January 30/2007

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark 5,1-20. They came to the other side of the sea, to the territory of the Gerasenes. When he got out of the boat, at once a man from the tombs who had an unclean spirit met him. The man had been dwelling among the tombs, and no one could restrain him any longer, even with a chain. In fact, he had frequently been bound with shackles and chains, but the chains had been pulled apart by him and the shackles smashed, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the hillsides he was always crying out and bruising himself with stones. Catching sight of Jesus from a distance, he ran up and prostrated himself before him, crying out in a loud voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me!"(He had been saying to him, "Unclean spirit, come out of the man!") He asked him, "What is your name?" He replied, "Legion is my name. There are many of us."And he pleaded earnestly with him not to drive them away from that territory. Now a large herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside.
And they pleaded with him, "Send us into the swine. Let us enter them."
And he let them, and the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine. The herd of about two thousand rushed down a steep bank into the sea, where they were drowned. The swineherds ran away and reported the incident in the town and throughout the countryside. And people came out to see what had happened. As they approached Jesus, they caught sight of the man who had been possessed by Legion, sitting there clothed and in his right mind. And they were seized with fear. Those who witnessed the incident explained to them what had happened to the possessed man and to the swine. Then they began to beg him to leave their district. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed pleaded to remain with him. But he would not permit him but told him instead, "Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you."Then the man went off and began to proclaim in the Decapolis what Jesus had done for him; and all were amazed.

Free Opinions
Lebanon's Fateful Showdown-New York Times. By Amir Taheri 30.01.07

Moussa in an Ambulance.By: Ghassan Charbel 30.01.07

American Lebanese Coalition
ALC statement on the Hezbollah Riots in Lebanon 29.01.07

Latest News Reports From miscellaneous sources For 30/01/07
Two UNIFIL Sappers Wounded in South Lebanon-Naharnet
Lebanon's uncertain future-MSNBC
Schools and universities closed as Sfeir calls on parties to get

No Breakthrough in Lebanon Crisis in the Offing-Naharnet
Nasrallah: Lebanese Leaders Provoking Turmoil-Naharnet
Italian General in Beirut to Head U.N. Force-Naharnet
Israel Planning to Buy Thousands of U.S. Smart Bombs-Naharnet
Panic over Israeli Balloons in South Lebanon-Naharnet

Suicide bomber kills 3 at Israeli bakery-AP
Hezbollah's 'Conservative Revolution' will fail-Ya Libnan
Israeli Cabinet approves Muslim minister-AP
Hezbollah leader vows to fight back if US operations target the ...International Herald Tribune
Peace or War? Lebanon on the Brink-ABC News
Hezbollah says gov't want them to use weapon internally-Kuwait News Agency
Former Shin Bet Chief calls for dialogue with Syria-Ynetnews
Lebanon faces prospect of civil war-Christian Science Monitor
Hezbollah is in a corner-Ya Libnan
Hezbollah chief accuses Lebanon government leaders of stirring ...Ya Libnan
Halutz defends Lebanon war decisions-Jerusalem Post
United Lebanon Relief Appoint Ambassadors press release-Press World
Iran and Syria blamed for Palestinian war-United Press International
State Department says Israel may have misused cluster bombs in ...International Herald Tribune
New UNIFIL commander, troops arrive in Lebanon-Jerusalem Post

King receives phone call from Lebanese Premier-Petra

Vice Premier Peres arrives in Qatar for first visit since 1996
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondent
Last update - 21:07 29/01/2007
Vice Premier Shimon Peres arrived Monday in the Qatari capital Doha, for his first visit to Qatar since opening the Israeli mission in the country while serving as prime minister in 1996. Peres will speak Tuesday before Qatari Foreign Ministry cadets, of whom at least 10 are members of Qatar's royal family. As of yet no diplomatic meetings have been scheduled for the vice premier. Peres will also participate in an event being sponsored by Sheikha Muza, the wife of Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. Peretz is being accompanied by a group of Israeli journalists, marking the first time Qatar has permitted Israeli journalists to accompany an official visit to the country.

