July 20/07

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 11,28-30. Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."

A minefield ahead for Bernard Kouchner-Michael Young- July 20/07
Lebanon Besieged by Iran-Syria Axis.By Rick Moran - American Thinking.July 19/07
For Wall Street moguls, better death than more taxes-David Ignatius- July 20/07
The assassin came from a dry climate
Ha'aretz -July 20/07
Syria scared of peace. By: Guy Bechor/Ynetnews-July 20/07
Crossfire War - Islamic Axis - Syria - Iran Meeting - Damascus-NewsBlaze.By Willard Payne. July 20/07

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for July 20/07
S. Skeptical Over French Efforts to Reconcile Syria with Lebanon-Naharnet
U.S. Insists Arms Being Smuggled from Syria to 'Terrorist Groups'-Naharnet
'Scanner' to Monitor Lebanon-Syria Border Crossing-Naharnet
State Court Rejects Motion Contesting Government Call for By-Elections-Naharnet
Battles continue at Lebanon camp-BBC News
Bipartisan US House Resolution Condemns Hizbullah, Syria and Iran ...
Ahamdinejad arrives in Syria for talks
-Jerusalem Post
Israel's Peres urges Syria to open direct peace talks
-International Herald Tribune
Turkey, Qatar mediating between Syria and Israel
SYRIA: UNHCR urges more Iraqi refugees to attend schools
New charges against Syria, Fatah al-Islam's real master
No substitute for direct negotiations with Syria, Peres says
DEBKAfile: NATO encounters Iran-made armor-piercing EFP road bombs ...
DEBKA file
Syria Denies Arms Transfers to Lebanon
-The Media Line
South Korean troops arrive in Lebanon to join UN peacekeepers

US pledges to cooperate with France on Lebanon-People's Daily Online
Arms Smuggling Threatens Lebanon Peace
Israel confirms contacts with Syria
-Jerusalem Post
Hariri adviser meets with Sfeir in wake of 'Islamization' statement-Daily Star
US accuses Syria, Iran of playing negative role in Lebanon-International Herald Tribune
4 Soldiers Killed In Fighting In Lebanon
-Guardian Unlimited
Syria pact '85 percent done-Ynetnews
3 Lebanese troops killed as army moves in on militants
-Daily Star
French envoy discusses Lebanese political crisis in Syria-International Herald Tribune
Fatah al-Islam member confesses to strong ties with Syrian intelligence

Cousseran 'on road of conciliation' with Syria
-Daily Star
Olmert under fire for 'intolerable' failures
-Daily Star
Factions voice mixed views on renewing dialogue
-Daily Star
Israeli war planes perform mock air raids in South
-Daily Star
Survey to glean picture of social services in Lebanon
-Daily Star
UN Security Council fails to confirm Shebaa Farms is Lebanese territory

New political party hopes for continued dialogue
-Daily Star
Attack on Syrians leaves one dead, one wounded
-Daily Star
Jumblatt blames 'killers in Damascus' for breakdown of talks
-Daily Star
Government issues war compensation cheques
-Daily Star
New movement aims to help citizens vote on basis of issues, not religion
-Daily Star
No information about kidnapped Israeli soldiers in Lebanon:

Bipartisan U.S. House Resolution Condemns Hizbullah, Syria and Iran for Destabilizing Lebanon
U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia introduced Thursday a bipartisan resolution expressing the support of the House of Representatives for Lebanon's government, and affirming continued U.S. readiness to provide material and economic assistance in order to help protect Lebanese sovereignty and independence.
The resolution also condemns Syria and Iran for their ongoing roles in providing arms to Lebanese militias, particularly HIzbullah, and Palestinian factions.
It calls for "prompt action" by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon established by the UN Security Council to investigate the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005.
The resolution was also sponsored by Democratic Representative Tom Lantos as well as republicans Mike Pence, Darrell Issa and Charles Boustany.
The sponsors hope for a quick vote in the house before the August recess.
Following is the text of the resolution and its preface as obtained by Naharnet"
> Expressing the ongoing concern of the House of Representatives for Lebanon's democratic institutions and unwavering support for the administration of justice upon those responsible for the assassination
of Lebanese public figures opposing Syrian control of Lebanon.
> Whereas on February 14, 2005, former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, along with 22 other people, was assassinated by a massive
> Whereas Lebanon's Cedar Revolution led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops in April 2005, following 30 years of Syrian military occupation;
> Whereas parliamentary elections were held in Lebanon in May and June of 2005 leading to the formation of a government under Prime Minister
Fuad Siniora, with a majority of the parliament and cabinet committed to strengthening Lebanon's independence and the sovereignty of its democratic institutions of government;
> Whereas Lebanese independence and sovereignty are still threatened by an ongoing campaign of assassinations and attempted assassinations of
Lebanese political and public figures opposed to Syrian interference in Lebanon's internal affairs, and terrorist bombings intended to incite ethnic and religious hatred, the continuing presence of state-sponsored militias and foreign terrorist groups, and the ongoing and illegal trans-shipment of weapons and munitions from Iran and Syria into Lebanon;
> Whereas the democratically-elected and legitimate government of Lebanon, in accordance with the mandate of United Nations Security Council resolutions and the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, has made efforts, through the internal deployments of the Lebanese Armed Forces, to exercise its full sovereignty, so that there will be
no weapon or authority within Lebanon other than that of the Government of Lebanon;
> Whereas the Lebanese Council of Ministers, on November 25, 2006, approved a statute for the establishment of a tribunal of an international character according to the terms negotiated between the Government of Lebanon and the United Nations in order to bring to justice all those responsible for the terrorist bombing of February 14, 2005;
> Whereas a majority of Lebanese members of parliament sought a vote in favor of ratifying the statute establishing a tribunal of an international character, and 70 of Lebanon's then 127 current
parliamentarians sent a memorandum to the United Nations Secretary-General endorsing the establishment under the United Nations Charter of a Special Tribunal to bring to justice all those responsible for the terrorist bombing of February 14, 2005;
> Whereas the Speaker of the Lebanese parliament subverted the clear will of the Lebanese people, and a majority of Lebanese parliamentarians, by refusing to convene the parliament since November 2006 in order to prevent ratification of the statute approved by the Council of Ministers to create a Special Tribunal to bring to justice all those responsible for the terrorist bombing of February 14, 2005;
> Whereas Hezbollah, a United States Department of State designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, and their pro-Syrian allies have declared the democratically-elected and legitimate government of
Lebanon `unconstitutional', and are seeking to topple the government through extra-legal means, including, rioting, continuous street demonstrations outside of the Council of Ministers, and obstructing traffic in Beirut;
> Whereas the transfer of weapons, ammunition, and fighters into Lebanon in contravention of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 (2006), has twice prompted the Security Council to issue statements, on April 17, 2007, (S/PRST/2007/12) and on June 11, 2007, (S/PRST/2007/17) wherein it expressed deep and serious concern at mounting information by Israel and other states of illegal movements of arms into Lebanon, and in particular across the Lebanese-Syrian border in violation of Security Council Resolution 1701;
> Whereas the United Nations Security Council, with the full support of the United States, has repeatedly adopted resolutions, notably,Resolutions 425(1978), 520 (1982), 1559 (2004), 1655 (2006), 1664
(2006), 1680 (2006), 1701 (2006), and 1757 (2007) that, among other things, express the support of the international community for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity, and political independence of Lebanon under the sole and exclusive authority of the Government of Lebanon, and demand the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon;
> Whereas United Nations Security Council Resolutions, notably, 1595 (2005), 1636 (2005), 1644, (2005), 1664 (2006), 1748 (2007), and 1757 (2007), that underscore the importance of the pursuit of justice in response to the terrorist bombing of February 14, 2005, and if appropriate, other assassinations and assassination attempts since
October 2004;
> Whereas the United Nations Security Council, with the full support of the United States, has sought to assist the Government of Lebanon in extending its authority over all Lebanese territory, including its
sea, land, and air borders, through the presence of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in southern Lebanon and through technical and personnel assistance;
> Whereas the United Nations Security Council, with the full support of the United States, has strongly supported the demand of the Lebanese people that justice be done to those responsible for the terrorist
attack of February 14, 2005, and other terrorist attacks and attempted assassinations since October 2004, establishing and extending the mandate of the International Independent Investigation Commission
(IIIC) to investigate terrorist bombings of February 14, 2005, and moving toward the creation of a Special Tribunal of an international character, according to United Nations Security Council Resolutions
1595 (2005), 1636 (2005), 1644 (2005), 1664 (2006), 1686 (2006) and 1748 (2007);
> Whereas Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora in a letter of May 14, 2007, informed the Secretary General of the United Nations that, `the Lebanese Government believes that the time has come for the Security Council to help make the Special Tribunal for Lebanon a reality. We therefore ask you, as a matter of urgency, to put before the Security Council our request that the Special Tribunal be put into effect. A binding decision regarding the Tribunal on the part of the Security Council will be fully consistent with the importance the United Nations has attached to this matter from the outset, when the investigation commission was established. Further delays in setting up the Tribunal would be most detrimental to Lebanon's stability, to the cause of justice, to the credibility of the United Nations itself and to peace and security in the region.';
< Whereas the United Nations Security Council, with the full support of the United States, adopted Resolution 1757, establishing on June 10, 2007, a Special Tribunal try all those found responsible for the terrorist bombing of February 14, 2005, and if appropriate, both prior and subsequent attacks in Lebanon, unless the Government of Lebanon has provided notice that such a tribunal has been established under its own laws;
> therefore, be it Resolved, That the House of Representatives--
> (1) condemns the attempts by Hezbollah and other pro-Syrian groups to undermine and intimidate the democratically-elected and legitimate Government of Lebanon by extra-legal means;
> (2) condemns the campaign of attempted and successful assassinations targeting members of parliament and public figures in favor of Lebanese independence and sovereignty and opposed to Syrian interference in Lebanon, and bombings in civilian areas intended to intimidate the Lebanese people;
> (3) calls on the Speaker of the Lebanese parliament to convene the parliament without further delay, so that it can fulfill its legislative obligations and pursue the interests of the Lebanese people under the rule of law;
> (4) confirms the strong support of the United States for United Nations Security Council resolutions concerning Lebanon, and the clear and binding mandate of the international community for the arms embargo and disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, and particularly, Hezbollah and Palestinian factions in Lebanon;
> (5) condemns Syria and Iran for their ongoing roles in providing arms to Lebanese militias, particularly Hezbollah and Palestinian factions in Lebanon, in blatant contravention of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701;
> (6) expresses its strong appreciation to Belgium, China, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, the Republic of Korea, Luxemburg, Malaysia, Nepal, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Tanzania, and Turkey for their contributions of military personnel to serve in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), now manned with 13,251 troops of the 15,000 troops authorized in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701;
> (7) urges the Government of Lebanon to request UNIFIL's assistance to secure the Lebanese-Syrian border against the entry of illicit arms or related material under paragraphs 11(f) and 14 of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, and pledges earnest American support for this action, should the Government of Lebanon choose to do so;
> (8) calls on the international community to further support the mission of UNIFIL and efforts by the United Nations Secretary-General to improve the monitoring of the Lebanese border in order to effectively implement the arms embargo on armed groups in Lebanon required by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701;
(9) affirms strongly United States support for efforts to bring to justice those responsible for the terrorist bombing of February 14, 2005, and both prior and subsequent politically inspired assassinations, and for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon established by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1757;
> (10) endorses prompt action by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon for the terrorist bombing of February 14, 2005, and both prior and subsequent politically-inspired assassinations, under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter;
> (11) pledges continued support for the democratically-elected and legitimate Government of Lebanon and the Lebanese people against the campaign of intimidation, terror, and murder directed at the Lebanese people and at political and public figures opposing Syrian interference in Lebanon;
> (12) commends the many Lebanese who continue to adhere steadfastly to the principles of the Cedar Revolution and support the democratically elected and legitimate government of Lebanon;
> (13) applauds the Government of Lebanon's efforts to fully extend Lebanon's sovereignty over the entire country through the internal deployments of the Lebanese Armed Forces, including direct action against the Fatah al Islam group, and encourages the Government of Lebanon to intensify these efforts; and
> (14) re-affirms its intention to continue to provide financial and material assistance to support the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity, and political independence of Lebanon under the sole and exclusive authority of the Government of Lebanon."
Beirut, 19 Jul 07, 19:58

