DAILY NEWS BULLETIN
Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 8,28-34. When he came to the other side, to the territory of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs who were coming from the tombs met him. They were so savage that no one could travel by that road. They cried out, "What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the appointed time?" Some distance away a herd of many swine was feeding. The demons pleaded with him, "If you drive us out, send us into the herd of swine." And he said to them, "Go then!" They came out and entered the swine, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea where they drowned. The swineherds ran away, and when they came to the town they reported everything, including what had happened to the demoniacs. Thereupon the whole town came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him they begged him to leave their district.
Can Aoun lead the way, or will yet another bright idea just fizzle.Daily Star. July 5/07
Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources
for July 05/07
Syria reopens border crossing with Lebanon-Jerusalem Post
INTERVIEW-Calming Lebanon needs regional accord - Jumblatt-Reuters
Lebanese officials: Syria reopens border crossing with Lebanon-International Herald Tribune
Two Australians Charged With Terrorism in Lebanon-Naharnet
Three Fatah al-Islam Terrorists Killed in Nahr al-Bared-Naharnet
Australia Pressing Lebanon to Probe Torture Claims-Naharnet
Lebanese Doctor Among Eight Arrested Over UK Failed Plot-Naharnet
Brammertz in Syria-Naharnet
French-Hosted Lebanon Dialogue Backed by U.S., Iran, Arabs-Naharnet
Cousseran invites deadlocked Lebanese factions to Paris.Daily Star
Solana suggests Iran behind Gaza, Lebanon attacks-Reuters
Syria says ready for unconditional talks with Israel-Middle East Times
Phalange awaits by-election law to name candidates.Daily Star
Salafi ring behind UN bomb attack in south Lebanon.Ya Libnan
Anger at Road Accident that Killed Lebanese Family Sparks Trouble-Naharnet
Southern family killed in collision with UNIFIL vehicle-Daily Star
Belgian defense minister inspects UNIFIL contingent-Daily Star
Syria describes US travel ban as absurd-Reuters
Belgian defense minister inspects UNIFIL contingent-Daily Star
NGOs hold conference to address challenges faced by postwar Lebanon-Daily Star
Reports blame Salafis for attack on peacekeepers-Daily Star
A Captain Kirk for the Lebanese enterprise-Daily Star
Army keeps militants boxed in at Nahr al-Bared-Daily Star
DFAT wants probe into Lebanon torture claims-ABC Online
Catch-22 in Lebanon-Ynetnews
INTERVIEW-Militants challenge UN force in Lebanon-general.Reuters
Korea's Troops Leave for Lebanon.Korea Times
Kidnapped BBC reporter freed in Gaza-AP
suggests Iran behind Gaza, Lebanon attacks
Mon 2 Jul 2007,
[-] Text [+] BRUSSELS, July 2 (Reuters) - The European Union foreign policy chief suggested on Monday that Iran could be linked to the Hamas military takeover of Gaza, recent attacks on the Lebanese army, and on European peacekeepers in Lebanon. Javier Solana, who has led efforts to bring Iran back to the negotiating table over its nuclear programme, stopped short of blaming Tehran outright, but said the incidents could not be treated separately. "What happened in Gaza cannot be seen separately from what happened in Lebanon," he told a conference on the Middle East hosted by the Socialist group of the European Parliament. "There are new groups in the Palestinian camps," Solana said. "And the fact that UNIFIL has been attacked for the first time cannot be taken separately."Solana said that while the car bomb attack that killed six Spanish members of the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on June 24 was carried out by "forces we don't know", he added: "It would be naive not to see this as part of a global approach.""Somebody I know well -- Ali Larijani -- has said 'we are supporting Hamas'," he said, referring to the chief Iranian nuclear negotiator, who made the statement in an interview with Newsweek published last month. "All this is connected," Solana said. "It didn't happen by accident or miracle, it was probably planned.""It would be difficult to understand without seeing other important regional players behind it," he added, referring to "other forces" in Iran and Syria. Solana also said a postponed meeting of Western and Arab Middle East mediators with Israeli and Palestinian leaders would probably now happen in Cairo in mid-July. He said it was important to provide a new political impetus to the peace process, not just financial and humanitarian aid to the Palestinian government.
