DAILY NEWS BULLETIN
Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 8,4-15. When a large crowd gathered, with people from one town after another journeying to him, he spoke in a parable. A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path and was trampled, and the birds of the sky ate it up. Some seed fell on rocky ground, and when it grew, it withered for lack of moisture. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. And some seed fell on good soil, and when it grew, it produced fruit a hundredfold." After saying this, he called out, "Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear." Then his disciples asked him what the meaning of this parable might be. He answered, "Knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of God has been granted to you; but to the rest, they are made known through parables so that 'they may look but not see, and hear but not understand.' This is the meaning of the parable. The seed is the word of God. Those on the path are the ones who have heard, but the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts that they may not believe and be saved. Those on rocky ground are the ones who, when they hear, receive the word with joy, but they have no root; they believe only for a time and fall away in time of trial. As for the seed that fell among thorns, they are the ones who have heard, but as they go along, they are choked by the anxieties and riches and pleasures of life, and they fail to produce mature fruit. But as for the seed that fell on rich soil, they are the ones who, when they have heard the word, embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverance.
Lebanon on tenterhooks for presidential vote.By Selim Saheb Ettaba.Kuwait Times. September 22/07
Lebanon on the brink.ISA - Tel Aviv,Bosnia and Herzegovina. September 22/07
Dying for self-rule in Lebanon. The Boston Glone. September 22/07
The Lebanese Christians: Unsuspecting Victims of a Sunni Shiite Cold War in Lebanon.by Don Quixote. September 22/07
A Senator's Hezbollah Hate.By: Alan M. Dershowitz.September 22/07
The Sleeper Cell Next Door.By: Jamie Glazov. September 22/07
Islam, the Marxism of Our Time.By: Theodore Dalrymple. September 22/07
The meaning of another Lebanese murder.Tony Badran. September 22/07
Lebanon's opposition has much to gain by accepting outside monitors.Daily Star. September 22/07
It may be ashes for the CIA, but it actually got Iraq right.David Ignatius. September 22/07
Latest News Reports From
Miscellaneous Sources for September 22/07
Berri to Postpone Presidential Vote if MPs Didn't show up-Naharnet
Qabalan: Anyone Who Boycotts Elections is a 'Conspirator'-Naharnet
Meeting Canceled in New York Between Kouchner and Mouallem-Naharnet
Egypt Studying With France, Saudi Ways to Protect Lebanon MPs-Naharnet
U.S., France Insist Ghanem Murder Must not Disrupt Elections. Naharnet
Arab State to Buy 20 Percent of Nasdaq. Associated Press
Ban warns of twin governments.Gulf Daily News
Saudi King Abdullah Supports Consensus on Lebanese President.Naharnet
Thousands attend funeral for slain March 14 MP.-Daily Star
Berri, Hariri agree on need to resume dialogue between rival camps-Daily Star
Fadlallah laments foreign interference, Lebanese acceptance of same-Daily Star
UN presses for cooperation in Hariri case-Daily Star
US 'urges Israel to end airspace violations'-Daily Star
Social conservatism makes saving lives a hard sell
Canada to send patrol boats, jeeps to Lebanon.CTV.ca - Canada
Lebanon holds presidential elections.CNN
US, Israel shared intel before Syria raid: report.AFP
N. Korea, Syria hold high-level talks amid suspicions of secret ...San Diego Union Tribune
White House grapples with NKorea-Syria reports.AFP
Israel 'warned US about North Korea-Syria link'-Daily Star
Studying With France, Saudi Ways to Protect Lebanon MPs
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al Ghaith said he would discuss ways to provide security for Lebanese deputies ahead of the presidential elections.
In an interview with the London-based Al Hayat newspaper published on Saturday, al Ghaith said Egypt will study the issue with Arab foreign ministers, particularly his Saudi and French counterparts Saud al-Faisal and Bernard Kouchner, in addition to Arab League chief Amr Moussa. "We are working together with Saudi Arabia, France and the Arab League towards shaping up a position to be presented to the Lebanese sides," al-Ghaith said. He said a meeting -- comprising Faisal, Kouchner and Moussa -- would be held in New York on Sept. 26 "to see if we can agree on a position that would encourage (the warring camps) to settle their differences." Al Ghaith, however, ruled out the possibility of dispatching an Arab force to Lebanon to provide security for the lawmakers. "I hope the assassination of MP (Antoine) Ghanem would be the last one, although I doubt that," Al Ghaith concluded. Kouchner also confirmed that he had received a request from Lebanese leaders for the protection of parliamentarians."We are considering this and we are working on implementing it since France is President of the Security Council this month," he told the daily As Safir upon arrival in New York late Friday. Beirut, 22 Sep 07, 11:17
Berri to Postpone
Presidential Vote if MPs Didn't show up
Lebanon's parliamentary speaker Nahib Berri said in remarks quoted on Saturday that next week's controversial presidential election would be postponed if MPs did not turn up in sufficient numbers. Berri, a member of the pro-Syrian opposition, told the most senior MP, Ghassan Tueni, that he personally would attend Tuesday's session in parliament, but added: "If a quorum is not reached, we will postpone it (the vote)."
Berri, who was quoted in An-Nahar newspaper, has been pushing for the two sides to find a consensus candidate to replace the outgoing, pro-Syrian, President Emile Lahoud whose term expires on November 24. Both domestically and internationally, supporters of the anti-Syrian majority have demanded that MPs proceed to elect a new president, with pressure to do so boosted following the latest killing of an MP opposed to Damascus.
Under the constitution, MPs elect the president -- traditionally a Maronite Christian -- by a majority of two-thirds of parliament's 128 seats in a first round or a simple majority afterwards if a second round is required. The pro-Syrian opposition, backed by Damascus and Tehran, and spearheaded by Hizbullah, interprets the rule as saying a quorum of two-thirds of MPs is needed, enabling it to prevent the election of a candidate it rejects, as the anti-Syrian camp has only a simple majority.
Hizbullah has several times threatened to torpedo a quorum, pulling out MPs in its camp from the vote. Tuesday's election comes just days after the bomb attack which killed MP Antoine Ghanem, the eighth anti-Syrian politician to be assassinated since the February 2005 murder of five-times prime minister and billionaire tycoon Rafiq Hariri. Pro-government MPs in Beirut have pointed the finger of blame at Syria, which denied any involvement and called the bombing a "criminal act" aimed at undermining efforts at a rapprochement with Lebanon. Leaders from across the political spectrum have vowed to press ahead with the controversial presidential vote despite Ghanem's killing. His death reduced the government's support in parliament to 68 out of the remaining 127 MPs, with numbers set to play a key role in the vote. (AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, 22 Sep 07, 17:41
U.S., France Insist Ghanem Murder Must not Disrupt Elections
The United States and France insisted that the assassination of anti-Syrian MP Antoine Ghanem this week must not derail upcoming presidential elections. "What is at stake today is the will of murderers to disrupt the constitutional life of Lebanon," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her French counterpart Bernard Kouchner said in a joint statement after talks. "It is crucial that the presidential election in Lebanon be held according to the Lebanese constitutional schedules and norms," said the statement, which condemned the killing "in the strongest possible terms." Standing next to Rice, Kouchner read the statement condemning the murder of Lebanese lawmaker Antoine Ghanem, killed in a powerful bomb blast two days ago. Ghanem, of the right-wing Phalange Party, was the fifth Christian to be killed in a wave of assassinations targeting anti-Syrian personalities. His assassination in a car bomb attack Wednesday rocked the Lebanese political landscape just days ahead of a vote to name a replacement for pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, was buried Friday east of Beirut. The attack was the latest in a string of killings of critics of Syria, coming after months of almost total political deadlock between the majority and the pro-Damascus opposition. The United States and France have been working together for three years in the U.N. Security Council for measures to help Lebanon with its political problems. The two countries "with their partners in the United Nations Security Council, are vigilant in protecting this process and the intra-Lebanese political dialogue," Friday's joint statement said. Beirut, 22 Sep 07, 07:50
Meeting Canceled in New York Between Kouchner and Mouallem
A meeting between French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Mouallem is canceled, daily Lebanese newspaper reported.
