June 22/07

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 6,7-15. In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
This is how you are to pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one. If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.

Free Opinion-Naharnet
Legitimacy contested. bY: Dina Ezzat-Al-Ahram Weekly-June 22/07
Another battle looming, By: Lucy Fielder-Al-Ahram Weekly - June 22/07

Iran's and Syria's plan: an interpretation.By: Michael Young. June 22/07
Hamas' quandary makes the people of Gaza more vulnerable than ever-Daily Star. June 22/07

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for June 22/06/07
Sarkozy-Saniora meeting set for Tuesday-Naharnet
Saudi Monarch Meets Sarkozy-Naharnet
Nahr al-Bared's Neighbors Don't Want Refugees Back-Naharnet
France Postpones Lebanon Meeting-Naharnet

France postpones Lebanon meeting till mid-July-Ya Libnan
Arab League Chief meets Lebanon's Cardinal Sfeir in Bkirki-Ya Libnan
Still No Common European Policy in Lebanon-Free Market News Network

Army Takes Over Most of Nahr al-Bared, Clears Out Militant Pockets-Naharnet
Israeli Jets Stage Mock Raids Over Lebanon-naharnet
Fatah al-Islam 'Fighting Like Rats-Naharnet
Syria Closes Border Crossing with Lebanon, Leaving Only Masnaa Passage Open-Naharnet
Syria Closes Border Crossing with Lebanon, Leaving Only One Land-Naharnet
Syria closes a border crossing with Lebanon-Ya Libnan
Lebanese rally behind their army-International Herald Tribune
Hezbollah's Terrorist Threat to the European
Rival camps spar over by-elections, presidency-Daily Star
Iran's and Syria's plan: an interpretation-Daily Star
Palestinian mediators bring hope of ceasefire to Lebanon-Christian Science Monitor
Lebanon needs tourists not terrorists-Ya Libnan
How much more can Lebanon take?-Ya Libnan
Syria ready for peace, FM says-Ynetnews
UN renews observer force on Golan Heights-Reuters
Moussa warns Lebanese to make a deal before time runs out
-Daily Star
Rival camps spar over by-elections, presidency
-Daily Star
Lebanese Army traps militants in south end of Nahr al-Bared
-Daily Star
Magistrate formalizes custody of militants
-Daily Star
Rice to discuss Lebanese crisis during Paris visit
-Daily Star
Roundtable focuses on helping refugees
-Daily Star
Italian peacekeepers open playground in Qana
-Daily Star
Danish foreign minister set to visit on July 6
-Daily Star
Hamadeh asks for his mail from Labor Ministry-Daily Star
Makhzoumi hopes Moussa's mission will work
-Daily Star
Displaced just want to go back to Nahr al-Bared
-Daily Star
US lawmakers increase pressure on EU to label Hizbullah a terror group
-Daily Star
Gunfight erupts between Future, Amal supporters
-Daily Star
Hospitality industry gets no respite for second year in a row
-Daily Star

Syria Closes Border Crossing with Lebanon, Leaving Only Masnaa Passage Open-Daily Star
Syria said it has closed a border crossing with northeastern Lebanon as a result of the Nahr al-Bared fighting, leaving only one land passage between the two countries open. Lebanese security officials said Syrian authorities on Wednesday closed the Qaa-Jousseh crossing, leaving only the main Beirut-Damascus link at Masnaa in the eastern Bekaa Valley open. Syria closed two other crossings -- Arida and Dabussiya -- with northern Lebanon after fighting broke out May 20 in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared where the Lebanese army is battling Fatah al-Islam terrorists.
At the time, the Syrians said the two crossings were closed for safety reasons. LBC TV quoted unnamed officials later Wednesday as saying Syria may also close the Masnaa crossing in the coming hours. Syria's official news agency SANA said Damascus has decided to close its border post with Lebanon because of the battle between Lebanese troops and Fatah al-Islam. The closure decided by the interior ministry will stay in place "until calm has returned to northern Lebanon," SANA said late Wednesday. It was designed "to protect Syrian and Lebanese citizens". Wednesday's closure came as an Arab League delegation was in Beirut meeting with Lebanese leaders, dispatched here after Lebanon's anti-Syrian parliamentary majority demanded the Arabs act to end Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs and alleged smuggling of weapons and militants into this country. Syria denies the accusations.
The Arab team was sent to Lebanon after a foreign ministers' meeting in Cairo last week following the assassination of pro-government Beirut MP Walid Eido which his supporters blamed on Syria. Since Syrian troop withdrawal from Lebanon in 2005 under international pressure, Syria has used the flow of goods and people across the border as a pressure tactic against Lebanon, Lebanese opponents of Damascus have said.
In mid 2005, slow processing of trucks carrying goods led to long lines on the crossings, prompting calls from the United States and other countries on Syria to end it.
The closure also was reported by the official Lebanese news agency. It said vehicle and passenger traffic in both directions was closed by the Syrians and that no reason was given. Damascus, which did not officially confirm the move, has in the past threatened to close its land border with Lebanon if an international force is deployed along the boundary to prevent the illegal transfer of weapons to Lebanon, as was envisaged in a U.N. Security Council resolution that ended last summer's Israel-Hizbullah war. A full closure of Lebanon's border with Syria would sever Beirut's land links with the Arab world and could severely hurt its economy.(AP-AFP-Naharnet)(AFP file photo shows Lebanese soldiers guarding the border with Syria in the Bekaa Valley.)

