July 17/07

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 10,34-42.11,1. Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man 'against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's enemies will be those of his household.' Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is righteous will receive a righteous man's reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple--amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward." When Jesus finished giving these commands to his twelve disciples, he went away from that place to teach and to preach in their towns.

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for July 17/07
Army Loses Three More Soldiers at Nahr al-Bared-Naharnet
Bomb Hits UN Vehicle in Lebanon-Washington Post
Hezbollah shadow over UN Lebanon troops
-BBC News
Safadi's Presidential Vote Conditional on Two-Third Quorum
Naharnet Exclusive: Saint-Cloud Meeting Failed to Adopt French Proposals on Key Issues-Naharnet
Hizbullah Denies Discussing Fate of Kidnapped Israeli Soldiers with Kouchner-Naharnet

France Tightens Security for Peacekeepers, is Ready to Do Anything.Naharnet
S Arabia the biggest source of foreign jihadis in Iraq-Economic Times
French FM: Two IDF soldiers snatched by Hezbollah are alive
Lebanese factions agree to avoid 'political violence'-Daily Star

Morin celebrates Bastille Day with French troops-Daily Star
Jumblatt in Riyadh for talks with Saudi monarch-Daily Star
Is Lebanon ready for another disaster?Daily Star
Where we begin: Poetry forged from conflict-Daily Star
Security Official Says Iraq Detaining Hundreds Of Saudi Militants-RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty
Army makes advances into Nahr al-Bared as militants fire rockets at surrounding areas
US 'pleased' with progress in Hariri probe
Displaced refugees recall horrors of battle at Nahr al-Bared
Gunman kills Jund al-Sham militant in Ain al-Hilweh
MP warns of 'disaster' if EDL problems are not resolved
Broummana businesses hope for end to political crisis, return of tourists
Lebanese invited to shut off cell phones

S Arabia the biggest source of foreign jihadis in Iraq
16 Jul, 2007, 0640 hrs IST, PTI
SILICON VALLEY: Although Washington has been accusing Syria and Iran of helping insurgents in Iraq, it is the US ally Saudi Arabia which is the largest source of foreign insurgents in Iraq, a media report has said. About 45 per cent of all foreign militants targeting US troops and Iraqi civilians and security forces are from Saudi Arabia, compared to 15 per cent from Syria and Lebanon; and 10 per cent from North Africa, according to official military figures made available to The Los Angeles Times by a senior US military officer. Nearly half of the 135 foreigners in US detention facilities in Iraq are Saudis. Fighters from Saudi Arabia are thought to have carried out more suicide bombings than those of any other nationality, said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the subject's sensitivity.
This has left the US military in the awkward position of battling an enemy whose top source of foreign fighters is a key ally that at best has not been able to prevent its citizens from undertaking bloody attacks in Iraq, the paper said. Fifty per cent of all Saudi fighters in Iraq come as suicide bombers, the source told the newspaper adding suicide bombings have killed or injured 4,000 Iraqis in the last six months. While the Saudi government accepts the fact that some of its youths are ending up as suicide bombers in Iraq, it asserts it has done everything it can to stop the bloodshed.

French FM: Two IDF soldiers snatched by Hezbollah are alive
By Assaf Uni
LA CELLE SAINT-CLOUD, France - The two Israel Defense Forces soldiers abducted by Hezbollah last year are apparently alive, and negotiations for their release are being conducted via the United Nations, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said yesterday. He was speaking at a press conference marking the close of two days of talks on the future of Lebanon that were held in this town west of Paris. The conference was attended by representatives of Hezbollah and the Western-backed government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. "It is my understanding that the two soldiers are alive," Kouchner told reporters in response to a question by Haaretz. "I raised the subject of the soldiers with Hezbollah representatives. They told me that the talks on a prisoner swap are in an advanced stage."
IDF reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were abducted in a cross-border raid by Hezbollah on July 12, 2006. The attack sparked the Second Lebanon War. The French foreign minister also predicted that an agreement would be reached for the soldiers' release via the UN. "I offered France's services to Hezbollah," he added. Ahead of the talks, Kouchner had promised Israel that he would take the opportunity to seek information on the missing soldiers.
Responding to a question on whether Hezbollah would terminate its connections with Iran and Syria, Kouchner said: "Let us not be naive."
Regarding the substance of the two-day meeting, Kouchner said that Lebanon's feuding political parties had broken the ice during the talks. However, he conceded, there were also tense moments.
The informal talks held Saturday and yesterday at a chateau in La Celle Saint Cloud were aimed at easing a crisis that has put Lebanon's democracy at risk. However, they had not been expected to bring any breakthrough in the deadlock between the Western-backed prime minister and the Hezbollah-led opposition. The meeting, organized by France with American and Iranian approval, was designed simply to get the parties talking, and France's foreign minister said they met that goal.
"I think they broke the ice," Kouchner said. "I think they were very happy to talk to each other." The meeting was the first time the parties have met since a national dialogue conference in November that failed to resolve the tensions. Hezbollah's representatives at the meeting were former water and energy minister Mohammed Fneish and the organization's foreign relations officer, Nawaf al-Musawi.

