Friday, March 30, 2007

Designer Saab says women's beauty in curves

Designer Saab says women's beauty in curves
By Yara Bayoumy

BEIRUT (Reuters) - On the fourth floor of Elie Saab's polished ivory-colored fashion house in central Beirut a big screen television plays his latest Paris fashion shows. The models dressed in long, shimmering evening gowns are slim but curvy. Their faces a healthy glow, they look anything but skeletal.

Saab, who sealed his role as a major fashion designer when actress Halle Berry accepted her 2002 best actress Oscar in an Elie Saab burgundy tulle and taffeta gown, says he looks for a woman who has "all the features of one to adore." "There are some fashion houses that prefer very skinny women, without a shape. But as for Elie Saab, usually I'm looking for a model who has a shape, has curves, has a bust. A woman in every sense of the word," he told Reuters. "I have never liked or agreed to use a model as a hanger for my dress. Because first of all it's not an image I would want for a woman and a woman's beauty is in her femininity, in the form that God gave her," he said at his fashion house.

After the death of two anorexic Latin American models last year, some countries imposed bans on skinny models, sending the fashion industry in a heated debate over the need for bans. Saab would not specifically say whether or not he approved of bans, but said: "I mean I don't know where is the beauty of these models who are bones. It's not necessary that she be a bone walking on legs to be a model." "I can't decipher this issue except as a lack of respect for a woman. On the contrary, I like to see a woman in her best the end she is our mother, our sister."

Changing into a crisp black shirt and exchanging a chunky gold watch for a sleek black one to prepare for the television interview, the soft-spoken Saab says he feels he sealed his "arrival" as an international fashion designer with the opening of his Paris fashion house on Monday. "No designer can ignore Paris in fashion. I say that wherever I open a fashion house, I have to be in Paris because it is the capital of fashion and elegance. "I feel that it's a big statement for me to have a center like the center I have in Paris."


Saab also said he plans to open fashion houses which include haute couture and ready-to-wear lines in London, New York and Beverly Hills next year. Saab, who had no formal training and used to draw sketches for his sisters using his mother's tablecloths and curtains, opened his first atelier in Lebanon at the age of 18 in 1982. His last haute couture show in Paris featured several delicately beaded and sequined pale-colored evening gowns. Saab said his inspiration for the line was a "goddess taking a walk during dawn under the dew." "I believe usually that a woman must stand out before the dress. I don't see that I should use colors that hurt the eyes just to make her visible," he said.

Since dressing Berry, Saab has appealed to many Hollywood stars including beyonce, Elizabeth Hurley and Teri Hatcher. Jordan's Queen Rania and Saudi princesses are also fans. Saab, who admires Valentino, said he would like to work again with actresses Charlize Theron and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Lebanon is known to have among the most fashion-conscious of Middle Eastern citizens and has produced many young local designers, but none have reached Saab's A-list stardom. Saab says he is proud of the emerging designers but warns they have to develop individuality in their designs to achieve similar success. "I'm proud that I created in many young Lebanese men the desire to be fashion designers. But what bothers me with the new designers is that they want to be like Elie Saab. "For me that means they're failing before they even start. It is imperative they develop their own sense of style. Today there's Elie Saab, but tomorrow there won't be. What will they do then? Close?"

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Student inventors of reading device for visually impaired to compete at Intel fair

Student inventors of reading device for visually impaired to compete at Intel fair
By Mohammed Zaatari
Daily Star staff

SIDON: Three girls from the Iman Secondary School in Sidon have been chosen to take part in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in the United States for inventing a machine that enables the visually impaired to read. Zahra Maarouf, Sana Zeidan and Dina Qaddoura are three grade 11 students who presented their invention earlier this month at the Lebanese Science Fair, organized by the Hariri Foundation and American microchip giant Intel.

Approximately 80 public- and private-school students submitted their projects at the headquarters of the Hariri Educational Center in Sidon as part of a competition for cash prizes and a chance to attend ISEF. ISEF is the world's largest pre-college science competition. Held each May, the event brings together nearly 1,500 students from 70 nations to compete for scholarships, tuition grants, internships, scientific field trips and the grand prize: a $50,000 college scholarship. A committee of university professors and technology experts chose two out of 13 Lebanese projects.

"Our machine operates under battery power and can save a lot of information in one memory card," Zeidan told The Daily Star. "It transforms words and texts registered on the memory card into electromechanical movements in the shape of Braille letters that blind people can read." The machine is 12 centimeters long, six centimeters wide and three centimeters thick. "It took us 250 hours to achieve our innovation," Maarouf said. "We presented our invention to the Economy Ministry in a bid to acquire a patent," Qaddoura added. Abdel-Wadoud Nacouzy, who monitored the girls' project, said that the machine "displays texts via an iron quill that the blind person can hold." "By holding the quill, the person can continue or stop reading whenever he/she wants," Nacouzy said. According to the young inventors, the machine was tested by Asmahan Baydawi, a visually impaired woman. "Baydawi liked our invention and offered us some proposals to include slight modifications so that it would totally fit any blind person," Qaddoura said.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Explosives expert defuses bomb on AUB campus

Explosives expert defuses bomb on AUB campus
By Theodore May and Mira Borji
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Internal Security Forces successfully dismantled a bomb found Thursday at the American University of Beirut. A janitor first discovered the bomb at 9:30 a.m. outside of Issam Fares Hall, near the American University Medical Center. The latest discovery comes at a time when unexploded bombs have been found with regularity throughout the country. The acting president of AUB, Maroun Kisirwani, said in a statement that a 200-gram bomb had been left inside a paper bag. A security source said an Internal Security Forces team that included Brigadier Ghassan Barakat and an explosives expert were called to the scene to defuse and remove the bomb. The security official added that the bomb had been placed out of sight of security cameras. After the bomb was defused, police dogs were brought in to sweep the area around the hall.

Kisirwani said that a meeting of the AUB Workers Syndicate had been scheduled to meet in Issam Fares Hall later on Thursday morning. While the area around the bomb was cordoned off, no buildings were closed or evacuated and the syndicate meeting went ahead as scheduled. Abdallah Faour, the president of the syndicate, described the incident as "a black day in the history of AUB." Faour did not cast suspicion in any specific direction, but said the bomb's placement and timing were directly related to the meeting.

A complaint against the anonymous culprit had been filed, he said. The security source said teams were investigating a series of emails sent by an insurance firm to a senior official at the AUB Workers Syndicate. "These emails included threats, aimed at exerting pressure on the official to give that company the exclusive rights to insure workers," the source said.

News of the security violation was slow to the reach those on campus, with many students interviewed by The Daily Star at noon still unaware that a bomb had been planted at their university. Students' reactions to the news ranged from ambivalence to mild concern. "It's not shocking because it's been a while since we had any action here," said one female student who wished to remain anonymous. "But it's kind of scary because we have a lot of international students here." "We feel insecure," said student Maya Sharif. "But I think they are threatening us and not trying to kill us because they put the bombs in the places where they can be found. They want us to be scared." "I'm not shocked," said Khalil Khraibani, another student. "We're used to it." Many in the administration also professed to be unaffected by the incident. "I am not worried because I don't think it's a threat for the university. I think it's more [aimed] toward the [Workers Syndicate] meeting than the university," one senior administrator said, also on condition of anonymity.

The administrator added that AUB had no plans as of Thursday to beef up security on and around campus. Meanwhile, a prank phone call from Bir Hassan paralyzed the area briefly after an anonymous caller from an unknown phone booth told police that there was a bomb in an area of Bir Hassan. Police gathered at the scene with police dogs but nothing was found. An investigation has been opened to ascertain the identity of the caller. - Additional reporting by Nadim Zaazaa

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

My Celebrity Look-alikes

Downtown business owners less than impressed with Siniora relief

Downtown business owners less than impressed with Siniora relief proposal
Premier announces plan for tax breaks and subsidized interest payments

By Michael Bluhm, Daily Star

BEIRUT: Prime Minister Fouad Siniora proposed forgiving property taxes and municipal fees, as well as offering state-subsidized interest payments for new and existing loans, in an attempt on Monday to help businesses in the Beirut Central District (BCD), which have been severely damaged by an ongoing opposition protest. Downtown business leaders, who are preparing to sue the state for compensation for their losses, said they would decide on their next steps based on whether a political settlement is reached in connection with the Arab League summit on March 28-29 in Riyadh. Many entrepreneurs said Siniora's offer fell far short of their needs, which they described as immediate funding to cover loans, rents, salaries and utilities. The proposed tax exemptions for BCD firms would cover 2006 and 2007, and new loans would be financed from pledges procured at the Paris III donor conference in January. Siniora said the government would also request BCD property owners - meaning real-estate behemoth Solidere, for the most part - to forego rental income for the past four months. "The government wants to revive the economic activity in the Beirut Central District," Siniora told hundreds of BCD business owners and staff gathered at the Serail. "We are willing to urge the property owners to help the merchants." The measures, though, would have to be ratified by Parliament, which has not convened since the opposition demonstrations began December 1. Under the Constitution, a session was to have been held on Tuesday.

