LCCC ENGLISH DAILY NEWS BULLETIN
Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 24,46-53. And he said to them, "Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And (behold) I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."Then he led them (out) as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.
Interview With PM Fouad Siniora.Dar Al-Hayat May 18/07
Latest News Reports
From Miscellaneous Sources for May 18/05/07
Lebanese Coast Guard Arrests Syrian Smugglers.Naharnet
Ban pushes for Hariri tribunal despite Lebanese objections. Washington Times
Welch: U.S. Won't Trade Over Lebanon-Naharnet
U.S. to Work Closely with Sarkozy on Lebanon, Iraq-Naharnet
Welch urges Lebanese MPs to select independent president-Daily Star
Berri: No United Government, No Tribunal-Naharnet
Swiss Diplomat hopeful of Renewed Dialogue-Naharnet
Israel Releases Kidnapped Lebanese-Naharnet
US confirms work under way on draft resolution to establish Hariri tribunal-Daily Star
Russian official says Hariri court needs time-Daily Star
Government touts payment of war compensation-Daily Star
Swiss envoy hopeful of positive dialogue-Daily Star
Siniora insists Lebanon 'cannot bear' failure to create international tribunal-Daily Star
Court Rejects Moving Trial of Failed Germany Bombing Suspects to North Lebanon-Naharnet
U.S. Senate Rejects Iraq Withdrawal Agenda-Naharnet
US moves to reassure Lebanon over Syria.Guardian Unlimited
Opposition warns against UN-imposed Hariri court.Gulf Times
US stepping up sanctions on Syria to force a regime change.Ya Libnan
Embrace democracy, Syria’s top dissident urges Assad.Peninsula On-line
US Lawmakers Seek to Intensify Economic Pressure on Iran, Syria.Voice of America
Hezbollah warns UN against discord.PRESS TV
Hezbollah Speech Not Properly Screened.Washington Post
Hezbollah Takes Root in South America.Lebanese Lobby
Welch leaves Beirut confirming US support for Siniora and ...AsiaNews.it
IDF releases Lebanese man one day after he was detained in north.Ha'aretz
Death by a Thousand Cuts.National Review Online Blogs
Ban pushes for Hariri tribunal
despite Lebanese objections
By Betsy Pisik
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
May 17, 2007
NEW YORK -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he wants an international tribunal to try those suspected of assassinating former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and others -- with or without approval from Lebanon's divided government.
"I am of the conviction that the special tribunal must be established to put an end to impunity for political assassinations," Mr. Ban said Tuesday night at a black-tie dinner hosted by the Korea Society. "Continued uncertainty about the tribunal could negatively affect Lebanon's stability." Hours earlier, Lebanese President Emil Lahoud asked the United Nations not to impose the tribunal, saying it could be used "to support some Lebanese against others."
Mr. Lahoud, who is close to the Syrian government, also said U.N. action would undermine Lebanon's government. Syria, which U.N. investigators have accused of instigating the assassination, also opposes a U.N.-backed tribunal. The United States, France and Britain -- key members of the Security Council -- are drafting a resolution that would create the tribunal. An initial draft could be circulated within a day or two, diplomats said yesterday. "I only hope that the people and government and countries in the region will behave responsibly," Mr. Ban said earlier Tuesday after lengthy discussions with Security Council members.
Underscoring divisions between pro- and anti-Syrian factions within Lebanon's government, Prime Minister Fuad Siniora urged the council to proceed with establishing the tribunal.
He said the political impasse would make it impossible for the Lebanese government to take the necessary steps. Mr. Hariri and 22 others were killed by a massive car bomb in February 2004 in downtown Beirut, an attack so shocking that it galvanized the Lebanese people and the international community to demand Syria's withdrawal of about 24,000 soldiers after three decades of occupation. The Syrian government, implicated in the slayings of Mr. Hariri and dozens of other Lebanese, has flatly refused to cooperate with an international court, saying the nation would try its own citizens under its own laws Lebanese political parties that are sympathetic to Syria also oppose a U.N. tribunal.
Regional governments and some U.N. analysts fear the imposition of the court by the Security Council could touch off a new civil war in the tense and seething Lebanon, whose communal divisions have sharpened since the war between Israel and pro-Syria Hezbollah last summer. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who holds the rotating Security Council presidency this month, told reporters that the council must act on the wishes of the majority in Lebanon's parliament.
The bloc consists of Sunni Muslims and some Christians, who want to see a conclusion to the killing of Mr. Hariri and a half-dozen other hits on high-profile Lebanese citizens. "It is important from our point of view to assist the Lebanese in the establishment of that tribunal," Mr. Khalilzad said.
"It's also very important in terms of the future longer-term stability of Lebanon that such actions be deterred through the judicial process that the tribunal involves," he said. The Security Council, at the request of Mr. Siniora, conducted an investigation to determine who was responsible for the Hariri assassination and the subsequent killings of anti-Syrian politicians and writers. Initial findings pointed squarely at senior members of Syria's military and intelligence services.
