January 05/2007

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint John 1,35-42. The next day John was there again with two of his disciples,
and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, "Behold, the Lamb of God." The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, "What are you looking for?" They said to him, "Rabbi" (which translated means Teacher), "where are you staying?" He said to them,"Come, and you will see." So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon. Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus. He first found his own brother Simon and told him, "We have found the Messiah" (which is translated Anointed). Then he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Kephas" (which is translated Peter).

Free Opinions
Lebanon's crisis is keeping facts about the Hariri killing under wraps-Daily Star 05.01.07

Latest news from The Daily Star for January 05/07
Saudi king's talks with Hizbullah may indicate new bid to end crisis in Beirut
Lebanon's Cabinet approves reform plan for Paris III conference
National Museum recovers Bronze Age painting
Malaysian peacekeepers establish base in South
Higher Judicial Council tells media to mind its own business
Officials expect fewer power cuts by month-end
March 14 Forces: SSNP becoming a 'tool' for Syria
War added to Lebanon's many environmental problems
Flu and cold season hits Beirutis full force
Mikati firm in talks for majority stake in British Mediterranean
Olmert apologizes as raid sours summit with Mubarak

Latest news from Miscellaneous sources for January 05/07
Saudi King Met High-Ranking Hizbullah Delegation -Naharnet
March 14 Coalition Accuses SSNP of being Syrian Intelligence Tool Involved In Terrorism -Naharnet
SSNP Denies Al Mustaqbal Report, Judicial Source Confirms -Naharnet
Saniora: Any Failure of Reforms is Opposition's Fault -Naharnet
Jouzou Begs Hizbullah Clerics for Mercy on Lebanon -Naharnet
Jumblat accuses Iran of Creating a Magian State in Lebanon -Naharnet
Pro-Syrian Parliamentary Deputy Allegedly Involved in Lebanon Terror -Naharnet
Italy's Energy Group Denies Trying to Pay Ransom to Free Hostages, including Lebanese -Naharnet

CSI Highlights Plight of Persecuted Christians in Syria, Other ...Agape Press
Turkish PM warns Lebanon of sectarian conflict-People's Daily Online

Lebanon PM lays any failure of reforms at opposition's feet-Middle East Online

Saudi King Met High-Ranking Hizbullah Delegation
Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz has met with a high-ranking Hizbullah delegation, urging the Shiite group to sit down and discuss the controversial issue of the international tribunal with an "open-minded spirit."The daily As Safir, citing Arab diplomatic sources, said Thursday the monarch met for three hours last week with Hizbullah deputy Secretary-General Sheikh Naim Qassem and resigned Hizbullah Electricity and Water minister Mohammed Fneish in the presence of Saudi Foreign Minister Saoud Al Faisal, Prince Makran and Saudi ambassador to Lebanon Abdul Aziz Khoja. The sources said the talks focused on the situation in Lebanon, with King Abdullah stressing to the Hizbullah delegation that the kingdom stands at an equal distance from all Lebanese sides.
They said the two sides touched on the issue of the Special International Tribunal for Lebanon to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri.
King Abdullah urged Hizbullah to discuss this issue with an "open-minded spirit with everyone, and introduce some amendments if needed, within the framework of a general Lebanese agreement on it." As Safir, according to the same sources, said the king expressed hope that the Lebanese "will come up with their own settlements, and not wait for resolutions to arrive from external powers." The sources said King Abdullah asked Khoja to return quickly to Lebanon to "take part in efforts aimed at finding an exit to the crisis." They said the second phase of consultations with Lebanese leaders would include Druze chieftain and MP Walid Jumblat, who is likely to visit Riyadh this week, and Gen. Michel Aoun, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement. Beirut, 04 Jan 07, 08:34

