September 18/07

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 7,1-10.
When he had finished all his words to the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave who was ill and about to die, and he was valuable to him. When he heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and save the life of his slave. They approached Jesus and strongly urged him to come, saying, "He deserves to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us." And Jesus went with them, but when he was only a short distance from the house, the centurion sent friends to tell him, "Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof. Therefore, I did not consider myself worthy to come to you; but say the word and let my servant be healed. For I too am a person subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come here,' and he comes; and to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it." When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him and, turning, said to the crowd following him, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith." When the messengers returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

The Opposition and Its Ceiling.bY: Zuheir Kseibati. September 17/07
A Presidential Vacuum Would Legitimize the Arena.By:Walid Shoucair. September 17/07
Musings on Media Coverage Of The Middle East.Global Politician.September 17/07
Al-Qaeda in Iraq slowly finds itself with no future.By Safa A. Hussein
Let's consider reaching a grand bargain with Iran.
By Shlomo Ben-Ami

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for September 17/07
Syria reopens 2 border crossings with northern Lebanon closed in May. AP
Islamists Want Blood Spilt Over Mohammed

Libyan Terrorist and aides arrested, Explosives Confiscated-Naharnet
Two Syrian Fatah al-Islam Terrorists arrested
Tueni: Speed Up Dialogue to Avoid War
SKorea's dismisses possible nuclear cooperation between ...International Herald Tribune
Israeli Official Muzzled on Syria Attack.Washington Post
Speculation flourishes over Israel's strike on Syria.Guardian Unlimited
Victory gives Lebanon army new stature.Chicago Tribune
Repay Gaza in kind.Ha'aretz
Syria raid a 'clear message to Iran'.ABC Online
Lebanese Army nabs Taha, three other Fatah al-Islam men trying to enter Beddawi camp.

Berri, Hariri break ice ahead of expected meeting on presidential election
-Daily Star
Sfeir calls attention to dangers of civil strife-Daily Star
Survivors of Sabra and Shatila massacres still recall horror - and still demand justice. (AFP)
Domestic workers face conditions akin to slavery
-Daily Star
Ramadan season helps Sidon attract visitors of all faiths from across Lebanon
-Daily Star
A timely rejoinder in a Lebanese argument
-Daily Star
Israel says air strike on Syria restored deterrent. (AFP)
Terhan trumpets anti-alcohol campaign.(AFP)
'Iranian arms shipment stopped in Afghanistan.
Aoun to March 14: Lebanon Needs Men-Naharnet
Spain to Set Up Center for Studying 'Terrorist' Bombs

Abssi's Wife Shed Doubt on Fate of Islamist Terrorist-Naharnet

Sfeir calls attention to dangers of civil strife
Patriarch urges all to adopt 'nationalist' stance

By Maroun Khoury
Daily Star correspondent
Monday, September 17, 2007
BKIRKI: Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir on Sunday urged the Lebanese to draw lessons from the past and "remember that the use of weapons can only lead to violence, hatred, and divisions." "The dark years of the Civil War, as well as the numerous Lebanese Army soldiers who were killed when fighting at Nahr al-Bared should forbid any Lebanese group from re-arming and plunging Lebanon back to chaos," Sfeir said at the Notre Dame Church in Bkirki during his first Mass since his return from the Vatican. Reports circulated in the media last week said that various Lebanese groups were rearming and training in camps across the country.
Sfeir described the heated debate over the quorum to elect the next president as "futile," adding that "the debate does not reflect proper nationalism."
Sfeir has repeatedly said that a two-thirds quorum is required to elect a new president, as is stipulated by the Constitution.
"It is crucial that the most nationalist scenarios be adopted because it is Lebanon's interests rather than the interests of various presidential hopefuls that ought to be taken into consideration," Sfeir said.
Sfeir told An-Nahar newspaper after meeting Pope Benedict XVI on Friday that the head of the Roman Catholic Church had "promised to exert every possible effort to restore stability to Lebanon." Sfeir was quoted Saturday as warning that if a new president were not elected on time, Lebanon could face a division of government.
"Things usually start with two presidents and two cabinets. Later on, if they insist on maintaining their delusion, that could lead to two parliaments and two states. That would ruin Lebanon," Sfeir warned. Sfeir returned to Lebanon on Friday after a visit to the Vatican during which he held a series of meetings with spiritual and political officials. Sfeir had voiced disappointment over foreign meddling in Lebanon and said he hoped the warring sides would agree over presidential elections and a consensus candidate. "Foreign interference in Lebanon's internal issues is the worst thing happening to Lebanon," the patriarch told the Italian news agency.
"Lebanon's neighbors are constantly meddling in our domestic issues and this is an unhealthy sign," he said, adding that these states "constitute a threat to the country's stability.""We all hope that feuding Lebanese groups will start considering their country's interests rather than their own interests and reach an agreement about the identity of Lebanon's next president," Sfeir said from the Vatican. Sfeir said "we must resort to elections" if Lebanese leaders do not agree on a consensus presidential candidate.He said any president "should win the majority of the deputies' votes to be elected as president and in order to be a true representative of the Lebanese."
Sfeir also said that "both Muslims and Christians in Lebanon are emigrating to seek better opportunities, not only Lebanese Christians." - With Naharnet