Israeli Jets Stage Mock Raids Over Lebanon
Israeli fighter jets staged mock raids over Lebanon Thursday and flew at low-altitude over south Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley in the east, the state-run National News Agency said. It said the warplanes, in defiance of a U.N. resolution, entered Lebanese airspace before midday, swooping low over the southern town of Jizzine, Iqlim al-Tuffah province as well as the Bint Jbeil region, causing sonic booms. They also flew at medium altitude over the western, central and eastern sectors of the Lebanon-Israel border where peacekeepers of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) are deployed, NNA said.
Hizbullah strongholds at Nabatiyeh in the south and at Baalbek in the Bekaa Valley 85 kilometers northeast of the capital also saw low passes by the four planes.
The last serious airspace violation was on February 21, when the Lebanese army opened up with anti-aircraft fire on an Israeli drone near the southern port city of Tyre on a day when fighter-bombers flew for two hours at low altitude over various parts of the south. Israel has drawn intense international criticism by continuing overflights after the August 14 ceasefire that ended last summer's 34-day war against Hizbullah. The United Nations said such overflights undermine UNIFIL's credibility and compromise efforts to stabilize the region. Former Israeli defense minister Amir Peretz said overflights were necessary to monitor what he called continuing arms smuggling by Hizbullah.(Naharnet-AFP)

Fatah al-Islam 'Fighting Like Rats'

Army tanks and artillery on Thursday resumed pounding Fatah al-Islam positions in Nahr al-Bared, concentrating their fire on the southern tip of the refugee camp where militants are making their last stand. Even though the terrorists have fallen back from their original stronghold in Nahr al-Bared, those remaining are putting up a fierce fight. "They're fighting like rats -- it's very hard to see them," a Lebanese army sergeant resting behind the lines told Agence France Presse on Thursday.
"Their firing points are camouflaged," he said. "When they open fire from one position we spot them and reply with everything we've got. But it's often too late -- the shooter has already gone." Motivated, trained, well-armed and mobile, Fatah al-Islam militants are thought to contain veterans of the anti-American insurgency in Iraq among their ranks. The army has been taken aback by the cruelty of their resistance. "They made holes in the walls of the houses so they can pass from one to the other without coming out into the open," the sergeant said. "We think they also have tunnels. They're operating in rapid reaction teams of two or three. That's why the fight is so hard." Lebanese army heavy guns have concentrated their fire for weeks on the northern sector of Nahr al-Bared -- the "new" camp which is a spillover of the original Palestinian refugee camp whose boundaries were set in 1948 by the United Nations.
It was there that Fatah al-Islam chief Shaker Abssi, a Palestinian, had set up his command post. The northern part of the camp is now a blasted wasteland, devastated by tons of high explosive shell bursts. The soldiers are advancing slowly as they secure the northern area, fearful of mines and booby traps that have already killed several of their number. Demining teams precede them as large bulldozers, protected by sandbags and metal plates, wait in the rear, ready to go into action.
The surviving militants have now withdrawn into the "old" camp in the southern part of Nahr al-Bared, which is in principle controlled by more moderate factions like Fatah of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Fatah officials have said the order was given to prevent such a move, but clearly this has not been obeyed everywhere.
"It is impossible that they could hold out for more than a month without the help of at least some local fighters," said Mustafa Adib, director of the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies in nearby Tripoli. "Their cause is a popular one among some of the younger people in the camps, but also among radical jihadists who are well established in the area," he told AFP. "More broadly speaking, this fighting illustrates the urgent problem of Palestinian weapons in Lebanon, both inside the camps and elsewhere." Despite mediation efforts by local and Palestinian clerics, the Lebanese army is determined to accept nothing less than unconditional surrender by the militants. "There will be no negotiations before the military operations end and the army is in control of Nahr al-Bared," Defense Minister Elias Murr was quoted as saying in Thursday's Nahar Ashabab newspaper. The fighting has already claimed the lives of at least 141 people, among them 74 soldiers. At least 50 Fatah al-Islam militants have also been killed.(AFP-Naharnet)

