March 5/2007

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 9,28-36. About eight days after he said this, he took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." But he did not know what he was saying. While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my chosen Son; listen to him."After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.

Free Opinions
Commentary: Can the US help Lebanon?Middle East Times March 05/07
Analysis: What actually happened in Riyadh?Jerusalem Post March 05/07

Latest News Reports From miscellaneous sources For March 5/07
Lebanon crisis: Optimism following Saudi-Iranian summit-Al-Bawaba
Lebanon crises could end within 48 hours Speaker Berri says-Ya Libnan
Eclipse of the moon was seen in Lebanon-Ya Libnan
Cleric asks Hezbollah & Amal : Where are you taking the Shiites-Ya Libnan
Cleric asks Hezbollah & Amal : Where are you taking the Shiites? -Ya Libnan
Hezbollah has no place in Lebanon's future-Ya Libnan
Peace activists rally against threat of civil war in Lebanon-Ya Libnan
Beirut's traditionally Sunni neighborhoods resentful of influx of ...
San Diego Union Tribune
Iran Supports Efforts to End Lebanon Crisis, Fight Inter-Muslim Strife-Naharnet
Carload of Machine Guns Confiscated-Naharnet
Lebanese Youths to Politicians: 'Hands Off'-Naharnet
Wide Support for Hariri Court Amid Expected Breakthrough-Naharnet

Lebanon opposition leader sees crisis end: paper-
Hezbollah Has No Place in Lebanon's Future-AINA

Israel to complain to UN after six mines thrown from Syria found ...Ha'aretz
A peek behind Syria's mask of strength-Albuquerque Tribune
Kuwaiti Government Resigns-Naharnet

New USA Pro Lebanese ACT
Expressing deep concern over the use of civilians as `human shields' in violation of international humanitarian law and the law of war during armed conflict, including Hezbollah's tactic... (Introduced in House)
1st Session
H. RES. 125
Expressing deep concern over the use of civilians as `human shields' in violation of international humanitarian law and the law of war during armed conflict, including Hezbollah's tactic of embedding its forces among civilians to use them as human shields during the summer of 2006 conflict between Hezbollah and the State of Israel.
February 5, 2007
Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN (for herself, Mr. KLEIN of Florida, Mr. PENCE, Mr. BURTON of Indiana, Mr. MANZULLO, Mr. TANCREDO, Mr. CHABOT, Mr. SMITH of New Jersey, Mr. SHERMAN, and Mr. FORTUN.AE6O) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs
Expressing deep concern over the use of civilians as `human shields' in violation of international humanitarian law and the law of war during armed conflict, including Hezbollah's tactic of embedding its forces among civilians to use them as human shields during the summer of 2006 conflict between Hezbollah and the State of Israel.
Whereas the term `human shields' refers to the use of civilians, prisoners of war, or other noncombatants whose mere presence is designed to protect combatants and objects from attack;
Whereas the use of human shields violates international humanitarian law and the law of war;
Whereas throughout the summer of 2006 conflict with the State of Israel, Hezbollah forces utilized human shields to protect themselves from counterattacks by Israeli forces;
Whereas the majority of civilian casualties of that conflict might have been avoided and civilian lives saved had Hezbollah not employed this tactic;
Whereas the news media made constant mention of civilian casualties but rarely pointed to the culpability, under international law, of Hezbollah for their endangerment of such civilians;
Whereas United States and international leaders attempted to call the use of human shields to the world's attention;
Whereas on August 11, 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated, `Hezbollah and its sponsors have brought devastation upon the people of Lebanon, dragging them into a war that they did not choose, and exploiting them as human shields . . .';
Whereas on August 14, 2006, President George W. Bush stated, `Hezbollah terrorists targeted Israeli civilians with daily rocket attacks. Hezbollah terrorists used Lebanese civilians as human shields, sacrificing the innocent in an effort to protect themselves from Israeli response . .
Whereas Jan Egeland, United Nations Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, accused Hezbollah of `cowardly blending . . . among women and children';
Whereas Additional Protocol I, Article 50(1) to the Geneva Convention defines civilian as, `[a]ny person who does not belong to one of the categories of persons referred to in Article 4(A)(1), (2), (3), and (6) of the Third Convention and in Article 43 of this Protocol. In the case of doubt whether a person is a civilian, that person shall be considered a civilian.';
Whereas Additional Protocol I, Article 51(7) to the Geneva Convention states, `[T]he presence or movement of the civilian population or individual civilians shall not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations, in particular in attempts to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield, favour or impede military operations. The Parties to the conflict shall not direct the movement of the civilian population or individual civilians in order to attempt to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield military operations.'; and
Whereas Convention IV, Article 28, Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of the Geneva Convention states, `The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations.': Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the House of Representatives--
(1) strongly condemns the use of innocent civilians as human shields, including Hezbollah's use of this brutal and illegal tactic during the summer of 2006 conflict with Israel;
(2) calls on the international community to recognize the grave breaches of international law through the use of human shields; and
(3) calls on the community of United States and international jurisprudential scholars and practitioners and the leadership of the Armed Forces to review the current international legal regime and to make recommendations to prevent the future use of human shields during armed conflicts.

