May 30/2007

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark 10,28-31. Peter began to say to him, "We have given up everything and followed you."
Jesus said, "Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel  who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come. But many that are first will be last, and (the) last will be first."

Free Opinion
Expect a dialogue of the deaf with Syria.By Barry Rubin. May 30/07
Jihadists moving into Lebanon from Syria.By Christopher Allbritton.THE WASHINGTON TIMES. May 30/07

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for May 30/05/07
Terrorist Mastermind Arrested at Beirut Hotel. Naharnet
Soldier killed in fighting at Lebanon camp.Middle East Online
UN readies for landmark vote on Hariri court.Gulf Times
Sporadic clashes rattle north Lebanon camp.Reuters
Lebanon court could come to Cyprus.Cyprus Mail
Syria's Assad: anti-US president.France24
Lebanese tourism staggered by another summer on the edge of disaster.Globe and Mail
Aoun told France supports Lebanon's independence & stability.Ya Libnan
Qatar sides with Syria & Iran in opposing Lebanon tribunal.Ya Libnan
Why Lebanon's Army will invade Naher al-Bared.Ya Libnan
Hariri: 'Evacuation of civilians at Lebanon camp is our first priority.Ya Libnan
Regional leaders scramble to resolve Lebanon's political and ...Daily Star
Siniora: 'Peaceful solution' must purge Fatah al-Islam.Daily Star
UN team set to assess security on Syrian border-Daily Star
Clerics mediate as army tightens grip on Nahr al-Bared-Daily Star
Brammertz wants to switch jobs - report-Daily Star
American legislator voices support for strengthening of Lebanese Parliament-Daily Star
Committee scraps Karami memorial ceremony-Daily Star
Sfeir expresses concern over security situation-Daily Star
Europe pledges aid to displaced Nahr al-Bared refugees-Daily Star
Uneasy Barbir residents resume daily routines following late-night blast that wounded five-Daily Star
Accident of geography turns building with view of camp fighting into media Mecca-Daily Star
Nahr al-Bared crisis takes toll on most vulnerable-Daily Star
Weak regulations block efforts to reduce tobacco usage-Daily Star
Swiss-run children's camp gears up for summer program-Daily Star

Lebanese Soldier Killed in Nahr al-Bared Fighting
A soldier who was shot by Fatah al-Islam militants during exchanges of gunfire with Lebanese troops at the northern Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared has died of his wounds, security officials said Tuesday. They said the soldier was hit in the head by sniper fire Monday afternoon and later died in hospital.
His death brings to 31 the number of soldiers killed in the fighting since May 20. On-again-off-again clashes with automatic rifle fire, rockets and artillery in the early afternoon on Monday and again late at night left one Lebanese army soldier wounded. Lebanese troops have been besieging Nahr al-Bared since last Sunday when fighting broke out with Fatah al-Islam militants holed up inside the camp. A truce Tuesday halted the fighting, but intermittent clashes have ensued on an almost daily basis. Hundreds of troops have been encircling the camp, with the government threatening to storm the shantytown if the militants do not surrender. Fatah al-Islam has vowed to fight to death. Mediators from major Palestinian factions have been pressing for a negotiated solution.(AP-Naharnet) Beirut, 29 May 07, 07:21

Woman Killed in Car Chase in Beirut
A woman passenger was killed in a car chase in Beirut's Ashrafiyeh neighborhood overnight after the vehicle her husband was driving failed to stop at a police checkpoint, police said on Tuesday. They said after a chase of several hours, the woman was found in the car, bleeding from a bullet wound.
Police said the driver, who had refused to stop at the checkpoint because he was wanted on undisclosed charges, was later caught by security forces.
The death of the woman, who was identified as Fatmeh Fattouh, brings to four the number of people killed in similar incidents in Beirut where security has been intensified because of heightened tensions in Lebanon. Lebanese troops on Monday opened fire at a speeding taxi cab which drove past their checkpoint near Beirut Airport, killing three people, including a Syrian convicted of forgery.(AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, 29 May 07, 12:37

Terrorist Mastermind Arrested at Beirut Hotel
Lebanese security agents arrested a terrorist mastermind at a Beirut hotel Tuesday and confiscated a list of targets for possible terrorist attacks, a reliable source told Naharnet. The source said the suspect was carrying a forged Lebanese identity card that identified his first name as Hagop, which is a common Armenian name.
However, the suspect is a national of a gulf country and has been living in a hotel in Beirut's Ashrafiyeh district for 10 days, according to the source.
The source, who asked not to be identified, said police anti-terrorism officers busted the suspect's suite, arrested him and confiscated at least 10 forged passports for Arab and western countries. The bust also resulted in confiscating "maps, pictures and lists of names for targets of terror attacks in Lebanon, the Arab world and Europe," the source added. He said the bust was a "major catch. We have foiled a series of terrorist attacks that would have claimed thousands of lives if carried out," the source told Naharnet. The suspect's "hotel suite" had been under surveillance for a while, the source said. He said Fatah al-Islam terrorists arrested by police in the northern town of Tripoli "told investigators about the suspect." Police have arrested at least 90 people suspected of affiliation with the Fatah al-Islam terror network that is based in north Lebanon's Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared. Beirut, 29 May 07, 16:45

