March 11/2007

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 15,1-3.11-32. The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." So to them he addressed this parable. Then he said, "A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.' So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any.
Coming to his senses he thought, 'How many of my father's hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers."'
So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.' But his father ordered his servants, 'Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.' Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, 'Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.' He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, 'Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.' He said to him, 'My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.'"

Free Opinions
Have all the rules of the region been turned upside down? Daily Star March 11/07

Latest News Reports From miscellaneous sources For March 11/07
Second Hariri-Berri Meeting in Less Than 24 Hours to End Lebanon ...Naharnet
Nasrallah Advocates Lebanon 'Settlement,' Insists on 19-11 Formula-Naharnet
Lebanese Papers Dare to Raise Hopes of Lebanon Settlement
Trenches, Earth Mounds along Lebanese-Syrian Border
Army Seizes Explosives, Makes Arrests in South Lebanon
Murr Assures Syria: No U.N. Deployment Along Border
Nasrallah Advocates Lebanon 'Settlement,' Insists on 19-11 Formula

Solana to visit Syria, Lebanon-Jerusalem Post

100 days on, Beirut tent city has air of normality-Reuters
Refugee situation in Egypt, Syria and Jordan comes under review-Monsters and
Defence ministers of Syria and Iran meet for talks in Damascus-Monsters and
Bush calls on Iran, Syria to help stabilize Iraq-Jerusalem Post
Lebanon' economy plunges 5% in 2006-Middle East North Africa Financial Network

Latest News Reports From the Daily Star For March 10/07
Top EU diplomat will visit Syria to bolster Lebanon
Nasrallah urges Lebanese not to squander chance to resolve crisis
Berri, Hariri reach 'several points of concurrence'
Liberal Arabs, US pressure share blame for failure to democratize Middle East, journalists say
Russian diplomat warns against unipolar world
UAE donates nine helicopters to Lebanese Army
Dud bomb found under van in Bourj al-Barajneh
Magistrate extends investigation of bus bombings
Judiciary responds to US report on human rights
Lahoud repeats criticisms of 'illegal' Cabinet
UNIFIL peacekeeper dies of injuries sustained in road accident
Pedersen: Hariri-Berri talks 'a good sign'
Qaddoumi visits top leaders amid 'rough times'
Army surveys new sand berms on border
AUB Medical Center honors long-serving employees
Textbook's take on Syria-Lebanon relations sparks outcry
Summer war with Israel continues to wreak havoc on lives of Southern farmers - and all Lebanese
Seeing the world as an interwoven tapestry
Danish NGO makes youths' hoop dreams come true

Second Hariri-Berri Meeting in Less Than 24 Hours to End Lebanon Crisis
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a main opposition leader, and rival parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri held a second round of talks overnight in less than 24 hours in a bid to end the political impasse in Lebanon, local media reported Saturday.
The key opponents in Lebanon's political crisis had said in a joint statement hours before the second meeting that their primary talks had been positive and promised to "continue their consultations very soon."
The statement t from Berri, a close Hizbullah ally, and Hariri said the meeting was "positive and identified points of convergence that require further consultation and discussions between the two parties." "However," the statement added "other topics need further consultations and discussions with a positive approach. Speaker Berri and MP Hariri agreed on further discussions at a meeting to be held very soon."
Their talks, which started Thursday evening, were the first between the two men since the crisis erupted in November, when six opposition ministers resigned from the cabinet of Prime Minister Fouad Saniora. The official National News Agency gave no details of the Friday night talks, but said they lasted two hours. The meetings came after months of dispute in which politicians traded insults and their supporters clashed in the streets, leading many to fear that the country was returning to the violence of the 1975-90 civil war.
Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said both domestic and international opinion favored a settlement. "We support the dialogue that began last night, and hope it will reach the desired results," he told a rally in southern Beirut on Friday evening. But Nasrallah vowed to continue Hizbullah's campaign against Saniora's government until it granted the opposition a veto-wielding share of the cabinet. "The opposition will continue its open-ended sit-ins, its political and media campaign, and it will resort to other options if this opportunity fails," Nasrallah said. He did not divulge the other options.
Politicians have also welcomed the Hariri-Berri talks, with some saying that a solution was possible before Lebanon attends the Arab League summit on March 28-29 in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. "This meeting, in my opinion, is part of efforts that could be continued in the coming hours and days until we reach breakthroughs that people are waiting for," Ammar Houri, a member of Hariri's bloc, told Voice of Lebanon radio before the second meeting took place Friday. Trad Hamadeh, a Hizbullah labor minister who resigned in November, told VOL that "there must be a Lebanese solution" before the Arab summit. "I expect that, because regional accord will have positive effects on Lebanon," he said.(Naharnet-AP) Beirut, 10 Mar 07, 07:56