Analysis: What actually happened in Riyadh?

It would have been a sensitive visit in any case - a meeting between the two most prominent figures in the Middle East today, who represent the Shi'ite and Sunni worlds - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Saudi king Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz VI.
Everyone understood that this was a visit that would have to be prepared carefully. Ahmadinejad's personal representative Ali Larijani visited Riyadh. Larijani is Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, and the subject of the Riyadh visit was obvious. Larijani came to Riyadh twice, and Saudi Arabia's third-ranking official, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, traveled to Teheran.
Bandar's father, Prince Sultan (the country's minister of defense) is next in line to the Saudi throne, as his half-brother Abdullah is already over 85. Bandar maintains close ties with the Muhabarat [special police force] in Saudi Arabia, whose main function is protecting the country from terror (mainly Shi'ite), and is expected to succeed his father as king.
Iran worries the Saudis greatly, especially its nuclear potential, which, as far as the Saudis are concerned, is the number one problem on the agenda. Obviously, this visit was significant for the Saudis.
Saturday evening, Ahmadinejad landed in Riyadh to a king's welcome. Feasts were prepared for him. Abdullah meant to speak with him about everything, but first and foremost the nuclear issue. Because they don't share a common language (Ahmadinejad knows only Farsi, and Abdullah doesn't speak it) the conversation was conducted through an interpreter. Abdullah was obviously trying. He sat close to Ahmadinejad, something he doesn't often do with his guests, and tried to smile for the cameras before the meeting.
There are still no details on the conversation itself, but Abdullah apparently warned Ahmadinejad about the Americans, who are increasing their presence in the Persian Gulf. I believe that Abdullah offered to mediate between the Iranians and the Americans, and he has the ability to do so comparatively well. After the first round of talks, they left for dinner, and later resumed talks.
Shortly before midnight, it was announced suddenly that Ahmadinejad was returning to Teheran. I believe that the talks blew up, since it's strange for him not to have stayed at least a night on such an important visit, one that had been prepared ahead of time.
The fact remains that Ahmadinejad and the Saudis did not voice any intention of continuing talks after the visit. Also, no official message on the meeting was published, as is the norm. Ahmadinejad has a hot temper, and he tends to get offended. Maybe he thought that the Saudis were interfering in something that was none of their business.
As he returned to Iran, Ahmadinejad was met at the Teheran airport by reporters. He told them that he had spoken with the Saudis on Iraq, the ethnic issue, Lebanon, and the Palestinians, and did not mention the nuclear program - an additional indication that this was the subject that had caused the crisis.
The Iranian president essentially spurned the Saudis' hand, extended in hopes of preventing a major crisis in the Gulf. The Saudis themselves are also afraid of such a crisis, with its many possible scenarios. Could the 15 percent of their Shi'ite population begin an uprising? Could Iran attack them? This scares them.
Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, sales talk and when to make his move. Apparently he has decided that it isn't yet time to let Iran off its crazy merry-go-round, and continues to defy the United States and the West
This week, the UN Security Council is supposed to decide on harsher sanctions against Iran's nuclear program, though not economic ones, and the Americans continue to up their presence on Iran's borders and coast. The tension builds.
***Dr. Guy Bechor is head of Middle Eastern Studies at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya.

