DAILY NEWS BULLETIN
Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 9,14-17. Then the disciples of John approached him and said, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast (much), but your disciples do not fast?" Jesus answered them, "Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one patches an old cloak with a piece of unshrunken cloth, for its fullness pulls away from the cloak and the tear gets worse. People do not put new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. Rather, they pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved."
The Lebanese deserve to know where they - and the Arab League-stand.Daily Star July 8/07
Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources
for July 08/07
Government Snaps Back at Maronite Bishops-Naharnet
Row over Who Represents Lebanon's Christians-Naharnet
Rifi from Bkirki Urges More Christians to Join Police Force-Naharnet
Jibril's PFLP-GC Has Hand in Gemayel's Killing That was Carried Out by Fatah al-Islam-Naharnet
Lebanese Army Urges Terrorists to Surrender-Naharnet
Aoun to Geagea: Talk to Me Because I'm a Presidential Candidate-Naharnet
Chaotic Lebanon Risks Becoming Militant Haven-New York Times
President says Iran and Syria can help a lot in fighting terrorism ...International Herald Tribune
Powell says Bush should be in talks with Syria and Iran about Iraq ...International Herald Tribune
Aoun blames government for Christian 'weakness'-Daily Star
Israeli cluster bombs and mines have killed 30, maimed 205-Daily Star
Syria takes step to move students home-Daily Star
Activists protest against 'abuse' of refugees-Daily Star
Security forces raid Tripoli apartment, seizing Fatah al-Islam suspects, arms-Daily Star
Denmark says UN should handle Shebaa-Daily Star
Jumblatt to honor French ambassador-Daily Star
Hizbullah slams Feltman as 'true mentor' of March 14-Daily Star
Maronite archbishop accuses Cabinet of 'Islamizing' Lebanon-Daily Star
Credit Suisse urges Lebanese leaders to break stalemate-Daily Star
Norway to send peacekeeping troops to Lebanon-Daily Star
Lebanese delegation takes part in Sparta sports event-Daily Star
Syria concerned for students in Lebanon. Jerusalem Post
involved in assassination of Lebanese minister
Friday, 6 July, 2007
Beirut - According to sources close to the investigation, Ahmed Jibril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command played a role in assassinating ex-minister Pierre Gemayel. The sources said a vehicle used in the assassination, a Honda VRC, was stolen from the mountain resort of Brummana in October 2006 and taken to an area in the northern sector of the eastern Bekaa valley where car bandits operate. Shortly after that, a member of Jibril's Syrian-backed PFLP-GC approached the gang and bartered the car for a quantity of weapons, the sources added. The car was used in the Nov. 21 assassination of Gemayel in Suburban Jdaideh, almost a month after it was stolen from Brummana, the sources added. The vehicle was later driven to Syria, which turned it back to Lebanon in Dec. 2006 in line with a warrant issued by the Interpol, they explained. One source said lab tests showed that the car was used in the Gemayel assassination and two of the gunmen who used it were killed later in clashes between Lebanese Forces and Fatah al-Islam terrorists in Tripoli's Mitein street on May 20.
Bodies of the gunmen and samples taken from the car were under lab tests to determine identities of all the culprits who gunned down Gemayel, the source added.
He said all details related to the investigation in Gemayel's killing and the Fatah al-Islam link have been relayed to the U.N. committee investigating the 2005 killing of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri and related crimes. In October 2005, the U.N. investigative report issued by Detlev Mehlis named Ahmad Jibril and Ahmed Abdel Aal of the Al ahbash Islamic group, as involved suspects in the murder of former PM Rafik Hariri.Sources: Naharne
Row over Who Represents Lebanon's Christians
Intra-Maronite squabbling have dominated the political theater in Lebanon recently, reflecting a competition on who represents Lebanon's Christians and defends their interests. The row, pitting mainly Gen. Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement and Samir Geagea's Lebanese Forces, followed a statement by Maronite Bishops accusing Premier Fouad Saniora's government of violating the constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of belief, selling the nation's lands to foreigners and recruiting security officers by contracts without going through the series of required tests. The Bishops, in a statement released after their monthly meeting Wednesday, were critical of a government decision to join a treaty on Children's rights in Islam.
