October 18/07

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 11,42-46. Woe to you Pharisees! You pay tithes of mint and of rue and of every garden herb, but you pay no attention to judgment and to love for God. These you should have done, without overlooking the others. Woe to you Pharisees! You love the seat of honor in synagogues and greetings in marketplaces. Woe to you! You are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk."Then one of the scholars of the law said to him in reply, "Teacher, by saying this you are insulting us too." And he said, "Woe also to you scholars of the law! You impose on people burdens hard to carry, but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.

Free Opinions & Special Reports
Can the Democrats repair the damage that Bush has done in the Middle East? The Daily Star. October 17/07
FEATURE-Foreign powers sway Lebanon's quest for president.By: Alistair Lyon. October 17/07
ANALYSIS: Hezbollah chief has sights set on making 'the big deal'.By: Zvi Bar'el, HaaretzHa'aretz. October 17/07

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for October 17/07
Christian Opposition Rejects Names Proposed By March 14 for Bkirki-Backed Meetings-Naharnet
Berri Accuses Jumblat, Geagea of Seeking to Hinder Lebanon Settlement-Naharnet
Jumblat Supports Consensus-Driven Solution-Naharnet
Nasrallah Reveals "Progress" In Prisoner Swap Talks with Israel-Naharnet
Olmert Defends Deal With Hezbollah.New York Times
Lebanon's government by murder.Los Angeles Times
Lebanon urged to treat Palestinian refugees better.Reuters
Report: Syria confirms target of IAF raid was nuclear facility.Ha'aretz
Cyprus on its own over Syria ferry dispute.Cyprus Mail
Arab nations invited to peace conference.USA Today
UN chief welcomes Hezbollah, Israel prisoners swap.Xinhua
Hezbollah: Progress made in talks to free Israeli soldiers.People's Daily Online

Lebanese MPs meet for first official session in months-Daily Star
Nasrallah reports progress on another prisoner swap
-Daily Star
Jumblatt in Washington for talks on election, Syrian influence
-Daily Star
Hizbullah gave Israel information on airman missing since 1986 - report
-Daily Star
Judge charges 10 suspects in plot to attack UNIFIL
-Daily Star

UN helps Beirut launch project for companies stricken by war
-Daily Star
Government publishes budget figures for 1997-2006
-Daily Star
Some displaced families return to Nahr al-Bared with one more mouth to feed
-Daily Star
Chouf grotto to open for public access
-Daily Star
Amnesty International calls on Lebanese government to halt discrimination against Palestinian refugees
-Daily Star
Putin defends Tehran's nuclear program at summit.AFP
UNHCR urges Europe to take in Iraqi refugees.AFP
Assad visits Turkey, may push for help reviving talks with Israel.
-Daily Star
Iran jails three students for insulting Islam.

Jumblatt in Washington for talks on election, Syrian influence
Druze leader seeks US support to help elect candidate from March 14 Forces to presidency
Compiled by Daily Star staff
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Democratic Gathering Bloc leader Walid Jumblatt arrived in Washington on Tuesday for meetings with US administration officials that will focus on Lebanon's presidential election and ways to curb Syria's influence over Lebanon. Jumblatt's visit comes a week before Parliament is scheduled to convene to elect a new president amid a widening gap between Lebanon's Western-backed majority and the Hizbullah-led opposition.
The Druze leader hopes to rally US support during his trip to help his coalition, the March 14 Forces, elect one of their own to the presidential post. Hizbullah and its allies are calling for a consensus candidate.
On Monday, Jumblatt held a series of meetings in New York with UN officials including UN chief Ban Ki-moon and Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Nicola Michel that focused on ways to speed up the creation of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to try suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005.
Upon his arrival in Washington Jumblatt said the efforts exerted to create the Special Tribunal were satisfactory. He also said the March 14 Forces does not object to reaching a consensus over a president, but that "this president must respect international resolutions including 1559 and 1701."
Both resolutions call for the disarmament of Hizbullah and other armed groups.
He also said the president "should be committed to the principles of the cedar revolution, sovereignty, independence and free choice."
Jumblatt's visit to the United States follows a visit last month by Future Movement leader MP Saad Hariri during which he met with President George W. Bush and other top officials.
Jumblatt said on Tuesday that his relationship with ally Hariri "was very strong. We are today working hand in hand for a sovereign, free and democratic Lebanon."
On Monday, the US Congress condemned Syrian and Iranian interference in Lebanon's internal affairs, proposing a draft resolution that holds Damascus and Iran responsible "for the assassinations campaign" that targeted anti-Syrian Lebanese officials, politicians, and journalists. The resolution also condemns "Lebanese politicians who are blocking the constitutional election of a new president." The resolution urges Bush to push the UN to adopt resolutions that protect Lebanon's sovereignty and freedom and prevent foreign interference in its affairs. In a related development, Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh said Mount Lebanon Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Ali Jouzou has received death threats from the Syrian regime. In Beirut, politicians remained focused on the presidential election scheduled for next Tuesday and the Maronite Church's efforts to ensure it which include attempts to create a committee that would follow up on the two meetings the Church held separately last week with leaders from the majority and the opposition. The committee has yet to see light with local news reports suggesting there are difficulties facing its creation. Late Tuesday, the March 14 Forces named two representatives for the committee. National Liberal Party head Dory Chamoun and National Bloc chief Carlos Edde will attend the committee's meetings.
Al-Akhbar newspaper, citing sources from the March 14 Forces, said that Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir was "worried" his efforts to find a consensus candidate would fail. The sources added that the patriarch has said he will not oppose an interim president for two years if his initiative fails.
On Monday, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea told Al-Jazeera news television that he was not a consensus candidate. The foreign ministers of France, Italy and Spain, in a mission supported by the Vatican, will arrive in Beirut Friday "to push for a presidential election to prevent a constitutional void in the presidency which would negatively affect the Christian role in Lebanon's political life." Visitors to Lebanese Army commander General Michel Suleiman quoted him as saying Tuesday that the army was ready to thwart any attempts to create chaos in case of a presidential vacuum. "The army, regardless of political developments, will continue to fulfill its national duties, and will confront any attempt to mess with security and national peace and prevent the country from falling into chaos." - Additional reporting by Maher Zeineddine