Army Seizes Explosives, Makes Arrests in South Lebanon
Lebanese troops on Saturday staged house raids on a number of villages in southern Lebanon, seizing explosives and rockets, a military communiqué said. It said two suspects were arrested in the course of the raids. The communiqué by the Lebanese army command said a surface-to-air Strella missile, a Katyusha rocket as well as explosives and detonators were confiscated during the raids on "a number of suspects."It said a Lebanese army patrol from the intelligence bureau also seized hand grenades, B-7 rocket-propelled grenades, medium and light weapons as well as military equipment and a bomb equipped with metal nails. The statement did not say where exactly the raids took place. Beirut, 10 Mar 07, 16:39

Lebanese Papers Dare to Raise Hopes of Lebanon Settlement
Beirut newspapers on Saturday dared to raise hopes of a settlement to the ongoing political crisis which has crippled Lebanon for nearly four months. Only An Nahar was cautious. The independent Al-Anwar newspaper said the second meeting on Friday evening between parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri and Speaker Nabih Berri of the opposition raised hope that "a settlement is close." The pro-opposition Al-Akhbar newspaper wrote on its front-page: "The door to a solution is open." The pro-government Al-Liwa daily agreed. "Berri and Hariri are stepping up their meetings to clear the way for a settlement before the (Arab) summit" in Riyadh on March 28, it said. "Berri-Hariri meeting – 2 paves the way for a settlement … Before the Riyadh summit," headlined As Safir in bold.Only An-Nahar took a more cautious line. "The talks could drag on for a long time, even if the intentions are good," the paper said.(Naharnet-AFP) Beirut, 10 Mar

Nasrallah Advocates Lebanon 'Settlement,' Insists on 19-11 Formula
Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has said he advocated a settlement of the Lebanon crisis and hailed a 19-11 formula in a new national unity cabinet as an unbiased solution, a demand strongly rejected by his opponents. "We have been calling for a settlement from the beginning of the crisis," Nasrallah told a rally in southern Beirut on Friday evening. Nasrallah welcomed talks that began Thursday evening between Lebanon's two key opponents – Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri -- in an effort to end the three-month-old deadlock.
"We support the dialogue and hope it will reach the desired results," he said, adding that both domestic and international opinion favored a settlement.
Nasrallah, however, said he stands by the opposition statement which advocates a "no victor, no vanquished" way out of the impasse, emphasizing that the "19-11 formula is a no victor, no vanquished (resolution)," a reference to the number of ministers for each camp in a new cabinet.
The pro-government camp advocates the formation of a new cabinet under a 19+10+1 formula that would deprive the opposition of veto power.
Nasrallah vowed to continue Hizbullah's campaign against Premier Fouad Saniora's government until it granted the opposition a veto-wielding share of the cabinet. "The opposition will continue its open-ended sit-ins, its political and media campaign, and it will resort to other options if this opportunity fails," Nasrallah said. He did not divulge the other options. Beirut, 10 Mar 07, 09:55