Islamists Want Blood Spilt Over Mohammed Sketches
By Patrick Goodenough International Editor
September 17, 2007
( - The row over sketches portraying Mohammed as a dog took a new turn over the weekend with a purported al Qaeda death sentence on the Swedish artist responsible for the pictures and the editor whose newspaper published one of them.
The message, carried on a jihadist Web site, said the Islamic State of Iraq, a terrorist group also known as al Qaeda in Iraq, would pay $100,000 to anyone who kills artist Lars Vilks, "who dared to insult our prophet, peace be upon him," and increase the reward by 50 percent if his throat was slit, the BBC and other media reported.
It also offered $50,000 for the death of the editor of the Nerikes Allehanda regional newspaper, which last month published the sketch alongside an editorial promoting free speech. The message was issued in the name of the group's ostensible leader, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, whose existence the U.S. military has called into question. It said that if the "crusaders" do not apologize to Muslims, Swedish firms would be attacked. Among several companies listed were telecom giant Ericcson and auto manufacturer Volvo. In the same message, the group announced the launch of a new Ramadan offensive to track down and kill Sunni "traitors" who cooperate with the U.S. in Iraq. The Islamic fasting month began late last week. Nerikes Allehanda editorial writer Lars Stroman told Cybercast News Service he penned the original piece accompanied by the drawing in reaction to a decision by Swedish art galleries not to display Vilks' sketches, which depicted a dog with the head of a bearded man wearing a turban. The editorial, which the paper later made available in English and then Arabic, argued that the right to freedom of religion and "the right to ridicule a religion" go together in a free society.
Its publication sparked small protests by Muslims in Oerebro, the Swedish town where the paper in based, and formal complaints from the governments of Iran, Egypt and Pakistan. The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) called the publication a deliberate provocation, and Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt held talks with Muslim community representatives and Islamic countries' ambassadors. As of late last week, most of the reaction was muted and diplomatic, and the issue received relatively low-profile mainstream media coverage. Stroman on Friday even predicted that fuss would now begin to die down.
Within a day, however, the murder threat catapulted the story into the headlines around the world. Reinfeldt on Sunday told Sweden's TT news agency his government was "appealing for calm ... for reflection. We reject these calls to violence, and we reject any attempts to aggravate the situation."
The agency quoted Vilks as playing down the threat, saying while there are risks, they should not be exaggerated. Nonetheless, Swedish police have offered him protection. Radio Sweden quoted Nerikes Allehanda Editor-in-Chief Ulf Johansson as saying he was taking the threat seriously. Swedish media rallied round, too. Dagens Nyheter, a large-circulation paper in Stockholm, reportedly reproduced the controversial sketch during the weekend in support of the smaller regional paper, and another large Stockholm daily, Svenska Dagbladet, urged the media to "wake up" and defend freedom of expression. Some reports asserted that Islam strictly forbids the depiction of Mohammed in any form, although Islamic scholars' views on the subject vary. A Danish newspaper's publication two years ago this month of a dozen cartoons depicting Mohammed sparked a diplomatic furor, a Mideast boycott of Danish goods and protests across the Islamic world, some of which -- in Nigeria, Libya and Afghanistan -- turned deadly. During that episode, Danish Muslim representatives played a leading role in alerting Islamic governments to the cartoons. By contrast, the Muslim Council of Sweden, an umbrella group, has called for the current dispute to be settled by Swedes themselves. The body's head, Helena Benouda, condemned the threats, calling them "ugly," particularly during Ramadan.
Mideast specialist Walid Phares, a visiting scholar at the European Foundation for Democracy in Brussels, said the likelihood of jihadists attacking Swedish companies or individuals would depend in part on the private or public actions and statements by the Swedish government and corporations.
"Sweden has had decades of neutrality regarding many challenges in international relations, and its foreign policy wasn't comparable at all to NATO countries in their struggle against terror," Phares wrote on the Counterterrorism Blog. "However, this is the greatest litmus test yet to be addressed."

Tueni: Speed Up Dialogue to Avoid War
Lebanon's leading columnist Ghassan Tueni called Monday for the election of a president along the lines of "national" consensus and "international blessing" to safeguard the country against the "ghost" of a predicted regional war. "Speed up dialogue …to replace mere talk leading to war," Tueni headlined his editorial front-paged by the daily an-Nahar. Journalist-MP Tueini noted that Damascus visitors as well as objective observers of the Syrian situation note that recent reports regarding the presence nuclear facilities "reminds us of the first chapter of the Iraqi hell" episode. "Syria understands" Tueni wrote, "the horrifying … message."
"That is why it did not relay the Israeli provocation to the Security Council," he noted
Tueni also drew the attention to the forthcoming "ghost" of the regional conference on Middle East, which Syria might not be invited to participate in.
More Serious, he noted, would be if Syria was invited to the conference "as a topic on its agenda and as a suspect in destabilizing international peace. So why take risks?" Another "ghost" in Tueni's opinion, is a meeting by the U.N. Security Council to deliberate a Syrian complaint that could result in a resolution calling for a "cease fire." That, he added, could be followed by Israeli provocations, then by a call for "negotiations that start bilateral and expand to include the Palestinian Cause as well as the whole Middle East issue." Tueni noted that Damascus is not capable of facing a complex agenda that compiles the issues of the Golan Heights, Lebanon, Jerusalem and Baghdad. He warned against "committing mistakes, in Lebanon for example, that Damascus cannot endure its repercussions, and Lebanon would not win from it."
He urged Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri to Launch a "dialogue offensive before the rein of war is turned loose … by ignorant (sides) that do not realize that they will be the first to pay its price." "Practically, what is possible? And what can we do?" Tueni asked.
He proposed a halt in what he termed "the festival of making statements" and urged Berri to "usher us into rational" interaction by asking each side "what do they want and what are the limits of enduring solutions on consensus base and what are the proposed solutions." Tueni called for the election of a new head of state to reflect a "National" choice and "International blessing." He concluded that accepting international blessing of the new president is the "substitute to war. It would safeguard Lebanon and Syria at the same time." Beirut, 17 Sep 07, 09:18

Libyan Terrorist and aides arrested, Explosives Confiscated
Police arrested four suspected terrorists, a Libyan and three Lebanese, and confiscated explosives and Katyusha rockets, a reliable source told Naharnet.
Two suspects, a Lebanese and a Libyan, were rounded up Sunday in a police bust of a hideout and a camouflaged dump in the village of Anout, in the Kharoub province southeast of Beirut. The two other suspects were rounded in the southern village of Zawtar in a separate bust carried out the same day.
The coordinated operation followed months of monitoring, said the source who asked not to be identified.
He said two other suspects of the six-man cell remain at larges and a man hunt has been launched for them. He refused to disclose further information pertaining to their names or nationalities. The Lebanese citizen arrested in Anount was identified as Walid Mohammed Ammar, a reputed Salafist in the Sunni Muslim region.
The cell, according to the source, had been active in carrying out attacks and planning for attacks in the sector of south Lebanon patrolled by the U.N. Interim Force (UNIFIL). Beirut, 17 Sep 07, 10:12