BCD merchants, however, say they will not wait indefinitely before taking action. A number of owners have finished consulting with attorneys on their compensation lawsuit and have only to complete necessary documentation before filing, said Aishti CEO Tony Salameh, who is leading the band of BCD business owners. Salameh, who gave the most positive reaction to Siniora's speech among the entrepreneurs, said he has already had to talk his colleagues out of a plan to remove the opposition's tents by force. "Everybody is feeling how badly we're affected," Salameh told The Daily Star on Monday. "I trust what [Siniora] said and the promises he made. I felt that he's really willing to do his best to help us. More than 100 companies operating in the BCD - over half of the glitzy Downtown's total - have shut their doors since December, and many of them have closed permanently, Salameh said. Several owners said they needed a fund of emergency grants just to stay afloat, and that tax exemptions added up to feeble relief compared to the losses incurred. "This is certainly not enough," said Michel Ferneini, co-owner of the La Posta chain. "For me, it's not really positive. Today, even if you wouldn't pay any single tax, it wouldn't be enough to save all those people Downtown. The solution is to have some aid. We are hostages of the politicians and it's not only Downtown - it's all Lebanon."

To bring domestic and foreign visitors back into the BCD, the Cabinet and business people have prepared a number of incentives. The government will propose repealing airport taxes and visa requirements for all foreign arrivals, while merchants and the Tourism Ministry will sponsor a children's festival this weekend and a Downtown fair on March 27, Salameh said.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Expert to try out 'cancer cure' on humans 'soon'

Expert to try out 'cancer cure' on humans 'soon'
The Daily Star

Lebanese researcher Michel Obeid held a news conference on Friday at the National Council for Scientific Research in Beirut after he claimed to have discovered a medication to treat cancer a few months ago. Obeid said the medication "works on activating the immune system so it detects cancerous cells and destroys them." "Experiments have been conducted on about 5,000 mice ... Ninety percent recovered from different types and sizes of tumors," he said. According to Obeid, experiments will be conducted "soon" on human beings after securing the necessary funding and obtaining a patent. "But results will not be ready before six to seven years," he said.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Business in the Virtual World: Conference - Part II

Further to my previous post it is not too late to register to the annual TIMIA Conference.

For those interested:

The conference will be on Friday March 30th, 2007 at the EDHEC Business School (Nice, Cote D'Azur, France) following the recent merger of the Theseus MBA Program and EDHEC Business School in addition to the centennial celebrations of EDHEC.

Also the organizers are looking for people to participate virtually through SecondLife ( for those interested in a virtual attendance.

A bit of humor about "Traditions" from Lebanon ;)

I stole these from a thread at the LFPM forum site... I hope the author does not mind, so thank you Diabolo_7 for your sense of humor ;)

Ras El Abed
English Translation: Nigger's Head. Yep, that is what kids in Lebanon grow up eating.
It had been 20 years since I last had one of these, I remember always saying "I don't like Nigger's Head," to be met with a "How can you not like Nigger's Head?" So I gave in after 20 years of resistance thinking maybe now my more mature taste buds would better appreciate this Lebanese treasure.
It turns out the most racially insensitive candy on earth is as nasty as it sounds. At first sight it looks like a slightly elongated chocolate ball, or a Nigger's Head. Not bad. Then as you bite through the chocolate shell you start feeling the insides of the Nigger's Head, the Nigger's Brains.
No one is sure what the inside part is made of, but just pray it is not actual brain. It's white, thus the clever naming. It looks, feels, smells, tastes and sounds like a cross between marshmallows and Elmer's Glue. Its adhesive qualities are still under study.
No one claimed all tradition is good. It can be cheap* and nasty.
*250 LL or $0.15
Jamal's Propaganda

Cup of Coffee
A cup of coffee in Lebanon is not literally a cup of coffee. A cup of coffee is the unescapable, unbeatable, signature pin move of invitations; except it is not exclusive to steroidal freaks as sweet old grandmas can apply it with equal effectiveness.
But I have a meeting. Oh come on it's just a cup of coffee.
I don't drink Coffee. We'll make it tea then.
Just had tea. Then have a Baklawa.
On a diet. Have a cigarrette.
Hate cancer. Just have a glass of water, no one can refuse water.
Do not resist, it's futile. You might slip out of any other unwanted invite, but not the cup of coffee.
Just accept it and try to enjoy the 30 minutes (if you are lucky to get out in 30) of Lebanese hospitality.
P.S. Don't think that if you just went through a cup of coffee you are immune, as they tend to come in bunches.
Jamal's propaganda

The Misscall
It took me a while to get used to this one. I was so naive that when the phone rang my reaction was to pick it up. Don't do that. Not in Lebanon, that is unless you enjoy screaming "Hello!" into a dead phone. I was baffled, why do people call if they don't want to talk. I was convinced that the sole purpose of the call was to make you look silly. Then I got my first cellphone bill.
Lebanese Cell phone minutes(NYSE) value is comparable to platinum. My cab driver today had 7 kids and only 5 minutes on his phone, you do the math. The invention of the Misscall was an essential survival mechanism for the Lebanese. Fire, the wheel, and the misscall. The Lebanese also mastered the use of these three discoveries simultaneously (see the daily police blotter for more info on that) .
But what good can a simple misscall do you? Full conversations if you learn your Morse Code. The most common one is the simple call me back misscall. You can always use consecutive misscalls or combinations of one and two ring misscalls or other variations to say whatever you want.
The misscall. Another clever creation from the ever so creative (or cheap) Lebanese.
Extra Credit: If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many misscalls is that?
Jamal's propaganda

The “Natour”
No one knows where they come from but every building has one. The Natour is always easy to spot, he’s the grumpy middle aged man wearing the wife beater and flip flops. While the moustache is easy to explain, one has to wonder how they always manage to have a five o’clock shadow beard. As soon as ground is broken on a building the Natour appears, and no one has been able to outlive a Natour to know how the succession works. Other than occupying the ground floor apartment, the Natour’s activities include tending to the buildings general needs, looking out for intruders, and watering the sidewalk. He is also the exclusive real estate agent for the building, the pirated cable provider, and for the right price a paparazzo. Once an exclusively Lebanese job, it has over the years attracted cheaper foreign labor. However, the Syrians, Egyptians and Sudanese that have stepped into the field have learned and conformed to the old traditions of the job.
The Natour: a proud tradition from Lebanon.
Jamal's propaganda

The Arguile Delivery Guy
Driving in Lebanon is dangerous.
Riding a scooter in Lebanon is only for stunt lovers and thrill seekers.
Riding a scooter in Lebanon with a glass and metal khazouk clutched in your crotch is complete insanity.
The Arguile Deliver Guy kicks it up a notch. He does the completely insane one-handed while playing with balls of fire with his free hand.
Admirably, he does all this purely out of his passion for smoking high delivery and love of pyromania. It can't possibly be for the money, as each performance in which he risks his life and all those along his path is done for a mere 2000LL ($1.33).
Next time you see a scooter flying down the road with a tail of fire tracing it. Get out of his way, seek shelter, and then applaud this great Lebanese tradition.
Jamal's propaganda

The April Tan
As soon as temperatures creep above freezing level, it becomes officially "Bronzage" season in Lebanon.
It's time to even out the body with the face which is already tanned from Ski season. The number one complaint heard around town is," Uff, Why don't beaches open before May!?"
Closed beach club gates only pushes the Lebanese brain to be more innovative. Alternatives are private pools, roof tops, and some hotels that cater to the early birds. Some, however, risk it all. In pursuit of skin color in April they are willing to commit the biggest sin of them all: Going to the Saint Balesh Beach! Shou Sauvage.
Oh, and when I say a tan, I mean a Lebanese tan which is complete pruning of the skin.
Spring traditions in Lebanon: birds chirping, green and flowers all around, and no pale skin.
Jamal's propaganda

The new world brought us Coca Cola; a hydrating concoction of phosphoric acid, sugar, and coloring. I must admit it is a quite refreshing beverage; in an ulcer inducing kind of way.
In Lebanon, well in the Middle East to be more precise, the ultimate thirst quencher is Jallab.
Jallab is two parts. The chilled liquid part is made from a syrup concocted (yes I love the verb concoct and all of its concoctions) from dates, grapes, and rose water. Part two is best described by the waiter at the Phoenicia Hotel that approached me last week and offered me in a heavily accented English, "Would you like nuts in your Jallab, Sir?" I am not ashamed to say that I gladly accepted his proposition for a Jallab is incomplete without a handful of fresh fine nuts. Actually the nut mix will reveal the quality of the Jallab in most cases. If all that's floating in your drink are pistachios and unidentifiable living organisms, then you are a cheap bastard who doesn't want to spend more than a thou on his drink. Pine nuts are a must, so are almonds. Cashew nuts are a bonus, but some raisins should be there for an extra oomph.
There you have Lebanon's most popular drink (after Coke, Pepsi, Coca Cola Light, Diet 7 up, Mirinda, and Starbucks' Grande Mocha Frappo Latte of course).
Jamal's propaganda

The Sahsouh.
The Sahsouh is a ritual performed on a male who's showing off a freshly cut head of hair.
It aims at restoring a feeling of warmth to a recently-shaved, cold, and naked neck through a severe blow from the palm of a hand. The Sahsouh is always accompanied with the word "Naeeman" which you'd think means "Die motherfucker!" but is actually part of hair cuttery pleasantries.
There are no documented cases of paralysis caused by a Sahsouh, but any look around town shows that brain damage is clearly widespread.
Everytime we try to shed the image of violence associated with our culture, something like a Sahsouh comes up and pushes us back to square one.
It is an act performed by people of all ages that are close to the hair styled person. By close I mean that they know his name and/or are within striking range.
Sometimes a Sahsouh is preceded by the Sahsouh jingle that is meant to help you prepare mentally for the inevitable moment of contact.
So the next time you see a man sporting a hairy neck in Lebanon, know that it is not a grooming mishap but rather a defense mechanism to save his neck. I'm not sure if the same criteria works for other body parts.
The Sahsouh; yet another proud tradition from the hairy homeland.
Jamal's propaganda