The decree, which formalized Lebanon's membership in the treaty, stated clearly that it should not contradict the rights of non-Muslim Lebanese children and other civic laws related to freedom of belief for Lebanon's population that belongs to 18 different sects. Nevertheless, the Bishops said in their statement it is "not acceptable that prejudiced (sides) act to wreck this partnership" between the various Lebanese communities. The statement also said the various Lebanese governments have legalized the sale of seven million square meters of Lebanese property in 14 years to non-Lebanese owners. Such a trend, they warned, could lead to selling out most of Lebanon and Lebanese citizens would "one day find out that they are strangers in their country."
Christian opposition leaders invested the Bishops statement to hammer the Saniora government as acting against the interests of Lebanon's Christians and the nation as a whole. The campaign aimed at cornering Christian members of the March 14 majority alliance that backs the Saniora government. However, Geagea, an outspoken leader of the March 14 majority alliance, denied charges that the cabinet is acting against the interests of Lebanon's Christians.
The Christians, Geagea said, were divided along two basic attitudes to deal with domestic politics. "One (attitude) intimidates the Christians and implies to them that the world is being knocked down on their heads," Geagea told the daily An Nahar Friday. The other attitude, according to Geagea, concentrates on the fact that "the stand of the Christians has been weakened over the past 15 years. This does not mean that the Christians cannot rise again," Geagea added.
"The Syrians broke the Christians' back, not premier Saniora," he declared. Commenting on the Muslim Child's treaty, Geagea asked: "What does it have to do with us if Muslims want their children to follow the Muslim rights charter?"Geagea's Lebanese Forces is represented in the government by Tourism Minister Joe Sarkis.
"Had we not been part of the government, Christians would have had more worries," Geagea commented, in reference to charges made by the FPM.
Social Affairs Minister Naila Mouawad, another prominent member of the March 14 majority alliance, also defended the Saniora administration against charges of anti-Christian attitude.MP Antoine Zahra, who represents the Lebanese Forces in Parliament, also said in a radio interview Saturday that charges by certain Christian circles of attempts to "Islamize" Lebanon are not true. "No one is trying to Islamize Lebanon," Zahra told Orient Radio. "The government is even ready to consider whatever complaints Christians have."Beirut, 07 Jul 07, 15:14
Government Snaps Back at Maronite Bishops
The government on Saturday retorted to the Council of Maronite Bishops, saying the acquisition of land by foreigners has not surpassed the ceiling set by the law.
"The Lebanese government has absolutely not sidestepped the law," Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said at the end of a cabinet meeting. His remarks were a retort to the Bishops who issued a statement on Wednesday criticizing the acquisition by foreigners of more than seven million square meters of land in Lebanon. They said the Lebanese will one day feel they are outsiders in their own country. "The overall acquisition (of land by foreigners) is 0.1% percent and is much less that the ceiling set by the law," which is 3%, Aridi said.
The minister also said that the percentage of Christians serving with the Internal Security Forces has increased during the current government's term. He said there are now 33.04% of Christians in the ISF, an increase from 28.85% during previous governments. The bishops have expressed fears that canceling the "contest" for recruiting new staff for the ISF puts the performance of the institution at risk. About a draft law submitted to parliament which allows Lebanon to join the "Children's Rights in Islam" accord, Aridi said: "the government expresses its readiness to take into consideration concerns and reservations."
The Bishops had also referred to the issue in their monthly meeting statement and Jbeil Maronite Archbishop Bishara Raii said in remarks published Friday that the agreement disregards the Christian presence in the country and makes Lebanon an "Islamic state and an Islamic society.""We reject this and we condemn the government's move which is working on dividing (Lebanon) rather than uniting the country," he said in an interview with As Safir daily.
Raii also accused Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's government of wanting to "Islamize" Lebanon."Accusing the government of working towards Islamizing Lebanon is fabrication and has no basis," Aridi said. Beirut, 07 Jul 07, 14:55
Jibril's PFLP-GC Has Hand in Gemayel's Killing That was Carried Out by Fatah al-Islam
The Fatah al-Islam terrorist group has carried out the assassination of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel as reliable sources informed of the investigation told Naharnet that Ahmed Jibril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command played a role in the crime.
The daily An Nahar said Saturday that Police have finalized the investigation into the murder of Gemayel, scion of Lebanon's most prominent Christian family and a leading opponent of Syria, who was gunned down near Beirut Nov. 22, 2006. Citing well-informed sources, the paper said interrogation with Fatah al-Islam detainees revealed that the "executor" of the Gemayel crime was the al-Qaida inspired terrorist group led by Shaker Abssi.