Expect a dialogue of the deaf with Syria
By Barry Rubin
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Recently, there have been calls in the United States to "talk" to Syria. However, the problem is not so much talking to Syria, in a manner equivalent to having a cup of coffee with someone of the opposite gender. The real issue is that the West is looking for a long-term meaningful relationship with the possibility of compatibility or even marriage. But Syria is already married to Iran, a sugar daddy too well-heeled to give up. Besides, it wouldn't be long before Syrian President Bashar Assad would ask to borrow the keys to Lebanon, dent the car, and refuse to return it. Certainly, he might swear that it is all over between him and Hamas or Hizbullah, but soon you'd be finding that's not the case. He would soon expect the US to wash his dirty laundry for him. Syria's regime has gotten plenty of changes from the West and each time the result is the same: a broken heart and the need to get a restraining order.
The Syrian regime and its apologists, as well well-intentioned but poorly informed people, advocate concessions to get talks started and keep them going to prove Western good intentions. How, they say, could Syria negotiate while under investigation for the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri's, murder? How could Syria be asked to cease provoking instability in Lebanon unless it be given power there? If Syria sponsors terrorist attacks, subverts Lebanon, represses dissidents, or promotes violence in Iraq, nothing in a talking process would punish Damascus in the hope of having the matter solved. In the meantime, Syria would have a free hand to do what it pleases.
What can negotiators offer Syria that it wants without further destabilizing the region? Should they force Lebanon once again to become a Syrian colony? Implant a government that Syria likes in Iraq? Give the regime money so it can better pursue its ambitions? Hand over all the Golan Heights plus a slice of Israeli territory without Syria making fulland permanent peace with Israel - an outcome ensuring more war?

Consider, for example, this fully frank dialogue with Syria over Iraq's future:
American negotiator: "So, President Bashar, what kind of Iraq would you like?"
Bashar: "An Iraq that would be anti-American, dominated by Iran, supporting Hizbullah and Hamas, ready to fight the Arab-Israeli conflict forever, dominated by the Sunni minority holding down the Shiite-Kurdish majority or an Islamist state, and not too democratic so as to avoid giving my own people a bad example."
American negotiator: "I'm sure we can work something out!"
Similarly, the regime will not give up its enmity against an independent Lebanon, or Israel, under any circumstances because it needs to control the former and fight the latter in order to win the struggle to retain popular support at home. Thus, the issues on which it has grievances cannot be resolved because its own actions and inflexibly maximalist demands are the very factors blocking a solution.
Syria has been brilliant at creating and maintaining such Catch-22 situations, where the only way to "solve" a problem is to buy Syrian "cooperation" with deals that would make things worse. Syria has acted as the arsonist who sets the fire, then has played the role of fireman who would put it out only on condition that the burning property be given to it. This was how Syria fomented terrorism in Lebanon against Western peacekeeping forces in the early 1980s, driving them out and then offering to stabilize Lebanon by controlling it completely. The same approach was applied to the Palestinians, in post-Baath Iraq, and in Lebanon again.
Lebanon was indeed the masterpiece of this political genre. Thus, Syrian Minister of Information Mohsen Bilal explained, "How can we be asked to disarm Hizbullah [since] we're out of Lebanon?" But what if Syria was allowed to return to Lebanon in force, would it then clamp down on Hizballah? Well, on another occasion, Bilal was asked: "Will you be using your influence to persuade Hizbullah to disarm, or not?" His response: "Why on earth should we?" In fact, Hizballah is the main element in Syria's plan to recapture Lebanon entirely. If the West wants a stable Lebanon, or to avoid more Lebanon-Israel wars, it has to confront Syria, not make a deal with it.
What the West needs to deal with Syria is a properly realistic assessment based on the facts about Assad, the regime, and the country. Syria is a weak and fragile entity, dependent largely on oil income and European commerce. The regime has flourished to the degree it has from enjoying a free ride - a lack of pressure except for American economic sanctions.
There is a proper, traditional "realistic" way to handle such problems. It is not by propitiating aggressors and begging them to make a deal on their terms but by pressuring and deterring them. To do so requires credibility and patience, a demonstration that the West will not cave in or be worn down to surrender. In Syria's case, it must be denied assets, isolated, and its endeavors frustrated. This requires using everything from trade measures to counter-alliances, serious criticism, and other types of operations.
Likewise, Syrians must be shown that their leaders are a failure and can offer neither lasting glory nor material gains. The regime must be contained until it retreats. This can be a long process but it is ultimately a less costly one than the alternatives.
**Barry Rubin is author of the recently published "The Truth About Syria" (Palgrave-Macmillan). This is an edited extract from his book.