Jumblatt in Riyadh for talks with Saudi monarch
Hizbullah mp warns ruling coalition 'and their us allies' against violating constitution

By Mirella Hodeib
Daily Star staff
Monday, July 16, 2007
BEIRUT: While deputy representatives of Lebanon's 14 main political groups met outside Paris over the weekend to seek a solution to the country's political deadlock, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt traveled to Riyadh for talks with King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz Sunday evening. Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said there was "no connection whatsoever" between the visit to Riyadh and the meeting at Saint Cloud, explaining that the visit to Riyadh "was scheduled a long time ago."
Jumblatt, who arrived in Riyadh Saturday evening, also met with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal and Defense Minister Sultan bin Abdel-Aziz on Sunday.
Aridi said Jumblatt's talks addressed the work of the international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, among other issues.
Talks also tackled the security situation in Lebanon, particularly the ongoing battle between the Lebanese Army and Fatah al-Islam militants at Nahr al-Bared refugee camp outside Tripoli.
Reactions to recent developments were also voiced by Hizbullah and Amal lawmakers Sunday during a rally staged by the Syrian Social Nationalist Party at UNESCO Palace to commemorate the 57th anniversary of the death of founder Antoun Saadeh. Hizbullah MP Mohammad Raad reiterated the opposition's calls for partnership, saying "the only true partnership is to preserve Lebanon and reinstate stability." "Partnership, one of the key solutions to the current impasse, is likely to avoid skirmishes, provide a state of stability, and revive the activity of constitutional institutions," he said. Raad expressed hope that the ruling coalition would take advantage of opportunities that he said had arisen at the summit in France, held in the Paris suburb of Saint Cloud. "Despite various complications, and meager expectations, the Saint Cloud meeting is yet another opportunity, and we advise the ruling coalition to embrace the opportunity made available, and not waste it like previous ones," he said. Raad warned the ruling coalition "and their US allies" against violating constitutional articles when holding presidential polls.
The Lebanese Constitution states that any president must be elected by a two-thirds parliamentary quorum. If a quorum is not present for voting, a second round of elections is to be held, in which the president is elected by absolute majority. Amal MP Ali Hassan Khalil said that the opposition would not tolerate any breaches of
the Constitution. "Only a two-thirds quorum will ensure that the next president will be a representative of all the Lebanese," Khalil said.
The March 14 Forces have threatened to elect the next president by absolute majority, if opposition MPs decide to boycott the election session at the Parliament, scheduled for September. "We are willing to show flexibility in discussing all issues of national concern; but we will not make any concessions concerning the Constitution," he said. Khalil also criticized Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, describing him as a symbol of corruption and division. Former Prime Minister Salim al-Hoss, also present at the rally, said Lebanon was in need of leaders such as Saadeh "to stand in face of all divisive plans and promote unity."
Lebanon's religious figures also warned against foreign interference in Lebanese internal affairs, and called for unity among the Lebanese and an end to bickering.
Separately, Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir said Lebanese should unite and avoid further conflict "to ensure that future generations do not opt for immigration and live in a country they trust and are proud of." During his weekly Sunday sermon, Sfeir warned conflicting groups against secluding themselves into separate entities.
"France was aware of such danger and thus called for the meeting at Saint Cloud with the aim of having dialogue among the Lebanese revived," he said.
Senior Shiite cleric Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah warned against US interference in Lebanese domestic issues. "The US works on preventing the Lebanese from having a common understanding of the values of unity, freedom and independence because the US is afraid that a model of multiplicity and tolerance be established in the region," Fadlallah said. Also calling on the Lebanese to unite, the vice president of the Higher Shiite Council urged participants at the Saint-Cloud talks to "set aside past conflicts and tensions to reach an understanding likely to save Lebanon."