An Nahar's report came a day after reliable sources told Naharnet that a vehicle used in the Gemayel assassination, a Honda VRC, was stolen from the mountain resort of Brummana in October 2006 and taken to an area in the northern sector of the eastern Bekaa valley where car bandits operate.
Shortly after that, a member of Jibril's Syrian-backed PFLP-GC approached the gang and bartered the car for a quantity of weapons, the sources added.
The car was used in the assassination of Gemayel in suburban Jdaideh, almost a month after it was stolen from Brummana, the sources added.
The vehicle was later driven to Syria, which turned it back to Lebanon in Dec. 2006 in line with a warrant issued by the Interpol, they explained.
One source said lab tests showed that the car was used in the Gemayel murder and two of the gunmen who used it were killed later in clashes between Lebanese Forces and Fatah al-Islam terrorists in Tripoli's Mitein street on May 20.
Bodies of the gunmen and samples taken from the car were under lab tests to determine identities of all the culprits who gunned down Gemayel, the source added.
He said all details related to the investigation in Gemayel's killing and the Fatah al-Islam link have been relayed to the U.N. committee investigating the 2005 killing of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri and related crimes. Beirut, 06 Jul 07, 16:19
Lebanese Army Urges Terrorists to Surrender
The Lebanese army on Saturday called on Fatah al-Islam militants besieged in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared to surrender and bring an end to deadly battles that have raged for nearly seven weeks. "The army command, anxious to put an end to the bloodshed ... calls on the armed men of Fatah al-Islam ... to take the initiative and surrender to the armed forces," said a communiqué carried by the state-run National News Agency. The army appealed to the fighters in the camp near the port city of Tripoli in north Lebanon "not to prevent those who wish (to surrender)…, particularly casualties so that they can receive the necessary treatment." "They must facilitate the exit of civilians detained against their will in order to put an end to the abnormal situation to which the camp is being subjected," the communiqué added.Fighting broke out at Nahr al-Bared on May 20 when the terrorists launched a series of attacks against Lebanese soldiers, killing 27 of them around the camp and in Tripoli.The government and the army have since been calling on Fatah al-Islam fighters to surrender.(AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, 07 Jul 07, 17:50
Aoun to Geagea: Talk to Me Because I'm a Presidential Candidate
Free Patriotic Movement leader Gen. Michel Aoun has invited his rival Samir Geagea to consider discussing ideas with him for his 2008 presidential candidacy "because I am a presidential runner."Aoun said Geagea was not to expect the former army general to "agree" with him on a presidential runner "because I am a presidential candidate and if he (Geagea) wants to discuss the (presidential) agenda with me, he's most welcome."Geagea has expressed hope that Christian leaders, particularly those within the pro-government March 14 coalition, will meet with the Free Patriotic Movement to agree on a presidential candidate. Geagea, however, has stressed that the "only obstacle" in this regard was that FPM "insists on one and only runner." Beirut, 07 Jul 07, 13:04
Rifi from Bkirki Urges More Christians to Join Police Force
Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, head of the Internal Security Forces, urged after a meeting with Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, more Christian volunteers to join the police force to create equality. "We believe it is very important for the Christians to participate in order to enhance our (security) institutions," he told reporters after talks with Sfeir on Friday. Rifi also said that new information will be uncovered very soon with regard to the Feb. 13 Ain Alaq bus bombings. "It has been 30 years since we have exposed a terrorist crime like that of Ain Alaq," Rifi said. Beirut, 07 Jul 07, 14:07
Maronite archbishop accuses Cabinet of 'Islamizing' Lebanon
Fadlallah insists 'foreign support' won't solve problems
Daily Star staff
Saturday, July 07, 2007
BEIRUT: Jbeil Maronite Archbishop Bishara Raii accused Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government of trying to "Islamize" Lebanon in an interview coming two days after the Council of Maronite Bishops issued its monthly statement. Raii, in Friday's issue of As-Safir, urged the government to withdraw a draft law submitted to Parliament calling for Lebanon to join the "Children's Rights in Islam" accord. Raii's fiery stance came after the bishops expressed fears Wednesday that canceling the "contest" for recruiting new staff for the Internal Security Forces "put the performance and standing of this institution at risk." The bishops also criticized the acquisition by foreigners of more than seven million square meters of land in Lebanon.