Jihadists moving into Lebanon from Syria
By Christopher Allbritton
May 29, 2007
NAHR EL-BARED, Lebanon -- Heavily armed foreign jihadists have been entering Lebanon from Syria from around the time Western authorities noticed a drop in the infiltration of foreign fighters from Syria to Iraq, Lebanese officials say.
Syrian authorities, hoping to disrupt Lebanon so they can reassert control of the country, "have stopped sending [the jihadists] to Iraq and are now sending them here," charged Mohammed Salam, a specialist in Palestinian affairs in Lebanon. "They sent those people to die in Lebanon."
Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, commander of Lebanon's Internal Security Forces, said about half of the militants who have been battling Lebanese forces in the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp outside Tripoli for nine days had fought previously in Iraq.
"They are very dangerous," he said in an interview. "We have no choice, we have to combat them."
Officials traveling with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said before Miss Rice's meeting with her Syrian counterpart in Egypt early this month that Syria appeared to be taking "positive" steps to guard its border with Iraq, resulting in a reduced number of jihadists crossing the border.
But U.N. officials running the Nahr el-Bared camp told The Washington Times that a large band of foreigners carrying mortars, rockets, explosive belts and other heavy weapons entered the camp in a group several months ago.
That is near the time that infiltration of militants from Syria into Iraq fell off, according to Lebanese authorities, who suspect the jihadists were simply redirected by Damascus. Several thousand residents have been trapped in the Palestinian refugee camp since fighting broke out May 20 between the army and several hundred militants of a group called Fatah Islam, which includes a large number of foreign fighters.
Palestinian leaders tried yesterday to negotiate an end to the standoff, in which Lebanese army forces are ringed around the camp, but Prime Minister Fuad Siniora insisted that the militants surrender and face justice. Gen. Rifi said the foreigners began arriving in Lebanon during the war between Hezbollah and Israel last summer, when between 60 and 70 jihadists were integrated into Fatah al-Intifada, a group set up by Syrian intelligence in the 1980s.
In November last year, a Palestinian with Jordanian citizenship named Shaker Youssef al-Absi broke with Fatah al-Intifada and set up a new group, Fatah Islam, based in the Nahr el-Bared camp. Gen. Rifi said Fatah Islam has about 250 fighters, of which about 50 have been killed so far.
"They are parasites," the general said. "Even in Nahr el-Bared, there are not a lot of Palestinians with Fatah Islam."
The original group had about 30 to 40 Lebanese members and 20 Palestinians in the leadership positions, Gen. Rifi said. The rest were made up of fighters from Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Yemen, Algeria and even from as far as Bangladesh.
Residents of the camp appear to have been terrorized by the jihadists, according to interviews with Palestinians who fled for their lives over the past week.
The militants "were shooting at anyone who moved," said one refugee who declined to give his name. He said he could tell they were foreign by listening to their accents, but his wife shushed him and he said no more. Gen. Rifi said there are several more cells of foreign jihadists scattered around Lebanon. Some are in the Palestinian camps, some are in Tripoli and some are in Beirut. Another government official said some were based in the Bekaa Valley.
"Some [Gulf] Arabs, originally from al Qaeda, joined the group," Gen. Rifi said. "But they are false al Qaeda. Our al Qaeda is made in Syria."
Money for the fighters comes from local criminal activities, such as bank robberies -- one of which sparked the current standoff -- and support from Gulf countries and "local politicians," said a senior regional military source. "They're part of the global jihad," he said. Many government supporters think the timing of this flare-up, given an upcoming U.N. Security Council vote on the formation of an international tribunal to investigate the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, indicates Syria's involvement. "It's actually a Syrian-sponsored and -coordinated move to send these jihadis into Lebanon to topple the regime," said Mr. Salam.
Syria has been using the militant Shi'ite group Hezbollah to advance its interests in Lebanon, but Mr. Salam suggested Damascus was worried about inflaming religious tensions with the Sunni-led government that could spill over into Syria. The Syrians "wouldn't mind demolishing Lebanon, but they didn't want to do it with a Sunni-Shi'ite war because that could cross the border into Syria. So they got Sunnis to fight Sunnis," the analyst said.