Welch: U.S. Won't Trade Over
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch pledged Wednesday that the Bush administration will not use Lebanon as a bargaining chip -- an effort to dispel fears that Washington's recent talks with Syria and Iran could weaken American resolve in the country.
Welch also said he expects the U.N. Security Council will establish an international tribunal in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
He dismissed fears that creating the court, which is at the core of Lebanon's political crisis, without parliamentary approval could lead to violence despite Hizbullah's rejection of such a course. Welch stressed the United States will not abandon Lebanon.
"The future of Lebanon is not something that is negotiable against other interests the United States may have in the area. This won't happen," he told The Associated Press in an interview at the heavily fortified U.S. Embassy compound in Awkar, north of Beirut. "President Bush has pledged to support the country of Lebanon. We will do so," he added. There have been concerns that recent American contacts with Syria and Iran over Iraq could result in a softening of U.S. support for the Lebanese government, which is facing an incessant campaign by the Hizbullah-led opposition to topple it.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem met in Sharm el-Sheikh during a conference on Iraq last month, breaking a high-level boycott for over two years. U.S. and Iran have said they will hold upcoming talks in Baghdad about Iraq's security.
The recent diplomatic shifts have led to fears in Beirut that the Bush administration could trade with the Syrians and the Iranians over Lebanon in return for support to its policies in Iraq, where American forces are coming under attack from insurgents. Washington accuses both Damascus and Tehran of supporting those militants. Syria and Iran deny the accusations. Welch played down the recent talks with Syria and Iran, saying they were "very limited." But his strong message of support for the government of Prime Minister Fouad Saniora during his two-day visit drew even more suspicion from critics.
"Welch has given the ruling team an overdose of reassurance, as if he wants to dispel 'suspicion' of or 'accusation' against his administration," wrote Talal Salman, publisher of the As Safir daily which tilts toward the opposition. "Exaggeration here could lead to more concern among those he had come to assure."
Welch's visit to Lebanon comes amid a political impasse over the tribunal. The U.N. Security Council has authorized creation of the court but its approval has been stuck in parliament, where Speaker Nabih Berri refused to convene a session. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday said it has become necessary for the Security Council to act after receiving a letter from Saniora asking the council to impose the tribunal.
"That's a very powerful recommendation," Welch said of Ban's statement. "I expect the council will act ... in due course, this will pass," he said of the tribunal.
Welch also was critical of Hizbullah for keeping its arms. "We do not understand what is the purpose of the Hizbullah party having weapons," he said.
"What is the intent to use these weapons for? The conclusion that many have is that they want to be able to intimidate their way into politics. That's the wrong basis for a political dialogue in result." Welch said disarming Hizbullah was a matter for the Lebanese to solve. "They're (government forces) the ones who can protect the sovereignty and security of Lebanon, not any individual militia," he said.(AP-Naharnet) Beirut, 16 May 07, 14:01
Swiss Diplomat Hopeful of Renewed Dialogue
Swiss Envoy Didier Pfirter has expressed hope that the rival Lebanese leaders would renew dialogue in a bid to end the ongoing political stalemate.
"I hope that an appropriate atmosphere to improve dialogue between rival Lebanese leaders could be guaranteed in the future," Pfirter said after meeting former President Amin Gemayel on Wednesday. Representing Swiss Confederation President Micheline Calmy-Rey, Pfirter also met with Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, Free Patriotic Movement leader Gen. Michel Aoun as well as with MP Saad Hariri. Gemayel praised Switzerland's "historic" role in helping Lebanon and hosting Lebanese politicians while promoting interaction between them. Beirut, 17 May 07, 11:02
Israel Releases Kidnapped Lebanese
Israel released on Thursday a Lebanese man it kidnapped the day earlier on the outskirts of the village of Shabaa, the National News Agency reported.
It said Hisham Mustafa Dalleh, 35, was handed over to U.N. peacekeepers in the southern coastal town of Naqoura. The Lebanese army later took custody of the man, it said. NNA said an Israeli commando unit seized Dalleh at noon Wednesday as he worked in a field around Shabaa near the Israeli radar base. Beirut, 17 May 07, 10:29
Hizbullah Speech on Official U.S. TV Not Well Screened
Overseers argue that a speech by Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah aired on the U.S. government's Arabic-language satellite TV network was not properly screened for anti-Israel content before broadcast because no supervisor spoke Arabic.
"Mistakes were made," Joaquin Blaya, of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, told the House Middle East subcommittee Wednesday, referring to the broadcast last December and others by the network, Al-Hurra, that he said "lacked journalistic or academic merit." The subcommittee chairman, Rep. Gary L. Ackerman, a Democrat, said in several instances Nasrallah used the U.S. government's satellite television network as a platform for inciting a crowd to violence against Israel.
Hizbullah, which is considered a terror group by the State Department but a legitimate political movement by many Arab governments, fought a war with Israel in Lebanon last summer. In another Al-Hurra broadcast, Ackerman said, Hamas leader Ismail Haniya lent support to the Iranian assertion that the World War II Holocaust against European Jews was a myth.