US 'pleased' with progress in Hariri probe
By Agence France Presse (AFP)
Monday, July 16, 2007
Washington said last week it was pleased with the progress of a UN probe into the 2005 assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri and urged Syria to cooperate with the investigation. State Department spokes-man Tom Casey hailed progress in the investigation led by Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz, after the UN team issued its eighth report in the ongoing probe Thursday. "We are pleased with the work he is doing, we are pleased that he continues to make progress on this," Casey said of the 20-page interim report on the slaying, which killed Hariri and 22 others in a massive seafront bomb blast on February 14, 2005. The report noted that UN investigators have identified several people who may have been involved in the slaying, however, it also cautioned that Lebanon's worsening political and security situation was likely to hamper the investigation. Previous UN reports have implicated top-level Syrians and their Lebanese accomplices in the plot. However, Damascus, a longtime power broker in Lebanon that was forced to withdraw its military after the killing, has denied involvement. "It does note that Syria has been engaged in some cooperation although certainly not complete cooperation with him. And we certainly urge them to give him their complete support," Casey said. He said it was his hope that an international tribunal authorized to try suspects in Hariri's murder would make "good use" of the probe's conclusions. - AFP

Is Lebanon ready for another disaster?
Amid fears of renewed war with israel, emergency planning efforts continue to raise concern