No, not Michael Jordan. This is not LBC. Michael Jackson has enough plastic surgery to be an honorary Lebanese, but no, he is not MJ.
MJ is short for "Min Jamaetna" meaning "Our Folk".
The Lebanese express themselves differently when in mixed crowds as opposed to when they are surrounded exclusively by MJs. Amongst MJs there are no red lines, not Hariri, Not Nasrallah, and not the Patriarch; not even Jesus's and Mohammed's genitals.
Since most Lebanese feel overly burdened by having to act tolerant most of the day (at school, work, the supermarket,etc...), most MJ gatherings turn into non-MJ bashing sessions. These sessions serve as anger release therapy that contribute to the relative Peace we live in today.
Infiltrating MJ sessions is always fun. I personally have been mistakenly allowed in on almost all colors of MJ gatherings; the Armenian variety has been a lone exception due to the language barrier. They are all pretty much the same, "Our MJ are the better than the others for such and such reasons". Ironically the same exact resons are used by the other MJs to justify their superiority.
MJ, Two letters that make Two face-ness a cultural norm in Lebanon.
Jamal's propaganda

Thursday, March 15, 2007

أيقونة العذراء في كنيسة السيدة ترشح زيتاً

عشرات تبرّكوا منها وتهافت يومي حتى الليل:
أيقونة العذراء في كنيسة السيدة ترشح زيتاً

كتبت هالة حمصي:
الزجاج الخارجي كان اقصى ما امكن الايدي الوصول اليه. عليه انطبعت عشرات البصمات والقبل واللمسات والدموع وبخار التنفسات التائقة... كأنها ودائع حب بشرية. كان الفاصل بين عشرات المؤمنين و"دمعة" زيت سماوي رشحت من اليد اليمنى للطفل الالهي المحمول على ذراعي العذراء مريم. "هل رأيتها، هل رأيتها؟"، تسأل سيدة التصقت بمنصة الايقونة. "آه، نعم، نعم"، تجيب رفيقتها بعدما أمعنت النظر في الايقونة، وتصرخ بعفوية: "يا عدرا، دخيل اسمك. ما تتركينا. يا عدرا يا عدرا يا عدرا". تقرب شفتيها من الزجاج، تلثمه بكل حنان، كأنها تلثم الايقونة... وتلمس بيدها وجه العذراء امامها، وتصلي بهمس.
"ايقونة السيدة العذراء ترشح زيتا". الخبر تنقل بين الناس بسرعة البرق، بحيث باتت كنيسة دخول العذراء الى الهيكل للروم الارثوذكس في ساحة ساسين- الاشرفية، مسكن الايقونة، مقصد العشرات يوميا، وطوال ساعات النهار. صفّ من النسوة يتجه نحو الكنيسة. في الجهة الشمالية الخلفية للكنيسة، تحلّق عشرات حول السيدة وطفلها. كانت العيون مشدودة الى هذين الوجهين الالهيين المصليين، العذراء مريم والطفل الالهي المتوجين باكليلين من الفضة، والملتحفين بثوبين منقوشين فضيين، بحيث لم يظهر الا الجزء العلوي الاحمر القاتم من منديل مريم، والجزء السفلي من الرداء الازرق للطفل الالهي.
تلقائيا، ترسم الايدي اشارة الصليب، تلمس الاصابع الزجاج، تتبرك، تقبّل الشفاه "السيدة" وطفلها، تتمتم بعض الكلمات، تهمس، تنحني الرؤوس خشوعا، تنساب دموع على الخدود، وتفيض النفوس بصلوات وكلمات رجاء. "السلام ع اسمك"، تقول احداهن بتأثر. تتمتم اخرى كلاما غير مفهوم. تتمسك واحدة بمسبحة، تلصقها بالزجاج لتباركها. يضيء آخر شمعة، تحت انظار مريم والطفل يسوع، على نية احباء.
من بعيد، وقفت سيدة تتأمل العذراء، دامعة بصمت."قلبي يتحرك عندما انظر الى الايقونة الراشحة زيتا"، تقول لـ"النهار". "نعم العذراء قادرة على ان تقوم بالعجائب. ساعة تشاء". كانت السيدة في مهمة مصيرية. "ابنتي مريضة جدا. وسألت العذراء ان تشفيها". مسحت دموعا عن خديها، نظرت الى العذراء راجية، قبل ان تعود ادراجها.

"بكت... وعجائبها كثيرة"

على وقع حركة شبه متواصلة لعشرات المؤمنين، بات المكان يعيش اخيرا. قبل نحو عشرة ايام، بدأ كل شيء بمشاهدة عدد من زوار الكنيسة شيئا غير مألوف على الايقونة. "رأينا عليها، وتحديدا على يد الطفل يسوع، نقطة زيت"، يروي كاهن الدير والرعية المتقدم في الكهنة الخوري الياس فرح لـ"النهار". "عادة، نشكر. وقد صلينا يومها صلاة البراكليسي، وصلاة المديح. ولاحقا، زاد الزيت اكثر، بحيث امكن المؤمنون رؤية الزيت اكثر، وخصوصا انه انتشر الى عنق السيدة، وعنق الطفل ويده".
بداية، كان القرار "ان نشكر الله ولا نقول شيئا"، يقول الخوري فرح. لكن بما ان "النعمة لا تخفى"، على ما يؤكد، بدأ الناس يتناقلون الامر بين بعضهم البعض، وارتفع عدد المتبركين من عشرات الى مئات تغص بهم الكنيسة يوميا من السادسة صباحا. ولا تقفل الابواب حتى الثانية عشرة منتصف الليل، اذا اقتضى الامر.
ايقونة السيدة العذراء قديمة جدا، "يزيد عمرها عن 100 عام، وكانت لدى مؤسسة الدير الام كاترينا"، على ما يفيد الخوري فرح. وعلى مرّ الاعوام، اثبتت عجائبيتها مرارا، "وباتت معروفة بعجائبها الكثيرة". فهي الايقونة نفسها التي بكت عام 1975 في بداية الحرب. "اذا نظرت الى وجه السيدة، امكن رؤية آثار مجرى الدمع"، يقول الخوري فرح. وقبل نحو 20 عاما ايضا، رشحت زيتا. "دائما هناك عجائب. ونسمع من كثيرين عن امور خارقة حصلت معهم، بعد سؤالهم سيدة الايقونة التشفع لهم".
قبل مدة، وقبل ظاهرة رشح الزيت، اخرج الخوري فرح وراهبات الدير ايقونة السيدة من وراء الزجاج، الى وسط الكنيسة، حيث تحلق حولها المؤمنون مصلين. كانت صلاة المديح (للعذراء مريم) الاولى في زمن الصوم. عادة، تُخرَج الايقونة مرتين سنويا فقط، في مناسبة صلاتي المديح الاولى والخامسة في الصوم، قبل اعادتها الى مركزها وارء الزجاج. ومرة واحدة سنويا، تلمع احدى الراهبات ثوبي العذراء والطفل الالهي الفضيين.
يقول الخوري فرح ان "هذا الزيت الراشح بركة ونعمة. وقد اعطتنا العذراء كل خير. الشكر لله. ما نشهده نعمة، نشكر الله عليها. والمؤمنون يتهافتون لشكر الله، ونحن نصلي، وان شاء الله يكون بركة لهم". ويشير الى "اننا نصلي الى الله بحرارة كي يسمعنا. وقد تكون هذه الظاهرة اشارة منه الى انه يستمع الينا، ويسألنا ان نصلي اكثر".
كل يوم، تُسأل والدة الله والطفل يسوع الكثير الكثير. "عليها السلام" يكرر بعضهم مرارا. احداهن سألتها الشفاء، "لانني مريضة". اخرى تريدها "ان تحمي لبنان. نعم، لقد صليت لها وطلبت منها امورا عدة".
اما بهيج فيقول ان "السيدة العذراء تريد ان تقول لنا، من خلال هذه الظاهرة العجائبية، انه من الضروري ان يعود الناس الى ايمانهم المسيحي". كل يوم، ستكون السيدة العذراء والطفل يسوع في انتظار المؤمنين، مع بركات جديدة، وربما "دموع" كثيرة من الزيت السماوي.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Families of jailed Lebanese feel Israeli woman's pain

Families of jailed Lebanese feel Israeli woman's pain
But relatives of detainees in Israel urge wife of captured soldier to pressure her own government for prisoner exchange

By Nour Samaha
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: On September 16, 1987, Anwar Yassin, who was then only 19 years old and a member of the National Lebanese Resistance Front, was captured by the Israeli Army during a commando operation in the area of Jabal al-Sheikh. He then spent the next 17 years in Israeli detention, enduring hours of torture and having limited contact with his family in Lebanon, until 2004 when Hizbullah was able to secure his release through third-party negotiations. Bassam Kantar, the younger brother of the longest-serving Lebanese detainee in an Israeli prison, Samir Kantar, was only one year old when his brother was captured in 1979. Bassam has spent the majority of his life tirelessly campaigning for the release of his brother, who is still being held in Israel after 28 years. Omran Nisr, brother of Nassim Nisr, a Lebanese Jew with family in Israel who was captured by the Israelis in the 1980s, still hopes for the release of his brother more than two decades on. These are just three of many Lebanese who are forced to deal on a daily basis with their loved ones being held by Israel, with no guarantee of their release. Most have been appealing for months or years for the release of their loved ones, through coordination with Hizbullah (the Lebanese government does not deal with the matter of prisoner exchanges with Israel). Hizbullah deals with every case, regardless of religion or party membership. Yassin, for example, is a communist, not a Hizbullah member. Officially there are eight Lebanese being held in Israeli prisons, four of whom were captured during the summer 2006 war. Many more Lebanese disappeared during the 1982 Israeli invasion, arousing suspicion that they are being held in Israel.

