March 6/2007

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 6,36-38. Be merciful, just as (also) your Father is merciful. Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you."

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Deal or no deal, Lebanese politicians have no more time to waste-Daily Star March 06/07

Latest News Reports From miscellaneous sources For March 6/07
Hizbullah Throws Ball in Government Court-AP
Saudi Ambassador Scouts Settlement to Lebanon's Crisis-AP
Lebanese Suspect Testifies to Planting Bomb on German Train-AP

Lebanon war probe pits Israeli army against lawmakers-AP
Saudi Provides Syria Protection Against Politicizing Hariri Court-Naharnet
Saudi King Calls for Lebanon Dialogue in Riyadh-Naharnet
Arab League with Lebanese Understanding on International Court-Naharnet
Brammertz in Saudi Arabia for First Time-Naharnet
Lebanon farmers risk death amid unexploded bombs-AP
Iran Supports Efforts to End Lebanon Crisis, Fight Inter-Muslim Strife-Naharnet

Hezbollah plays down new war threat-Jewish Telegraphic Agency March 06/07
Israeli minister postpones Egypt visit- AP

Latest News Reports From the Daily Star For March 5/07
Olmert faces rebuff over rocket strikes during war
All sides see imminent solution to Lebanese crisis
Amal delegation visits French peacekeepers
Mount Lebanon mufti praises Saudi-Iranian talks
Israel beefs up patrols along Blue Line
Sfeir asks leaders to 'choose their words carefully'
Fatah chief says Al-Qaeda has no presence in camps
Customs police seize 25 assault rifles from SSNP member
Civil society leaves its mark(s) against political impasse
Officials in Sidon meet to counter surge in drug use

Saudi Provides Syria Protection Against Politicizing Hariri Court
Saudi Arabia has provided Syria protection against politicizing the international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri, the daily As Safir said Monday. The paper quoted Arab sources as saying Riyadh stands by its statement that the kingdom "is open to any amendments that fall within the realm of uncovering the truth" in the Hariri murder. There is "total understanding" between Iran and Saudi Arabia over the tribunal, the sources added. They said the kingdom has informed parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri that the tribunal should be one of criminal and not political court. Beirut, 05 Mar 07, 08:13

Saudi King Calls for Lebanon Dialogue in Riyadh
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has called on rival Lebanese leaders to meet in Riyadh in order to reach a settlement to the ongoing political crisis that has paralyzed the government for three months, a Lebanese newspaper reported Monday. The daily Al Akhbar, citing a prominent political source, said Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Abdul Aziz Khoja promptly requested to meet with Lebanese leaders upon his return to Beirut from Riyadh on Sunday. The paper quoted the source as saying that the feuding Lebanese political camps were discussing Abdullah's invitation and ways to work out a deal prior to Riyadh's meeting. Last month rival Palestinian factions signed a power-sharing accord in Mecca aimed at ending months of bloodshed. Lebanon has been gripped in a power struggle between Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's government and the Hizbullah-led opposition which has been demanding the formation of a veto-wielding national unity cabinet. Beirut, 05 Mar 07, 10:44

Brammertz in Saudi Arabia for First Time
Chief U.N. investigator Serge Brammertz has traveled to Saudi Arabia in the first such visit to the Kingdom, An Nahar daily reported Monday.
It said Brammertz left Beirut Sunday night in what was seen by the Lebanese media as a visit linked to the Saudi-Iranian summit.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad supported on Sunday Riyadh's efforts to resolve the political crisis in Lebanon and agreed with Saudi King Abdullah to counter attempts to fuel Sunni-Shiite strife. An Nahar quoted an informed source as saying the issue of the Special International Tribunal for Lebanon that will try ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's suspected assassins has entered "the intensive care unit" on the regional and Arab levels after the meeting between Ahmadinejad and King Abdullah. Brammertz's visit to Saudi Arabia also comes ten days ahead of a report he is due to submit to U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon on progress made in his probe on Hariri's Feb. 2005 murder. Beirut, 05 Mar 07, 10:15

Hizbullah Throws Ball in Government Court
Hizbullah on Monday said a breakthrough in the ongoing political crisis has emerged, but threatened that unless the ruling team responded positively to it, the opposition will escalate its campaign to topple the government. "Prospects of a settlement are in the horizon," resigned Hizbullah cabinet minister Mohammed Fneish said.
"If the governing team did not respond (to a settlement), then the opposition will resort to escalation until the ruling team quits betting on external powers and returns to the needs of the national interest based on partnership," Fneish added.He said the prospect of a settlement emerged as a result of the Iranian-Saudi summit in which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad supported Riyadh's efforts to resolve the political crisis in Lebanon. Beirut, 05 Mar 07, 13:58