"If matters persist, we fear that there will come a time where the Lebanese will feel they are outsiders in their own country;" said the bishops statement. "Such a form of alienation is the bitterest of feelings."What worries Christians is that the ongoing political crisis currently befalling Lebanon constitutes a "regional power struggle," added Raii. However, Raii also said that the conflict in Lebanon has taken the shape of a Sunni-Shiite power struggle over who gets to control what he termed "Maronite politics." "If the Sunnis and Shiites agree, their agreement would come at the expense of the Christians," Raii said, adding that "if they disagree, the Christians become their victims." Raii also said that President Emile Lahoud was not part of any coalitions in Lebanon, "even though it looks as it he supports the opposition."
"The president is keen on preserving the Constitution, and it is not acceptable that his role be marginalized," he said. "What worries Christians most is that the current government is taking Lebanon toward Islamization."
The "Children's Rights in Islam" accord, according to Raii, ignores the Christian presence in the country and makes Lebanon an "Islamic state and an Islamic society." "We reject this and we condemn the government's move, which is working on dividing [Lebanon] rather than uniting the country," he said. Senior Shiite cleric Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, also discussing the issue of sectarian discrimination, said the Lebanese suffered from "sectarian discrimination and economic deprivation, while politicians were busy fighting together and receiving orders from foreign forces." "Foreign support will not solve any of Lebanon's problems," said Fadlallah during the Friday sermon at the Imam Hassanayn Mosque in Haret Hreik. "It is rather likely to reinforce the struggles of the Lebanese and will lead to more and more fear, hunger, deprivation and emigration." Meanwhile, Grand Mufti Mohammad Rashid Qabbani said the Lebanese must find solutions to their internal conflicts, saying they should maintain a positive perspective toward the meeting to be held in Paris, which will gather representatives of Lebanese politicians who participated in dialogue sessions.
"This participation is likely to revive dialogue among various Lebanese groups," said Qabbani. "However," he added, "politicians attending dialogue sessions should realize that there are certain issues that shouldn't be contested, such as the establishment of an international court to try suspects into the assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri, and all the decisions undertaken by the Siniora government." - The Daily Star
Chaotic Lebanon Risks Becoming Militant Haven
By SOUAD MEKHENNET, MICHAEL MOSS and MICHAEL SLACKMAN
Published: July 7, 2007
BEIRUT, Lebanon, July 6 — Minutes before Islamic militants and government troops began killing each other in northern Lebanon six weeks ago, a flurry of cellphone calls set the tone for the contagion of violence.
Palestinian refugees, who have fled the Nahr al Bared camp because of fighting, taking refuge in the Beddawi refugee camp outside of Tripoli. More Photos »
The calls began at 2:55 a.m. on May 20 when Lebanese security forces surrounded a Tripoli apartment building used as a safe house by Fatah al Islam, a newly formed militant group with Qaeda aspirations.
“Stop it or I will go out and attack,” the group’s military commander, Abu Hureira, said from his headquarters in the Palestinian refugee camp Nahr al Bared, north of Tripoli, according to a recording of the conversations that was played for reporters with The New York Times.
A sheik acting as an intermediary relayed the warning to Maj. Gen. Achraf Rifi, head of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces, who replied, “You will surrender and go to prison, or you will die.”
Seconds later, General Rifi’s men stormed the safe house, killing 12 suspected militants. In response, Fatah al Islam rushed an army checkpoint at the camp’s entrance, killing 23 soldiers sleeping in tents. The continuing battle, which has claimed more than 200 lives, has ruined the camp, now the scene of daily artillery barrages as the Lebanese Army tries to flush out Fatah al Islam.
The fight has drawn scrutiny here and abroad because the militants are foreigners and veterans of the war in Iraq. As Lebanon falls increasingly into a state of political paralysis, the risk of militants setting up base here is raising alarms, especially among European intelligence officials.
One year ago, this country found itself in the middle of a war between Israel and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah after Hezbollah fighters crossed the border and seized two Israeli soldiers. Although the war’s catastrophic damage drew Lebanese together, they quickly turned on one another politically. Killings, bombings and political protests have become routine.