Two Syrian Fatah al-Islam Terrorists arrested
Lebanese citizens and military intelligence agents have captured two Syrian members of the Fatah al-Islam terrorist network in the range groves of north Lebanon.
The arrests were made Sunday in the Minieh district close to the Nahr al-Bared camp that had been the field for a 106-day confrontation between the army and Fatah al-Islam terrorists. Minieh residents in cooperation with police captured Abdul Aziz al-Masri, a Syrian national and member of Fatah a-Islam who was hiding in an orange grove near the beach. Army intelligence, later Sunday, arrested another Syrian terrorist who was identified as Nouri al-Hajeh. A military source said the army has arrested at least 30 Fatah al-Islam terrorists and killed 20 since the Nahr al-Bared battle was won on Sept 2. That brought to nearly 250 the number of Fatah al-Islam terrorists killed since outbreak of hostilities on May 20. Authorities have also captured more than 240 members of the group. However, Mystery still shrouds the whereabouts of terrorist master mind Shaker Abssi. Beirut, 17 Sep 07, 09:49

Syria raid a 'clear message to Iran'

Audio: Israel hit Syrian nuclear target: reports (AM) An air strike Syria accuses Israel of staging on its territory was a warning both to Damascus and to Iran, former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton said. "I think this is a clear message not only to Syria, this is a clear message to Iran as well that its continued efforts to acquire nuclear weapons are not going to go unanswered," Bolton told Israel's 10 television channel. Damascus said its air defences fired on Israeli warplanes which had dropped munitions deep inside its territory in the early hours of September 6, and it has protested to the UN Security Council. Israel has maintained a wall of silence over the event. But on Sunday it boasted that it had recovered its "deterrent capability" after an air strike in Syria triggered warnings of retaliation and intense media speculation over the aim of the operation. "The new situation affects the entire region, including Iran and Syria," military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin told parliament's powerful foreign affairs and defence committee, local media reported. Bolton underlined that "it will be very unusual for Israel to conduct such a military operation inside Syria other (than) for a very high value target and certainly a Syrian effort in nuclear weapon area will qualify.""The USA should welcome this activity," he said.-AFP

Berri, Hariri break ice ahead of expected meeting on presidential election
By Hani M. Bathish
Daily Star staff
Monday, September 17, 2007
BEIRUT: Lines of communication have been reopened between Future Movement leader MP Saad Hariri and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, sources close to Berri said on Sunday. The two leaders exchanged Ramadan greetings over the telephone on Saturday. Separately, Hariri continued to insist on keeping bridges open between the majority and the opposition and urged the immediate resumption of national dialogue.
Arafat Hijazi, Berri's media adviser, told The Daily Star Sunday that both men have agreed to talk again at a later date, confirming that channels of communication have been reopened.
"They will talk soon and are working toward arranging a meeting," Hijazi said, but did not specify when that meeting could be held.
Berri had said earlier that he will meet Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir when he has "something in hand."
Hijazi said that Berri's preparations and consultations for the much-anticipated meeting with Sfeir are still ongoing. "It is likely the meeting will take place in the coming days, most likely after the Council of Maronite Bishops' statement comes out on Wednesday," Hijazi said.
Visitors to Berri on Saturday said the speaker is patient and will proceed with his initiative with the patriarch's help. Berri on Sunday received the Vatican ambassador to Lebanon, Luigi Gatti, with whom he discussed efforts being made to get out of the current crisis.
Sfeir, during his Sunday sermon from Bkirki said the dispute over the quorum required to elect a new president reflects "unsound citizenship" and that what is required is more concern for the best interest of the country and its people rather than the personal interests of the various leaders. "From what we hear today it is as if people's lives have no value, as we see from the shameful behavior of many [politicians]," he said, questioning whether the Lebanese had learned at all from the painful lessons of the past. Hariri said on Saturday that it is in no one's interest to have a constitutional vacuum emerge, and called on all parties to put aside all political and constitutional disagreements. "Let us talk, let us have a serious discussion and search for a way out [of the crisis] that preserve's Lebanon's interests," he said, addressing guests at a Ramadan iftar banquet in Koreitem.
Hariri said the March 14 Forces' statement issued from Bikfaya last week was clear in calling for all sides to meet to save presidential elections from the abyss by reaching a consensus. He urged the immediate resumption of dialogue and not simply expressing a desire for dialogue via the media. "There is no solution to the current problem except starting immediate talks," Hariri said.
He said any delay in electing a president is a crime against Lebanon, adding that those who do not want elections to proceed on time desire to see a vacuum emerge. "Threatening with a vacuum is not a threat aimed at us or any party within March 14, it is rather a threat to the whole of Lebanon and Lebanese unity and those who resort to such threats only threaten themselves," Hariri said. Former Premier Salim Hoss said in a statement on Sunday that he sees no excuse for not accepting Berri's proposal, adding that being "non-responsive" to the initiative is a rejection of consensus and accord. "The presidential election nears and with it concern grows over the nation's fate as political bickering continues," Hoss said, describing the debate between the rival camps as childish.
National Liberal Party leader Dory Chamoun said Berri has endeavored to interpret the Constitution as he likes, adding that there is no serious proposal in the speaker's initiative. "Despite this we have responded to him through our own proposal to sit at the negotiating table and agree over the [national imperatives] and then we would not disagree over the name of a president," Chamoun said. Presidential candidate MP Boutros Harb renewed his support for Berri's initiative in a statement Sunday, saying any option other than consensus over a president for Lebanon, aims to destroy the country and ignite inter-Lebanese strife.
"People are exhausted from crises, fears and threats," Harb said. "We must not blame others, or those who profit from our instability, the reality is that the ruin of Lebanon is due to our mistakes." He said if the Lebanese repeat the mistakes of the past they would do so with foreknowledge of the crime they commit against their country. Amal Party official Jamil Hayek, speaking at a political rally Sunday, said the country is witnessing a tug-of-war between those who insist on accord for the sake of the country and those who wish to bypass consensus, partnership and the Constitution. He called on the ruling coalition to take a clear position on Berri's initiative. Hayek said Berri's initiative springs from the speaker's concern for Lebanon's unity. "The Amal movement and its president want to see through this initiative a solution to the political crisis," Hayek said, urging everyone to follow the example of the speaker who declared his willingness to sacrifice for the sake of the country.
Resigned Energy Minister Mohammad Fneish said the ruling coalition's response to Berri's initiative was nothing more than "a series of abuses and accusations." Speaking at an iftar banquet in the South, Fneish said that as soon as the opposition had sought dialogue and consensus, countries supporting the ruling coalition provocatively came out with statements accepting a president elected by half plus one of MPs.
"We will keep the windows open [for consensus] in case some awaken and come back to their senses, placing the national interest above his party's interests," Fneish said. Hizbullah politburo member Ghaleb Abu Zeinab said the opposition's candidate for the presidency is Change and Reform Bloc leader MP Michel Aoun, adding that no one else from the ranks of the opposition will submit their candidacy.