Lebanese Suspect Testifies to Planting Bomb on German Train

A Lebanese citizen testified to judicial interrogators Monday to planting one of the bombs used in last year's abortive attempt to blow up two German trains, a judicial official in Beirut said. The suspect, Jihad Hamad, told an investigating magistrate that he was trying to avenge the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, the official said. Lebanese authorities arrested Hamad and three other suspects on charges of planting bombs on two trains at Cologne station on July 31. German surveillance cameras are reported to have filmed the suspects as they pulled wheeled suitcases in the station.
The bombs were found later that day on trains at Koblenz and Dortmund stations. Their detonators went off but failed to ignite the explosives.
On Monday, police took the four suspects under heavy security from Roumieh prison east of the Lebanese capital to the Justice Palace in central Beirut, where they underwent preliminary interrogation by Judge Michel Abu Arraj. Hamad, who hails from the northern city of Tripoli, told the judge that his aim was not to kill but to defend Islam, the official said. He said he was retaliating for the publication of 12 cartoons that satirized the Prophet Muhammad.
One of the drawings, which were first published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in September 2005, showed the prophet wearing a turban shaped like a bomb. The cartoons, which were republished in German and other European papers, sparked outrage across the Muslim world.
The head of Germany's Federal Crime Office, Joerg Ziercke, has said that the train-bomb suspects were also motivated by the June 7 killing of al-Qaida leader in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in a U.S. airstrike. No date for Hamad's trial has been set. The three other suspects in custody are Ayman Hawa, Khalil al-Boubou and Khaled Khair-Eddin el-Hajdib, whose brother Youssef is under arrest in Germany in connection with the case. German officials have also arrested a 23-year-old Syrian, Fadi al-Saleh, on suspicion that he did research on the Internet to prepare the bombings. Germany wants to extradite the suspects, but there is no extradition treaty between the European country and Lebanon. Lebanon has decided to try the suspects in its courts, as they were arrested on its territory, and defer consideration of extradition until later.(AP-Naharnet) Beirut, 05 Mar 07, 16:38

Iran Supports Efforts to End Lebanon Crisis, Fight Inter-Muslim Strife
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad supported Riyadh's efforts to resolve the political crisis in Lebanon and agreed with Saudi King Abdullah to counter attempts to fuel Sunni-Shiite strife, official 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 also 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 overshadowed by the ongoing Sunni-Shiite violence in Iraq and a political deadlock in Lebanon which has raised fears of similar infighting. Relations between regional heavyweights Iran and Saudi Arabia have been strained over non-Arab Iran's growing influence in Iraq and its perceived backing of Shiite militias battling the once-ruling Sunni minority there.
"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.
He did not specify who the enemies were. Iran's chief Western foe, the United States, is one of Riyadh's closest allies.
Lebanon has also severely tested ties between predominantly Shiite Iran and Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia, which provides substantial financial aid to Beirut and has close links with Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's government.
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.
The two leaders affirmed that they were keen on preserving "Iraq's independence, national unity and equality between its citizens," it said.
"We discussed the Palestinian and Iraq issues comprehensively. We have common views in this regard," Ahmadinejad told reporters at Tehran's main airport.
Ahmadinejad "voiced support for the (Saudi-authored) Arab peace initiative endorsed by the Arab summit in Beirut in 2002," SPA said without elaborating.
Under the plan, the Arab world would normalize ties with Israel in exchange for a full withdrawal from Arab land occupied since 1967 and the establishment of a Palestinian state. Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, has said that Israel should be "wiped from the map" and is doomed to disappear.
Ahmadinejad's visit came at a time when his country is under intense Western pressure over its nuclear programme. Saudi Arabia champions a nuclear-free Middle East, but is also keen to avert a US-Iran military showdown which could destabilise the entire Gulf region.(AFP-Naharnet)(inside AP photo shows Ahmadinejad, center right, arriving at the airport in Riyadh, as Saudi officials stand during a welcoming ceremony, on Saturday March, 3, 2007.) Beirut, 04 Mar 07, 10:28