Commentary: Can the US help Lebanon?
Claude Salhani-UPI
March 4, 2007
WASHINGTON -- The diplomatic ballet of comings and goings by Lebanon's political leaders to Washington leads one to presume the Bush administration is suddenly becoming more interested, and possibly more concerned, by the precarious situation in Lebanon.
During the past few weeks, Amine Gemayel, a former president and member of the influential Gemayel family, as well as one of the keystone Christian clans in the country, was accorded a 30-minute audience with President George W. Bush and several of his top foreign policy advisers. Then, just last week, Walid Jumblatt, the leader of the Druze community and member of Lebanon's March 14 pro-democracy movement, was also received by the president at the White House.
In separate interviews following their White House meetings, both Gemayel and Jumblatt said they had received iron-clad assurances from President Bush that the United States would stand by and support the pro-democracy March 14 movement, as well as the government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.
Pro-Hezbollah press in Beirut accused Jumblatt of "turning to the devil for help."
Following its summer war with Israel, Hezbollah - while seen by many as victorious simply for resisting far superior Israeli forces when entire Arab armies failed - found itself removed from the border area with Israel, replaced by a UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) version 2.0 and a revamped Lebanese army. As such, the Lebanese Shiite movement felt it had to mark political points in Beirut, or risk losing face, and, with that, power.
Backed by Iran and Syria, Hezbollah has since been applying pressure - in various stages - on Siniora and his government to resign. The Shiite group, under the leadership of Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, claims that following the resignation of cabinet ministers loyal to Hezbollah, the government is no longer representative of the people and should, therefore, step down. Such a move would pave the way for a new government, in which Hezbollah and its Christian ally, followers of the maverick former Lebanese army Gen. Michel Aoun, would take over the government, thus giving the majority vote to the Shiite movement and its supporters.
This is the coup d'etat Jumblatt keeps referring to.
To show it meant business, Hezbollah ordered several hundreds of its followers to lay siege to Siniora's office for weeks on end. Suddenly, a tent city bloomed around the prime minister's office where demonstrators kept vigil round-the-clock in what resembled a medieval siege by serfs around the lord's manor.
Stepping up the pressure, Hezbollah then called for a number of general strikes. The last one resulted in serious street clashes, including fights between Hezbollah's Shiites and Sunni Muslims loyal to the government that left several dead. Were it not for the cool heads kept by Lebanese army officers, this last strike could have degenerated into the beginning of a new civil war.
With tension mounting a notch everyday, Jumblatt said "Lebanon is on the verge of a coup d'état." The Druze leader also warned that Hezbollah, with support from Iran and Syria, wanted to turn Lebanon into an Islamic republic based on the Iranian model.
A clear indication of the rising tension is the renewed demand for weapons in the Lebanese capital. One source, confirmed by the United Nations, reported truckloads of munitions crossing from Syria into Lebanon, carrying 60millimeter (0.2 feet) mortars destined for Hezbollah. Such mortars have short range and are ideal for city fighting.
Another clear indicator is the price of the ubiquitous AK47 Kalashnikov automatic rifle that has more than doubled in price, going from $300 to $700 and more, according to some very reliable sources.
The question is, what exactly can Washington do to support Beirut's legitimate administration and alleviate some of the pressures imposed by Hezbollah on the Lebanese government?
When US state department officials put the question to a group of visiting Lebanese politicians during an impromptu meeting in Washington last week, no one was able to come up with a comprehensive answer.
Someone said sanctions. We tried those in Iraq, remember? That did not seem to have done much good other than to help garner greater dislike of Americans and help make Saddam Hussein richer.
Maybe diplomacy rather than strong-arm tactics is the answer. Maybe something will come out of the new diplomatic campaign aimed at bringing Iran and Syria to a "meeting of neighbors" to discuss Iraq's future, a meeting the US has agreed to attend. For the sake of the Lebanese, let Lebanon not become the sacrificial lamb of Middle Eastern diplomacy.
Claude Salhani is the Middle East Times' Editor and International Editor at UPI. He wrote this article for United Press International. Comments may be sent to

Sunni-Shiite tension called the Arab world’s ‘most dangerous problem’
By ANTHONY SHADID, The Washington Post