No Breakthrough in Lebanon Crisis in the Offing
Efforts to reach a breakthrough in the ongoing political crisis have reportedly ran into the same old rigid stands with the Hizbullah-led Opposition insisting on a one-third veto power, a demand vehemently rejected by the ruling majority. The daily An Nahar, citing well-informed sources, said Monday the Opposition is yet again calling for a broader cabinet on the 19-plus-11 formula. The sources said the Opposition reiterated its rejection to what has been known as the "neutral" cabinet minister in a 19-plus-10-plus-1 formula. The Opposition wants a "guaranteed one-third," one source told An Nahar.On the controversial issue of the International Tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri and related crimes, the sources said the Opposition also refused to propopse amendments to the plan before the new report is released by Chief investigator Serge Brammertz next June.
The sources also said that the Opposition is once again insisting on early parliamentary elections as a condition to any settlement.
As Safir newspaper also said that contacts between Iran and Saudi Arabia have not yet reached a "serious political breakthrough."
The sources said little progress has been made toward reaching a compromise between pro- and anti-government factions.
"There are questions that require answers from both sides," one source told As Safir. Meanwhile, Premier Fouad Saniora reached out to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and President Emile Lahoud in a fresh bid to resolve the political impasse that has crippled Lebanon since the resignation of six ministers last November. Saniora's office said the premier spoke by telephone with Berri and Lahoud late Friday. Beirut, 29 Jan 07, 09:15

Nasrallah: Lebanese Leaders Provoking Turmoil
Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Sunday accused Lebanese government leaders of stirring turmoil between Sunnis and Shiites, days after deadly riots swept the capital. "There are figures within the ruling powers who are working to provoke conflict between Shiites and Sunnis in Lebanon," Nasrallah said in a televised address. "We reject sectarian strife, civil war and we will not aim our weapons at anyone," he said.
Nasrallah did not name any specific leader of the government in his speech. Four people were killed and 169 injured Thursday in clashes between Sunni and Shiite Muslims triggered by a row in a cafeteria at Beirut's Arab University between government supporters and opponents.
"Those responsible for these incidents should be executed," Nasrallah said on Hizbullah's Al-Manar television, while praising the Lebanese army for bringing the situation under control. Hizbullah and allied factions have been calling for the ouster of Prime Minister Fouad Saniora and the formation of a national unity government so that the opposition, which also includes Christian and other Shiite factions, would gain veto power.(Naharnet-AFP)
Beirut, 28 Jan 07, 23:18

American Lebanese Coalition
ALC statement on the Hezbollah Riots in Lebanon
January 26, 2007
Last week, Lebanon witnessed yet another destructive episode of violence orchestrated by the terrorist group Hezbollah and their pro-Syrian allies and aimed at overthrowing the democratically elected government of Lebanon.
These Iranian and Syrian-backed factions terrified and disrupted the lives of peaceful Lebanese by blocking main roads, setting fire into cars and property, and physically assaulting civilians and attacking students in universities. The toll was 7 murdered civilians, hundreds of injured, and millions of dollars in damage to public and private properties. The ALC condemns these deplorable acts of terror in the strongest possible terms, and we present our condolences to the families of the victims and our wishes for a quick recovery to the injured. At the same time, the ALC:
1. States that blocking the streets of an already injured and mutilated country and inciting divisiveness amongst its population can only serve the enemies of Lebanon. It was obvious that these riots were not, as claimed, intended at improving the living conditions of the Lebanese but rather aimed at destabilizing Lebanon so as to become an easy prey for the Iranian-controlled and Syrian-supported Hezbollah.
2. Urges the Lebanese to stand in support of the free and legitimate government of Lebanon and against the seizure of power by Hassan Nasrallah, Michel Aoun and their cohorts in the pro-Syrian camp, who are undermining Lebanon’s Sovereignty to serve the regimes of Teheran and Damascus.
3. Demands that the Lebanese army and the internal security forces fulfill their duty in protecting the citizens' rights to move freely about the country and attend to their businesses and in preventing the rioters from closing roads, attacking civilians and destroying private and public property.
4. Appeals to the US Government and the United Nations Security Council to exert effective and strong pressure on the regimes of Iran and Syria in order to stop their blatant interference in Lebanon and to immediately cease the arming and financing of Hezbollah, in accordance with the numerous UNSC resolutions in that regard, or start facing major sanctions from the international community. The friends of Lebanon in the world should stand ready in these difficult times to defend Lebanon’s freedom and democracy from the attempted coup by the radical regimes in the Middle East and their subversive agents in Lebanon.
Contact: Joseph Gebeily, MD
Lebanese Information Center
American Lebanese Coalition
Cell 240-498-1895