European Union Flirts with Syria
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana has said he will travel to Syria next week to discuss Lebanon's political crisis with top officials there.
The visit to Damascus would be the first for a high-ranking EU official since ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's assassination in Feb. 2005, An Nahar daily said Saturday. After EU foreign ministers discussed Lebanon and the Middle East on the margins of a summit in Brussels Friday, Solana said he will travel to Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and then go to Syria. He said he had been mandated to take "a trip to Syria, to tell the Syrians what the situation is... to tell them we want them to work with us and with the international community, particularly on the Lebanon issue."
Solana is scheduled to travel to Saudi Arabia on Monday and is also expected to attend the March 28 summit of Arab League leaders in Riyadh.
French President Jacques Chirac said he "approved without reservations" Solana's trip, adding that the EU official would go to the region "with a European roadmap" for future relations. EU leaders, at the end of their summit Friday, underlined their "determination to reinforce Lebanon's sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence." The text issued after their meeting also "urges all members of the international community to lend their support" to efforts to set up a special tribunal to look into Hariri's killing. On a visit to Brussels last week, Saad Hariri, the late prime minister's son, accused Syria of blocking moves to end Lebanon's political deadlock.(AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, 10 Mar 07, 07:28

Third Belgian Faces Same Fate as Fellow Peacekeepers
A Belgian U.N. peacekeeper died of his injuries on Friday, raising the death toll to three from a road accident in southern Lebanon earlier in the week, the Belgian Defense Ministry said. Two members of the Belgian battalion of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) were killed outright during a reconnaissance mission on Wednesday when their vehicle fell into a ravine on a road linking the villages of Kfarshuba and nearby Shebaa.
A fourth soldier was also injured in the accident. On Thursday, UNIFIL officers and soldiers staged a farewell ceremony at Rafik Hariri International airport for the two Belgians who died in the accident. The ceremony was attended by UNIFIL commander Gen. Claudio Graziano of Italy, the Belgian ambassador and Lebanese officials. Belgium has deployed 370 troops to the UNIFIL force, made up of about 12,000 blue-helmeted soldiers -- most of them from Europe.(AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, 10 Mar 07, 07:45

Murr Assures Syria: No U.N. Deployment Along Border
Defense Minister Elias Murr has said there was no reason for Syria to close its border with Lebanon since U.N. peacekeeping troops are not going to deploy along the frontier. "They will not close the border because UNIFIL is not going to deploy there," Murr told reporters after meeting U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the Pentagon on Thursday.  He was responding to an announcement by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem in which he threatened to close the Lebanese-Syrian border if international troops were deployed along the boundary. Murr said Gates reiterated the support of the United States for the Lebanese military without any restrictions. He said that Gates informed him that the Lebanese army will receive the "entire shipment of equipment before the end of June." In response to a question, Murr said that the issue of disarming Hizbullah was not raised. "The army position is clear. This is an internal issue. Neither the United States nor any other country has got to do with it," Murr insisted, adding that the problem will be solved domestically. Beirut, 09 Mar 07, 11:46

Trenches, Earth Mounds along Lebanese-Syrian Border
Syrian troops are setting up earth mounds and digging trenches along the Lebanese-Syrian border, Lebanese media reported Friday.
The daily An Nahar said the procedure in Wadi Anjar, a town on the Lebanese-Syrian eastern border, was designed to "block illegal crossings used by smugglers."The Daily Star, however, on Friday quoted security sources as saying Syrian troops began placing sand berms near the border town of Al Masnaa late Thursday.The sources said five tractors began digging and erecting earth mounds near the Chamber of Agriculture, within Lebanese territories. The Syrians were "expected to continue working and placing the sand berms along the entire Syrian-Lebanese border, cutting through part of Lebanese land," one source told The Daily Star. Lebanese security forces rushed to the scene to investigate the actions and submit a report to authorities, so necessary measures can be taken in case any land was being captured, the source added.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem had threatened to close the border with Lebanon if international troops were deployed along the frontier.(Naharnet filephoto of the Lebanese-Syrian border.) Beirut, 09 Mar 07, 09:19