Three People, Including Syrian Convicted of Forgery, Killed at Army Checkpoint
Lebanese troops opened fire at a speeding taxi cab which drove past their checkpoint near Beirut Airport, killing a Syrian convicted of forgery as well as two other Lebanese citizens. Police identified the fatalities as Hamadeh Mahmoud Haj Ahmad, a Syrian, and Hussein Karaki and Qassem Noureddine, both Lebanese citizens.
Security Sources told Naharnet on Monday that Haj Ahmad was driving the vehicle at high speed, and refused to slow down upon instructions from soldiers manning a checkpoint near the airport. "He smashed the obstacles and drove past the checkpoint waving his middle finger at soldiers," one source told Naharnet.
The troops fired "warning shots, and when the driver failed to pull over they opened fire at the car. Hussein Karaki, a Lebanese citizen who was sitting next to the driver, was killed and Haj Ahmad was seriously wounded," the source added. Haj Ahmad later died in the hospital, said the sources, adding that Noureddine, a passer-by who was caught in the shooting, also died from his wounds shortly afterwards. The sources said Haj Ahmed did not stop at the checkpoint apparently because he had been convicted by a Lebanese court on forgery charges. They noted that non-Lebanese are banned by law from driving taxi cabs "which raises questions as why Haj Ahmad, a Syrian, was driving a commuting vehicle owned by a Lebanese citizen."Registration documents show the car, a white Mercedes Benz, is owned by Lebanese citizen Ali Mohammed Fares who would be interrogated to find out why his vehicle was being used by a foreigner, the source told Naharnet. The sources said the car was carrying two passengers, in addition to the Syrian driver. They said only one traveler obeyed orders to step out of the vehicle before Haj Ahmed and Karaki sped away. They said the passenger who got out of the car was detained for questioning. TV footage showed the car, with its front damaged, resting on a ramp in the middle of the road about 200 meters from the terminal building. Troops manned the sidewalk checking IDs, but the road to and from the country's only international airport remained open. Later Monday, an assailant tossed a concussion grenade at a municipal building containing a prison in the eastern city of Zahle, causing panic but no injuries, police officials said. On Sunday evening, five people, including three servicemen, were wounded when unknown assailants tossed a hand grenade from a speeding car off Beirut's Barbir Bridge, falling near an army checkpoint. Lebanese troops and police officers have erected hundreds of checkpoints in Beirut and other cities to tighten security following what appears to be a series of bomb blasts aimed at destabilizing Lebanon. Fatah al-Islam, a terrorist faction fighting the Lebanese army in the north, has vowed to strike at other areas. Lebanese authorities say Fatah al-Islam is a Syrian-sponsored terrorist organization. Syria denies the claim. Beirut, 28 May 07, 19:01

UN readies for landmark vote on Hariri court
Published: Tuesday, 29 May, 2007, 07:29 AM Doha Time
UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council gears up for a landmark vote this week to set up an international court to try suspects in the murder of Lebanese ex-premier Rafik al-Hariri, which could heighten divisions in volatile Lebanon. Acting at the request of embattled Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, the council is weighing a draft resolution put forward by the US, Britain and France to create the court in line with a deal reached between the UN and the Beirut government.
“We are headed toward a vote on that resolution early next week,” US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad, who chairs the council this month, told reporters on Friday. Late Friday, the Western sponsors circulated an amended version of the draft setting June 10 as the date for the creation of the court unless rival Lebanese factions reach their own deal first, which would allow the treaty to come into force sooner.
The treaty signed by the UN and Lebanon “shall enter into force on June 10, 2007, unless the government of Lebanon has provided notification ... before that date” that it and the opposition have agreed to ratify it within the national constitutional framework, said the amended draft.
A Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said delaying until June 10 the coming into force of the tribunal treaty was a response to objections by some council members who pressed for a grace period to allow the Lebanese rival parties to reach an internal agreement.
But in any case the tribunal is not likely to be up and running until several months after the treaty enters into force.
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 in Lebanon. An initial UN inquiry into the Hariri slaying implicated Damascus, which has denied any involvement. The sponsors of the draft are stressing the need for the council to act in view of the failure of the rival Lebanese parties to ratify the tribunal plan. Lebanon’s pro-Syrian opposition objects to the way the Beirut government has handled plans to create the court under UN auspices and has so far managed to block all moves to set up the court.
Siniora’s Western-backed government in turn accuses allies of Syria of trying to block the creation of the tribunal under pressure from Damascus.
Khalilzad made it clear that setting up the tribunal was meant to ensure that there be no “impunity for political assassinations” and to deter such crimes in future.
But Russia, a veto-wielding council member and traditional ally of Syria, objects to the draft’s reference to Chapter Seven of the UN Charter, which is invoked in cases of threats to international peace and security.
A Western diplomat however said the sponsors were insisting on invoking the chapter to send “the clearest signal” to the Lebanese parties that the creation of the tribunal cannot be challenged. The 15-member council scheduled discussions on Lebanon for today after the long US Memorial Day weekend and diplomats said a vote on the draft was likely tomorrow. The Lebanon-UN deal envisages a mixed tribunal composed of two chambers, a trial court composed of three judges - one of them Lebanese alongside two foreigners - and an appeals court with five judges, including two Lebanese.
For reasons of security, administrative efficiency and fairness, the tribunal would be located outside Lebanon. Both Cyprus, Italy and the Netherlands have been mooted as possible sites, diplomats said. n A UN team arrived in Lebanon yesterday to check on reports of arms smuggling from across the border with Syria in violation of UN resolutions, a diplomatic source said. The team was due to meet army and security officials controlling the border during the two-week mission requested by the UN Security Council, and then draw up a report for UN chief Ban Ki-moon, the source said. Ban said last week the team “will review the roles of relevant agencies, with particular attention to current national customs and border monitoring capacities, as well as progress made by security and customs agencies in strengthening their control of the border.” – AFP