Suicide bomber kills 3 at Israeli bakery
By REVITAL LEVY-STEIN, Associated Press Writer
EILAT, Israel - A Palestinian suicide bomber attacked a bakery in this southern Israeli resort town on Monday, killing three other people, police said. It was the first suicide bombing in Israel in nine months and the first ever to hit Eilat, Israel's southernmost city. A spokesman for Hamas, the radical Islamic group that controls the Palestinian parliament and Cabinet, praised the bombing as a "natural response" to Israeli policies — a position likely to complicate the group's efforts to end a crippling aid boycott imposed by the international community. Two Palestinian militant groups, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, claimed joint responsibility for the attack. An Islamic Jihad Web site said the attack was meant to help bring an end to weeks of Palestinian infighting that has 60 people in the Gaza Strip since December. "The operation has a clear message to the Palestinian rivals. It is necessary to end the infighting and point the guns toward the occupation that has hurt the Palestinian people," the site said. The group identified the bomber as Mohammed Saksak, 21, of Gaza City, after earlier saying he came from the West Bank.
Witnesses said the bomber stood out because he was wearing a long winter coat a warm, sunny day when he struck the small bakery in a residential neighborhood."It was very hot, very hot. He had a coat on and it didn't look right to me. I thought to myself, 'What's that idiot dressed like that for?' A couple of seconds later I heard a massive explosion," Benny Mazgini, 45, told Israel Radio. Shattered glass was visible on the sidewalk outside, alongside bread trays scattered by the blast.
"It was awful — there was smoke, pieces of flesh all over the place," Mazgini said. The attack was the second suicide bombing in Israel since Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections last January. The group came under heavy criticism for making statements in support of a suicide bombing in a Tel Aviv restaurant shortly after it took power. Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, called the attack a "natural response" to Israeli military policies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as its ongoing boycott of the Hamas-led Palestinian government. "So long as there is occupation, resistance is legitimate," he said. He also said attacks on Israel were preferable to the recent bout of Palestinian infighting in Gaza between his group and the more moderate Fatah Party of President Mahmoud Abbas. "The right thing is for Fatah weapons to be directed toward the occupation not toward Hamas," Barhoum said. An Israeli spokesman reacted cautiously to the initial reports of an attack, but hinted at a potentially tough response.
"At this point it's unclear what the origin of the terror attack is," said David Baker, an official in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office, "Israel as a nation is continually confronting terror threats. Israel is always on guard against such attacks and we are compelled to continue to do so. "
After Monday's blast, police cordoned off the area, and emergency workers went on high alert. The attack was the first suicide bombing to hit Eilat, which is distant from Israel's major population centers and has been largely insulated from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It also was the first suicide bombing in Israel since last April, when a bomber struck a Tel Aviv restaurant, killing 12 people. "It's without a doubt a terrible incident that the town of Eilat is not accustomed to," said Yitzhak Halevy, Eilat's mayor. "The thought that infiltrators could enter Eilat alive and disrupt the running of the town is very worrying." Suicide bombings are sharply down from their height four years ago, when hundreds of Israelis were killed in dozens of attacks. A renewal of such violence could derail current efforts by the U.S., Israel and Abbas to renew long-stalled peace talks.
The Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, one of the groups claiming responsibility for Monday's attack, is linked to Fatah. However, Fatah spokesman Ahmad Abdul Rahman condemned the violence, saying, "We are against any operation that targets civilians, Israelis or Palestinians."
Eilat is located on the Red Sea near the Jordanian and Egyptian border, and al-Qaida operatives have been active in both neighboring countries. However, there was no indication the group was involved in Monday's attack.
There was no immediate word on how the bomber reached Eilat, located at Israel's southern tip a four-hour drive from the central cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Israel is separated from Gaza by a massive separation barrier, and militants have rarely been able to infiltrate. A bomber sneaked into Israel in a storage crate in March 2004, and last June, Palestinian militants tunneled into Israel and captured an Israeli soldier.
It also was possible that the attacker traveled from Gaza to Egypt's Sinai Desert, then used a smuggling route to enter Israel.
"Our working assumption is that he didn't make it on his own, that he may have had accomplices," Eilat police chief Bruno Stein told Israel Radio. He declined to say whether the attacker crossed an international border. The Israel-Egypt border, which runs near Eilat, is regularly crossed by smugglers entering Israel, according to police. The smugglers for the most part bring drugs and prostitutes into Israel.
The only attack to hit Eilat since the renewed outbreak of Israel-Palestinian violence in 2000 came in August, 2005, when Islamist militants linked to al-Qaida fired a rocket from Jordan at the city, causing no casualties. The last deadly attack in the city was in May 1992, when Palestinian militants swam to an Eilat beach and killed an Israeli security guard.