Hariri adviser meets with Sfeir in wake of 'Islamization' statement
By Maroun Khoury
Daily Star correspondent
Thursday, July 19, 2007
BKIRKI: A day after meeting with Premier Fouad Siniora's adviser Radwan Sayyed, Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir met Wednesday with the adviser of head of the parliamentary majority MP Saad Hariri. MP Daoud Sayegh, representing Hariri, met with Sfeir at his summer headquarter in Diman.
His meeting comes after statements from Sfeir and the Maronite bishops over the last two weeks that criticized Siniora's government for taking measures they said aimed at the "Islamization" of Lebanon. The Maronite patriarch also met Wednesday with US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman. Talks focused on the outcome of the Saint Cloud meeting, in addition to accelerating developments on the Lebanese political scene. Other visitors to Bkirki included MP Nader Sukkar, who has recently resigned from the Phalange Party. Sfeir stressed on Monday that the Constitution's articles "clearly" specify that a two-thirds quorum is needed to elect the next president. "If constitutional articles are violated and the president is not elected according to a two-thirds quorum, this will encourage other groups to elect their own president and then the country will plunge into chaos," Sfeir said. The March 14 Forces have threatened to elect the next president by absolute majority if opposition MPs boycott the elections session at the Parliament, scheduled for September.

U.S. pledges to cooperate with France on Lebanon
July 19, 2007
The United States is united with France over Lebanon's political and economic reform and efforts to bring to justice those responsible for former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq's murder, the State Department said Wednesday. "There is no question about that and France has been an excellent partner on this issue," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters. "So this has been an excellent partnership on behalf of those Lebanese people who want to retake Lebanese independence from 20 to 30 years of Syrian occupation," McCormack said. However, the spokesman downplayed significance of the meeting between France's envoy Jean-Claude Cousseran and Syrian government officials. "There have been a number of different attempts at outreach by a number of different countries and different envoys to convince Syria that it should change its behavior," he said. "We are still waiting for that to happen." Cousseran held separate meetings Wednesday with Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Shara and Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem with the two sides having exchanged views on the latest developments in Lebanon.
Cousseran is the first French official who visited Syria since the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri, a friend of former French President Jacques Chirac. France has been leading the international efforts to isolate Damascus after the killing as a UN probe has implicated senior Lebanese and Syrian officials in the murder although Syria denied any involvement. Source: Xinhua

Arms Smuggling Threatens Lebanon Peace

Syrian arms smuggling to militant groups in Lebanon threatens implementation of a peace deal that ended last year's war with Israel.
Reuters Syrian arms smuggling to militant groups in Lebanon threatens implementation of a peace deal that ended last year's war with Israel, a U.N. special envoy said on Wednesday. Michael Williams, U.N. coordinator for the Middle East peace process, talked to reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council on progress implementing Resolution 1701, which halted the war between Israel and Hezbollah. "A great deal has been achieved but I think we're entering a more difficult period," Williams said. "The continuation of that arms smuggling is a serious challenge to 1701 implementation." Syria's ambassador Bashar Ja'afari denied Syria was funneling weapons over the border. He accused Israel of violating the resolution through overflights which he said provided intelligence on the alleged smuggling.
"We denied (smuggling arms) many times and we are still denying," Ja'afari told reporters.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Syria and Iran were both playing a negative role in Lebanon. "There is clear evidence with regard to arms transfers to terrorist groups," Khalilzad said. Williams said one of his priorities was resolving the fate of two Israeli soldiers whose capture in July 2006 in a Hezbollah raid into northern Israel sparked the war. "We've not so far been able to expedite the release of those two soldiers. I bitterly regret that and regret also that we've not even been able to establish proof of life," he said.
Asked whether he thought the two soldiers -- Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser -- were still alive, he said he could not answer that but he urged Hezbollah to make that clear. Williams also criticized Syria for not cooperating with a U.N. survey of the disputed Shebaa Farms area on the borders of Israel, Lebanon and Syria. He urged Damascus to provide relevant documents. Syria's ambassador rejected the criticism, saying Damascus was serious about discussing the Israeli-controlled Shebaa Farms and had held high-level meetings with Lebanon on the issue since the war.
"Both Syria and Lebanon would agree on demarcation once Israelis get out of Shebaa," Ja'afari said. Williams said there appeared to be some interest in Syria and Israel opening talks on the Golan Heights, captured by Israel 40 years ago. "It is absolutely essential if we're to have a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East," he said. Williams was speaking the day before a meeting of the quartet of Middle East mediators -- the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations -- expected to focus on U.S. plans to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace moves."Peace between Israel and Syria is also necessary," Williams said.
Published: July 18, 2007 22:20h