An-Nahar daily quoted diplomatic sources as saying the meeting which was expected to take place during the annual session of the United Nations held later this month in its head quarters in New York. The diplomatic sources highlighted the possibility that a presidential statement may be issued by the Security Council, of which France holds its rotating presidency, next week stressing the firm international position towards the ongoing political deadlock in Lebanon.
Kouchner said earlier that Syria and Iran should be pressured to help secure stability in Lebanon. "If Syria does not create obstacles to Lebanon's sovereignty...then France will open up to Damascus in a spectacular way. But for this to happen, we would need guarantees." he added. Beirut, 22 Sep 07, 18:24
Canada to send patrol boats, jeeps to Lebanon
Updated Fri. Sep. 21 2007
The Canadian Press
OTTAWA -- Ottawa is tapping into a fund used in the past for peace building projects to supply Lebanon with fast patrol boats and Jeeps.
Sources tell The Canadian Press the money would come from the Foreign Affairs Department's Global Peace and Security Fund.
An official at Foreign Affairs, who spoke on background, said four boats to be constructed by a unidentified company in BC. are destined for the Lebanese customs service and would apparently not be armed.Federal Treasury Board documents show five (m) million dollars has been set aside from the peace and security fund in the current budget year for "stabilization assistance for Lebanon.''In the past the security fund has been used for peace-building projects in countries like Sudan.
The patrol boat deal appears to be part of broader international effort to prop up the shaky Lebanese government as it fights Islamic militants.
calls Jumblatt, vows to keep pushing compromise plan
By Hani M. Bathish
Daily Star staff
Saturday, September 22, 2007
BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri has called Democratic Gathering leader MP Walid Jumblatt to offer condolences on the slaying of MP Antoine Ghanem. Berri is continuing with his efforts to push his initiative despite the recent slaying and is continuing consultations away from the media spotlight. Sources close to Berri told the Central News Agency he is continuing conciliatory efforts to proceed with presidential elections in accordance with constitutional norms. Jumblatt, on the other hand, said Friday that if there was an initiative to resolve the crisis it was scuttled by the Ghanem assassination.
"Whatever the destructive capacity of the Syrian regime and its allies, we will never kneel," Jumblatt told New TV. "We will go democratically and peacefully to elections and we will say yes to a sovereign, free and independent Lebanon." March 14 Forces MP Mosbah Ahdab told Britain's Guardian newspaper that he had received telephoned death threats from Syrian numbers which prompted him to evacuate his family to Cyprus. "This is a clear threat [Syria] aims to get rid of anyone who opposes her, especially as the country is nearing presidential elections which could change the political landscape of the country," Ahdab told the paper.
The September 25 electoral session in Parliament could be postponed for one or two weeks, according to Liberation and Development MP Ali Khreis, who said Berri would use the extra time to resume his consultations, especially with parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri. Berri and Hariri spoke by telephone on Thursday.
The Ghanem slaying "struck at the security and stability of the country and at the speaker's initiative, with the aim to destabilize Lebanese society and create a rift," Khreis said, speaking at a memorial ceremony in the South. Khreis added that the "deplorable crime" was not aimed only at the majority but also at the opposition. He called on the Lebanese to face these series of attacks with national unity, urging all parties to take advantage of Berri's initiative.
Berri met Justice Minister Charles Rizk in Ain al-Tineh Friday to discuss recent developments. He also met resigned Foreign Minster Fawzi Salloukh.
Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir Friday met with the army commander, General Michel Suleiman, who was accompanied army intelligence chief George Khoury. Sfeir also received Internal Security Forces Director General Ashraf Rifi, who discussed the security situation in the country with the patriarch.
Also, UN Secretary General
Ban Ki-moon has warned that the naming of two rival governments in Lebanon would be the "worst-case scenario" and called for the timely election of a new president. "I have told Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Speaker Nabih Berri that I do not want to see two competing governments in one country," Ban said in an interview with An-Nahar newspaper published on Friday. "It is the worst-case scenario which I hope would never happen."
Parliament is due to convene next Tuesday for the first time in nearly a year to elect a new president. While many fear little time remains to secure a consensus before the electoral session, sources close to Siniora insist there is plenty of time left to elect a new head of state after the 25th.
Ban insisted on dialogue between the Lebanese for a new president to be elected in keeping with the Constitution. "It is important the Lebanese people reconcile, and particularly the political leaders," he said, adding that the country's leading politicians should not waste any opportunity to defuse the crisis.
The UN Security Council called on Thursday for Lebanon's presidential elections to be held on time and without foreign interference. A statement agreed by the Security Council strongly condemned the "terrorist attack"on Ghanem and demanded "an immediate end of the use of intimidation and violence against the representatives of the Lebanese people and institutions." "On the eve of the crucial period of the presidential election, any attempt to destabilize Lebanon, including through political assassination or other terrorist acts, should not impede or subvert the constitutional process in Lebanon," the statement read.
The council reiterated "its call for the holding of a free and fair presidential election in conformity with Lebanese constitutional norms and schedules and without any foreign interference, fully respecting the sovereignty of Lebanon."Ban said he has continued to appeal to Syria, which denied any involvement in the killing, to play a constructive role. "I have met and called Syrian President Bashar Assad on several occasions ... and I still contact him. I have repeatedly appealed to him," the UN chief said, "Syria, which is part of the region, should play a constructive role in peace and security, not just for the sake of the Lebanese people, but also for its own sake."US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and visiting French French Minister Bernard Kouchner also discussed the situation in Lebanon during talks in Washington, the State Department said. - With agencies
Sin al-Fil resembles war zone after deadly blast
Bomb wrecked dozens of homes
By Michael Bluhm
Daily Star staff
Saturday, September 22, 2007
HORSH TABET: The charred motor sat in the middle of Sin al-Fil Avenue, catapulted some 40 meters from where the car housing it had exploded on Wednesday afternoon, killing Phalange Party MP Antoine Ghanem and four others and wounding more than 70. Police guarding the scene said the engine remained the only recognizable part of the TNT-packed auto, although for the sake of the investigation they were attempting to preserve the site as it looked at the time of the blast. The assassination of the 64-year-old Ghanem plunged the country deeper into political turmoil less than a week before the Western-backed government of Premier Fouad Siniora was to square off against the Hizbullah-led opposition over the nation's presidency. The feuding camps have squabbled for months over whether the president could be elected by a simple majority, and Ghanem's death left the ruling coalition with 68 seats in the 128-member Parliament, set to convene on September 25.
Ghanem became the fourth majority legislator killed since the May 2005 general elections and the eighth anti-Syrian figure killed since the February 14, 2005, assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The government parties immediately accused Syria in Ghanem's assassination, which has complicated already wobbly prospects for finding a consensus presidential candidate.
Bits of glass and plastic studded Sin al-Fil Avenue, usually a teeming thoroughfare, where the cars damaged by the blast almost outnumbered the people there Wednesday. More than 20 automobiles lay in various states of disrepair, from burned-out skeletons to vehicles with broken windows or dented bodies.
The buildings surrounding the site stood nearly deserted - police had told residents and business owners not to begin the clean-up so investigators could pick through the debris for clues. Siniora has asked the commission probing the Hariri killing to take up Ghanem's case as well. Torn balcony awnings dangled and windows were a rarity in the dozen buildings closest to the bomb site, where a side street intersects the main road. The blast shattered all the windows in an edifice more than 10 stories high and twisted the silver I-beams running up its facade, while only a handful of people moved about inside the building.