Recently, Karnit Goldwasser, the wife of Ehud Goldwasser, one of the two Israeli soldiers captured by Hizbullah last July - an event that triggered the 34-day war with Israel in 2006 - made an appeal to the families of Lebanese detainees in Israeli prisons. She said she hopes that the latest appeal will pressure Hizbullah to release the Israeli soldiers. She asked for Lebanese women to "combine forces and to bring back their beloved ones and our beloved ones," but has not yet had any response from this side. "We are calling them whenever we can to meet us," she added.

But the families of Lebanese jailed in Israel remain skeptical toward her plea. "This is not her first appeal. It is the latest of many, prior ones having been made to state heads around the world, religious figures, and to me personally as the brother of Samir," Kantar told The Daily Star. "She should focus her efforts on pressuring the Israeli government, rather than turning to us." "Also, her appeal is contradictory; she is appealing for the families on both sides to work together, yet her government is asking for the unconditional release of the soldiers," he added. Yassin, a soft-spoken man with a melodic tone and a mixed Lebanese-Palestinian accent (picked up as a result of his time spent in Israeli prisons), agreed with Kantar. "She should turn to Israeli society first in order to pressure their government to make more of an effort," he said. He explained that the while he does feel her pain and understands the anguish she is going through, the suffering for many Lebanese goes much further back than last year's war. "We have been suffering for 28 years. We did not take the initiative to start the war, and she needs to understand that the reason for all this is because they were imprisoning our people and occupying our land. Losses were incurred on both sides, including the capture of her husband," Yassin said.

The Khiam Center for Rehabilitation specializes in dealing with the cases and the families of the detainees held in Israel. This includes international and local lobbying, social work and most importantly, psychological therapy. Mohammad Safa, the center's president, explained that on a practical level, it would be impossible to "combine forces" between the Lebanese and the Israelis families of detainees. "Technically we are two countries still at war, so any contact between the two sides is strictly forbidden," he explained. "We do feel for the families of the two kidnapped soldiers, but this is the responsibility of the Israeli government, which forced Hizbullah to take such actions. She needs to pressure her government to secure the release of the soldiers." This position was also echoed by Nisr, who spoke to The Daily Star on behalf of his entire family. "The Israeli families need to focus on exerting pressure on their own government, rather than looking at us to help them." According to Kantar, the process is not so straightforward. The Israeli government has more at stake than the Lebanese. There are the issues of Hamas' conditions of releasing its captured Israeli soldier, and the success of Hizbullah following the summer war. "The Israeli government wants to know the 'price' of release [which is more if the soldier is still alive] from Hamas first before dealing with Lebanon. Hamas, unlike previous Palestinian leaders, are specific about which prisoners they want released." He explained that in the past Israel used to release prisoners who were either criminals or had extremely light sentences, but this time Hamas is asking for the release of prisoners who have been in jail for over 15 years. "Furthermore, the [2006] war was a big victory for Hizbullah, and Israel doesn't want to add any more to their success by releasing the Lebanese detainees, so at the moment they're biding their time and watching the Lebanese political situation unfold," Kantar said. In his opinion, Goldwasser's latest appeal was more of an effort to waste time than to establish anything concrete.
Yassin said that ultimately, the appeal is an attempt to pull the heart strings of the women in Lebanon: "650,000 Palestinian prisoners have passed through Israeli prisons over the years, of which 10,000 are still in jail. Their mothers have been calling for their release and they are not heard. Now, one Israeli woman, because she is Israeli, is calling out and everyone is listening to her. I think all the Arab mothers, wives and sisters heard her call and feel for her, but has she heard them for the last 50 years?" - Additional reporting by Samer Arzouni

Monday, March 12, 2007

Lebanese entrepreneur closing in on Bill Gates as world's richest person

Lebanese entrepreneur closing in on Bill Gates as world's richest person
Compiled by Daily Star staff
Saturday, March 10, 2007

A self made Lebanese origin billionaire is closing in on Microsoft magnate Bill Gates and whole sale company owner Warren Buffet. Carlos Slim Helou, who set up the largest telecom company in Mexico, became the third richest person in the world after Gates and Buffet, according to the prestigious business magazine Forbes on Friday. His fortune is estimated at more than $49 billion. "The world's third-richest man is $19 billion richer this year and catching up with Americans Bill Gates and Warren Buffett thanks to a strong Mexican equities market and the performance of his wireless telephone company," Forbes said in its annual report.

The son of a Lebanese immigrant, Helou made his first fortune in 1990 when he bought fixed line operator Telefonos de Mexico (Telmex) in a privatization. Last year he spent $3.7 billion to buy the Latin American operations of Verizon Communications, expanding his empire into Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. In recent years he has donated close to $4 billion to education and health projects, and to the revitalization of downtown Mexico City's historical district.

Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal's rank fell from 5th to 13th, although his fortune remained at $20 billion. The nephew of the Saudi king, Alwaleed is considered the most active and successful investor in the Middle East. His risky bet on Citigroup in the early 1990s paid off hugely and accounts for nearly half his fortune. A plan to list shares in his Kingdom Holding Company on the Saudi stock exchange late last year was delayed by weakness in the Saudi market, which has fallen 60 percent since it peaked in late February 2006. The drop in value of Alwaleed's Saudi holdings was offset by gains in investments such as Citigroup and News Corp. Kuwait's Al-Kharafi family was ranked the 52nd wealthiest man in the world with a fortune of more than $11.5 billion.

A number of other Lebanese entrepreneurs also earned a spot on the Forbes list. Saad Hariri, who inherited part of his father's fortune, is estimated to be worth $2.3 billion, while his eldest brother Baaha holds the same fortune. Forbes said that the Saudi-born Lebanese parliamentary majority leader is pressing for a peace deal in Beirut and for an international tribunal on the slaying of his father, Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. He is also the general manager of Saudi Oger, the family's $8 billion holding company. "When the family's leading politician and Georgetown grad isn't working, he likes to scuba dive and draw on Cuban cigars," the magazine said. The Forbes list also saw newcomers from Lebanon. Former Prime Minister Najib Mikati has a wealth of more than $2.3 billion. Forbes said that the former Lebanese premier, who is viewed as "a popular and moderate figure," founded telecom company Investcom with brother Maher at height of Lebanon's Civil War in 1982. The family sold the company in June 2006 to South Africa's MTN Group for a sum of $5.5 billion. - Agencies

March 11 rally uses food to attract hundreds

March 11 rally uses food to attract hundreds
Organizers bill movement as unaffiliated third way
By Nour Samaha
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Hundreds of people flocked to Downtown Beirut on Sunday for a free lunch offered by the newly formed March 11 movement, which aims to give voice to what it says is a silent majority of Lebanese opposed to the current political deadlock. "We are all here as Lebanese for Lebanon," March 11 founder Merhi Abu Merhi told those gathered over loudspeakers in Nijmeh Square. "Lebanon is for liberty; it is for the love of the people, and we are gathered here today in an effort to reunite Lebanon," he said. As the crowd chanted "Abu Merhi," he continued. "Lebanon will revive and tourism will return to the country ... This is not a political movement; we are here in Downtown because it is for all the Lebanese. Lebanon is here to stay."

The central square was packed with hundreds of Lebanese who had arrived from across the country, on provided buses and by their own means. Much of the crowd was outfitted in white hats and t-shirts emblazoned with the March 11 logo. Abu Merhi called on those in the square to "dance the debkeh" as patriotic songs blared over the speakers. March 11 security guards stood protectively at every entrance to the square to ensure the peaceful nature of the event. The movement insists that it is with neither national political camp, and that it threw the event on Sunday to give voice to the "silent majority" opposed to continuing political bickering, as well in a sign of support for the countless businesses that continue to suffer economically due to the deadlock.

Downtown Beirut has long been the main economic hub in Lebanon and one of its busiest tourist destinations. But since an opposition sit-in was launched in the neighboring Riad al-Solh Square last December many businesses and restaurants in the city center have closed due to a lack of business. "We came here today because we love life, and this is good for Lebanon," said Zahar, 24, who traveled from Sidon for the day. Zahar was confident that the head of March 11 had altruistic intentions. "Abu Merhi is not with any political party. He loves Lebanon and wants life to return to Downtown, which is what we want," she said. Many of those who came out on Sunday said that messages issued prior to the event insinuated that all those who showed up would be given a sample of the delights offered at the upscale restaurants ringing Nijmeh Square.

However, each restaurant that opened on Sunday reserved its tables for those who were lucky enough to have been given coupons for a free meal. For everyone else, dozens of shawarma stands were erected. "To be honest, we only came down to eat and to see what it is all about," said Wajid. "But we're not allowed to eat in the restaurants because we don't have coupons ... Many of the people here only turned up for the free food." The manager of the Mi-Chaud restaurant hoped that Sunday's success would prove to be more than a one-day miracle. "The March 11 made the decision to open Downtown, and we wanted to cooperate with them," the manager, who preferred that his name not be used, said. "Today has been a very good day for us, but it all depends on whether the people come back again soon. One thing is certain: Owners will open again if there is proof of hope and success," he said.