The assassin came from a dry climate
By Zvi Bar'el
France's great effort over the weekend at St. Cloud to revive the Lebanese national dialogue, to bring together representatives of Hezbollah and of the Lebanese government, has not yet yielded a national consensus. A new Lebanese government that will grant Hezbollah a veto over major decisions has not yet been formed, and even the hope of finding a consensual candidate for the presidential elections - someone who might end Lebanon's year-long political freeze - has been dashed for the time being. The national dialogue in Lebanon will continue when French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner deigns to go to Beirut, and in so doing again emphasizes the international aspect of the country's crisis.
Hezbollah only gained from the meeting in France. Once again its representatives made it clear that only resistance by force is the key to liberating Lebanon, and therefore this is not yet the time to talk about disarming Hezbollah, and that United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701 may be nicely worded, but their implementation is lackadaisical. The very heart of the present political crisis in Lebanon is the government's decision of last November to establish an international court to try those responsible for the assassination in 2005 of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. The meeting in France saw many drafts of a new agreement, but without any real decision; the eighth probe report since the investigative committee was established in 2005, prepared by special UN investigator Serge Brammertz, was published days before the St. Cloud meeting. The 120 pages of the summarizing report are still not an indictment. The report does not mention names of suspects or heads of state who are liable to have been involved in this assassination (and in additional assassinations in Lebanon during the past two years), but it reminds the Lebanese and the Syrians not only how the present crisis in Lebanon began, but also where it is probably heading.
The last thing desired by Syria or Lebanese President Emil Lahoud, whose term finishes at the end of the year, is an international court that will try senior members of the former Syrian and Lebanese regimes. So Hezbollah will continue to make every effort to torpedo its establishment. To date it has done so with great success. The organization enlisted pro-Syrian Speaker of the National Assembly Nabih Beri, and he is preventing the convening of the Lebanese parliament. If it does not convene, there is no constitutional ratification of the government decision.
But even if the international court is not established, the Brammertz report is a threat to those who cooked up the assassination. The many details, the meticulous investigation and the manner in which the investigative committee operated testify to the fact that on the day when Brammertz or his expediters decide to publish the evidence, there will not be much room for doubt as to their validity. In his report Brammertz is preparing not only the international trial but also, if necessary, the public trial. That is the reason for the strictness and meticulousness regarding the smallest details of the ramifications of the acts of murder.
The committee's modus operandi shows in its examination of the suspicion that the suicide bomber who carried out the assassination is Ahmed Abu Adas.
In a videotape released after the assassination, Abu Adas, who apparently belonged to one of the radical Islamic organizations, speaks about his plans to eliminate the prime minister. The entire direction of the investigation depended on the truth of this filmed confession, which many doubted. If an Islamic organization was behind the assassination, this would clear Syrian or Lebanese intelligence, or both.
For two years the committee investigated the identity of the person who set off the car blast that killed Hariri, and only in the last report does Brammertz determine, although he does so with well-worded caution, that it was not Abu Adas.
According to the report, laboratory tests indicate the assassin was a young man of 20-25, with short black hair, who came "from a place where the climate is drier than in Lebanon." The assassin did not live there in his youth, but for three or four months before the assassination. And furthermore: The assassin lived in a city for the first 10 years of his life, and in a village for the next decade, but they still don't know, or perhaps are not publishing, the name of his city of origin.
To pinpoint his place of residence or possible origins, the investigative team gathered 112 samples of water and soil at 28 different sites in Syria and Lebanon, and from 26 sites in other countries (the report does not say whether these were Arab countries). The samples were compared with findings from the body. All of these, in addition to an extensive bank of composite portraits of people who, according to eyewitnesses, were seen in the area of the murder, and a three-dimensional computer program that described the events in the area, led to one clear conclusion: Abu Adas was not the assassin. Why did he make a videotape?
The committee presents two possibilities: one, they forced him to be filmed and later executed him. The second: He was filmed of his own free will since he was a member of one of the extremist Islamic organizations. Whatever the case, after the committee concluded that Abu Adas was not the murderer, the reason for the filming is not particularly important.
Another example of the thoroughness of the committee's work is the systematic way in which conversations from cell phones and land lines, which took place during the weeks preceding the assassination, were gathered and sorted, and the way in which the investigators succeeded in greatly narrowing down the number of people who held conversations relating to the assassination of Hariri. The investigators identifed six mobile phone SIM cards used to plan the murders.
Although the report mentions the "generally satisfactory" cooperation on the part of the Syrian authorities, who are those six people? Are they senior Syrian intelligence officials? Lebanese intelligence? Was the political leadership in those countries involved? There is no answer to that. But it is not only those who were involved who are under investigation. The political circumstances, and particularly the chain of events that gave rise to Security Council Resolution 1559 in the summer of 2004 - the decision that called for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Lebanon and the disarming of all the militias, and greatly angered Syria and Hezbollah - were carefully examined by the committee. Its conclusion on that issue is of particular interest: "The events related to Resolution 1559 played an important role in preparing the atmosphere for the assassination of Hariri."
In this vague wording, the accusing finger pointed to opponents of the resolution, and therefore, even when the committee explains that it examined additional avenues, such as an ethnically motivated murder or one committed by an extremist organization, the link to Resolution 1559 is enough to eliminate these possibilities and to present Syria and its activists in Lebanon as the main suspects.
In the same cautious manner, the report points to a series of threats to the investigators from "various parties," and mentions its top priority, protection of the witnesses who have appeared before the committee and will do so in future.
The findings of the investigation were collected in 2,400 pages, which join over 100,000 pages of documents and other testimony. The question now is where those documents will end up, and whether they will see the light of day in the context of some kind of legal proceeding, or whether Lebanese politics, which received new momentum in France this week, will envelop the Brammertz committee as well in one of the "national agreements."
The Lebanese government, which wants to end the crisis, could for example agree to a Saudi-Iranian proposal, whose draft speaks of establishing a Lebanese court under the supervision of the Arab League, instead of an international court. Ostensibly this is a court of the type that tried Saddam Hussein, but in Iraq's case there was someone who was clearly to blame, and all that was needed was an appropriate judicial procedure to enable his execution. In the case of Lebanon, on the other hand, the issue is far more complicated: There is no one main suspect, and there is nobody who can enforce the decision of a Lebanese court against those who are convicted, if and when they are convicted.