Almost all the shops on the roughly 750-meter boulevard remained shuttered and locals appeared to be complying with police request. Residents were scarce, and one had to argue his way past the police trying to protect the scene. Bashir Sawaya, who lives in the block of flats on the corner of Sin al-Fil Avenue and the side street, said he would give the authorities until Monday to inspect his home before he began clearing the wreckage. Sawaya lives with his mother, Rita Hobeika, and two dogs on the third floor, and from their balcony one can still see the blood on the sidewalk below from one of Ghanem's two bodyguards who died in the attack.
Hobeika had left the balcony and sat down at her dining table 30 seconds before the explosion, which threw her 4 meters, she said. She does not remember hearing anything, only seeing black followed by white stars, she added.
A bandage covered wounds from broken glass on her upper right arm, and her hand shook as she smoked. "I'm depressed," she said.
The blast blew out all the glass from the balcony's doors and windows, as well the windows in the kitchen, which is located 15 meters from the balcony with two walls in between. Broken glass blanketed the home's floors, beds and shelves, and the plaster had been torn from the walls above the balcony's windows and doors. About 20 centimeters had been sheared from the bottom of the door at the entrance to the apartment, some 20 meters from the balcony. The explosion also broke the glass covering a photo of Bashir's sister Bushra as a toddler with former President-elect Bashir Gemayel, who was killed in a bombing on September 14, 1982. Gemayel had suggested the names Bashir and Bushra to the siblings' father, Sawaya said.
His sister lives in Dubai, and he said he too would leave Lebanon after repairing the damage, which he estimated at $20,000.
"I want to fix the house, and then for sure I leave," he said.
Eight-year-old Nour Mouawad, who lives nearby, had been playing with friends at her home on the boulevard when the bomb detonated.
"I heard something that went, 'Boom!'" she told The Daily Star on Wednesday. "I started to cry. My mother and my sister weren't here. I was afraid."
She heard ambulances and remembered seeing a boy being loaded into one, she added. She has been trembling since the blast, said her mother, who has contacted a pediatrician to discuss her daughter's condition.
Ambulances ferried 11 of the wounded and three of the dead to the Lebanese-Canadian Hospital, less than a kilometer from the bomb site, said Jeanette Antoun, a registered nurse at the hospital. Two of the victims had been decapitated, she added.
The blast wounded 71 people, an Internal Security Forces officer said on condition of anonymity, although the Hospitals Syndicate counted 92 wounded.
Four wounded remain in the Lebanese-Canadian Hospital Wednesday: two burn victims, one person with a fractured hand and one whose skin was riddled by broken glass, Antoun said. The last two could leave as early as Monday, although the burn victims - a father and son - will remain longer, because doctors must change their dressings every day, she added. The bearded young man wounded by broken glass slowly walked up and down a hospital corridor, pulling a wheeled stand with his IV bags. He wore only blue shorts; bandages covered his arms and head. The left side of his face was discolored and pitted by the bits of glass.
Antoun said she was sometimes depressed since Wednesday, as she had not seen anything like this since the end of the Civil War. "It's too close," she said.
Thousands attend funeral for slain March 14 MP
Gemayel warns Christian legislators to attend election session or 'assassinate Ghanem a second time'
By Rym Ghazal
Daily Star staff
Saturday, September 22, 2007
BEIRUT: Thousands of saddened Lebanese bade farewell to slain pro-government lawmaker Antoine Ghanem and his two bodyguards Friday in a loud funeral procession that doubled as an expression of defiance ahead of a controversial presidential election.
The coffins of Ghanem, Nuhad Gharib, and Tony Daou - draped in the national flag and that of the right-wing Christian Phalange Party - were carried through the streets of Beirut to Sacred Heart Church in Badaro by weeping family members, friends, colleagues and flag-waving supporters of the pro-government March 14 Forces. Women ululated as members of the party's youth section, in khaki pants and beige T-shirts, marched to the music of a brass band and onlookers waved party flags or threw flowers at the caskets from balconies.
"Your martyrdom, Antoine, is cherished. No one should boycott the election of the new president, or he should bear the consequences in front of the people, the nation, and history," former President Amin Gemayel, leader of the Phalange, said in his eulogy.
In a rare public appearance, parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri, Democratic Gathering leader MP Walid Jumblatt and Lebanese Forces boss Samir Geagea attended the funeral Mass despite the pronounced security risk. Apart from the usual cordon of policemen guarding the church, specially trained dogs were in position at the main entrance to sniff mourners for explosives and any other suspicious substances.
Gemayel warned that failure to elect a president could lead to a disastrous power vacuum and plunge the country into further division, and therefore urged all Christian MPs, who make up half of Parliament, to attend next week's session to elect a new president. "What I fear the most is that the vacuum in Lebanon will lead to division. Is that what the boycotters want? Especially the Christians?" Gemayel asked, adding that boycotting the election session "is like assassinating Ghanem a second time."
Gemayel also said Ghanem's death was "a message to the Arab League, the UN and the Security Council to protect the presidential elections in order to salvage the Lebanese Republic."Ghanem, 64, and four others were killed by a car bombing in the predominantly Christian Beirut suburb of Sin al-Fil on Wednesday. He was the eighth prominent figure and the fourth anti-Syrian MP to be killed since early 2005 after the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon.
The legislator "devoted his life to serving Lebanon," his daughter Mounia said in tribute to her father.
"Who was Antoine Ghanem? He was a cedar cut out from Lebanon's cedar forest," she said. Salim Sayigh, one of Ghanem's friends and colleagues and a political adviser to Gemayel, told The Daily Star that Ghanem had been a "great orator." "We sat together at the Saint Cloud meeting as representatives for the Phalange Party and he was one of the best speakers and negotiators there," said Sayigh, referring to talks among representatives of Lebanon's feuding political parties outside Paris in July. "He was a reliable politician and a dependable friend," Sayigh added. Outside the church, many in the crowd chanted anti-Syrian slogans, and vented anger at its allies, namely Hizbullah. "Syria and its friends are behind all these crimes," said Tharwat Abu Salim, a Jumblatt supporter who along with hundreds of others came from the Chouf in a bus. "There is no room for the opposition in this country, so get out!" he added, echoing similar sentiments expressed by others attending the funeral.
When questioned about the presidency, most of the March 14 supporters said they would support "any president" chosen by their leaders.
"Enough martyrs, enough blood, we want a new president and a new start," said one woman wearing a cap with the Phalange's stylized triangular cedar logo.
Also on Friday, Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz, head of the United Nations team investigating February 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and others, visited the scene of the Ghanem killing, accompanied by members of his team. Brammertz returned to Lebanon on Friday in response to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's official request to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon a day earlier, asking that Ghanem's assassination be added to the ongoing UN probe.
Fadlallah laments foreign interference, Lebanese acceptance of same
By The Daily Star
Saturday, September 22, 2007
BEIRUT: Senior Shiite cleric Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah on Friday slammed public interference in Lebanon's domestic issues, as well as what he called the "deterioration of the political rhetoric.""Lebanon is waiting for Washington, Paris, the European Union, and the Arab countries to elect the next president," Fadlallah said during his weekly Friday sermon at Al-Imam Hassanayn Mosque in Haret Hreik. Fadlallah said it was a "shame" that the Lebanese allow foreign forces to interfere in their internal affairs, "and listen to the foreign envoys' endless lectures about the necessity to forge a purely Lebanese solution to the ongoing deadlock."