By William Long
Special to The Daily Star
Monday, July 16, 2007
BEIRUT: One year on from the July 2006 War, Lebanon still has yet to comprehensively assess, much less address, a number of critical shortcomings in its emergency preparedness planning. As a result, say some NGOs, UN agencies and ministry officials, both the state and civil society will be hard-pressed to respond adequately to either another full-scale conflict or a civil unrest episode similar to the two-month-long siege of the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp.
Moreover, even as a handful of ministries as well as a range of aid groups and agencies like UNHCR, UNICEF and UNRWA work to gauge their own "lessons learned," a growing will to synergize these investigations in a manner that might significantly help vulnerable populations continues to be undercut by the ongoing political standoff in the country, as well as a longstanding culture of neglect when it comes to coordinating before, during and after emergencies.
"Lebanon needs a clear cut plan," UNICEF's Dr. Najib M. Nimah, currently a health consultant for the agency, said pointedly in recent interview with The Daily Star.
"Which are the first schools to open? Where do I pre-position supplies? Who is in charge of what ... Unfortunately, right now we don't even have two key ministries - social affairs and health - able to sit at the same table to work out a strategy."
According to Martene Najem, manager of UN Population Fund projects at the Ministry of Social Affairs, there is, despite outward appearances, "a consensus that Lebanon needs better strategies and more effective programs. What happened last summer made policymakers realize any type of national plan of action will not be completely effective without an emergency component - especially because of where we are located."
She added, however, that despite the summer war's leap over almost all expectations, Lebanon's recent conflicts, which also saw large numbers of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) as well as an inability to ensure aid pathways, should have at least raised awareness that something even more catastrophic could potentially occur.
"No one had a very clear emergency plan or a contingency plan even though we have been through wars before," said Najem, a reference to the 1993 and 1996 conflicts with Israel that a number of NGO representatives repeatedly cited as previous indicators of possible future emergency scenarios.
Although several representatives interviewed from both government and civil society expressed their frustration that little of substance has actually changed - notwithstanding any broad "realizations" - at least one major actor during last summer's war, UNHCR, believes that both the Lebanese government and the Syrian government are at least "now receptive to new initiatives in this domain." As the agency's October 2006 post-conflict assessment put it: "Perhaps the most important outcome of this short-lived crisis is that is has served as a wake-up call to governments and aid agencies in the region by demonstrating that far more needs to be done to ensure an organized institutional response to a situation of this kind, both at the national and the international levels. The need for better contingency planning and emergency preparedness has become patently obvious ..."
2002: The First Installment
Even though most Lebanese citizens, and not a few NGOs, would undoubtedly be surprised to know, over the past several years Lebanon has been building what one government official described as "the broad outline" of an emergency response plan.
In fact, the original impetus for the effort came in January 2002 when former civil war militia leader Elie Hobeika was assassinated by a car bomb in Hazmieh. The resulting chaos surrounding the activities of first responders, including police, fire and the Lebanese Red Cross, made it apparent to all those concerned, and especially to the body ostensibly charged with overall coordination during national emergencies - the Higher Relief Commission (HRC) - that a comprehensive and well-coordinated plan needed to be hammered out.
Formed in 1993, the HRC is presided over by the prime minister and made up of members of the ministers of Defense, Health, Social Affairs, Interior, Finance, Public Works, Energy, Housing, the Council of the South, the Fund for the Displaced as well as representatives from the ISF and the Lebanese Army. Although tasked with overall leadership during emergencies, according to one fact sheet issued after the summer war by the prime minister's office, the HRC does not actually employ any people, as those working for it are public servants in various other governmental administrations.
"After Hobeika's assassination," explained Georges Kettaneh, National Director of the Lebanese Red Cross (LRC), "we found that there was no cooperation between all the responsible parties." Recognizing this, the HRC, which was not able to comment as The Daily Star went to press, conducted a series of meetings and drills in the intervening months and years.
But it was not until the assassination in February 2005 of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri that the emergency preparedness effort really began to get moving across all the different potential actors involved. "When Hariri was assassinated, everyone panicked," said Kettaneh. "Everyone sent ambulances and people. There was no cooperation. It was an earthquake."
Finally, in the eyes of first responders like the LRC, the state, led by HRC and the army, got serious: A national plan defining roles was laid out. More extensive and frequent drills were conducted, often for the first time between various ministries and organizations. Response times and a limited number of protocols were also laid out.
Still, even this effort, described by Kettaneh and others as more of an "imperfect" outline rather than a detailed set of operational practices, was only tailored to meet isolated events like an assassination or an explosion.
Although serious intra-ministerial planning began in 2005-2006 for a national emergency like an outbreak of bird flu, war and widespread civil unrest remained a contingency apparently little contemplated by either policy makers or civil society.
"No one expected it and no one was planning for it"
When a debilitating and increasingly bloody cross-border conflict was indeed unleashed after July 12, 2007, even the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), by its own admission, was caught off-guard - as were so many state and civil society actors.
According to the ICRC's head of delegation, Jordi Raich, after the May 2000 Israeli withdrawal, the ICRC had gradually scaled back its efforts in the country, believing that a major emergency was increasingly less likely.
Thus, by the time war erupted - displacing almost a quarter of Lebanon's population and leading to over 1,100 deaths and thousands of casualties - the Committee had only two expatriate staffers in-country and 10 local staffers. "No one expected it and no one was planning for [war]," explained Raich. "So we had a very small structure in place ... Now we have reduced our presence from what it was during the conflict, but we are not going back to the older structure. We have emergency stocks in place in Lebanon, 15-20 expatriates, 100 national staff, warehouses and cars. Emergency preparedness is now job number one for the ICRC."
In the event, of course, even for those, like the UNDP, who had worked on some preparations for a national emergency with HRC and others, the burden for relief efforts ostensibly imposed by the Israeli campaign were simply unimaginable.
"Had the pattern of the war been different, I believe that the government would have been capable of responding," said Dr. Mona Hammam, Resident Coordinator at the UNDP. "But you have to realize there was a blockade by air, land and sea; [relief] stocks that the government could have imported were simply not available ... there was the lack of humanitarian corridors and the rapidity and scale of destruction which was just overwhelming."
When asked whether evacuation routes and procedures, as well as local transport procurement to help move civilians, should have been put in place before the war, Hammam noted simply, but piercingly as did several other relief workers: "What transport system? The roads were being bombed."
"We took alternative routes," the LRC's Kettaneh explained further, "but the problem was that the ... [Israeli military] did not respect international conventions. We simply could not find a safe road - and they hit response centers, ambulances and hospitals.
"It is difficult," he added flatly, "to plan for that."
Volunteerism to the rescue
When it became clearer toward the end of the first week of the war that Lebanon would likely suffer its worst humanitarian disaster since the 1975-1990 Civil War, the HRC, supported and then led by UN agencies, began a concerted push to try to put in place a comprehensive coordination and delivery mechanism that could meet the growing demand for relief across the country.
Hampered by evacuations of staff, repeated failures in guaranteeing safe access from the Israeli military and dwindling in-country resources like fuel, medicines and mattresses, much of that work however - especially when it came to command and control - only solidified at the end of the month; that is, more than two weeks after hundreds of thousands of Lebanese had begun what seemed to many like an ad hoc process of securing alternative space and supplies in and around public schools, social development centers and from fellow citizens.
As the UNHCR later noted: "The situation was saved by an extraordinary outpouring of generosity by civil society ... [as] ordinary people, volunteer workers, private businesses and local authorities did their best to provide food and shelter for the newcomers during the initial, critical days before the organised relief effort could get into gear."
That same report noted ominously, however, that, "there is a consensus ... that had the situation continued for a longer period a serious crisis would most likely have arisen."
Of course, for at least tens of thousands of Lebanese, especially the elderly, who found themselves unable to evacuate during the 34-day conflict, a serious crisis did occur. Indeed, even for those successfully evacuated Lebanese, 95,000 of whom were packed into overcrowded and under-resourced schools, public parks and other provisional shelters in and around Beirut alone, the situation appeared at several points as though it might in fact turn even more deadly as a result of insufficient planning and distribution perhaps more than any continued Israeli bombing.
As one of the few post-conflict assessments conducted by the government pointed out: "During the conflict period the delivery of medical care and health services to 950,000 IDPs both overstretched and exhausted limited resources like drugs, supplies and fuel for most of the country's health facilities." The Ministry of Health's August 31, 2006, report, entitled "National strategy for early recovery of the health sector in Lebanon," noted further that "the stockpiling of medicines has caused the uneven distribution and availability of drugs and medical supplies, particularly those related to mental health and to chronic diseases.
Angered, then, by what it perceived as a lack of adequate government response, and concerned by the possibility of disease outbreaks and malnourishment, on August 8, 2007, an increasingly tight grouping of 35 Lebanese NGOs and civil society organizations called a news conference to protest the state's response to the refugee crisis. As The Daily Star reported at the time, the NGOs charged that the government, and especially the HRC, had "failed to provide 'the minimum level of assistance' required by the displaced." Although an HRC spokesman said it was distributing around 240,000 weekly food hampers - each with provisions for a family of five - Nizar Rammal, ad hoc co-ordinator of the gathering of refugee relief organizations, pointed out that even if the state was distributing around 200,000 hampers, an additional 280,000 hampers were needed.
Food shortages, though, were not the only problem confronting aid workers and IDPs.
Quite apart from the burdens and limitations imposed by the conduct of the combatants, reports began to surface suggesting that the HRC and other government officials exacerbated the increasingly dire situation on the ground by corrupt practices and favoritism. As Rammal charged, "Relief aid is being apportioned according to political considerations ... More aid is going to the Amal Movement [of Speaker Nabih Berri] and the [Hariri family's] Future Movement than organizations who don't cater to their constituencies."
While the HRC strenuously denied the charges as far as their own practices were concerned, it acknowledged at the time that a misallocation of resources was possible given its structure of distribution largely centered on municipalities - a structure that observers say remains largely in place to this day and one which has undergone little scrutiny in the post-war period.
A patchwork of assessments
Recognizing the paltry coordination resources made available to NGOs by the government, the slow adoption of a "cluster-group approach" grouping agencies together on specific issues like health services, as well as sporadic problems with municipal and state leaderships, a number of relief actors rapidly it upon themselves to take a look at their own practices during the war.
For UNHCR, which together with UNOCHA and WFP came to serve as a key lead agency during the conflict, a vital lesson learned was that clearer lines of internal authority and action needed to be put in place earlier, an approach that might have hastened the deployment of Emergency Response Teams (the deployment of such teams were delayed "in the vital initial phase [due to] a period of indecision in Headquarters").
Moreover, as its October 2006 report noted further, "more thought should [have been] given to establishing geographic stockpiles of key relief items appropriate for different climates and regions," a move which, according to the UNDP's Hammam, still has not been accomplished by the Lebanese government itself.
For its part, the Ministry of Social Affairs is now in the final stages of readying a handful of reports on the performance of its more than 130 Social Development Centers that together served as critical axes for aid distribution.
One particular focus area, according to ministry representatives, will be the provision of services to the elderly - a particularly glaring example of how under equipped the state and civil society were in meeting the needs of the most vulnerable during times of seemingly overwhelming crisis.
According to Najem, the hope is that the ministry's recommendations will directly affect overall policymaking, and, at the very least, "feed into a ministry level emergency response plan" at some yet to-be-determined future date.
Israel and the ICRC
But even these efforts pale in comparison to the importance of ongoing, confidential negotiations between the state of Israel and the ICRC.
With no greater challenge facing aid workers, not to mention the civilian population, than Israel's decision to enforce a tight sea and air blockade and to almost wholly refuse either the demarcation of humanitarian aid corridors or periodic cease-fires, the ICRC's ongoing work in this regard may prove to be the most vital link ensuring that next time, if there is a next time, state and civil society responses to the crisis will be vastly facilitated.
According to Raich, "the ICRC has had a dialogue with the Israeli authorities, including the ... [Israeli military], during and after the conflict last summer which is ongoing. In the course of this dialogue, the ICRC handed over a confidential report to the Israeli authorities ... central elements [of which] focus on better protection for the civilian population and improved access for humanitarian workers during conflict."
Although he refused to reveal any details, he stressed that no matter the results of the negotiations, the ICRC, as well as various other actors in the country, were better prepared for another widespread conflict on par with the summer war.
"I am confident," Raich said, "that we could be more effective.
"But," he added, in a sentiment echoed across the board, "you can only know when it happens.
"I just hope we don't need to test ourselves."