Political forces find themselves stalemated, with no one firmly in charge. Neighborhoods of rubble from last year’s war remain uncleared, and politicians on each side accuse those on the other of blocking reconstruction to prevent them from getting credit.
Parliament has to select a new president in September, but with the governing coalition and the opposition hostile to each other, that could set off an unraveling of what remains of the system of governance.
“If you are in a hole, at least stop digging,” said Ali Hamdan, foreign affairs adviser to Nabih Berri, speaker of Parliament, leader of the Shiite Amal movement and a close ally of Hezbollah. “Unfortunately, the Lebanese keep digging.”
While Lebanon’s troubles are not principally about Islamic militancy, some fear it could become the kind of place that attracts more of it, especially from the Iraq war.
General Rifi, the internal security chief, estimates that 50 to 60 fighters are still in the camp and they include skilled and determined militants from Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen and Algeria who fought with the insurgency in Iraq.
The group’s leader, Shakir al-Abssi, was an associate of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia killed last summer. He has been sentenced to death in Jordan for helping Mr. Zarqawi organize the 2002 slaying of an American diplomat in Amman, Jordan.
“One reason we attacked Abssi was to get a message to those people that you don’t have to come to Lebanon after your mission in Iraq,” General Rifi said.
But Mr. Abssi has been drawing support from Europe as well, according to a Western European intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity. There is some evidence that Islamic militants in Western European countries traveled to Lebanon and joined Mr. Abssi’s group, the official said, citing recent reports from intelligence agencies of countries other than Lebanon.
Meanwhile, Lebanon has been hit with a rash of car bombings and other violence since the fighting with Fatah al Islam began, including a car bomb in the south that killed six United Nations peacekeepers.
Today, the Lebanese are increasingly divided by rolls of razor wire spread across roads and wrapped around buildings and homes. They are separated by military checkpoints that tie up traffic. Nearly a dozen members of Parliament have left the country, fearful they will be killed. Some United Nations officials have moved from their heavily guarded offices in the center of Beirut to smaller, less obvious space deep behind a sea of razor wire.
Given Lebanon’s fractured politics — and the backing of Hezbollah by both Iran and Syria and of the government by Western powers — it is too soon to know who has been behind the many incidents. General Rifi said the F.B.I. director, Robert Mueller, paid him a surprise visit last week and offered forensic assistance in analyzing the bombings.
But Lebanese officials say they have had shootouts with several clusters of foreign Islamic militants, some of whom had clear ties with Mr. Abssi’s group. On June 7 a car-bomb factory was discovered in the Bekaa Valley in which two Mercedeses and a Jeep were being prepared for explosives. The operation was run by a Saudi and two Syrians who had fought in Iraq and their technique had some sophistication, including the use of fiberglass shields in a possible attempt to hide the explosives from detection devices, two Lebanese Army officials said.
Lebanon, the Next Chapter “We have no sleeper cells in Lebanon,” said a Lebanese Army official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They are all waking up.”
If there is one unifying element to the national psyche, it seems to be that the leadership — both of the government and of the opposition — has failed by paralyzing the country and failing to find a governing consensus.
Hezbollah came out of the war against Israel highly popular. But today its leaders are accused by some of focusing too much on domestic politics and failing to achieve their stated goals, which has prompted unusually heated debate within Hezbollah over its direction.
“They were not expecting the results of instigating against the government to be transformed into sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shiites in the street, which was about to become an even bigger problem,” said Talal Atrissi, a political sociology professor at Lebanese University and an expert on Hezbollah. “The other party was able to use the sectarian tension to face Hezbollah and to transform the battle to its benefit.”
Omar Nasra, 26, a barber in the southern Beirut suburbs, the Hezbollah stronghold, carefully pulled a razor across a customer’s beard as he expressed his own frustration with the government and the opposition, saying, “We wish all these politicians would be replaced by people who can sit together on the same table, talk, and agree on how to govern this country.”
On the street, there remains great admiration for Hezbollah’s social and military effort, but dissatisfaction with its political management.
Central Beirut remains paralyzed since the Hezbollah-led opposition — which includes the Shiite party Amal and the followers of the Christian general Michel Aoun — began a sit-in on Dec. 1. The goal was to force the government to resign. But the government has hunkered down, the prime minister and others living in their office on a hill overlooking hundreds of pitched tents.
