July 21/07

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 12,1-8. At that time Jesus was going through a field of grain on the sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, "See, your disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the sabbath." He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry, how he went into the house of God and ate the bread of offering, which neither he nor his companions but only the priests could lawfully eat? Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests serving in the temple violate the sabbath and are innocent? I say to you, something greater than the temple is here. If you knew what this meant, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned these innocent men. For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath."

The destruction of Iraq's Christians.By Rayyan al-Shawaf.July 21/07
Talks about talks
-Al-Ahram Weekly- July 21/07
Where to Lebanon?Al-Ahram Weekly-July 21/07
Japan's nuclear accident should prompt a review of nuclear energy programs-Daily Star-July 21/07
We have met the flawed United Nations, and it is us.
By Joseph S. Nye. July 21/07

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for July 21/07
Army Pushes Ahead in Nahr al-Bared-Naharnet
Al-Moustaqbal Names Mohammed Itani Candidate for by-Elections-Naharnet
Amin Gemayel Enters By-Elections Race

Army uses loudspeakers to urge militants' surrender in northern ...International Herald Tribune
Iran-Syria alliance on uncertain ground-Asia Times Online
Israel slams Iran-Syria alliance-Forbes
US government condemns Syria for supporting terrorist groups in ...Israel Insider
Iranian president, visiting Syria, lashes out at 'enemies' of Mideast-San Diego Union Tribune
Ahmadinejad in Syria, backs Palestinian resistance
Lebanese Businessman Shot Dead in Southern Nigeria-Naharnet

Brammertz Reports Progress in 'Identifying' Suspected Hariri Killers-Naharnet
Naharnet Exclusive: Cousseran Delivers Firm Message to Damascus, Tehran-Naharnet
Lebanese Businessman Shot Dead in Southern Nigeria-Naharnet
War for Burrows at Nahr al-Bared Follows Fall of Fatah al-Islam's HQ-Naharnet
Ahmadinejad Meets Assad, Nasrallah, Hopes there will be Victories this Summer-Naharnet
Iranian president visits Syria-Los Angeles Times
Ahmadinejad meets Hezbollah's leader in Damascus-Reuters
'Iran-Syria ties prevent Damascus peace talks'-Jerusalem Post
Iran-Syria-Lebanon President Ahmadinejad: Lebanese nation foils ...IRNA
Fadlallah rules out civil war, insists country 'cannot be Islamized or Christianized'
Lebanese Army steps up its assault on Fatah al-Islam-Daily Star
Brammertz hands probe report over to Security Council-Daily Star
German minister tours Palestinian refugee camps-Daily Star
State court rejects motion to contest by-elections-Daily Star
Syrian ship caught smuggling explosives-Daily Star
Arirdi promises action over Israeli journalists' entry-Daily Star
Scanners installed at masnaa crossing-Daily Star
UN official warns that arms smuggling from Syria threatens Resolution 1701-Daily Star
War, conflict and political crisis give rise to vibrant Lebanese civil society-Daily Star
BBAC joins up with IBM subsidiary in Lebanon-Daily Star
Privatization of telecom entities under way-Daily Star
Israel's war on intellectual life among untold stories of summer conflict-Daily Star
Israel frees more than 250 prisoners-AP

UN Forces in Lebanon Attacked Again
Thursday, July 19, 2007-The Trumpet
Six United Nations peacekeepers from Tanzania patrolling the streets of southern Lebanon survived a bomb attack on Monday, the Lebanon Daily Star reported. Monday’s attack comes on the heels of a car bomb explosion on June 23 that killed six Spanish peacekeepers and wounded three others.
More than 13,000 UN peacekeepers are currently stationed in southern Lebanon under Security Council Resolution 1701, a program designed to stabilize the region after last summer’s war between Hezbollah and Israel. The explosion of two bombs inside of a month has authorities concerned that Islamic terrorists are ramping up attacks on UN peacekeepers in the region.
Though no one has claimed responsibility for the bombings, Israeli intelligence officials are certain that radical Islamic terrorist groups associated with al Qaeda are responsible. Authorities within Israel’s intelligence circles have been warning for months that Islamic terrorist groups, including al Qaeda and Global Jihad, were planning attacks against unifil forces in southern Lebanon.
The Jerusalem Post reported that those warnings became more serious after “Fatah al-Islam, the al Qaeda-inspired Palestinian terror group, began fighting Lebanese troops in northern Lebanon five weeks ago. The terrorists have threatened to take their battle outside northern Lebanon and other militant groups have issued Internet statements supporting Fatah al-Islam.”
Though Hezbollah denied responsibility for the attacks, and it is uncertain exactly which terrorist organization planted the bombs
, Elias Bejjani discussed one fact that stands sure: “It makes no difference whatsoever which Palestinian, Lebanese or fundamentalist organization claimed credit for this crime, because all terrorist and militia organizations stationed in Lebanon today, whether Lebanese, Arab, or foreign mercenary, are financed, armed, controlled, and commanded by the intelligence services of the two axis of evil nations, Syria and Iran.”
Bejjani is right: Iran is the king of Islamic terrorism. Until the United Nations recognizes this reality and deals with it accordingly, its forces in southern Lebanon will continue to be attacked by Islamic terrorists. For a comprehensive view of this subject, read The King of the South.

Ahmadinejad Meets Assad, Nasrallah, Hopes there will be Victories this Summer
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lashed out Thursday at the region's enemies and called for Lebanese unity during meetings in Damascus with his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad and Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. "The enemies of the region should abandon plans to attack the interests of this region, or they will be burned by the wrath of the region's peoples," the hardline Iranian leader said at a joint press conference with Assad. Both Iran and Syria face U.S. accusations of fueling violence in Iraq and supporting Hizbullah. They are also accused of supporting anti-Israeli militant Palestinian groups, like the Islamic Hamas. In a joint statement, the two leaders said that it "is necessary to consolidate national unity and harmony among all Lebanese to assure the stability and security of Lebanon."
They expressed their "support for all decisions taken by all Lebanese," and called on the international community to help "stop repeated Zionist aggression against Lebanese sovereignty."The statement also referred to the "right of the Lebanese people to resist repeated Israeli aggressions ... and to recover land occupied" by Israel, calling on the international community to force a halt to those alleged aggressions.
Later Thursday, Ahmadinejad met Nasrallah in what was believed to be the first encounter of the two since last summer's war between Israel and Hizbullah.
Nasrallah vowed to "suppress any Zionist conspiracy."Nasrallah also declared that he would thwart any plot aimed at stirring inter-Lebanese strife.
"We will not let this happen," he said. His remarks were carried by Lebanese newspapers on Friday. At the news conference, Ahmadinejad voiced support for Hizbullah, alluding to the 2006 war."We hope that the hot weather of this summer would coincide with similar victories for the region's peoples, and with consequent defeat for the region's enemies," Ahmadinejad said. He described Syrian-Iranian relations as "amicable, excellent and extremely deep," adding that the two countries have common stands on regional issues and face common enemies.
Assad mentioned those relations and said the "farsighted policies" of both governments have proven to be correct. The Syrian leader said they also discussed "ways of restoring dialogue among all Palestinian factions." Syria also backed Iran's right to pursue a nuclear program and the two called for the "departure of all occupation forces" from Iraq — a reference to U.S. troops. The Iranian president also held a meeting Thursday with a delegation from Hamas led by Khaled Meshaal, a senior Palestinian official told Agence France Presse.(AP-AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, 20 Jul 07, 08:09