Published: Sunday, Mar. 4, 2007
Relatives of Dea Abdel Wahab, a victim of sectarian violence, carry a coffin with his body in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, Iraq. The Sunni-Shiite divide is roiling an Arab world as unsettled as at any time in a generation.
CAIRO, Egypt – Egypt is the Arab world’s largest Sunni Muslim country, but as a writer once quipped, it has a Shiite heart and a Sunni mind.
In its eclectic popular culture, Sunnis enjoy a sweet dish with raisins and nuts to mark Ashura, the most sacred Shiite Muslim holiday. Raucous festivals bring Cairenes into the street to celebrate the birthdays of Shiite saints, a practice disparaged by austere Sunnis. The city’s Islamic quarter tangles like a vine around a shrine to Imam Hussein, Shiite Islam’s most revered figure.
The syncretic blend makes the words of Mahmoud Ahmed, a book vendor sitting on the shrine’s marble and granite promenade, even more striking.
“The Shiites are rising,” he said, arching his eyebrows in an expression suggesting both revelation and fear.
The growing Sunni-Shiite divide is roiling an Arab world as unsettled as at any time in a generation. Fought in speeches, newspaper columns, rumors swirling through cafes and the Internet, and occasional bursts of strife, the conflict is predominantly shaped by politics: a disintegrating Iraq, an ascendant Iran, a sense of Arab powerlessness and a persistent suspicion of American intentions. But the division has begun to seep into the region’s social fabric, too. The sectarian fault line has long existed and sometimes ruptured, but never, perhaps, has it been revealed in such a stark, disruptive fashion.
Newspapers are replete with assertions, some little more than incendiary rumors, of Shiite aggressiveness. The Jordanian newspaper Ad-Dustour, aligned with the government, wrote of a conspiracy last month to spread Shiism from India to Egypt. On the conspirators’ agenda, it said: assassinating “prominent Sunni figures.” The same day, an Algerian newspaper reported that parents were calling on the government to stop Shiite proselytizing in schools. An Egyptian columnist accused Iran of trying to convert Sunnis to Shiism in an attempt to revive the Persian Safavid dynasty, which came to power in the 16th century.
At Madbuli’s, a storied bookstore in downtown Cairo, five new titles lined the display window: “The Shiites,” “The Shiites in History,” “Twelve Shiites,” and so on. A newspaper on sale nearby featured a warning by its editor that the conflict could lead to a “sectarian holocaust.”
“To us Egyptians,” said writer and analyst Mohammed al-Sayid Said, the sectarian division is “entirely artificial. It resonates with nothing in our culture, nothing in our daily life. It’s not part of our social experience, cultural experience or religious experience.” But he added: “I think this can devastate the region.”
The violence remains confined to Iraq and, on a far smaller scale, Lebanon, but to some, the four-year-long entropy of Iraq offers a metaphor for the forces emerging across the region: People there watched the rise of sectarian identity, railed against it, blamed the United States and others for inflaming it, then were often helpless to stop the descent into bloodshed.
“This tension is the most dangerous problem now in the region,” said Ghassan Charbel, editor of the Arabic-language daily al-Hayat.
Age-old emnity
The schism between Sunnis and Shiites dates to the 7th century, Islam’s earliest days, when a dispute broke out over who would succeed the prophet Muhammad. Shiites believe the descendants of Muhammad’s daughter, Fatima, and son-in-law, Ali, were deprived of divinely ordained leadership in a narrative of martyrdom and injustice that still influences devout Shiite readings of the faith.
Over centuries, differences in ritual, jurisprudence and theology evolved, some of them slight. But the Shiite community – as a majority in Iraq and Bahrain and a sizable minority in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait – is shaped far more today by the underprivileged status it has often endured in an Arab world that is predominantly Sunni. For decades, the Saudi government banned Shiite rituals; a Sunni minority rules a restive Shiite majority in Bahrain; Lebanese Shiites, long poor and disenfranchised, often faced chauvinism that still lingers.
Episodes of sectarian conflict litter the region’s history: Shiites revolted in medieval Baghdad, and rival gangs ransacked one another’s tombs and shrines. The conflict between the Sunni Ottoman Empire and the Shiite Safavid Empire in Persia was often cast as a sectarian struggle. The 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran was portrayed in parts of the Arab world as a Shiite resurgence.
But rarely has the region witnessed so many events, in so brief a time, that have been so widely interpreted through a sectarian lens: the empowering of Iraq’s Shiite-led government and the bloodletting that has devastated the country; the lack of support by America’s Sunni Arab allies – Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia – for the Shiite movement Hezbollah in its fight with Israel last summer; and, most decisively, the perception among many Sunni Arabs that Iraq leader Saddam Hussein was lynched by Shiites bent on revenge. In the background is the growing assertiveness of Shiite Iran as the influence of other traditional regional powers such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia diminishes.
In Lebanon, where the Hezbollah-led opposition has mobilized in an effort to force the government’s resignation, the sectarian divide colors even a contest over urban space. Some Sunnis are angered most by the fact that the Beirut sit-in – in their eyes, an occupation – by Shiites from the hardscrabble southern suburbs is
taking place in the sleek downtown rebuilt by a former Sunni prime minister, Rafik al-Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005.
“Politics is perception,” said Jamil Mroue, a Lebanese publisher whose father was Shiite and mother Sunni.
Sentiments today remind him of the tribal-like fanaticism that marked another sectarian conflict, Lebanon’s 15-year civil war – which, among other divisions, loosely pitted Christians against Muslims before it ended in 1990.
“It certainly conjures up the feelings of the civil war, when Lebanon started disintegrating, except on a mega-scale,” Mroue said. He called it “very scary, because I know that there is a possibility of being moved by this tide.”
“At the end of it,” he added, “people are going to look back and say, ‘What the hell was this all about?’”
Choosing sides
In overwhelmingly Sunni countries such as Egypt, where politics were long defined by Arab nationalism or political Islam, visceral notions of sectarian identity remain somewhat alien. It is not unusual to hear people say they realized only as adults that they were Sunnis. Before that, they identified themselves simply as Muslim. Even in Lebanon, despite its communal divisions, intermarriage is not uncommon, and there is a long tradition of Sunnis becoming Shiites so their daughters can receive a more equitable share of inheritance, as allowed under Shiite law.
Across the region, Hezbollah and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, in particular, still win accolades for their performance in last summer’s war in Lebanon.
“You have to give him credit for fighting the Israelis,” Abdel-Hamid Ibrahim said of Nasrallah as he stood at a rickety curbside stand in Cairo, boiling water for tea. Overhead were pictures of two Egyptian icons, the singers Um Kalthoum and Abdel-Halim Hafez. “Closest to my heart,” he said. Next to them was a portrait of Nasrallah. “A symbol of resistance, the man who defeated Israel,” it read.
“Hassan Nasrallah, he’s the man who stood in front of the Israelis himself,” said Muhsin Mohammed, a customer.
“Who was standing with him?” Ibrahim asked, nodding his head. He pointed to the sky. “Our Lord.”
Both scoffed at the sectarian tensions.
“There’s a proverb that says, ‘Divide and conquer,’” Mohammed said. “Sunnis and Shiites – they’re not both Muslims? What divides them? Who wants to divide them? In whose interest is it to divide them?” he asked.
“It’s in the West’s interest,” he answered. “And at the head of it is America and Israel.” He paused. “And Britain.”
That sense of Western manipulation is often voiced by Shiite clerics and activists, who say the United States incites sectarianism as a way of blunting Iran’s influence. In recent years, some of the most provocative comments have come from America’s allies in the region: Egypt’s president questioned Shiites’ loyalty to their countries, Jordan’s king warned of a coming Shiite crescent from Iran to Lebanon, and in January King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia denounced what he called Shiite proselytizing.
The charge drew a lengthy retort from Nasrallah. “Frankly speaking, the aim of saying such things is fomenting strife,” he said in a speech. He dismissed charges of Iranian proselytizing or the emergence of a Shiite crescent.
“People in the region always complain about a Shiite crescent. You always hear, ‘Shiite crescent, Shiite crescent.’ That’s just a crescent. What about the full Sunni moon?” said Nimr al-Nimr, a Shiite cleric in the eastern Saudi town of Awamiya, who spent five days in police detention for urging that a Shiite curriculum be taught in his predominantly Shiite region.
Shiites make up less than 15 percent of Saudi Arabia’s population, many of them in the oil-rich Eastern Province. The austere Sunni religious establishment considers them heretics. One cleric, Abdul Rahman al-Barak, considered close to the royal family, has called Shiites “infidels, apostates and hypocrites.”
“There are conflicts in Palestine between Sunni sects – Hamas and Fatah – in Somalia, in Darfur. None of that is sectarian,” said Hassan al-Saffar, the most prominent Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia. “There’s a campaign against Shiites. Why is all this anti-Shiite sentiment being inflamed at a time the United States is trying to pressure Iran because of its nuclear ambitions?”
In Cairo recently, Hassan Kamel sipped sweet tea in a cafe beside the shrine to Imam Hussein, the prophet’s grandson, who was killed in battle in 680 in what is now Iraq. The shrine is believed to hold his severed head. Across the street was al-Azhar, one of the foremost academic institutions of Sunni Islam, founded, ironically, by the Shiite Fatimid dynasty that ruled Egypt for 200 years until 1169. On the shrine’s wall was a saying attributed to the prophet and often intoned during Shiite commemorations: “Hussein is from me, and I am from Hussein.” Kamel pointed to the doors, topped with a Koranic inscription; Shiites and Sunnis like him worshipped at the shrine together, he said.
He wondered aloud about past conflicts that have splintered the Middle East.
“Egyptians, all their lives, without exception, have endured so many crises, catastrophes and problems,” he said. He listed wars in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973. “But they have a gift. It’s a gift from God. They have the ability to forget.”
Then he talked about the rest of the region, and whether this bout of strife and tension would pass, too.
“They might forget, they might not,” he said. “Right now, no one knows what’s coming.”