"The real problem in Lebanon lies in the fact that many Lebanese politicians still allow their country to be used as an area where feuding international forces can settle their differences," he added. The sayyed also criticized "Lebanon's sectarian system, which has always reflected negatively on the political as well as social environments." Rapprochement between Iran and Egypt will benefit the Islamic world and Iran's relations with Arabs, Fadlallah said in a meeting with Iran's ambassador to Beirut, Mohammad Reza Shibani, on Thursday.
He also thanked Iran for its constructive role in bringing together various Lebanese groups. Fadlallah and Shibani held talk about Iran's nuclear program and the recent US threats against the country. "The US and Israel sought to impose new sanctions against Iran but they were badly disappointed when the International Atomic Energy Agency declared that Iran's nuclear program had not diverted toward non-peaceful purposes," Fadlallah said. Meanwhile, the vice president of the Higher Shiite Council, Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan urged Lebanese politicians to endorse Speaker Nabih Berri's initiative to solve the 10-month-old power struggle.
"Anyone who boycotts the election session Speaker Berri has scheduled for September 25 is conspiring against the country," Qabalan told Kuwait's Al-Rai newspaper.
He also warned against foreign interference. "Our country has always provided an appropriate ambiance for international intelligence forces to operate and flourish, and this has always been an unhealthy sign," he said. "There are 17 foreign intelligence nets operating on Lebanese territory. It is as if international intelligence is launching a war against Lebanon." - The Daily Star
The meaning of another Lebanese murder
By Tony Badran
Saturday, September 22, 2007
The Syrian regime would seem to be right on program. That much was clear from the assassination of parliamentarian Antoine Ghanem on Wednesday, six days before Parliament is scheduled to meet to elect a new president. The assassination was, regrettably, predictable and carried a number of messages, both to the Lebanese and to key international players involved with Lebanon. The response by the March 14 coalition and the international community must be stern and unambiguous.
The first message was a Lebanese one. Ghanem, like many colleagues, had spent time abroad out of fear of assassination to put an end to the March 14 majority in Parliament. He had just returned to Beirut in order to participate in the September 25 election session. Killing him, therefore, was meant to dissuade March 14 from trying to unilaterally elect a new president - or to be more precise, a president not favored by Damascus.
The swiftness of the planning and execution of the hit was reminiscent of the December 2005 assassination of parliamentarian Gebran Tueni, who was killed only hours after his return to Lebanon from Paris. This suggests, according to numerous March 14 politicians, that information on the targets' arrival and whereabouts may have been supplied by sources in certain branches of the state's security forces.
Ghanem represented the Baabda-Aley district, which includes the Hizbullah stronghold of Beirut's southern suburbs. By-elections will be held to fill Ghanem's seat, as happened in the Metn and Beirut. That makes it highly probable that the seat will be filled by a candidate chosen by the alliance between Hizbullah and the Aounists, losing March 14 the seat. In fact, Aoun anticipated this scenario after the Metn by-election. When faced with his loss of support among Maronite voters, the general declared that the real show of popularity would come in Baabda-Aley, where he could rely on Hizbullah's electorate.
Awareness of this situation led March 14 parliamentarians from that district to be especially careful. Aoun, by contesting the Metn by-election after the assassination of Pierre Gemayel and by making the statements he did about his ability to win a vacant seat in Baabda-Aley, has created the impression that he is willing to benefit from the murder of his parliamentary colleagues who are also political opponents.
The Ghanem murder was also a statement to key international players - France, the United States, Saudi Arabia, and the United Nations - that Syria had no intention of changing its behavior in Lebanon.
Recently, the French made the following misguided proposal to Syrian President Bashar Assad: Don't obstruct the Lebanese presidential elections and stay out of Lebanon's affairs, in exchange for which France would be willing to reestablish high-level political contacts with Syria. Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner even specified what kind of "obstruction" he feared: political assassinations and bombings.
The Syrians immediately shot this idea down. The first reply came from Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa, who recently tried and failed to gain Italian and Vatican support for a Syrian-picked president. He declared that the next Lebanese president had to be a "resister and someone of 'Arab belonging'" - shorthand for a candidate of "Syrian belonging" and a supporter of Hizbullah and its agenda of armed struggle; consequently, an opponent of UN Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701.
Sharaa also brushed away another repeated European request: that Syria recognize and respect Lebanese sovereignty. He did so by stating that Syria would not demarcate its borders with Lebanon, even though this demand was endorsed by Lebanon's national dialogue last year.
Two news reports help explain the message the Syrians were sending. Lebanon's official Central News Agency reported, quoting a European diplomat, that Syria flatly rejected the French offer because it didn't include recognition of a Syrian veto against any March 14 candidate; and because Syria wanted a president who would "renegotiate" international resolutions. A similar thing apparently happened with Saudi Arabia, leading to the Saudis' publicly canceling a visit to the kingdom recently by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem. According to the Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai al-Aam (which often publishes Saudi leaks), the Syrians refused to commit to not sabotaging the presidential election. Damascus, which leaked news of the Moallem visit before it was finalized in order to corner the Saudis, tried to gain, through Saudi Arabia, broader recognition that Syria was the final arbiter on who Lebanon's president would be. The Saudis weren't pleased.
Having been rebuffed, the French must finally grasp that Assad thinks he can get it all in Lebanon, through blackmail, without budging from his intransigence. The rejected carrot must now be replaced with some sort of a stick. Importantly, the creation of the Hariri tribunal should be speeded up, because its derailment is what the Syrians are insistently seeking. Most urgently, March 14, with the full backing of the international community and the cover provided by the Maronite Church, must move ahead with the election of a president, come what may, by an absolute majority and avoid Nabih Berri's Trojan horse project for a "consensus" president.
The Syrian plan is to deny March 14 its majority and its ability to govern through that majority - in electing a president, in the new Cabinet, and in Parliament itself, both now and in the future. The response of March 14 should therefore be to reassert that a democratic majority exists, before that majority is eliminated through further assassinations.
**Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, where he writes on Lebanon and Syria. He hosts the Across the Bay Web log (www.beirut2bayside.blogspot.com). He wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.
A Senator's Hezbollah Hate
By Alan M. Dershowitz
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, September 21, 2007
Some people believe that it’s a long way from the bad old days when sitting United States senators such as Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi would refer to Jews as “kikes” on the floor of the Senate. But it is still quite shocking to hear a former US Senator refer to a supporter of Israel as a “snake.” Well I am that “snake” – a “real snake” to boot! And the former senator is James Abourezk who used to represent the great state of South Dakota. He used this ad hominem in an interview on you guessed it, Hizbullah television. He gave the interview while visiting his favorite democracy, Syria, on August 30, 2007. The “snake” part of it was probably his most moderate statement.
Former Senator Abourezk then went on to blame what he calls this “immense wave of anti-Arab, anti-Muslim sentiment” on the Jews. He says it began not on 9/11 but “after the Soviet Union collapsed.” Listen to his “logic”:
“The Zionists were looking around for another enemy to have, because to them the Soviet Union was an enemy because they wouldn’t allow Jewish emigration. So they used that as an organizing tool, basically, and when the Soviet Union collapsed, there was no more organizing about the Soviet Union. So they looked around, and they said: Well, the Muslims. Let’s find the Arabs and the Muslims, and make them the boogeyman. And that’s what they did.”
Get it? The Jews always need a “boogeyman”. They picked on the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union didn’t pick on the Jews who they were discriminating against and preventing from emigrating. I guess the Jews picked on the Nazis before that. To be sure, he doesn’t exactly use the word “Jews.” Instead he uses the politically correct euphemism “Zionists.” But in the context in which Abourezk uses it – soviet jewery – he plainly means Jews.