France Tightens Security for Peacekeepers, is Ready to Do Anything for Lebanon's Independence
French Defense Minister Herve Morin said Sunday that security has been beefed up for his country's soldiers serving with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon since six U.N. peacekeepers were killed in a bomb attack in the south. "We have reinforced means of protection for our French soldiers, adapting to the terrorist threat but even if we ourselves adapt, our forces will never be (fully) protected," Morin told reporters Sunday on a visit to French troops stationed in southern Lebanon as part of the U.N. peacekeeping force. Three Spaniards and three Colombians were killed on June 24 when a car bomb struck their personnel carrier as they patrolled the main Marjayoun-Khiam road. After Italy, France with some 1,600 soldiers is the second largest contributor to UNIFIL, which comprises some 13,225 soldiers from 30 countries. Their mission, Morin said, is "vital and major" and France will commit the "necessary military means" as long as is required.
Since the attack, French peacekeepers have been on yellow alert in their camps and red alert while on patrol.
"Everything has changed. The soldiers move around with maximum security measures," said Colonel Alexandre Lalannne-Berdouticq, who heads UNIFIL's liaison office with the Israeli and Lebanese armies, headquartered in Naqoura. During his visit to southern Lebanon, Morin also asserted that France "will always stand by the legitimate government of Lebanon" led by Premier Fouad Saniora. His comments came shortly before French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner announced he would visit Lebanon on July 28 to help rival factions pursue talks aimed at pulling the country out of its political crisis.
Morin later met with Saniora and stressed his country's readiness "to do anything so that this country regains its full independence."
He also held talks with Defense Minister Elias Murr and said: "I wanted to meet my Lebanese counterpart to reiterate France's support to the legitimate Lebanese government and to Lebanon's unity."(AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, 16 Jul 07, 08:08