Moussa Warns 'Time is Running Out'
Arab League Secretary General Arab Moussa urged rival political leaders to end a political impasse that has crippled Lebanon and warned that "time is running out."
Moussa began Tuesday a three-day visit here in an attempt to help politicians end the months-long crisis between Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's government and the Syrian-supported opposition led by Hizbullah. The daily An Nahar said Moussa was considering postponing his visit until Friday following hints at possible "amendments" the Arab league delegation has reportedly introduced.
However, an Arab diplomatic source told Agence France Presse on Wednesday that there was "very little chance that Moussa will broker a solution."
"He is head of a mission that has no illusions," the source said, adding that "the Lebanese crisis is complicated by regional and international interference."
Parliament is not functioning and the government just barely, after a quarter of Cabinet members resigned. Another crisis is looming over the presidency -- the legislature must vote on a replacement when President Emile Lahoud's term ends in November, but it is highly unlikely that lawmakers will be able to agree on a candidate, in turn leading to a power vacuum.  Also, opposition supporters have been holding a sit-in outside Saniora's office in downtown Beirut since Dec. 1, calling for his resignation and the formation of a national unity government in which they would have veto power. Saniora has refused to step down.
The Arab League delegation was dispatched to Beirut after a foreign ministers' meeting in Cairo last week in the wake of the assassination of anti-Syrian Beirut MP Walid Eido. Eido's slaying in Beirut was blamed by his supporters on Syria. Many had demanded the Arabs act to end what they call Syrian interference and the smuggling of weapons into this country. Asked about the different problems facing Lebanon, Moussa urged that they must all be tackled and said there was no need to "put one before the other." "It is possible to agree on all these matters at the same time. Time is running out on Lebanon," he told reporters after talks with Lahoud.
"Setting priorities could have been possible had we had a year or more ahead of us but now there is only three to four months." Moussa conceded Lebanon faces many difficulties and said that the situation warrants "a lot of analysis, understanding, discussions and going into details." Lahoud, according to an official statement, stressed in talks with Moussa that a national unity government is necessary because "such a government can create appropriate political climate to end sit-ins in downtown Beirut and elect a new president in accordance with constitutional rules." But parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri expressed reservations after meeting Moussa that a national unity government could stop bombings and attacks on anti-Syrian politicians, as well as stem the flow of weapons from Syria.(AP-Naharnet)