Lebanese Army nabs Taha, three other Fatah al-Islam men trying to enter Beddawi ca
By Michael Bluhm
Daily Star staff
Monday, September 17, 2007
BEIRUT: One day after capturing Fatah al-Islam spokesman Abu Salim Taha and three other fugitive militants, the Lebanese Army on Sunday nabbed three more members of Fatah al-Islam near the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, said a report by Agence France Presse (AFP).
Also on Sunday, State Prosecutor Said Mirza confirmed that the wife of Fatah al-Islam leader Shaker al-Abssi had said she "might have been mistaken" in identifying the corpse of a militant as her husband, said the AFP report. DNA tests proved the corpse belonged to a man in his 30s, while Abssi was born in 1955.
Among the three militants snared on Sunday were two citizens of unidentified Gulf countries and 25-year-old Syrian national Abdul-Aziz al-Masri, who was captured in Miniyeh, said a report from the National News Agency (NNA). Masri was taking shelter near the Mediterranean Sea and he was carrying cans of tuna and vitamin pills when authorities apprehended him, the NNA report added. Taha - whose real name accoring to the army is Mohammad Saleh Zawawi - was arrested on Saturday when he and three comrades attempted to sneak into the Beddawi refugee camp south of Nahr al-Bared, said local media reports. Taha is a Palestinian-Syrian from the Yarmouk refugee camp, while his cohorts were from Saudi Arabia, Syria and Tunisia, the reports said.
Lebanese security forces have been guarding the perimeter of the Beddawi camp since the siege of Nahr al-Bared ended with a failed mass breakout by the last few dozen remaining Fatah al-Islam militants on September 2. The army has rounded up and killed almost 20 gunmen since then, after killing 39 and capturing 21 during the escape try. The army lost 167 soldiers in the 15-week battle, while killing more than 220 militants and taking more than 200 into custody.
However, the army had had little success in finding or killing Fatah al-Islam's leadership before collaring Taha on Saturday. Security forces shot and killed Fatah al-Islam number two Shehab Qaddour, known as Abu Hureira, in mid-August in the port city of Tripoli after he had somehow slipped out of the besieged Nahr al-Bared camp. The whereabouts of Abssi and spokesman Shahine Shahine remain unknown. Mirza has said that Abssi had bolted Nahr al-Bared a few hours before the abortive pre-dawn mass getaway bid on September 2. Abssi's wife, daughter and a number of Palestinian clerics positively identified a corpse in a Tripoli hospital as Abssi, although Abssi's wife conceded to Investigating Magistrate Ghassan Oweidat that the body might not have been her husband, the AFP report said.
The judge plans to question the clerics again, and all those who mistakenly identified the corpse could face charges of giving false information if authorities believe the witnesses intentionally misled the investigation. - With agencies

Presidential Vacuum Would Legitimize the 'Arena'
Walid Shoucair - Al-Hayat - 14/09/07//
Despite the doubts of experts about the possibility of war between Israel and Syria - doubts held in spite of Israel's alleged recent air strike on Syrian territory - the specter of war (or wars) - whether or not war actually breaks out - constitutes an integral part of the strategic calculations of powers involved in the region's struggles and developments.
It is impossible for Lebanon to escape the regional winds that blew into it with Israel's war on the country last July. If we consider the presidential elections a significant step in the effort to shield Lebanon from the conflict that surrounds it, the developments of recent weeks indicate that even this modest goal will prove difficult to fulfill. Those pushing to hold the elections on time do not hope that this would comprehensively resolve Lebanon's crisis and its links to the regional one. They are simply hoping it will held Lebanon coexist with the turmoil of the region and mitigate the latter's more harmful effect on the country. For the odds of Lebanon ceasing to be an arena in which regional conflicts play themselves out are low if not non-existent.
A brief look at the past two presidential terms shows the extent of the link between Lebanon's character and its remaining an arena for foreign struggles rather than a nation controlling its borders and sovereign over its territory. Until the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, most Lebanese tolerated Syrian hegemony over the core of their country's government as a reasonable price to pay for Syria's help in evicting Israel. Afterwards, the Lebanese grew increasingly uncomfortable with this arrangement. Syria did not lose its need for Lebanon as a surrogate through which to manipulate regional developments. Thus, it strongly resisted any efforts to upset the political balance of power since the parliamentary of elections in 2000, extending Emile Lahoud's term in 2004 in its bid to preserve Lebanon as an arena for regional conflict. In Lahoud they found someone who both identified with and - as a military man - could implement its politics. Damascus decided on this extension in the face of unwelcome political shifts within parliament and the cabinet - shifts that were in turn sped up by its decision to extend Lahoud's term and by the murder of Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and the ensuing withdrawal under international pressure of Syrian troops from Lebanon.
The new order that emerged has been subject to great political and deadly pressure - and has survived it. President Lahoud, however, in conjunction with others opposing the new order, has emerged as an obstacle to it and to its near-unanimous international and Arab support it enjoys. If it has been difficult to construct a state to guarantee Lebanon's continuing status as an arena of conflict, blocking two of its major institutions - the parliament and the presidency - can prevent the state from limiting this role. If Damascus cannot control the state directly, then undermining its institutions can guarantee Lebanon remains such an arena. If it proves similarly impossible to guarantee a president similar to Lahoud, then a presidential vacuum is made the only other option.
The Presidential is decisive to Syria if it wishes to preserve Lebanon as an arena for its conflicts - just as it is decisive for all Lebanese who wish to put an end to their country's being used as a card in regional conflicts. This is what makes a presidential vacuum a pressing possibility.
There is one alternative to election; another Lahoud as president or no president at all - which is for Syria to leave its allies and adversaries to agree on a president as a concession to the international community and Arab world in return for easing their pressure on the country. But is Syria willing to do this.