Israel confirms contacts with Syria
Syrian President Bashar Assad, who in recent months has mixed comments about peace with threats of war, intended with his speech to the Syrian parliament on Tuesday to push off the dangers of a war this summer, according to in-depth evaluations of his speech in Jerusalem.
According to these government assessments, performed on Wednesday, although Assad was intentionally vague, it was clear that he wanted to send a message that there was no threat of a war with Israel in the short term. Another point that emerged clearly from the speech, according to the assessments, was that it came in response to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's interview last week with the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television station, in which he called for direct negotiations.
While ruling out such talks, Assad - according to these assessments - offered three options to kicking off negotiations, and in so doing demonstrated some flexibility.
The first option is an Israeli announcement that it would agree to a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights; the second option is that Israel provide "certain guarantees," such as the pledge allegedly given by prime minister Yitzhak Rabin to Assad's father, Hafez Assad, in which he supposedly unofficially gave his word that Israel would withdraw from the Golan in return for a complete peace agreement with Syria; and the third option would be to begin talks through a third-party mediator.
Israeli government officials said that Assad's conditions were unacceptable, and that Israel was interested in direct negotiations with Damascus, without any pre-conditions. Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said that over the last few months, third parties had relayed messages between the two countries.
"Different parties have been used to send messages. This is not new. It has been going on for quite some time," Regev said. "The problem is not the lack of good people offering their good offices. The problem appears to be with the policy goals of the regime in Damascus.
"While it is possible that they talk about peace, that's all it is - talk. They are in fact playing the Israeli card cynically, in attempts to solve their diplomatic problems with the countries of Europe and North America without any real intentions to change their relationship with Israel," he said.
Turkey is widely believed to be one of the countries playing a role in delivering messages, and diplomatic officials confirmed Wednesday that Olmert's chief of staff, Yoram Turbowicz, met in Ankara about a month and a half ago with top advisers to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan has consistently expressed interest in playing a mediating role between Damascus and Jerusalem.
In other diplomatic developments, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana met in Jerusalem Wednesday with Olmert, President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad.
The meetings come in advance of Thursday's Quartet meeting in Lisbon, the first to be attended by the new Quartet Middle East envoy, Tony Blair.
Solana, speaking at a press conference in Ramallah after meeting with Abbas, said, "Some initiatives are going to be taken in the coming days that may lead to the dream of all of us, especially if the Palestinians start a political process."
He also said he believed a new momentum might be created, and that the chances of Israel and Palestinians moving together "are becoming better."
Peres said at his meeting with Solana that the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip who identify with Hamas must not be allowed to determine the future of the entire Palestinian population.
Greer Fay Cashman and AP contributed to this report.

U.S. accuses Syria, Iran of playing negative role in Lebanon
The Associated PressPublished: July 18, 2007
UNITED NATIONS: The United States accused Syria and Iran on Wednesday of playing a negative role in Lebanon and said there is clear evidence of arms smuggling across the Syrian border to terrorist groups. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad made the accusations after a closed Security Council meeting to discuss progress on a U.N. resolution that ended last summer's war between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas backed by Syria and Iran.
Khalilzad said the United States had sent a clear message in the meeting on "the negative role that Syria and Iran are playing and called on them to cease and desist from their negative activities" in Lebanon. "We also made it clear that we condemn all efforts to destabilize Lebanon and expressed particular concern with regard to the arms transfers that are taking place particularly across the Syrian border," Khalilzad told reporters after the session.
Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari dismissed allegations that arms were being smuggled across his country's border with neighboring Lebanon.
"We denied it many times and we are still denying it," he told reporters after the meeting.
A U.N.-appointed team that assessed the border reported late last month that security was too lax to prevent arms smuggling. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Syria and Iran to do more to prevent arms smuggling into Lebanon, citing Lebanese and Israeli government allegations of violations of the U.N. arms embargo.
Khalilzad said there was clear evidence of "arms transfers to terrorist groups" inside Lebanon.
"There is evidence of preparations by groups such as Fatah al-Islam, preparations by groups such as PFLP-General Command that is also carrying out some preparations for attacks. There are arms that are coming in for Hezbollah," he said.
Weapons transfers to Hezbollah are banned under the U.N. resolution that ended the 34-day war.
Ja'afari claimed the information about arms smuggling provided to the Security Council came only from Israeli intelligence and none of it was from Lebanese authorities.
However, U.N. Mideast envoy Michael Williams said "virtually all" of the arms smuggling documented in the secretary-general's report to the Security Council last month came from the Lebanese government or Lebanese security agencies.
"I think the situation is very serious," he told reporters.
Syria dominated Lebanon for nearly three decades. But in 2005, it was forced to withdraw its tens of thousands of troops from the neighboring country amid an uproar over allegations that Damascus played a role in the assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri. Syria denied it.
Williams lamented that the United Nations has not been able to secure the release of two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah in the incident that triggered the war one year ago."I bitterly regret that. I regret also that we've not even been able to establish proof of life," he said.
Asked whether he believed the two Israelis were still alive, he said he could not answer the question.
He said the U.N. has had some 20 meetings with high-ranking Hezbollah figures on freeing the soldiers and although at times the talks seemed on the verge of collapse, it was notable that the militant group seemed interested in continuing them. He said talks had been held as recently as the last few days.
"I would hope that Hezbollah would take note of today's proceedings and heed the call, at least as an interim step, to render proof of life of the soldiers," he said.
Williams said he anticipated bigger challenges ahead for stabilizing Lebanon.
"I think we are entering a more difficult period," he said.
He specifically mentioned the demarcation of the section of the Lebanese border around the disputed Chebaa Farms and said Syria was not cooperating with U.N. requests to provide some historical records on that issue.
Chebaa Farms was captured by Israel when its forces seized Syria's Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East war. The United Nations has determined the area is Syrian. But Lebanon claims it a claim backed by Syria and Hezbollah argues that Israel's occupation of the area justifies its continued "resistance."
Ja'afari said Syria will discuss the border demarcation around Chebaa Farms with Lebanon only after Israel returns all of the territory it captured from Syria in 1967.

Israel-Syria pact '85 percent done'
Former Israeli diplomat: Assad's top advisor views majority of issues as being resolved
Yaakov Lappin Published: 07.18.07, 20:02 / Israel News
Israel and Syria agree on "85 percent" of the issues which need to be resolved before a peace treaty can be signed between the two countries, a top Syrian advisor to President Basher Assad said, according to a former senior Israeli diplomat.
Dr Alon Liel, former director-general of the Israel Foreign Ministry, and former ambassador to South Africa, has been heavily involved in the Syrian negotiations track.

Israel confirms third-party contacts with Syria
The Associated Press
Foreign ministry spokesman reports contact with Syria through Turkish, European, American mediators; Damascus yet to respond seriously to peace overtures by
Speaking to Ynetnews, Liel said he attended a meeting in Brussels last week with Riad Daoudi, described by Liel as "the number one advisor to Assad."
Daoudi, who also heads the judicial branch of the Syrian presidency, was quoted by Liel as saying: "85 percent of the Syrian-Israeli deal is closed. A mechanism has to be found to allow for discussion on the rest of the issues."
"A mechanism means bringing in the Americans, that's how I interpret his comment," Liel said. He added that "85 percent" was a reference to the territorial aspect of a Syrian-Israeli treaty, namely the Golan Heights. "He didn't go into details. But I assumed he meant security arrangements," Liel said.
"The 15 percent which is not closed involves the regional questions - What happens with Syria's relationship with Khaled Mashaal, its connection with Hizbullah, its alliance with Iran? There needs to be a change. Israel isn't going to hand over the Golan to an ally of Iran," Liel said.
Liel, currently a lecturer in international relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, said he thought Syria's "main aim is to sit with the Americans and end their international isolation." "The Syrians are in trouble, for a number of some reasons. Their only ally is Iran. Syria is searching for ways to leave Iran. The only way to do that is through an alternative to be offered, which can only be done by the US," Liel added.
'Syrians aren't serious about peace'
Despite such optimistic forecasts, however, peace with Syria is not a realistic prospect, according to Professor Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) at the Interdisciplinary Center. "I don't believe the Syrians are serious. I don't think anything is going to happen," Rubin said.
"I believe that Syria doesn't really want the Golan Heights back. Because if they got it back it would be a disaster for the regime," Rubin said. "Assuming they got it back, what would happen? A couple of days of celebrations, people would say, the war is over, now when are we going to have a better economy, more democracy, less corruption, more freedom? In other words, it would be a disaster for the regime," Rubin added.
"By the same token, Syria would not be able to use the cause of the Golan to mobilize support for itself. They need the conflict and they can't give it up. What they really want is Lebanon. "The Golan Heights are almost worthless for them. Lebanon is the prize," Rubin said, adding that Lebanon represented a huge economic asset for the Syrian regime. "Therefore I believe on the basis of this analysis, that the most important card they're playing is the radicalism card. I don't believe negotiations are going to go anywhere," he said.