Lebanon court could come to Cyprus
THE UN is expected to decide this week whether it will set up an international court to try the suspects in the murder of Lebanon’s ex-premier Rafiq Hariri and whether it will be in Cyprus or the Netherlands. The US, Britain and France have drawn up a draft resolution to create the court in line with a deal between the Lebanese government and the UN. “We are headed toward a vote on that resolution early next week,” US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad, who chairs the council this month, told reporters in New York at the weekend. On Friday, an amended draft set a deadline of June 10 for the creation of the court, which must be set up outside of Lebanon for security reasons. It said the treaty “shall enter into force on June 10, 2007, unless the government of Lebanon has provided notification... before that date” that it and the opposition have agreed to ratify it within the national constitutional framework, the amended draft said.
However, even if a decision is taken this week to set up the court, it is expected to take months before it is up and running. A discussion is due to take place today at the Security Council and a vote could happen as early as tomorrow. The treaty between Lebanon and the UN calls for a three-bench court made up of one Lebanese judge and two foreign judges. A second chamber to handle appeals would be composed of five judges, including two Lebanese and three foreigners.
Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2007

Syria's Assad: anti-US president wins second term
Send by e-mail Save Print Syria's President Bashar al-Assad is a young would-be reformer who has won another seven-year term in power after refusing to bow to Western pressure for reform or to renounce his anti-US credentials.Assad, running in a no-contest referendum on Sunday, came to power in July 2000 with the reputation of a modernist, but his efforts to implement change fell flat in the face of his late father's rigid military-political system.
For the second time, he was elected president with more than 97 percent of the vote, according to the official results.
The sternest political challenges have been a UN probe implicating Syria in Lebanese ex-premier Rafiq Hariri's murder in 2005 and isolation over US claims Damascus is backing the insurgency in Iraq and Middle East "terrorists". Assad -- which means lion in Arabic -- showed little interest in politics as a young man but the June 2000 death of his father, Hafez al-Assad who had ruled Syria with an iron grip for three decades, propelled him to power. When he took office, the slim, blue-eyed opthalmology major promised to inject new freedoms and open up Syrian society. But the reforms he began, known as the "Damascus Spring," proved short-lived, as members of the old guard stifled his initiative and steered him toward more orthodox, authoritarian policies.
With little room for manoeuvre, Assad soon began to speak of "economic reform before political reform", like in China. In 2003, he said the opposition had "misunderstood" his references to democracy during a speech on investment. "Syria has said no to a false democracy which brings chaos," Interior Minister Bassam Abdel Mejid said on Tuesday, announcing the referendum results. Earlier this month, the United States condemned Syria's jailing of several prominent political activists as proof of what it called the country's "continued contempt for human rights".
On the economic front, with oil reserves running out, almost 10 percent of Syrians live below the poverty line, according to a UN document, amid a housing crisis and high inflation although the economy grew 5.4 percent in 2006. Syria forecasts economic growth of around seven percent for 2007, Economy Minister Amer Lutfi said in state newspapers on voting day. Tall but shy, Assad bears a physical resemblance to his father, from the breakaway Alawite Muslim sect, who took power in a 1970 coup. The elder Assad proved remarkably adept at navigating crises -- both domestic and international -- during his 30 years in power, but his son has yet to establish himself in a similar way. Critics say Assad's inexperience has made it difficult for him to establish Syria's place in the new world order, with its former Soviet ally dissolved, the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq that toppled neighbouring Baath party leader Saddam Hussein, and increasing Western pressure for Syria to democratise.
"Syria has become a dictatorship without a dictator," said a European diplomat in Damascus. Born on September 11, 1965, Assad speaks perfect English and French, having studied at the Franco-Arab Al-Hurriyet school in Damascus before going to medical school.
There was nothing to suggest that, as the second son of the president, Bashar was destined for high office. Between 1988 and 1992 he chose to study opthalmology in Tehran, before going to London for further studies.But his life was changed in 1994 by the death in a car crash of his older brother Bassel who was being groomed for the presidency. Bashar was forced to return to Damascus to embrace politics. In a country where a military career often opens the door to a political career, Bashar became a tank battalion commander in 1994, then lieutenant-colonel in 1997, before being promoted to colonel in January 1999.
He was elected to the top body of the Baath party at its first congress for 15 years in June 2000, and parliament passed an amendment to the constitution, scrapping the minimum age limit of 40 to allow Bashar to run for president.He took office as president on July 11, 2000.
Assad has two sons and a daughter with his wife, Asma, who comes from a wealthy Sunni family and studied economics and computer technology. The president shares her passion for computers and information technology.