Naharnet Exclusive: Saint-Cloud Meeting Failed to Adopt French Proposals on Key Issues
A Paris-hosted Lebanon dialogue aimed at ending the months-long political stalemate that has paralyzed the country failed to adopt a French proposal on key issues, well-informed sources told Naharnet on Monday. The sources said the rival Lebanese politicians failed to agree on a series of suggestions made by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner concerning international resolutions, the formation of a new government and the presidential elections. They said French efforts focused on finding the common grounds among the arguing parties in order to reach a settlement that would get Lebanon out of its worst political crisis since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war. According to the exclusive information obtained by Naharnet, it said Kouchner had proposed on the politicians from 14 factions a formula that calls for issuing a consensus statement on international resolutions and thus put them into action.
It said Kouchner's offer was rejected at the last minute by representatives from the pro-Syrian March 8 Forces who argued that such a position needed a "political decision" from their leaderships. At that moment, Kouchner recommended a formula that could provide a basis for a "political settlement" based on national consensus over a national unity government to follow presidential elections. That offer again was rejected by March 8 representatives, who insisted that a national unity government should precede any formula for a "practical" settlement to the presidential elections.
Kouchner announced Sunday he would visit Lebanon later this month to help rival factions pursue the talks.
Kouchner said he would travel to Beirut on July 28 to build on "the progress of the dialogue that has started here in La Celle Saint-Cloud", a Paris suburb where politicians from 14 factions held two days of talks. The Lebanon meeting brought together members of the anti- and pro-Syrian factions, including Hizbullah which fought a war with Israel last year. Kouchner said he would spend "at least two days" in Beirut to try to ease eight months of deadlock since pro-Syrian ministers quit the cabinet, triggering the worst crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war. As for Sunday's talks, the French foreign minister said "important progress was made between the representatives of the Lebanese communities." "This dialogue will continue between the Lebanese on Lebanese territory ... I think they have broken the ice. I think they were very happy to talk together," he added. The around 30 delegates "reiterated their support for full respect for the foundations for the Lebanese State, the sovereignty, the independence," Kouchner said. They had also backed the creation of "an honor code in the use of the media" and had rejected "violence as a political tool," he added. Beirut, 16 Jul 07, 06:46