Beirut's traditionally Sunni neighborhoods resentful of influx of Shiites

By Scheherezade Faramarzi
BEIRUT, Lebanon – Zachariya Shaer's neighborhood of Beirut has been Sunni Muslim for generations. His family's roots here date to 1800 and he has documents to prove it. Now the walls and lampposts are plastered with Shiite posters and graffiti, and in a city whose peace depends on a delicate sectarian balance, many fear trouble ahead.
Sunnis like the Shaers once predominated in the neighborhood named Zoqaq Blatt, or “tiled alley,” after its French-colonial-era cobblestones. Shiites have been migrating here for decades from south Lebanon, escaping a region long neglected by the government. Their numbers have risen sharply in recent years, and Sunnis now find themselves in the minority.
The influx is paralleled by the dramatic rise of Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite militia, riding on the prestige it won in the Arab world for standing up to Israel in a 34-day war last summer. It also coincides with the ascent to power of the Shiite majority in Iraq and the feud with the Sunnis that has followed.
Accurate counts of the various Muslim and Christian groups in this nation of roughly 4 million are nonexistent. Lebanon hasn't had a census since 1932, because a sharp change in numbers could provoke calls for a change in the long-standing arrangement whereby the president must be a Maronite Catholic, the prime minister a Sunni and the speaker of parliament, the lesser of the three posts, a Shiite.
Shiites, though not a majority in Lebanon, are the largest religious group.
The tremors rolling through Lebanon began in February 2005, with the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and the demonstrations that pointed blame at Syria and forced it to withdraw its forces from the country.
Next came the Israel-Hezbollah war. And in November, Hezbollah and Amal, a fellow Shiite group, quit the coalition of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora because it wanted a veto over Cabinet decisions. Since Dec. 1, the Hezbollah-led opposition has held huge rallies and a vigil in a tent city outside the government's offices in Beirut. Many Sunnis, meanwhile, blame Hezbollah for starting a war that caused $2.8 billion worth of Israeli-inflicted damage on Lebanon.
On Jan. 25, scuffles between Sunni and Shiite college students in the Sunni neighborhood of Tarik Jdideh burst into clashes that evoked memories of the country's 15-year civil war. Cars were torched, snipers fired from balconies and roofs, and Shiite women accused Sunnis of trying to pull off their head scarves.
Beirut's Sunnis and Shiites are increasingly wary of each other.
“They want to impose their views just because they have guns,” Shaer, 57, said of Shiite leaders. He said he resented the Hezbollah flags flying from an electricity pole above his appliance store, but feared his shop would be trashed if he removed them.
There are complaints of Shiite vigilantes stopping cars to check ID cards for Sunnis. Shaer's wife, Amal, says she has stopped shopping at Shiite-owned stores “after Shiites asking for her ID attacked my daughter's car.”
In their neighborhood, the few banners and posters representing Sunnis, including the late Hariri and his son Saad, were torn down after the Sunni-Shiite street clashes. In Tarik Jdideh, a couple of miles from Shiite neighborhoods, troops and armored cars have deployed following the death of a young Shiite man who was shot in December as he headed home from a protest.
Ahmed Khatib, a 27-year-old Sunni, said that when he sought to buy an apartment in Tarik Jdideh, the owner demanded assurances he was not a Shiite.
Hassan Chouman, a Shiite elder in Zoqaq Blatt, blamed the tensions on politics, not religion and said he was working to calm Sunni families.
“We visit them at their homes to assure them no harm will come to them,” said Chouman, a Hezbollah member whose father moved here 70 years ago from southern Lebanon when he came to work at Beirut's port.
He said Shiite residents were nervous, too, and were increasingly asking him for ID cards that don't reveal their sect.
He said it was not Hezbollah but residents themselves who were hanging out the Shiite flags and banners. But it's unlikely any group short of an organized party could festoon every electricity pole.
The roots of the feud are ancient. Sunnis in Zoqaq Blatt say they take offense at Shiite flags with “Hussein” written on them. Hussein, later to be revered as a Shiite saint, was killed in a 7th century battle with the ruler Yazid, whom Shiites consider a Sunni.
“Provocation,” Shaer said, throwing up his hands in frustration. “You either have to leave the neighborhood or stay quiet.”
Shiites, for their part, complain that on the anniversary of Hariri's assassination, Sunnis chanted “Omar,” the Prophet Muhammad's successor whom Shiites view as having usurped Islam's leadership. But Shaer remembers when Sunnis and Shiites lived in harmony. His 19-year-old daughter, Hiba, said her best childhood friend is a Shiite. Shiites started arriving in big numbers to Zoqaq Blatt during the 1975-90 civil war, moving into homes vacated by Christians and later Sunnis who fled the fighting. Other newcomers were Shiite businessmen who had made money in Africa.
And 30 years of conflict with Israel have driven many more out of southern Lebanon in search of safety and jobs in the capital.
Even some long-term Shiite residents resent the new sectarian divisions. “Damn the day we came to Beirut,” said Mohammed Ftouni, 52, a Shiite whose parents migrated from the South to Zoqaq Blatt before he was born. People in the south “are kinder despite the Israeli problem,” he said.
“In this neighborhood,” said a Sunni elder, “the big fish swallows the small fish.” He would only be identified by his first name, Sharif, lest he get into trouble with neighbors.