Iran-Syria-Ahmadinejad Iranian president seen off by Syrian counterpart in Shaab Palace Damascus,
July 20, IRNA
Visiting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was seen off by his Syrian host Bashar Assad in "Al-Shaab" Palace following a banquet in his honor held in the palace. The Iranian president is to visit and pay homage tonight to the holy shrines of two of the Prophet Mohammad's (SAWA) progeny Hazrat Zeinab (AS) in the Zeinabieh region near Damascus and that of Hazrat Roghayyeh (AS) in the city. Iranian president arrived here Thursday evening heading a ranking delegation on an official one-day visit.

Iran-Syria-Lebanon President Ahmadinejad: Lebanese nation foils plots through unity Damascus,
July 19, IRNA
Visiting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said here on Thursday that the nation of Lebanon can thwart any possible plots through keeping ranks and resistance.
In a meeting with Secretary General of Lenanese Hizbollah Movement Seyyed Hassan Nasrollah, Ahmadinejad said the Lebanese people emerged as a victorious nation in a full-fledged war against them by the Zionist regime and today the calm within the Lebanese society breeds hope for the people while the Zionist regime is more and more weakening. Ahmadinejad in the meeting congratulated the resistance leader on the anniversary of their victory in the last year Zionst imposed 33-day war in Lebanon.  Pointing to the awareness of the region's people and also those in many other regions of the world about the war-mongering policies of the United States and Israel, he said that one can witness today the general vigilance across the world against which the enemies' propaganda remains futile. The Hizbollah leader in the meeting briefed Iranian president on the latest developments in Lebanon and said he is against any seditious acts against his country. He added that in light of the bravery and vigilance of the Lebanese youth, his homeland sees calm and stability. Iranian President Ahamadinejad arrived here Thursday evening for a one-day official visit heading a ranking delegation.

Iranian president visits Syria
Ahmadinejad warns 'enemies of the region,' presumably U.S. and its allies, against military action.

By Ziad Haidar, Special to The Times
July 20, 2007
DAMASCUS, SYRIA — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met with regional allies in the Syrian capital Thursday, pledging a unified defense against any potential military confrontation with the United States and its allies. The Iranian leader was here to congratulate Syrian President Bashar Assad on his election to a second seven-year term and to shore up an alliance of U.S. opponents that appears to be gaining strength in the Middle East.
"The enemies of this region should drop their plans to strike the interests of this region, for these enemies will burn by the fire of the people," Ahmadinejad said in a joint appearance with Assad. "Both countries are united in a frontier facing common enemies to the region."
Iran and the United States are at odds over Tehran's pursuit of nuclear technology. And both Iran and Syria back armed Islamist groups, such as Hamas in the Palestinian territories and Hezbollah in Lebanon, that oppose Israel, a staunch U.S. ally.
In Damascus, Ahmadinejad reportedly also met with Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, Khaled Meshaal of Hamas and Ramadan Abdullah Shallah of Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian militant group. Both Syria and Iran and the Islamist organizations they support have been gaining ground in elections and in battle against more moderate pro-Western opponents. Ahmadinejad and Assad, appearing after a closed-door meeting, said they discussed regional conflicts, including political and military tensions in Lebanon and Palestinian infighting.
"We discussed the issues that are enforced by the conspiracies planned against the Middle East," Assad said at the joint news conference.
Though the two countries largely agree on policies in the Gaza Strip and West Bank and in Lebanon, they diverge on Iraq, which Assad on Thursday called a priority.
Syria sympathizes with the secular Sunnis of the Baath Party that was booted from power in Baghdad, whereas Iran supports the Shiite clerics and politicians now running the country.
Even within Syria's strictly controlled political climate, tensions over Iraq have burst to the surface. Several months ago a group of Syrian scholars scolded a visiting Iranian diplomat, accusing him of promoting a vision of Iraq that excluded large numbers of Iraqis.
Syria would like Iran to push the Iraqi government to review a law excluding former Baathists from government posts as well as to draw more Sunni tribes into the political process. "Syria has shown interest in the establishment of a strong central government in Baghdad, while Iran is bargaining on a loose state dominated by Shiite clerics," said Marwan Kabalan, an analyst at Damascus University's Center for Strategic Studies. "Iran plans a weak and … friendly Iraq, while Syria seeks a relatively strong secular Iraq with a clear Arabic identity." Though Syria's secular regime and Iran's Shiite theocracy make odd bedfellows, some analysts see their partnership as a tactical alliance against the U.S. and Israel. Their ties have deepened since the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, when Syria and Libya were the only Arab countries that backed Tehran. Now oil-rich Iran helps bolster Syria's economy, which faces U.S. sanctions. Iranian investment in Syria exceeds $1 billion, said Mohammad Hassan Akhtari, Iran's ambassador to Syria. Half a million Iranian pilgrims visit holy sites in Syria each year. "The occasion is a chance to coordinate on recent developments in the Middle East," Akhtari told The Times, referring to Thursday's meeting. "We always consult each other since the Islamic Revolution."