The Opposition and Its Ceiling
Zuheir Kseibati -Al-Hayat - 17/09/07//
What worries the opposition in Lebanon most is that the Arab and international efforts to reduce the tension in the country's intractable crisis, even if they appear to balance the "good intentions" of both parties to the conflict, will neutralize any escalation as part of the last-minute option, if the 14 March group goes ahead with electing the president based on the qualities and the quorum fixed for any round after the first session. For all practical purposes, the opposition has failed in its wager on seeing a divergence between Paris and Washington, when the last mission by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in Beirut ended with an implicit hint to the 8 March group, as part of the flirtation with the "wisdom" of Speaker Nabih Berry, that it was basically being given two options: reach agreement with 14 March about the presidency, or let the constitutional process play itself out to the end, even if this means accepting someone elected on the basis of a 50% plus one quorum.
The content of the French message was that a political vacuum would not be permitted. Kouchner was keen to address Berry as the Speaker of Parliament, to encourage him to re-open the legislature, and get over his "disappointment" at the response of 14 March to his recent initiative. The French message contained enough indicators to increase the anxiety of Lebanese and Syrians, and confusion of the Iranians.
-When the minister said that "some hope that there won't be a Lebanon," he was warning about the option of chaos, which was not just fear-mongering or a stepping-up of pressure to speed up the conclusion of a settlement, even if only a temporary one, by electing a president to manage the crisis or a president desired by 14 March.
When Paris offers Damascus the "carrot" of an opening "that will amaze it," it is not addressing Syria's number one fear, namely the international tribunal to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, which is likely to be established in the Netherlands at the beginning of 2008. Damascus insists that it is being targeted by the "politicization" of this tribunal. In other words, it doesn't seem like the carrot is sufficient to facilitate the presidential election in Lebanon, in the absence of "guarantees" to Syria. In fact, Damascus is likely to be fearful of the promises made by Kouchner to entice it to "pay the price first," while the neutralization of its negotiating cards in Lebanon through its allies is taking place, one card at a time.
-When Paris somewhat surprisingly praises the Iranian role, it doubles Damascus' confusion about Iran's true political calculations in Lebanon and the extent to which the trade-off game can continue.
As for France's attempt to entice Syria with a seat at the international peace gathering, it's like someone leading a thirsty person to an empty well, unless all of the commotion about Israel's strike at "nuclear program" facilities in Syrian territory was a scenario to openly move the negotiation track ahead, with an understanding between the Jewish state and Washington.
Perhaps the Russian deputy foreign minister, Alexander Sultanov, did not err when he didn't find "any true effort" to settle the Lebanese political crisis. A single word describes all of the Arab and international attempts, namely "cooling-down" the language of threats to divide the country, and one can no longer ignore the complicated overlap of regional crises and their extensions into Lebanon and the options of its politicians.
Once again, if we calculate according to winning and losing, the opposition remains under a ceiling of pressures. A presidential vacuum means an international consensus over domestic dialogue that will guarantee an election, and after the opposition dropped its card of demanding a national unity government, and the call by the Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir to leave behind the dispute over a quorum for electing the president, what guarantee does 8 March have, as long as the majority has its say about the identity and program of the next president? Can this group easily cast doubt on the president's legitimacy, as it has with the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora?
Paris has settled this question, after Washington did the same. Whoever succeeds President Emile Lahoud will enjoy the recognition of the international community, even if elected on the basis of 50% plus one quorum, although some believe that the French foreign minister cornered the opposition, with two options: agreement, or agreement, since the alternative to 50% plus one is a consensus.
The other side of the formula of "two options" is the implicit US message that says there will be no international legitimacy to any second government formed by Lahoud, as a counter-measure to the 50% plus one policy. Isn't this what US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman meant? In diplomatic language, perhaps he meant that the US would not hesitate to garner support for a resolution passed by the Security Council to classify this government an international pariah. Most likely, Russia's position will not change from what it was when it endorsed the creation of an international court to try al-Hariri's killers and those of other leading thinkers and politicians.
"Cooling off" the crisis through an international consensus encourages the Lebanese to hope that their problems will be gradually solved, while awaiting solutions for regional conflicts. It also encourages them to test the ability of Speaker Berri to "round out the corners." However, who will guarantee the "cooling off" those who lose out, in the final minutes of the game?
The predicament for some of these people is that they bet on the settlement of major options in the region first, to see where they would put their feet afterward.