Christian Opposition Rejects Names Proposed By March 14 for Bkirki-Backed Meetings
Lebanon's Christian opposition rejected names proposed by the majority March 14 alliance to take part in a quartet committee that would follow up on meetings held by the Maronite Church in an effort to reach consensus on a presidential candidate.
The daily An Nahar, citing Christian opposition sources, said the names suggested by March 14 -- National Liberal Party leader Dory Chamoun and National Bloc chief Carlos Edde -- were "not suitable" for such a mission. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, in turn, said the proposed names were tasked to speak for the ruling majority, stressing that they should not be dealt with on personal grounds. Meanwhile, Al Akhbar newspaper said Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir welcomed a proposal by Free Patriotic Movement chief, Gen. Michel Aoun, that called for assigning leaders from the feuding Christian sides and not representatives. Aoun is proposing that the committee be made up of himself as well as Geagea, former President Amin Gemayel and former cabinet minister Suleiman Franjieh.
Geagea told Al-Jazeera television network that he was not a consensus candidate. Al Akhbar said Sfeir was willing to attend the first meeting among the warring Christian leaders. Al Akhbar on Monday said Sfeir was "worried" his attempts to reach a consensus presidential candidate would fail. Citing sources from March 14, the paper said that Sfeir would not oppose an interim president for two years if his initiative proved unsuccessful. Beirut, 17 Oct 07, 07:32

Berri Accuses Jumblat, Geagea of Seeking to Hinder Lebanon Settlement
House Speaker Nabih Berri accused Druze leader Walid Jumblat and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea of seeking to hinder a solution to the Lebanon crisis.
Berri stressed that there is "a new chance" for a settlement if there were good intentions in this regard. In an interview with the daily Sharq al-Awsat, the speaker criticized recent statements by Jumblat and Geagea, saying "they don't want a settlement.""They are aiming at hindering it (solution)," Berri said. Nevertheless, Berri stressed he was still optimistic "despite this negative" climate. The Hizbullah ally reiterated that he was still waiting for the return of MP Saad Hariri to resume talks ahead of the Oct. 23 parliamentary session to elect a new president. Berri denied he was going to postpone next week's session, saying that only when a two-third quorum was not secured, he would adjourn the vote. Beirut, 17 Oct 07, 11:57

Jumblat Supports Consensus-Driven Solution

Druze leader Walid Jumblat, who voiced support for a consensus-driven solution, will hold a series of meetings with U.S. officials in Washington on Wednesday.
Jumblat, who arrived in New York on Monday, discussed with U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and other U.N. officials ways to speed up the establishment of the international tribunal that would try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri. Upon arrival in Washington, Jumblat said efforts to set up the Special Tribunal for Lebanon were satisfactory. He said the majority March 14 alliance does not object to reaching consensus over a head of state, but stressed that "this president must respect international resolutions, including 1559 and 1701," which call for the disarmament of Hizbullah and other armed groups.
"The president should adhere to the principles of the Cedar Revolution, sovereignty, independence and free choice," Jumblat added. Jumblat's visit, during which he hopes to rally U.S. support for the Cedar Revolution, comes ahead of a parliamentary session scheduled for Oct. 23 to elect a new president for Lebanon. Jumblat stressed that his relationship with MP Saad Hariri "was very strong." In Beirut, Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh said Mount Lebanon Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Ali Jouzou has received death threats from the Syrian regime. Beirut, 17 Oct 07, 09:30