Then Abourezk gets to 9/11 which he also blames on the Zionists. Listen again:
“Well, because the Arabs who were involved in 9/11 cooperated with the Zionists, actually. It was a cooperation. They gave them the perfect excuse to denounce all Arabs. It’s a racist sort of thing, really racist – you know, picking out these 19 to 20 terrorists – they were terrorists – and saying all the Arabs are like them. So, you know, people in America don’t really look at it that deeply, and they accept what the government and the press are saying.”
Stupid Americans! We don’t look at it “that deeply.” We just fall for whatever the Jewish controlled government and press feed them. In leveling this accusation Abourezk is mouthing the rhetoric of neo-Nazi groups who describe America as the ZOG “the Zionist occupied government” and of Pat Buchanan who calls Congress “Israel occupied territory.” What an insult to Abourezk’s former constituents. No wonder he is a former senator who is widely ridiculed and despised by former colleagues and constituents. He would have a better chance today of being elected to the Syrian legislature than to the American Congress.
Finally, Abourezk defends his favorite democracy, Syria, which he believes has been demonized again by the Zionists.
“Well, the injustice is that because Israel…I’m telling you, Israel is behind this move, because they wanted Syria weakened somehow, and to be made an enemy of the United States, so they got their people in Congress to pass the act. You see, the members of Congress are afraid to vote against anything the lobby wants. So, this is something the lobby wants…”
And of course the Zionist lobby in Aborezk’s view “is controlling the Congress.”
Well maybe former Senator Abourezk isn’t so different from the late Senator Bilbo after all. He uses the word “Zionist” in precisely the same bigoted way Bilbo used “kike.”
It is true that not all anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic, but just because it is anti-Zionist does not mean it is not also anti-Semitic. If the shoe fits…
The Lebanese Christians: Unsuspecting Victims of a Sunni Shiite Cold War in Lebanon
Sin El-Fil: the 17th Christian Neighborhood Targeted by the Death Machine since Hariri’s Assassination
by Don Quixote*
Center for Democracy in Lebanon | September 21, 2007 [PRINT IN PDF]
On September 19, 2007, Sin El-Fil, a Christian neighborhood in East Beirut was the scene of a large car bomb that targeted the car of MP Antoine Ghanim killing him with 9 other innocent bystanders and injuring more than 60 civilians.
The attack on MP Ghanim in Sin El-Fil is the eighteenth in a series of terrorist attacks that hit Lebanon after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005. Similar previous attacks aimed at the assassination of prominent leaders and public figures (Samir Kassir, Georges Hawi, Elias El-Murr, May Chidiac, Gebran Tueini, Pierre Gemayel, Walid Eido and Antoine Ghanem) and at creating mayhem and killing innocent civilians in different areas of Keserwan, Metn and Beirut (New Jdeideh, Kaslik, Sad El-Bouchrieh, Broummana, Jounieh, Monot, Zalka, Jeitawi, Ain Alak and Sin El-Fil). Except for the assassination of MP Walid Eido, seventeen of the eighteen acts of terrorism targeted Christian civilians, leaders, members of Parliament (MPs), public figures, and civilian and business targets.
The cliché response adopted by the Hariri bloc and its supporters has constantly and consistently accused the Syrian regime of masterminding these attacks to weaken the resolution of the Lebanese people and their aspiration for sovereignty and independence and to rob the parliamentary majority led by Mr. Hariri (a Sunni) of its control over the government, in order to ultimately derail the international tribunal instituted to try the assassins of Hariri's father.
The opposition’s cliché, on the other hand, has been to avoid making “political accusations” in the matters of these attacks (not even against their usual suspect, Israel), and to indulge in international conspiracy theories; for example, creating chaos to derail the Islamic Resistance from its mission and engage the arms of Shiite Hezbollah in an internal war that only serves the interests of America and Israel. Opposition leaders do not hesitate to accuse the “forces of the authority” of exploiting the attacks to strengthen their grip on the government.
Between the Sunni rush to judgment and the Shiite conspiracy theories, the truth is lost and the politically diverse Christians (some regard them as divided) are paying a heavy price, unaware that they may be the unwitting player, the fuel consumed, in a Sunni-Shiite conflict, in reality a cold war simmering slowly in their front yard.
Elements of the Sunni Shiite Cold War in Lebanon
Supporters of the late US president Ronald Reagan often brag about Reagan’s genius in winning the cold war with the former Soviet Union “without a single shot being fired.” What they neglect to mention, inadvertently or deliberately is that the war between the USA and the former USSR may have been cold in Europe and North America but was undeniably hot and blazing in many other areas around the world including Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, … and of course Lebanon.
The golden rule of a cold war is for the main players to fight it “diplomatically” on their turf, and to use alternative territories, those of friends, allies and alter-egos to warm it up every now and then as it becomes necessary. Such is the status of the current cold war between Sunnis and Shias in Lebanon.
It may be hard to trace the exact origins of this Sunni Shiite conflict; some “scholars” link it back to the historic rift between Sunni and Shia Islam; “analysts” with a regional panache prefer more recent precipitants such as the Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s, the growing threat that Shiite Iran poses to the Sunni Arab World today, or an expansion of the Sunni Shiite war in Iraq, which many regard as part of the larger conflict between Iran and the USA; on the other hand, many “experts” in Lebanese politics prefer to give it a rather national dimension and frame it in the context of a power struggle between two political-sectarian** groups for the control of the Muslim role in the Lebanese Government and subsequently of Lebanon. These causes are not mutually exclusive.
Regardless of its exact roots, the conflict began to escalate in the year 2000 after the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon. Key events over the last 3 years have plainly outlined this conflict and defined the phases of this cold war within a clear political framework:
The 2004 Presidential Elections and UNSC-R 1559:
In the summer of 2004, the Sunnis in Lebanon having fallen in disfavor of the Alawite Syrian Regime that controlled Lebanese politics, may have sought help from their regional and international friends. The United Nations Security Council passed UNSC Resolution 1559; it called for independent presidential elections and disarmament of all militias in Lebanon including Shiite Hezbollah. But lacking real power on the ground, then Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri - a Sunni leader and a wealthy businessman with access to powerhouses all over the world - opted to tactically stay in the Syrian realm, amended the constitution, and voted to renew the appointment of President Emile Lahoud, Syria’s choice and a pro-Shia Maronite. Simultaneously, Hariri started a gradual drift from the Syrian orbit. In October of that year, Hariri’s ally Marwan Hamadeh survives an attempt on his life. On February 14, 2005, Rafik Hariri is assassinated in Beirut.
Phase 1 is over; except for UNSC-R 1559, the Shias seem to have won round 1.
The assassination of Rafik Hariri marked the end of an era in Lebanon. Up till that point, the Lebanese Christians had stood alone - as outcasts - in demanding freedom, sovereignty and independence of Lebanon from the grip of the Syrian regime. Their participation in politics was merely symbolic; the few independent ones were alienated and the ones in government were deemed “pets” of the Muslims in power (Lebanese or Syrian).
The 2005 Parliamentary Elections:
In March 2005, droves of Shiites and Sunnis took to the streets of Beirut on 2 separate occasions (March 8 and March 14) in shows of mass power and in support of a wide number of slogans; yet a concealed reason for those demonstrations may have well been to determine who among the two groups (Sunni or Shia) gets to name the Christian representatives in the coming parliamentary elections. The Sunnis and their allies adopted for the first time the Christian slogans of sovereignty, freedom and independence; their demonstration attracted a large majority of Christians, including the supporters of the Free Patriotic Movement (Tayyar; the most popular Christian movement then).