Italian General in Beirut to Head U.N. Force

Italian Major General Claudio Graziano arrived in Beirut on Monday to take over the command of the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon. Graziano was received by senior Lebanese army officers at Rafik Hariri international airport in Beirut. He is due to take over as head of UNIFIL in a ceremony on Friday, replacing French General Alain Pellegrini, UNIFIL officials told Agence France Presse. Graziano served from July 2005 to February 2006 as commander of the multinational Kabul Brigade which forms part of the NATO-led international force in Afghanistan. Graziano, an infantry officer, is also a mountain warfare and ski instructor and is airborne and Ranger qualified. He has served in Mozambique and Afghanistan and has been deputy chief of staff for operations at Italy's Joint Operations Headquarters since March 2006. Italy has the largest number of troops in UNIFIL with about 2,500, about one quarter of the force's total strength. UNIFIL, which was set up in 1978 to monitor the border between Israel and southern Lebanon, was beefed up in the wake of last summer's war between Israel and Hizbullah. The task force is now made up of 12,000 peacekeepers from 28 countries.
Also on Monday, the last batch of 173 Qatari troops arrived in Lebanon to join UNIFIL, bringing the total number of the Gulf state's contingent to 203 troops. Qatari troops represent the only Arab contingent.(Nahrnet-AFP-AP) Beirut, 29 Jan 07, 13:41

Israel Planning to Buy Thousands of U.S. Smart Bombs
Israel intends to buy thousands of advanced "smart" bombs from the United States which the Jewish state first used during the Lebanon war, a report said Monday. According to the English-language Jerusalem Post, the Israeli army will purchase 100 million dollars worth of Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) -- low-cost kits produced by Boeing that turn free-fall bombs into guided "smart" munitions. During last summer's month-long war in Lebanon, Israel received an emergency aerial shipment of the munitions from the United States, which raised an international uproar after one of the cargo planes landed in an airport in Scotland against safety and security regulations.(AFP) Beirut, 29 Jan 07, 12:59