Lebanese tourism staggered by another summer on the edge of disaster
From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
May 28, 2007 at 10:48 PM EDT
BYBLOS, LEBANON — Jose Abed had to think a bit before he could remember the last time business was good at his family's fish restaurant. It was three years ago, he decided, just before this country began to jerkily, often violently, unravel. In better times, Pepe's Fishing Club was a magnet for tourists and wealthy Lebanese who came to drink arak and munch mezze, or appetizers, on the restaurant's stone terrace, which leans out over the idyllic port of this ancient city.
The restaurant's walls are lined with photographs of those good old days, when everyone from Marlon Brando and Brigitte Bardot to Paul Anka and Jacques Chirac made the short trek north of Beirut to be seen dining here. There were nights, it's said, when you could hear the party at Pepe's echo across the bay.
Monday afternoon, the restaurant sat so quiet and empty that if you strained, you could hear the fishing boats bobbing in the harbour. Only a single waiter was needed to serve the few diners who sat clutching guidebooks in one hand and scooping hummus with the other.
The latest crisis to hit Lebanon's crucial tourism industry is the nine-day-old armed standoff between the fundamentalists of Fatah al-Islam and the Lebanese army at a refugee camp in the north of the country. The battle, which has left dozens dead, has been accompanied by a series of mysterious bombings that have targeted shopping malls and cafés in and around Beirut, scaring away business just as the normally busy summer season was about to start.
“If it lasts, it will be a disaster. Not only for our business, but for the whole country,” Mr. Abed said. “The country lives on tourists.”
The militants and the army exchanged heavy gunfire again Monday at the besieged Nahr al-Bared camp, an hour's drive north of Byblos and Pepe's restaurant, while in a separate development that reflected the growing tensions around the country, two men were killed by army fire when they refused to halt at a checkpoint near Beirut airport, an hour's drive to the south.
It's the third summer on the edge for Lebanon, a nation deeply divided between Christians and Muslims, Sunnis and Shiites, Palestinians and Lebanese, as well as pro- and anti-government forces. Many worry that the tiny country, which was only starting to emerge from the nightmare of 15 years of civil war, can no longer stand the strain. Mr. Abed identifies Feb. 14, 2005, as the moment his business, and Lebanon, started to sour. That was the day former prime minister Rafik Hariri and 20 others were killed by a massive truck bomb in the centre of Beirut. In the 28 months since then, Lebanon has seen a pro-Western revolution, a string of more than a dozen assassinations and assassination attempts, and a 34-day war between Israel and the Hezbollah militia.
In addition to the current crisis at Nahr al-Bared, the centre of Beirut is blocked by a non-stop protest by Hezbollah and its allies that is aimed at bringing down the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. Mr. Siniora, incidentally, is the third man to try to head a government in the past two years. He remains in control, but parliament hasn't been able to meet since the standoff with Hezbollah began more than six months ago. The words “failed state” are hard for observers to avoid.
If many Lebanese are becoming increasingly used to living with the drama, tourists are staying away.
Even before the fighting at Nahr al-Bared began, more than 100 restaurants and tourism-related businesses were forced to close in the first four months of this year as the number of arrivals at Beirut airport plunged by more than a third compared with the start of 2006. “People are scared. They won't come here,” said Salam Jaber, whose money-changing shop's front was blown in by a bombing last week in the mountain resort town of Aley. The town is usually popular with tourists from the Persian Gulf, and the blast damaged several fast-food restaurants and clothing stores on a stretch that another year might have been packed with tourists.
Mr. Jaber blamed Syria, which he said wants to control its smaller neighbour, for the explosion across the street and for the country's other troubles, including Fatah al-Islam. It's a popular theory, but one that has as many doubters as adherents. Not only the Syrian government, but also Israel, Iran and the United States more than dabble in Lebanon. Damascus and Tehran aid Hezbollah, while the West has repeatedly propped up Mr. Siniora's wobbly administration. All sides see the power struggle as one that could influence the fate of the entire Middle East.
To the 200,000 Lebanese employed in the tourism sector, the protests, bombs and gunfights add up to a sustained attack on their wallets. Tourism accounts for more than 10 per cent of all economic activity, and hopes were once high that the industry could rapidly triple in size as memories finally faded of the country's devastating 1975-1990 civil war. But as summer comes, the country is once more in the headlines for violence and instability, rather than its beaches, vineyards and Roman temples.“We have a lot of bad luck,” said Fadi Abu Ali, who helps run a camping and eco-tourism business in the mountains east of Beirut. The campground sat empty Monday, just as it did last summer.“Every year, it's something else.”

Aoun told France supports Lebanon's independence & stability
Tuesday, 29 May, 2007 @ 12:20 AM
Paris - French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told the leader of Lebanon's Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) Monday that France supports the independence and stability of Lebanon. Aoun ( pictured right) left for Paris Sunday to attend a signing event for his new book "Une Vision Certaine du Liban," (A Definite Vision for Lebanon), published by Fayard, said an FPM statement. He will be in Paris for few days, during which he is expected to meet with a number of French officials and Lebanese nationals. Aoun is accompanied by MPs Edgar Maalouf and Nabil Nicholas of FPM.
Kouchner ( pictured left) , who traveled to Lebanon last week, held talks with retired general Michel Aoun in Paris as part of a regular series of meetings with Lebanese political leaders, said foreign ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei. According to FPM Aoun and Kouchner were to discuss recent developments in Lebanon as well as Lebanese-French bilateral ties. Aoun who is now an ally of the pro-Syrian Hezbollah has seen his relationship with the west deteriorate after his return from exile in Paris. Aoun has been defending Hezbollah , which the west considers a terrorist organization, that is undermining Lebanon's independence and sovereignty.
The foreign minister, who was appointed earlier this month, asserted France's "support for the independence, sovereignty and stability of Lebanon" and for the creation of an international tribunal to try the murderers of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. The UN Security Council is to vote this week on setting up the court in a vote that could heighten divisions in volatile Lebanon. 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 in Lebanon.
Former president Jacques Chirac was a close friend of Hariri and the anti-Syrian cabinet of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has received staunch backing from France.
Aoun's representative lost elections at Lebanon syndicate
In Beirut , the representative of Aoun and his pro-Syrian allies lost big time in the elections for the presidency of the syndicate of Physicians. The result was 2/ 1 in favor of the representative of March 14 anti-Syria majority. According to Election observers the March 14 representative received 60 % of the Christian vote. Aoun has always claimed that he represented 70 % of the Christians. Election observers declared the result as a big blow for Aoun.

Why Lebanon's Army will invade Naher al-Bared
Tuesday, 29 May, 2007 @ 5:56 PM
By David Kenner
First, a caveat: I am fully aware that trying to predict the outcome of a political struggle in Lebanon is a recipe for failure and embarrassment.
Luckily for you, I am completely without fear or shame, and have a massively overstated opinion of my own intelligence.
"We are ready to die," said Fatah al-Islam's Abu Salim Teha. One can only imagine that most Lebanon feel the same way about Teha. There has been a bizarre, little pause in the last few days in Tripoli. The fighting flares and then quickly dies down; only a few grenades have been tossed here in Beirut. That's what passes for a lull in Lebanon, these days. During the stalemate, U.S military aid has been rushed to the Lebanese Army, Naher al-Bared is being emptied of civilians, and the Palestinians are trying to broker a compromise. But don't mistake the intermission for the end of the show. The Lebanese Army probably will end up invading the camp, for both military and political reasons. First, the obvious military reasons: thirty soldiers have died. Armies do not just smile, accept that number of casualties, and walk away. Fatah al-Islam is also an obvious danger to Lebanon's stability. The Palestinian negotiators have proposed a deal where Fatah al-Islam is allowed to walk away, maybe back to Syria. There simply is no common ground here. Unless its members are dead or in jail, Fatah al-Islam will remain a threat to Lebanon.
This also is a (for lack of a better word) good battle for the Lebanese Army to fight. It is a popular cause -- Fatah al-Islam is widely reviled among all segments of the Lebanese population. They even lack a base of support among the Palestinians. Nobody is more aware of their reputation for being an ineffective fighting force than the Lebanese Army itself. They are also aware that their authority within Lebanon is severely threatened by Hizbullah. A total victory over Fatah al-Islam would do a great deal to establish their reputation as a serious fighting force, and their legitimacy as the defender of Lebanese security.
The government forces might also hope they can use the invasion of Naher al-Bared to drive a wedge in the opposition. As Jeha pointed out, the FPM's site is currently a giant Valentine's Day card to the Lebanese Army. They've pledged to support any action the Army deems necessary, while Hizbullah vows to oppose an incursion into the camp. A prolonged battle within the camp would put stress on the Nasrallah/Aoun alliance, and establish a larger point about the Army's authority within all of Lebanon. That's not the message a certain state-within-a-state wants to see the Army deliver.
Right now, the government is happy to equip its soldiers with shiny new weapons, evacuate civilians to make an assault less bloody, and make a show of looking for a negotiated solution. But in the end, all the arrows point to a final, decisive battle. The outcome will say a great deal about the strength of the army, and its ability to keep order in Lebanon. Stick around. This could be one of those weeks that define the political terrain for future months or years.
**Source: Beirut to the Beltway