Musings on Media Coverage Of The Middle East
Prof. Barry Rubin - 9/16/2007
When is the media or non-governmental organizations fair or unfair in discussing the Arab-Israeli conflict? Critical here is how they present each side's motivations and actions. Below are some examples in both categories to give a sense of what is right, and wrong, with coverage.
First is a case study in one AP dispatch by Albert Aji of September 7, 2007, discussing Israel's recent air operation in Syria. Here are the key paragraphs:
"Israel has demanded that Syria stop its support for Hezbollah and Hamas, which have been holding captured Israeli soldiers for more than a year.Syria, in turn, has increasingly pushed its demands for the return of the Israeli-held Golan Heights and is concerned that it is being left out of a U.S.-brokered Mideast peace conference due to be held in November."
Not too bad. But this also leaves out what might well be the central issue here: Syrian arms smuggling to Hizballah which was perhaps the motive for the attack, after all. It also doesn't mention Syria's goal of regaining control of Lebanon or its relationship to Iran. Well, one cannot expect everything in a short, news-oriented story.
Another paragraph does supply more information:
"The United States, Israel, and some of their allies fear Tehran is using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to produce atomic weapons. Iran denies the accusation, saying its program is solely geared toward generating electricity. Both Israel and the United States have not ruled out air strikes should the program expand."
Mr. Aji did his duty, no easy task for someone reporting from Damascus. But, of course, the need is for other stories to fill in some important missing analytical points.
There are some interesting points, aside from reporting the event itself, in "Rocket Wounds Dozens of Israeli Soldiers" by Josef Federman, AP and also of September 7. He begins:
"The Israeli government came under increasing pressure Tuesday to respond harshly to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip after a barrage wounded dozens of soldiers as they slept in their tents at an Israeli army base."
Why "harshly" which has nasty implications? How about: decisively, effectively, or quickly, among many other choices.
"After Tuesday's attack, along with a rocket last week that exploded near a nursery school in the southern town of Sderot, many Israelis are growing impatient."
"The question is not whether to create deterrence, but when," Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, a member of Olmert's ruling Kadima party, told Israel Radio."
This does give a motivation for Israel to respond so it meets that test.
"Some Israeli leaders have urged Israel to consider non-military steps, such as cutting off fuel and power to Gaza. `I think we have tools to do this, tools that are not only military,' Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told reporters."
The idea of doing so is not reported pejoratively, though one could point out that Livni and others have rejected this option so far. The Israeli position is countered by fair quoting of U.S. officials who warn not to take action that might jeopardize peace negotiations. (I disagree with the U.S. officials but reporting what they say is certainly appropriate.)
The article also appropriately quotes Livni as saying: "It doesn't matter which terror group took responsibility. Gaza is totally controlled by Hamas, and it has the ability to stop this and decided not to." This is a key point regarding the extremism of Hamas. And the article goes on to note, "Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum praised Tuesday's attack as a `victory from God.' In Gaza City and in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, youths in Islamic Jihad scarves and T-shirts handed out sweets to motorists in celebration."
Even though I doubt that it is true the article also reports, without prejudice, "Palestinian officials said Tuesday that Abbas has hinted of progress on two of the most contentious issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: which territories that Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war will become part of a future Palestinian state and how the disputed holy city of Jerusalem will be shared, the officials said." This is how reporting should be in terms of fairness (though I doubt there is any real progress, as does another Palestinian negotiator quoted later in the article), not pre-judging the issues.
Far more problematic is the Middle East Watch report on the Israel-Hizballah war which would be laughable if it was not so dangerously slanderous. The report, based apparently on Hizballah and Lebanese government sources, claims that there was no basis to the Israeli assertion that civilian casualties resulted from Hezbollah guerrillas' use of civilians as shields. It rejects the Israeli view that it only attacked civilian areas because Hezbollah set up rocket launchers in villages and towns.
Let's consider this a moment. The report would have you believe that Israel dropped bombs at random, with no relationship to the location of Hizballah fighters. This is not a very effective military tactic and the Israeli military and government would not be so stupid. There are a limited number of plane missions and bombs. Each flight risks the live of the pilot and the equipment. Israel has "smart" munitions capable of tremendous accuracy. Moreover, Israel is known for having good intelligence.
So why just bomb at random? The only explanation, though the report does not say this, is Israel just wanted to kill people and terrorize Lebanese civilians. In other words, if this report is to be taken seriously, Israel is no different from the terrorists, which is of course what many of its more rabid critics say. This is what historically was known as a blood libel.
But let's assume Israel is evil. Does that mean its leaders were totally indifferent to being effective? That it was more important to just hurt innocent Lebanese than win the war, defeat Hizballah, or protect Israeli civilians? In other words, is Israel's policy based merely on sadism?
The answer is: of course not. Israel used intelligence, highly skilled pilots, and smart munitions to hit specific targets effectively. I have been told by Lebanese on the scene that they were amazed at how specific buildings in south Beirut were destroyed while those next door were virtually untouched. Of course, mistakes are made and misses occur. Yet that is in no way "indiscriminate" but things that happen despite tremendous attempt to avoid civilian casualties.
When I was interviewed on Sky News during the war, my fellow panellist was a Sky reporter not known for any friendliness to Israel. He recounted how in 1982 he had harshly criticized Israel for an attack on a specific apartment building in Beirut. He was then invited to Israeli military headquarters where he was shown aerial reconnaissance of the building in which the barrel of a large PLO artillery piece was clearly shown extending out of the open door of the building's garage. That reporter had the honesty and good grace to admit he had been wrong.
The AP article covering the report was far fairer, summarizing the events in these words:
"More than 1,000 Lebanese were killed in the 34-day conflict last summer, which began after Hezbollah staged a cross-border raid, killing three Israeli soldiers and capturing two others who are still being held. Israeli warplanes targeted Lebanese infrastructure, including bridges and the Beirut airport, and heavily damaged a neighborhood in Beirut known as a Hezbollah stronghold, as well as attacking Hezbollah centers in villages near the border. Hezbollah fired nearly 4,000 rockets at northern Israel, killing 119 soldiers. In the fighting, 40 Israeli civilians were killed."
First, how do we know, a statistic used in the report, that 1,000 Lebanese were killed? Well, that's what the Lebanese government says and it might well not be true. There is no independent verification of this figure.
But let's say, for the moment, that it is true. The Israeli military claims that about 600 to 650 Hizballah soldiers were killed during the war. So if 1,000 Lebanese were killed, about two-thirds of them were likely combatants, members of a terrorist group.
Note that the report--and plenty of those in the media--never even question the figure. Why are they so quick to assume--even if we accept the figure--that "1,000 Lebanese" means 1,000 Lebanese civilians? The report makes that leap, which is a clear indication of bias.
And why are they more likely to leap on the idea that Israel deliberately killed civilians rather than terrorists who support dictatorship (and have deployed murderous violence against their own fellow citizens) are going to hide among civilians for two reasons: first, to protect themselves; second, to force Israel to choose between doing nothing or attacking so that they can blame it for targeting civilians?
A clue to how blind this bias is comes from a statement by Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth. Read his words carefully:
"Israel wrongfully acted as if all civilians had heeded its warnings to evacuate southern Lebanon when it knew they had not, disregarding its continuing legal duty to distinguish between military targets and civilians....Issuing warnings doesn't make indiscriminate attacks lawful."
Now think about what that means. Israel's "indiscriminate" attacks means here that Israel attacked places even though it knew civilians might be present. Yet realize how this unravels the whole Human Rights Watch claim. After all, if Hizballah had not been using civilians as shields--hiding in homes for example--then why would there have been civilian casualties? Not many civilians who had not evacuated, after all, were living in the middle of Hizballah military bases.
In other words, the Human Rights' Watch argument works like this: Hizballah deliberately based itself in civilian homes and areas. There were some Lebanese civilians there. Israel attacked Hizballah. Therefore, Israel's attacks were indiscriminate because it attacked areas where there were civilians. But Hizballah was not using these places in order to hide behind civilians. Only Alice in Wonderland faced such twisted logic.
The report also neglects the numerous accounts by journalists and Lebanese about how Hizballah took over people's homes and used civilian areas as bases.
In other words, it is not just shamefully biased against Israel but deliberately and consciously so.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev rejected the report's findings with a dose of reality:
"Hezbollah adopted a deliberate strategy of shielding itself behind the civilian population and turning the civilians in Lebanon into a human shield," so that Hezbollah "broke the first fundamental rule of war in that they deliberately exploited the civilian population of Lebanon as a human shield."
This is not only true it should be ridiculously obvious. Of course, the main fault here lies with Human Rights Watch. But that such a group or such a report be given any credibility at all--and not ridiculed on its face--is one more sign of the sad times we are in regarding intellectual integrity and methods.
****Prof. Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Interdisciplinary university. His new book is The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan).