Army Takes Over Most of Nahr al-Bared, Clears Out Militant Pockets
The Lebanese army said Wednesday the military has taken over all positions in the new part of the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared, squeezing the militants in a small portion at the southern tip of the shantytown. "All of the buildings in the new part of Nahr al-Bared where the terrorists were dug in have been taken, and one could say fighting has stopped in this area," an army officer told AFP. The officer, however, said Lebanese troops continued to clear out the remaining pockets of resistance in the camp. The army's artillery kept up its shelling on the camp's southern front, cornering diehard militants in what has been known as the "old camp," which is a small segment on the southern tip of Nahr al-Bared. The new part of Nahr al-Bared is an overspill from the original camp, whose perimeter was fixed by the United Nations and where all the buildings were of one-storey only.
The overspill contains high-rise concrete buildings overlooking the road leading north to the Syrian border, and it is there that Sunni Muslim extremists of Fatah al-Islam have pulled back and are making a last stand. Three soldiers were killed on Tuesday but Fatah al-Islam casualties were not known.
So far at least 141 people, including 74 soldiers, have been killed in the deadliest violence of the 1975-1990 civil war that comes amid increasing political and security concerns in deeply divided Lebanon. "We are advancing meter by meter and are securing the new camp quarter by quarter because of the threat of mines," the army officer said. The northern part of Nahr al-Bared lining the coast is now a wasteland of shattered concrete skeletons and slabs lying on top of the other where the military is edging forward, house by house.
Since the weekend the army says it has destroyed or overrun six Fatah al-Islam outposts and has found "the bodies of several armed elements which had been apparently prepared for burial at the abandoned positions." As the fighting with Fatah al-Islam continued on Wednesday, mediators hinted at a possible cease-fire deal with the militants that included the disarmament of the al-Qaida-inspired militants. According to a Palestinian Muslim cleric who has been acting as mediator, the deal would include a cease-fire, to be followed by the militants' disarmament. The cleric, Sheik Mohammed Haj, told The Associated Press news agency he had a "very positive" meeting with Fatah al-Islam leaders inside the camp but would not give details before a scheduled meeting with the army command on Wednesday.
He earlier told the official National News Agency (NNA) that the militants agreed to conditions of his Palestinian Scholars Association.
The cleric did not offer more details, but the private New TV station said the conditions also include return of refugees, takeover of the camp by other Palestinian factions and Fatah al-Islam's dissolution.
Meanwhile, Abu Imad Rifai, a representative of the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad, told Al-Manar television that the progress was made after Fatah al-Islam "opened the doors for a solution" and accepted to "dissolve." NNA said three Lebanese helicopters fired 12 rockets at suspected Fatah al-Islam positions in the camp late Tuesday. Meanwhile, Lebanon's top military magistrate Rashid Mezher issued formal arrest warrants for nine suspected militants who were detained earlier this month in east Lebanon's Bekaa Valley town of Bar Elias, NNA reported. The agency did not say to which group the nine belonged but said they comprise six Lebanese, two Syrians and a Saudi. The battle to drive the terrorists out has led to significant damage to parts of the camp, once home to some 30,000 Palestinian refugees. Only about 5,000 remain inside, after most residents fled to the nearby Beddawi refugee camp.
An amateur video obtained by Associated Press Television News on Tuesday showed major destruction in largely deserted residential neighborhoods.
Debris from collapsed walls and balconies littered the narrow alleys, covered with ripped electricity wires. Shells and shrapnel holes peppered some buildings. A burnt car and a parked pickup truck with a collapsed wall resting on it lay on one deserted street. The video, taken at different periods between May 27 and June 10, showed very few residents. Six men were seen gathering around a hose to fill up cans with water. In one house, a family was sitting on the floor for a meal.(AP-AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, 21 Jun 07, 07:24