Fatah al-Islam member confesses to strong ties with Syrian intelligence

Daily Star staff
Thursday, July 19, 2007
BEIRUT: A key member of Fatah al-Islam in Lebanese custody admitted to having strong ties with Syrian intelligence, and to having plotted a series of terrorist attacks in Lebanon, as reported by Ash-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper in its Wednesday issue. The daily said the three-hour investigation session headed by Military Investigative Magistrate Rasheed Mezher revealed valuable information.
Well-informed sources told the daily that Ahmad Merhi's testimony corroborated with testimonies given by other arrested members from Fatah al-Islam, namely a testimony given by Ahmad's brother, Mohammad Merhi, which all confirmed that head of the militant group Shaker al-Abssi was planning large-scale terror attacks in Lebanon. Testimonies revealed that targets included infrastructure, judicial and military outlets, UN facilities and organizations in Lebanon and the South, luxurious hotels, and other tourist centers. Abssi had also been planning to declare Tripoli and other parts of the Northern governorate as the headquarters of an Islamic emirate.
Merhi also confessed to having strong ties with high-ranking Syrian intelligence officials, giving concrete facts and dates about his meetings with them and saying those officials were informed about Abssi's plans for Lebanon. "My Syrian connections fully trusted me and they helped a number of Fatah al-Islam in Syria members enter Lebanon," he said. The Central News Agency (CNA) quoted former Syrian Vice President Abdel-Halim Khaddam as saying Wednesday that Fatah al-Islam was the "baby of Syrian intelligence." Khaddam said the Syrian regime was working on inciting sectarian strife in Lebanon, "destroying Lebanon is an easy thing, but it will certainly have drastic repercussions on Syria." - The Daily Star

Cousseran 'on road of conciliation' with Syria
By Rym Ghazal and Hani M. Bathish
Daily Star staff
Thursday, July 19, 2007
BEIRUT: Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Wednesday France's decision to send a top diplomat for talks in Damascus this week is a "sign on the road of conciliation" with Syria.Jean-Claude Cousseran, a former French ambassador to Syria, has been in the capital since Tuesday in the first high-level contact between the two countries in almost two years. His visit was authorized after weekend talks in a Paris suburb among representatives of 14 Lebanese political parties.
The United States expressed skepticism Wednesday over France's decision to send a top diplomat for talks with Syria.
"There have been a number of different attempts at outreach by a number of different countries and different envoys to convince Syria that it should change its behavior," said US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. "We are still waiting for that to happen."
He also accused Syria of being a source of instability in the region. "Obviously we all want to see Syria reorient its policies and change its behavior in the region. Thus far, they have chosen not to play a positive role."
But Kouchner told reporters at a news conference: "A certain number of obstacles [in the way of the talks] disappeared because Syria wanted it that way, and so long as there are positive signals like that we will continue to make contact with Syria."
"As long as there are positive signs, we will continue making contact with Syria. It's just the beginning," he said. "I hope I'm not wrong. In this region of the world, reversals and bad surprises are frequent." Relations between France and Syria soured after the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri. Damascus had been expecting a change in French attitude toward Syria with the election of President Nicolas Sarckozy in May.
The French envoy met both Vice President Farouk Sharaa and Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, briefing them on the results of recent inter-Lebanese talks hosted by France in Celle Saint Cloud outside Paris. Cousseran discussed with Moallem French efforts to narrow the gap between the Lebanese parties and the outcome of the Paris talks. Syria's official SANA news agency quoted Sharaa as saying Damascus supported "any effort" to ease Lebanon's political crisis.
During the meeting with the French envoy, Moallem stressed Syria's utmost support for what the Lebanese agree upon toward resolving the crisis. He also expressed Syria's readiness to exert all efforts to help the Lebanese resolve their disputes based on respect of the Lebanese Constitution and the coexistence formula.
Cousseran told reporters after his talks with Moallem that the Syrian minister expressed his country's approval of France's mediation: "Mr. Moallem agreed that the French initiative has helped conduct dialogue between the Lebanese."
Cousseran is expected to head next week to Egypt, where he will meet Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abou al-Gheit and Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa on Thursday. The French envoy is also expected to visit Saudi Arabia.
MP Michel Murr headed to Egypt Wednesday on board a private plane with Arab League Ambassador Abdel-Rahman Solh, also to meet with Moussa.
Moussa was invited by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kushner to join the French mediation efforts. Kushner has said that the Lebanese parties have promised to continue dialogue and that he would visit Lebanon on July 28.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also expected to travel to Syria on Thursday and meet with Assad for talks aimed at reinforcing bilateral ties. Iranian state television's Web site reported that Ahmadinejad will go to Syria at Assad's invitation and will discuss the "expansion of bilateral ties in the most important international and regional issues." - With agencies

Jumblatt blames 'killers in Damascus' for breakdown of talks
By Nafez Zouk
Special to The Daily Star
Thursday, July 19, 2007
BEIRUT: Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) leader Walid Jumblatt reiterated on Wednesday his accusations that Syria's allies are trying to prevent the establishment of the international tribunal into the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri. Jumblatt said the "regime of killers in Damascus" is behind the breakdown of talks between the opposition and the March 14 forces.
Jumblatt's comments were delivered on Wednesday by PSP MP Wael Abou Faour during a Forum for Progressive Thought, sponsored by the PSP and held at the Bristol Hotel to initiate a discussion on the "meaning, culture, and love of life."Entitled "The Culture of Life," the conference tried to decipher the connection between politics and culture, and how harmony between the two, or lack thereof, has serious ramifications in defining and solving the current political impasse.
Abou Faour said "although we love life, and despise death, we still respect the death of others. We love life, yet we don't fear death, nor do we contest the martyrdom of others, whether they are fighting an enemy, or struggling against a tyrant." He added the current struggle enveloping the country is not one of conflicting political demands. "It is a struggle for Lebanon's independence, sovereignty, and freedom. This struggle is fundamentally about Lebanon's future."
"Should Lebanon strive to become a model of its own or should it succumb to becoming a repressive, totalitarian regime?" asked Abou Faour.
Although an array of March 14 leaders were expected to attend, including PSP MP Marwan Hamadeh and head of the Democratic Renewal Movement, former MP Nassib Lahoud, they instead sent representatives.
Anwar Daou, president of the forum said: "It is natural to be attached to life, and it is the duties of countries, institutions and laws to create the appropriate conditions for the culture of life to flourish free of repression. The most important of these conditions is freedom."The love of life was a main theme in the "I Love Life" campaign that recently saturated the Lebanese advertising scene. Its president, Ibrahim Eid, who also attended the forum, said that "the love of life, which has always been something the Lebanese have in common, supercedes social, political, and religious barriers ... and brings them together even in the worst of times."
Ali Hmadeh, speaking on behalf of his brother, Minister of Telecommunications Marwan Hmadeh, characterized the political deadlock as stemming from dangerous cultural differences that can be "defined as a clash between the cultures of life and death."
"It is an existential crises revolving around the definition of Lebanon as an entity and its future, more than it is about participation or quorum," he said.
Lahoud, who was represented by former MP Kamil Ziadeh, said that the March 14 grouping is "a political organization based on the culture of life, national comprehensive reconciliation to establish a Lebanon that is free, modern, civil, democratic and balanced, all the while retaining an modern Arab identity."
Ziadeh said the March 14 forces had called for the withdrawal of the Syrian troops "in order to eliminate subordination, repression, and the curbing of liberties in order to restore Lebanon's independence, sovereignty, dignity, and coexistence." "Our support for [Resolution] 1701 stemmed from our desire to provide Lebanon with a international legal umbrella to protect it from further Israeli assaults, and lay the foundations for a country with clearly defined borders capable of extending its authority over its own land and citizens with its own weapons and without the need to resort to alternative sources of armed defense," he said. For his part, political activist Karim Mroueh noted that thinking about life automatically makes one think about death. He reiterated his belief that "the role of the resistance ended in 2000, after it courageously fought and liberated the land."