"Why are American taxpayer dollars used to spread the hate, lies, and propaganda of these nuts, when our goal was to counter them?" Ackerman asked.
Focusing especially on the Nasrallah speech, Ackerman said the Hizbullah leader spoke for more than 30 minutes live on the U.S. network inciting violence against Israel. "Doesn't anybody watch the broadcasts?" he asked. "I can only conclude, based on the trend of the last few months, that Al-Hurra's news executives have decided that pandering is the way to greater audience share," Ackerman said.
Blaya, fellow board members D. Jeffrey Hirschberg and Brian Conniff, head of Al-Hurra's Mideast broadcasting department, called the incidents intolerable and due largely to an absence of Arabic speakers in supervisory positions. "With these program errors standing as painful indicators of the need for additional controls, we are moving forward to shore up our management structure," Blaya said. A new vice president for news, Larry Register, has been appointed, and editors are now accountable for monitoring news items before and wile they are delivered.
Hirschberg said he knew of no recurrences of a few anti-Semitic incidents. "The Broadcasting Board of Governors promotes freedom and democracy," he said.(AP-Naharnet) Beirut, 17 May 07, 09:31
Court Rejects Moving Trial of Failed Germany Bombing Suspects to North Lebanon
An appeals court has rejected a request to move the trial of four men charged with the unsuccessful Germany train bombing closer to the suspects' homes in northern Lebanon. The appeals court rejected the request presented last month by suspect Jihad Hamad's lawyer, and instead the court upheld a Beirut criminal court's decision to keep the trial, set to reconvene Tuesday, in Beirut, court officials said.
At a hearing last month, the defense demanded that the trial be moved to the northern port city of Tripoli, arguing that the suspects' families couldn't afford travel expenses to Beirut, a two-hour drive away. The request was rejected by the presiding Judge Michel Abou Arraj and the defense decided to appeal the ruling. Abou Arraj gave no reason for his decision to reject the defense's request.
However, court officials have said security concerns, including the possibility of an attack to free the suspects, prompted authorities to hold the four in the country's main maximum security prison and to have the court sit in the Lebanese capital. Along with Hamad, the three other suspects on trial and held in police custody are Ayman Hawa, Khalil al-Boubou and Khaled Khair-Eddin el-Hajdib.
Two other Lebanese suspects in the case are not in the country. Youssef el-Hajdib is under arrest in Germany, and his brother, Saddam, remains at large. Both are cousins of Khaled el-Hajdib. Lebanese authorities arrested the suspects on charges for allegedly planting crude bombs on two trains at the Cologne station on July 31. The bombs, found later in the day on trains at the Koblenz and Dortmund stations, failed to explode because of faulty detonators. German surveillance cameras are said to have filmed suspects as they wheeled suitcases into the station. Germany wants to extradite the men, but there is no extradition treaty between Germany and Lebanon. Lebanon has decided to try the suspects in its courts and defer consideration of extradition until later.(AP-Naharnet) Beirut, 17 May 07, 09:05
U.S. to Work Closely with Sarkozy on Lebanon, Iraq
The United States was reportedly planning closer ties and deeper cooperation with French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Lebanon, Iraq and other countries.
"Now is the time for us to join forces ever more closely," U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said on Wednesday, listing Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Haiti as areas of already fruitful cooperation. "We intend to work closely with France's new leadership in a spirit of candor, respect and cooperation," Negroponte said, adding that the two countries also intended to work together to bring stability to Iraq.
The U.S.'s No. 2 official was in Paris for a ministerial meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
He noted that his visit came at a "pivotal time" for France, just as Sarkozy was taking power from Jacques Chirac, leaving office after 12 years as president.
Relations between Washington and Paris reached deep lows under the leadership of Chirac, who spearheaded global opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Sarkozy has made no effort to hide his admiration for the United States and has looked to the U.S. model in his stated bid to rejuvenate the lagging French economy. On winning election May 6, he promised "our American friends" that France "will always be by their side when they need." However, he added that "friendship means accepting that friends can have different opinions." The first test of a renewed friendship could be over Afghanistan.
Sarkozy hinted at a withdrawal of French troops during his electoral campaign, saying he did not consider their presence in Afghanistan "decisive."
Taliban militia who held two French aid workers captive until earlier this month demanded that Sarkozy pull French troops out.
France pulled 200 elite forces out in December. About 1,000 regular troops remain as part of the NATO mission. Negroponte underscored the importance of the French role in the volatile country, but denied his remarks were a message to Sarkozy, "because my understanding is that we have solidarity between us on the question of Afghanistan." Asked whether Chirac was right about the Iraqi invasion being a mistake, Negroponte laughed and replied in diplomatic terms.
"Whatever differences might have existed in the past on the question of Iraq, we must work together going forward," he said.