The majority coalition, known as March 14, has not become more powerful but has found itself less on the defensive and has defiantly projected an image of still functioning.
But its detractors say the coalition has hamstrung the country and has not dealt in good faith with the opposition.
“We are trying to lead the country to unity and they don’t want unity,” said a Hezbollah representative at the tent city, who identified himself as Shumran.
Opposition leaders are pessimistic about a deal being reached that could end the political impasse. “If we don’t form a national unity government from now until September, I think we are heading to chaos,” said Trad Hamadeh, who stepped down as labor minister last fall and is associated with Hezbollah. “The Constitution will no longer be implemented. There will be no cabinet able to control and run the country. This means the country will be in a state of no laws, the loss of the system.”
That is just the kind of state in which militant groups could thrive.
Fatah al Islam, which Mr. Abssi formed late last year, has already been getting vocal support from groups with more established ties to Al Qaeda. On May 25, a group calling itself Al Qaeda in Bilad al Sham posted a video titled “Return of the Crusader War,” on the Islamic militant Web site al Hesbah.
“We will tear out your hearts with traps and surround your places with explosive canisters, and target all your businesses, beginning with tourism and ending with other rotten industries,” a leader of the group says in the video. “We warn you for the last time, and after it there will only be rivers of blood.”
The stalemated politics have posed a huge obstacle to reining in the violence. The Arab League came to Lebanon to try to work out the mechanics of the political struggle, and failed, prompting the secretary general, Amr Moussa, to say that Lebanon was running out of time.
The opposition has threatened to form a parallel government, a move that Moody’s Investors Service said would be like turning it into a country in bankruptcy.
More ominous is the fear that the one institution that has so far held firm in the face of political turmoil, the army, may not be able to withstand a split government and might fracture along sectarian lines. All the army factions, including Sunni Muslims, have fought the extremists.
The problem in the north is not just that there is suddenly a group of Qaeda-minded extremists looking to pursue a political agenda through violence, but that the conflict has also disturbed a delicate balance between Lebanon and the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who have lived for generations in squalid refugee camps.
In a sign of how sour the environment has become, many Lebanese say the only good news lately has been that the army fought against the extremists in the Nahr al Bared refugee camp. The optimism stems in part from the notion that Sunnis in the army have agreed to fight and kill Sunni extremists in the camp.
But the destruction has created a humanitarian crisis, with thousands of residents of the camp fleeing. Most now live in the Beddawi refugee camp a few miles away. They are crowded into classrooms, often as many as seven families sharing a space divided by blue tarps hanging from ropes strung between the walls. So even before Lebanon has figured out how to rebuild and provide homes for the thousands displaced last summer, it has thousands more now without homes in the north
President says Iran and Syria can help a lot in fighting terrorism in Iraq
The Associated PressPublished: July 6, 2007
BAGHDAD: Iraq's president said in remarks aired Friday that the country could have been more successful in ending the insurgency and sectarian violence if it had received full support from Iran and Syria. President Jalal Talabani also said that Iran's influence on Shiite militias in Iraq could be used to help end sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites. He was apparently referring to the Mahdi Army militia of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
"Had we been able to gain Syria and Iran on Iraq's side in fighting terrorism, the mission of wiping out terrorism would have been 70 percent easier," Talabani told the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television. "The second point is that Iran can help us in silencing or reforming special militias with links to Iran and are causing sectarian problems for us." Syria and Iran, two of Iraq's neighbors, have been accused by the United States of aiding the insurgency and sectarian militias. U.S. officials say that many foreign fighters come to Iraq through Syria while Iran supplies insurgents with weapons including deadly roadside bombs known as explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs. Iran denies it is supplying such weapons, while Syria says it is impossible to control its long desert border with Iraq.
Aoun blames government for Christian 'weakness'
MP and Hariri agree to meet 'as soon as possible'
By Rym Ghazal -Daily Star staff
Saturday, July 07, 2007
BEIRUT: As the head of the Free Patriotic Movement, MP Michel Aoun, declared that there is "weakness" in the Christian status in Lebanon due to the current government, the head of the parliamentary majority, MP Saad Hariri, telephoned Aoun from Paris, calling for a meeting "as soon as possible."
