around Beirut were at a decided disadvantage compared to their adversaries.
A third reason, and the main one, why Lebanon is in for more weeks of stalemate, is that Syria continues to refuse any and all compromise proposals that might give life to the Hariri tribunal. Through its talks with the Saudis, Iran has supplanted Syria in negotiating Lebanon's fate, at least for now. But Syria remains an essential partner in Iran's regional confrontation against the United States. From Damascus, President Bashar Assad has bolstered himself by sowing instability in Lebanon, in the Palestinian territories, and in Iraq, while handing Iran important intelligence concessions in Syria. Nothing will induce Iran to cut Syria loose, or vice versa, which is why the Iranians recently adopted the Assad regime's conditions for a settlement in Lebanon. These aim to torpedo the tribunal and earn the opposition veto power over the majority's decisions, chiefly so Hizbullah and its comrades can bring the government down through new resignations. The Iranians may be wary of Syrian moves that might push Hizbullah into a conflict against the Sunnis, but the practical result of this is that Syria and Iran have reached a mutually convenient arrangement: There is no hurry to resolve Lebanon's mess.
More worrisome is what the status quo in Beirut might mean for Hizbullah's future behavior. After the summer war, the party had to accept an international solution that reduced its ability to maneuver militarily in the border area. To compensate, Hizbullah shifted its attentions to Beirut. The point was to turn Shiite anger against the government and away from Hizbullah's errors in initiating a debilitating and unnecessary conflict. Hizbullah was also responding to the mood in Damascus, from where Assad advised that the party use its "divine victory" against Israel to gain power in the government. The opposition's latest conditions for resolving the deadlock are precisely those of Syria, showing the extent to which Hizbullah is in sync with Assad's priorities.
Given the blockage in Beirut, we might soon have to prepare for Hizbullah's revival in the South. The party's leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, recently, and pointedly, mentioned the need to liberate the Shebaa Farms. While it may be true that the bombs found earlier this week along the border were planted before the summer war (and were actually found inside Lebanese territory, in a minefield, according to sources on the ground), this provides little reassurance when it comes to Hizbullah's intentions. Nasrallah cannot long tolerate being stifled both in Beirut and the South. And if the strategy in Beirut is to let the situation fester, then it seems probable that Hizbullah will intensify its activities below the Litani, the aim being to destabilize UNIFIL. One incentive is that some UN peacekeepers are interpreting their mandate to find weapons more aggressively than Hizbullah and its friends would like.
A third trope in Syrian and Iranian efforts to degrade Lebanon's political environment is the neutralization of Arab diplomacy. Earlier this week, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa sent an aide, Hisham Youssef, to investigate whether renewed diplomatic efforts might lead anywhere. Youssef saw that the doors remained closed. Damascus has not forgotten how last summer it was the Arab states, and an Arab League foreign ministers' meeting in Beirut in particular, that prevented Syria from positioning itself as indispensable midwife to a cease-fire between Hizbullah and Israel. Now Damascus is turning the tables. Through Hizbullah, but primarily through Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, it seeks to ensure that Moussa will leave Beirut empty-handed if he ever decides to return. This isn't surprising: Siniora and Saudi Arabia still consider the secretary general's plan as the basis for any acceptable agreement. So, the Lebanese should be patient. Independence 2005 was always going to be a protracted slog, particularly against adversaries willing to break Lebanon into a thousand pieces before they would allow the consolidation of a post-Syrian order. How long such a destructive policy can last before much worse happens is anybody's guess.
***Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR.

The Hariri court is something all parties should be able to agree on
Thursday, February 08, 2007
Editorial - Daily Star
The gap between Lebanon's ruling coalition and its opposition is dangerously wide on a number of key issues. However, the two camps - which have been branded according to the dates of opposing rallies held in March 2005, even though some parties later "switched sides" - still have a duty to reach agreement on pressing national issues, the most urgent of which is the creation of an international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Even as the battle lines for the current confrontation were being drawn in the wake of Hariri's killing, the March 8 Forces and the March 14 Forces agreed on a number of key issues, as was in evidence during their rival rallies. Although their stances diverged on a number of important points, including their polar-opposite assessments of Syria's role in Lebanon, the two camps had - and still have - a number of positions in common. Notably, the majority of the participants at both demonstrations managed to temporarily put aside their sectarian banners and raise only the national flag of Lebanon, professing their commitment to their nation and its freedom, independence and sovereignty. Both sides also showed consensus in their condemnation of the killing: Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah had called on his supporters to convene on March 8 to, among other things, honor the memory of Lebanon's most recent martyr, just as the call to honor Hariri was included among the reasons for attending the subsequent March 14 demonstration.
Despite the near-unanimous condemnation of Hariri's killing that was expressed by the people in March 2005, two years later, the fate of the tribunal now hangs in the balance. The creation of a tribunal - which ought not be a major point of contention given the will of the people as expressed at both rallies - is now blocked because of the divisions in the country.
It is time for all of Lebanon's parties to once again put aside their party banners and raise the flag of Lebanon when it comes to the issue of the Hariri tribunal. The creation of the court is a national issue that has the broad support of the majority of the people. Hizbullah initially objected to the passage of the draft tribunal because it had not had ample time to study the document. But by now, the two sides ought to be prepared to come together and agree on the details of the court.
There is certainly room for compromise on the nature of the tribunal - something between a court with a broad mandate and no court at all. But there can be no compromising on the demands of the people for the truth about the assassination to be revealed and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

New group urges leaders to 'Resolve it, Solve it'
Thursday, February 08, 2007-Daily Star
A new group in Lebanon called the "Resolve it, Solve it" group will organize a human chain in Beirut on Saturday, to publicly demand an "immediate and peaceful" solution to the current political deadlock. The chain will stretch from Bechara Khoury to Sodeco and participants will sign a petition including their demands. The petition is to be submitted to MPs. Resolve it Solve it is a group of Lebanese citizens who reject "empty promises, sectarian speeches and subliminal calls for violence." "We reject civil war. We can no longer tolerate the growing violence leaving us anxious about our present and fearful for our future," the group said in a statement on Wednesday.

Siniora skips Munich summit to avoid Livni
Thursday, February 08, 2007-Daily Star
BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora will not attend a major security conference in Germany this weekend because Israel's foreign minister was also expected to attend the meeting, a source close to Siniora said Wednesday. "Premier Siniora has apologized for declining an invitation from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to attend the Conference on Security Policy," the source said.  "The reason is that Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni will participate in the conference," the source added. Often dubbed "the Davos of the security world," the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy will be held in Munich from Friday to Sunday.
Separately, Siniora discussed recent domestic developments with former MP Nassib Lahoud, who visited the prime minister on Wednesday at the Grand Serail. Lahoud said following the meeting that he visited Siniora to express his support for the government's reform plan. "The huge success of the Paris III donors' summit goes back not only to the support showed by the international community to Lebanon, but it was also due to the decent reform program advanced by the Lebanese government," Lahoud said. The former MP also saluted efforts made by Siniora to try to find a solution to the current political deadlock. The crisis has made the Lebanese realize that taking to the street was a "useless" step, and that resorting to dialogue within institutional constitutions was the "most appropriate solution," Lahoud added. Lahoud said an initiative being advanced by Arab League chief Amr Moussa should be welcomed by all Lebanese. "It is about time that the Lebanese adopt the initiative that is more fitting to solve the quandary," Lahoud added.
The former MP said political leaders should "take note" of the opinions of average Lebanese, "who seek a better future for themselves, as well as for their country."Asked whether all Christians would abide by a "code of honor" put forth by the Maronite Church in December in a bid to avoid inter-Christian discord, Lahoud said that the majority of Lebanese Christians had behaved in a "democratic and open-minded" manner as of late.