Iran's and Syria's plan: an interpretation
By Michael Young
Daily Star staff
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Many Lebanese, particularly in the majority camp, have been preoccupied with the court being set up to try suspects in the assassination of the late Rafik Hariri. The resignation of Serge Brammertz from the International Criminal Court to devote himself full-time to the upcoming Hariri trial suggests there is something there for them to look forward to. However, they miss the larger picture. The court has become just one utensil in a much broader conflict to determine the future of Lebanon and of the Levant, in the context of a regional power struggle between Iran, Syria and their allies Hizbullah and Hamas on the one side; and all those who would deny them the advantages they seek on the other.
In recent days, some have suggested that Hizbullah intends to do in Lebanon, or part of Lebanon, what Hamas did in Gaza. The reality may be worse, if more subtle. A statement on Sunday by Hizbullah's Nabil Qaouk could be read as notification that the party might defend what he termed "Lebanon's unity" by force - shorthand for a military coup. Qaouk's warning that foreign observers should not deploy on the Lebanese-Syrian border, his describing such a project as "Israeli," his presumption that he had the right to impose a new "red line" on the state, all suggest a new mood in Hizbullah, one that is dangerous.
Hizbullah's attitude is only convincingly explained in the framework of Iran and Syria implementing a project to reclaim Lebanon, but more importantly perhaps to eliminate international, particularly Western, involvement in the Levant. After having won in Gaza, Tehran and Damascus are now pushing forward in South Lebanon. Their joint objective, regardless of their different priorities on other matters, appears to be to remove the Siniora government, undermine United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, and create a situation where the international community would have to accept a Syrian return to Lebanon, which would, by extension, scuttle the Hariri tribunal.
How would such a project be carried out? Here's one interpretation. The priority is to emasculate the Siniora government, whether by taking control of its decisions or through the creation by Syria of a parallel government. In this context, the opposition's calls for a national unity government don't favor unity at all. Opposition parties will only enter a Cabinet they can control and bring down. We know that because they rejected the 19-10-1 formula proposed by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, which would have given them the means to block decisions they didn't like. But the opposition's insistence on a 19-11 division is valid only for torpedoing a government through the resignation of its 11 ministers. The aim is apparent: to bring to office a president sympathetic to Syria.
If its conditions for a unity government continue to be rejected by the majority, the opposition might create a parallel government or engineer a situation allowing President Emile Lahoud to remain in Baabda. There are surely problems in a second government, not least of which that Sunni representation is bound to be anemic. This could create a troubling sense that a Sunni-dominated Siniora government is facing off against a Shiite-dominated pro-Syrian government, which could backfire regionally against Hizbullah and Iran. There is also the fact that Michel Aoun's bloc might begin cracking if the general enters such a government.
What would the purpose of this second government be, beyond wreaking havoc in the country and putting pressure on Siniora's government? Simply, to neutralize the effectiveness of the Lebanese Army and UNIFIL in the South, by making their interlocutor in the state unclear. Many have overlooked that the Nahr al-Bared fighting might have been a stage in a process to render the army less effectual in South Lebanon. Several units have been pulled out of the South in the past six months - first to prevent sectarian clashes in Beirut after the opposition built its tent city in the Downtown area last December; then to engage in fighting in the North. This has given Hizbullah much more room to maneuver in the border area, while also opening space up for groups operated from Syria. Even if Hizbullah did not fire the rockets against Kiryat Shmona on Sunday - probably the work of pro-Syrian Palestinians - it almost certainly was aware of the attack, and did not oppose it.
Iran's, Syria's and Hizbullah's purpose in reopening a northern front against Israel, aside from reviving Hizbullah as a military force (which is essential for its own survival), is to empty Resolution 1701 of its content. Better still, if cross-border rocket attacks continue, it will be Israel, not Hizbullah, that will start casting doubt on the UN resolution's merits. Hizbullah's recent insistence that the Cabinet return to its 2005 policy statement as a condition to end the governmental crisis only showed the party's true intentions toward Resolution 1701. The policy statement defends the right of armed resistance, unlike the later UN resolution.