Solana also said that in the long run it would be necessary to have an international peacekeeping presence in the West Bank and Gaza, but this was not an immediate priority.
Lebanese Doctor Among Eight Arrested Over UK Failed Plot
Lebanese doctor Khaled Ahmed is among eight suspects arrested in the plot in which two car bombs failed to explode in central London last week.
Ahmed on Wednesday was reported in critical condition at Royal Alexandra Hospital from severe burns he suffered when he rammed a Jeep Cherokee loaded with gas cylinders into a terminal at Glasgow International Airport and set it on fire Saturday.
London Police would not confirm his identity.
The eight suspects held in the failed car bombing plot also include one doctor from Iraq and two from India, in addition to a doctor from Jordan and his medical assistant wife. Another doctor and a medical student are thought to be from the Middle East.
They had diverse backgrounds, but all shared youth and worked in medicine. They also had a common goal, authorities say: to bring terrorism to Britain.
All employees of Britain's National Health Service, some worked together as colleagues at hospitals in England and Scotland, and experts and officials say the evidence points to the plot being hatched after they met each other in the UK, rather than overseas.
"To think that these guys were a sleeper cell and somehow were able to plan this operation from the different places they were, and then orchestrate being hired by the NHS so they could get to the UK, then get jobs in the same area -- I think that's a planning impossibility," said Bob Ayres, a former U.S. intelligence officer now at London's international affairs think tank, Chatham House.
"A much more likely scenario is they were here together, they discovered that they shared some common ideology, and then they decided to act on this while here in the UK," he said Tuesday.
No one has been charged in the plot.
Investigators believe the same men who parked the explosives-laden cars in London may have also driven the blazing sport utility vehicle in Glasgow, the British security official said. Investigators believe the main plotters have been rounded up, including one in custody in Australia, though others involved on the periphery, including at least one British-born suspect, were still being hunted, a British government security official said.
The official said some of the detained suspects had turned up in searches of Britain's domestic spy agency MI5's databases, indicating their identities previously had been logged by agents. "Some, but not all, have turned up in a check of the databases, but they are not linked to any previous incident," the official said.
The official said Britain's security services are currently watching around 1,600 people and have details logged of hundreds more.
British-born Muslims behind the bloody 2005 London transit bombings and others in thwarted plots here have been linked to terror training camps in Pakistan, and the official said Pakistan, India and several other nations were asked to check possible links with the suspects in the latest attacks.
The high education of the alleged participants in the car bomb attempts is in sharp contrast to the backgrounds of those involved in the July 7 attacks two years ago.
The ringleader, Mohammed Siddique Khan, had a degree in business studies, but with low marks. Bombers Tanweer Hussain studied sports science at college but never completed his degree, Hasib Hussein got a community college education, and Jamaican-born Germaine Lindsay quit school in 2002 to work as a salesman.
In the current case, Muhammad Haneef, a 27-year-old doctor from India arrested late Monday in Brisbane, Australia, worked in 2005 at Halton Hospital near Liverpool in northern England, hospital spokesman Mark Shone said.
Another Indian doctor, 26, arrested late Saturday in Liverpool, worked at the same hospital, Shone confirmed, but refused to divulge his name.
Another suspect, Mohammed Jamil Asha, a 26-year-old doctor from Jordan of Palestinian heritage, was arrested Saturday with his wife, Marwa Asha, 27, who was identified in British media reports as a medical assistant. He worked at North Staffordshire Hospital, near the Midlands town of Newcastle-under-Lyme.
A doctor at Royal Alexandra Hospital in Glasgow, who refused to give his name, said he recognized Asha as a doctor who also kept an office there -- the same hospital where suspect Bilal Talal Abdul Samad Abdulla worked.
According to friends of Abdulla's family in Iraq, the 27-year-old doctor came to Britain 18 months ago after graduating from medical school in Baghdad. He was a passenger in the Jeep Cherokee that rammed into the Glasgow airport terminal.