Lahoud added that he was "surprised" by recent statements made by the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, MP Michel Aoun, and former Minister Suleiman Franjieh, "who despite having signed the code of honor, which calls for a return to constitutional institutions and the embracing of national dialogue," continue to espouse the opposition's "undemocratic rhetoric."Siniora later met with former Beirut MP Tamam Salam, who called on the Lebanese to support the embattled prime minister, "for all the efforts he is making to try to remedy to the current situation."Salam said that events in the past few weeks in Lebanon have proven that disagreements can never be solved through violence. The Beirut MP added that "dialogue and openness to the point of view of the other always contributes to easing tensions." - With AFP

Rizk says creation of Hariri court 'is a necessity for all'
Un sources make contradictory claims on whether security council will impose tribunal
By Hani M. Bathish -Daily Star staff
Thursday, February 08, 2007
BEIRUT: Government and UN sources said Wednesday that the signing by the United Nations of an agreement to create an international tribunal to try those accused of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was an expected procedural step in the process of establishing the court. The agreement will soon be returned to the government in Beirut to be put before Parliament for ratification. A spokesperson for Justice Minister Charles Rizk told The Daily Star that the signing of the draft by the UN was in compliance with Security Council Resolution 1644, which ordered the creation of the tribunal. In comments made Wednesday to Iranian satellite television station Al-Alam, Rizk expressed disappointment at "bickering" between Lebanon's constitutional institutions over the tribunal, adding that "several factions are using the court as an excuse to present political problems in the country."
"It is true that ratification of the court may worry some groups, but failure of the Lebanese to ratify it will have serious repercussions," he said.
"We therefore have to understand the dangers involved in hampering this tribunal and its impact on the [country] as its establishment is a necessity for all," Rizk added.Legal sources at the Justice Ministry said that the signing of the draft by the UN undersecretary general for legal affairs, Nicholas Michel, was an indication that the tribunal is "an inescapable eventuality" and that all political factions and the Parliament should deal with the tribunal accordingly.
However, diplomatic sources at UN headquarters in New York said Parliament has until the calling of a regular session in mid-March to vote on the draft. If ratification is not achieved in the House, the source said that the Security Council would create the tribunal under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.
That claim was denied by a separate UN source in Lebanon, who told The Daily Star that no deadlines have been drawn for ratification in Parliament, adding that the UN would only consider the agreement legal after it went through all the necessary "constitutional channels."
"It is up to the competent Lebanese authorities to take the steps necessary under the Lebanese Constitution for the approval and ratification of the agreement, to allow it to enter into force," said a statement issued Wednesday by the UN secretary general's office.
The agreement on the court was signed last week on behalf of the Lebanese government by Omar al-Natour, the director general of the Justice Ministry.
President Emile Lahoud advised the UN in a letter sent Tuesday, the day the agreement was signed by Michel, to "disregard" two previous letters from Prime Minister Fouad Siniora concerning his government's inability to convene Parliament to vote on the tribunal draft.
In a statement issued late Wednesday, Hizbullah said neither the Parliament nor its speaker were an obstacle to the establishment of the tribunal.
"The political crisis in the country is due to the unconstitutional and illegal government," the statement said.
Hizbullah said Siniora had ignored constitutional mechanisms concerning the ratification of international agreements by sending two letters to the UN secretary general without first referring them to the Foreign Ministry. The government has also "usurped the role of the president," it added.
In other comments on the tribunal, Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun told Al-Manar TV that the UN signing of the tribunal agreement was worthless without ratification by Lebanon's constitutional bodies.
Setting up the tribunal under Chapter 7 would mean the Security Council had taken control of the country, and would therefore need to send troops to enforce their rule, he added.
Aoun accused the government of leading the country into civil war. "The opposition rejects civil war but the government and its supporters are pushing for war, which no longer requires proof and was evident on January 23 and 25," Aoun said, referring to clashes between government loyalists and opposition supporters after a nationwide general strike called by the Hizbullah-led opposition.