Bush Secretly Authorizes CIA to Fight Hezbollah
Posted by: Manila Ryce
Posted Saturday, January 13th, 2007 at 9:27 am
Filed under: US Politics, Society & Culture, World Issues, Terrorism, War, Human Rights, Asia
Since past efforts have been so successful, the US has once again decided to meddle in the affairs of another nation (all in the name of freedom of course). As part of a secret plan put forth by President Bush, the CIA has been authorized to take covert actions against Hezbollah in Lebanon. The administration describes this action as part of a preventative measure to stop the spread of Iranian influence on Lebanese politics while justifying their own dominance in the region.
The plan, signed by the president after discussions between his aides and Saudi Arabian officials, authorizes the CIA and other US intelligence agencies to fund anti-Hezbollah groups in Lebanon and pay activists who support Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora. The move is part of an overall plan to stifle support for anti-Western powers, of which Iran is the largest contributor. Since the program is confidential, US involvement in Lebanon is officially deniable.
The finding, drawn up by National Security Council officials, is indicative of Bush’s growing alarm that Iran has more influence in the region, particularly in Iraq, than the United States. Rather than work with Iran, the president has consistently recommended that military action be taken against them. US officials have now turned their attentions towards the resistance group of Hezbollah which is largely supported by Iran and Syria.
Israel, which initiated an offensive against Lebanon last year, is supportive of the Lebanon-based action against Iran, which it views as its chief enemy. Prince Bandar bin-Sultan, the former Saudi Arabian ambassador to Washington and current national security adviser to King Abdullah, is also closely involved in the decision. One intelligence source stated, “There’s a feeling both in Jerusalem and in Riyadh that the anti-Sunni tilt in the region has gone too far. By removing Saddam, we’ve shifted things in favor of the Shia and this is a counter-balancing exercise.”
This offensive against Hezbollah will certainly turn more Muslims against each other. In exchange for Sunni support against the Shia group of Hezbollah, Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, have agreed to work harder to re-start peace negotiations in Palestine. Part of this approach towards peace was the release of $100 million of the $500 million in Palestinian taxes which Israel was holding after Hamas was democratically elected to run the Palestinian government. It should be noted that the money was only released to the Fatah group, which the US and Israel support. Fatah is engaged in a battle against Hamas for control of Palestine, though many Palestinians are weary of Fatah being a puppet to foreign interests.
The Bush administration has recently come out in support of Sunni nations which it defines as “mainstream” Arab states. This policy has created tension with al-Maliki’s Shia-led government in Iraq, which operates Shia death squads the US has only recently denounced. One intelligence source said that the administration is creating a “whirlwind” which is destabilizing the Middle East by turning Muslims against each other. This US authorization for the CIA to take on Hezbollah is only one battle in Bush’s overall “war on terror” which aims to weaken anti-Western resistance. As with the Iran-Iraq War, the US is ensuring that both sides lose. Divide and conquer seems to be the name of the game.