Arab League with Lebanese Understanding on International Court
Arab foreign ministers have instructed Amr Moussa to continue his talks to find a solution to Lebanon's crippling political crisis and urged the country's bickering parties to reach an understanding over the international tribunal. An Nahar daily said Monday that the ministers urged the Arab League chief to continue consultations and talks with "Arab countries and the Lebanese government as well as the various political parties in Lebanon" to reach a settlement. The foreign ministers, at the end of their meeting in Cairo Sunday, urged Lebanon's feuding parties to reach "an understanding over the international tribunal" that would try suspects in ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's assassination and other "terrorist crimes since Minister Marwan Hamadeh's murder attempt."An Nahar said the ministers also voiced support for Lebanon's "right to establish normal and healthy relations with sister countries on the basis of mutual respect for sovereignty and independence…," in a reference to Syria. Beirut, 05 Mar 07, 08:12

Gambling with death in south Lebanon fields by Sylvie Groult

Sun Mar 4, 6:11 PM ET
AIN BAAL, Lebanon (AFP) - For weeks Ali Nasser waited for the bomb disposal team. But the arrival of spring left him no choice but to go to his fields, sown with hundreds of unexploded cluster bombs by the Israeli military last year. The alternative is to lose the tobacco crop which provides the means of feeding his 11 children each year, and which normally brings him 10 million pounds (6,580 dollars, 5,000 euros)."How can I feed my family? I can't wait, I must sow the crop," said this farmer in south Lebanon where hundreds more like him face a daily gamble with death in their own fields. The United Nations estimates that "about a million cluster bombs which did not explode" are scattered across south Lebanon where they have killed 30 people and wounded 187 since the 34-day war ended last August 14.
But, said Nasser: "If I don't deliver the tobacco to the state, I have no money. So I continue to work -- each morning I go to the fields with my children."
Nasser, 54, found the first cluster bombs -- bomblets enclosed in a larger bomb which scatter on impact -- last year after the end of Israel's offensive against Lebanon and Shiite Hezbollah guerrillas. "It was in August, seven days after the end of the war. I went with the whole family to our fields," he recalled. "My daughter discovered them, one shaped like a ball, another with a ribbon, and one which ressembled a telephone. She started laughing -- she did not know what they were."
He went for help to the UN's anti-mine coordination centre. "They came for a first time and told me they would return," the farmer said, adding that nothing happened.
By September he was getting desperate to attend to his plants and, on the advice of a neighbour, approached a Palestinian living in a nearby camp.
"For 100 dollars he worked for a whole day. He picked up bomblets and hurled them as far as he could so they exploded," Nasser said.
"Others he collected using sticky paper and depositing them in a fruit crate on a layer of straw. The crate stayed there for three days and then disappeared with the contents."Relieved, Nasser went back to working with his tractor in the fields on the edge of Ain Baal village, near the port city of Tyre.
But early in February, cluster bombs started to reappear. Three surfaced, while Nasser suspects others still lurk buried in the soil.
"I returned to the anti-mine centre. The next day they came, took the three away and told me 'Don't touch your land, we are going to return' to clear it. I am still waiting," he said.
At the anti-mine centre, spokeswoman Dalya Farran said 855 areas with unexploded bomblets had been listed, and added that "more than 100,000 of these devices" have been recovered by the 63 teams, civilian and military, working to made the region safe again. But the controversial weapons have continued to claim victims such as 15-year-old Ahmad Naji, who had attended a school lecture on the dangers of the bomblets just two weeks before he lost his left foot.
"The cluster bomb was hidden under a stone. It exploded when I put my foot on that," said the teenager, sitting at home in Batoulay village and wearing a gold medal he had earlier won for running, his favourite pastime. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has estimated that the Israeli offensive on Lebanon and the war with Hezbollah cost the country's agricultural sector 280 million dollars.
In the south, planted with tobacco and olive trees, the FAO says one quarter of cultivated land has been made unusable by unexploded munitions.
The United Nations has asked Israel for months -- in vain -- to tell it where the Jewish state's aircraft unleashed their deadly cargoes. "If the Israeli government had provided us with this information it would have greatly helped our work," said Farran.  Colonel Hendrik Van Sluijs, commander of the Belgian contingent of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), said the bomb-clearance focus had been first on inhabited areas and then on the fields to enable the people "to harvest, cultivate, to live."  "But as time passes, the work becomes increasingly difficult. With the rain, the land moves, objects are displaced, often becoming buried in soil; and as vegetation grows, the cluster bombs become invisible," he said. After clearing up those lying on the surface "we explore each square centimetre, to a depth of about 20 centimetres (about eight inches) with mine- and metal-detectors," said the colonel. He estimates that it will take "between six months and two years" to clear the region infested with the lethal, and widely condemned, munitions. "But to clean it up 100 percent is impossible. The risk will always remain," he added.