The Lebanese doctor was the Jeep's driver.
The final two suspects, ages 25 and 28, were arrested by police Sunday in residences at Royal Alexandra Hospital. Staff said one was a medical student and the other a junior doctor, without giving names. British media said they were from Saudi Arabia, but police refused to comment.
Dr. Shiv Panbe, former chairman of the British International Doctors Association, said the two Indian nationals in custody were Muslims.
"It is very upsetting news," Panbe said of their alleged involvement. "It is an abuse of trust and respect -- everyone should be able to love their doctor."
Azmi Mahafzah, a teacher at the University of Jordan's medical school, said he knew the suspect Asha during his studies and training there in 1998-2004. He said he did not think Asha was religious. "He is not a fanatic type of person," Mahafzah said.
Asha's family also denied he was a militant or had links to terrorism, as did the family of Asha's wife, Marwa.
"Marwa is a very educated person and she read many British novels to know England better, a country she liked so much," her father, Yunis Da'na, told The Associated Press in Jordan. British authorities have refused to release many details on the suspects, but have indicated they believe the plot may have links to al-Qaida.
A senior U.S. counterterrorism official said Tuesday that none of the eight suspects was on any American lists that identify potential terror suspects.
One news report suggested the group could have been recruited by the head of al-Qaida in Iraq, but the British security official said that was "unlikely." He said the investigation was not focusing on Iraqi links, other than the fact that one suspect was from Iraq.
"I think these people came into the country, possibly already radicalized or certainly sympathetic ... and the process of radicalization has been completed while they're here. My inclination is to say that these are intelligent and highly motivated people, so the probability of self-radicalization is higher," Patrick Mercer, a legislator in the opposition Conservative Party who is a former British army intelligence officer told AP.
But Mercer said from what he had heard from his sources, the plotters did attempt a complex assault. He said the first car bomb outside the Tiger Tiger club was intended to draw people out from other pubs and nightspots, when the second bomb was to be exploded.
"It's not the most sophisticated attack on earth, but I would suggest it's not something by a bunch of medical students -- there's military thinking behind this -- so there will have been, I'm pretty sure, a guiding hand," Mercer said.
That is exactly what investigators are still trying to piece together, the security official said. "When did they first meet? Did they meet in Britain or overseas? Were they sent here? Is there an actual al-Qaida link? They are questions we're looking for answers to," the official said.(AP-Naharnet)(A handout picture released by the Asha family shows Mohammed Jamil Asha, his wife Marwa Daana (R), his mother Islah (C) and his son Anas.) Beirut, 04 Jul 07, 10:10
Brammertz in Syria
Chief U.N. investigator Serge Brammertz, who is probing ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's assassination, traveled to Syria Wednesday morning, Future TV said.
It said Brammertz, along with a team of investigators, crossed the Masnaa border checkpoint at 9 a.m.
Hariri was killed along with 22 others in a massive bombing on the Beirut seafront on Feb. 2005.
The anti-Syrian parliamentary majority accuses Syria of being behind the killing. But Damascus denies any involvement. Beirut, 04 Jul 07, 11:05
Can Aoun lead the way, or will yet another bright idea just fizzle out?
By The Daily Star
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
MP Michel Aoun's performance in an interview broadcast by New Television on Sunday opens up a host of possibilities, but only if he can break with Lebanese political tradition by following through. Presumably by design, the leader of the opposition Reform and Change parliamentary bloc subtly but clearly distanced himself from several stands recently taken by his Hizbullah partners. In essence, the former army commander was positioning himself as the political version of a universal adaptor that allows an electronic device to be plugged into virtually any kind of wall socket. If he has the discipline and the stamina to continue along this path, he has a very real chance of becoming the catalyst for a resolution of the impasse that has paralyzed this country for more than eight months. If not, no one will remember his New TV appearance until the time comes for what would have to be an epic documentary on wasted opportunities.