CIA gets the go-ahead to take on Hizbollah
By Toby Harnden, US Editor
Last Updated: 10/01/07
Con Coughlin: Siniora government's battle for survival
The Central Intelligence Agency has been authorised to take covert action against Hizbollah as part of a secret plan by President George W. Bush to help the Lebanese government prevent the spread of Iranian influence. Senators and congressmen have been briefed on the classified "non-lethal presidential finding" that allows the CIA to provide financial and logistical support to the prime minister, Fouad Siniora.
The finding was signed by Mr Bush before Christmas after discussions between his aides and Saudi Arabian officials. Details of its existence, known only to a small circle of White House officials, intelligence officials and members of Congress, have been passed to The Daily Telegraph.
It authorises the CIA and other US intelligence agencies to fund anti-Hizbollah groups in Lebanon and pay for activists who support the Siniora government. The secrecy of the finding means that US involvement in the activities is officially deniable.
The Bush administration hopes Mr Siniora's government, severely weakened after its war with Israel last year, will become a bulwark against the growing power of the Shia sect of Islam, championed by Iran and Syria, since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Mr Bush's move is at the centre of a fresh drive by America, supported by the Sunni states of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt as well as Israel, to stop Iranian hegemony in the Middle East emerging from the collapse of Iraq.
The finding, drawn up at the White House by National Security Council (NSC) officials, is a sign of Mr Bush's growing alarm at the threat posed by Iran, which has infiltrated the Iraqi government and is training Shia insurgents as well as supplying them with roadside bombs.
A former US government official said: "Siniora's under siege there and we are always looking for ways to help allies. As Richard Armitage [a former deputy US secretary of state] said, Hizbollah is the A-team of terrorism and certainly Iran and Syria have not let up in their support of the group."
Prince Bandar bin-Sultan, the former Saudi Arabian ambassador to Washington, is understood to have been closely involved in the decision to prop up Mr Siniora's administration and the Israeli government, which views Iran as its chief enemy, has also been supportive.
"There's a feeling both in Jerusalem and in Riyadh that the anti-Sunni tilt in the region has gone too far," said an intelligence source. "By removing Saddam, we've shifted things in favour of the Shia and this is a counter-balancing exercise.
Prince Bandar, now King Abdullah's national security adviser, made several trips to Washington and held meetings with Elliot Abrams, the senior Middle East official on the NSC.
Prince Turki al-Faisal resigned abruptly as ambassador to Washington last month. Intelligence sources said that a principal reason for this was his belief he had been undermined by Prince Bandar, who had not told him of the Lebanon plan or even that he was visiting Washington.
As a quid pro quo to the Sunni Arab states, Mr Bush and Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, have agreed to work harder to re-start negotiations about a peace deal with the Palestinians.
According to the Swoop website (, which contains briefings on diplomatic and intelligence matters: "US officials point to the Israeli release of some tax monies owed to the Palestinian Authority as the first fruits of this approach.
Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former clandestine CIA officer, said that such a finding would involve "various steps and types of non-military activity" agreed to by the Lebanese. "It takes two to tango. You're only those things that the Lebanese themselves would want you to do," he said.
Bush administration officials have spoken of their desire to promote "mainstream" Arab states and have even spoken of the existence of a "Sunni crescent" in the Middle East. But there is tension between this policy and the support for Nouri al-Maliki's Shia-led government in Iraq, which has links to Shia death squads and Iran.
"The administration is reaping its own whirlwind after Iraq," said the intelligence source. "For 50 years the US preferred stability over legitimacy in the Middle East and now it's got neither. It's a situation replete with ironies."