Ahmadinejad meets leaders of Syria and Hezbollah

Thu Jul 19, 2007 2:28PM EDT
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday and pledged to strengthen the alliance between their countries, which are both under U.S.-led pressure. Ahmadinejad also met Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah in the Syrian capital. The backing Syria and Iran give to the Lebanese Shi'ite movement is the lynchpin of their alliance.
A joint communique issued after Ahmadinejad met Assad said the two leaders were "comfortable with the fine way ties between Syria and Iran were going and careful to continue cooperation in all fields". "The relation with Syria is progressing daily and in every field and along all lines," Ahmadinejad told reporters.
Asked whether he expected another "hot summer" after last year's war between Hezbollah and Israel, Ahmadinejad said: "Summers are always hot and we expect this summer's temperatures to rise with victories by the peoples of the region." Assad said: "This visit takes on an added importance with the circumstances changing rapidly in the region. The Iranian-Syrian relation is a long-term one." The secular government in Damascus has been reinforcing links with the Islamic Republic as the two countries try to counter U.S.-led efforts to isolate them. Both support Hezbollah as well as Hamas and have links to parties in Iraq, and both have been accused by the United States of sponsoring terrorism, charges Damascus and Tehran deny.
Ahmadinejad, championing Iran's nuclear program despite U.N. sanctions, also met Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and members of the Palestinian group's politburo-in-exile in Syria during his one-day visit. "Ahmadinejad promised to keep up the support for the Palestinian people, Hamas and the efforts to initiate a Palestinian dialogue after the latest events in Gaza," senior Hamas official Izzat al-Rishq told Reuters. Although Syria's isolation by the West has eased in recent months, Damascus has shown no signs of curbing its ties with Tehran as Israel and its chief ally Washington demand.
The United States considers Hezbollah a terrorist group but Damascus and Tehran regard it as a resistance movement. Links between Lebanon's large Shi'ite community and Iran go back centuries. Syrian officials have privately described as "tactical" their alliance, which dates from 1979, when Syria, unlike the rest of the Arab world, was quick to establish ties with the clerical government in Iran after the Islamic Revolution and backed Iran during its 1980-88 war with Iraq.
Israel has demanded that Damascus cut ties with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas before it will accept Syria's calls for peace talks. Damascus rejects this, saying Israeli occupation of Arab lands is behind the region's ills.

'Iran-Syria ties prevent Damascus peace talks'
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to Damascus proves that Israel must not open negotiations with Syria, GIL Chairman Rafi Eitan said Friday.
"[Syrian President Bashar] Assad is not showing any indication that he will cut his strong ties with Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah even after he starts peace talks with Israel," Eitan told Israel Radio.

Naharnet Exclusive: Cousseran Delivers Firm Message to Damascus, Tehran
French envoy Jean-Claude Cousseran's visit to Damascus and Iran was aimed at restating France's well-known Mideast policy, and did not involve any shift toward Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's government, sources close to the French Foreign Ministry told Naharnet.
The sources said the French Foreign Ministry, under instructions from the Elysee Palace, had authorized Cousseran to inform Syria of the need to quit betting on external powers to make a "deal" at Lebanon's expense.
The French sources confirmed that Cousseran conveyed a "harsh warning" to each of Syria's Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa and Vice President Walid Muallem concerning the need to deal "positively" with French and Arab efforts aimed at building stability in Lebanon. They stressed that Cousseran was "very honest and clear" with the Syrian leadership, adding that he has relayed France's firm stance which gave Syria what they said was the "last chance" toward changing its behavior in Lebanon. Cousseran's visit to Damascus earlier this week represented the first such contact between Syria and France since President Nicolas Sarkozy took office last month and the highest-level visit by a French official to Syria in almost two years. Relations between France and Syria soured after the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was a longtime personal friend of former French President Jacques Chirac. The French sources told Naharnet that Cousseran had also informed Syrian officials that such visits will not take place in the future unless France sees "tangible" changes in Syria's behavior in Lebanon and the region. The French Foreign Ministry was eager to inform the Syrian leadership, through its envoy, of France's "unyielding" policy.
The sources said Cousseran had handed over to the foreign ministry a report on the outcome of his July 11 visit to Tehran.
According to the report, the sources said, Cousseran's talks in Tehran were "affected" by remarks made by Sarkozy on Hizbullah.
Cousseran said in his report that the Iranians do not share France's view on Lebanon, adding that he informed officials in Tehran of France's "unwillingness" to interfere in the Lebanese presidential elections nor in shaping up the new government.
The sources said the Iranian leadership has expressed solidarity with the Syrian regime regarding rejecting the formation of any Lebanon government that opposes Syria. Cousseran said Iran neither desires a political vacuum in Lebanon nor the crisis to continue, but at the same time Tehran would not consider the two issues as redline. Cousseran emphasized that Iran deems itself a "major regional power;" and that it deals with Lebanon on that basis as well as from a strategic angle which takes into account Hizbullah's demographic, economic and political positions. The daily An Nahar on Friday also quoted French Foreign Ministry spokesman David Martinon as saying Cousseran's visit to Damascus was of "diplomatic, not political nature." Beirut, 20 Jul 07, 09:12

Lebanese Businessman Shot Dead in Southern Nigeria
Unidentified assailants shot dead a Lebanese businessman at his home in volatile oil-rich southern Nigeria early Friday, Nigerian police said. The man was killed in his home in Port Harcourt around 3 a.m. in a failed abduction, state police spokeswoman Irejua Barasua said. However, local residents said the Lebanese national, whose identity was not revealed, was killed during a break-in at his flat. Barasua said a police station was attacked shortly afterward and three officers were wounded in the gunfire. It was not immediately clear whether the incidents were related. Barasua did not provide further details. Kidnappings and oil rig attacks have become common in the southern river delta region of Africa's largest crude producer, where oil giants like Royal Dutch Shell PLC, ExxonMobil and Eni SpA have large operations. The assailants range from militants demanding political concessions to criminal gangs seeking ransoms.(AP-AFP-Naharnet) (AFP file photo shows Nigerian militants patrolling the Escravos River) Beirut, 20 Jul 07, 10:01

Brammertz Reports Progress in 'Identifying' Suspected Hariri Killers

Chief U.N. investigator Serge Brammertz probing the assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri reported progress in identifying persons suspected of involvement in the Feb. 2005 bombing. "The consolidation of the Commission's findings across several areas of the Hariri case and in some other cases has helped identify a number of persons who may have been involved in some aspects of the crime," Brammertz told an opening meeting of the U.N. Security Council, adding that investigators were zeroing in on possible motives for the killing. "This line of the investigation will be a priority for the Commission in the next few months," Brammertz said.
"The findings suggested that those individuals might have been involved in some aspects of the planning or execution of the attack or that they could have known that such a plan had been under way. A number of commonalities across cases have also been brought to light," he said.
Brammertz stressed that the security of witnesses and people who cooperate with the Commission needs to be guaranteed in light of the deteriorating security situation in Lebanon. "This remains a priority for the Commission and will also have to be addressed by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in a timely manner," he said.
Speaking to reporters following the meeting, Brammertz said the Commission is ready to hand over its work to the Tribunal when it begins to function, adding that more work needs to be done to complete the investigation before indictments can be made. Brammertz also revealed that the probe had developed DNA and fingerprint databases, which were being used to identify possible matches using other similar databases.
The Commission was investigating new information about the buyers of the Mitsubishi van used in the massive car bomb attack which killed Hariri and 22 others in Beirut. "Investigations were ongoing to trace the precise origin of the explosives and to establish possible forensic links with other cases," Brammertz said.
Despite the fact that the vehicle had been stolen in Japan before being shipped to the United Arab Emirates and then transported to northern Lebanon in December 2004, the Commission was currently working on new information regarding the sale of the van to individuals who could be involved in its final preparation for the attack.
Brammertz said the Commission had also brought together and advanced its investigations regarding the suicide bomber.
He said the Commission continued to further its understanding of the motives to assassinate Hariri. Some aspects related to the motives had been resolved to the Commission's satisfaction, including, among others, the role of the Bank Al Madina affair, he added. Beirut, 20 Jul 07, 06:56