For Syria and Iran, as well as for Hizbullah, Resolution 1701 is the door through which the international community entered Lebanon in force, after Resolution 1559 and the Hariri tribunal. That's the reason Tehran and Damascus want to render UNIFIL powerless, even though there will remain useful idiots in Europe who think they can reach an understanding with the Syrian regime to protect UN forces. Syria has no interest in this, however, because it has likely taken a strategic decision with Iran to remove any vestige of international influence in Lebanon - as it did in Gaza - with the goal of reviving its domination over the country.
In this context, even an illegitimate parallel government to that of Fouad Siniora could prove useful in the long term. Look what the Soviet Union did in Poland during World War II. It created the so-called Lublin Committee, which initially had far less clout than the London-based Polish government in exile. However, when the balance on the ground in Poland shifted, it was Moscow's puppets who were recognized as the power in Warsaw.
The Syrians and Iranians may be thinking along the same lines in Lebanon. Create a parallel government; erode UNIFIL's effectiveness while compelling the Lebanese Army to manage Syrian-created security brushfires; press your advantage against the drained Americans, the spineless Europeans, and the debilitated Arabs; and then, when the international community and Arab states are truly lost, strike using Hizbullah and drive your coup toward its logical conclusion: a new Pax-Syria in Lebanon, supported by Iran.
Such an ambitious project could fail, as so many others do in Lebanon. The real question is whether the country can avert civil war. Has Hizbullah's secretary general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, forgotten that at the funeral of Walid Eido, many of the Sunni mourners provocatively shouted "USA! USA!"? Has the party forgotten that after the fighting between Sunnis and Shiites in Tariq Jedideh in January, there was talk of sectarian war? These are disquieting trends, and while Nasrallah may have no latitude to challenge the orders of Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei - as party members frequently remind us - that only says we may soon be paying the price for the conceit of an Iranian leadership with negligible knowledge of inter-Lebanese relations.
Several measures can dent Iran's and Syria's plans. The first is for the Lebanese Army to make a statement that it opposes the setting up of a parallel government, but also that it can no longer protect Lahoud when his mandate ends, for constitutional reasons. This is not as easy as it sounds, because there are conflicting loyalties in the officer corps. However, the army has never been as united as it is today, thanks to Nahr al-Bared. There would be nothing unseemly for army commander Michel Suleiman to warn that a parallel government or yet another extension for Lahoud would only lead Lebanon into the unknown, and that the armed forces might not be able to manage the consequences. That statement would probably not check Syria, but it could induce those vacillating Lebanese politicians to reconsider participating in the scheme.
Second, Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir should take a much firmer position against Christian participation in a parallel government. He's already declared his opposition to such a move, but now it's time to name names. Michel Aoun is vulnerable, and while it may be hopeless to expect anything from a man now playing Syria's game, a direct warning to the general from Bkirki, even if it angers pro-Aoun bishops, could considerably impair his preparations to enter such a government. Sfeir can back this up with the influence he enjoys over several Aounist parliamentarians, and can play on Michel Murr's reluctance to stand athwart of Maronite public opinion, and of the Gemayels, in the Metn.
Third, the Saudis and the Egyptians have to display more nerve. Iran and Syria humiliated them both by demolishing the Mecca agreement in Gaza. What have the Arab states done in return? Almost nothing, though Egypt has said it would cut its ties with Hamas unless Gaza was returned to the Palestinian Authority. Iran's expanding power poses existential threats to the regimes in Riyadh and Cairo. More efforts are needed to impose a consensus that isolates Iran and puts Syria on the defensive. The Saudis have a range of tools they can use in Lebanon, including helping Fatah financially in the refugee camps, giving the Lebanese Army better weaponry, and working more actively in the Arab world to suffocate establishment of a parallel Lebanese government.
And fourth, the UN must draw the consequences of its own reports that
Syriais sending weapons across the Lebanese border - a direct violation of Resolution 1701. Some UN members with troops in the South have to stop trying to cut deals with Damascus to protect their own troops. What is happening today threatens UNIFIL in its entirety. Iran and Syria never accepted Resolution 1701, so efforts to offer Syria "incentives" miss the point that Syria intends to win back, with Iran, the whole Lebanese pot once international forces are intimidated. The Italians in particular must be less timorous. Foreign Minister Massimo d'Alema won't get from Syrian President Bashar Assad what the Saudis and the Americans couldn't. Whether the UN likes it or not, it is at the center of a regional battle, and its forces cannot afford to be as craven as they were in Srebrenica.
In the coming months, the trick will be to abort the reckless Syrian and Iranian adventure, while also avoiding a descent into sectarian carnage. This is achievable, but only if everyone realizes what is at stake.
**Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR.