Saniora Government Adopts Economic Reform Plan for Paris III
Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's government on Thursday adopted a six-point economic recovery and reform plan to be referred to the Paris III conference of donors later this month. The document will be the base for the donors to provide Lebanon with badly needed financial aid after the 34-day summer war between Hizbullah and Israel inflicted more than six billion dollars of losses. Information Minister Ghazi Aridi told reporters after the session: "The government has ratified the economic reform plan which will be submitted to the international conference on aid to Lebanon," in reference to the Paris III conference of donors that is scheduled for Jan. 25. He said a Lebanese delegation will leave for Paris next week to take part in setting the stage for the conference. The five-year plan focuses on financial and social reforms that include the privatization of the communications and electricity sectors. The conference will be attended by representatives of western and Arab governments that back the Saniora majority government. Six of the government's original 24 ministers have resigned their posts and Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel was assassinated by unidentified gunmen last Nov. 21. Beirut, 04 Jan 07, 17:23

March 14 Coalition Accuses SSNP of being Syrian Intelligence Tool Involved In Terrorism
The Majority March 14 coalition on Thursday warned that an opposition group, the Syrian Social National Party, was being used as an "executive tool" by Syrian military intelligence to carry out terrorist attacks. The coalition, in a statement released after an emergency meeting of its follow up committee, praised "the accomplishment achieved by the security forces that uncovered a dangerous terrorist network." It was referring to the arrest by police of seven SSNP members and the confiscation of large quantities of explosives, detonators and timers from hideouts operated by the party in the northern Kourah province last month.
The daily al-Mustaqbal reported Wednesday that one of the jailed SSNP members, Tony Mansour, had testified to investigators that he was instructed by his party superior-Parliament member Assad Hardan to detonate an explosive charge at a rally organized by the rival phalange party in mid-January 2005. But he failed to carry out the assault due to technical difficulties. The SSNP has denied the charge and said the weapons and explosives confiscated during the major police bust had been used in fighting Israeli occupation troops. The March 14 majority coalition called on police to "follow up the investigation (In the SSNP case) to the end … and to complete the disbanding of all the terrorist structures affiliated with the former security system," in reference to Syria's military intelligence that ruled Lebanon until the withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon in April 2005 after the assassination of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri. The March 14 coalition statement rejected the SSNP claim that the confiscated weapons were used in resistance attacks against the Israeli occupation forces, noting that such resistance activities were carried out by the party in the 1980s"while the confiscated weapons …are new and in usable condition."It said that the alleged involvement of SSNP members in trying to detonate an explosive charge during a Phalange party rally "confirms that this party, which had played an important role in confronting the Israeli occupation, is being changed now into a mere executive tool used by Syrian intelligence. The reported involvement of parliamentary deputy Assaad Hardan in this terrorist operation adds to the seriousness of the situation."The statement called on the SSNP to "shoulder its responsibility and adopt a clear stand against those who are trying to change it into a tool that would spark civil conflicts."It also urged the party to undergo a "revision of its activities."The statement called on the March 8 opposition alliance, which is led by Hizbullah, to adopt a "clear stand regarding the involvement by one of its factions (SSNP) in terrorist attacks aimed at stirring civil chaos." Beirut, 04 Jan 07, 14:57

Jumblat accuses Iran of Creating a Magian State in Lebanon
Druze leader Walid Jumblat on Wednesday accused Iranian agents of using fake names to purchase real estate in various regions with the aim of creating an Iranian-style state in Lebanon. Jumblat, in a statement distributed by the press department of his Progressive Socialist Party, said Iranian agents were following the example of Jewish settlers in Palestine early in the 20th century when they bough land from Palestinians and later set up the state of Israel in 1948.
He said "some suspicious sides, using fake names such as Aly Tajuddine, are trying to purchase vast areas … especially in the regions of Jezzine, Aley and Souk el-Gharb, with the aim of finalizing the establishment of a Magian state in Lebanon." Such a scheme, according to Jumblat, aims at setting up "settlements, Ghettoes, military and security bases to besiege Lebanese Nationalist areas by human and military zones in preparation to striking on them in line with the next phase of surprises by the forces of darkness."Jumblat uses the phrase "forces of darkness" to describe Hizbullah and factions backed by Iran and Syria in their effort to topple the majority government of Premier Fouad Saniora. "These factions that claim to be pure and religious support a state-within-the state through setting up regional mini-states financed … by Iran." He concluded by saying: "I warn the public against falling in the traps of some brokers who are carrying out this job. I stress that we will not permit the implementation of this project by the Magians who follow the Israeli method of purchasing land and the organized planting of settlements." Beirut, 03 Jan 07, 21:01