US Army says Al-Qaeda leader in Iraq is fictitious
Compiled by Daily Star staff
Thursday, July 19, 2007
A senior operative for Al-Qaeda in Iraq has been arrested and told interrogators that Osama bin Laden's inner circle wields considerable influence over the Iraqi chapter, a military spokesman said on Wednesday. Al-Qaeda operative Khaled Abdel-Fattah Dawoud Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, who was captured in Mosul on July 4, also said Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, leader of the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq did not exist, Brigadier General Kevin Bergner told a news conference.
The Islamic State of Iraq was established to try to put an Iraqi face on what is a foreign-driven network, Bergner said. The name Baghdadi means the person hails from the Iraqi capital. Meanwhile, a weary and sharply divided US Senate on Wednesday blocked a Democratic effort that would have brought all American combat troops out of Iraq by the end of April 2008. Capping an around-the-clock debate, a majority of senators voted in support of the legislation that would have begun the troop withdrawals within 120 days, but fell short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a procedural hurdle and move forward. The vote was 52-47.
In Baghdad, Bergner said Mashhadani served as an intermediary between the Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader, Egyptian Abu Ayyoub al-Masri and bin Laden and also the Egyptian cleric Ayman al-Zawahri, who is the global network's No. 2 commander. "Mashhadani confirmed that Masri and the foreign leaders with whom he surrounds himself, not Iraqis, make the operational decisions ... Al-Qaeda in Iraq is run by foreigners not Iraqis.""There is a flow of strategic decision, of prioritization, of messaging from Al-Qaeda senior leaders to Al-Qaeda in Iraq leadership," he said. "They continue to provide focus, direction to operations and flow of foreign terrorists to Iraq."
He said Mashhadani was believed to be the most senior Iraqi in Al-Qaeda in Iraq network. US military officials in recent weeks have been pressed to explain the link between Al-Qaeda in Iraq and bin Laden's global network given the military's heightened focus on al Qaeda in Iraq as the biggest threat to the country.
The military blames Al-Qaeda in Iraq for most of the major bombings in Iraq, saying the group is trying to spark all-out civil war between majority Shiites and minority Sunni Arabs. The Islamic State of Iraq was set up in October, comprising a group of Sunni militant affiliates and tribal leaders led by Baghdadi. In April, it named a 10-man "cabinet." The Islamic State of Iraq has claimed many high-profile acts of violence.
"In his [Mashhadani's] words, the Islamic State of Iraq is a front organization that masks the foreign influence and leadership within Al-Qaeda in Iraq in an attempt to put an Iraqi face on the leadership of Al-Qaeda in Iraq," Bergner said. "The rank and file Iraqis in AQI [Al-Qaeda in Iraq] believe they are following the Iraqi Baghdadi. But all the while they have been following the orders of the Egyptian Abu Ayyoub al-Masri."Bergner said Mashhadani and Masri had co-founded a "virtual organization in cyberspace called the Islamic State of Iraq in 2006 as a new Iraqi pseudonym for AQI.""To further this myth, Masri created a fictional head of the Islamic State of Iraq known as Abu Omar al-Baghdadi," he said. "To make Baghdadi appear credible, Masri swore allegiance to Baghdadi and pledged to obey him, which is essentially pledging allegiance to himself since he knew Baghdadi was fictitious and a creation of his own," he said.
Voice recordings purporting to be from Baghdadi have appeared on the Internet, although Bergner said he had been played by an actor. He did not refer to any video clips.
Bergner said Mashhadani was Al-Qaeda's "media emir" for Iraq. He said al-Mashhadani was a leader of the militant Ansar al-Sunna group before joining Al-Qaeda in Iraq two and a half years ago. He said the operative was "providing significant insights into the nature and circumstances of Al-Qaeda in Iraq."
Al-Qaeda in Iraq was proclaimed in 2004 by Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who led a group called Tawhid and Jihad. Zarqawi was killed in a US airstrike in Diyala province in June 2006 and was replaced by Masri.
In the latest violence, a series of roadside bombs exploded early Wednesday in separate areas of east Baghdad, killing 11 people and wounding more than a dozen, police said. The US military reported three more American soldiers had died in action in the Iraqi capital. Meanwhile, dozens of Baghdad residents joined a protest Wednesday in Firdous Square in central Baghdad to demand the government improve security and public services. The demonstrators held Iraqi flags and banners, urging authorities to "stop mocking us" and to make its only goal "the protection of Iraqis." "Our demands are not big ones. We need security, electricity and water," said Sheik Nihad al-Sharqawi. - Agencies

A minefield ahead for Bernard Kouchner
By Michael Young

Daily Star staff
Thursday, July 19, 2007
July 14 was the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille in France. A day later, last Sunday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner did a good impersonation by almost storming off the stage in anger at a pushy Lebanese journalist. The Celle-Saint-Cloud gathering was a lot about atmospherics, however its usefulness might be supplanted by its dangers if Kouchner and his boss, Nicolas Sarkozy, are not careful.
No one can deny the short-term advantages of the meeting at La Celle-Saint-Cloud. It was an opportunity for representatives of the divided Lebanese political class to meet, even though those present were not party or movement leaders. It began a process that might be further exploited down the road by all sides. And it handed some form of diplomatic momentum to France, which continues to support United Nations resolutions designed to protect Lebanon's sovereignty and independence, while also remaining a resolute backer of the Hariri tribunal.
But is that enough? The reason Kouchner was handed his platform was that both Iran and Syria saw an opening to begin breaking France off from the United States in addressing Lebanese issues. The genesis of this proposal came last May, when the head of Iran's national security council, Ali Larijani, told the French daily Le Figaro that given the election of Sarkozy, who was "not emotionally implicated with one side" in the Lebanese political spectrum, France and Iran should cooperate in stabilizing Lebanon. That Syria signed off on its allies' traveling to Paris was a sign that Damascus and Tehran are together in using the French card. Moreover, the invitation to Hizbullah was gratifying from a country whose president has called the party a "terrorist organization."
The French are no fools. They have seen Syria shooting down all European, Arab, or international initiatives to sponsor reconciliation in Lebanon on terms it disapproves of. Ominously, the visit to Damascus on Wednesday by French envoy Jean-Claude Cousseran suggests Syrian obstructionism may be paying off. In an exchange last April whose minutes were leaked to the French daily Le Monde, President Bashar Assad made it amply clear to the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, that Lebanon was only ever stable when Syria dominated the country. Last week, in the build-up to the conference in France, Syria's official daily Al-Thawra argued that any resolution to the Lebanese deadlock passed through Damascus. Kouchner knows that Syrian and Iranian acquiescence in Saint-Cloud was a concerted effort to advance their agendas in Lebanon, not a sudden yearning for concord in Beirut.
Still, in a statement once Saint-Cloud had ended, Kouchner hinted that Syria and Iran were on different wavelengths in Lebanon. That may be true in the long term, and the foreign minister may have been sowing some divisiveness of his own, but there are no signs that the two countries have anything but common objectives today: to defend Hizbullah and its weapons; to put the international community on the defensive by eroding UN Security Council resolutions, particularly Resolutions 1559 and 1701; and to guarantee that the next Lebanese president is someone they can trust and who will help them achieve the first two objectives.
Then there is the Hariri tribunal. Hizbullah officials, notably the head of the party's parliamentary bloc, Mohammad Raad, have said they consider "null and void" the Siniora government's decisions taken after the resignation of the Shiite ministers. One decision surely to be targeted is the government's endorsement of the Hariri tribunal, which provoked the resignations in the first place. Hizbullah and Syria's other allies may no longer be able to cripple the tribunal at the UN, but they can do so as ministers in a government in which they have veto power. The tribunal may be a reality on paper, but it is not a physical reality yet. Lebanon must still approve its share of financing for the institution, and agreement must still be reached on a location for deliberations. That's not mentioning that Lebanese judges remain vulnerable to political pressure.
The French, like many others, must take all this into consideration when pushing for a government of national reconciliation. Both Syria and Iran are on the same page in wanting to bring about such a government in order to strengthen their hold over the Lebanese system. Reconciliation efforts, by their very nature, whether they are French or Arab, will mean compelling the majority to grant veto power to the opposition. Yet what has the opposition surrendered until now? Virtually nothing. In Saint-Cloud it once again refused to hold presidential elections before the formation of a new government, and it still rejects any formula that would not allow it to bring the government down through mass resignations.
In other words, Kouchner hit up against the same obstacles that Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa did during his recent visit to Beirut. Hizbullah and Amal have no margin whatsoever to negotiate a solution that the majority might consider minimally acceptable. If Kouchner imagines that his visit to Beirut later this month will help break a deadlock he couldn't break in Saint-Cloud, then he will be very disappointed. France is being allowed a small space to maneuver, but not one that would allow it to modify fundamental Syrian and Iranian aims.
What can Kouchner do to avoid being hoodwinked? Playing on Syrian and Iranian differences won't work. The two countries have perfected a good cop-bad cop routine. But France can perhaps position itself in such a way where it has the final word among the Europe countries on Syrian and Iranian intentions in Lebanon. In other words, it can agree to stand or fall by its efforts to determine the seriousness of Damascus and Tehran when it comes to finding a solution acceptable to all the Lebanese parties; with clear recognition in Brussels, particularly from the European Union's chief foreign policy official, Javier Solana, that France's judgment will be authoritative. For this to work, Kouchner should set benchmarks for success and a specific timeframe to try achieving a more detailed common agreement over principles. If nothing gives, then he should publicly declare who prevented a resolution to the crisis.
This will be an admission of failure, but if the EU is on board, then at least it could rebuild some of the international consensus on Lebanon that has become shakier in the face of European timorousness in facing Syria and Iran. That inter-Lebanese amity is necessary to this process goes without saying, and Kouchner, rightly, sought to build bridges for precisely that purpose. But up to now there are no signs that Syria's and Iran's Lebanese allies have leeway to do anything but restate positions engendering stalemate. Lebanon is heading for a perilous vacuum on the presidency, and Kouchner and the EU should not fear blaming the guilty for this and going back to the Security Council, evidence in hand.
***Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR.