Lebanon's Fateful Showdown
By Amir Taheri
New York Post | January 29, 2007
Where do we go from here? The leaders of the two rival camps in Lebanon should be pondering the question in the wake of the showdown that brought Beirut to a standstill last Tuesday.
The showdown started in December, when Hezbollah - having withdrawn its ministers from the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora - started a mass sit-in in the heart of Lebanon's capital.
The immediate excuse was Siniora's decision to endorse the U.N. inquiry into Syria's role in the 2005 murder of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. More importantly, perhaps, Hezbollah saw its existence threatened by two Security Council resolutions stipulating that all militias be disarmed. Siniora had accepted both resolutions in the teeth of opposition from Hezbollah, which regards its militia as the centerpiece of its power as a state within the Lebanese state.
Yet other reasons, more broadly related to the balance of power in the region, also likely prompted Hezbollah to make its move. One reason was Iran's desire to humiliate the United States by bringing down Siniora's government, which President Bush often cites by as a child of the Lebanese "Cedar Revolution" and a symbol of democratization in the Middle East. Creating a pro-Iran government in Beirut would deliver the coup de grace to the "Bush Doctrine" of "spreading freedom."
Another reason for Hezbollah's move is the Irano-Syrian desire to use Lebanon in war against Israel. As Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallim has said, a neutral Lebanon would deprive Syria of the "hinterland" it needs to deal with a putative Israeli blitzkrieg. Iran also needs Lebanon as a base for "flooding Israel with missiles," as Defense Minister Mostafa Najjar has noted.
Siniora, by contrast, has aimed to take Lebanon out of regional conflicts that have little or nothing to do with its own national interests. Where Hezbollah sees Lebanon as a "bunker" in the global war against the "infidel," Siniora sees it as a "beach" that could attract "infidels" to come and spend their money.
Elections results indicate that Hezbollah represents about 45 percent of the country's Shiites; it has succeeded in finding two valuable allies.
The first is Nabih Berri, the speaker of the National Assembly and the leader of the relatively moderate Shiite movement Amal (Hope). Berri doesn't share Hezbollah's apocalyptic vision; a wealthy businessman himself, he sees the logic of Siniora's strategy of seeking economic development rather than martyrdom. But he is beholden to the Syrian regime that has supported, and financed, Amal for three decades. Nor does he wish to appear as the man who split the Shiites at a time of rising sectarianism in the region.
Hezbollah's second ally is Michel Aoun, a pint-size ex-general who played a leading role in the 1975-'92 Civil War. Aoun has one ambition: to become president of Lebanon. In the 1980s, he tried to realize that ambition with the help of Saddam Hussein, who financed the Aounite faction for over a decade. At that time, Syria and Iran were Aoun's archenemies. Now, with Saddam in no position to help, Aoun has switched to the side of his old foes in hopes of achieving his elusive goal.
Hezbollah, Amal and the Aounites together represent at least 40 percent of Lebanon's population - but know that their alliance can never win a majority in free elections. Their task is further complicated by the country's sectarian system of government, which grants Sunni Muslims the right to nominate the prime minister, while Maronite Christians nominate the president and the Shiites nominate the parliament's speaker.
Muhammad Rashid Qabbani, the grand mufti of Lebanon and the principal religious leader of the Sunni community, has given Siniora unequivocal support, dashing Hezbollah's hopes of triggering a constitutional coup d'etat. The mufti's message is clear: Shiites and Maronites can't dictate the Sunnis choice for prime minister.
But the Siniora government has a much broader base. It is supported by nearly half of the Christian community, some pro-Arab and anti-Iran Shiite groups, the Druze and a number of smaller communities. In a general election, most observers agree, Siniora's coalition would win around 60 percent of the vote.
This is why Hezbollah has withdrawn from the political process and taken to the streets. The calculation is that most Siniora supporters are middle class, people with no experience of or desire for street politics. Hezbollah militants, by contrast, are experts in the politics of violence and trained for street fights. Some look forward to martyrdom as a shortcut to paradise. Burning cars, setting up street barricades, throwing Molotov cocktails, attacking adversaries with knives and clubs, ransacking government buildings and bringing out the guns (when and if necessary) are arts in which Hezbollah excels.
Yet, almost two months after Hezbollah promised to bring down Siniora's government in "a matter of days," the prime minister is still around, as resilient as ever. He has invited Hezbollah to return to the government, though without the veto that its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has demanded. Siniora has also offered early general elections, provided Hezbollah and its Aounite allies let things calm down for a while.
So, where does Lebanon go from here?
Hezbollah's street-pressure campaign has failed to destroy the Siniora coalition or to provoke the army into getting involved in the violence (thus risking disintegration across sectarian lines).
Yes, Hezbollah could continue the confrontation for weeks, if not months. It has lots of money (mostly from Tehran) and thousands of unemployed youths to man street barricades for $2 a day. It also has President Emil Lahoud, the man installed by Syria as Lebanon's head of state. Using his constitutional powers, the usurper refuses to sign government edicts, thus paralyzing segments of the administration. Such a strategy, however, is sure to fail.
Hezbollah might opt to do what it has always vowed not to do: turn its arms against other Lebanese communities. Yet, while it might score early victories in a new civil war, Hezbollah would have little chance of winning in the end.
The only sane way out of the crisis is a compromise among the Lebanese communities. Such a compromise could be built on these principles:
* Lebanon should not become involved in any war unless it is directly attacked.
* The Siniora government should be enlarged with the return of the Shiite parties and the inclusion of Aounites, with general elections within six months.
* Lahoud should resign, with parliament choosing an interim head of state, pending the election of a new president by the next National Assembly,
* The international community should provide an aid package to keep the Lebanese economy afloat until the political situation is stabilized.
Lebanon is teetering on the edge of the abyss. But it could still step back.