Deal or no deal, Lebanese politicians have no more time to waste
Monday, March 05, 2007
Editorial-Daily Star
The weekend discussions between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Saudi King Abdullah have unleashed a wave of optimism in Lebanon, prompting several politicians to indicate that the country's political stalemate could soon be resolved. It is to be welcomed that external parties appear to have made headway toward defusing a Lebanese crisis, but this development does not absolve Lebanese leaders of their domestic responsibilities. Unless local figures are ready, willing and able to do the heavy lifting required to manage Lebanon's political scene on a day-to-day basis, it is just a matter of time before another crisis requires outside mediation to avoid a national disaster.
Even if the optimists are proved correct and foreign parties broker a truce in the very near future, there will still be plenty of work for Lebanese politicians to do. The implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, for instance, is a complicated challenge that will require diligence and statesmanship from all quarters of Lebanon's broad political spectrum. No party should forget that living up to its end of the bargain is essential if Lebanon is to have any chance of getting the international community to make Israel abide by the terms of the resolution as well.The problems that need to be addressed also include the Lebanese state's massive debt and habitual deficit spending; the many culs de sac that mark the country's haphazardly compiled Constitution; the absence of an independent judiciary and a parliamentary election law that was written by an occupying power.
It is crucial for the country's leaders to begin tackling these and other pressing issues in the coming weeks if they are to restore confidence in the country's economy and stability. Only when the current period of uncertainty has been demonstrably ended or at least contained will it be possible to start luring back the tourists who are so important to Lebanon's economic revival, not to mention the tens of thousands of foreign expatriates and native Lebanese who have fled the threat of chaos for less unpredictable shores abroad.
To do this, both sides of the political divide have to engage in consensus-building within their respective camps. With so many divergent voices included in the ranks of both the ruling coalition and the opposition, any one faction could easily disrupt efforts to break the country's political deadlock or cause new impasses over issues that cannot be foreseen. Both sides need to take steps to ensure that their members focus on the common denominator that all Lebanese factions share: Lebanon. Until now, genuine concern for the country has been buried under a mountain of harmful slogans, accusations and irresponsible mudslinging. The attention spans of regional powers are not infinite: They will not concentrate on helping Lebanon indefinitely, especially if the Lebanese do not help themselves.

Israel's army, legislature battle over Lebanon war
By Jeffrey Heller
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A rare court battle pitting Israel's armed forces against its legislature erupted on Monday over a probe into last year's Lebanon war that could be critical of the military and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government. The general heading the Home Front Command asked the High Court to stop a parliamentary committee from meeting on Tuesday to hear an interim report by the government's main watchdog into civil defense activities during the 34-day conflict.
The findings of the investigation conducted by the State Comptroller's Office could set the bar for a separate government-appointed commission examining the way the military and Olmert's cabinet conducted the inconclusive war.Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas fired thousands of rockets into Israel in the July/August war, forcing more than a million people to take to bomb shelters and many to rely on food deliveries by the army. State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss investigated complaints the shelters were not adequately prepared and military and civilian authorities failed to cater for the needs of a populace under daily fire.
Petitioning the court, Major-General Gershon Yitzhak, the Home Front chief, argued the session of parliament's State Control Committee must be delayed until he can study and respond to the preliminary report, delivered to the military on Monday. The court scheduled a hearing for Tuesday, just two hours before the committee is to meet. Committee chairman Zevulun Orlev of the opposition National Religious Party has insisted the session go ahead as planned and said it would not deal with assigning individual blame.
Olmert was not a party to the legal papers filed by the chief military defense attorney and Yitzhak's personal lawyer but the prime minister made a similar argument on Sunday. In the letter to the parliament speaker's bureau, Olmert accused the comptroller's office of failing to solicit a government response before publishing its findings.
"I see no room" for plans to release it at a parliament committee meeting on Tuesday, Olmert wrote. The state comptroller had demanded that Olmert appear before him and a team of investigators to answer questions in the probe. Olmert has refused, saying it would be unprecedented for an Israeli prime minister to do so. Olmert also said Lindenstrauss had delayed sending him a list of questions and failed to give him enough time to submit comprehensive written replies. The comptroller, in a statement, accused Olmert of foot-dragging. Israeli political commentator Shimon Shiffer, writing in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, quoted Olmert's "inner circle" as saying the prime minister had decided to stand up to Lindenstrauss and dissuade him of "any visions of grandeur." The comptroller has been examining the terms of sale of Olmert's house in Jerusalem in 2004, his role in the 2005 privatization of an Israeli bank and appointments he made to a state-funded business authority three years ago while industry and trade minister. Olmert has denied any wrongdoing. His political future could hang on those investigations and the results of the more wide-ranging Lebanon war probe launched by the Winograd commission of jurists, whose preliminary report is widely expected to be released within weeks.