"We look forward ... to working with the government of France to find ways of being supportive of Iraq in the future," said Negroponte, who served as ambassador to Iraq.(AP-Naharnet) (AFP photo shows John Negroponte) Beirut, 17 May 07, 07:08
Berri: No United Government, No Tribunal
Lebanon's Syrian-backed opposition on Wednesday warned against plans for a U.N. resolution to set up an international court over the 2005 killing of former Premier Rafik Hariri.Parliament speaker Nabih Berri, a member of the Hizbullah-led opposition, accused the anti-Syrian majority in parliament of sabotaging efforts to reach an accord in Beirut to establish the court without foreign interference.
He said in a meeting with U.S. Middle East envoy David Welch he had been working for months to clinch a national consensus on the tribunal.
"The problem is not the tribunal but the creation of a government of national unity," a key demand of the opposition whose six ministers quit the Western-backed cabinet last November, said Berri. With the political crisis now six months old, the United States said on Tuesday it expects to circulate a draft resolution in the UN Security Council this week to create the court. "We expect to introduce a resolution before the end of this week," U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters in New York, adding it was in response to a request from Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's government.
The opposition in Beirut, however, and President Emile Lahoud, who is also backed by Damascus, contends the cabinet lost its legitimacy with the departure of the pro-Syrian ministers. On Monday, Saniora sent a letter to U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon asking him "as a matter of urgency to put before the Security Council our request that the special tribunal be put into effect" to try suspects in the Hariri murder.
Ban has endorsed plans by the United States, Britain and France to introduce the draft under Chapter Seven of the U.N. Charter that would effectively impose the creation of the tribunal. "I think it is necessary for the Security Council to take the necessary action," the U.N. chief told reporters. "I am of the view that there should be no impunity for the perpetrators of political assassinations." Hariri and 22 other people were killed in a massive bomb blast in February 2005, widely blamed on Syria, which was then forced to end nearly 30 years of military and political domination of Lebanon.
Saniora pressed for a binding Security Council resolution because the opposition has been blocking parliamentary ratification of the tribunal plan.
Khalilzad, who chairs the 15-member Security Council this month, told reporters that it was "important to assist the Lebanese" in setting up the tribunal. "We cannot let the Lebanese down," he said. The key question remains whether China or Russia, both allies of Syria, would support such a draft.
Asked whether imposing the tribunal on a divided Lebanon might not spark civil war, Khalilzad replied: "We understand that there are some risks but the risks of not taking action are greater." In a letter addressed to Ban, Lahoud warned on Tuesday that "ratifying the international court by the U.N. Security Council would imply a full bypass of the constitutional mechanism in Lebanon." He charged that the international community was meddling in Lebanon's domestic affairs and taking sides in the political crisis. "The United Nations will be held responsible for any Security Council resolution that pushes Lebanon into discord, and we warn against such a decision," warned Hizbullah. Damascus denies any links with the February 14, 2005 assassination. It has made clear it will not allow any Syrian to be tried by a court it regards as an affront to its sovereignty.(AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, 16 May 07, 17:37
Welch Urges Presidential Elections On Time
U. S. envoy David Welch on Wednesday urged Lebanon to hold presidential elections on time without foreign interference.
"The next step for the future of Lebanon should be to elect a good, decent president who is not beholden to anyone except for the Lebanese people," Welch told reporters after meeting Prime Minister Fouad Saniora. "The Lebanese people have a unique opportunity now to take their future in their hands by electing a new president on time, in accordance with the constitution, and free of outside interference," Welch said.
"For the members of Lebanon's democratically-elected parliament, casting a vote for president, freely and without coercion, would be a significant milestone towards the Lebanese people's goal of sovereignty and independence." Lebanon has been in turmoil since the mandate of Damascus-backed President Emile Lahoud was extended for three years in September 2004 under a Syrian-orchestrated constitutional amendment.
The country has remained split between pro- and anti-Syrian camps, with the gap widening after a series of murders of anti-Syrian figures widely blamed on former powerbroker Damascus -- accusations that Syria has denied. Parliament is due to choose a new president on September 25 before Lahoud's term expires on November 22, although there are fears the vote may not take place due to lack of quorum.
"The United States does not expect someone to be a leader in this country to agree with us all the time, that's not the issue," said Welch, the first U.S. official to visit Lebanon since Israel's war with Hizbullah last summer. "The issue is: Are they going to be overly responsive to any other outside party," the US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs said. Welch said that during his meeting with Saniora, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned the prime minister on her way back to the United States from Russia. "She was able to convey to the prime minister her personal support for the government and for Lebanon," he said.
Welch, who also met pro-Syrian parliament speaker Nabih Berri and his main Christian ally in the opposition, General Michel Aoun, said his visit was meant to assure that "American support for Lebanon remains strong and unshakeable." He said President George W. Bush had asked Congress for substantial new funding to support economic and security reform in Lebanon. "The objective is to help rebuild after last summer's conflict, to promote prosperity, economic reform, economic development, job creation and to advance Lebanon's goals for transparency, accountability and change," he said.(AFP-Naharnet)
Beirut, 16 May 07, 17:19
Interview With PM Fouad Siniora
Ghassan Charbel Al-Hayat - 17/05/07//
Al-Hayat went to the sleek, firm man with the reader's questions and the accusations of his opponents…
London- Rafik Hariri told his companion and friend Fouad Siniora several times: "Put in mind the possibility you may head the government". Siniora would hastily reply: "God forbid". Al-Hariri was not obsessed with the possibility he would be the victim of assassins. He was thinking of possible alternatives in the event of complications imposed on his relations with Damascus and the president, and of distancing himself from the post of prime minister to reduce tensions, while his party retained power and his project remained dominant.