Cleric asks Hezbollah & Amal : Where are you taking the Shiites?
Saturday, 3 March, 2007 @ 8:04 PM
Beirut- Shiite Authority Sheikh Youssef Kanj urged all the Lebanese leaders to make concessions in order to solve the crises and to protect the unity of Lebanon and its people and stressed the importance of dialogue.
During an interview with Al Shiraa, Sheikh Kanj asked Hezbollah & Amal : Where are you taking the Shiites?
When asked : what is wrong with Hezbollah and Amal he said:
All political parties are subjected to positive and negative factors, but if Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah or Speaker Nabih Berri make a mistake who at Hezbollah is going to tell Nasrallah ‘you are wrong and similarly who at Amal is going to tell Berri you are wrong? This is what is wrong with these 2 organizations . He added I am not saying this to attack them but saying it for their own sake and own protection.
He accused the leadership of Amal and Hezbollah of being far removed from the day-to-day life and needs and sufferings of the Shiite people. He said to be a good Shiite is not only in nice talk and nicely put words but in following the doctrine of Imam Ali and his lifestyle.
He repeated the same question to Hezbollah & Amal: Where are you taking the Shiites?
"We have been in this country since the time of Abu Zurr el Ghofari , or in other words since the beginning of Islam , so no one can question our Lebanese identity . We should therefore be the most protective of this country and do the utmost to preserve it ." He said
Last month Lebanon's opposition said it was considering launching a civil disobedience campaign. The civil disobedience campaign would include opposition public workers staying home and supporters stopping payment of taxes and utility bills, the opposition source said. Such a move would paralyze several government departments and institutions according to analysts.
Sheikh Kanj issued a ‘Fatwa ‘ or decree prohibiting Shiites from participating in such civil disobedience campaign, saying this is “Haram “ meaning against Islam. He said in the interview “it is against Islam not to pay your water and electric bills “ He added: this is against the laws of the country and this is wrong regardless if we agree with these laws or not. We should be law abiding citizens and respect the law and order of the country.
As with regards to the International Tribunal for trying the suspects in the Hariri murder , Sheikh Kanj urged Hezboollah and Amal to accept it and not be afraid of it . At the same time he urged parliament majority leader Saad Hariri not use the Tribunal to scare people . He added “ Saad should follow the steps of his father and be a leader for all the Lebanese and should therefore do his best to make all the Lebanese like him . His dad sacrificed for the unity, independence and sovereignty of this country .
Regarding a civil war that will have Sunnites fighting Shiites , Sheikh Kanj said “ This is impossible he added “ we are all related and under no circumstances we will fight one another “.
He was asked if there is any relationship between him and the free Shiite ( Tayyar) movement headed by Sheikh Mohammad el Hajj Hassan he said : I like him and respect him but I am not a member of the organization , even though I fully support freedom of speech and freedom of expression.Sources: in Arabic