Nasrallah Reveals "Progress" In Prisoner Swap Talks with Israel
Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah said Tuesday that progress had been achieved in negotiations on two Israeli soldiers captured by the Shiite Muslim group last year, but did not confirm they are still alive. "For the first time, I can say that we have advanced positively in the negotiations concerning the two Israeli soldiers and (Lebanese) prisoners," Nasrallah said in a television address. He was speaking a day after the first prisoner swap between Israel and Hizbullah in nearly four years.
"The doors that had been closed in this case have started to open," he said. "There is hope and optimism, which did not exist before, on moving forward in the negotiations." He added without giving details that the talks between Hizbullah and the "Zionist enemy" were being handled by an international mediator appointed by former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan. The cross-border raid by Hizbullah guerrillas in July 2006 that resulted in the soldiers' capture sparked a 34-day war between Israel and the group that left Lebanon devastated.
On Monday, Israel handed over the bodies of two Hizbullah militants and a prisoner in exchange for the remains of a drowned Israeli civilian, whose body was washed up on the Lebanese coast, and information on a missing airman. An Israeli official said the information related to Ron Arad, who has been missing for more than 20 years after ejecting from a fighter jet over Lebanon. Meanwhile German officials could meet for the first time with Arad's relatives after the announcement of the imminent release of an Iranian official jailed in Germany for killing Kurdish dissidents in 1992. But the German officials indicated there would be no deal involving the planned release of convicted Iranian Kazem Darabi, whose name figured in several rounds of talks on potential prisoner swaps including German-brokered negotiations between Israel and the Iranian-backed Hizbullah. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday welcomed Monday's prisoner swap as a "bearable" price to pay towards the return of missing soldiers.
"For years, our enemies have been trying to raise the price for the least information, the return of kidnapped soldiers and civilians, or their bodies," he said in the southern city of Ashdod. "Sometimes we have no choice but to pay a heavy price. I believe, however, that what happened yesterday was carried out in a balanced way and at a bearable price." The Arabic-language newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reported on Sunday that the two captured Israeli soldiers had been handed over to Iran and could be freed in a German-brokered swap. It quoted a source it identified as a high-ranking official in the office of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as saying the pair had been transferred to Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards. A senior Israeli government official dismissed the report as "nonsense," however, calling it an "attempt to disseminate disinformation on this extremely sensitive issue." He said negotiations to secure their release were being mediated by the United Nations and Germany. On January 29, 2004, Israel freed nearly 450 prisoners, most of them Palestinians and Arabs, in exchange for Israeli businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of three soldiers.(AFP) Beirut, 15 Oct 07, 12:18

Nasrallah reports progress on another prisoner swap
Compiled by Daily Star staff
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said Tuesday there is "positive progress" in negotiations to swap two Israeli soldiers the group captured last year for Lebanese detainees in Israeli prisons. "I can talk for the first time of the existence of positive progress in these main negotiations, the ones linked to the Israeli soldiers and the prisoners," Nasrallah said in a brief televised speech on Hizbullah-affiliated Al-Manar television. On Monday, Israel handed over the bodies of two Hizbullah militants and a prisoner in exchange for the remains of an Israeli civilian who had drowned off the coast of Israel and was washed up on the Lebanese coast. The swap at the Naqoura border crossing was part of a deal brokered by German and United Nations mediators. Nasrallah said the "limited and partial" exchange on Monday provided "an important incentive" for a more "large-scale" prisoner swap in the future. Hizbullah's capture of two Israeli soldiers, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, in July 2006, preceded the 34-day war in July 2006. "There is positive progress in the main negotiations over the two soldiers and the prisoners," Nasrallah said.

Olmert Defends Deal With Hezbollah
Published: October 17, 2007
JERUSALEM, Oct. 16 — Defending the government’s decision to make a minor deal with the Hezbollah militia in southern Lebanon, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel said Tuesday that Israel’s enemies were engaging in “an ugly and cynical trade in emotions” and that the release of two captured Israeli soldiers was not imminent.
Israel Returns Bodies in Swap With Militia (October 16, 2007) Speaking in Ashdod, Mr. Olmert said the swap of a captured Hezbollah fighter and two dead comrades for the body of an Israeli citizen who had drowned two years ago in a swimming accident had been part of the United Nations-moderated talks to return two Israeli soldiers captured at the start of the war last summer. “Last night we passed a certain stage in the process,” Mr. Olmert said in a speech broadcast on national radio. “Unfortunately, the road” to their release, he said, “is still a long one.”For information and prisoners, he said, “sometimes we have no choice but to pay painful prices, but I was told that the deal completed last night was carried out fairly and for a price the state of Israel can pay.”
The fate of the two reservists, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, is unknown. They were both believed to have been wounded in the July 2006 Hezbollah attack in which they were captured, and Hezbollah has refused to say anything about their health, or even if they are alive. An effort by the International Committee of the Red Cross to see the two men or get information about them was also rebuffed. A German intelligence official, Ernst Uhrlau, mediated the exchange. The swap came four days after Germany said it was granting early release to two convicts, a Lebanese and an Iranian, who were given life sentences in 1992 for assassinating dissident Kurds at a Berlin restaurant.
Hezbollah has a tradition of asking a high price even for information about the dead. Part of the trade on Monday was reported to be information — supposedly some handwritten documents — from a missing Israeli airman, Ron Arad, whose plane was shot down over Lebanon on Oct. 16, 1986, and who is believed to be dead.
Hezbollah is eager to win the return of Samir Kuntar, a Lebanese man serving a life sentence for murdering four Israelis, including a 4-year-old girl, during a terrorist raid in Nahariya in 1979. Mr. Olmert said it would also take time to secure the release of an Israeli soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, who was captured by Hamas and other gunmen near Gaza in June 2006. Egypt has been trying to mediate a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas, but the two sides have not been able to agree on a prisoner list. On Monday, Mr. Olmert appeared to solve another painful political issue by coming to an agreement with indigent Holocaust survivors on increased state aid. He agreed to raise allowances and services to poor elderly citizens, which would include thousands of survivors who were not in concentration camps but who were forced to flee their homes as the Nazis advanced. Early Tuesday, in the West Bank city of Nablus, Israeli forces on an arrest raid killed Bassem Abu Saria, a local leader of Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades of Fatah, and wounded two others. At least five other Palestinians were arrested.
When troops called on residents to leave a house in the old city, a Palestinian man, Abed al-Wazir, 72, was shot and died of his wounds. An Israeli Army spokeswoman said that the man died “in the exchange of fire with Palestinian gunmen” but that it was unclear whose bullet had killed him. The army called an ambulance for him, she said, and regretted his subsequent death. His son, Shaked Wazir, told The Associated Press that he believed that Israeli troops shot his father and that the ambulance took 45 minutes to arrive. Later, a woman was also shot, but the army spokeswoman said she was not wounded by Israeli fire.