Have all the rules of the region been turned upside down?
Saturday, March 10, 2007
Editorial-Daily Star
Those who have observed or lived in the Middle East for a length of time might be tempted to think that during the past week, all of the regional rules were suddenly turned upside down. Recent days have brought a dramatic shift in approach that has seen arch-foes bury the hatchet and engage in dialogue and cooperation. Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri met for the first time in months with his political rival, parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri; the king of Sunni heavyweight Saudi Arabia held a surprise meeting with the president of Shiite powerhouse Iran; American officials are preparing to ease a diplomatic boycott and meet with their Iranian and Syrian counterparts in Baghdad over the weekend and the European Union will send its foreign policy chief Javier Solana to Damascus next week.
This dramatic shift from isolation and confrontation to dialogue and compromise will no doubt puzzle the region's conspiracy theorists. They tend to view the world with a dogmatic framework that reduces the region to a simple dichotomy between Western hegemons (primarily the US) seeking to impose their mandate on the region and local actors, who either join forces with the imperial superpowers or steadfastly fight against them. Such a worldview - while a useful tool for Osama bin Laden and his ilk to neatly categorize states as those whose destruction is either "halal" or "haram" (permissible or prohibited in Islam) - hardly begins to explain the latest developments that we are witnessing in the region. Likewise, this worldview's antithesis - which pits "democracies," "free societies" and "those who love life" against the planet's "terrorists," "sponsors of terrorists" and "freedom haters" - is an equally useless tool for understanding these events.
In truth, the recent developments can be attributed to a variety of factors that cannot be so tidily explained. Some can be traced to changes in the United States, which, contrary to popular opinion in this part of the world, is not a monolithic entity. These include President George W. Bush's last-minute drive to create a legacy that would offset his mind-bogglingly long list of foreign policy failures; the Democrats' recent takeover of the US Congress; the diminishing influence of Vice President Dick Cheney in the wake of his closest adviser's conviction on criminal charges; and the bursting of EU diplomats out of their proverbial cages now that the Bush administration's ability to pressure them has been curtailed. But the region's changing diplomatic landscape can also be attributed to forces bubbling up in the Middle East, including the growing resentment among Iranians and Syrians over their isolation; the war-weariness of an entire generation of Arabs and Israelis, and the drive of forward-thinking individuals and organizations for change.
These developments serve to illustrate that good guys can become bad guys and vice versa, Arab and Muslim publics are not irrevocably hostile to the West, Westerners can in fact learn to better understand and interact with Easterners, and the winds of domestic and foreign pressure can suddenly change. In this part of the world, the notion of a dynamic world in which we can one day wake up to something entirely different is heartily welcomed.

Nasrallah urges Lebanese not to squander chance to resolve crisis
By Rym Ghazal -Daily Star staff
Saturday, March 10, 2007
BEIRUT: Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said Friday that Lebanon is at a "new juncture" and called on all the Lebanese to give this new opportunity "a chance" to end the four-month-old political deadlock in Lebanon. During the commemoration of the passing of the 40-day mourning period for Imam Hussein, the Prophet Mohammad's grandson, Nasrallah saluted the arrival of the 100th day for the sit-in in Downtown to bring down the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora with a vow for the sit-in to "continue""You have performed a true national duty," Nasrallah told hundreds of supporters as they watched his speech through a live broadcast at the sit-in. "We are now facing a new opportunity for a political solution," he said.
Nasrallah said both "internal" and "regional" circumstances are now in favor of Lebanon  "We are now in a better situation than at any time before," he said, thanking "brother Arab and Islamic nations" for their mediatory efforts to resolve the Lebanese crisis.
"But it is essential that the solution comes from within Lebanon, and that it is based on the principle of no victor or vanquished by the end of the negotiations," said Nasrallah. However, Nasrallah stressed that there will be "no solution without compromise." "There will be further escalations," he warned if such a compromise doesn't occur. "I call on certain authorities in the ruling party not to hamper these new initiatives, as it would be a shame to lose this chance," said Nasrallah. "A meeting on a table with 50 officials will not achieve any results," he said, "but bilateral meetings will bring a solution."
As he spoke, an announcement was broadcasted that opposition leader Speaker Nabih Berri was meeting for the second time with Future Movement leader Saad Hariri at Berri's residence in Ain al-Tineh.
Nasrallah warned certain leaders in the ruling party against counting on Israel or the US."They will fail you as they are failures," said Nasrallah about the US and Israel. Nasrallah also quoted Premier Ehud Olmert who was quoted by Israeli media that Israel began planning for war in Lebanon "months" before the actual summer 2006 war. "The truth came out from the mouth of our enemy," he said, "and more truth will be exposed in due time."
He rejected claims that his party launched the war last summer, and accused "those [Lebanese] who went to Washington and called on the US to send Israel to Lebanon to destroy Hizbullah and implement Resolution 1559" of starting the conflict.