UN Security Council fails to confirm Shebaa Farms is Lebanese territory
Cartographer to visit occupied land before submitting final report
By Hani M. Bathish
Daily Star staff
Thursday, July 19, 2007
BEIRUT: The Lebanon Independent Border Assessment Team's report is nearing completion and UN cartographer Miklos Pinter is expected to visit the Shebaa Farms before submitting his final report. UN spokesperson in New York Farhan Haq told The Daily Star that Pinter's report, while not yet completed, is "proceeding toward its conclusion." Pinter has determined in his report that the Shebaa Farms span 20-40 square kilometers, according to a report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz last week.
The Security Council met Wednesday to discuss the of UN chief Ban Ki moon's report on the implementation of Resolution 1701, the border assessment report and the letter submitted by Syria's UN Ambassador Bashar Jaafar to the secretary general detailing Syria's reservations on both reports.
Immediately after the conclusion of the Security Council meeting, Michael Williams, the special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, gave a news conference at UN headquarters in New York in which he made a special plea to Hizbullah to give "proof of life" for the two Israeli soldiers captured by the group last year.
Williams said the council discussed the border issue between Lebanon and Syria, as well as Israeli overflights of Lebanese territory in violation of Resolution 1701 and Pinter's report.Pinter's current findings are based on material submitted by the Lebanese government as well as his familiarity with the area from the period when he coordinated the mapping of the Blue Line border between Israel and Lebanon after Israel withdrew from Southern Lebanon in 2000.
Israel has warned the UN against releasing the Shebaa Farms map fearing it could reignite the conflict and give Hizbullah an excuse to renew hostilities.
Syria has registered several objections to the Ban's report on the implementation Resolution 1701 and the as-yet-unfinished report of the Lebanon Independent Border Assessment Team. Jaafari said in a letter to Ban that UN chief's report was neither objective nor comprehensive. He stressed that border demarcation is a bilateral matter that concerned only the governments of Lebanon and Syria.
Jaafari said Ban's conclusion that the Syrian position contradicts with both resolutions 1689 and 1701 ignores the reasons for this stance, which is Israel's continued occupation of the Golan Heights.
The ambassador also pointed out in his letter to Ban that Syria had doubled the number of guards along the Syrian border. Jaafari said Syrian border guards have intercepted arms smuggled from Lebanon into Syria and others smuggled from Iraq to Lebanon via Syria. Jaafari referred to letters sent to both the UN secretary general and the president of the Security Council in May regarding this issue. Lebanon received Wednesday a new scanner from Germany at the Masnaa border crossing with Syria to improve the monitoring of trucks entering the country via this crossing.

Lebanon Besieged by Iran-Syria Axis
By Rick Moran - American Thinking
July 19, 2007
Shocking information has come to light about the al Qaeda-inspired terrorist group Fatah al-Islam, which has been battling the Lebanese army inside the Palestinian refugee camp Nahr al-Bared for nearly 2 months. Ahmed Merie, a Lebanese citizen, testified before a military magistrate that he was a "liaison" between the terrorist group's leader Shaker Abssi and Syria's head of intelligence, General Asef Shawkat. Shawkat, a primary suspect in the murder of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, is President Bashar Assad's brother-in-law and considered the second most powerful man in Syria.
The report appeared in the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar.
Merie was arrested in a a Beirut hotel along with his brother Mohammad several weeks ago. His testimony also included some other eye openers:
Shawkat supplied a bomb maker to the terrorist group who taught them how to make explosive devices. Plans were afoot to bomb several targets including booby-trapped car attacks against several targets in Lebanon: two Beirut hotels frequented by personnel of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) as well as some embassies and U.N. offices. Merie also testified that he got the bomb maker out of Lebanon and back to Syria.
Merie played a role in smuggling Iraqi, Tunisian and Saudi "jihadists" to Lebanon via Syria. One of the Saudis, Abdul Rahman al-Yahya, who goes by the code name of Abu Talha, was the chief financial backer of Fatah al-Islam, keeping Merie supplied with plenty of cash as he moved around Lebanon.
Merie gave up the names of four Fatah al-Islam terrorists responsible for gunning down Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel last November. This is the first solid connection between the killing of Gemayel and the Syrians.
Shawkat also supplied the group "significant support," the nature of which was not disclosed. There has been some evidence - the Lebanese navy interception of fighters trying to make their way into Nahr al-Bared via the sea in small boats - that Syria has been attempting to re-supply Fatah al-Islam during their battle with the Lebanese army.
The connection betwen Syria and Fatah al-Islam has been suspected from the beginning. Their leader, Shaker Abssi, spent three years in Syrian prison, serving time for planning terrorist attacks in that country. He was suddenly released in late 2006 and made his way immediately to northern Lebanon, where he set up shop in Nahr al-Bared. Seemingly out of nowhere, in a matter of months he had recruited more than 300 fighters - many of them from foreign countries - and was training them at a compound in the refugee camp.
Merie's testimony fills in some of the gaps about how the terrorist group got organized and supplied so quickly. Fatah al-Islam was deliberately planted in Lebanon to stir up trouble for the government of Prime Minister Siniora. But to what end?
American Thinker contributor and noted Middle East expert Dr. Walid Phares had the answer last May. His dire predictions about this summer's trouble in Lebanon are starting to come true:
Today's clashes between the al Qaeda-linked terror network and the Lebanese Army are a prelude to terror preparations aimed at crumbling the Cedar Revolution, both Government and civil society, this summer. It is a move by the Assad regime to weaken the cabinet and the army in preparation for a greater offensive later on by Hezb'allah on another front. In short the Damascus-Tehran strategic planners have unleashed this "local" al Qaeda group in Tripoli to drag the Lebanese cabinet into side battles, deflecting its attention from two main events highly threatening to Assad: One is the forthcoming UN formed Tribunal in the assassination case of Rafiq Hariri. The second is the pending deployment of UN units on the Lebanese-Syrian border. Both developments would isolate the Syrian regime. Thus, the Fatah al Islam attacks can be perceived as part of a preemptive strategy by the Tehran-Damascus axis.
The al-Qaeda connection with Fatah al-Islam goes beyond Abssi being inspired by Osama Bin Laden's idea of jihad. Abssi was condemned to death in absentia for his role in carrying out the murder of US envoy in Jordan Laurence Foley. He worked closely with the mastermind of that assassination, the now decased Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, former leader of al-Qadea in Iraq.
And Phares' analysis proved extremely prescient in his pointing to the deployment of UNIFIL on the border between Syria and Lebanon as a red line for Assad. In the United Nations Wednesday, the US told the Security Council that there was "clear evidence" of Syrian arms transfers across the border. The UN-appointed team that assessed border security between Syria and Lebanon stated flatly that security was too lax to prevent arms smuggling.
In order to intimidate UNIFIL, there have been two attacks on the peacekeepers now - including the detonation of a roadside bomb yesterday in which no one was hurt - that are also designed to set up a "second front" against the Siniora government in southern Lebanon in an attempt to further destabilize the country. (Six peacekeepers were killed last month in car bomb attack.) The recipients of these arms are not only Hezb'allah but also the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFFLP-GC). Their Commander, Ahmad Jabril, is closely allied with Syria and has operated from Syrian territory for years. Jabril's group is being reinforced in order to possibly start trouble in some of the Palestinian refugee camps on the border between Syria and Lebanon as well as in the eastern Bekaa valley where the PFFLP-GC has made common cause with other extremist groups.
North, south, and east - Lebanon is being squeezed by Assad and his Iranian backers. Given that the political standoff between the Hezb'allah-led opposition and the majority shows no signs of easing, it could very well be that the pressure being exerted by Assad on his tiny neighbor is reaching some kind of crescendo that has the potential to explode at any time.
***Rick Moran is associate editor of American Thinker and proprietor of the website Right Wing Nuthouse.