Jouzou Begs Hizbullah Clerics for Mercy on Lebanon
Mount Lebanon Mufti Mohammed Ali al-Jouzou has urged Hizbullah clergymen to refrain from stirring sectarian desires and begged them to have mercy on Lebanon. "We don't trust a lot of Hizbullah clergymen, from the past and present, because since the beginning (of the Lebanese crisis) they have been acting in a sectarian and racial manner," Jouzou said in a statement published by Lebanese newspapers on Thursday. Jouzou urged Hizullah clerics to "have mercy on Lebanon and the Lebanese people, or you will drown and drown Lebanon along with you."He also warned them against arriving Lebanon to a point where the United Nations will be forced to take action and issue a resolution based on Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter "which will not have mercy on you." Chapter 7 spares the government the need to approve the Special International Tribunal for Lebanon in parliament. Beirut, 04 Jan 07, 12:16

Saniora: Any Failure of Reforms is Opposition's Fault
Prime Minister Fouad Saniora has put the country's Hizbullah-led opposition on notice that if the economic reforms he is proposing do not materialize, it will be their fault. Saniora spoke Wednesday in an interview with Agence France-Presse, a day before the cabinet is to approve a reform package to prepare for a key donors' meeting later this month aimed at securing forgiveness of some of its huge debt. "No one will help us if we do not help ourselves," Saniora said, in an allusion to the political wrangling that has paralyzed his government for the past month. The current problems are the latest in a series of obstacles that have prevented the full implementation of the reforms, some of which were promised as much as five years ago. "The (proposed) reforms, which do not date from yesterday, are open to discussion," the premier said. "If people have reservations, they should tell us," he added, pointing out that the latest proposals were included in the 2004 budget.
"After the so-called Paris-3 conference, we are going to come home and tell the Lebanese 'this is what we got.' If the opposition does not want it, so be it. If the opposition wants to scuttle (the reforms), they will bear the responsibility."
Saniora did not disclose what he would be seeking from the January 25 donors' conference, but underlined the difficult state of the economy and government finances. At the Paris-2 conference, in November 2002, Lebanon received commitments of 4.3 billion dollars, of which 3.1 billion dollars was for budgetary support and the remainder in project-related loans. "We need very substantial support from donors to reduce the state deficit of more than 40 billion dollars (or some 200 percent of gross domestic product), which will require grants and long-term loans," he said. Saniora said 16 billion dollars in loans come due this year and next.
"We are not going to ask for a specific amount of aid," he added, suggesting that the maturities of loans might be extended.
"The problems we need to resolve -- privatization, debt and the cost of electricity are known," he said.
The last point was a reference to the state-owned electrical power sector, whose massive losses cost the government one billion dollars in 2006, an amount equivalent to 20 percent of the treasury's revenues. In comments Tuesday, Saniora said the Paris III conference was "a unique opportunity for Lebanon because, after the Israeli aggression, we can't take on the burden of reconstruction alone." Last summer's devastating war between Israel and Hizbullah is estimated to have caused losses of some 5.5 billion dollars. "Now the international community is ready to help is. It's an opportunity that may not come again."
Saniora, whose government is not recognized by pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud or Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, appealed Tuesday for unity around the rescue package. "The launching of an economic rescue operation ought to be everyone's goal. All parties recognize the need for reforms, something that should not be jeopardized by political differences," Saniora said. Opponents of Saniora, led by Hizbullah, have been holding an open-ended rally near the prime minister's office in downtown Beirut since December 1 demanding its replacement by a government of national unity. Its legislative program has been paralyzed by the standoff with pro-Syrian figures within the regime. Only Berri has the authority to put bills on the parliamentary agenda.(AFP) Beirut, 04 Jan 07, 08:56