Lebanon's government by murder
By David Schenker
October 17, 2007
Forty Lebanese members of parliament belonging to the pro-Western, anti-Syria March 14th majority bloc currently reside in Tower 3 at Beirut's Phoenicia Intercontinental Hotel. With plush couches, stereos and flat-screen TVs, the two-bedroom units at the Phoenicia are swank. But the lawmakers aren't guests; they're prisoners. To get into the Phoenicia, you have to traverse no fewer than three security checkpoints, pass through a metal detector and show ID. Armed escorts from Lebanon's Internal Security Forces accompany guests to their rooms. Inside, curtains are permanently drawn to discourage snipers from targeting the MPs. One confined parliament member described the setup as "Abu Ghraib."
As the isolation of these legislators suggests, the March 14th bloc is taking its security seriously, and with good reason. Since 2005, four members of parliament affiliated with this bloc have been assassinated in Beirut. These killings, the death by natural causes of one MP and the political defection of yet another have sorely depleted the ranks of the majority. A government that once had 72 out of 128 legislators now rules by a razor-thin margin of 68 of 127 seats.
The Bashar Assad regime in Syria is widely assumed to be behind the campaign of assassination. Its goal is to weaken, supplant or intimidate the democratically elected government in Beirut and thus end the international tribunal that will almost certainly implicate Damascus in the 2005 murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Presidential elections -- which began on Sept. 25 and run through Nov. 25 -- have only increased the threat to the majority. The president in Lebanon is elected by parliament, and the majority has made clear that although it would prefer to choose by consensus, it will elect the chief executive by a simple majority if no acceptable compromise candidate can be found.
The Hezbollah-led, Syrian-backed opposition says it will not recognize a non-consensus president. For its part, Damascus has stipulated that the next Lebanese president should be moqawam, i.e., a supporter of Hezbollah, and "of Arab belonging," i.e., pro-Syrian. Should the Syrians and the opposition succeed in either toppling the government by attrition or installing a crony like outgoing President Emile Lahoud, the tribunal could be delayed if not derailed.
The tribunal, convened at the behest of the U.N. Security Council, appears to be a train that has left the station. But election of a "compromise" president -- someone more sympathetic to Damascus -- could weaken Beirut's commitment to and undermine international support for the tribunal. Syria could also scuttle the tribunal by ending March 14th's control of the government.
The good news, if there is any, is that in the short run it will be difficult for the Syrians to kill enough March 14th MPs to change the majority before the end of presidential elections. This is because, unlike what occurred following previous assassinations, Lebanon will not hold new elections to fill vacant seats before Nov. 25. The simple, macabre math means that the Syrians would have to kill eight more parliamentarians -- leaving March 14th, with 60 of 119 seats, short of a half-plus-one majority -- in order to force new elections.
Of course, given Syrian persistence, the math is not reassuring. For Damascus, the numbers game likely makes the Phoenicia a more appealing target. And even if the majority survives the presidential elections intact, there is no indication that the campaign of assassinations will stop.
Clearly, Lebanon cannot protect itself. Likewise, to date, the U.N. resolutions censuring Syria for its role in Lebanon have not proved an effective deterrent to Syrian misdeeds. Given the stakes -- a revitalized Syrian and Iranian presence in Lebanon and the potential reorientation of Beirut away from the West -- the preservation of the current Lebanese government is a must. For Washington, the key will be to craft a policy to prevent Syria and its Lebanese allies from subverting the government in Beirut. One possibility is to deploy, at Lebanon's request, international forces -- under the auspices of already-in-force U.N. Security Council resolutions -- to protect targeted politicians. A more effective but politically difficult option would be to hold Syria accountable for all future political murders in Lebanon.
Regardless of how Washington proceeds, immediate action is required. The ongoing thinning of the majority raises the very real specter that the results of the 2005 parliamentary elections in Lebanon will be reversed by terrorism. Should this trend of assassinations continue unchallenged, the pro-Syrian opposition, led by the Iranian-sponsored Shiite terrorist organization Hezbollah, waits in the wings. ***David Schenker is a senior fellow in Arab politics at the Washington Institute. From 2002 to 2006, he served in the office of the secretary of Defense as country director for Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinian territories.

Syria denies it confirmed target of IAF strike was nuclear facility

By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent, and Haaretz Service
Syria denied Wednesday its representatives to the United Nations had confirmed that an Israel Air Force strike last month targeted nuclear facility, and added that such facilities do not exist in Syria, state-run news agency said.
The Syrian Arab News Agency, SANA, quoting a foreign ministry source, said that Syria had made it clear in the past that there are no such facilities in Syria.
On Tuesday, a UN press release sent after a meeting of the First Committee, Disarmament and International Security, in New York paraphrased Syria's UN ambassador, Bashar al-Jaafari, as saying that a nuclear facility was hit.
"Israel was the fourth largest exporter of weapons of mass destruction and a violator of other nations' airspace, and it had taken action against nuclear facilities, including the 6 July attack in Syria," the release paraphrased al-Jaafari as saying, in an apparent error as to the date of the September 6 air strike.
Syria has confirmed that the target of an IAF raid deep within its borders last month was a nuclear facility, Israeli Foreign Ministry officials said Wednesday.
The comments were first reported to Israel by Foreign Ministry Deputy Director General for Strategic Affairs Miriam Ziv, who took part in the UN meeting.
In an official response, the Foreign Ministry confirmed the content of Ziv's report, but declined further comment. The comments follow a Saturday New York Times account, which said that the attack targeted a partially built nuclear reactor that was years away from completion. Israeli officials have been largely silent about the affair. The military only recently relaxed censorship to allow Israel-based journalists to report that Israeli aircraft attacked a military target deep inside Syria. Syrian President Bashar Assad has maintained that Israel bombed an "unused military building" in the raid. The Times said the nuclear reactor was modeled on one North Korea had used to create its stockpile of nuclear weapons fuel. North Korea has denied involvement in any such activities in Syria.