War for Burrows at Nahr al-Bared Follows Fall of Fatah al-Islam's HQ
Lebanese troops, advancing behind a curtain of shell fire, stormed Fatah al-Islam's Headquarters in the northern camp of Nahr al-Bared Thursday pushing diehard terrorists to underground shelters. The state-run National News Agency (NNA) said Lebanese troops, moved to establish control over the terrorists' last pocket of resistance in the camp's Saasaa sector after controlling their headquarters. It did not disclose further details.
However, a resident of Nahr al-Bared who had evacuated the shanty town during lulls in the fighting, said the Saasaa sector is a narrow slum in the center of the camp, noting that Fatah al-Islam terrorists are entrenched in a network of tunnels that had been established in the 1970s to serve as air raid shelters.
"It is going to be a tough last battle. These terrorists are under the ground and can emerge from burrows like rats. It wouldn't be easy," The source told Naharnet.
"The only way for the army to finish off Fatah al-Islam is to destroy the tunnels and burry the terrorists in their burrows," added the source who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We are talking here about suicide terrorists. They won't surrender. The only way to get rid of them is to kill them," he added.
Meanwhile, NNA said Fatah al-Islam militants fired more than a dozen katyusha rockets indiscriminately hitting civilian targets in the Akkar and Dinniyeh provinces that abut Nahr al-Bared. No casualties were reported. The army command, in a communique, said the troops are tightening the noose on Fatah al-Islam terrorists and renewed its offer to them to surrender, stressing that their ability to maneuver has become "so tight."
It held Fatah al-Islam terrorists responsible for the safety of their dependents who had been prevented by the militants from leaving the camp.
In a related development, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported that a Lebanese soldier was killed in the Nahr al-Bared confrontations, which brought to 111 the army's overall death toll since the confrontation broke out May 20, including 27 servicemen who were slaughtered in a chain of ambushes carried out by the terrorists.
The army has recovered at least 74 bodies of Fatah al-Islam terrorists killed in confrontations in and around Nahr al-Bared. The group has sustained at least 200 other fatalities, whose bodies remain in mass graves within the camp or deserted under the rubble of demolished buildings, according to Palestinian sources.
The camp had an estimated population of 30,000 when the clashes broke out two months ago. However, the residents have fled to safety in other camps, leaving behind only Fatah al-Islam terrorists and their dependents, estimated at around 80 people. Beirut, 19 Jul 07, 17:15

Syrian ship caught smuggling explosives
By Mohammed Zaatari
Daily Star staff
Friday, July 20, 2007
SIDON: A Syrian ship has been held in detention since Tuesday in Sidon's harbor after it was suspected of smuggling explosive materials. The Syrian ship, Lady Azza, which docked in Sidon two days ago, was supposed to transport scrap metal from Sidon to an unknown destination in Syria. However, employees at Sidon' s harbor said boxes containing engines and thermal mercury pressure meters were being smuggled outside of the ship using one of the trucks carrying scrap into Lady Azza.
The Syrian ship has not entered Lebanese territories to discharge any merchandise, but rather to load scrap. Military experts who visited the ship said engines and pressure meters which were being unloaded were not used in any military operations but were rather for industrial use. Two customs officers involved in the smuggling, in addition to the owners of the truck, which carried smuggled merchandise were arrested pending investigations. Smuggled merchandise was being transported to a farm near Sidon, and military intelligence and the Internal Security Forces were able to track down the truck and identify both the driver and the owner. Militray Intelligence were keen to specify the nature and usage of smuggled material, after several bombings rocked Beirut killing a number of politicians, and causing serious material damages.Various political groups have accused Syria of plotting attacks against Lebanon by either exporting terrorist fighters or furnishing dormant terrorist nets with weapons to conduct attacks in Lebanon. The ship and its crew will not be allowed to leave Sidon's harbor while investigations are under way.

State court rejects motion to contest by-elections
Fpm mp: 'judiciary's decision ought to be respected'

By Mirella Hodeib
Daily Star staff
Friday, July 20, 2007
BEIRUT: Lebanon's state court rejected on Wednesday a motion contesting the call by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government for the August 5 by-elections. The decision taken by magistrate Ghaleb Ghanem and five member judges and was made public on Wednesday. The motion was advanced by Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) supporter Tony Orian. Interior Minister Hassan Sabaa had asked the government to issue a decree calling for by-elections to select replacements for slain MPs Pierre Gemayel and Walid Eido. By-elections are scheduled to be held in the second district of Beirut and in the Mount Lebanon region of Metn on August 5. The deadline for submitting candidacy in the by-elections is by noon on Friday. An-Nahar daily reported on Thursday that President Amine Gemayel, Piere's father, is expected to announce the candidacy of his second son, Sami, in a news conference on Friday
Meanwhile, FPM MP Ibrahim Kanaan expressed his surprised by the decision of the state court.
"However," Kanaan said in an interview with Voice of Lebanon radio, "the judiciary's decision ought to be respected."
Kanaan said the FPM was likely to take part in elections. The name of Camille Khoury has been widely circulated as FPM's likely candidate.
Media reports on Thursday circulated that Gemayel and FPM leader Michel Aoun are expected to meet soon, "in an attempt to bridge the gap between various Christian groups and avoid any further skirmishes." "I am not aware of such information," Reform and Change MP Ghassan Mukhaiber told The Daily Star. "I cannot say it is right I cannot say it is wrong." Lawyer Joseph Mansour Asmar had announced on Monday his candidacy for by-elections to be held three weeks from now in the Metn region. Asmar is not originally from the Metn region; rather he originates from the Baabda region. While by-elections in Beirut were expected to be chosen by consensus, former MP Najah Wakim said Thursday that his party will run a candidate. Wakim told The Daily Star, in a telephone interview on Thursday that the People's Movement he heads will announce its candidate in a news conference, "either Monday or Tuesday.""Right now we have three potential candidates and we are going to have to choose one ... it would probably Ibrabim Halabi, the movement's vice president," Wakim added. Future Movement MP Nabil de Freij said on Thursday that his group was going to announce its official candidate on Friday. "However," he said "we hope that a consensus about elections be reached so as to spare the government any further expenses."