Soon after, the Christian towns of New Jdeideh, Kaslik, Sad El-Bouchrieh, Broummana, Jounieh … became the targets of deliberate bomb attacks. Thus a new cycle of violence against the Christians began. This cycle continues and has so far claimed the lives of more than 100 civilians in total, and 5 prominent Christian leaders [the latest being the attack in Sin El-Fil (number 17), which claimed the life of Maronite MP Antoine Ghanem]. Two other Christian public figures survived assassination attempts. Of note, the perpetrators remain at large (not to say unknown) more than 2 years after the first attack.
In May 2005, Sunnis and Shias reached an agreement on the electoral law, to the exclusion of key Christian decision makers and against the expressed will of Bkérké and its “political bureau”, and they took the country to parliamentary elections.
In June 2005, a new Parliament convenes with Sunni majority control. Sunnis and Shias agreed on the name of the only Shiite candidate Nabih Berri - sitting speaker for more than 15 years and a close friend of Syria. The main Christian bloc in Parliament led by General Michel Aoun did not vote for Berri.
Phase 2 is over; except for the appointment of Nabih Berri as Speaker, the Sunnis seem to have won round 2.
The International Investigations and Tribunal:
In the summer of 2005, the newly nominated Sunni PM, Fouad Siniora, forms a Cabinet of 24, with 6 pro-Shiite and 18 pro-Sunni Ministers. The largest independent Christian parliamentary bloc led by MP Michel Aoun is excluded from the cabinet and becomes the nucleus of a new opposition movement.
Explosions continue to target Christian towns and public figures (Elias El-Murr attempt, Monot, Zalka and Jeitawi explosions and May Chidiac attempt). The attacks on Christians would continue as the investigations into the Hariri assassination waxed and waned and as the quest for an international tribunal makes its way to the UN Security Council.
In December 2005, as discussions over the request to institute an international tribunal to try the suspects in the Hariri assassination become heated, Christian MP Gebran Tueini is assassinated. The Cabinet meets in an urgent manner, and over the objection of the Shiite ministers, makes a request to the UN to institute an international tribunal. The decision is taken by the pro-Sunnis in the cabinet after the Shiite ministers withdrew from the meeting.
Subsequently, in February 2006, Shiite Hezbollah and the Christian "Free Patriotic Movement" reach - across the wide political and ideological divide that separates them - an “entente cordiale” on a number of key issues, including the arms of Hezbollah.
A round table dialogue was called for in March 2006 by Shiite Speaker Nabih Berri. After several months of meetings with no results, the dialogue was stopped as Shiite Hezbollah launched an attack on Israel across the border.
The summer of 2006 was really hot in Lebanon. The Hezbollah-Israeli war lasted more than a month during which more than a thousand Lebanese were killed and more than a Million Shiites were displaced from their homes. In the first days of the war, key Sunni Arab states - Saudi, Jordan and Egypt - and the government of PM Seniora criticized the actions of Hezbollah as a rash adventure. This led many Shias to regard the Israeli aggression as a Sunni attack with Jewish tools. At the end, despite Hezbollah’s claim of victory, the Sunni government negotiated UNSC-R 1701 and took control of South Lebanon militarily through the Army, technically suspending the legitimacy of the Shiite Hezbollah arms.
Following the war, pro-Shiite ministers resigned from the Cabinet claiming disagreement over the rules, bylaws and regulations negotiated to control the international tribunal for Lebanon. The Cabinet has become now all pro-Sunni; pro-Shiites tried to make a constitutional argument that it is illegitimate and in violation of the constitution and the political customs in Lebanon, but their arguments fell on deaf Sunni ears. The Shias and the pro-Shiite camp suffered subsequently a major political loss.
In November of 2006, as the negotiations to get the Shias back into the Sunni Cabinet reached a deadlock, the Shias “formally joined the opposition.” The rhetoric continued to heat up between Shia and Sunni over the approval of the international tribunal’s law; Christian MP Pierre Gemayel is assassinated. The Sunni Cabinet swiftly approves the law of the tribunal.
A very eerie apprehension takes over many Christians; all of sudden, it seemed as if a prominent Christian public figure had to be assassinated every time the Sunni Cabinet had to overcome a snag. The Sunnis rushed to assure the Christians that Tueini and Gemayel were killed simply because they were pro-independence and opposed to Syria.
The winter of 2007 saw some of the most violent direct confrontations between Sunnis and Shias following a call for strike by the pro-Shiite opposition. The strike failed as did the attempts to overthrow the Sunni Cabinet; but an opposition sit-in began in Downtown Beirut. The pro-Shiite President Emile Lahoud refuses now to sign any decisions made by the Sunni cabinet including the decision to approve the treaty of the international tribunal. The Sunnis request international support; the United Nations Security Council passes resolution 1757, instituting the tribunal under chapter 7 of the UN charter, bypassing thereby the need for Shiite approval and for presidential signature.
Phase 3 is over; except for the Shiite sit-in in Beirut, the Sunnis seem to have won round 3.
The 2007 Presidential Elections:
As Lebanon was getting ready to enter the 2007 presidential election season, a whole new “feature” emerged on the Lebanese scene. The Army, under orders from the Sunni Cabinet was called upon for the first time in its history to fight a war against Fateh El-Islam (a Sunni terrorist group allegedly trained in Syria) in the refugee camp of Nahr El-Bared in North Lebanon. Hezbollah initially declared both the Army and the camp as red lines but eventually took no sides in the war. The war displaced more than 30,000 Sunni Palestinian refugees. Despite the Army’s victory, the repercussions of this war on the Sunni society remain yet to be seen. During this war Sunni MP Walid Eido was assassinated in the only terrorist attack on a non-Christian target since Hariri’s assassination. Although many in the Sunni camp saw in the assassination retaliation against UNSC-R 1757 - as proof, they cite the Shiite celebrations and an incident with the Shiite TV channel NBN - several analysts regard the assassination as reprisal by Fateh El-Islam against Lebanese Sunnis, who by and large stood by the Army.
As Lebanon is about to enter the 2-months constitutional period for the election of a new Maronite President of the Republic, Sunnis and Shias differ again on the choice of candidate. They frame their disagreement in constitutional arguments about the quorum; but the main reason for the dispute is who gets to control the presidency. Currently, the Shias have a firm grip on Emile Lahoud.
In the heat of the debate, the Maronite Bishops issued on September 19, what Marwan Hamadeh described as “another historic declaration.” The declaration called upon all MPs to participate in the parliamentary session to elect a president; it also criticized without naming it, a large sect in Lebanon for retaining arms and trying to build a state within a state. The tone of the declaration was clearly pro-Sunni not to say anti-Shia. Within hours of the declaration, Maronite MP Antoine Ghanem was assassinated in a huge explosion that rocked the Christian neighborhood of Sin El-Fil. In an immediate reaction, pro-Sunni groups requested the support of the Arab World and the UN in conducting the presidential elections; a pre-packaged request that has been floating in the political atmosphere for few weeks.
Once again, that very eerie feeling creeps into the Christian psyche. It remains to be seen if the UNSC will issue a new resolution leveraging the Sunni hand in Lebanon, one more time, or if the Shias get to retain some control over the new president, if there is going to be one.
Either way, the Christians have little if any to say in the upcoming election of a new president; a post customarily reserved for them. For all one knows, an agreement between Sunni Hariri and Shiite Berri similar to that of 2005 is capable of generating an all Muslim momentum, large enough to appoint a new Christian President - without the Christians.
Phase 4 is not over yet; the winner remains to be determined.
The Christians’ Sour Options
Except for the lone assassination of Walid Eido, all 17 attacks since March 2005 took place against Christians; not to forget the Sunni burning of Ashrafieh streets and churches on February 5, 2006 following cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed published in Denmark, or the Shiite attack on Christian neighborhoods also in the Southern Suburb and Ashrafieh following an episode of Basmat Watan (a political satire program) on June 1, 2006, which depicted Hassan Nasrallah (a Shiite cleric and Hezbollah’s Leader) in a comic character.