Another manager of a large restaurant chain Downtown, who also agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, was more skeptical. "Honestly, they claim to be a non-political group but this is purely politics. You can tell it has the backing of one of the two parties; otherwise it would not have been allowed to happen," he said. "Abu Merhi and the March 11 spent $3 million to open the restaurants, pay for the food and provide hats, t-shirts and billboards. No one would do that if they didn't want to generate some kind of support base." Abu Merhi said that the movement's entire budget was $2 million, with "between $300,000 and $400,000 spent on today's event."

Friday, March 09, 2007

Lebanese labor laws force employers into 'Catholic marriages' for life

Lebanese labor laws force employers into 'Catholic marriages' for life
By Lysandra Ohrstrom
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: When the processing plant of Lebanon's largest dairy was destroyed by Israeli bombs last July, the country lost its main supplier of fresh milk and about 200 Liban Lait employees lost their jobs. Last fall the former employees asked to return to work, said Mark Waked, the marketing manager of Liban Lait, but the dairy no longer had a functioning factory. With no other option, the workers sued the company under a provision of Lebanon's antiquated labor legislation. Waked remains confident that "they don't have a case against us," but the pool of employees demanding compensation continues to expand. Regardless of the victor, none of the parties in the suit feels protected by the nearly 70-year-old Lebanese labor law, which does not adequately safeguard the rights of workers or employers. "The Labor Ministry trying to get compensation for them, but we did not lay anyone off. It was a force majeur, so how are we supposed to hire them, when we are not working? We used to distribute with 40 trucks now we have five," Waked told The Daily Star. Liban Lait has been gradually rehiring portions of its staff as regular operations resume, he said, and plans to call back factory employees as soon as the new plant is functioning. Waked called recent reports in the Lebanese media - faulting Liban Lait for not using the $5 million in compensation allegedly received last year, to pay accidental indemnities - "completely fabricated." "We had a gentlemen's agreement with an Arab bank that wanted to invest $5 million in our company, but it never took effect," Waked said of a rumor that Liban Lait was the only damaged factory to win reconstruction assistance at last year's Arab League Financial Summit. "Personally I think the current system is unfair because it's impossible for a company to fire workers and it always favors the employee over the business," Waked argued.

According to Article Five of Lebanese labor law, if a company submits proof of bankruptcy, it is not obligated to pay workers end-of-service indemnities - unemployment indemnities do not exist. But the law is rarely invoked, and the private sector routinely faults the inflexible labor market for low productivity and high unemployment rates. The government has no policy regarding job promotion, said president of the Lebanese Industrialists Association (LIA) Fadi Abboud. The government should offer incentives to companies to expand their workforces, and Parliament must approve a new labor law allowing employers the freedom to hire and fire workers, he said. "The concept of a Catholic marriage where you employ people for life is not realistic anymore," Abboud said. "Every reason to fire people is considered unfair dismissal in Lebanon. I asked the Labor Minister [Tarrad Hamadeh] 'when was the last time you accepted an economic justification for a dismissal?,' and he could not remember." Hamadeh admitted that his office usually intervenes on the side of the employee in compensation suits, and that few businesses successfully file claims under Article Five. "These guys want to return to slavery, to a system like the one during the Ottoman Empire," he said of Lebanese businessmen. But workers' advocacy groups say a dearth of employment opportunities and an undependable social security system necessitates extra protection for workers. According to a study released Monday by the International Labor Organization, there has recently been a move by both government and employers to introduce labor-market flexibility through less rigid hiring and firing laws. Labor unions are supportive of this reform, says the report, as long as it conforms to international labor standards and flexibility is balanced by improved workers' security to mitigate adverse affects vulnerable segments of population. "Strengthening ... collective bargaining would allow for a better match between wages and productivity ... and improved employment protection far beyond the level guaranteed by present law," ILO said.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A message to my love in Lebanon: By Al Habtoor, Khalaf

A message to my love in Lebanon
By Khalaf Ahmed Al Habtoor
The Daily Star

First person by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

It was the time to go back to Dubai after a week's rest and some business in London. Our jet had to stop at a Mediterranean airport for refueling. We were five passengers: two UAE compatriots, two friends from Lebanon, and myself. We discussed available options to stop and refuel. So, where to land?

Well, it was Beirut that came to my mind first. That wasn't without reason. The famous city had always captured my imagination. It had a remarkable role in shaping my conscience. My suitcases still breathe the city's pine scent. Images of its neighborhoods and places have remained in my memory ever since, like a sweet dream. It was Beirut then, and the question was open to discussion among the trip companions.

The date: February, 6, 2007. Beirut was undergoing heavy internal struggles. Confrontations between regional and international powers covered the city with smoke and black clouds. Different fronts filled the scene with demonstrations, counterdemonstrations, protests from both sides, and threatening political statements that were sufficient to start up an intra-state war not only a civil war.

The place: a space for discussion between love and adoration, sorrow and pain, hope and despair, fear and awe. We decided not to land in Beirut. And it no longer mattered where to land. The question became an insignificant detail. Avoiding eye-contact so as not to communicate our feelings, our eyes were looking aimlessly into nothing. No one wanted to betray his adoration for the city that had a suicidal harshness against itself. No other city had showed such self-destructive tendencies as Beirut. Then, no landing in Beirut, all agreed. But in the sky, my memory went back to the morning haze of Bhamdoun, the snow-crowned cedars of Marya, Tripoli, the history living in Baalbek, the sea of civilizations of Sidon, and tobacco farms of the South.

Can a human being be afraid of his history and childhood memories? May he or she be reluctant to recall the experiences of past years? Or can he or she sever themselves from past neighbors, friends, playmates? Can a country be as harsh against its lovers as Lebanon is? Can a people be as unfair to their country as some Lebanese are? What are you doing? I'm asking you all without taking part in any party, only your country. What are you doing to this Oriental gem, Mediterranean pearl, Arab jewel? What are you doing with the mermaid, spring's breaths, water's flow, snow's lanterns, your warm emotions, the spontaneous Lebanese generosity, your Arab traditions and hospitality and your eyes' joy? What have you been doing? Once, you were our pride, joy, elegance, book, paper, hospital, university, travel destination, oasis, rest and peace.

We, the people of the Gulf, were proud of your savvy people, sophisticated culture, metropolitan environment, lovely habits, logic, openness, love for each another and your homeland, overwhelming attachment to your country's history and honor. We need to retain this feeling toward you. We want you to be entrusted again with our pride, confidence and love. And we will not save any effort to support you. Your pains are ours. Will you wake up, regain the rein over your destiny, and give the utmost priority to the interest of your country? Where are you now compared to your past? I'm asking as your partner, a person who loves you as well as your country. I tried to figure out why on earth the Lebanese are doing such harm to their country. Well, I confess that I couldn't. I failed to find any justification for this blighting indicated by a prominent poet as the gate of paradise.

However, I will not contend that this has been made by the Lebanese themselves. God has entrusted Lebanese with this heavenly gift, human heritage, and natural miracle. There is no reason to do what you are doing now. The Lebanese have reached the bottom of their history. Unemployment is rampant, Arab and international investors are leaving, factories and even restaurants are closing, maybe irrecoverably, throwing crowds of unemployed to be victimized by poverty. Emigration has become the buzzword among hundred of thousands of Lebanese who bear their pains and despair with them to earn their living anywhere in the world. Don't those deserve a while to think about the current situation? Don't they deserve from you to recall your deep rooted national feelings, to regain your honorable past? You were among the first who demonstrated that homeland is the synonym of integrity, honor and pride.

Give Lebanon the opportunity to live, to be an oasis for our world. Go back and amicably and open-mindedly discuss your differences inside your constitutional establishments, your inclusive Parliament, your multilateral government which is meant to serve people not the other way. Go back to constructive dialogue, unified stand, logic resonance. There is no alternative to one Lebanon, one Lebanese people. Differences, no matter how deep they are, should be minor issues when the homeland is under threat. Politics usually become insignificant when national sovereignty is at stake. All losses are neglected when the loss of your nation is looming. You are required to have some mercy for Lebanon, your sons and daughters, your seniors, and your youth. Deny your enemies the opportunity to celebrate your blight. Try to mitigate your friends' fears. No one needs to assure me about your love for your country. But what is going on now endangers even the national survival of your Lebanon. Every one is required to halt for a while and reconsider his stand, even to make concessions if necessary. No one needs to be ashamed of concession in favor of the nation. No one can be victorious or a loser vis-a-vis his or her nation. The real victory sought is Lebanon's unity and integrity. Leave your assumed ditches to the daylight. Go beyond the walls of disengagement and hostility. You need to extend our hands to each other, not against each other. Think of your country's scars. This is your only possible exit.

Khalaf Ahmad al Habtoor is chairman of Al-Habtoor group.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Beufort Pix

Mostly unknow Lebanese Castle: Beufort

Impregnable Beufort, Betrayed

Of the dozen-odd Crusander castles in Lebanon none can compare in size, scenic grandeur, or close connection with Lebanese histroy down to modern times, with isolated Beufort, perched on its cliff a thousand feet above the rushing Litani. It is a pity that Beufort's historic significanse to Lebanon was so great, for the castle's continued importance down to the 17th Century brought about its systematic destruction at the hands of an expert wrecking and demolition crew in the year 1615. What we see today is not so much a picturesque medieval ruin as a cast rock pile obscuring broken towers and battlements - a perfectly defensless mass of buildings, mostly underground, scientifically destroyed by gunpower and wrecking bars over a period of 40 days by Turkish Pasha of Damascus.