Moussa in an Ambulance
Ghassan Charbel Al-Hayat - 29/01/07//
The achievement at the Paris 3 conference is exceptional since it was a sincere expression of an Arab and international decision to support Lebanon, both politically and economically. Fouad Siniora's government may talk of a resounding success that went beyond our expectations, one the opposition cannot deny, whatever reservations they have about the reform document. However, as important as Paris is, it is merely the first half of the test, while the second will take place on Lebanese territory. In the first half, the world guaranteed its determination to help Lebanon, and the second half is a test of the Lebanese people's ability to help themselves.
The devastation the streets of Beirut witnessed in the past few days is exceptional. It revealed the severity of Lebanese division, the fragility of the institutions, and the rising degree of sectarian tension. It also revealed the limited capacities of the army to intervene in civil strife and expose the overflowing supply of the ingredients for the outbreak of sectarian strife and civil war.
As chance would have it, I was in Beirut in its recent season of madness, in the midst of black clouds, the smell of burnt tires, blocked roads and an inactive airport. Unfortunately, matters did not remain at this level: there were sticks, knives and bullets and terrified citizens trying desperately to escape it all. There was even talk of the return of kidnappings, and on TV screens, youths throwing stones and vandalizing belongings, and then pools of blood emerged. Sharpshooters became involved and, suddenly, they revived the most painful memories.
What do you do on a day like this? Do you glory in the world's determination to help the Lebanese 'patient'? Or do you become depressed because of the determination of the Lebanese to treat the 'patient' by means of driving him to suicide? What could you write? Do you express your anger over the fact that today Beirut did not learn from the Beirut of yesterday? Because the soldiers of yesterday drove us to beg for aid in order to overcome the woes and catastrophes leftover from the Lebanese wars and the wars in and on Lebanon? Do you become sad that Beirut did not learn from the example of Baghdad and Mogadishu, despite all the warnings that were launched from strife and the evils of reviving them?
One becomes overwhelmed with deep pain because no one explained to these youths that were born after the previous civil war the danger inherent in the desecration of institutions, laws, logic and areas. They grew up under the impact of zealous speeches and the monopolization of the truth, reality, and the accusation of the other, considering the other's mere disagreement with them a threat. They have fallen under the temptation of imposing their own dictionary and the cancellation of the dictionaries of others. No one taught them the secret of Lebanon's existence and perseverance, and that the makeup of the country forces one to dance well with others, taking into account their fears and their steps. Also, no one taught them that modifications in the basics of dancing will burn down the theater when it comes as a surprise and in a forced manner, greater than the ability of the theater to withstand.
The government that was successful in Paris cannot deny that it is an incomplete government. Its success in Beirut is unfeasible in the absence of those who withdrew from its ranks in protest. The government knows that the opposition, lead by Hezbollah, is strong and in effect represents half of the population or a little less. The opposition, which has made clear its ability to destabilize the situation as a whole must come to understand that it is confronting a strong government that enjoys the support of half the population as well, or a little more in fact. And they must come to know that spreading destruction is easier than toppling the government.
In Beirut, which has been living in the shadow of curfew, I felt the hasty need for an ambulance. That is, an ambulance bolstered with Arab and international authorization. Also, the ambulance should come with Amr Moussa, making the best of the success of the Paris conference so that he can provide the requirements for translating and transferring this success to Beirut. He should also benefit from the lessons of the destruction that the Lebanese capital witnessed; a collapse that brings about nothing but losers. Nonetheless, Amr Moussa's abilities to help the Lebanese are contingent upon their own decision to help themselves. This is a decision that begins with a political and media truce and preparations for the exchange of concessions, instead of exchanging blows and trying to benefit from the Saudi-Iranian dialogue.
An ambulance is called for that comes with a doctor who goes by the name of Amr Moussa. What is called for is a cooling down of the stances taken, trimming down demands, rationalizing ambitions, returning to dialogue and the language of meeting halfway. Without this, the Lebanese will exchange blows, continue to sink, and will achieve successes over the debris of their country.