Arab nations invited to peace conference
By Matthew Lee, Associated Press Writer
UNITED NATIONS — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday that key Arab nations, including Syria, would be invited to President Bush's planned Mideast peace conference this fall and expressed hope they would attend. Formal invitations haven't been issued yet but Rice said it "would be natural" for Syria, Saudi Arabia and 10 other Arab League members looking at a broad peace deal with Israel to participate despite their hostility to the Jewish state. "It is very important that the regional players of the international community mobilize to support them," she said, referring to the Israelis and the Palestinians.
But, she said their attendance would have to reflect acceptance of international efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and support for the ultimate goal of a two-state solution and comprehensive regional peace agreement. "We would hope that the invitations would include the members of the Arab follow-up committee," Rice told a news conference here after a meeting of the international diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East -- the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia. Only two of the countries, Egypt and Jordan, have peace deals with Israel and some, notably Syria, remain technically at war with the Jewish state. Earlier this month, Israel is alleged to have launched an airstrike on what some reports have said was a North Korean nuclear facility in Syria.
The United States has long been concerned about Syrian development of weapons of mass destruction and has harshly criticized Syria for its consistent anti-Israel stance, support for Palestinian militants and its role in Lebanon where Damascus is accused of interference.
Rice did not speak to the appropriateness of inviting Syria to the as-yet unscheduled conference that Bush announced plans for in July and is expected to be held in Washington in November. She said that attendance "has to be a commitment to supporting a two-state solution" and agreement that the chance to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one that "we should not miss."
Many Arab states have said they see no use for Bush's conference unless it has clear goals and a realistic chance of meeting them. A senior U.S. official said Rice thought she could allay those fears in her talks on Sunday. Still, there was no immediate reaction from Syria. And, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal was noncommittal about attending the conference after seeing Rice at her hotel before the Quartet meeting. The Palestinians want the conference to produce an outline for a peace deal; the Israelis want more vague declarations. Rice was in the Middle East last week and plans to return to the region soon to continue the planning for the conference. Her visit coincided with Israel's decision to declare the Gaza Strip, which the radical Hamas movement seized in June, as "hostile territory." That designation dealt a potential blow to efforts to bolster moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who now runs only the West Bank. She conceded Sunday that "the road ahead is one that is very difficult." But she added: "There is a lot of commitment and hopefully this time we'll succeed." In addition to the Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab League committee, those to be invited to the U.S.-hosted conference will include the Quartet members and other major international players and donors, possibly including Japan, officials said. The Quartet's special representative, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, gave his backing to the conference, saying it would be a crucial element in taking advantage of what he said was growing momentum in the peace process.As a group the Quartet representatives -- Rice, Blair, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado, E.U. foreign policy chief Javier Solana and E.U. foreign affairs commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner -- echoed that sentiment. "The Quartet will work for a successful international meeting and for the implementation of its conclusions," they said in a statement. Sunday's meeting set the stage for meetings Bush will have in New York on Monday with Blair, Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Government publishes budget figures for 1997-2006
Siniora touts 'crucial source of reference' that will be placed on finance ministry's web site
By Osama Habib
Daily Star staff
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
BEIRUT: The Lebanese government reiterated on Tuesday that the cost of propping up the troubled electricity sector is draining the resources of the Treasury as it launched a detailed report on budgets from 1997 to 2006, with some figures going back to 1993. Describing it as "a crucial source of reference," Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said that comprehensive 1997-2006 budget figures have been put at the disposals of all those interested in detailed financial statements of the successive governments. Siniora also said that the issue of electricity represents one third of the public debt. He added that the skyrocketing prices of oil in the international markets have added financial burdens on Electricite du Liban (EDL). "We used to buy ... oil between $25 and $30 per barrel two years ago but now we are paying $85 for a barrel," he said. He also underlined the need to give the private sector a bigger role in running EDL.
"They used to say give the bread to the baker but now we should add that make sure that the baker does not eat half of the bread," Siniora said jokingly, alluding to the chaotic conditions at EDL. He added that the government will also make sure that the energy sector does not turn from a public monopoly to a private monopoly.
For his part, Finance Minister Jihad Azour, who played a large role in compiling the budget information with the help of staff, said that this is the first time a Lebanese government made such a step.
"All this data will be placed on the Web site of the Finance Ministry as well as on CDs," the minister said.
Responding to a question, Azour said that the 2008 budget has been completed by the Finance Ministry and will be sent to the Cabinet soon for deliberation and approval. Commenting on the budgets, Azour stressed that the Finance Ministry had requested Deloitte & Touche to audit all of the financial statements of the governments. According to the report, government spending rose from LL3.162 trillion in 1993 to LL11.625 trillion in 2006.
The cost of debt servicing represented close to 40 percent of the entire budgets while the salaries of public employees represented 24 percent.
It is estimated that more than 190,000 army and security personnel and civil servants are on the government payroll.
He added that in the past five years, the Finance Ministry has tried to reduce spending. On revenues, Azour said that the governments' income from taxes and nontaxes rose from LL1.855 trillion in 1993 to LL7.315 trillion in 2006. The introduction of the value added tax in 2001 was credited for the surge in the government's revenues over the past few years. The public debt in 1993 stood at LL5.4 trillion ($3.6 billion) while by 2006 the debt had jumped to $39.5 billion, or 174 percent of Lebanon's GDP.The government hopes to reduce debt to GDP in the next five years to less than 130 percent of GDP provided all the necessary reform measures are implemented on time.

Iran jails three students for insulting Islam

By Agence France Presse (AFP)
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
TEHRAN: Iran on Tuesday handed down jail sentences of at least two years each to three students imprisoned since May on charges of insulting Islam, the Mehr news agency reported.The three students from Tehran's Amir Kabir University - Ehsan Mansouri, Majid Tavakoli and Ahmad Ghassaban - were among eight arrested on suspicion of publishing anti-Islamic images in four student reformist newspapers. "The verdicts for the accused Amir Kabir students were issued today," their lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah said, according to the Mehr news agency. "Ehsan Mansouri has been sentenced to two years in prison, Majid Tavakoli to three years and Ahmad Ghassaban to two-and-a-half years," he said. Dadkhah,who is a member of Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi's group of human rights defenders, said that it was not clear whether the sentences issued by Tehran's revolutionary court meant prison or suspended terms. The other five arrested have since been released, but this trio has been detained since May with the authorities saying they have not been freed because of the gravity of the charges against them. Dadkhah vowed to appeal against the verdicts. In August, Mansouri's mother publicly accused the authorities of torturing the young men at Tehran's Evin prison in an effort to obtain confessions. The judiciary insists that torture is not used in Iran. **Amir Kabir University has long been a hotbed of student activism, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the target of heckling in a stormy address to the university last year. - AFP