MP Farid Makari said the signing of the agreement on the eve of the anniversary of Hariri's assassination was a good omen.
"Once again the international community reiterates its support for Lebanon and stands by the country in our legitimate struggle against plots to destroy the government and create chaos," he said in a statement.
Future Movement MP Walid Eido accused Lahoud of serving the interests of the Syrian regime and attempting to hamper the creation of the tribunal.
Speaking to Voice of Lebanon radio, Eido said the draft agreement had met all the legal requirements and was now ready to be ratified in Parliament.
"We are confident that Speaker Nabih Berri is aware of the steps he must take to call the Parliament to meet to ratify this [agreement]," he added.
Legal expert Ziad Barood said the Parliament must refer any legislation passed to the president, who may then make any remarks or observations he so desires before returning the law to Parliament. The House must then hold another vote on the piece of legislation, with or without taking into consideration any comments made by the president. "On the second vote, the law must pass by a majority of 65 MPs, which is half the Chamber of Deputies plus one, without being referred again to the President," Barood added. According to Article 55 of the Constitution, the president may ask the Cabinet to dissolve Parliament before the end of its mandate. The decision to dissolve Parliament, however, rests with the Cabinet.
Lahoud said Wednesday that a Cabinet session called for by Siniora to be held Thursday was "unconstitutional, and all discussions, decisions and procedures adopted during this session are thus null and void."Lahoud's dismissal came in a letter addressed to the general secretariat of the presidency of the Council of Ministers in which he complained that he had not reviewed the agenda for the proposed Cabinet session.

Peretz accuses Damascus of allowing Hizbullah to rebuild arsenal in South
UNIFIL team says jewish state violated cease-fire by firing across Blue Line
Compiled by Daily Star staff -Thursday, February 08, 2007
Israel's defense minister accused the Syrian government on Wednesday of allowing the rearmament of Hizbullah in South Lebanon and said Israel retains the right to act "forcefully" against Hizbullah to counter the threat. Defense Minister Amir Peretz' comments came days after Israel claimed it discovered four bombs in the immediate vicinity of the Blue Line. The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) concluded that the objects were just north of the Blue Line, on Lebanese territory south of Maroun al-Ras.Israeli forces detonated the devices before UNIFIL arrived and claimed unilaterally that the devices were planted as recently as Sunday by Hizbullah. A statement issued by Hizbullah Tuesday denied the charge, claiming they were planted in "self-defense" before the 2006 summer war that ended on August 14.Speaking to US Jewish leaders, Peretz said Syria is continuing to allow weapons shipments to the group to cross its border with Lebanon."We can't under any circumstances ignore the transfer of weapons and ammunition to Hizbullah," Peretz said. While Israel remains committed to the cease-fire, he said, "we reserve the right to protect the citizens of the state of Israel and we will do this forcefully without any compromises."
A spokesperson for Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora had no comment. Hizbullah also had no comment on Peretz's claims.
Israeli leaders believe that Syria is the main transit route for Iranian weapons to reach Hizbullah and have also accused Damascus of supplying weapons to the resistance group.Although Peretz gave no firm evidence of the weapons transfers and did not specify what would provoke Israeli military action in Lebanon, he said that this week's discovery of the bombs along the border showed how critical the situation had become.
Contrary to earlier reports, UNIFIL's assessment team, and the Lebanese Army, said the devices were just north of the Blue Line so Israeli fire had to cross the Blue Line in order to detonate the devices, which constitutes an Israeli violation of the cease-fire that ended the war.
Israel violates the terms of UN Resolution 1701 "on a daily basis" when it sends warplanes across the border, according to former UNIFIL commander Major General Alain Pelligrini. Peretz has come under heavy criticism for his handling of last summer's war, which has widely been perceived as a failure by the Israeli public. The Israeli military's chief of staff, Lieutenant General Dan Halutz resigned last month under pressure but many in Israel believe Peretz and Premier Ehud Olmert should also step down. - With AP