At the same time, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki telephoned his Saudi Arabian counterpart, Prince Saud al-Faisal, on Friday, and discussed conditions in Lebanon, Palestine and bilateral ties. Mottaki stressed the importance of cooperation among all Islamic and Arab countries to aid Palestine and Lebanon and assist the different Lebanese groups and find the best ways to solve the disputes.
In Lebanon, Aoun made his statement on Friday about the weakness of the Christians after he met with Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir in Bkriki.
"The Christian stature is weak as the government is not giving them their full rights," Aoun told reporters on Friday. "While there are no security concerns nor violations against the Christians, there are political breaches committed against them," he added. As for the presidential elections, one of the topics discussed with Sfeir, Aoun reminded the Lebanese that he is a candidate for the presidency, "a candidate that will stay a candidate." Aoun also confirmed his support for a "salvation government" as a way out to the ongoing political crisis that has plagued the country since November 2006.
In a statement faxed from the press office of MP Hariri to The Daily Star, it said that Hariri telephoned Aoun from his residence in Paris. The two leaders discussed the importance of re-launching national dialogue, the statement said. "Both [leaders] agreed to meet as soon as possible," said the statement on Friday.
In an unexpected move, the head of the Internal Security Forces, Major General Ashraf Rifi, told reporters after a meeting with Sfeir on Friday that he will soon expose "information" that will surprise everyone.
"I assure you that there is new information that will be declared very soon," said Rifi. "It has been 30 years since we have exposed a terrorist crime like that of Ain Alaq," Rifi said, referring to the twin bus bombing on February 13 of this year of which members of the Al-Qaeda-inspired Fatah al-Islam were accused of responsibility of the crime. Rifi also called for more volunteers from Christians for the Lebanese security forces to "create a greater balance" in the distribution of sects in the security apparatus. "We consider it very important for the Christians to participate to enrich our [security] institutions," he said.
With the onset of fighting between the army and Fatah al-Islam in the North of Lebanon in the northern refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared, the army and the ISF have been releasing regular requests asking for more volunteers to be trained and recruited into the security apparatus.
As Lebanese officials prepare for their trip to Paris to meet in a bid to rekindle trust between the two camps, the Central News agency quoted sources close to the head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, as saying that he would be returning to Lebanon soon after visiting Syria and Saudi Arabia.
Earlier reports said that Moussa is expected to head to Syria this weekend, without any confirmed date of his trip to Saudi Arabia. Hizbullah confirmed on Friday that it will send resigned Minister of Energy Mohammed Fneish and foreign affairs chief Nawaf Mussawi to represent the party in the Paris meeting.
Jewish groups in France have criticized the participation of Hizbullah, accusing it of having carried out attacks in the early 1980s when dozens of French soldiers were killed. They also accuse the group's Al-Manar television of anti-Semitism.
Israeli cluster bombs and mines have killed 30, maimed 205
By Mohammed Zaatari -Daily Star staff
Saturday, July 07, 2007
SIDON: The number of people harmed while defusing bombs and extracting mines left by the Israelis following last summer's war has reached 205, including a reported 30 deaths. The large number of casualties comes as a result of the massive volumes of unexploded ordinance and cluster bombs left behind by Israel across Southern Lebanon in the days immediately preceding a UN-sponsored cease-fire which brought hostilities to a halt.
Dalya Farran, the spokeswoman for the UN Mine Action Coordination Center, said that technicians continue to work in various sites.
"There are about 922 sites being currently worked on in various Southern areas," Farran said. "Some parts have already been covered. The 96 teams, which include about 1,300 experts and trainees, are doing all they can to finish up the mission as soon as possible," she added.
The efforts are the result of a vast collaboration between companies and governmental organizations, as well as collaboration between the Lebanese Army, the UNIFIL and the New Zealand Military expertise team, added Farran.
She also noted that 122,500 mines and unexploded cluster bombs have been defused and extracted due to the collaboration of the organizations, but also described various problems faced by technicians, including the refusal of Israel to identify locations of the remnants of an estimated 1 million cluster bomblets dropped during the war.The technicians will be done with their mission by the end of this year and will have removed any direct danger, said Farran, adding that "all residential and agricultural areas will soon be ready for free use." "Our priority lies in annihilating all possible dangers on the residents," said Farran. "All other areas not frequently used will be handled in a secondary stage. Residential and agricultural areas will be the focus of the year 2008."