Rafik Hariri tasted the fruit of his extension of power, and then kept away. The winds of Resolution 1559 blew, so did the winds of the parliamentary elections, and it seemed he was preparing to avenge himself through the ballot box. On February 14, 2005, he was excluded from the equation. Siniora says that Hariri paid the price for his stature and for the clashes in the game of politics, which is so great in such a small country.
In July of this volatile year, Siniora was hoisted to the post of prime minister after record results. From the first moment, the government toyed in its hands a grenade ready to explode, namely, the international court to investigate Hariri's assassination. The series of assassinations that Lebanon witnessed made it difficult for the government to exist with the grenade in its hands. On July 12, 2006, Lebanon was hit by another 'earthquake.' A few hours after Hezbollah carried out an operation outside the Shebaa Farms area, in which Israeli soldiers were killed or taken prisoner, Ehud Olmert's government unleashed its killing machine on Lebanon. The war was a milestone in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Resistance rained thousands of missiles on the towns in northern Israel. The image of the invincible army was damaged; so, too, was the image of Israel's decisive deterrent capability and its ability to win a lightning war. The war did not stop until after the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1701, which bore the features of the Seven Points that Siniora says Hezbollah supported 100% through the visual and audio media.
Controversy over the war and Hezbollah's armaments quickly became another explosive ready to blast the government of Siniora. It seems that the profound disagreement over the court lit the spark. The Shiite ministers resigned and the differences over the court became confused with the issue of the legitimacy of the government, and the opposition did not wait to pitch its tents to besiege the cabinet building from December 1st last. The sleek and firm man did not quickly fall. Those who had gambled on his surrender were mistaken. But the skirmishes around the cabinet building created the opportunity for the winds of sectarianism to blow over Lebanon in a way never seen since its independence. Lebanon smells the scent of civil war although the various factions have reiterated their refusal to slide into armed conflict, while the country is turning into an arena for a duel between two camps; one Lebanese, and the other regional and international.
Who is Fouad Siniora? What does he want? Where did he come from? Is he lucky or unlucky, or both? How can he dare make decisions on major and serious issues? What is the story of the war and his relation with Hariri?
Many questions crossed my mind, because I am only recently acquained with him. I think that the same questions occurred to the readers of al-Hayat, which mentions Siniora's name every day because he is a man at the heart of events and also stands in the eye of the storm.
A few days ago, President Siniora was in London on a private visit. He seemed he was resting after the fatigue caused by the storm, and was preparing for another. I was dismayed he was spending a few days away from the opposition and its art which embitters his residence in the prime minister's palace. So I decided to spoil his holiday by going over with some questions and accusations, to which he responded with an open mind.
Here is the full transcript of the first installment.
Al-Hayat: When you heard of the operation carried out by Hezbollah outside the Shebaa Farms area on July 12 last, were you afraid Israel would wage war on Lebanon?
PM Siniora: I was having a meeting with His Excellency President Emile Lahoud when we were informed of the operation. After the meeting, I sent for Haj Hussein Khalil (the political aide to the Secretary-General of Hezbollah, Mr. Hassan Nasrallah), and discussed the issue with him. I asked him, "Why the operation, and why outside the Shebaa Farms?' He replied: "We got the chance." I asked him:"Did you consult anyone?' He said, "Like whom?" I answered: "The government. Are you confronting it with a fait accompli?" I reminded him of what Mr. Nasrallah had said in the national dialogue, that the Resistance would not interfere in operations, and, if it did, it would only be as a reminder to the enemy in the Shebaa Farms area. I asked him, "What will the Israelis do?" He answered: "Nothing". I said to him: «Don't you see what is happening in Gaza?". He answered: "Lebanon is not like Gaza". I said: "They can do like what they are doing in Gaza, and more, and Lebanon is not ready to face a situation like that." He ruled out a response of that kind. In the end, I told him, "What happened has happened, how do we cooperate to contain any reaction?" Hours later, the war started.
Al-Hayat: Is it true that the Israeli objectives included vital targets besides the ones that were bombed?
PM Siniora: Yes, and they said they were going to take Lebanon twenty years back in time. There were a number of targets: bridges, the airport and power stations, and others. This is why we acted to maintain our links with all the decion-making parties in the world: the permanent members of the Security Council, and all the influential countries, and the Secretary General of the United Nations, as well as the Arab countries. The purpose of the communication was to stop Israeli aggression, or mitigate it, if it was impossible to stop it. We fought a tremendous diplomatic and media battle.