My Enemy's Enemy
By James Dobbins
This commentary appeared in International Herald Tribune on February 27, 2007.
WASHINGTON: Somehow, the United States has maneuvered itself into a position where most Shiite and most Sunni, most Arabs and most Persians alike seem to regard America as their enemy. In fact, one of the few things the warring factions have in common is their opposition to the United States. American forces in Iraq are being attacked on one side by Sunni insurgents, ex-Baathists and Al Qaeda operatives, and there is no sign their hostility to the U.S. is abating.
These groups are also hostile to Iran, which is backing the other side in the civil war — Shiite parties that dominate the current Iraqi government and their armed militias.
How has the United States managed to provoke opposition from all sides in this conflict?
And why does Washington embrace a Shiite dominated government in Baghdad while seeking to isolate, coerce and destabilize that government's only regional ally, Iran? "My enemy's enemy is my friend" has been a staple of realist statecraft since time immemorial. During the Napoleonic wars, Britain subsidized any government that would oppose the Corsican upstart. In 1941, responding to criticism over his embrace of Stalin's Russia, Winston Churchill declared that "if Hitler invaded hell, I would at least make positive reference to the devil in the House of Commons." At the height of the Cold War, President Richard Nixon sent National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger on a secret mission to Beijing in order to forge an informal alliance with Mao's China against the Soviet Union.
This same maxim drove American policy toward the Middle East throughout the Cold War. In the 1950s, as left-leaning regimes like that of Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser veered toward the Soviet Union, the United States engineered a coup in Iran in order to install the conservative regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. When the shah fell to revolutionary Islamist forces in 1979, the U.S. shifted its support to neighboring Iraq, ruled by the leftist but secular Baathist government of Saddam Hussein.
With the end of the Cold War, American leaders began to feel themselves no longer bound by the traditional constraints of realpolitik. As the world's only superpower, the United States dispensed with balancing strategies in the Middle East. Emboldened, Washington felt able to confront both Iraq and Iran simultaneously. Dual containment, as this policy came to be called, was not a neoconservative invention. It was first enunciated by the Clinton administration, which sought to isolate and destabilize both Iran and Iraq. Dual containment worked so long as the regimes in Iran and Iraq hated each other even more than they hated the United States. Each contained the other, requiring only a minimum of additional effort from the United States to sustain the process for more than a decade.
But by invading Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, the United States removed the principal props from the dual containment strategy without changing the underlying policy. The Bush administration first installed a pro-Iranian regime in Kabul and then another in Baghdad. Suddenly, there no were no regional counterweights to Iran. Both the Northern Alliance elements in Afghanistan and the Shiite factions in Iraq had been recipients of Iranian support long before the United States interested itself in their causes. Both regimes also recognize that they will have to depend upon neighboring Iran long after the United States departs the region.
As a result, neither the Afghan nor Iraqi government is going to collaborate in a U.S. effort to isolate Iran, to contain its influence, or destabilize its regime.
That does not mean that the governments in Kabul or Baghdad will become Iranian puppets, but simply that they will never ally themselves with the United States against their powerful and friendly neighbor. At the moment, American efforts in Middle East are neither containing Iran nor stabilizing Iraq. It is unlikely that the United States can succeed in either task as long as it tries to do both at the same time. Sometimes, even the world's only superpower must chose.
If stabilizing Iraq is the top priority of the United States, as most Americans currently believe it should be, then some accommodation with Iran is needed. This is because Iran is the only potential source of regional support for the U.S.-backed regime in Baghdad.
Such an accommodation was the recommendation of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group that President George W. Bush chose to ignore.
But if destabilizing Iran is the top priority, then the United States will need to abandon the pro-Iranian regime it has created in Iraq.
As long as America fails to make this invidious choice, U.S. troops will remain in the crosshairs of both Sunni and Shiite militants in Iraq, Iran will remain in the ascendance, and the Middle East will become more violent and unstable.  The United States may still be influential enough to do almost anything, but it is not powerful enough to do everything. When it tries, it risks achieving nothing.
**James Dobbins, former U.S. assistant secretary of state, is the director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization.