October 03/07

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 18,1-5.10. At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, "Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me. See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father

Syria's leadership / Who's in charge?By Yoav Stern. Ha'aretz. October 2/07
Syria might sell a lot to make peace with Israel.By Volker Perthes. October 2/07
In Lebanon, 2007 looks like 1974: Do you know where your sons are? The Daily Star. October 2/07
Getting over the fear of Arab elections
.By Michele Dunne. October 2/07 

Why no one really wants a Syria regime change.By: Claude Salhani. October 2/07

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for October 2/07
Lebanon on Fire-Naharnet
Forest fires break out in Lebanon.BBC News

Lebanon can't afford fiasco in picking president.Khaleej Times
IDF confirms that aircraft hit target inside Syria last month. Jerusalem Post
Report: Russia sent Syria experts to upgrade air defense.Ha'aretz
15 injured in Lebanon forest fires.Africasia
Lebanon charges 14 Islamists with terrorism.AFP

Lebanon battling major fires. yalibnan
Syria closes frontiers to Iraqi refugees.France24
Report: Russia sent technicians to Syria.Jerusalem Post
Syria urges international community to condemn Israeli aggression.Xinhua

Palestinians hand over Fatah al-Islam commander caught at Beddawi camp
-Daily Star
(Most) Lebanese parties make conciliatory noises-Daily Star
Change and Reform vows to make Berri plan work-Daily Star
'Aoun is the most prominent candidate - but not the only one' - Hizbullah MP-Daily Star

UNIFIL 'seeks advice' on how to cope with rival governments
-Daily Star
Foreign pressures help entrench political impasse in Beirut-Daily Star
Political crisis threatens profits of Lebanese banks-Daily Star
Students face new school year with trepidation - and resolve - amid presidential crisis-Daily Star

AUB shoots for larger role in neighborhood to preserve diversity of Ras Beirut
-Daily Star
A bit of musical multi-tasking at Saint Joseph's-Daily Star

Lebanon on Fire
An arch of fire sent tongues of flame shooting up in the sky across Lebanon, with smoke covering the chain of towns dotting the mountain range overlooking the coast, injuring at least 15 people and sending scores of asthmatic patients to hospitals. Government-run hospitals in the northern, central and southern provinces reported receiving scores of asthmatic patients suffering from sudden attacks due to the thick smoke that invaded their environment after fast winds spread forest fires across the pine and wild woods that mark the nation's historic environment. Several schools closed for the day to avoid putting pupils at risk as fire fighters raced to combat the blaze. Eddy Rinno, an official at the Chouf Province town of Deir al-Qamar, southeast of Beirut, said "fifteen people suffered injuries and burns, while 20 others were treated for respiratory problems" in his area. "About 10 houses were partly burnt in the same region. Most of them were damaged on the rooftops because fires reached nearby trees," Rinno told Agence France Presse. He said several hectares of woods and valleys had caught fire in the ancient town of Deir al-Qamar and nearby villages where people wore surgical masks because of the smoke. In valleys in and around Deir al-Qamar, acres of pine trees were burnt, an AFP correspondent at the scene said. Several electricity and telephone poles collapsed on the side of the town's main road. Rinno said two square kilometers (almost one square mile) of forest had been damaged in Deir al-Qamar where army helicopter and fire engines were struggling to extinguish the blaze.
Elias Nohra, a 42-year-old lawyer from Deir al-Qamar, told AFP that "the fires started last night at around 8 pm (1700 GMT) between Deir al-Qamar and (the nearby town of) Beiteddine." "Guys from the region went out to extinguish the fires. They thought they did, but then in the morning, the fires started again and spread even more because of the wind," he said. Civil defense workers, backed by Lebanese army helicopters, were also deployed to extinguish fires in the north of the country.
The fires "swept across hectares (acres) of forests" in Qobeyyat and Andaqt in northern Lebanon, forcing several schools to shut down, a civil defense official told AFP. Police and civil defense could not confirm the cause of the fires that spread every year across mountainous regions in Lebanon toward the end of the dry summer season.(Naharnet-AFP) Beirut, 02 Oct 07, 16:11

Breaking News: Lebanon battling major fires
Tuesday, 2 October, 2007
The fire in Deir el Qamar appears to be spreading . Currently the Civil Defense is trying to evacuate some inhabitants whose houses may catch fire .
The Deir el Qamar fire has also reached many forests of the surrounding Chouf villages and the authorities have appealed to the citizens that have water storage tanks for help. All public buildings were closed today and many roads are closed for traffic .
Cyprus was also contacted by the Lebanese government for help in extinguishing the fires with their firefighting helicopters. Tens of thousands of forest acres have so far been affected and the losses are in the tens of millions. There were no immediate reports of casualties. Television footage showed several burned-out cars on roads in the Chouf region and specially in the Christian town of Deir al-Qamar. Big forest fires were also reported in the northern region of Akkar, and smaller ones in the Metn area northeast of Beirut. It was not clear how the fires had started.
The is also using helicopters to spray water over the blazes.
New fires erupted in the mountain towns of Dhour Shweir, Rashmaya, Dhour al Abadieh and Kfar Ameih.
Strong winds have prevented the Lebanese security forces and civil defense teams have from containing the fires Lebanese Red Cross workers evacuated senior citizens from an elderly home care in Dhour Shweir as fires approached the town. Flames reached part of the house of Brig. Gen. Jean Nassif on the outskirts of Deir al Qamar.Residents of Deir Mar Abda in Deir al Qamar are being evacuated after wildfires were creeping toward this mountain resort town.
16 people suffered second-degree burns as a result of the fires in Deir al Qamar. At least 50 cases of suffocation were reported in Deir al Qamar from the smoke.
Deir al Qamar residents appealed through television and radio stations for help after fire flames reached their homes.
Firefighters were struggling to contain new fires that broke out in Ain Jarmaq in Hasbaya. Residents were evacuated from the northern Qobayat town after fires destroyed more than 12 acres of land.
MP George Adwan described th situation in Deir el Qamar as disastrous and appealed for help in extinguishing the fire specially since some of the affected houses are hundreds of year old .Deir el Qamar is one of the oldest towns in the Chouf region and has some of the best preserved old houses in Lebanon.
Adwan said primitive means are being used for extinguishing the fire and the gutsy wind is not helping at all.

Commentary: Why no one really wants a Syria regime change
Claude Salhani, Middle East Times
October 2, 2007
WASHINGTON -- Preparations for the November Middle East peace conference, an initiative by President George W. Bush intended to break the deadlock in the region's stalled peace negotiations are proceeding, as tension between Syria and Israel is at its highest point since the end of the October War, which started 34 years ago next Saturday.
Yet even as it prepares for peace, the Bush administration continues to lay out plans to change the political landscape in its ongoing effort to democratize the Middle East.
The November peace conference is to be held in the coastal city of Annapolis, MD, some 56 kilometers (35 miles) from Washington, DC. Annapolis is the home of the United States Naval Academy and, according to British Broadcasting Corporation television, the conference is to take place on the academy grounds; as safe a venue as one can find.
Meanwhile, in a political parallel universe, preparations are also under way for next November's Middle East peace conference, only the planning this time is being carried out in Syria and Iran; two countries who find themselves at great odds with Washington.
Syria has recently been invited to the talks. Iran, on the other hand, has not been asked to participate. Inviting Syria to join the peace negotiations was a wise move by the Bush administration, regardless of how the US president and, more particularly, the vice-president feel about Syria or Iran.
And yet, these Muslim countries, despite their political-and-military alliance and allegiance to one another, could not be more different.
Certainly, Damascus and Tehran are close allies who have entered into an agreement of mutual assistance in case of foreign military aggression; they share the same antipathy of America's policy in the region; both have been accused of supporting terrorist groups, such as Hamas in the Palestinian territories and Hezbollah in Lebanon; both countries have been accused by the Bush White House of fomenting trouble in the region, primarily in Lebanon and Iraq.
However, Syria and Iran are fundamentally different. Syria is an Arab country and largely secular, while Iran is mostly Persian and an Islamic republic ruled by theocrats. And the differences are reflected in the White House's policies vis--vis the regimes in Damascus and Tehran. Even if President Bush lumps the two regimes together in the same "Axis of Evil."
Much as the Bush administration is intent on bringing about a change of regime in Iran, hoping to replace the mullahs, the ayatollahs, and the radical President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with a more moderate, secular government, when it comes to Syria, it's a whole different ball game.
And although Washington would as soon like to see Syria's President Bashar Al Assad replaced as well, any talk of regime change in Syria is instantly shot down by the political realities. Iran is already governed by an Islamic theocracy. Opting for a change of regime in Iran can only bring about positive change, or so the thinking goes. Whereas in Syria, despite ranting and raving between Washington and Damascus, dealing with President Assad, a known quantity, is far more preferable to the United States, and to Israel, than the risk of overthrowing him and ending up with either an Iraq-type situation, or with another Islamic republic, this one much closer to Israel.
Indeed, since the Baath Party has been in power, the only other political party that was somewhat tolerated was the Muslim Brotherhood.
The big fear among officials and analysts in Washington is that a change of regime in Damascus, at best, would mirror Tehran, at worst would resemble Iraq. Interestingly enough, and strange as it might sound, Bashar's staunchest defenders are the Israelis. The very last thing Israel wants, at this point, is to have an Islamic Syria on its northern border.
The question, now, is if the Syrians will accept the invitation to the November peace talks, which would distance Damascus from Tehran, something both the United States and Israel would like to see happen.
**Claude Salhani is Editor of the Middle East Times. He may be contacted at

Syria's leadership / Who's in charge?
By Yoav Stern -Haaretz
Syrian president Bashar Assad is expected to remain in power in 2008-09 but he will continue to rely on the strength and ruthlessness of the security services, which will keep the opposition weak and ineffective. This forecast, which seems almost obvious, is in the report by the Economist Intelligence Unit published last week.
But in the Middle East, nothing is obvious, and the question of Assad's ability to perform from his throne in Damascus is cause for concern for many in the region and elsewhere. Government-affiliated analysts in Israel and elsewhere maintain that Assad is in full and undisputed control of Syria, but his ponderous public reaction to the reports of the alleged Israeli strike last month gives rise to certain doubts.
The interview Assad gave to the BBC yesterday was not the first one since the strike was reported. Several hours after the incident - whose specifics are still unclear - Assad gave a rather embarrassing interview to U.S. network CBS. In that interview, Assad refrained from addressing the affair and made a general statement about his country's commitment to peace.
Syria delayed its statement on the incident by nearly 24 hours - it may have even felt that Assad doesn't really know what's happening in his country's own backyard.
U.S. officials who have been following the situation in Syria have said Assad's performance in the media cannot be seen as an indication that he is not well-briefed on the situation. "He's trying to maintain a business-as-usual facade while preparing the Syrian reaction to the developments," the American analysts said days after the CBS interview. They noted that Assad agreed to be interviewed by the foreign media on the day Rafik Hariri was assassinated in 2005.
International organizations suspect Syria was behind the killing of Lebanon's former prime minister.
Israeli military and political analysts maintain that Assad is firmly at the helm of Syrian policy making. Intelligence sources following Assad's regime say that virtually no senior Syrian poses a threat to the president's grasp on power. Not even the president's bother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, who is often mentioned as pulling the strings of Syria's security policy behind the scenes.
"Assad does not consult others," the intelligence officials said. "He just listens to what his cronies tell him."
Diplomats who frequent Damascus say the Syrian decision-making process is quite cumbersome. Bashar's father and predecessor, Hafez, ruled by maneuvering between two prominent elements: The Alawite dignitaries - who belong to Assad's minority sect of Shi'ite Muslims - and the military top brass.
"After Bashar rose to power, Syria saw the formation of several centers of power. Bashar's family isn't as united. Neither is the leadership. Plus, groups of businessmen and industrialists have entered the scene. Bashar's hands are more tightly tied now."
And this may very well explain Assad's stammering about the alleged strike early last month.
It took three days for the Syrian foreign minister, Walim Mualem, to say that Syria will respond to the alleged strike "at the appropriate time and place." But it is far from certain that officials such as Mualem are even in the loop. He may know very little about what may or may not have happened near Syria's border with Turkey last month.