Thursday, May 31, 2007

UN approves Hariri court: China, russia, qatar, south Africa, indonesia abstain in 10-0 vote

UN approves Hariri court
China, russia, qatar, south Africa, indonesia abstain in 10-0 vote
By Rym Ghazal
Daily Star staff


BEIRUT: The United Nations Security Council invoked Chapter 7 of the UN Charter on Wednesday in approving the creation of a special international court to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Gunfire and fireworks broke out in several parts of Lebanon within minutes of the decision on Resolution 1757, which passed by a vote of 10-0 with five abstentions. A more somber reaction took place in Downtown Beirut, where Hariri's longtime protege, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, and his son, MP Saad Hariri, paid separate visits to the slain premier's grave. After months of heated debate both inside and outside Lebanon, the vote means that the court will be created even if Lebanese politicians cannot agree to do so by a deadline of June 10. Two of the veto-wielding permanent council members, Russia and China, were joined by Qatar, South Africa and Indonesia in abstaining. "The court is a great victory for all of Lebanon," an emotional Saad Hariri declared during a speech broadcast by several television stations immediately after the vote. The decision comes at a time of renewed tensions in Lebanon, aggravated by a deadly standoff between the Lebanese Army and the Fatah al-Islam militant group - and a series of bombings in several parts of the country. "It is a historic moment ... and the court is not about vendettas, but about justice for all," Hariri said. "Let's all join hands in defending the international tribunal ... as an opportunity for all Lebanese to unite ... Enough is enough with division ... Let's join hands to serve the interests of our nation." Opposition parties have long feared that the court will be used as a tool against them.

The official Syrian Arab News Agency quoted that country's ambassador to the UN, Bashar Jaafari, as saying that the decision "violates Lebanese sovereignty." UN investigators have suggested that Damascus was behind Rafik Hariri's murder, something Syria has repeatedly denied. The approved final draft gives the Lebanese a deadline of June 10 to ratify the UN-approved statutes to establish the tribunal themselves. Otherwise, the statutes would "enter into force," paving the way for the location of the tribunal to be decided and the possibility of voluntary contributions to finance the court, all under Chapter 7. Russia, China, South Africa and Qatar had publicly called for the Chapter 7 reference to be dropped, saying it was unnecessary because all council resolutions are legally binding. The United States, France and Britain insisted that Chapter 7 be invoked. Qatar, the only Arab country on the council, expressed "reservations," and its envoy to the UN said that "Chapter 7 does not help [Lebanon] and further divides it."

Moscow expressed similar misgivings. "Regrettably Russia will not vote on ... the draft as it is now, as it we fear it will face legal shortcomings in the future," said Russian envoy Vitaly Churkin. He said Moscow supports bringing Hariri's assassins to justice, but that "given the deep rift in Lebanese society ... that should not lead to negative consequences." What the council has done, he said, "essentially is an encroachment upon the sovereignty of Lebanon." Supporters of the resolution strongly disagreed. British envoy Emyr Jones Parry described the court as "vital for Lebanon, for justice and for the region." "This is not a capricious intervention, interference in the domestic political affairs of a sovereign state," he argued. "It is a considered response by the council ... to a request from the government of Lebanon." Resolution 1757 puts into effect an agreement the UN reached last November with the Siniora government. Churkin had argued that in addition to the request from the Siniora government, the council should also consider a letter from President Emile Lahoud recommending that a different course be followed.

Hours before the vote, opposition leader Michel Aoun condemned the fact that no suspects had been identified. "What is most important for the tribunal is to have people who are accused," he told France Inter radio. "Where are the accused?" Patriotic music blared from cars driving in several parts of the country on Wednesday night, while visitors to Hariri's grave offered prayers and lit candles. Hariri and 22 other people were killed in a massive Beirut bomb blast on February 14, 2005, that sparked huge protests against the Syrian presence in Lebanon and forced Damascus to withdraw its troops and intelligence apparatus after nearly 30 years. Apart from intensified security in Beirut and other cities, Interior Minister Hassan Sabaa had banned "fireworks, the firing of guns" and the use of motorcycles overnight "to preserve public security." The move was inspired by fears that over displays of celebration might inflame tensions between government and opposition supporters. Earlier this month, Syrian President Bashar Assad ruled out any cooperation with the court if it threatened his country's sovereignty. Last month, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited Beirut after dispatching UN Legal Counsel Nicolas Michel to try to persuade Lebanese leaders to ratify the court on their own through Parliament. But Michel subsequently told the council that no progress had been made. - With agencies