Without detailing the chronology of all the other events and reviving the sad memories of each one, it is safe to say that they all happened around key decisions where Shias and Sunnis in government did not see eye to eye. Instead of heating up the war between the two groups directly, someone found an easier alternative and a less costly target: the Christians – their blood may be cheaper.
This is not to say that there was an executive decision by the Sunni political leadership or by the Shiite political leadership to kill the Christians; but both Sunnis and Shias have, in their cold war, created a fertile environment for the forces of darkness to further their agendas; be it pro-Syrian, pro-Iranian, pro-American or pro-Islamic. The only agenda that certainly does not seem to be furthered in Lebanon today, is pro-Lebanese.
Some may hint at a pro-Christian agenda behind the assassinations, furthered by ultra right-wing zealots and ex-cons released from jail in recent years; but this seems a bit far fetched. Since 1990, the Christians have become the weakest minority in Lebanon, marginalized in all political decisions. Many of their leaders are chosen on their behalf by the Sunnis or the Shias and act as alter-egos for the Muslim decision-makers; this has rendered any pro-Christian scenario unlikely, and made the Christians and their communities easy targets for the extremists on both sides (Sunnis and Shias), who desire to send messages across the Islamic sectarian divide.
This does not negate the need for a pro-Christian agenda given the seeming impossibility of building a truly secular state, or at a minimum one that guarantees the civil and human rights of its citizenry, before the end of the Sunni Shiite cold war. This is not at all a call for exaction of revenge against the Muslim communities in Lebanon; it is however a call to raise awareness among the Lebanese in general and the Christians in particular of the real threat conveniently ignored by many.
Given the intensity of the Sunni-Shiite conflict in Lebanon and its regional and possible international dimensions, the Christians of Lebanon lack the means needed to appease the tensions and to bring about a resolution. On the contrary, they seem to be caught in the crossfire between the two camps and risk being dragged, divided, in a civil war not of their making and in which they may find themselves killing each other one more time.
Christian civil and religious leaders and their supporters must realize by now that their communities are being used as fuel in this unrelenting Sunni-Shiite war. Instead of continuing to be mercilessly killed by a “ghost” – to borrow a term from the Sunni Interior Minister Sabeh – and wept over sometimes with crocodile tears, most Christians would rather opt-out. They can no longer afford to play this intermediate role in Lebanon; their communities are divided and constantly targeted, and those among them who can afford it are immigrating to no return. Many of them have become convinced that their best bet is in fact to opt-out of the game and perhaps of the current “formula of Lebanon.” Sometimes in order to save a people, you must break a nation – or at least its political system.
A number of independent Lebanese Christian thinkers have begun to call upon other Christian politicians and political groups to withdraw from “national” coalitions and bilateral agreements with non-Christian groups and to come together as Christians to develop a strategic plan that promotes the safety and interests of the Christian communities independently of other groups in Lebanon, reverting back to a famous adage of the civil war: “Security of the Christian society supersedes all other priorities.”
** N.B. The terms Sunni, Shiite (or Shia), Maronite, Christian, Muslim or other religious indicators can reflect sectarian or political affiliation in Lebanon interchangeably.
on the brink
2007-09-21As Lebanon prepares for a crucial parliamentary vote on a replacement for outgoing pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, there is little indication of a compromise solution that would avoid a burgeoning political crisis that could turn violent. And the deadlock in Beirut is as much about foreign ambitions as it is about domestic confessional rifts.
As Lebanon prepares for a presidential vote next week, the murder of a prominent anti-Syrian legislator highlights the profundity of the country's confessional rifts and the seemingly insurmountable challenges facing those promoting dialogue.
The parliamentary vote on a new president - who will replace outgoing Syrian ally Emile Lahoud - may be delayed unless a consensus candidate is found capable of bridging the yawning divide separating the Western-backed rump Fuad Siniora government and the pro-Damascus opposition - a deadlock that is just as much about foreign ambitions as it is about domestic confessional rifts.
On 19 September, right-wing Christian Phalange Party lawmaker Antoine Ghanem, 64, was killed in a bomb blast in the capital, Beirut. Ghanem had returned to the country from hiding only three days earlier as the anti-Syrian March 14 Forces calls in its parliamentary allies ahead of the crucial presidential vote.
The assassination reduces the anti-Syrian bloc's parliamentary majority to 68 of 127 MPs days out from the vote. Three legislators are among the eight prominent Lebanese critics killed in a wave of similar attacks the March 14 Forces blame on Syria.
Desperate to prevent the further whittling down of its parliamentary majority, the Siniora government is organizing emergency housing for anti-Syrian MPs in Beirut's Phoenicia InterContinental.
In comments carried by the Daily Star, outspoken Druse leader Walid Jumblatt decried the murder, calling on the international community to protect Lebanon "against the Syrian-Iranian alliance, which has brought nothing but harm to Lebanon."
A UN investigation has found evidence of the involvement of Syrian and Lebanese intelligence officials in the murder of former Lebanese premier Rafik al-Hariri and similarities between his February 2005 assassination and that of other anti-Syrian figures.
Lahoud's term, which was controversially extended in a Syrian-promoted legislative session prior to the Baathist state's 2005 withdrawal of troops from Lebanon, ends on 23 November. The position is traditionally reserved for a Maronite Christian, but the government and opposition have not been able to agree on a candidate and the possibility of the emergence of parallel governments is a real one.
The parliament is scheduled to reconvene on 25 September for the first time since last November, when Hizbollah legislators led a walkout of pro-Syrian ministers from the Siniora cabinet.
If a deal between the governing coalition and opposition is reached, parliament will vote for a new president. And if a president is not elected on time, his powers are automatically transferred to the government. With some March 14 leaders pledging to force through their candidate for the office in the absence of a consensus candidate, the fragile Lebanese political system stands in danger of total breakdown.
There is little consensus on a possible presidential candidate. The opposition appears to be supporting Michel Aoun, leader of the Christian Free Patriotic Movement; while the majority parties have indicated support for several candidates, including Democratic Renewal Movement leader Nassib Lahoud and Rally of Independent Maronite leader Butros Harb.
Should the opposition choose - in the midst of this deadlock - to boycott the presidential vote, the result could be dangerously destabilizing. Threats from President Lahoud to nominate his own successor - in the form of army chief General Michel Suleiman - to run an interim government have caused additional concerns and would meet with staunch opposition from Western-backed anti-Syrian forces.
Unique in politics, Lebanon is a parliamentary, democratic republic that operates within a "confessional" system - cemented in the 1989 Taif Accords - intended to keep sectarian rifts subdued by ensuring that all major Lebanese communities play an ongoing role in decision-making.
In accordance with this system, the presidency is reserved for a Maronite Christians; the post of prime minister for a Sunni Muslim; the post of deputy prime minister for an Orthodox Christian; and the post of speaker of parliament for a Shia Muslim.
This latest political crisis erupted when Hizbollah, Amal and allied pro-Syrian ministers left the government after being refused a one-third blocking vote in the cabinet that would have allowed them to block government approval of an international tribunal to try those held responsible for the al-Hariri murder.
The tribunal constitutes a profound threat to Syrian interests in Lebanon and to the Bashar al-Assad government as it threatens to expose the involvement of at least five high-level Baathist officials with close ties to the Syrian president in the assassination report. The officials were identified in a leaked draft report by the investigating UN probe.
Subsequent national dialogue talks promoted by the parliamentary speaker, Amal leader Nabih Berri, collapsed without significant achievements, raising doubts that the months-long absence of negotiations between the competing blocs can be resolved through last-minute politicking.