The doctrinaire approaches adopted by most members of both the government and the opposition have failed. Neither has been able to impose its will on the other, and both have passed up numerous chances to offer and/or accept a face-saving compromise that sets aside partisan differences for the sake of the national interest. To make matters worse, the two sides are more alike than either would like to admit in having refused to address the population as a whole instead of their respective constituencies, and in having failed to suggest concrete policy remedies for any of the country's several problems.
As a result of the rhetoric and tactics that both sides have employed, it is no longer enough to settle their original differences: The power struggle has caused whatever mutual trust ever existed to evaporate, making any viable middle ground that much harder to identify and make attractive. Even if Aoun's gambit was based on the purest and most unselfish of intentions, therefore, completing it will require a Herculean effort.
The attention span of Lebanese politicians is famously limited, and the things they do manage to retain (like personal grudges and sectarian bigotry) are not at all conducive to effective statesmanship. These disturbing tendencies turn minor disagreements into major confrontations and important debates into obscure sideshows. Curing these and other obnoxious habits demands consistency of purpose and a willingness to look at a given issue from multiple perspectives. Aoun has the tools to play just such a role, but only if he fully appreciates the necessity of doing so and permanently eschews the combination of rhetorical aggression and intellectual passivity of which he and the rest of the lot have been so guilty for so long.
Phalange awaits by-election law to name candidates
Daily Star staff
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
BEIRUT: The Phalange Party said it would announce its candidate for the upcoming by-elections "as soon as the law calling for the holding of by-elections is published in the official gazette," well-informed party sources told the Central News Agency (CNA) on Thursday.
The 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 elections will determine replacements for slain MPs Pierre Gemayel and Walid Eido. The election in Metn has until recently received the most attention. With the March 14 Forces currently holding extensive meetings to choose a candidate, Phalange sources dismissed news reports about plans for former President and current Phalange Party leader Amin Gemayel to refrain from running in the by-election. Sources close to Gemayel, father of the slain Pierre Gemayel, told CNA that both the Phalange party and Gemayel were "keen on participating in by-elections, because such elections are legitimate legal and constitutional." Members of the March 14 coalition, including the Lebanese Forces and former MP Nassib Lahoud, have voiced support for Gemayel in recent weeks. Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader MP Michel Aoun said that the FPM would boycott by-elections if President Emile Lahoud did not sign the bill for by-elections issued by the government. Lahoud has repeatedly said he would not sign any laws mandating the holding of by-elections before a "constitutional" government is formed. In an interview with New Television on Sunday, Aoun said he preferred that by-elections be organized by a national unity government, adding that the FPM-led Reform and Change parliamentary bloc would "contest the law on by-elections passed by the current government, if it was not signed and approved by the president." - The Daily Star
Salafi ring behind U.N. bomb attack in south Lebanon
Tuesday, 3 July, 2007 @ 7:25 PM
Beirut - It was reported on Tuesday that A Salafi extremist group is reportedly behind the June 24 bomb attack that killed six UNIFIL peacekeepers serving with the Spanish contingent in south Lebanon. The daily As Safir, citing European intelligence sources, said a Salafi group "implemented" the attack on the Spanish contingent of the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
Three Spaniards and three Colombians were killed in the car bombing which struck their personnel carrier as they patrolled the main road between the towns of Marjayoun and Khiam near the Israeli border. As Safir said the Salafi ring had infiltrated into the deep south from an area outside south of the Litani river to carry out its attack. It said, however, that the group was likely assisted by "local members during the surveillance and preparation operation" way ahead of the assault.
As Safir said the report coincided with indications by Spain's Defense Minister Jose Antonio Alonzo that the attack on UNIFIL was carried out by "non-Lebanese terrorists." It quoted the European intelligence sources as saying that the Lebanese army, in collaboration with UNIFIL, thwarted, not too long ago, an attempt to attack a German warship off the Lebanese coast. Germany is the leader of the naval component of UNIFIL.