Grenade rattles beirut neighborhood

BEIRUT: An explosion struck Beirut's Shiyyah district within minutes of Wednesday's UN vote on the Hariri tribunal. Security sources said a concussion grenade went off near St. Michael's Church, near the boundary of Shiyyah and Mar Mikael - both formerly Maronite neighborhoods now populated mostly by Shiites driven from the South during the Israeli occupation. The church was the site of the February 2006 pact that brought MP Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement into partnership with Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah's Hizbullah to form the country's foremost opposition alliance. Six attacks have taken place since May 20, when fighting broke out between the army and militants at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp. Previous incidents have struck the Beirut district of Achrafieh, Verdun and Barbir, as well the Mt. Lebanon resort of Aley and the Bekaa Valley town of Zahleh. One person has been killed and dozens wounded. - The Daily Star

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

My blog in the news... again ;)

Diaries: Live from Lebanon
Lebanese bloggers react to refugee camp siege

Moussa Bachir, Global Voices Online, 22 May 2007

The clashes between the Lebanese army and the organization of Fatah al Islam, as well as the explosion in Ashrafieh (Beirut), took precedence over all other news and blog posts in almost all of the blogs during the past two days. Following are quotes from a number of these posts including a post quoting a civilian trapped in the camp of Nahr el Barid in North Lebanon, in the crossfire, between the army and the organization.

In the Nahr el Barid Camp
In a very rare blog post on the conditions in the camp where some members of Fath al Islam are reported to be hiding,
A Shouly quotes Ahmad, his friend, who is one of many trapped in the crossfire: Ahmad, a friend of mine, living in the camp, told me that they don't have water now, nor bread, nor hospitals. They are starting to feel hungry, they can't take the injuries outside the camp nor the dead, mostly civilians.

Explosion in Ashrafieh-Beirut
Golaniya who lives in Ashrafieh, was awake and out when the explosion in a parking near the ABC shopping mall occurred at about midnight on Sunday. She shared with her readers what was her first experience with the aftermath of a violent explosion as well as her anxiety over the safety of her sister who was at home, a couple of blocks from the explosion: I was walking on glasses, glasses of bed rooms, living rooms, of homes. It was so crowded, with families wearing pajamas, pink, blue, yellow, scared, panicked, I saw a guy with a wet face, and a woman grabbed my friend's arm asking him about her house, we left her. I don't know why, but I shed a tear. I looked at my Southern friend's face, he was in the South when Israel bombed it, he heard the noises, saw the red, all this is very familiar to him, very not to me. I saw the fire, I saw the giant thing glowing in the panicked people's eyes, I do not know how does it feel to be Lebanese, to have a Lebanese face, I haven't lived a "civil" war, nor a terrorist war, June war. I haven't heard a single noise outside the screen, we shared history??

Word on the Street
Jounoune mentions some of what the people on the streets are saying concerning the origins of the militants in the north of Lebanon: The Government is blaming Syria. I am really not a fan of Syria but word on the streets is that militants in the north (said to be linked to Al Qaeda) have been funded and armed to create sunni arms in response to the shia's hizballah. The word on the street is that Lebanese sunnis will not hold arms and fight so yes, such militants have been created and grown as a possible retaliation. Of course, just like the US couldn't control Al Qaeda which in reality it helped create, these militants will be very hard if not impossible to control as well. Proof of the matter ... these days events.

And in a witty article,
Jamal mentions some facts about the situation which he describes as circulating rumours that we should beware: The panic and fear engulfing the [fools] makes them susceptible to any rumors that might answer their question "Whodunit?" Who's the big bad wolf? Of course the big bad wolf is banking on this chaos and on these rumors to feed the already pre-conceived convictions and ignite the pent up hatred. Anyways this [fool] just wants to point out that some widely circulated rumors, are just that rumors, and hopes that his [foolish] buddies do not adopt these propaganda lines as facts and speed up the nose dive into the shit pond that awaits us. [...] 3.) The nutbags are not exclusively Palestinian, most of them are actually with some nutbags from various other Middle Eastern countries. [...] 6.) The [fools] don't love life. A large number of people showed more outrage for the glass shattered in ABC than for the tens of soldiers and civilians dead during the day.