Berri, Hariri reach 'several points of concurrence'
'I think we are heading for a solution,' source close to parliamentary speaker announces
By Nada Bakri -Daily Star staff
Saturday, March 10, 2007
BEIRUT: Parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri and Speaker Nabih Berri entered their second round of talks late Friday, after their first meeting in four months the day before marked a potential turning point in a three-month-old crisis that has paralyzed the country and led to lethal sectarian clashes.
Hariri and Berri issued a joint statement earlier on Friday that declared that "several points of concurrence" had been reached "as well as several points that require more talks and positive debate.""On this basis, Speaker Berri and MP Hariri agreed to resume discussions at a meeting to be held in the very near future," the statement said. Friday night's meeting was still going when The Daily Star went to press. Berri, the head of the Amal Movement and a senior member of the opposition, and Hariri, leader of the Future Movement and senior member of the March 14 Forces, are attempting to negotiate a compromise on behalf of their respective coalitions.
Their meeting late Thursday night had been arranged by Saudi Ambassador Abdel-Aziz Khoja. Khoja met with Hariri on Friday. Although the meeting Thursday did not produce any concrete results, Lebanese leaders were upbeat in their assessment of the talks. Former Foreign Minister Fares Boueiz said following a visit with Berri on Friday that the speaker's "meeting with Hariri last night was fruitful and positive." A political source close to Berri quoted by the Reuters news agency on Friday said, "There is a common will to reach a result. I think we are heading for a solution." The Central News Agency quoted sources as saying that Berri and Hariri could meet again next week and issue a draft resolution that would later be finalized by Arab League Chief Amr Moussa. Meanwhile, Egyptian Ambassador Hussein Darrar told the local weekly Ousbouh Arabi that Moussa will return to Beirut to resume his mediation efforts in the near future. Moussa last visited Lebanon in January, but his efforts failed to end the crisis.
Amal MP Anwar Khalil also voiced optimism about the possibility of a solution in the near future following a meeting with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on Friday. "I understood from the prime minister that there are attempts to reach a common understanding and that these attempts are for the first time serious and different than the previous ones," Khalil told reporters. Berri and his allies - Hizbullah and Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun - are locked in a power struggle with the ruling majority. Aoun met on Friday with Geir Pedersen, the representative of the United Nations chief in Lebanon.
Pedersen called the Hariri-Berri meeting "a good sign,"and said that the UN "welcomes further meetings and dialogue."The Beirut crisis began last November, when six ministers resigned from the Cabinet to demand more say in the decision-making process. In December, the opposition launched an ongoing sit-in outside the Grand Serail in central Beirut that has brought the commercial and financial hub of the country to a virtual standstill.
The Hizbullah-led opposition has received support in its efforts from Syria and Iran, while Siniora and his government are backed by Saudi Arabia and Western powers. The government is insisting that an international tribunal to try those accused of the February 14, 2005 assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri be approved by Parliament, but the opposition has said it wishes to review the draft for the court and make unspecified amendments first.
The opposition fears the tribunal may be used as a political tool against it and its allies in Syria, while the ruling majority has accused its opponents of looking to block the court.Berri has refused to convene Parliament for an extraordinary session to vote on the tribunal.
It is believed that any resolution to the crisis would be based on passing the tribunal in Parliament, with the opposition's amendments, and the expansion of the current Cabinet to include more opposition ministers. The Hariri-Berri meeting came one week after a summit in Riyadh between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Saudi King Abdullah. Sources quoted by Reuters said that the Iranian-Saudi meeting facilitated the negotiations in Beirut and paved the way for an agreement.