This was end of an impregnable fortress, a castle too strong to be taken by force of arms, a stronghold betrayed by its Turkomen mercenary defenders for Turkish gold, a nail in the coffin of Lebanon's Prince Fakhreddin II el-Maani, in whose hands it had formed the key to the defences of his supra-national Maanid principality of Lebanon, Western Syria, Galilee and western Palestine.

This text is from Bruce Condès "See Lebanon - Over 100 Selected Trips, With History and Pictures". Harab Bijjani Press, Beirut, Lebanon 1960

Beaufort Castle

Beaufort or Belfort (Arabic: قلعة الشقيف‎, Qala'at ash-Shqif, Hebrew: מבצר הבופור‎, Mivtsār hāBōfōr) is a Crusader fortress in Nabatiye Governorate, southern Lebanon, about 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) to the south-south-west of the village of Arnoun. The castle was named "bel fort" or "beau fort" (French for "beautiful fortress") by the Crusaders who occupied the castle in the 12th century. Its Arabic name Qala'at ash-Shqif means Castle of the High Rock in the Syrian Arabic dialect (shqif is the Syriac Aramaic word for "high rock"). The castle's full name in Arabic is قلعة الشقيف ارنون (Qala'at ash-Shqif Arnoun), a combination of the Arabic word Qala'at (castle) and the Syriac Aramaic Shqif Arnoun. The castle is also sometimes referred to as Beaufort Castle in Arabic (قصر البوفورت, Qasr al-Bofort).

Ancient History
Little is known of the site prior to its capture by Crusader forces in 1139 AD, although historians assume that the castle's commanding position atop a 700 metre (2,100 feet) hill made it a strategic position even in Biblical and Roman times, and that there was already an existing structure at the time. The castle, a stronghold of Reginald of Sidon, was taken by Saladin in 1190 AD after a year-long siege. The Mamlukes took the castle in 1240, before it was retaken by Reginald's grandson, Julian of Sidon, in 1260. In 1268, the Mamluke Sultan Baibars captured the castle, and there was relative calm through the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. In the 17th century Fakhr-al-Din II took the castle as a part of his network of fortifications. Fakhr-al-Din II was defeated by the Ottomans, who destroyed the upper portions of the castle. The area was ruled by feudal families until 1769.

Modern History
In 1782 the Governor of Acre besieged the castle, captured it and destroyed many of its remaining fortifications. An earthquake in 1837 destroyed many parts of the castle, and it was used as a quarry and a shelter for sheep. Restoration of the castle began with the French Mandate over Lebanon in 1920, and continued with Lebanese independence in 1943. The castle's strategic location, which affords a view of much of southern Lebanon and northern Israel, has caused it to be a focus for recent conflicts. From 1976 onwards, (during the Lebanese Civil War), the castle was held by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which used the castle to fire rockets into northern Israel. Between 1976 and 1980 PLO positions on the castle were attacked dozens of times by Israeli forces. On June 6, 1982, at the start of Operation Peace for Galilee (the 1982 Lebanon War), the PLO position on the Beaufort Castle was heavily shelled before being captured by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on June 8, 1982. Between 1982 and 2000, the Beaufort Castle and surrounding areas were used as a base and observation post by the IDF. The IDF fortified the area with bunkers and concrete blocks. The Israeli position at the castle was attacked a number of times by Hezbollah. In May 2000, the IDF evacuated their Security Zone in Southern Lebanon, leaving the castle and destroying IDF infrastructure, so that it could not be used by Hezbollah.

According to local Muslim folklore, the Beaufort Castle dates to the Islamic conquest of the Holy Land[2].

"The Restoration of Beaufort Castle (South Lebanon) A 3D Restitution According to Historical Documentation", Pierre Grussenmeyer, Jean Yasmine, Lebanese Directorate General of Antiquities (accessed September 5, 2006)
Hugh Kennedy, Crusader Castles, Cambridge 1994.
David Nicolle, Crusader Castles in the Holy Land 1097-1192, Oxford 2004.
R. C. Smail, Crusading Warfare 1097-1193, Cambridge 1956.

^ Tourism @ Lebanon, Nabatieh
^ "In the Party of God", Jeffrey Goldberg, The New Yorker Magazine, October 14, 2002

Taken from the AFP article of August 13,
Depuis l'aube, l'armée israélienne pilonne les régions en surplomb du Litani, dans le secteur du château de Beaufort et en amont, sur les villages de Dellafa, Qotrani et Sraira qui ont essuyé 25 raids, selon la police libanaise. Le château de Beaufort, forteresse croisée située sur un promontoire, domine toute la région et a été occupée par les Israéliens de 1982 jusqu'en 2000.

Monday, March 05, 2007

All sides see imminent solution to Lebanese crisis

All sides see imminent solution to Lebanese crisis
Summit between ahmadinejad and king abdullah credited with breaking logjam

By Rym Ghazal
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Rays of hope emerged in Lebanon's political crisis over the weekend, with key politicians saying that a "solution" had been agreed upon by all sides. The positive signs followed a meeting between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz. Ahmadinejad made his first official visit to the kingdom on Saturday. Lebanon was one of the main issues on the agenda of the Saudi-Iranian summit. The predominantly Sunni kingdom and the Shiite-ruled Islamic Republic agreed to fight the spread of sectarian strife throughout the region. Information Minister Ghazi Aridi hailed the Saudi-Iranian summit as an event that would "help reopen doors of dialogue" in Lebanon. "What comes out of the meetings will have an immediate impact on internal affairs as it will generate a better environment for dialogue," said Aridi. Like other politicians from the March 14 camp, Aridi said a solution had been reached. He declined to say whether the breakthrough entailed the expansion of Cabinet to 30 members for a so-called "19 + 11" setup, with the opposition holding 11 seats.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, a strong critic of the opposition who has been repeatedly accused of hampering efforts to end the deadlock, confirmed on Sunday that there was "indeed an effective solution." "The solution is based on two things, on forming a joint committee that will oversee the modifications to the international court [to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri] and the formation of a national consensus government of 19 + 10 + 1," Geagea told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation. The unaffiliated Cabinet minister in Geagea's formulation would belong neither to the majority or the opposition but would serve as an independent. Geagea's version of the agreement was confirmed by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who earlier had called for a "joint judicial committee" to work on a final draft of the international tribunal.

This announcement by Geagea came a day after Berri told the pan-Arab daily Ash-Sharq al-Awsat that a deal to end the country's worst political crisis since the Civil War could emerge "within 48 hours." Like other politicians over the weekend, Berri said that the chances for a solution were greater than at any other point in the crisis, which spilled over into lethal street violence in late January. "The chances of success this time are greater than at any previous time," said Berri. Ash-Sharq al-Awsat said the settlement would include a deal on a unity government as well as an agreement on the international tribunal.

The opposition says it agrees with the idea of setting up a tribunal but wants to discuss the details and has said that it fears the court will be used as a political tool. Justice Minister Charles Rizk called on the two sides Sunday to study the details of the court "before making any accusations about its guarantees." "It was never an issue of poor formation of the court, but rather an issue of ill treatment of the issue politically," Rizk told an Abu Dubai television station on Sunday.

Former President Amin Gemayel left Sunday for Egypt, where he is scheduled to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Monday to discuss the Lebanese situation. "Lebanon is now at an important point because of all the Arab and regional initiatives that focus on helping Lebanon find a solution," Gemayel said before his departure. While the former president expressed optimism over the negotiations, he warned against "temporary fixes." "It is not enough for the solution to be limited to the international tribunal and to the formation of government," said Gemayel. "It should be more encompassing and long-term."

Hizbullah officials, meanwhile, insisted on a 19 + 11 solution. Hizbullah Politburo member Mahmoud Qmati, accompanied by Hizbullah MP Amin Cherri, met with former Premier Salim Hoss on Saturday. "The Arab initiatives and the Saudi-Iranian efforts have arrived at the 19 + 11 deal and at allowing certain modifications to be made to the international court," Qmati said afterward. "The Saudi-Iranian summit will have repercussions far beyond Lebanon, where it will help unite the region against strife and will hinder the US administration's projects on the Middle East," said Qmati. Amal MP Hassan Ali Khalil said the opposition does not want a solution that would constitute a "loss" by either side. "We refuse to accept a solution that would lead to a side being defeated, as we want to work together and participate in governing the country as equals," he said Saturday. "We want to work hand-in-hand with the international community in prosecuting the criminals who have plagued Lebanon for years," he added.

Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun said Saturday that he is waiting for a date to be set for his trip to Saudi Arabia. "I was invited ... 24 hours before the [November] assassination of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel and so I had to postpone it," Aoun told the Okaz newspaper. "But things have settled down now and so we asked ... to set a date for a visit." He warned that if a solution does not materialize soon, the opposition "has no choice but to launch civil disobedience." "We don't want to cause a civil war, but if it happens, we will defend ourselves if necessary," the MP added. "But the democratic way remains our main way of dealing with problems." - With agencies

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Robert Fisk: How easy it is to put hatred on a map

Robert Fisk: How easy it is to put hatred on a map
Our guilt in this sectarian game is obvious. We want to divide our potential enemies

Published: 03 March 2007

Why are we trying to divide up the peoples of the Middle East? Why are we trying to chop them up, make them different, remind them - constantly, insidiously, viciously, cruelly - of their divisions, of their suspicions, of their capacity for mutual hatred? Is this just our casual racism? Or is there something darker in our Western souls?