Clerics mediate as army tightens grip on Nahr al-Bared
Fatah al-islam spokesman reacts positively to suggestion of lebanese muslim 'buffer force'
By Hani M. Bathish
Daily Star staff
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army strengthened its positions on Monday around the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, where Fatah al-Islam militants are holed up and have "persisted in their hostile actions by firing on and sniping at army positions and setting up new fortifications," the military said in a statement.
Calm prevailed Monday morning over the camp, with only sporadic fire registered. Clashes resumed toward the evening, with intermittent to heavy fire from inside the camp while the army responded with mortar rounds. An army soldier was wounded when militants fired at a position on the Mhamara heights overlooking the camp. The army responded by shelling the northern end of the camp near Abdeh. Few residents left the camp on Monday. Estimates on the number of civilians remaining inside range from 5,000-7,000. The remaining residents include the elderly and infirm and some who fear being attacked or permanently displaced if they leave.
Fatah al-Islam spokesman Abu Salim Taha said mediation efforts by Palestinian clerics have resulted in "one promising suggestion." The proposal is to install an "Islamic peacekeeping force," drawn from Islamic organizations in Lebanon, as a buffer between the army and Fatah al-Islam, he said. "We will never leave the camp," Abu Salim told The Daily Star in a telephone interview. "The majority of camp residents support us, and they do not want us to leave. Even if they did, we would not leave. We have our purpose and mission to carry out."
He said that previous suggestions conveyed by clerics, including surrendering to the Lebanese authorities and installing peacekeeping forces made up of other Palestinian factions, were met with outright rejection. Abu Salim said the past two days saw a relative calm, adding that his fighters fired only light rounds "to remind the army we are still here."Fatah al-Islam again denied responsibility for the spate of bombings in civilian areas since last Sunday. Abu Salim said that while Fatah al-Islam will to take the fight outside the camp if the army continues its attacks, the group does not target civilians.
A delegation of clerics from the Union of Palestinian Scholars has been leading mediation efforts with the approval of Lebanese officials, Palestinian factions and Fatah al-Islam. "We are still at the beginning of the mediation road, but we are determined to continue and to work as fast as possible," delegation member Sheikh Mohammad al-Hajj told AFP Monday.
Palestinian clerics trying to mediate the crisis came under fire Sunday, although the source of the gunfire was not known. Khalil Makkawi, the former ambassador who heads the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee, said Prime Minister Fouad Siniora remains in constant touch with mainstream Palestinian factions, adding that everyone awaits Palestinian initiatives to resolve the problem. Makkawi said the camp has been taken hostage by terrorists. In a statement, he asked all Palestinian factions to condemn Fatah al-Islam's attacks against the army, disown the group and resolve the crisis by dissolving the group and handing over the attackers to the Lebanese judicial system. He said there could be no compromise over these demands.
The commander of Fatah in Lebanon, Sultan Abu al-Aynayn, told reporters at his headquarters in the Rashidiyeh refugee camp that he saw several obstacles that Palestinian factions are facing in resolving the crisis. Some factions have created a cover for this "gang," he said, adding that maneuvering among the different Palestinian factions is like moving through a "minefield." Aby al-Aynayn said there was no time limit set by the army or the government for peaceful mediation, reiterating that a military solution is not the right one and calling instead for "a creative solution" to the Fatah al-Islam problem.
Abu Emad al-Rifai, the Lebanon representative of the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad, said the Palestinian factions have not yet agreed on how to "end the phenomenon of Fatah al-Islam peacefully," telling Reuters more discussions were needed. "We have not discussed the matter of handing them over," Rifai said of the militants, adding that a military solution was "no longer an option." Palestinian factions have agreed to set up a committee to shore up security in Nahr al-Bared, which still houses armed members of several Palestinian factions. The army checkpoint along the coastal road at the southern entrance to the camp saw little activity, as the army refused to let anyone enter the camp. "There are many disabled people still inside the camp [and] those who do not have family to carry them out and cannot leave on foot," said Ahmad Serhan, a resident of the nearby Beddawi camp who has been coordinating the evacuation of Nahr al-Bared residents. "The Red Cross helped evacuate some. There are also some old folks who are stubborn and do not want to leave."
Some residents who had managed to leave the camp in the last few days turned up at the southern entrance, trying to get back in to retrieve belongings and to check on their homes. Amin Sabeeni waited with his sister, who is due to fly home to Australia. She evacuated the camp with her husband and six children with only the clothes on their backs. "They won't let us in," he said. "My sister and her husband need their suitcases." Sabeeni, who left the camp Wednesday, said his home had been hit by eight shells. - With agencies

No casualties as grenade rocks Zahle

BEIRUT: An explosion shook the Bekaa Valley town of Zahle on Monday evening, the fifth such attack in Lebanon since May 20.
Security sources said no one was hurt and no property damaged in the blast, which was caused by a concussion grenade thrown into a garden adjacent to the town municipality. The municipal building is also home to a jail operated by the Internal Security Forces. - The Daily Star
Troops kill two men at airport checkpoint/ Two men were killed on Monday as their car sped away from a Lebanese Army checkpoint near Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport, an army source told AFP. The vehicle was reportedly a Mercedes taxi registered to Ali Hussein Fares. "The driver of the car, asked by soldiers to stop for an identity check ... fled with two passengers," an army source said. "The soldiers fired at the tire of the vehicle, which smashed into a wall."
A Lebanese man from the Southern village of Jbaa, Hassan Ali Karkai, who was a passenger in the car, and the driver, a Syrian identified as Hmadeh Mahmoud al-Hajj Ahmad, were killed on the spot. An investigation has been launched to determine if they died of gunshot wounds or because of the crash.
The other passenger and a passerby, Hussein Assem Noureddine, were taken to a hospital. Police arrested another wounded passenger, who was shot in the abdomen, as well as a third passenger, who got out of the car at the checkpoint. Some protests were reported in Hay al-Selom, where Karkai resided. - With agencies