Fadlallah rules out civil war, insists country 'cannot be Islamized or Christianized'
Daily Star staff
Friday, July 20, 2007
BEIRUT: Senior Shiite cleric Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah said Thursday that a civil war is not likely to erupt in Lebanon. "Neither the United States nor other international forces want a civil war to happen in Lebanon because it will complicate things even more in the region," Fadlallah told As-Safir newspaper in an interview published Thursday. Fadlallah said the Lebanese currently live in a state of "negative truce."He voiced fears that the presidential election will not take place within the constitutional mandate, "especially since the US will benefit from a temporary constitutional vacuum."Fadlallah also described recent claims about the Islamization of Lebanon as "far fetched and exaggerated." The Maronite Bishops Council's July statement slammed the government of Premier Fouad Siniora for what it said were attempts to Islamize Lebanon. "Lebanon cannot be Islamized or Christianized because of Lebanon's diversity," he said. Asked whether the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization had any significant presence or influence in Lebanon, Fadlallah replied that they do. "However," he added, "they cannot be as harmful as they are in Afghanistan or Iraq for their area of operations is a lot more restrained." Fadllalah also defended Shiites in the Middle East. "They have not played a negative role in the Arab world despite the marginalization and oppression they are subject to ... and in Lebanon they are among the keenest sects to preserve security," Fadlallah said. He said Shiites are open to cooperation with other sects to make Lebanon a "sovereign, free and independent, country." Fadlallah said Hizbullah's arms were never used against the Lebanese, "and they will surrender their weapons as soon as we have a strong state capable of protecting its citizens.""Shiites do no want Iran or Syria to rule over Lebanon ... they want to be equal with citizens from other sects, and any other description is not acceptable," he added. - The Daily Star

The destruction of Iraq's Christians
By Rayyan al-Shawaf -Daily Star
Friday, July 20, 2007
Last month, a Chaldean priest, Ragheed Ganni, and three sub-deacons were murdered by Islamist terrorists in Mosul, Iraq. Before being executed, they were informed that they would be spared on the condition that they converted to Islam. All refused. Ganni was one of many Iraqis killed since 2003 for no reason other than their Christian identity. Additionally, thousands of Christians have been expelled from their homes, extorted, harassed, beaten, raped and ordered to covert to Islam, spawning a frantic and ongoing exodus. As a result, Iraq's Christian community stands on the verge of extinction. Other religious minorities have also been persecuted, including the Yazidis of the north and the tiny Mandaean community of the south.
Until recently, the Iraqi diaspora was relatively small. The 1980-1988 war between Iraq and Iran, which was accompanied by an economic boom, did not prompt mass emigration of Iraqis. Large-scale emigration began with Saddam Hussein's 1988 Anfal campaign against Kurds, and skyrocketed with the 1991 Gulf war, Saddam's crushing of a Shiite rebellion, and international sanctions. The resulting economic deterioration led large numbers of Christians to leave. Saddam's post-war Islamization drive provided an added incentive.
Most of Iraq's Christians are Chaldo-Assyrians, an ethnic group comprising several Christian sects, including Chaldean Catholics (the largest), two factions of the Assyrian Church of the East, and Syriac Orthodox and Catholics. Iraq is also home to Armenian Orthodox and Catholics, and smaller groups like Anglicans, Protestants, and Roman Catholics. On the eve of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the number of Christians was often generously estimated at 800,000; the real figure was likely no higher than 500,000. The violent and anarchic period following the invasion has proven disastrous; some estimates indicate that in the past four years, the Christian population of Iraq has halved.
Although bombings of churches receive media attention, assassinations and kidnappings go largely unnoticed. Recently, however, expulsions and large-scale harassment of Christians, such as those under way in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Al-Daura, have been reported. "The Islamic State of Iraq," a Sunni terrorist umbrella group which includes Al-Qaeda, ordered Christian residents of Al-Daura to pay a jizya, the Islamic poll tax historically imposed upon non-Muslims. The money would go to financing the very activities that threaten the future of Christians in Iraq. Seventy percent of the neighborhood's Christians subsequently fled.
It is crucial to understand that Christians in Iraq are not simply suffering from the general violence and anarchy plaguing the country, but are being targeted as Christians by Islamists as well as criminal gangs. While Islamist terrorists openly aim to rid Iraq of all "infidels," criminals seek to exploit the perceived wealth of Christians. Thus, many Christians who were middle-class are now destitute, having paid exorbitant ransoms for kidnapped loved ones - some of whom were killed nonetheless.
Though Christians have been persecuted by Muslims in the past, today's Islamist onslaught against Christians in Iraq has led to something virtually unprecedented in the history of Islam in Mesopotamia: Christians must hide their identity so as to avoid being harassed or killed. Christian women routinely don the hijab, and men and women with identifiably Christian names have taken to concealing them. Concomitantly, Christians have been forced to remove the cross from public view, including church steeples and domes as well as from around their necks. This is a hugely symbolic act that powerfully illustrates the tragic position of Christians in Iraq today.
Church services are regularly cancelled; when held, many parishioners are understandably too scared to attend. During parliamentary elections, Chaldo-Assyrian political parties didn't dare to mount a public election campaign, for fear this might be deemed "provocative." Physical danger stalks Christians everywhere; Islamist groups have launched sectarian cleansing operations against Christian enclaves in virtually all Iraqi cities. Christians are targeted by both Sunni and Shiite violence. Though some have sought sanctuary among coreligionists in the Kurdish-controlled north, for many there is no option but to leave Iraq altogether.
Women are especially vulnerable. Theological justifications for the rape of non-Muslim women and their forcible betrothal to Muslims are widespread - Mandaean women have been specifically targeted - as are rulings permitting the summary murder of all non-Muslims who violate Islamic law. Violations can be selling liquor, dressing "immodestly," refusing to pay a jizya, expressing a political opinion, or even just professing one's faith openly. In the worst circumstances, the very act of being non-Muslim is perceived as an offense; many Islamist militias simply present non-Muslims with the choice of converting to Islam or being killed.
Significantly, however, it isn't just terrorists who target Christians. A previously latent anti-Christian animus among large sections of the Muslim populace has manifested itself. There are many recorded instances of politically unaffiliated Muslims turning on their Christian neighbors, of others refusing to pay debts owed to Christians, and of acts of individual extortion. Fatwas authorizing the seizure of abandoned Christian property inevitably encourage Muslims to expel Christians or intimidate them into fleeing, while invidious rumors of wholesale Christian "collaboration" with the occupation forces prompt anti-Christian violence. This is part of the general Islamization engulfing Iraq, turning ordinary Muslims against their Christian compatriots, who are denigrated as "unclean" and physically threatened for being "Crusaders."
Western countries, terrified of being perceived as biased toward Christians, have maintained a studied indifference, while the Iraqi government and security services have been heavily infiltrated by members of anti-Christian Shiite militias. Unlike Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds, Christians field no militias and are easy prey for their oppressors.
Iraqi Muslim leaders' condemnation of sectarian violence is woefully insufficient, as they refuse to acknowledge - let alone confront - the extremism in their midst. Influential Muslim clerics like the Sunni cleric Hareth al-Dari and the Shiite Muqtada al-Sadr flatly deny that their communities produce extremists; instead, each blames the other community and the American military for all outrages. This doesn't apply only to anti-Christian violence. Incredibly, Sunni leaders accuse Shiites of being behind attacks on Shiite holy sites, while Shiite leaders straight-facedly accuse Sunnis of the mass kidnappings and executions of unarmed Sunnis. As a result, there is little introspection and no self-criticism on the part of either community. Indeed, Muslim leaders often condemn the atrocity while exonerating the perpetrator.
The tragedy is that we will likely soon find ourselves writing the epitaph of Iraq's Christian community. Indeed, even if the situation were suddenly to improve - a highly unlikely prospect - it is already too late to reverse the effects of the hemorrhaging. Massive emigration has altered Iraq's demography irrevocably, and certain groups will never recover. Figures for members of the Assyrian Church, for example, have plummeted, and the Armenians of Iraq have virtually disappeared. Other minorities besides Christians are also endangered; according to the Mandaean Society of America, 85 percent of Iraq's Mandaeans have fled since 2003.
Eventually, the violence in Iraq will subside and a modicum of security will return. Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds will arrive at a modus vivendi, however imperfect. In attempting to forge some semblance of unity, a nationalist historiography will likely blame the occupation forces for Iraq's post-Saddam violence. And this will be the second crime perpetrated against Iraqi victims of Islamist terror. After all, there can be no greater insult to the murdered than to exonerate their murderers.
For the Christians of Iraq, indeed, for all Iraqis who have been killed or otherwise persecuted for their religious affiliation, this would mean exonerating the Islamist purveyors of holy war, Sunni or Shiite, who incite against one another and against non-Muslims. It would mean "moving forward" without ever confronting the Islamist theologies of murder, rape and genocide, whose adherents have forever disfigured Iraq.
***Rayyan al-Shawaf is a freelance writer and reviewer based in Beirut. He wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.