Crossfire War - Islamic Axis - Syria - Iran Meeting - Damascus
By Willard Payne
Crossfire War - Tehran - Baghdad - Damascus Watch - West Asia Theatre: Tehran - Damascus - Ankara - Baghdad - Riyadh - Amman - San'a/London - Washington; US Offensive in Baghdad Continues in Attempt to Cut Off Endless Flow of Fighters and Weapons Into Capital - Islamic Axis Meeting in Damascus - Countdown Planning
Night Watch: FADHIL - The constant fighting in Baghdad, Basra and now with increased attacks in northern Iraq - Kirkuk, indicate Tehran had planned all along to create heavy fighting in several fronts simultaneously this year, the Countdown year for war with the West.
A close reading of the news will tell you the fronts and theatres are; the Balkans-Lebanon-Iraq-Israel-Egypt-Persian Gulf- South Caucasus -Afghanistan-India/Pakistan. It is only in the South Caucasus where Tehran does not have the initiative. In all the other theatres the allies can only respond defensively to attacks and offensives Tehran conducts through other groups.
As a brief discussion of the latest fighting AP reports in Baghdad, just hundreds of yards north of the Green Zone, a car bomb exploded near the Iranian Embassy which killed Shi'ites in the area. The 82nd Airborne, part of the Pentagon's desperate attempt to cut off the endless flow of fighters and weapons into the city, came under fire from gunmen who had positioned themselves in an Islamic bank building. [ASHARQALAWSAT]
In just one of many indications of the confusion within the Pentagon, as it searches for a dependable Iraqi unit to work with, Abu Azzam, who leads 2,300 men including groups who have fought the U.S., is now patrolling with American forces. This shell shock decision-making has created more enemies than it defeated. Tehran, in the meantime, began to extend the chaos north into the Kurdish regions earlier this year and Washington's offensive has helped Tehran's chaos creation strategy. Iraq Major General Jamal Tahir, Kirkuk Police Chief observed the U.S. military operations in Baqouba forced al-Qaeda (Tehran) to move north. "Some of them came to Kirkuk because they have loyalists here and they started to carry out terrorist acts."
As a signal this year's regional war is about to intensify Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is due to arrive in Damascus Thursday, leading a high level delegation that includes Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. It is a one day visit at the invitation of Syria President Bashar al-Assad, who has just been re-elected for another seven year term of office. The head of Syria's Foreign Ministry's Strategic Center Samir al-Taqi said the reason for the visit is due to the "extremely sensitive" regional status. "With such a perspective of the regional status, constant consultations and full harmony between Syria and Iran in order to confront effectively the challenges and threats is a bare necessity."
A combined high command between the two countries' military has been in operation since last year's announcement in June with the defense-security agreement signed in Tehran between Iran-Syria. It was later that month Palestinian militants began last year's war with the raid in Gaza that captured an Israeli soldier. [IRNA]
This year's war began on May 20 when the suicide unit Fatah al-Islam began fighting the Lebanon Army at the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp city near Tripoli and close to the Syrian border, a prelude to Syria's invasion. The results of tomorrow's meeting should be felt before this month is over. Damascus will be invading a Lebanon with a weakened army and European UNIFIL units in the south which want to avoid combat at all costs. UNIFIL watched Hezbollah re-arm and now they will watch Syria invade removing one of the West's last contacts in the region, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

Syria scared of peace
Each time Israel shows willingness to cede Golan, Syrians shy away

Guy Bechor
Published: 07.19.07, 13:59 / Israel Opinion
Basher Assad's peace declarations publicized in the media over and over again this week may be misleading, and indeed they are designed to mislead.
An examination of Assad's speech before his parliament few days ago, and a monitoring of the Syrian arena, regretfully shows the opposite. The Syrian president, who was sworn in for a second term in office this week following a staged referendum, is doing all he can to flee any peace negotiations. Similar to the way his father fled when it became clear to him that the other side - then Ehud Barak and currently Ehud Olmert - may indeed cede the Golan Heights.
After all, the entire regime is premised on the animosity and conflict with Israel. If there is no conflict with Israel there will be no minority Alawite regime ruling Syria either.
The Syrian president took a sharp turn and is now hindering any chance of making progress with Israel. The conditions he is demanding make it impossible. Until his address this week, Syria stressed that contrary to the past it was setting no preconditions for engaging in talks with Israel. The Syrians argued that it was in fact Israel that was making such stipulations.
However, the moment the Syrians realized that Olmert could indeed cede the Golan Heights or at least profess to do so they went into a state of shock.
In his inauguration speech Assad announced the new conditions for engaging in talks:
Prime Minister Olmert must transfer "written guarantees" in an official document, according to which Israel is prepared to hand over
to Syria all of the Golan Heights up to the borders of July 4th, 1967 without any dispute. Such a document can be public or covert, similar to the one (according to the Syrians) handed over by Yitzhak Rabin. Incidentally, it is high time to put an end to the so-called "Rabin deposit." Let's assume there was such a document, why then didn't they agree to it? Similar to a petty lawyer, Assad is asking for everything to be put in writing.
At this stage a type of indirect mediation will begin between Israel and Syria by means of a third party, to be agreed upon by both sides. There is no apparatus that can determine who the third party would be and why it is necessary.
Assuming that all issues are clarified, open and public negotiations will commence.
What is Assad really saying here? That he wants it all. Does he really think that either side would agree to the demands of the other side without actually engaging in talks? And what is he giving in exchange? "We have no faith in the Israelis," Assad said in his address. Does anyone in the Middle East have faith in him?
Assad's speech attests to Syria's existential dilemma. On the one hand, Syria is in need of some kind of process with Israel that would save it from an international tribunal regarding the Rafik Hariri assassination. On the other hand, peace with Israel would mark the end of the regime.
It is astonishing to see how each time an Israeli leader demonstrates a willingness to cede the Golan Heights the Syrians flee as fast as they can. Assad's new conditions are akin to evasion. When will we finally be able to read the true intentions of the Assad family and the Syrians?