Top EU diplomat will visit Syria to bolster Lebanon
Compiled by Daily Star staff -Saturday, March 10, 2007
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said on Friday he would travel to Syria next week in a bid to win its help in securing peace in Lebanon, resuming high-level contacts with Damascus after a two-year hiatus. At the end of a two-day summit in Brussels, EU heads of state and government sanctioned Solana's visit and expressed the bloc's backing for Lebanon's sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.
President Jacques Chirac had blocked all EU contacts with Syria for two years over its alleged role in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Cristina Gallach, Solana's spokeswoman, said Solana will visit Riyadh on Monday and Beirut on Tuesday before heading to Damascus. "The EU Council has mandated me to undertake this trip ... to tell the Syrians what the situation is, that we want to work with them particularly on the Lebanon issue," Solana said.
In a separate news conference, Chirac said he had agreed to Solana's trip as a way of ensuring the 27 member states spoke with one voice.
"I wholeheartedly approve the initiative of Mr. Solana, who will head off with a clearly defined message which has the backing of all," Chirac said.
Chirac said he had been worried individual states would send national envoys to Damascus with different messages. "That would have had negative consequences. Europe will speak with a single voice through Mr. Solana," he said. Chirac, who held lengthy talks with Solana on the summit margins, said the visit would begin with a meeting with Lebanese Premier Fouad Siniora, followed by talks with Jordan's King Abdullah II and then Syrian President Bashar Assad. Chirac added that the EU official would go to the region "with a European road map" for future relations.
EU officials acknowledge privately that they have been looking for a way to resume talks with Syria and prize it away from the powerful influence of Iran.
In a final communique, EU leaders underlined their "determination to reinforce Lebanon's sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence."
The text also "urges all members of the international community to lend their support" to efforts to set up a special tribunal to look into Hariri's killing.
A European diplomatic source said Solana will seek to impress on his Lebanese hosts the value of Syria playing a more constructive role in areas such as Lebanon, Iraq and the Middle East peace process. Syria has received many Iraqi refugees.
In Damascus, Gallach said that Solana would tell Syrian leaders "the role the EU would like them to play to be a constructive and stabilizing influence in Lebanon." Solana's tour is also intended to show support for Saudi Arabia's efforts overcoming intra-Palestinian rivalries and helping heal the emerging divide between Sunnis and Shiites in the Middle East, she said.
"Saudi Arabia is also very engaged in unblocking the political stalemate in Lebanon between the majority and Hizbullah [and] we hope this trip will assist this dynamic," Gallach said. European states provide the bulk of an augmented UN peace force deployed in South Lebanon after the 2006 war with Israel. Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern, whose country has 160 troops in South Lebanon, said the bloc realized it needed to re-engage with Damascus due to its central role in the region. "We want to engage with them [Syria] as a regional partner. They are very important with huge influence," he told Reuters in an interview. "Rather than turning our back on people, diplomacy is what is required." Ahern, who recently visited the Irish contingent, said there was relative calm in Southern Lebanon but that could be jeopardized at any moment.
"It's a tinder box. What we have to do is to engage all parties to prevent it from re-igniting," he said.
The EU has signed association agreements with states across the region but a similar pact with Damascus has been on ice for over two years. - Agencies