Talks about talks

Al-Ahram Weekly- July 20/07
Sceptical Lebanese await a promised dialogue to avert a crisis as presidential elections loom. Lucy Fielder reports from Beirut
Representatives of Lebanon's sparring factions met in a suburb of Paris over the weekend in "ice-breaking" talks to smooth the way for a dialogue to end months of political crisis. Resulting statements by both sides attested to success in this, but ordinary Lebanese harbour few hopes. Deadlock between a pro-US, anti-Syrian ruling bloc and Hizbullah, which is allied with Iran and Syria, and its allies, has paralysed Lebanon since the assassination of former prime minister, Rafik Al-Hariri and intensified after last summer's war. Two issues plague the divided country: the presidency and opposition demands for a national unity government.
Lebanese media reported that French envoy Jean-Claude Cousseran was expected to land in Beirut this week to encourage all sides to keep talking and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was due in late July. Cousseran would visit Damascus before arriving, they reported, a week after a visit to Iran.
Amal Saad-Ghorayeb of the Carnegie Endowment's Middle East Centre in Beirut said France's approach to US foes, also the opposition's backers, could signal a broader European foreign policy shift towards Lebanon and the region, rather than simply that of a new French president, although Nicolas Sarkozy does not have the personal ties with the Hariri family of his predecessor Jacques Chirac.
After Sarkozy dubbed Hizbullah a "terrorist" group shortly before the talks, Paris hastened to reassure Hizbullah that it had no intention to list it as such, to avert a threatened boycott. "That damage control was very significant," Saad-Ghorayeb said. "It's partly because the Europeans see the US approach has been fruitless." The spectre of two parallel governments in Lebanon, which would recall the civil war, has also served a "dose of realism", she said. President Emile Lahoud said he may appoint an interim government if a presidential candidate is not agreed upon before elections in September.
Lahoud's term was extended by three years in September 2004 under Syrian pressure, which required a constitutional amendment and galvanised opposition to Damascus's post-war domination of its smaller neighbour. Electing a new president has therefore been a central plank of the anti-Syrian 14 March ruling movement. Nonetheless, it suffered an unprecedented breaking of ranks on the issue this week.
A bloc dubbed the "Tripoli gathering" announced its insistence that the president must be elected by two -thirds of the members of parliament in accordance with the constitution. The parliamentary majority headed by Saad Al-Hariri has stated its intention to elect a head of state by a simple majority.
"The 'majority' loses its majority," read a headline in leftist paper Assafir on 17 July, although the dissidents, who joined high-profile MPs such as Ghassan Tueni and Boutros Harb, spoke out only on this issue. However, it now appears that Hariri's bloc could no longer muster even the half-plus-one of parliament votes with which it intends to appoint the president.
Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir joined the dissenters on 16 July, warning of chaos were the constitution not observed to appoint a president, traditionally a Maronite Christian post. This follows a statement by the Council of Maronite bishops earlier in the month accusing the government led by Sunni Prime Minister Fouad Al-Siniora of taking steps to "Islamicise" Lebanon, particularly through the sale of land to "foreigners", widely taken to mean Gulf Arabs.
Taken together, the two statements appear to serve a warning from one traditionally dominant sect to another. "The presidency is a Christian issue in the end, and now an essentially Sunni bloc is saying 'we're going to choose the president ourselves', which is one step too far," Saad- Ghorayeb said. Enforcing that impression is the fact that the most popular Christian leader, Michel Aoun, is an opponent of the government. "The patriarch must have seen that this would weaken the Christians and be really quite dangerous for inter-communal relations," she explained.
In the north, the army siege of the Nahr Al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp ran into its third month and the army death toll topped 100 with no clear end in view, despite a fierce surge in fighting. The battle with Sunni radicals holed up inside may drag on for weeks, analysts warn, for the army appears little equipped for house-to- house guerrilla warfare.
At least 80 militants from the Al-Qaeda- inspired Fatah Al-Islam faction have been killed since fighting broke out on 20 May. Civilian deaths total at least 40, but with the camp inaccessible and ruined, the true toll of Lebanon's worst internal bloodshed since the civil war can only be guessed at.
The army stepped up its bombardment late last week. The battle with a few hundred militants, who emerged in the camp in late 2006, has already defied expectations and highlighted the weakness of the ill-equipped Lebanese army in its first major combat since the 1975-1990 war.
Fatah Al-Islam retaliated by firing ageing katyusha rockets, which landed near the camp, wounding two people. Some observers considered the use of rockets an escalation, but Timur Goksel, a security analyst and former spokesman of the southern UNIFIL peacekeeping force, said the weapons were obsolete and from old stocks.
"These [Fatah Al-Islam] guys are fighting very determinedly. My understanding is their leaders are not around and those left are probably non- Lebanese elements," he said. "They're holed up in buildings and the army is having to go inch by inch."
Media reports have described how the mainstream Palestinian Fatah faction has taken control of empty parts of Nahr Al-Bared, which may foreshadow Fatah domination of one of the few camps outside its control. Goksel said such cooperation meant little in practice. "It's a classic political game. The aim is not to create a joint security force or anything like that but to impose Lebanese sovereignty on the camp.
"The Palestinian groups are aware they could lose their privileged status as enclaves and are trying to show they support the Lebanese authorities by cooperating," he said. Lebanon's 12 Palestinian camps have remained off-limits to the army since the 1969 Cairo Agreement, despite its abrogation in the 1980s.
National and army flags now flutter over parts of Nahr Al-Bared. By flaunting its unprecedented incursion, the army may be trying to signal a new chapter in the long-running issue of these security islands, policed by Palestinian factions, whose status has come under the spotlight anew. Most civilians have now been evacuated, army sources said.
In the south, a small roadside bomb on 16 July caused no casualties but further complicated the mission of the UNIFIL peacekeeping force.
It exploded by a post manned by Tanzanian soldiers monitoring the speed of UN vehicles along the coastal highway to Tyre, a practice that began after a speeding UN water truck lost control and killed four members of a family travelling in their car, including two children.
The 16 July attack was the second suffered by UNIFIL since a bolstered force of 13,000 spread across the south following the July 2006 war. A car bomb killed six peacekeepers on 24 June. No one has claimed responsibility for either, but many Lebanese point the finger at Al-Qaeda-type militant groups. Hizbullah condemned both attacks.
Goksel said the main consequence of the crude device would be to curtail UNIFIL's mingling with southerners, among whom it had gained some trust. "UNIFIL is in a serious dilemma. It can no longer allow its soldiers to relax among the people and will have to become more concerned with force protection than with the mission itself," Goksel said.
© Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. All rights reserved