Al-Hayat: Did you succeed in saving some of the objectives from being bombed?
PM Siniora: I think the most important goal for the Israelis was to hit the power stations, the airport and other vital installations.
Al-Hayat: Who helped you?
PM Sinora: The Permanent members of the Security Council. Israel was determined to bring Lebanon to its knees and destroy its economy and we were acting to prevent this.
Al-Hayat: Who stood beside Lebanon?
PM Siniora: France was at the forefront of those who moved to help us. Russia also contributed. There was also understanding with President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chinese officials. But the person one should most cordially mention is President Jacques Chirac. Honestly, he has done Lebanon a lot of favors. His attitude was firm. He has always been on the side of Lebanon. Mention may be made of the April Understanding in 1996 which gave international recognition of Lebanon's right to resist occupation. Of course, the role of prime minister al-Hariri played an important in reach that understanding. And President Chirac's role was evident in Paris 1, Paris 2, Paris 3.
The Seven Points
Al-Hayat: The war started, so where did the idea of the Seven Points come from?
PM Siniora: The Seven Points are 100% Lebanese.
Al-Hayat: Aren't they the result of a 'diktat,' as the opposition claims?
PM Siniora: No one forced the Points on us, neither the Americans, nor anybody else. They are completely a Lebanese conception- they were entirely my idea.
Al-Hayat: Where did they stem from?
PM Siniora: From the outcome of what we saw during that period and from what we believe. The Seven Points include a ceasefire, an Israeli withdrawal, the release of Arab prisoners and Israeli soldiers and the restoration of the Shebaa Farms to Lebanon. My position was, and remains, that Lebanon is not in the process of abandoning an inch of its land. From the very beginning, I adopted the idea that we should liberate the Shabaa Farms, return to the armistice agreement, and extend Lebanese sovereignty to the whole territory- in other words, the Lebanese army would enter the South, which was forbidden to it. I also wanted the necessary support for Lebanon to overcome the crisis caused by Israel, which has long persisted Resolution 1701 was based on the Seven Points
Al-Hayat: Was the original wording of the draft resolution harsher?
PM Sinora: Of course, that is well-known. The government rejected the first draft of the Resolution because it imposed more conditions on Lebanon. I rejected the draft. When the attack happened in Qana, I contacted Speaker Nabih Berri and told him I would ask the American Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, not to come to Lebanon. And he in turn said: 'I am going to the prime minister's palace to see you. We issued a joint statement. I said: 'This is my stance, and if they want to bomb the palace I can't stop them.' I took a very tough attitude, and we managed to achieve a change in the interest of Lebanon. If it had not been for our collective stance, we would not be where we are now.
I do not deny that we had two options: either to bow to those who stood and repulsed the Israeli occupation with their bodies- these I salute and bow to their sacrifices, as I bow to the sacrifices of the Lebanese people, those who stood their ground, or were forced to flee but remained firm. These are facts that must be recorded. We should record also that this government, which has been made to drink a bitter cup at one time, is a government of political resistance that was able to mobilize all the world by Lebanon's side, impose the Seven Points and change the draft of Resolution 1701, make the decision to send the army to the South and took the attitudes that led to the withdrawal of Israel from all the territories it occupied recently. All that would not have happened if there was no government that could take this stance on behalf of the Lebanese people.
Al-Hayat: Did Hezbollah frankly approve the Seven Points?
PM Siniora: Yes, Hezbollah totally approved the Seven Points. It openly expressed its sytance: at the Council of Ministers meeting on July 27 [he is reading out from some papers]; after the Council of Ministers heard what took place in Rome; after the interventions of a number of ministers who participated in the conference and other colleagues; when the council discussed the President's speech and confirmed its support and sponsorship of all its content and praised his role in managing affairs and following them up at all levels. Then came the spiritual summit. After that, there was another meeting of the Council of Ministers on August 5 government, which declared, "The Council reiterates its adherence to the consensus of all the Lebanese around the Seven Points and hopes that everyone will distance themselves from everything that could affect the unity of the national stance" Minister Mohammed Fneish, (of Hezbollah) said : "The Council of Ministers agreed on the mechanism of decision-making based on the Seven Points, according to the discussions held by the Council of Ministers". He added: "These are the points agreed upon. We have compared them with the proposals made in the Security Council and we will accept any part of these proposals that are compatible with the Points"
Al-Hayat: Were the Seven Points issued in coordination with Speaker Berri?
PM Siniora: Yes, absolutely.
Al-Hayat: Did Hezbollah adopt a different position?
PM Siniora: Absolutely not.
Al-Hayat: How do you explain the return of the party to a kind of ambiguity on these points?
PM Siniora: Perhaps some felt that the topic had become serious. Perhaps they thought it would not be, and so went along with it. Speaker Berri knows that all the envoys who have come to us, especially the Americans, French and British, did not object to any of the points drawn up by the Lebanese government, which were approved unanimously by the Council of Ministers and were mentioned in my speech in Rome and adopted by the Council of Ministers to the letter. Let me go back to what the Secretary-General of Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, said before the cameras: "I urge the Lebanese government to further political steadfastness and adherence to the Seven-Point plan agreed upon by all the Lebanese. Any divergence from the plan, which is considered in our view the preservation of our minimum national rights and demands, is a defection from the unanimity that we were anxious to achieve in the all previous stages."