Peace activists rally against threat of civil war in Lebanon
Sunday, 4 March, 2007 @ 4:51 PM
Beirut- Hundreds of Lebanese peace activists demonstrated in Beirut against perceived threats of civil war to tell politicians to keep their "hands off" the fate of the people.Responding to calls by 12 groups, the protesters rallied at the intersection that once divided Christian east and Muslim west Beirut in the 1975 to 1990 civil war. One protester said: "By this action, we want to tell our politicians that they are irresponsible and that the Lebanese people will not let themselves be dragged into a new civil war."Another protester said: "To live in uncertainty about tomorrow and in continual fear is not an inevitability."
Political paralysis
Lebanon has been politically paralyzed for more than three months following the resignation of six government ministers. Clashes between activists of the Parliament - backed government of Fouad Siniora, the prime minister, and the opposition led by the Shiite Hezbollah movement have resurrected fears of a new civil war.
Weapons and explosives, and accusations about arms stockpiling, have further heightened fears of a civil war.
Activists have taken to the streets and posted remarks on a number of websites in recent weeks to vent their anger against politicians who they blame for causing the crisis
Here are some more pictures of the event
Lebanese youths show their handprints painted in white to show their commitment to civil peace during a ceremony organized by Lebanese NGO "Watch Out, Wake Up" at Beirut's Beshara al-Khoury area. A Lebanese youth reacts as his palms are covered with white paint before leaving his mark to show his commitment to civil peace during a ceremony organized by Lebanese NGO "Watch Out, Wake Up" at Beirut's Beshara al-Khoury area.
A young Lebanese girl marks her handprint in white paint to show her commitment to civil peace during a ceremony organised by Lebanese NGO "Watch Out, Wake Up" at Beirut's Beshara al-Khoury area.Sources: Aljazeera, Agencies

Lebanon crises could end within 48 hours Speaker Berri says
Sunday, 4 March, 2007 @ 4:00 PM
Beirut- A Lebanese opposition leader said a deal to end the country's worst political crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war could emerge "within 48 hours," a newspaper reported on Sunday. Asharq Al-Awsat quoted opposition leader Nabih Berri, who is also speaker of parliament, as saying the chances of a solution were greater now than at any other point in the crisis, which has at times spilled into lethal street violence.
Lebanon was on the agenda of a Saudi-Iranian summit on Saturday. The states are important backers of the camps which are tussling for control of the Beirut government. Shi'ite Muslim Iran supports Hezbollah, which together with Berri and Christian leader Michel Aoun, is demanding veto power in a government controlled by allies of Saad al-Hariri, who is close to the Sunni Muslim Saudi monarchy.
Hezbollah and Amal represent the majority of Lebanon's Shi'ite Muslims and Hariri is the country's most powerful Sunni Muslim leader, giving the political standoff a sectarian dimension and raising fears of a new civil war.
Asharq Al-Awsat, a pan-Arab daily, quoted Berri as expressing more optimism on a deal. He said "the chances of success this time are greater than at any previous time." Berri said a settlement "might appear within 48 hours."
The opposition, which disputes the legitimacy of the government, has been camped out in central Beirut for more than three months to press its demand for a national unity government in which it would have veto power.Asharq Al-Awsat said the settlement would include a deal on a unity government as well as agreement on an international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
The opposition says it agrees on the idea of setting up a tribunal but wants to discuss the details and has said it fears the court will be used as a political tool.
Saad al-Hariri's allies say Hezbollah and Amal are trying to derail plans for the tribunal to protect Syria, which the governing coalition blames for the February 14, 2005 killing. Hezbollah and Amal are both allied to Syria, which denies involvement.
Saudi King Abdullah on Saturday held talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who was on his first official trip to Saudi Arabia. They agreed to fight the spread of Sunni-Shi'ite strife in the region, the Saudi foreign minister said.
Ahmadinejad voiced support for Saudi efforts to ease tensions in Lebanon, and the two leaders called on all parties to cooperate with these efforts, the official Saudi agency SPA said.Sources: Reuters, Ya Libnan