Where to Lebanon?
Al-Ahram Weekly- July 20/07
Lebanon remains gripped by internecine struggles that can only serve external competing powers, writes Talal Salman*
The Israeli July 2006 war on Lebanon formed a turning point in Lebanese politics, its aftermath throwing into relief the fragility of the coalition that had been patched together at the last minute between Hizbullah, the Amal Movement, independents and Walid Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party. It was an alliance built on thin ice and produced a cabinet without a consistent agenda to bind it together. Perhaps the only item in common between Jumblatt, Saad Al-Hariri, who heads the independent bloc, and Chief of the Executive Committee of Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea was to keep out Michel Aoun, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement and widely supported by the Maronite community. Hizbullah, meanwhile, catapulted itself into the executive branch after having, for the first time in its history, taken part in the Lebanese electoral process. But if this party acted as though it was going to be just another ordinary member of an ordinary Lebanese government, these were not ordinary times for Lebanon. Hizbullah had certain aims to accomplish and it felt that having ministers in the cabinet would help it achieve them. For one, it wanted to bury the suspicion of having catered to Syria at the expense of the life of Rafiq Al-Hariri. It also wanted to improve relations with other Lebanese parties and, in the long term, perhaps, work to improve Lebanese-Syrian relations.
Before the Israeli invasion, there were, of course, differences among the coalition members. The first major altercation erupted over UN backing of an international tribunal on the assassination of Al-Hariri. Hizbullah's adversaries rubbed their hands at the prospect of the rest of the coalition turning against Hizbullah, and Al-Hariri, Jumblatt and Geagea were quick to seize any chance to embarrass it. When the government attempted to adopt the UN's recommendations before Hizbullah and Amal ministers had sufficient time to study them, these ministers withdrew from the government and each camp retreated to its entrenched positions. Even when Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri called for a dialogue between the disputants it was obvious that talks would run up against the wall of Lebanese-Syrian relations, beneath which heading came an array of sensitive issues such as the question of borders, Shebaa Farms and disarming Hizbullah militias. The 14 March Alliance was not prepared or willing to delve into such matters, keen as it was to keep the Syrian card as a sword over the heads of its adversaries.
Last year's war caused the fissures to gape. It also exposed the true attitude of the Lebanese premiere towards Hizbullah. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora could barely mention the word "resistance." In some quarters he was baptised Lebanon's hero, the tears he shed as he delivered his appeal with a quivering voice at the Arab foreign ministers' summit were deemed more precious than the Lebanese blood that was being sacrificed on the battlefield. Arab officialdom had come out on the side of Siniora and it made its sympathies clear through its condemnation of Hizbullah for starting the war and effective exoneration of Israel.
But then the Arab order discovered it had backed the wrong horse. Hizbullah and the resistance forces succeeded in holding their ground, scoring an unprecedented victory. As though by some unwritten agreement, a massive media campaign was set into motion to blacken this achievement, tarnish Hizbullah's patriotic credentials and raise the ogre of a sectarian conspiracy. Suddenly, Hizbullah was branded as "a Shia party linked to Iran and the Alawi regime in Syria" and, hence, "opposed to Sunni Islam". And the Arab public began to hear of that looming "Shia crescent" -- a term coined by Jordan's monarch -- and the "irresponsible actions" it perpetrated from Lebanon all the way to Iraq. It was a nasty game. But here was an Arab-Islamic resistance movement that stood against Israel and America, so it had to be discredited as a Persian pawn and simultaneously used to drive the Syrian regime into a corner. And the way to do that was to inflame sectarian passions.
The Lebanese government's handling of the war was one of the major causes of the political crisis that rocked the country in the months following the war. It was impossible to form a national unity government. The US and the West backed Siniora and drew a sharp red line at the notion of toppling his government. Siniora had to stay as the man of the moment and the symbol of Arab "moderates". So the US and France vetoed the national unity government, especially because such a government would have included Hizbullah. Hizbullah had to be punished, and it had to be humiliated. But the Lebanese opposition was also, to a certain extent, to blame for the deterioration in the post-war situation. It had not predicted that Siniora and his supporters could have remained so stubborn in the wake of the largest anti- government demonstration in the history of Lebanon. Perhaps, too, it should have foreseen that the demonstration would be turned into a gambit for rallying support behind the government on the basis of sectarian affiliations.
The opposition made some other miscalculations. It failed to appreciate the sheer scale of foreign meddling in Lebanon. It should have kept to peaceful marches, thereby establishing its legitimacy. Instead, it staged a strike that grew violent. The tragic events of January tarnished the image of the resistance and gave the government and its local and foreign supporters the pretext to redraw the conflict along sectarian lines. Various Lebanese leaders were instrumental in fuelling Sunni-Shia tensions -- Druze leader Jumblatt stands out. Also, some Sunni fundamentalist groups surfaced to pitch in against a common enemy: the Shia, regard by them as heretics and which form the primary constituents of Hizbullah that the 14 March Alliance hoped to crush.
Hizbullah did not mount a counteroffensive. Contrary to the claims of its domestic adversaries, throughout its history it regarded Israel as its sole enemy and this is the direction in which it had always focussed its energies. The only reason it began to take part in the Lebanese political process was to protect its back politically.
Lebanon has been swept into a conflict without a cause beyond securing a grip on power. It has lost the ability to act at a time when international rivalries are seething around it. Competing powers are using Lebanon as a base to promote their interests in the region, their allies likely to be abandoned once particular external agendas are realised. The longer this futile power game persists, the more the value system of Lebanese society will teeter, and the greater the risk that the Lebanese right to self-determination will be surrendered to an international mandate of indeterminate duration, impinging upon every facet of life, overthrowing the constitution and Lebanon's democratic institutions, and opening the country's flank to unrestrained Israeli encroachments. This leaves us with the question as to whether it is still possible to halt this internecine fighting and spare the nation from the disasters that await it after serving as a pawn in international conflicts.
* The writer is editor-in-chief of the Lebanese daily Assafir.
© Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. All rights reserved