The sources said that "precise monitoring" by the Lebanese army had also led to the discovery of a terrorist group that was undertaking scuba diving training with professionals. The Lebanese security sources told "As-Safir" that a coordination committee has been formed ,comprised of representatives from UNIFIL, Lebanon’s Justice dept and the Lebanese army Intelligence, as follows:
1- An assistant commander of "UNIFIL" forces, a Spanish UNIFIL officer and a team of experts in the areas of intelligence , anti –terrorism and Spanish law),
2- The Lebanese government commissioner at the Military Court Judge Jean Fahd
3- Two Lebanese officers : Judicial Police Commander Brigadier Nabil Al Ghafri and Director of Lebanese Army Intelligence in south Lebanon Colonel Ismail Ibrahim.
A preliminary meeting has already been held few days ago by the above described committee
Al Safir reported that the European intelligence has initially assumed that Hezbollah was behind the attack. But soon after the incident the assumption was found to be incorrect , specially after Hezbollah offered to help in the investigation.
Picture: Scene of the bomb attack that killed 6 UNIFIL Spanish army soldiers in south Lebnaon
Sources: As Safir, Naharnet, Ya Libnan
Syria describes U.S. travel ban as absurd
Tue Jul 3, 2007
(Reuters) - Syria on Tuesday described as absurd a travel ban imposed by the United States on Syrian officials who Washington accuses of undermining the Lebanese government. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moualem said the move to stop the Syrian officials from entering the United States "did not need comment because of its absurdity". "American statements against Syria only show the failure of American policy in the region ... especially in Iraq," he told reporters in Damascus.
U.S. President George W. Bush on Friday banned 10 Syrian officials and Lebanese politicians, whom Washington accuses of undermining the Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, from entering the United States. The list of Syrian officials includes Assef Shawkat, Syria's director of military intelligence and brother-in-law of President Bashar al-Assad. It also included Hisham Ikhtiyar, adviser to Assad, and Brigadier General Jama'a Jama'a.
The United States, a strong backer of the Siniora government, has called on Syria to stop fomenting instability which it says Damascus is creating in Lebanon.
Lebanese opposition parties, including factions allied to Damascus, have declared Siniora's government illegitimate. The opposition, including Hezbollah, are demanding veto power in government, a demand Siniora has refused to grant.
Cousseran invites deadlocked Lebanese factions to Paris
Envoy says 14 parties can each send two representatives
By Hani M. Bathish and Nafez Qawas
Daily Star staff
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
BEIRUT: French envoy Jean-Claude Cousseran arrived in Beirut Tuesday carrying invitations for 14 Lebanese political parties to attend an inter-Lebanese meeting in Paris from July 14 to 16 aimed at getting rival factions to talk in the hope they would resolve their differences and end the political crisis.
Cousseran first held a 90-minute meeting with Premier Fouad Siniora at the Grand Serail. The French envoy emphasized his government's commitment to hosting the meeting in the Paris suburb of St. Clou in mid-July to "restart dialogue and rebuild trust" between rival Lebanese political factions.
"The meeting will include the representatives of 14 factions who have taken part in the national dialogue. Each group can send two delegates," Cousseran said. While French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner will attend, he added, France will not impose the agenda.
"France aims through this dialogue to organize and participate in a dialogue between the various Lebanese factions," Cousseran said. He said Kouchner would try to play the role of moderator and facilitator between the Lebanese parties at the meeting. While the representatives taking part in the meeting in Paris will be senior-level officials delegated by their parties, no specific names have been put forward. Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa will reported also attend the meeting.
The Central News Agency, quoting anonymous sources, reported that Cousseran has invited civil society members and academics to meet with him at the French Embassy to discuss the St. Clou meeting and their invitation to attend the talks.
The French envoy said he had a deep exchange of ideas with Siniora over what such a meeting could accomplish, reviewing the positions of the rival Lebanese factions and discussing certain organizational aspects of the meeting in Paris. Cousseran described his discussion with Siniora as "very useful and important." Cousseran later met Speaker Nabih Berri in Ain al-Tineh.
The French envoy is on his second visit to Lebanon since June 9 to meet with the various factions to rebuild trust and get politicians to talk to one another and finally resolve the country's political crisis.