FEATURE-Foreign powers sway Lebanon's quest for president
Tue Oct 16, 2007
powered by SphereBy Alistair Lyon, Special Correspondent
QUSAYA, Lebanon, Oct 16 (Reuters) - Outside powers cast long shadows over Lebanon's struggle for a deal between rival camps before next week's parliamentary session to elect a successor to outgoing President Emile Lahoud, a close Syrian ally. Hemmed in by Syria and Israel, Lebanon is also buffeted by a U.S. struggle to counter Iranian and Syrian adversaries. Such regional rivalries have long tempted Lebanese leaders, who jostle for power within a complex system that shares key posts among 17 Muslim and Christian sects, to seek alliances with foreigners -- whose influence can be hard to shake off.
Syria kept troops in Lebanon for 29 years until forced to withdraw them in 2005 after ex-Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri was assassinated. It still flexes its muscles in its former client state via an array of Lebanese and Palestinian allies.
In the hills above the Christian village of Qusaya, pro-Syrian Palestinian guerrillas train and fire their weapons daily in a military base straddling the Syrian-Lebanese border. "This is the last checkpoint, up there are the camps," said a Lebanese army soldier halting visitors at a steel gate across a rough road that climbs into the mountainous frontier zone. In the past year, the army has tried to seal off guerrilla bases dotting the border, but has not tackled the Palestinian factions entrenched there for two decades or more. "They haven't harmed us," said Huda Abdou, dark-haired wife of the mayor of Qusaya. "But the Palestinians are sitting on our land up there. Certainly we want them to leave."
In June a U.N. inquiry called the bases a major obstacle to securing the border and halting arms smuggling.
Syria has long funnelled weapons to Hezbollah, including many supplied by Iran, the main patron of the Lebanese Shi'ite guerrilla group that battled Israel for 34 days last year. Damascus naturally supports Hezbollah and its allies in the tussle over the presidency, reserved for a Maronite Christian.
Saudi Arabia, on icy terms with Syria, backs the majority Sunni-Druze-Christian bloc led by Hariri's son Saad -- and keeps $1 billion in the Central Bank to stabilise the Lebanese pound.
"The Syrians don't want a president who is anti-Syrian, or one who is going to pursue vigorously border security issues in ways that don't suit them," argued Paul Salem, director of the Beirut branch of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He said the Syrians also wanted a president who would not put his weight behind a U.N. tribunal due to try the killers of Hariri and a string of other anti-Syrian figures.
"They could find ways to benefit from a constitutional vacuum where we have no president, or two presidents, and a breakdown of order in Lebanon," Salem added.
In contrast, sectarian chaos would not suit Iran, which fears Hezbollah would lose pan-Arab credibility as a symbol of resistance to America and Israel if it fought as a Shi'ite militia. "Iran's concern is to keep Hezbollah alive and well for any future confrontation with Israel or the U.S.," Salem said.
Apart from arming, training and funding Hezbollah since it emerged in the early 1980s, the Islamic Republic has fostered ties with its co-religionists in Lebanon's Shi'ite community. Iran unleashed a reconstruction drive in mainly Shi'ite areas of Lebanon after Hezbollah's 2006 war with Israel.
In the Bekaa Valley, bulldozers churn clouds of dust from a highway north of Baalbek bombed by the Israelis. Now the Iranians are rebuilding and widening a 24-km (15-mile) stretch. "We are in the service of the Lebanese people, before the war or after the war," an Iranian site engineer, who introduced himself as Brother Murad, told Reuters via a translator.
Shi'ite residents in the nearby village of Tawfiqiyeh welcomed the Iranian project, complaining of Lebanese state neglect of their water, power and infrastructure needs.
"We wish the government would help us as much as the Iranians do," sighed Ali Bazzal, a 35-year-old butcher.
In Beirut, Hussam Khoshnevis, 45, a trimly bearded engineer charged by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to lead the reconstruction effort, refused to divulge how much Tehran was spending on what he said were 1,481 projects in Lebanon.
"It's more important to focus on getting the work done than to talk about money," he said, signing cheques in his office.
Iran's effort is highly visible compared to U.S. assistance, which is mostly military aid to the Lebanese army.
In May, Washington rushed ammunition to troops battling Islamist militants at a Palestinian refugee camp in north Lebanon. It has provided $321 million in military aid in the past two years, as well as $60 million for the police. But Lebanon's long-neglected army has no fixed-wing planes, air defences or modern equipment. Its weakness suits Israel and Syria and bolsters Hezbollah's argument that it is the only force capable of resisting or deterring Israeli military might.
"We are waiting for the Americans to fufill their promises and for the Europeans to help us," said Nizar Abdel Kader, a retired Lebanese general who advocates building a strong army. The United States, a staunch ally of Israel, has many other concerns in the region, such as the Iraq war, the nuclear row with Iran and efforts to revive Middle East peacemaking, and would probably want to know who will be Lebanon's next president before deciding whether to pour in more military aid.
While lacking strategic value, Lebanon is seen as a rare Middle East policy success by Washington, which hopes parliament will consolidate that gain by electing an anti-Syrian president. Carnegie's Salem said the Americans did not want to "lose the country" to civil war or collapse, but were also wary of making any concessions to Syria or Iran in Lebanon."The situation is quite worrisome," he concluded.