Hezbollah has no place in Lebanon's future
Saturday, 3 March, 2007 @ 4:49 PM
By Ramzi Al-Husseini,- Ya Libnan Volunteer
The white glove treatment Hezbollah has been receiving from the democratically elected government has gone on too long. Hezbollah has not earned its privilege to be at the negotiating table. The shi'ite militia has worn its welcome, and their recent actions in Lebanon have proven their allegiance is not to the country they operate in. Since the withdrawal of Syria, Hezbollah's actions have become too obviously pro-Damascus, leaving most Lebanese to question their patriotism.
Hezbollah's swift and steady decline
What drove Hezbollah to their current state? What made Hezbollah followers outcasts in the eye of the Lebanese public? Political analysts are at odds on the specific event that was the "last straw" so to speak.
Hezbollah's existence was never threatened during Syria's 29 year occupation of Lebanon, despite forcing every other militia to disband. What Hezbollah did on March 8, 2005 to pay gratitude to their Syrian allies left a bad taste in the mouths of the millions of Lebanese fighting for independence from Syria. Following the unthinkable massacre just weeks before on Valentines Day, Hezbollah instructed its supporters to plead Syria's innocence, and demonstrate that their allegiance goes beyond protecting Lebanon.
A week later the real Lebanon was revealed, filling Martyrs Square with over a million freedom seeking patriots demanding that Syria leave. A month later Syria was finally gone.
Hezbollah's existence was threatened the minute the last Syrian troop completed his long overdue one way trip back home. Since the end of Syria's physical presence in Lebanon, their loyalist politicians have squandered to secure a back door for their re-entry. Hezbollah's leader - Hassan Nasrallah - once widely admired by the Lebanese for his honesty and transparency, emerged as a nervous and desperate Syrian stooge who was willing to do whatever it takes to appease his leadership in Damascus.
Hezbollah showed complete disregard for Lebanon when they chose to engage in a war with Israel in July 2006. The unforgivable operation was in the peak tourist season of a country finally starting to recover from a war. The tourism industry is Lebanon's cornerstone that has attracted multi-national investors and grand projects that helped revive the economy. When engaging in the July war, Nasrallah was quoted as saying he could care less about tourism. After all, Lebanon's tourism had no impact on his militia, or more importantly - Syria was no longer a benefactor.
The July-August War alienated many previous Hezbollah supporters/sympathizers, and in the eyes of many Lebanese erased any prior victories of the militia because of the death and destruction that was brought on their own country.
Rather than face reprimands for engaging in an unnecessary war that Lebanon clearly lost the most in, Hezbollah have continued to exercise their free will to prevent Lebanon from doing what it has become unnervingly good at - moving on. From illegal tents set up in downtown Beirut to protest the democratically elected government to illegal road blocks set up to create chaos, Hezbollah has worked relentlessly to help Syria reclaim Lebanon.
The deplorable protests in January 2007 sent Lebanon back in time to its darkest of days, thankfully this time it did not last longer than a few days.
How can Lebanon trust Hezbollah?
As a solution is negotiated, how can anyone in Lebanon who truly cares about his country trust anyone brandishing a yellow Hezbollah flag? The militia and its leaders have time and time again proven their allegiance to Syria is stronger to that of Lebanon. While allies are important, leaders who place their allies interests above the interests of their own people are not worthy of being leaders. In fact most would consider them traitors.
Hezbollah is using the most deplorable of tactics to get what it wants. What kind of message does it convey to reward their behavior? The National Unity Government is not the answer - any negotiations with Hezbollah should be for the sole purpose of their disarmament. Lebanon first needs plain and simple justice for the countless murders that have taken place over the past two years. Anyone that has the nerve to stand in the way of justice has no place in Lebanon's future.
With regards to Hezbollah, the negotiations should be on a National Unity Army, not a National Unity Government. The militia may have a disguised political wing, but the events outlined above have uncloaked their entire organization as a military force, orchestrated to support Syria and Iran's demands. Hezbollah has no place in Lebanon's future, the time to disarm and disband is now.

Lebanon crisis: Optimism following Saudi-Iranian summit
Posted: 04-03-2007
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad supported Riyadh's efforts to resolve the political crisis in Lebanon and agreed with Saudi King Abdullah to counter efforts to fuel Sunni-Shiite strife, the Saudi media said Sunday.
Ahmadinejad said he concurred with Abdullah during talks on Saturday that Iran and the kingdom would work together to thwart "enemy" plots seeking to divide the Islamic world. According to the Saudi SPA news agency, Ahmadinejad endorsed Riyadh's efforts to resolve the political crisis in Lebanon.
It said the two leaders stressed the need to preserve Iraq's national unity and ensure equality between its citizens.
The agreement to prevent sectarian strife was reported after Ahmadinejad ended a brief visit to Riyadh.
"The two leaders affirmed that the greatest danger presently threatening the Islamic nation is the attempt to fuel the fire of strife between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and that efforts must concentrate on countering these attempts and closing ranks," SPA said.
Ahmadinejad told reporters after returning to Tehran that he discussed with Abdullah "the plots carried out by the enemies in order to divide the world of Islam." "Fortunately we and the Saudis were fully aware of the threats of our enemies and we condemned them," he said, according to AFP.
The Lebanese administration has been crippled by an opposition ministerial walkout and an open-ended protest spearheaded by Hizbullah.
But Riyadh and Tehran recently began working together to reduce tensions in Lebanon, and according to the Saudi account of the talks, Ahmadinejad stated that Iran "assists the kingdom's efforts to calm the situation in Lebanon and end its political crisis."
He and Abdullah expressed the hope that "all Lebanese sides will respond (positively) to these efforts," SPA said.
On his part, a prominent Lebanese opposition leader said a deal to end the country's political crisis could emerge "within 48 hours", a newspaper reported on Sunday. Asharq Al-Awsat quoted Nabih Berri, who is also speaker of parliament, as saying the chances of a solution were greater now than at any other point in the crisis.
Asharq Al-Awsat quoted Berri as expressing more optimism on a deal. He said "the chances of success this time are greater than at any previous time". Berri said a settlement "might appear within 48 hours".
The London-based newspaper said the settlement would include a deal on a unity government as well as agreement on an international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
© 2007 Al Bawaba (