Take the maps. Am I the only one sickened by our journalistic propensity to publish sectarian maps of the Middle East? You know what I mean. We are now all familiar with the colour-coded map of Iraq. Shias at the bottom (of course), Sunnis in their middle "triangle" - actually, it's more like an octagon (even a pentagon) - and the Kurds in the north.

Or the map of Lebanon, where I live. Shias at the bottom (of course), Druze further north, Sunnis in Sidon and on the coastal strip south of Beirut, Shias in the southern suburbs of the capital, Sunnis and Christians in the city, Christian Maronites further north, Sunnis in Tripoli, more Shias to the east. How we love these maps. Hatred made easy.

Of course, it's not that simple. I live in a small Druze enclave in the west of Beirut. But my local grocer and my driver are Sunnis. I suppose they have no business to be in the wrong bit of our map. So do I tell my driver Abed that our map shows he can no longer park outside my home? Or that the Muslim publisher of the Arabic edition of my book The Great War for Civilisation can no longer meet me at our favourite rendezvous, Paul's restaurant in east Beirut, for lunch because our map shows this to be a Maronite Christian area of Beirut?

In Tarek al-Jdeidi (Sunni), some Shia families have moved out of their homes - temporarily, you understand, a brief holiday, keys left with the neighbours, it's always that way - which means that our Beirut maps are now cleaner, easier to understand. The same is happening on a far larger scale in Baghdad. Now our colour-coding can be bolder. No more use for that confusing word "mixed".

We did the same in the Balkans. The Drina Valley of Bosnia was Muslim until the Serbs "cleansed" it. Srebrenica? Delete "safe area" and logo it "Serb". Krajina? Serb until the Croats took it. Did we call them "Croats"? Or "Catholics"? Or both on our maps?

Our guilt in this sectarian game is obvious. We want to divide the "other", "them", our potential enemies, from each other, while we - we civilised Westerners with our refined, unified, multicultural values - are unassailable. I could draw you a sectarian map of Birmingham, for example - marked "Muslim" and "non-Muslim" (there not being many Christians left in England - but no newspaper would print it. I could draw an extremely accurate ethnic map of Washington, complete with front-line streets between "black" and "white" communities but The Washington Post would never publish such a map.

Imagine the coloured fun The New York Times could have with Brooklyn, Harlem, the East River, black, white, brown, Italian, Catholic, Jew, Wasp. Or the Toronto Globe and Mail with French and non-French Canadian Montreal (the front line at one point follows the city Metro) or with Toronto (where "Little Italy" is now Ukrainian or Greek), and colour the suburb of Mississauga green for Muslim, of course. But we don't draw these Hitlerian maps for our societies. It would be unforgivable, bad taste, something "we" don't do in our precious, carefully guarded civilisation.

Passing a book stall in New York this week, I spotted the iniquitous Time magazine and there on the cover - and this might truly have been a 1930s Nazi cover - were two cowled men, one in black, the other largely hidden by a chequered scarf. "Sunnis vs Shi'ites," the headline read. "Why they hate each other." This, naturally, was a "take-out" on Iraq's civil war - a civil war by the way, that America's spokesmen in Baghdad were talking about in August 2003 when not a single Iraqi in his worst nightmares dreamt of what has now come to pass.

Buy Time magazine, dear reader, turn to page 30, and what will you find? "How to Tell Sunnis and Shi'ites Apart." Helpful, uh? And after this, are columns of useful, divisive information. "Names," for example. "Some names carry sectarian markers... Abu Bakr, Omar and Uthman ... men with these names are almost certainly Sunni. Those called Abdel-Hussein and Abdel-Zahra," (I have never in met an "Abdel-Zahra" by the way) "are most likely Shi'ite." Then there are columns headed "Prayer", "Mosques", "Homes", "Accents" and "Dialects", even - heaven spare us - "cars". The last, for those readers not already reeling in disbelief, tells us which car stickers to look out for (spot a picture of Imam Ali and you know the driver is Shia) or which licence plate (Anbar province registrations, for instance) means a probable Sunni driver.

Thanks again. I don't know why the American military doesn't just buy up this week's edition of Time and drop the lot over Baghdad to help any still ignorant local murderers with easy-to-identify targets. But will Time be helping us to identify America's deeply divided society (who has most rubbish in their gardens in Washington, which bumper stickers to look for in Dearborn, Michigan)? Will they hell.

I, too, am guilty of playing these little sectarian games in the Middle East. I ask a Lebanese where he or she comes from, not to remember the mountains or rivers near their home but to code them into my map. But I easily come unstuck. The man who tells me he comes from the Lebanese south (Shia) turns out to live in the southern Druze town of Hasbaya. The woman who tells me she's from Jbeil (Christian) turns out to be from the town's Shia minority. Oh, if only these pesky minorities would go and live in the right bit of our imperial, sectarian maps.

And we go on talking to our Sunni monarchs in the Middle East - we listen to their raving about the "Shia crescent" - no wonder we hate Shia Iran so much. And we go on dividing and scissoring up the lands, and printing more and more of our racial maps and I do wonder most seriously if we wish to promote civil war across this part of the world, and you know what? I rather think we do.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Western intelligence sources worried by jihadist upsurge in Lebanon

Western intelligence sources worried by jihadist upsurge in Lebanon
By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent

Western intelligence agencies are worried by a growing concentration of terror operatives associated with the global jihad movement in Lebanon.

Recent intelligence indicates that hundreds of Sunni Muslim terrorists from various Arab countries are currently residing around Tyre, mainly in a Palestinian refugee camp near the city. Some of the terrorists are apparently from Sudan and Yemen.

Both Western and Israeli intelligence agencies fear that the jihadists' growing presence in southern Lebanon will lead to more attacks against Israel and a renewed escalation along the northern border. The United Nations forces deployed along the border following last summer's war with Hezbollah are also considered potential targets.

Global jihad is the term used by intelligence agencies for a wide variety of terror groups that derive inspiration from Al-Qaida and occasionally maintain contact with Osama bin Laden's organization.

In December 2005, members of the Lebanese Al-Ansar group, which is affiliated with global jihad, fired Katyusha rockets at the Galilee panhandle, though no one was hurt. The organization had been in contact with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, then head of Al-Qaida in Iraq, who was killed by American forces last June.

There is considerable tension between the global jihad groups in Lebanon and Hezbollah - not only because Hezbollah is Shi'ite rather than Sunni, but also because they have been involved in turf wars.

Until its war with Israel last summer, Hezbollah was considered the sole power in southern Lebanon. It demanded that all other organizations obtain permission from it before carrying out any attacks on Israel. Shortly before his death, Zarqawi lambasted Hezbollah for this and accused its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, of "collaborating with Israel," because at that time - prior to its July kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers - Hezbollah was vetoing attacks by other groups.

In his intelligence briefing to the cabinet earlier this week, Military Intelligence head Amos Yadlin spoke of growing activity by the global jihad movement along Israel's borders. In addition to Lebanon, the main worries are attacks against Israelis in Sinai or attacks in Jordan. In late 2005, then MI head Aharon Ze'evi said both Israeli and American intelligence had learned that senior Al-Qaida officials had instructed operatives to focus on "the Near East," meaning Israel and its neighbors.

More on Hersh's article...

CNN interview, links, and comments:

Investigative Reporter Seymour Hersh: US Indirectly Funding Al-Qaeda Linked Sunni Groups in Move to Counter Iran - Wednesday, February 28th, 2007:
Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh joins "Democracy Now!" to talk about his explosive new article in the New Yorker Magazine. Hersh reports that John Negroponte’s decision to resign as National Intelligence Director was made in part because of the Bush administration’s covert actions including the indirect funding of radical Sunni groups - some with ties to al-Qaeda - to counter Shiite groups backed by Iran. Hersh also reports the Pentagon has established a special planning group to plan a bombing attack on Iran and U.S. military and special-operations teams have already crossed the border into Iran in pursuit of Iranian operatives. [includes rush transcript - partial]

P.S.: According to Manar TV and Michel Samaha, only 60% of Seymour Hersch's article was published with the rest censored while the initial date of publication was to be in January.

More articles...

How the U.S Administration and the Jewish Lobby in the U.S employ their Democracy, the Project for a New American Century. (Rebuilding America's Defenses)

The Clean Break Report (Clean Break or Dirty War? Israel’s Foreign Policy Directive to the United States)

America's Alliance With bin Laden

America's Alliance With bin Laden
We're playing the Sunni card in the Middle East – and that means playing footsie with al-Qaeda

by Justin Raimondo

The latest Seymour Hersh piece has a lot of new information, some of it shocking, some of it not at all surprising to readers of and observers of this space. An example of the latter:

"The administration is now examining a wave of new intelligence on Iran's weapons programs. Current and former American officials told me that the intelligence, which came from Israeli agents operating in Iran, includes a claim that Iran has developed a three-stage solid-fueled intercontinental missile capable of delivering several small warheads – each with limited accuracy – inside Europe. The validity of this human intelligence is still being debated."

We can thank Scooter Libby and the vice president of the United States for having blinded American intelligence to Iranian WMD programs – Valerie Plame was reportedly the CIA's resident expert on Iranian WMD, and her outfit, Brewster-Jennings "consulting," was the U.S. government's regional eyes and ears on nuclear proliferation issues. I guess that's why we have to depend on the Israelis.