ANALYSIS: Hezbollah chief has sights set on making 'the big deal'

By Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz Correspondent
Hassan Nasrallah has accustomed us to regard his statements as a complete package: body language, intonation, emphases, order of ideas each of these elements has significance. This is his strength as a rhetorician. Nasrallah on Monday chose the role of "official spokesman" who reports on developments as if he is not involved. While reading portions of a document, Nasrallah explained that intensive, non-stop negotiations are underway that there is progress and efforts are being made to achieve what he calls "the big deal." The significant novelty in his statement is that for the first time he is referring to great optimism that the deal will occur, and he even specifies that the deal includes the two kidnapped Israelis and that there is a commitment to return all the Lebanese prisoners and dead. Advertisement What he did not mention was the link to the missing navigator, Ron Arad, or the MIAs from the battle at Sultan Yaakub in 1982. Has Nasrallah given up on his earlier demands for the release of Arab and Palestinian prisoners, in addition to the Lebanese? Although nothing in detail was heard from him, it is possible to conclude that he has received a solid Israeli commitment that prisoners will be released. Without such a commitment, Nasrallah had no reason to radiate such optimism. The question is the extent of the Israeli offer: Will it be payment only in Lebanese "currency" or a combination that involves another deal for the release of Palestinian prisoners, whose release Nasrallah will claim credit for later?
It is possible that public pressure on Nasrallah in Lebanon has also led him to disassociate the Lebanese prisoners from the Palestinian ones. On the other hand, has Israel decided to give up on its coupling of the release of Samir Kuntar with its demand for information on Ron Arad, making do with the latest information Hezbollah offered? According to Nasrallah, it is possible that in the very near future, more details on the deal will be released, and then we will have answers to these questions. In any case, Nasrallah's statements yesterday are meant in part to present Hezbollah as an organization that is not sparing any effort to close a deal, passing the ball back onto Israel's court. Nasrallah was keen to stress that despite all the significance he attributes to the release of the Lebanese prisoners, Monday's exchange was no more than a humanitarian gesture that resulted from the initiative of the German mediator, and which he claims is not part of a broader deal. But according to sources in Lebanon, Monday's deal is the result of a breakthrough on the way to a major deal and would not have taken place unless it was part of a "down payment.

No free ride
By Moshe Arens
Last update - 11:00 17/10/2007
As is well known, there is no such thing as a free lunch. And unlike what some people might believe, there are also no free rides. Yet Olmert, Livni and Barak are about to take Israel for a ride, which will end up costing Israel a great deal - a ride to Annapolis. Not far from Annapolis, at Camp David seven years ago, Ehud Barak took Israel for a ride, which turned out not to be free. We have not yet finished paying for the egregious offers made by Barak to Yasser Arafat at Camp David, nor the price we paid for his unilateral withdrawal from the south Lebanon security zone and the betrayal of the South Lebanon Army. So here comes another extravaganza, from the people who gave us the forced uprooting of the settlements in Gush Katif, and the debacle of the Second Lebanon War - an imaginary peace settlement with Mahmoud Abbas.
We will agree in principle to withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines, and he supposedly will agree in principle to make peace with Israel at some future date.
Those whose senses have not been dulled by the unending stream of "spins" being produced by the Prime Minister's Office, will remember that the foolish disengagement idea was based on the assumption that there was no partner for peace, and therefore Israel had to unilaterally determine its own borders. Does anybody remember who was the "president" of the Palestinian Authority at the time? Of course, it was Mahmoud Abbas. The very same. How has Mahmoud Abbas suddenly become a "partner for peace?" The answer is, we made him into a partner for peace. The withdrawal from Gush Katif brought Hamas to power, turned the Gaza Strip into a hotbed of terrorism, and left Abbas without a mandate to conduct Palestinian affairs. Now that Hamas has rid itself of Abbas - or in Olmert's upside-down world, Abbas has rid himself of Hamas - here comes the partner for peace. None other than Mahmoud Abbas. Here is the law of unintended consequences, at least for those who cannot see beyond their own nose. By unilaterally uprooting the settlers in Gush Katif because "there is no partner for peace," the Olmert government has with its own hands created a partner for peace.
So let us see who this partner for peace is. The man who received a Ph.D. at Moscow University some years ago for a thesis that proved that there had been no Holocaust. Ahmadinejad must have studied this masterpiece. Not long ago, Abbas reached an agreement with Hamas to form a national unity government, an agreement Hamas not only did not respect, but it then went ahead and threw Abbas and his people out of Gaza. Abbas, who knows Hamas only too well, still seeks an agreement with them.
Considering the striking Hamas victory in the Gaza Strip, it seems far from impossible that they will in time give Abbas the same treatment in Judea and Samaria. So is this the partner to whom we should offer an Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines, including control of the Temple Mount? The implied answer by Olmert and his people is that it is worth a try - what do we have to lose? If Abbas is brought down, or if he cannot meet the commitments he will undertake at Annapolis, we have lost nothing. It will be a free ride. But there are no free rides. The Israeli government's readiness to make these concessions will be firmly set in the court of public opinion. It is not going to be easy retracting those concessions. Of course, our foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, believes that these concessions are for our own good. It seems that we have hard this song before. Remember Gush Katif? That was also supposed to be for our own good. Let's stop for a moment and ask ourselves whether the concessions being offered to Abbas make any sense - if we were even to assume that he has the authority to make commitments and meet them in return for Israeli concessions. After years of a terror campaign that the Palestinians, Fatah and Hamas waged against Israeli civilians, a campaign that caused thousands of casualties and that was finally suppressed by the IDF and the Israeli security services, should the Palestinians now be rewarded by turning over to them Judea and Samaria and much of Jerusalem? Are they not likely to conclude that it is their terror campaign that has produced this result? Remember Gush Katif!