Al-Hayat: Then, has the equation changed?
PM Siniora: Perhaps… the Shebaa Farms
Al-Hayat: Is there anything new about the United Nations' efforts concerning the occupied Shebaa farms?
PM Siniora: A United Nations team is drawing up a map to delineate Lebanon's rights, basing themselves on all the information we have given them and the archives of the French, which contain data on the twenties of the last century. Work is continuing, and I have hopes.
Al-Hayat: Is it true that the Iranian Foreign Minister has welcomed the United Nations mandate of the Shabaa Farms during the transitional phase?
PM Siniora: The Iranian foreign minister visited us at the time and said that he would prefer if the farms were handed over directly to Lebanon. We told him that we also believe that would be better but that we were looking at what was currently possible. He was not pleased, but we consider that the resolution of the issue must be Lebanese in the end. I discussed the same subject with the Syrian Foreign Minister, and he was satisfied. Then, in contradiction to his attitude, we heard later the words of the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, in which he stated that the liberation of the Shebaa Farms should be linked with the return of the Golan Heights, and that they are subject to resolutions 242 and 338. We take the position that the farms are subject to resolution 425, and that is Lebanon's position basically. In the last meeting, the Syrian foreign minister affirmed that Syria had no objection to the Shebaa Farms being under United Nations mandate or, in other words, to UNIFIL forces being deployed there. I welcomed this attitude. The Secretary-General of the United Nations is supposed to present a report in June which will include the latest on the Shabaa Farms issue.
Al-Hayat: What are the recordings that Hezbollah says will disclose the positions of some parties if they are released?
PM Siniora: There are no secrets in such matters. Issues are raised in the Council of Ministers and every minister has the right to express his opinion and concerns. The decision is always important. Supposing that the debate was about the decision to send the army to the South and there emerged different points of view, and then the decision was taken. What is important in the end is the resolution. There are no secrets in these matters and the minutes exist.
Al-Hayat: It has been said that some of the principal parties in the government wanted a prolongation of the war so that Hezbollah would be forced to disarm.
PM Siniora: In all honesty, I never heard anyone speaking at the Council of Ministers with that kind of logic. The government's position was clear. And the position I expressed was clear. Our dominating thought was to stop the war immediately. That is what we said in Rome and elsewhere. Now there are those who make allegations and invent stories. This saddens me. Israel fastened an unjust war on Lebanon. Israel's claim that Hezbollah crossed the Blue Line in no way justifies the war it launched. Even those in the world who support the Israeli position said that the response was not commensurate with the incident. The Lebanese government moved from the first moment to stop the war.
It saddens me when I say compare between where we were and where we are now. We as Lebanese were united to stop the aggression and have Israel withdraw and send the Lebanese army to the South. Where is this common stance today? I do not think that Israel ever dreamt of breaking up the Lebanese position and causing disunity as we Lebanese have succeeded in doing. Unfortunately, there is the decomposition today of the Lebanese Front not seen in the history of Lebanon.
Al Hayat: The tribunal is of an international character. Is that the problem?
PM Siniora: We have felt for quite time some that the issue of the Court is the focal point of what we are witnessing. The first time we disagreed on the issue was when Gebran Tueini was assassinated; we had to push it forward, but some ministers abstained. Then we went back to talking of the Resistance, but this was not really the issue. In the national dialogue we were agreed on the issue of the Court. The dialogue unanimously approved of the Court and Commission of Inquiry into the assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri, and related issues.
Al-Hayat: Then the tribunal is the problem
PM Siniora: It is one of the obstacles. For the record, I say: I kept on repeating, 'What are your observations and concerns, let us discuss them.' As God is my witness, on the day we approved the establishment of the Court after the assassination of Pierre Gemayel (12-11-2006), I contacted the Secretary-General of the United Nations. I told him, 'Today, we approved of the text which is supposed to be the basis of a Bill that will be sent to the House of Representatives. Some ministers had submitted their resignations because a meeting was fixed to consider the issue of the court.
Al-Hayat: Why did you rush into it and not heed the calls for patience?
PM Siniora: Speaker Nabih Berri has blamed me for not contacting him to fix a meeting of the cabinet. But he admits that I contacted President Emile Lahoud, and I told him I had to go to Japan and Korea, and that, by the the constitutional authority invested in me, I would hold a cabinet meeting on Monday if that was convenient for him; if not, then on Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday. I told my executive partner, His Excellency, the President the days he could choose. As far as Speaker Berri is concerned, there is the distribution of authority. My main concern was not to return to the Troika, which the Lebanese have from. We fixed the date for the meeting and then I contacted Kofi Anan. I told him I might go back to him and ask for some amendments. I make it appoint of considering my colleagues' concerns. Frankly, things happened that were unjustified: linking the Court with the government's legitimacy; the attempt to thrust the situation into the labyrinthine corridors of the government and divert attention from the Court. We should not politicize the issue of the Court. The first steps of politicization are to link the Court with the government. The two issues are different and should remain separate.