Hizbullah Denies Discussing Fate of Kidnapped Israeli Soldiers with Kouchner
Hizbullah denied that representatives to the Saint-Cloud Lebanon dialogue had revealed information about the fate of two kidnapped Israeli soldiers, the daily As Safir said Monday. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on Sunday said he had raised the fate of the two Israeli soldiers -- Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev who were captured by Hizbullah on July 12, 2006 -- with Hizbullah and that he was told they were still alive. "I received the assurance that the negotiations (for their release) are continuing, that they are on the right track, in particular with the United Nations," Kouchner said. As Safir, citing Hizbullah sources in Paris, said Kouchner had inquired about the mediation chances of the release of the kidnapped soldiers. The sources said one of the Shiite group delegates gave Kouchner an unofficial reply, saying: "Hizbullah welcomes (such a measure)," adding that the release of the Israeli soldiers should be done through United Nations channels. Beirut, 16 Jul 07, 08:14

Leaders Meeting in Saint-Cloud to Resume Dialogue in Lebanon
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Sunday that rival Lebanese politicians meeting in Saint-Cloud will resume dialogue in Lebanon.
Kouchner said he would travel to Beirut on July 28 to build on "the progress of the dialogue that has started here in La Celle Saint-Cloud," a Paris suburb where 30 politicians from 14 factions took part in the closed-door weekend talks. The Lebanon conference brought together members of the pro-government of Prime Minister Fouad Saniora and of the pro-Syrian opposition led by Hizbullah, which fought a war with Israel last year and is branded a terrorist group by the United States.
Kouchner said he would spend "at least two days" in Beirut to try to ease eight months of deadlock since pro-Syrian ministers quit the cabinet, triggering the worst crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war. The daily Al Hayat said Sunday that the Saint-Cloud talks were approved by Iran. It quoted Mohammed Rida Shibani, Iran's ambassador to Lebanon, as informing House Speaker Nabih Berri about "joint French-Iranian efforts" as well as "joint Iranian-Saudi efforts" to find a way out of the political crisis.
Al Hayat also quoted Iran's ambassador to France, Ali Ahani, as saying that Tehran had helped get the Lebanon dialogue underway in Paris.
Ahani told al Hayat at a ceremony commemorating France's National Day at the Elysee Palace garden that Iran was looking forward to the convening of Lebanon's presidential elections on time. Ahani assured that Tehran does not advocate the emergence of two governments or seeing the situation further deteriorating in Lebanon.
Fears are running high that the situation could worsen ahead of the election by parliament in late September of a successor to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud.
President Nicolas Sarkozy caused a stir ahead of the talks when he told family members of three kidnapped Israeli soldiers earlier this month that his "goal was that Hizbullah renounces the use of terrorism and becomes once again a political party like the others and part of parliamentary democracy," according to spokesman David Martinon. But he later clarified his statement, saying that France was not considering designating Hizbullah a terrorist group and that it was an important political player in Lebanon. As Kouchner hosted talks in the Paris region, Defence Minister Herve Morin paid a visit to troops serving in the U.N. force in southern Lebanon and asserted that France "will always stand by the legitimate government of Lebanon" led by Saniora.
Some 1,650 French troops are serving in the U.N. force in south Lebanon.
Kouchner's visit will be his second to Lebanon since his appointment in May, underscoring France's commitment to restoring stability to its closest ally in the Middle East. The foreign minister said that he had raised the fate of two kidnapped Israeli soldiers with Hizbullah and that he was told they were still alive.
"I received the assurance that the negotiations (for their release) are continuing, that they are on the right track, in particular with the United Nations," he said.
He was referring to Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, who were captured by Hizbullah on July 12, 2006.(Naharnet-AFP)