Pro-Syrian Parliamentary Deputy Allegedly Involved in Lebanon Terror
A Jailed Syrian Social National Party (SSNP) member was reported Wednesday to have "testified" to interrogators that his party superior and parliament member Assad Hardan ordered him to detonate an explosive charge at a restaurant hosting a rally organized by the rival Phalange party.
The Daily al-Mustaqbal quoted Jailed SSNP member Tony Mansour as saying the bombing operation was to be carried out at a restaurant in the northern Koura province on Jan. 15, 2005, where the Phalange Party was to organize a rally attended by ex-President Amin Gemayel and his son, Pierre, who was killed last Nov. 21 by unidentified gunmen who opened fire at his car in east Beirut's suburb of New Jdaideh.
The failed attempt was to be carried out just 29 days before the assassination of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri by blowing up his motorcade in Beirut.
Mansour, who was arrested along with six other SSNP members in a major police bust at their hideouts in Koura last month, told investigators that after the Phalange Party set the date for its rally, Hardan ordered him to "obstruct" the event.
"To carry out the order, Mansour and some of his aides headed to the rally's venue on Jan. 13 (2005) … and started planting a 15-kilogram explosive charge made up of T.N.T., but he was surprised to find out that the timer to be used had a fabrication defect, so he had to postpone the assignment" the report said.
Mansour, the report added, "also testified that it was decided to re-plant the explosive charge hours before the rally was to start. So he headed to the restaurant accompanied by his aides, only to be surprised by a security dragnet surrounding the venue, which forced him to abort the plan."
Disclosing Hardan's alleged involvement in the reported operation would further complicate the already tense Lebanese situation.
Members of the legislature enjoy parliamentary immunity that prevents the judiciary from interrogating them, unless they were stripped of such a cover by a parliamentary vote. Parliament adjourned its regular legislative cycle on Dec. 31 and it will convene again in March, which means that the Hardan case will not deliberated before the house starts its regular spring activity. Police had confiscated 200 kilograms of T.N.T. paste, detonators and timing equipment from SSNP hideouts in Koura during the December raid. The SSNP is a pro-Syrian group that supports the Hizbullah-led ongoing protest aimed at toppling the majority government of Premier Fouad Saniora. The group had said in a statement that all the explosives and related equipment confiscated by police were left over from its resistance activity against Israel in the 1980s.However, al-Mustaqbal said investigators established that the confiscated T.N.T. paste and detonators were "brought into Lebanon in the year 2000."
Beirut, 03 Jan 07, 17:00

Italy's Energy Group Denies Trying to Pay Ransom to Free Hostages, including Lebanese
Italian energy group ENI denied Wednesday trying to pay a bribe to obtain the release of four of its workers, including a Lebanese, abducted nearly four weeks ago in southern Nigeria. "ENI is working with the Nigerian authorities and the (Italian foreign ministry) crisis unit for a positive resolution to the deplorable affair of the kidnapping of its employees in Nigeria," ENI said in a statement. "ENI has had no direct contact with anyone except the Italian foreign ministry and the Nigerian authorities," it said. The separatist Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said Tuesday that ENI subsidiary Agip had "commissioned a fraud well known in the Delta to effect this plan. It involved paying 70 million naira (538,000 dollars, 405,000 euros) to those supposed to be guarding the hostages."
MEND militants abducted three Italians and one Lebanese national on December 7 during an attack on an oil installation owned by Agip in Brass, in Nigeria's southern Bayelsa State. "A middleman brought 70 million naira to one of our camps where the attempt was immediately reported. Needless to say, the money has been confiscated and will be put to better use," MEND said in a statement, reaffirming that the hostages would only be exchanged for people it wants freed.
MEND is demanding that Nigerian authorities release former Bayelsa State governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, jailed on corruption charges, as well as separatist leader Mujahid Dokubo-Asari and other detainees from the Niger Delta. The group also wants a larger share for southern Nigerians in oil revenues, which account for almost all the country's foreign exchange income, and compensation for communities affected by oil pollution.(AFP) Beirut, 03 Jan 07, 20:08