Another battle looming
This time disaster struck in daylight, in central Beirut, writes Lucy Fielder from Lebanon
Whoever planted the car bomb which killed Walid Eido, a Beirut MP for Al-Saad Hariri's Future Movement, and his son Khaled, made little effort to spare the lives of bystanders. A further eight people were killed, including two footballers training in the Nijmeh grounds in Beirut's seaside Manara district.
The motionless big wheel of Beirut's Luna Park funfair, an ice-cream parlour and an amusement arcade, looked garish and incongruous against the bombed-out wreck of a shop by the side-road to the beach, where Eido's car was blown up.
"It's a shock this happened here," said Nasir Mona, a chef at the restaurant near where the bombing took place, as he swept up broken glass from the windows. "This is part of a plot to paralyse the country's economy and tourism."
Tension was already soaring in Lebanon as the Lebanese army continued to battle Sunni militant group Fatah Al-Islam in the northern Nahr Al-Bared refugee camp. During the month of Lebanon's worst internal fighting since the civil war, a string of late- night explosions have struck in and around the capital.
Adding to widespread fears of a "hot summer" of civil unrest, an angry mob shouted sectarian slogans at the Sunni parliamentarian's funeral. "The blood of the Sunnis is boiling", they roared, as they chanted for Iraq's Saddam Hussein, a symbol of the Sunni strongman since his execution in December.
They accused Hizbullah Secretary- General Hassan Nasrallah of being a "terrorist" because of his Shia party's alliance with Syria, which government loyalists blamed for the MP's death and the killing of six other anti-Syrian figures since 2005.
"They're killing us one by one, every day we have to pay with our blood," Beirut student Elissar Badawi said outside the mosque where prayers were held, in south- central Qasqas.
Eido was killed three days after a UN Security Council resolution setting up an international tribunal into Rafik Al-Hariri's 2005 assassination came into force, leading his son Saad to accuse Syria of taking revenge.
Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese Forces' Christian party, accused Syria of killing Eido in order to reduce the number of parliamentary majority MPs, following the assassination last November of Christian, 14 March MP Pierre Gemayel. Hariri's bloc now has 68 seats out of a parliament that originally had 128 members.
The government announced by-elections to fill the two seats on 5 August, but President Emile Lahoud said he would not sign the decree because he and the opposition led by Hizbullah and Christian leader Michel Aoun view the government as illegitimate. Six of their allies withdrew from cabinet in November in a dispute over the international tribunal.
"The decree which is to be signed by the government is constitutional, and if President Lahoud does not sign it, then the latter's behaviour will be considered unconstitutional," Geagea told reporters.
Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement warned that the by-elections must be approved through ordinary legal channels and called for a national unity government, which has been a long-standing opposition demand, to be formed first. But he has also said his party would prepare for the by-elections.
Cabinet also asked the international investigation into Rafik Al-Hariri's assassination to add Eido's death to its caseload.
Eido's Beirut seat is expected to stay in the hands of the Future Party, but Gemayel's seat in the Metn mountain region north of Beirut may be hotly contested.
Eido's killing ended a slight ripple of optimism in Lebanon's murky political waters. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa landed in Beirut this week to try to usher Lebanon's bitterly divided leaders towards the dialogue table, but the local media was sceptical that he would serve up any new suggestions or that this attempt would be more successful than his last, earlier this year.
"I think this approach of trying to mediate by persuasion without insisting doesn't have much backbone, and at the moment relying on the common sense of the Lebanese is a bit optimistic, if not to say wishful thinking," said Sami Baroudi, political science professor at the Lebanese American University.
A French initiative, whereby all the leaders were to meet in France to try to overcome differences, appeared to be "in limbo", he said. "What's been attempted is less than what is necessary," he said, as he advocated a return to classic "sticks and carrots" diplomacy rather than back-room talks.
"I personally think priority should have been given to forming a national unity government rather than the by-elections," Baroudi added. "These elections are going to exacerbate existing differences rather than bring the Lebanese together."
As their leaders gear up for another battle, many Lebanese feel fear and powerlessness. Beirut emptied this week, its streets, cafés and shops eerily quiet.
"There is this feeling among ordinary people, that they're moving towards the abyss and that it's not for them to reverse the slide," said Baroudi. "Their leaders are saying 'doom is coming, but blame it on the other side, not on us'."
© Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. All rights reserved