"Undoubtedly, the current Lebanese state of affairs and the surrounding regional and international circumstances may not allow for agreement among the Lebanese, especially as Syria and Iran continue to undermine the political and security situation in this country," analyst Jamil Theyabi writes in Yalibnan.com.
Syria will maintain significant influence over Lebanese political life regardless of the presidential vote result, which could well hinge on last-minute covert negotiations between Damascus and Riyadh, which strongly backs March 14 leader and Sunni Future Movement head Saad al-Hariri.
The Saudis, who see Lebanon as a front in the regional battle for influence against Iran have been desperate to shore up the Siniora government, pumping hundreds of millions into reconstruction activities controlled by the rump administration while actively seeking to bring competing factions together. These efforts appear to have been stymied by Damascus, with the Saudi ambassador in Beirut forced to return home temporarily after receiving repeated death threats. He has now returned.
In Washington, Lebanon is a key concern for the White House, which sees the current crisis as an opportunity to diminish the prominent political role of Iranian ally Hizbollah while further isolating Syria - which it accuses of backing militants in Lebanon and Iraq.
The seriousness with which the Bush administration is taking the threat posed by the crisis to the gains made by anti-Syrian movements since the 2005 election was underlined this week by the US enjoinder to Israel not to conduct reconnaissance flights over Syrian territory until after the presidential vote.
While Syria is uncompromising in its support for its Lebanese allies and appears determined to block the election of an anti-Syrian president, it ultimately has no interest in maintaining its damaging confrontation with the US in Lebanon. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, Damascus is seeking a resumption of relations with the US. A Syrian decision to compromise on the presidency may encourage US State Department advocates of rapprochement with the Baathist state.
As the International Crisis Group puts it, "As the July [2006 Israel-Hizbollah] war reminded everyone, [Lebanon] is also a surrogate for regional and international conflicts: Syria against Israel; the US administration against the Syrian regime; pro-Western Sunni Arab regimes led by Saudi Arabia against ascendant Iran and Shiite militancy; and, hovering above it all, Washington against Tehran."
As the parliamentary vote approaches there are few signs of an impending compromise that could reestablish the path to consociational politics. A sense of profound crisis prevails.
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Lebanon on tenterhooks for presidential vote
Published Date: September 20, 2007
By Selim Saheb Ettaba
Less than a week before a crucial parliament session to elect a new president, Lebanon remains on tenterhooks with all options still on the table and no clear exit from its political crisis. Parliament speaker Nabih Berri has called for Lebanon's 128 MPs to convene on September 25 to elect a successor to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud whose mandate runs out exactly two months later. The anti-Syrian majority in parliament said last week it accepted "the principle" of an offer from Berri for the opposition to drop its demand for a unity government in return for a compromise on the choice of a new president.
They called for "at least a quasi-consensus" on the next head of state. "We should not brandish the threat of an election with a simple majority just like the opposition should not threaten to block the election under the pretext it needs a two-thirds quorum," the majority bloc said in a statement.
A candidate needs a two-thirds majority to be elected president from a first round of voting, while a simple majority is enough in any later round. The opposition, basing its stand on what has become a tradition in parliament rather than a legal requirement, insists on a two-thirds quorum of MPs taking part in the vote.
In effect, this would give the opposition the power of veto as the majority controls only 69 seats in parliament. Political scientist Joseph Maila said the speaker of parliament, who is a leader of the opposition, could call off any vote next Tuesday unless at least two-thirds of the 128 deputies attend the session.
If the opposition keeps up its insistence on a two-thirds turnout, the majority known as the "March 14" group has even threatened to elect the president outside the bounds of the Lebanese parliament. Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Centre in Beirut, said "it is unlikely he (Berri) will allow March 14 to use parliament to elect its own president, all under his nose". He expects the dispute between the rival camps to go down to the line. "They (the majority) will wait until November" to impl
ement their threat of electing a president with a simple majority, said Salem.
An election can be held right up until the final deadline of November 24, with Berri having already announced that parliament will be in open session from November 14. If the president's seat is left vacant, his powers are automatically transferred to the government. But Lahoud, who considers Prime Minister Fuad Siniora's government as "illegitimate" since its pro-Syrian members stepped down last November, has raised the prospects of naming the army's chief of staff to head a new cabinet.
The most logical outcome is the emergence of two rival governments," as in 1988 toward the end of Lebanon's 15-year civil war, when Amin Gemayel named a second premier just minutes before his term as president ran out, Maila said. "With this scenario, President Lahoud could even decide to stay in place." Salem said he sees only two outcomes: "Either there is agreement on the president ... or we have division, and division will mean that March 14 will elect their own president and ... president Lahoud appoint his own government.
While analysts agree that domestic and regional forces oppose the outbreak of a new civil war in Lebanon, the rival camps are seen to be playing a dangerous game of brinkmanship. "The negative side is that the Lebanese parties, to make the maximum gains, are taking it to the brink. They are trying to raise the stakes," said Ghassan al-Azzi, who teaches political science at the Lebanese University. "The solution lies in naming a president accepted by all the Lebanese and regional parties," he said.
Azzi, however, warned that even thrashing out an accord on a new president would not necessarily resolve Lebanon's political crisis. "He will probably be a president to manage the crisis but we are still a long way off from a solution." - AFP
for self-rule in Lebanon
September 22, 2007
Boston Globe Editorial
WHEN Antoine Ghanem, a member of the Lebanese Parliament, was assassinated Wednesday in a horrific car bombing, he became the eighth anti-Syrian legislator to be killed since the murder of former prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. To members of the March 14 Movement, an anti-Syrian coalition, there is no mystery about the ultimate power behind these murders, or the motive.
Sign up for: Globe Headlines e-mail | Breaking News Alerts Leaders of the March 14 coalition - Sunni Muslim, Christian, and Druze - have accused the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad of Ghanem's murder. A United Nations tribunal is investigating the killing of Hariri and other anti-Syrian figures, and the coalition has asked the panel to take up this latest car bombing as well. The assumed motive is crudely political: to kill enough lawmakers in Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's anti-Syrian coalition to deprive it of a parliamentary majority. The benefit for Syria would be preventing legislators from electing a new president who, unlike current President Emile Lahoud, would not be in thrall to Damascus.
Gangsterism on this scale may sound too brazen to be believable, but those familiar with the ways of the Syrian regime know otherwise. Before being killed, Rafik Hariri told friends that Assad threatened him in person, warning that if Hariri did not do Syria's bidding, Assad would break Lebanon over his head. The point of such crude methods is to use fear and intimidation to magnify the power of the ruling clique in Damascus.
Any Lebanese politician or journalist who might want to take a stand against Syrian domination of Lebanon will be aware of all those compatriots in the past who stood up to Assad or his father, Hafez, and were murdered. In addition to Hariri, the list includes onetime Maronite Christian President Bashir Gemayel, former Druze leader Kemal Jumblatt, the journalist Gibran Tueni, and many others across the political spectrum.
It may be too much to hope that Ghanem's murder will become a last straw even for Lebanon's pro-Syrian factions. But this crime appears so scornful of Lebanese sovereignty that even some of those factions felt compelled to denounce it. The most powerful of these, the Shi'ite movement Hezbollah, decried the latest car bombing as "a blow to the country's security and stability as well as any attempt at reconciliation and hope toward reaching a political consensus."
This alludes to the need for consensus on the next president. Parliament is to convene Tuesday to begin the election process, and lawmakers have until Nov. 24 to agree on a candidate. Pro-Syrian forces can block the election by boycotting it, since a two-thirds quorum is needed for a valid vote. Friends of Lebanon in Washington, Europe, and the Arab world should encourage the Lebanese factions to elect a president who will stand up for Lebanon's independence.
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