The bigger picture behind the urgent need to preserve Lebanon’s democracy and independence
By William Harris, July 18, 2007
In the contemporary world it is fashionable to represent conflicts as involving various shades of gray among contending parties, with clear moral choices being problematic. In the current Lebanese crisis, however, the choice is clear – it is between day and night, between light and darkness.
Above all, Lebanon’s future depends upon the survival and consolidation of its recently renewed democracy and independence. This requires agreement among political leaders on a new president committed to democracy and independence, implementation of the Lebanese state’s rightful monopoly of force on all its territory, and total cooperation with the international community in the proceedings of the coming UN murder tribunal. The Syrian/Lebanese security apparatus that commanded Lebanon until 2005, an apparatus still headed by Presidents Bashar al-Assad and Emile Lahoud, remains the prime suspect in the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Until the culprits for this crime and a succession of plainly associated murders and attempted murders of Lebanese critics of the Syrian regime are apprehended, political murder will rule supreme and Lebanese democracy cannot be secured.
A more immediate priority involves the survival of the constitutional government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, product of May/June 2005 parliamentary elections that were the first free expression of the will of the Lebanese people since 1972. Siniora’s government wishes to assert a right to national independence that is taken for granted in the case of every other country in the Arab world. This has made it the target of a vicious campaign of death and destruction coordinated by the ruthless ruling clique in Damascus. It is instructive to read in the Kuwaiti newspaper al-Rai al-Aam on July 11 of Syrian military intelligence chief Asef Shawkat, brother-in-law of Assad, defending the jihadist group Fatah al-Islam. Shawkat reportedly berated a Lebanese Shia deputy from parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri’s Amal movement, remarking: “the story is far bigger than the affair of a faction fighting with the [Lebanese] army.”
Indeed the story is bigger; the Syrian regime wishes to re-impose its hegemony over Lebanon, wiping-out Lebanese democracy and independence.
This aspiration was most recently expressed in the insolent July 10 declaration by the regime mouthpiece al-Thawra that solutions in Lebanon “go through Damascus.” The free flow of weaponry and jihadist fanatics into Lebanon from Syria expresses the Syrian regime’s contempt for Lebanese state sovereignty and Syria’s determination to foment violence in and from Lebanon.
Syria’s overriding concern is to subvert the UN murder tribunal by any means, whether through provoking enough chaos in the Levant to force the West to do a deal with it, or by producing anarchy or a government change in Lebanon that would derail Lebanese cooperation with the UN inquiry and tribunal. On April 24, in a discussion with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Assad threatened the UN Security Council over its looming approval of the tribunal under Chapter VII of the UN Charter in thuggish Mafioso terms – “instability would intensify,” with “grave consequences that could not be contained within Lebanon.” He told Ban Ki-moon how “the Syrian people hated the March 14 Movement,” meaning the Lebanese parliamentary majority and Prime Minister Siniora – the sort of reference generally taken in Beirut as a death threat. Yet another murder – of March 14 parliamentary deputy Walid Eido – followed a few weeks later.
There can be no doubt that Lebanon’s pluralist traditions face a savage enemy and an existential challenge. These traditions are worth defending by Lebanese and others. In the Arab world only Lebanon, with an unrivalled 143-year electoral and representative tradition dating back to the Ottoman autonomous province, has a serious history of a parliamentary role in government, political pluralism, and public freedoms. Lebanon’s eccentric confessional democracy remains a flawed work in progress, riddled with imbalances, patron-client networks, and poor accountability, but it is by light years the most inclusive and participatory political system in the Arab world. Above all, Lebanon’s reconciliation of representative government with its communal compartments is a precious counterpoint to the notion that autocracy is best political practice in the fractured Middle East.
Beyond the worthiness of Lebanese democracy, the Lebanese crisis poses the fundamental issue of stamping out political murder. The Syrian regime’s apologists whine that the Hariri assassination – in fact the mass murder of more than twenty people and one event in a continuing chain of murders – is not a suitable matter for international intervention. But, even setting aside international security in the Levant and foreign – Syrian – interference in Lebanon, who else except the international community could pursue the criminals given that the Lebanese legal system has been terrorized and corrupted into impotence? No democracy and no pluralism can coexist with impunity for political murder. This is an international matter. Exemplary punishment for Hariri’s assassins and their masters and accomplices at the hands of the international community will send a powerful global message. It would be an international disaster for the UN’s first ever murder inquiry and court to become a fiasco.
**-*William Harris is a professor in the Department of Political Studies at the University of Otago in New Zealand. His most recent book is The Levant: A Fractured Mosaic (Princeton: Markus Wiener, 2005), which won a Choice Magazine Outstanding Academic Title Award. He is currently working on A History of Lebanon, 1640-2007 for Oxford University Press in New York.