Legitimacy contested

Differing claims to "legitimacy" are asserted in Palestine and Lebanon, reports Dina Ezzat, in the unspoken war between "moderation" and "radicalism" --
DAYS OF AGONY: The shadow of an Israeli tank at the gates of Gaza is a grim reminder of the gruesome occupation that does not seem to be ending anytime soon. The Palestinians are torn apart as they helplessly watch the meaningless power struggle between Hamas and Fatah that threatens to split the "liberated" territories into two rival states. Whoever prevails, the Palestinian cause is the loser.
Opinions from both sides of the fence
Gaza in the grip of Hamas
More trouble ahead After Gaza
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa arrived in Lebanon Tuesday for a round of desperate mediation talks between the two main currently conflicting Lebanese camps: the parliamentary majority camp, headed by Prime Minister Fouad Al-Siniora and supported by the West and pro- Western Arab allies, and the opposition camp, headed by Hizbullah, that enjoys the sympathies of public opinion in many parts of the Arab world and the support of governments that oppose growing Western influence in the region, including Iran and Syria.
When Moussa landed in Beirut, the political crisis worsened. The opposition, which is in alliance with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, is considering the composition of a "second" government that opposition figures say would represent all points of views -- not solely those of the Al-Siniora government, from which they have withdrawn. For Lebanon, a state with two governments is not a stretch of the imagination; it has happened before. In fact, for the Arab world, states of two governments appear increasingly the norm.
In Palestine, at present there are two governments: one formed on the basis of free elections and presided over by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh; and one last week created by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and presided over by Western-backed former Finance Minister Salam Fayyad.
In talks Tuesday, Moussa focussed on the curious mission of reconciling the legitimacy of the democratically elected government of Al-Siniora with the popular legitimacy of Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah. He has a harder task still in reconciling the situation in Palestine. Fatah turned down a proposal by Moussa to arrange for a meeting between Abbas and the Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, and now officially Fatah rejects talks with Hamas altogether.
Meanwhile, Israel, surely overjoyed with the now de facto partition not only of the occupied Palestinian territories, but seemingly the entire Palestinian national liberation project, this week was swift to move, along with the EU, some Arab capitals, and the US, to promise its support to the Fatah side of the Palestinian divide. For its part, Cairo officially declared plans to move its diplomatic presence from Gaza, now exclusively controlled by Hamas, to Ramallah, the traditional base for Abbas and senior Fatah leaders. So who is at the helm? According to Hesham Youssef, chief of the cabinet of the Arab League secretary- general, the issue is not conflicting claims to legitimacy, but rather "differences among national powers". For Youssef, there can only be "one legitimacy"; prompt diplomatic mediation is necessary to reconcile differing national agendas.
But has this not failed before? And with two governments declared, will the dissolution of one be deemed possible? Who has more legitimacy? President Abbas, democratically elected, or Hamas, also democratically elected? And in Lebanon, which of the two camps should prevail? The isolated, though Western-backed, government of Al-Siniora, or the popularly supported movement of Nasrallah?
During the deliberations of Arab foreign ministers Friday, this conundrum was not overlooked. The division of views that emerged was expected: Syria and Qatar, who both keep close contacts with, and lent much support to, Hamas and Hizbullah, argued the need for a "legitimacy sharing" arrangement, through the establishment of national unity governments in both Palestine and Lebanon.
While endorsed by others for Lebanon, this approach was rejected for Palestine. Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia stated prior to the meeting's beginning a call for respecting the legitimacy of President Abbas. The resolution adopted on developments in Palestine underlined the decision of Arab countries to "respect national Palestinian legitimacy under the presidency of President Mahmoud Abbas". A very shy acknowledgement was offered to the Hamas-dominated but largely non-functional Palestinian Legislative Council.
So today, for most Arab capitals, including Cairo, Ismail Haniyeh is no longer the Palestinian prime minister to address. Indeed, Egypt was quick in welcoming Fayyad as prime minister of the emergency government established by Abbas. Similar welcoming statements were issued in other Arab capitals.
But will bolstering the "legitimacy of Abbas" in public statements change the situation on the ground of the existence of two governments? Arab officials do not offer an answer to this question, or to what will happen next after largely failed mediation in Lebanon.
For Egypt, the support it has been lending to Abbas, ostensibly the reason for the exit of its security delegation and diplomatic mission in Gaza, reflects Cairo's perception of "the illegitimacy of the current situation" in the Strip. Cairo maintains that it cannot provide a security delegation, or diplomatic relations, to what it perceives as a power "installed through a coup d'état".
On the other hand, Egypt, and other Arab "moderates", say they will not let Palestinians in Gaza starve; nor support any permanent separation between Gaza and the West Bank. Even they say they are willing to "re-accommodate" Hamas, once it shifts attitudes. There is no going back, however, to the national unity government. The Fayyad "technocrat government" will remain in place.
"We are not at war with Hamas. We are talking to them and we are still trying to initiate dialogue between the [Palestinian] factions during the coming month. We just do not agree with what Hamas did, and we are making this clear," said one Egyptian diplomat.
In the same breath, Egypt and Arab allies say they will continue to support the government of Al-Siniora in Lebanon. Though they don't say it directly, this amounts to shrugging off Hizbullah.
For Arab diplomats the rationale is clear: supporting "legitimate" government means eschewing militant Islamic groups. "Moderation" is the watchword, not "extremism". This, they argue, is the only way to avoid civil wars. Compromise on the part of "radicals" will follow from isolating them.
What is in doubt is whether the public of the Arab nation agrees.