The Mossad has been quite busy, not only in Kurdistan but also in Iran. Although the Iranians indignantly deny it, the Israeli presence in Iran may have been responsible for the recent "accidental" death of a top Iranian nuclear scientist. In any case, the Israelis, according to an earlier report by Hersh, have thoroughly penetrated Kurdistan, where they train the peshmerga. Using the Kurdish rebels in Iran, known as Pejak, they have launched sorties into Iranian territory.

What is less clear – although I've touched on the subject recently – is the extent to which clandestine activities are being carried out by the U.S. in Iran, and, according to Hersh, Lebanon.

The policymakers are taking a new turn, says Hersh, supposedly necessitated by the consequences of the Iraq war. The U.S. invasion turned Iraq over to a Shi'ite coalition of pro-Iranian parties, and now we're playing the Sunni card. Hersh cites "a former senior intelligence official" as saying

"We are in a program to enhance the Sunni capability to resist Shi'ite influence, and we're spreading the money around as much as we can…. In this process, we're financing a lot of bad guys with some serious potential unintended consequences. We don't have the ability to determine and get pay vouchers signed by the people we like and avoid the people we don't like. It's a very high-risk venture."

Doesn't anyone ever learn from history? U.S. aid to the Afghan "freedom fighters" in the 1980s consolidated the core of what was to become al-Qaeda – a Frankenstein's monster that turned on its creator. Now the U.S. is repeating that blunder, only this time on a much wider scale – with consequences we can only begin to imagine in our darkest, most sweat-soaked nightmares.

Once again we are in league with the Saudis, who were instrumental in setting up the Afghan networks that morphed into al-Qaeda. Bin Laden is their errant son, come back to haunt them – and us. The Kingdom is the worst tyranny in the entire region, steeped in a fanatic version of Islam that is, by regional standards, barbaric. Ruled over by a sclerotic aristocracy more decadent and deserving of overthrow than even the haughty Bourbons or the crazed Romanovs, it is precisely our association with these royal kleptocrats that has generated anti-Americanism and killed the possibility of a genuine liberal movement.

The Saudis are backing the Siniora government against Shi'ite Hezbollah and its Christian allies, and the U.S. is funneling covert aid that is allowed to "end up in the hands of emerging Sunni radical groups in northern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley, and around Palestinian refugee camps in the south," writes Hersh. "These groups, though small, are seen as a buffer to Hezbollah; at the same time, their ideological ties are with al-Qaeda."

So let's get this straight: U.S. taxpayer dollars are subsidizing al-Qaeda's emerging Lebanese affiliate. Remember that as you fill out your income tax forms this year.

The "war on terrorism" sparked by al-Qaeda's 9/11 attack has ended with the U.S. in alliance with bin Laden's boys against a supposedly emerging Shi'ite threat. Now how bitter is that ironic twist?

Forget al-Qaeda: nobody is even trying to capture bin Laden, and no wonder. He's our ally now. That's what Michael Scheuer has always said, but now I see it's official. Bin Laden was yesterday's villain: today's hate figure is President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran.

Although the Iranians insist their nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes, i.e., power generation, a full-court propaganda campaign has been ongoing to convince us the mullahs aim to nuke New York. It's the same old scenario we saw played out in the run-up to war with Iraq: as a conflict with Tehran looms closer, the War Party hopes images of mushroom clouds and mad mullahs will be enough to scare the American public into going along with it. Iran is the enemy of the moment – after all, Ahmadinejad has said Israel should be wiped off the map (or perhaps not). In any case, the Lobby is hard at work, whipping up war hysteria and inventing yet more "evidence" of Iranian perfidy in Iraq. And shadowy groups, including Sunni extremists with connections to al-Qaeda, are being used in U.S.-sponsored covert operations – including terrorist attacks.

In Lebanon, the tinderbox of a volatile region, the Siniora government and the Americans are getting in bed with Fatah al-Islam, a radical Palestinian faction. This murky grouplet, which seceded from a pro-Syrian parent group, is supposedly the holder of the al-Qaeda franchise for Lebanon, but Hersh's reportage sheds new light on where the money is coming from. Former MI6 official Alastair Crooke tells Hersh,

"I was told that within twenty-four hours [of the split] they were being offered weapons and money by people presenting themselves as representatives of the Lebanese government's interests – presumably to take on Hezbollah."

We are also apparently in league with Asbat al-Ansar, a Salafist terrorist outfit that has been described by some experts as "ineffectual" – and doesn't it just figure that Uncle Sam would line up with these losers? I guess there weren't too many bids for this particular government contract. So far, all they've managed to do is bomb a few churches, take out some casinos, and hit other minor targets deemed "un-Islamic." Flush with U.S. cash, no doubt in the future they'll be carrying out some spectacular terrorist acts.

Having handed the Middle East to Tehran on a silver platter, we are mobilizing all available forces in a single-minded effort to snatch it from them. More surrealist than Orwellian, this self-defeating rat-on-a-treadmill policy guarantees one thing: perpetual war. It is just the sort of overly "clever" Machiavellian move that is bound to backfire, and badly. One shudders to imagine the sort of "blowback" playing the Sunni card will entail. The last time we sided with Sunni radicals, we got bin Laden – and 9/11. This time, it's entirely possible we'll reap an even harsher whirlwind.

More on Seymour Hersh

Hersh exposed the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in a series of articles published in the magazine early in 2005. He has been the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, five George Polk Awards, two National Magazine Awards and a dozen other prizes. He is also the author of eight books, including Chain of Command about Abu Ghraib.

Seymour Hersch promised to publish a more detailed report on 14/03/2007 according to the New Yorker.

The Avenger
Sy Hersh, Then and Now

Can a Saudi Dealmaker Rescue Bush?: Washingtonpost

Can a Saudi Dealmaker Rescue Bush?
By Jackson Diehl
Monday, February 19, 2007; Page A19

For 22 years Prince Bandar bin Sultan wheeled and dealed his way through Washington as Saudi Arabia's ambassador. By his account -- provided expansively to favored journalists -- he had a hand in most of America's major initiatives in the Middle East over a generation. During George W. Bush's presidency, for example, he brokered U.S. rapprochement with Libya and previewed plans for the invasion of Iraq two months before the war.

For a while after returning home in the summer of 2005, Bandar kept a low profile. Some speculated he was out of favor with the kingdom's ruler, Abdullah, despite his appointment as national security adviser. Now he's back: Since the beginning of the year the prince has suddenly begun wheeling and dealing his way around the Middle East.

In the past month Bandar has held three meetings with the Iranian national security chief, Ali Larijani, most recently last Wednesday in Riyadh. He's met twice with Vladimir Putin, in Moscow and Riyadh, to talk about Middle East affairs; overseen talks between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leaders; and quietly shuttled to Washington to brief President Bush. He helped broker this month's Palestinian accord on a unity government as well as a Saudi-Iranian understanding to cool political conflict in Lebanon. And he's been talking with the most senior officials of the Iranian and U.S. governments about whether there's a way out of the standoff over Iran's nuclear weapons.

Can Bandar bail the United States out of the multiple crises it has stumbled into in the Middle East? Maybe not, but Washington's old friend may be one of the best bets a desperate Bush administration has going at the moment. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has maneuvered herself into a corner by refusing to talk to Syria and Iran and boycotting the Hamas-led Palestinian government. Consequently there's little the United States can do diplomatically to defuse the conflicts in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, not to mention Iraq. Rice tried calling on Egypt, abruptly dropping the administration's previous urging that its autocratic government "lead the way" in democratizing the Middle East. But Egypt has been unable to deliver: It tried and failed to pry Syria away from its alliance with Iran, and it tried and failed to win concessions from Hamas.

That leaves Saudi Arabia and the hyperkinetic Bandar. In his last visit to Washington he offered a rosy report on his travels. Iran, he assured his American friends, had been taken aback by President Bush's recent shows of strength in the region, by the failure of his administration to collapse after midterm elections and by the unanimous passage of a U.N. resolution imposing sanctions on Tehran for failing to stop its nuclear program. The mullahs, he said, were worried about Shiite-Sunni conflict spreading from Iraq around the region, and about an escalating conflict with the United States; they were interested in tamping both down.

Bandar and Larijani already worked to stop incipient street fighting between Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah movement and pro-Western Sunni and Christian parties several weeks ago. But the Saudis have bigger plans: Bandar reported to Washington that he's hoping to split Iran from Syria -- reversing the maneuver that Egypt tried. The means would be a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran over a Lebanese settlement that included authorization of a U.N. tribunal to try those responsible for the murder of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri. That would be poison to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who almost certainly was behind the murder.

Bandar's spin and dazzle make it tempting to think he can pull off almost anything. It's also easy to forget that he works in the interests of Saudi Arabia, not the United States. The results can be disappointing. Bush got a reminder of that when Bandar brokered the "Mecca agreement" between Palestinian leaders Abbas and Khaled Meshal of Hamas. Bush administration policy has been to strengthen Abbas at Hamas's expense; the accord undercut that approach and all but ruined Rice's plan to begin developing a "political horizon" at a meeting with Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert today.

Washington tried to set a couple of red lines for the Mecca talks: Hamas, it said, should be forced to accept international demands that it renounce violence and recognize Israel; and its prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, should not lead the new Palestinian cabinet. Bandar disregarded both.

That doesn't mean the old Bush family friend is not still welcome at the White House. The Palestinian deal was secondary for Bandar; his main aim is to defuse the multiple threats posed by Iran. If he can find a way to broker a deal that stops the Iranian nuclear program, and kick-starts a strategic dialogue between Tehran and Washington, it will be his greatest feat of all.

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