A Lebanese Militant Group Launches Rebuilding Project As Election Nears,
Hezbollah Gains Clout Across Sectarian Lines

September 17, 2007; Page A1
BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Last fall, Hezbollah leader Seyed Hassan Nasrallah delivered an unusual business pitch to residents of Dahiya, a Shiite enclave on the south side of town.
Large swaths of the neighborhood had been razed by bombs during the summer's monthlong war with Israel. In front of 5,000 residents, the black-turbaned cleric said his Islamic Shiite group would rebuild. But he needed those who had lost homes or businesses to hand over their government-issued war-compensation checks.
"You have two choices," Mr. Nasrallah said, according to people who attended. "Either build yourselves, or let us do it for you. But we promise to build it ever prettier and better than before." After Mr. Nasrallah answered questions for several hours, Hezbollah officials passed out slips of paper for a poll. Nine out of 10 residents voted to fork over their cash.
Hezbollah officials named Mr. Nasrallah's new venture Waad, or "promise," in Arabic. The outfit recruited urban planners and prominent Beirut architects, who quickly drew up blueprints for the 281 destroyed and damaged buildings in the neighborhood. In July, local construction firms broke ground on the neighborhood's first 25 new buildings.
Waad is helping cement big political gains that Hezbollah won during last year's war with Israel, and the subsequent reconstruction race with the Lebanese government that followed the fighting. After a United Nations cease-fire, Hezbollah and the government of Prime Minister Fouad Sinoria set off to win popular support by repairing war-damaged areas. The competition to claim credit for rebuilding turned into a battle for political influence.
The reconstruction race could impact the near-term political future of Lebanon, where Christians, Sunni and Shiite Muslims share power in a complex, sect-based system. Parliament is set to elect a new president in September. Both the Lebanese and the Hezbollah-led opposition have threatened to name their own leader, splitting the government in the process, if consensus isn't reached. Such a division threatens a deeper constitutional crisis here and, some observers warn, civil war that could breed fresh instability across the region.
Hezbollah, which is supported by Iran and Syria, has been officially labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S. Its critics accuse the group of carrying out terrorist attacks, including the 1983 Beirut bombings of the U.S. Embassy and a Marine Corps barracks, and for targeting Israeli civilians. But it is increasingly viewed as a viable and indispensable part of the political structure here.
Last December, when the group decided to confront the U.S.-backed government for more parliament seats, Hezbollah made a strategic alliance with a Christian opposition party. Hezbollah thus could claim it was a legitimate national movement with the support of a significant number of Christians.
It dispatched supporters to the streets of downtown Beirut for peaceful demonstrations. When, on occasion, those demonstrations turned violent -- with clashes between rivaling Sunni supporters of the government and Shiite supporters of Hezbollah -- Mr. Nasrallah immediately recalled the crowds from the streets.
"Hezbollah has become very image-conscious because the movement is more and more about domestic politics rather than resisting Israel or serving the interests of Iran," says Timur Goksel, an expert on Hezbollah who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut. "It has been Nasrallah's personal mission to move the party forward into politics and we are seeing that play out now."
The Waad program is further evidence of the group's political evolution. Hezbollah waited for the Lebanese government to announce its reconstruction plan and then articulated its own. It has avoided putting up illegal buildings and plays strictly by the rules -- requiring owners to diligently follow up on disputed deeds and documents. The Waad project, notably, includes architects and companies across the sectarian divide, giving the project a decidedly nationalist tone.
"With the reconstruction project, Hezbollah has shown that it has initiative, it's flexible and reactive," says Yasser Akkaoui, editor in chief of Executive, an independent business magazine that has followed the Dahiya project closely. In a televised speech last month, marking the one-year anniversary of the cease-fire, Mr. Nasrallah renewed his pledge to rebuild war-torn areas by next year, and he praised Waad.
At Waad headquarters, geopolitical concerns seem far removed. Fresh paint and blueprints cover the walls of hallways and conference rooms in the company's tidy, five-story building. In its main reception, a scale model of Dahiya -- dotted with miniature trees and cars -- spreads over a large table. Chocolates, wrapped in Waad-logo gold paper, fill a crystal bowl.
Across the street, the scale of Waad's project is clear. A row of half-collapsed apartment buildings lean against each other, spilling plaster and plumbing fixtures into the street. A large crater covers an area nearby where a prominent cleric's home and a public library once stood.
"By next year all these will be replaced by beautiful modern structures," says Hassan Jeshi, a Beirut architect tapped by Hezbollah as Waad's general manager. "When this project ends, Hezbollah will definitely be stronger," he says, looking out a window as bulldozers clear rubble below.
Mr. Jeshi is a Shiite Muslim from the neighborhood and a Hezbollah supporter, but he says he isn't a member of the group. He says he left his own small architectural firm after Hezbollah officials asked him to lead Waad. He oversees a staff of over 100 paid workers and dozens of volunteers, and updates Mr. Nasrallah regularly on the company's progress.
Hezbollah was created in the early 1980s as a paramilitary movement trained by Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards. Its mission was to resist Israel's 18-year occupation of Lebanon. Over decades of civil war, the group built up social networks to fill voids left by the country's semifunctional state. But it has also kept true to its military roots.
On July 12 last year, Hezbollah fighters crossed the Lebanon-Israeli border and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers. Israel responded by pounding Lebanon's airport, roads and bridges. It also targeted neighborhoods such as Dahiya.
Hezbollah fired back, bogging down Israeli tanks and troops as they pushed into Southern Lebanon. During the 34-day aerial and ground battle, over 1,200 Lebanese were killed, most of them civilians. Israel lost 158, mostly soldiers.