During his visit to Paris last week, Siniora said he did not expect much progress from the talks called by France. "We support all of the initiatives that France has taken to bring together the Lebanese people, have a dialogue and bridge differences," Siniora said, but he said that expectations are not extremely high for this meeting.
Hizbullah MP Nawar Sahili said the objective of Siniora's European tour is to try to obtain "external support after he has come to realize that he had lost all public support.""Siniora is looking for [US Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice's support. He totally forgot about the problems and the tragedies that the Lebanese people face," Sahili said during a rally Tuesday, adding that the ruling coalition have become "experts in jeopardizing all initiatives aimed at resolving the crisis."
French-Hosted Lebanon Dialogue Backed by U.S., Iran, Arabs
A Paris-hosted meeting scheduled for mid-July in a bid to ease Lebanon's months-long political crisis, is backed by the United States, Iran as well as Arab nations, French envoy Jean-Claude Cousseran said. Speaking after talks with Prime Minister Fouad Saniora at the Grand Serail on Tuesday, Cousseran said the meeting scheduled for July 14-16 would be attended by second-tier Lebanese politicians – two representatives from each of Lebanon's 14 political parties – in the presence of French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. Cousseran, who flew in earlier Tuesday, told reporters the foreign minister would "try to play the role of moderator and facilitator between the Lebanese parties."Apart from the Saniora government, the French envoy sent by Kouchner for a second mission to Beirut since June 9 also met Tuesday with pro-Syrian House Speaker Nabih Berri, a key opposition figure, at his Ain al-Tinneh mansion.
Cousseran was delivering invitations for the meeting near Paris, diplomats said. An ambassador of the Arab League, which has tried but failed to resolve Lebanon's crisis, was also to be invited. Saniora said last week during a Paris visit he did not expect much progress from the talks called by France between all of Lebanon's political and civil society leaders, although not at a senior level.
"We support all of the initiatives that France has taken to bring together the Lebanese people, have a dialogue and bridge differences," said Saniora. But he added: "Expectations are not extremely high for this meeting."France has taken a leading role in trying to restore stability to Lebanon, with Kouchner traveling to Beirut in May for his first foreign trip abroad. Lebanon has been deadlocked since November when six pro-Syrian ministers quit the cabinet, charging it was riding roughshod over the power-sharing arrangements in force since the end of the civil war in 1990.
Both the anti- and pro-Syrian camps in Lebanon have publicly welcomed the French initiative.(Naharnet-AFP) Beirut, 04 Jul 07, 07:47
Anger at Road Accident that Killed Lebanese Family Sparks Trouble
A road accident that killed four members of a Lebanese family and wounded two Polish peacekeepers on the outskirts of Markaba in south Lebanon has sparked anger among local residents, police said. The state-run National News Agency had initially said that the family consisted of five members.
Police identified the victims as Maher Hamdan, 35, his wife, Wafa, and their nine-year-old daughter, Zainab, and their son, Mohammed, 7.
They said the family was killed on Tuesday when their red pick-up collided head-on with a tanker truck belonging to the Polish unit serving with the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon. Police said both the Polish tanker driver and his co-driver were slightly wounded in the morning collision on the road between Markaba and Adeisseh near the border with Israel.
A third Polish soldier was unharmed. The Polish peacekeepers were taken to a hospital in Maiss al-Jabal that was surrounded by angry demonstrators who prevented UNIFIL from evacuating the men for several hours, witnesses said.
Lebanese soldiers intervened to prevent two Nepalese troops from being manhandled, while the U.N. peacekeeping force had one of its patrols stoned by demonstrators. UNIFIL later issued a statement on the "tragic" road accident and sent condolences to the Hamdan family and their home village of Maiss al-Jabal.
UNIFIL Commander Gen. Claudio Graziano is "deeply saddened about this tragic loss of life and conveys his sincere sympathies and condolences to the family of the victims," the statement said.
It said the U.N. force had launched an investigation and was cooperating closely with Lebanese authorities to "determine the circumstances of the accident."