Al-Hayat: There are those who say that a court of an international character is more than Lebanon can bear.
PM Siniora: Lebanon cannot sustain the failure to establish a tribunal. It touches the heart and essence of fundamental justice in the country and will lead to the continued obsession with assassinations; it will be a sword hanging over the necks of the Lebanese.
Al-Hayat: Are you delegated the authority to write a letter to the Security Council approving of the Court under Chapter VII?
PM Siniora: The cabinet wants a price for that. I will do what is appropriate.
Al-Hayat: What happens after the Court is approved?
PM Siniora: I believe that all eyes are now on the presidential elections, and we should proceed in that direction. What do the Lebanese people want? They do not want to surrender an inch of their land, and they do not want their country to be a battleground, or that there would be one alliance against another. Lebanon is an Arab country. The Taif Agreement has settled this. We do not want to replace the Syrian presence with American or Iranian or any other presence. Lebanon must be open to the world and our common enemy is Israel. The Lebanese want a return of State sovereignty. Ignore all the talk that is spreading around. They want a homeland and schools and job opportunities. They do not want to forsake the Resistance, and whoever does is a traitor. But we want the sovereignty of the State.
Al-Hayat: Are contacts between you and Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah severed?
PM Siniora: There is virtually no communication between us because of the security situation. Sometimes people come to visit me and others go to visit him.
AL-Hayat: What about your estrangement from Speaker Berri?
PM Siniora: I tried more than once to remain in contact with him.
Al-Hayat: How do you explain his breaking off relations with you?
PM Siniora: Perhaps he is embarrassed. But I have nothing for him except goodwill. President Berry cites Elzimkhshari from time to time, as if Elzimkhshari was a talisman. Elzimkhshari is one of the most important interpreters of the Koran and the hadith. I once commented on this, when I went to the Arab Book Exhibition (a few weeks ago), and went to a publishing house and picked out two of Elzimekhshari's volumes and sent them as a gift to Speaker Berri.
The strike and storming the Searil
Al-Hayat: When the opposition went on strike in Riad Solh Square and pitched its tents, were you afraid the protesters would storm the Serail?
PM Siniora: My cabinet colleagues tell me they never saw me so calm. I was not afraid at all. As God is my witness, I was never so calm.
Al-Hayat: Perhaps because you knew the opposition wouldn't do it?
PM Siniora: I have a lot of faith in God and the Lebanese. I am confident they are too wise to do such a thing.
Al-Hayat: You are accused of having played the Sunni card cleverly, and brought the masses into the streets by appealing to the Sunnis
PM Siniora: Lebanese of all factions came to me. They were exercising their right of freedom of expression, like the other Lebanese. I cannot be an obstacle to their desire to express themselves. I believe that this government is a majority in the House of Representatives. This is the democratic system, whether we like it or not. We must acknowledge it. And they know that the government is supported by the majority of the Lebanese. I do not disparage the importance of the factions the opposition mobilized; I respect and bow my head to them. At least 60% of the Lebanese people support the government, and this is the result of the opinion polls; and the percentage is increasing. I do not forget those who oppose the government, so why should they ignore the majority of the people, who support the government? We extend our hands and open our hearts to those who oppose us. They are the sons of Lebanon. For this reason I constantly made up pretexts to reach out to them. They are my people. For your information, I am the inventor of the theories, 19 + 10 + 1 and 17 + 13. The Former means to take from the parties what would force them to try to meet on common ground: take from the majority the power to dictate terms; and take from the minority the ability to hold things up.
Al-Hayat: Why is amity lacking between and General Michel Aoun?
PM Siniora: No, that's not true. There is no estrangement between me and any Lebanese leader. I talked with him after I returned from Paris. When I talk with him personally, things are like milk and honey. I contact him and I send him greetings on occasions. Of course, we hear later that things are different.
Al-Hayat: Did you seriously try to let Aoun's bloc join the government?
PM Siniora: Yes, I did, but he would insist on provisions that didn't fit into the structure.
AL-Hayat: did he insist that one of the members of his bloc be made minister of justice?
PM Siniora: Yes.
PM Siniora: I do not know. He wanted three of his people to be ministers, one of them as ministry of justice. I wish he could have been with us. The fact is, the cabinet is not a place for controversy. It's a place to agree on policies. The government appears before the House, which determines its destiny. Questioning the government is not conducted through speech sessions, invectives, and then passing a vote of confidence. See how the parliaments in Europe function.
Al-Hayat: Has the result of the incidents at Beirut Arab University abated for the moment, in terms of the sectarian clash between Shiites and Sunnis?
PM Siniora: I was at the Paris when I received news of the clashes. I received a proposal to institute a curfew and call out the army in strength. I agreed immediately, and contacted the commander-in-chief of the army and Speaker Berri