Norway to send peacekeeping troops to Lebanon
Saturday, July 07, 2007
Norway will send its peacekeeping troops back to Lebanon nearly a decade after withdrawing them from the country, media reports from Stockholm said on Friday. The first batch of Norwegian peacekeepers, consisting of only eight officers, will depart for Lebanon this fall, Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported, quoting Defense Minister Anne-Grete Stroem-Erichsen. The government made the decision after considering a request from the United Nations, the reports said. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon now has 13,000 troops on a peacekeeping mission in Southern Lebanon that started after last summer's war with Israel. The main task of the Norwegian peacekeepers will be to coordinate military and civilian aid to Lebanon, the defense minister said. Beginning from 1987, 21,000 Norwegian soldiers were stationed in Lebanon. The Norwegian troops were pulled out in 1998. - Xinhua
Security forces raid Tripoli apartment, seizing Fatah al-Islam suspects, arms
Battle rages on between army, militants at nahr al-bared
By Rym Ghazal -Daily Star staff
Saturday, July 07, 2007
BEIRUT: The Lebanese security forces raided an apartment in Tripoli belonging to a prominent Salafi sheikh and arrested three suspects for possession of arms and links to the al-Qaeda inspired Fatah al-Islam that the army continues to battle in the northern refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared.
In the middle of the night, state security raided apartments and seized arms and ammunition in the Abu Samra neighborhood in Tripoli and in the Qalamoun area south of Tripoli, where earlier this month the security services raided one of Fatah al-Islam's hideouts in one of the caves of Qalamoun.
The National News Agency (NNA) said that security forces raided the empty apartment belonging to a Salafi sheikh from Tripoli, Fathi Yakan, who has acted as one of the mediators between the Lebanese Army and Fatah al-Islam militant group.
Based on a tip, security forces raided Yakan's old office and found machine guns, night vision goggles, uniforms and other military gear.
NNA said weapons, ammunition and binoculars were confiscated from the apartment Yakan had used as an office as well as an arts institution.
Yakan's office, however, issued a statement Friday saying the apartment had not been used by the cleric for more than seven years, and added that reports of finding machine guns and grenades were exaggerated and false.
"It is possible that the apartment had some old, leftover ammunition," said the statement that was faxed to The Daily Star office.
Fathi Yakan was not available for comment. His spokesperson told The Daily Star that when the security forces got the tip, "they didn't know who the apartment belonged to."
"They found out later that the apartment was an old office belonging to Yakan," the spokes-person said.
Security sources also arrested three people and said that one of those detained is a senior Fatah al-Islam member, Waleed Hassan al-Bustani, who has been implicated in the attacks on the army on May 20 that sparked the deadly conflict in Nahr al-Bared.
The sources told The Daily Star that Bustani was carrying "multiple ID cards and a personal gun," at the time of the arrest, which occurred in Tripoli after 12 a.m. on Thursday night.
Bustani is currently being detained and interrogated by the Lebanese authorities.
Lebanese security forces also detained two 17-year-olds for possession of the grenades that were confiscated during one of the raids in Qalamoun, security sources said.
Judicial sources said that the those three arrested on Friday are all Lebanese, raising the total captured members of Fatah al-Islam to 46.
The same sources said that a total of 12 people have been arrested since the onset of conflict over suspicions of their connection to "al-Qaeda."
Meanwhile, Future TV broadcasted a clip on Thursday night from the surveillance camera inside the Mediterranean Bank that was allegedly robbed by Fatah al-Islam members in Amoun the day before before the onset of fighting in Nahr al-Bared May 20th.
The clip showed several armed masked men threatening the employees at the bank and placing the money in a bag before running away.
Ahmed Jibril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command said on Al-Manar television earlier on Thursday night that Fatah al-Islam committed this crime after their "funding was cut off from the Future Movement."
Meanwhile, heavy gunfire exchanges between the army and Fatah al-Islam militants in Nahr el-Bared continued Friday. The NNA said a mortar fired from inside the camp landed on a house in the nearby Bibnine area, slightly wounding a one-year-old child.
Around 300 Lebanese former residents of Nahr al-Bared camp are expected to a hold a protest over the weekend to demand compensation from the government, similar to the compensation received by the Palestinian displaced from the same the camp.
Thousands of Palestinians from Nahr al-Bared received checks worth $1,300 on Thursday as part of a package of donations from Saudi Arabia and the Lebanese government.