UNIFIL has been on high alert during its patrols, avoiding close contact with civilian vehicles, since six peacekeepers -- three Spaniards and three Colombians in the Spanish contingent -- died in a car bombing on June 24.
Three Belgian U.N. peacekeepers were killed in an accident on the dangerous roads of south Lebanon on March 7. Their vehicle plunged into a ravine.
Poland contributes 200 troops to the 13,000-member UNIFIL. The task of the force, from 30 countries, is to implement a U.N. Security Council resolution that ended last summer's 34-day war between Israel and Hizbullah.(Naharnet-AFP) Beirut, 03 Jul 07, 14:10
INTERVIEW-Militants challenge UN force in Lebanon-general
03 Jul 2007 16:44:47 GMT
NAQOURA, Lebanon, July 3 (Reuters) - The threat of attacks like the car bomb that killed six U.N. soldiers in south Lebanon last month is now the greatest obstacle to the peacekeeping mission there, the U.N. force's commander said on Tuesday.
Nearly a year after a 34-day war erupted between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas, the 13,000-strong UNIFIL force considers it has done a good job in keeping the area calm, alongside Lebanese army troops who deployed in the south after the war.
UNIFIL has faced no hostilities from Hezbollah or Israel since the war ended, but the June 24 bombing that wrecked a Spanish troop carrier has redrawn the security landscape."It was an attack against UNIFIL, but broadly speaking an attack against stabilisation in Lebanon," the force's Italian commander, Major-General Claudio Graziano, told Reuters.
"If you really want to destabilise Lebanon, you have to attack UNIFIL," he said in an interview at his seaside headquarters in Naqoura near the Israeli border.
Last year al Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri urged attacks on UNIFIL after it was expanded under U.N. Security Council resolution 1701 that halted the war with Israel.
No group has claimed responsibility for the car bombing, which Graziano described as "quite sophisticated", involving about 50 kg of explosives detonated by remote control.
Hezbollah, a Shi'ite movement with little sympathy for Osama bin Laden's notion of global jihad and no relish for Sunni rivals operating on its southern turf, condemned the attack.
The Beirut government has linked it to fighting in the north where the army has battled a Sunni militant group named Fatah al-Islam at a Palestinian refugee camp for more than six weeks.
Graziano said this might be a logical deduction but he had no firm evidence for it and would await the outcome of separate investigations by the Lebanese government, UNIFIL and Spain.
Asked to identify the greatest challenge to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), he said: "For sure this terrorist attack and the possibility it can be repeated."
Graziano said new security measures to protect U.N. forces complicated UNIFIL's goal of winning local hearts and minds.
"It's our centre of gravity to keep the cohesion and consent of the people because (resolution) 1701 and peacekeeping is all about support of the population.
"Of course security doesn't accept a discount, but we have to keep very close to the population and in this case explain to them that these security measures are not against them."UNIFIL's mandate and rules of engagement were robust enough, Graziano said. But the peacekeepers were discussing with the Lebanese army "how to better share and shape the different aspects of force protection" to try to prevent future attacks.
Hezbollah has kept its arms out of sight since the war and has pledged respect for resolution 1701, but it retains a solid presence in the south, where it enjoys widespread support. Graziano said UNIFIL continued to find arms caches and to hand them over to the Lebanese army, but had not encountered the movement of weaponry or of armed people in the south.
A vital part of UNIFIL's mission, he said, was to "keep a window open" for political and diplomatic developments that could eventually lead to the disarmament of all armed groups. He said UNIFIL had enough troops to fulfil its mandate and might need to keep similar force levels until such time as the Lebanese army could take over the area independently. "That means not only having the right capability or the right number of soldiers, but also to have the right trust from the other side (Israel). We are speaking of a period of time that could easily be three years," Graziano declared.
The Italian general said repeated Israeli incursions into Lebanese air space violated resolution 1701 and represented an embarrassment to the Beirut government and the United Nations. Israel insists the overflights are necessary to monitor alleged weapons smuggling across the Syrian border. It also says they will continue until Hezbollah returns the two soldiers whose capture on July 12 triggered last year's war.