In Lebanon, which had just begun an economic rebound after decades of civil war, more than 120,000 homes were destroyed. The Lebanese government estimates the conflict cost the country about $2.8 billion. Beirut's southern Shiite neighborhood of Dahiya took the brunt of Israel's bombs.
After the U.N.-brokered cease-fire, the government turned to Arab and Western allies for funds to help rebuild. Officials set up a commission to disperse aid, but funding delays and bureaucracy hobbled efforts to quickly infuse damaged neighborhoods with cash.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah's nimble social network sprang into action. It doled out $12,000 to displaced families, as well as other aid such as food and clothes. That effort was funded by a gift from Iran, Hezbollah officials said.
But faced with the scale of the damage in Dahiya, Hezbollah officials realized that Iranian cash wasn't going to be enough. Its reconstruction wing, Jihad al-Bina, had overseen rebuilding efforts in war-damaged areas for almost two decades. But previous work had mostly been in small villages, fixing or reconstructing a handful of buildings, one at a time. Officials recognized that to rebuild the densely populated and urban area of Dahiya, they needed a new approach and more help.
By October, a group of prominent Lebanese architects, urban planners and university professors had already begun to meet informally to discuss how to help rebuild. Rahif Fayad, a Christian and president of the Arab Organization of Architects, wrote two articles for a Beirut newspaper. In them, he proposed that Lebanon's architects form a consulting committee and come up with a reconstruction plan. He hoped the government would take up the idea.
Instead, Hezbollah came knocking. Within days, Hassan Hijazi, a top Jihad al-Bina engineer, called Mr. Fayad and then paid a visit to his small office in the posh neighborhood of Verdun. Mr. Hijazi asked Mr. Fayad to join Hezbollah's efforts to repair Dahiya. The architect agreed and convinced a handful of colleagues to join him. Waad was born.
"It's every architect's dream to participate in such a grand project of rebuilding your country after the war," says Mr. Fayad. "Waad has given us that opportunity and we are grateful."
With a framework for the project in place, Mr. Nasrallah made his pitch to Dahiya's residents -- many still dazed by the war. Mariana Khazaal, a 43-year-old mother of four and a worker at a jewelry factory, said her apartment and all the family's belongings were demolished when a bomb landed on their nine-story residential tower. She eventually expects to receive about $40,000 in government compensation. When she gets her check, she plans to hand it over to Waad.
"Seyed Nasrallah said one word: I promise," she says. "We believe him and trust him. He is the only one who delivers his promise in this country."
Mr. Fayad formed a six-person supervisory committee, which meets every week on Thursday afternoons to hammer out an urban vision for Dahiya. They work as unpaid consultants, but Mr. Fayad and others in the group have won design work from Waad for the project. They say their commissions are significantly below market prices.
By December, the group came up with a three-pronged plan: Waad should stick to the basic layout of the old neighborhood. It should limit construction to pre-existing residential and commercial blocks. But it should also try to solve some of the neighborhood's old urban headaches. The committee has drawn up plans to add parking, green space and tree-lined avenues as well as handicapped amenities like ramped sidewalks.
Waad made sure to involve residents from each of the damaged buildings. A group of them meets regularly with Waad's public-relations officers, and offers suggestions. Among their concerns: the number of bathrooms for each unit, and whether a building will have balconies or not.
Waad filed building plans with municipal authorities, and by February had won approval from residents and city officials. The company divided the neighborhood into 30 zones and handed out design work to architectural firms across the country. It says it awards contracts for construction work through public bidding by local contractors.
After Dahiya residents sign a power of attorney, Waad can draw compensation checks and use the money for the project. Compensations range between $30,000 and $60,000 per housing unit.
Waad has begun construction work on 80 buildings and more are expected to break ground soon. Waad executives say they expect to finish rebuilding by late 2008 and estimate costs at some $400 million. What they can't finance with compensation checks, Hezbollah says it will draw from its own coffers, built up over the years by donations and funding from Iran.
But Waad's cash flow has been strained by delayed payments from the government. In Dahiya, just 3,500 compensation checks have been issued and cashed, according to the government, which says payments are slowed down by lack of proper legal documents proving ownership. Waad says 15% of Dahiya's residents have turned over their checks. In the south, the government has issued 75,000 for a total of $270 million.
After the cease-fire, Arab and Western governments pledged $8.5 billion in aid. But much of the Western money came with strings attached, such as government reform, and Lebanon hasn't seen any of it yet. Arab countries have sent some $737 million so far, and countries like Qatar and Iran are leading their own projects. Indonesia recently sent $1 million, and $10 million more came by way of private donations. Some western countries like the U.S., Italy and France have adopted rebuilding a bridge instead of paying cash to the government for reconstruction.
Most of the cash earmarked for Dahiya residents -- and being diverted to Waad -- is coming from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, two staunch U.S. allies who have worked in the past to check Hezbollah's influence in the region.
Mr. Sinoria's government says it isn't competing with Waad to rebuild individual homes or neighborhoods. Instead, it is concentrating on big infrastructure projects like bridges and sewer lines. Officials say they won't stand in Hezbollah's way if residents want to turn over their cash to Waad.
"Waad is a private initiative. If people want to give their money to a third party to rebuild for them that's their right," says finance minister Jihad Azur.
At a recent Thursday meeting, Waad officials, Mr. Fayad and other committee members munched on peaches and cherries and debated new designs. In one, proposed balconies for a row of commercial buildings didn't seem the right fit. They decided to send the drawing back to the designer.
Meanwhile, Mr. Jeshi, the general manager, railed about the funding delays. "The government had a responsibility to this region," he said. "No one told it to stay out, but it did. Hezbollah has stepped in."
***Write to Farnaz Fassihi at