Graziano said UNIFIL could report the reconnaissance flights, but was powerless to halt them. "The only possible solution to convince Israel to stop this is at the highest level," he said, apparently referring to the Security Council.
reopens border crossing with Lebanon
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Syrian authorities reopened a border crossing with Lebanon on Wednesday, two weeks after closing it reportedly for security reasons, Lebanese officials said.
The Qaa-Jousseh crossing in the northeast was reopened to traffic in both directions around 2 p.m., a senior Lebanese security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
There was no immediate comment from Syria.
Syria had said the June 20 closure, which came as Lebanon's army clashed with militants in a Palestinian refugee camp near the northern city of Tripoli, was a precautionary security measure.
Syrian authorities had closed the two other crossings with northern Lebanon at the beginning of the clashes in May
Article INTERVIEW-Calming Lebanon needs regional accord - Jumblatt
04 Jul 2007 13:54:31 GMT
BEIRUT, July 4 (Reuters) - Only agreement among outside powers can resolve a paralysing political struggle between Lebanon's Western-backed government and Hezbollah, allied to Syria and Iran, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said on Wednesday.
"We have to wait for regional circumstances to be favourable for an independent Lebanon," Jumblatt, a prominent supporter of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government.
Asked about prospects for a conference of rival Lebanese politicians in Paris next week, he said:
"If the French, with their contacts with the Iranians, can fix up a Lebanese dialogue in Paris, and somewhere behind the scenes the regional actors agree to stabilise Lebanon, why not?"
France hopes the meeting will promote renewed dialogue between the bitterly divided Lebanese camps and pave the way for agreement on a new president, due to be elected later this year.
But the 57-year-old politician gave no hint of optimism during an interview at his home in Beirut, accusing Syria, Iran and their Shi'ite Hezbollah allies of fomenting chaos in Lebanon after failing to topple Siniora's cabinet by other means.
The United States, locked in a regional struggle against Syria and Iran, strongly supports the Beirut government.
Hezbollah and its Shi'ite and Christian allies in the opposition say Siniora's government is illegitimate and has become a tool of U.S. and Israeli policy in Lebanon.
Jumblatt blamed Syria for a Sunni Islamist militant revolt in a Palestinian refugee camp in north Lebanon that the Lebanese army has been struggling to crush for more than six weeks.
Damascus was manipulating jihadi groups such as Fatah al-Islam, which broke off from a pro-Syrian Palestinian faction and made its base in the Nahr al-Bared camp last year, he added.
"Syria will do anything to destabilise Lebanon to tell the international community: 'look, the Lebanese are unable to rule themselves and we were the only ones able to secure Lebanon'."
Syria, forced to withdraw its troops from Lebanon in April 2005 amid an outcry over the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, denies supporting Fatah al-Islam.
Jumblatt also accused Syria and Iran of having a hand in a June 24 car bombing that killed six U.N. peacekeepers in the south, the first such attack on the beefed-up UNIFIL force that deployed after last year's war between Israel and Hezbollah.
Hezbollah condemned the attack, which occurred in an area previously controlled by its guerrillas.
A former ally of Syria and now its fiercest critic, Jumblatt portrayed Lebanon as a fragile, multi-confessional democracy "full of life, free enterprise and a free press" that was under challenge from Hezbollah and its regional backers, whose agenda, he said, disregarded Lebanese state sovereignty.
Almost one year after Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers on July 12 plunged Lebanon into war, Jumblatt accused the Shi'ite group's leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, of seeking to weaken UNIFIL's presence in the south because he wanted to use the area for more "adventures against Israel".
But Jumblatt, who led a Druze militia in Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war, dismissed fears that the conflict could reignite.
Hezbollah was the only group allowed to keep its weapons after the war, but has sworn to use them only against Israel.
Jumblatt said Iran did not want Hezbollah to be embroiled in Sunni-Shi'ite sectarian violence in Lebanon that would damage Nasrallah's standing as an anti-Israel hero in the Muslim world.
"The Iranians don't give a damn about Lebanon, but they remain concerned about the image of Nasrallah," he added.