Blame Game
The two major Lebanese groups, the pro-government and the opposition threw allegations at each other as a result of the situation.
Abu Ali summarized this blame game and added his opinion in a post in which he said: The two camps in Lebanon are now throwing allegations at each other, each sticking to the usual litany: The pro-Government group accuses Fateh al Islam of being Syrian agents, in charge of derailing the international tribunal by holding Lebanon hostage. The opposition describes Fateh al Islam as a creature of the Hariri group, brought in to oppose the Shi'a expansion on sectarian basis. They point to the fact that Mr. Fatfat, when he was Minister of Interior, gave official recognition to Hizb al Tahrir, a Sunni party fighting for the reinstatement of the Caliphate. Hizb al Tahrir became famous for its strong expression of dislike towards Danish cartoonists by burning churches in Ashrafieh. I wonder who those Fateh al Islam are anyway. There has been so little transparency in reporting the events of the past 2 days that one is unsure what is and what is not true. Are they Palestinians? We hear that only part of them are, and that the group is mostly made up of Lebanese Sunnis from the squalid areas of the North, like Bab el Tebbaneh. Places like Bab el Tebbaneh are truly the poorest areas of Lebanon, only the Palestinian camps are worse.

Updates
MFL and Blacksmith Jade are two bloggers posting updates on security situation.

Civilian Casualties
Mustapha raised the issue of the civilian casualties and the ethical issues that it poses: Indeed, terrorists hiding among civilians pose a moral dilemma, and the humanitarian crisis should not be ignored. But does that mean that the Army should somehow start "talking" with terrorists whose only aim is to destabilize Lebanon? A lot is at stake in the Army's zero-tolerance policy. A "softer" and "more understanding" Army will send the wrong signals to would-be-terrorists that it is ok in the future to attack the military. Moreover, the Army has to send a clear message to the residents of the camps: Not handing the terrorists over will cost you much more than keeping them around.

On Fatah al Islam and On How Will the Clashes End
Abu Kais explains why the army can never lose this battle: This battle cannot be won by Fatah al-Islam. They are outnumbered by the increasingly popular army, even though they seem to have a lot of weapons. The group, which the head of the Internal Security Forces called "imitation al-Qaeda", consists of former Iraq fighters and international terrorists. That they all got into Lebanon with the help of Syrian intelligence should be a confirmation to all that the Assad regime is a major sponsor of world terror. According to An-Nahar, one of the killed terrorists was involved in the Ain Alaq bombings in February, and another was wanted over the 2006 plot to blow up trains in Germany.

Jeha wrote on what he sees are the role and objectives of the organization of Fatah al Islam: Groups like those Fath Al-Islam and other similar fundamentalist groups are "true believers". In practice, they are opportunists who follow whatever the "cause du jour" happens to be. They have become more vocal and were overdue for some action; with the approach of the Hariri tribunal, their Syrian masters may have seized their chance to "activate" them. That much was clear to the Mufti, who called for support to the Lebanese armed forces as the fighting got bloodier. In theory, it was meant to be different, at least from the perspective of the cannon fodder they recruit. The ideology of Fath Al-Islam and similar groups is geared towards a return to the heydays of the Caliphate. While this particular outfit is focused on a return to Palestine, others want a return to Al-Andalus.

And finally,
As'ad Abu Khalil believes that the whole situation will end up in a stalemate with things returning to their "abnormal" conditions as they always do in Lebanon: This is typical. We have seen this before. The Lebanese Army is given an opportunity by the political class (and by the sectarian sects-all of them) to show muscle, but only against the refugee camps of Lebanon. I remember this from my childhood. Back in 1973, Israeli terrorists (headed by Ehud Barak) sneaked into Lebanon and killed Palestinian leaders: one of them was a poet sleeping in his bed (Kamal Nasir). The Lebanese Army did not lift a finger-it never does against Israel.[...]But make no mistake: nothing will change. It will end like every other incident of this kind ends: in a stalemate, and in things returning back to abnormal. This is Lebanon.

Global Voices Online is a non-profit global citizens media project, sponsored by and launched from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at the Harvard Law School.

Related Links
More than 100 dead and injured at Nahr Al-Bared camp, Electronic lebanon (22 May 2007)
Fierce clashes continue at Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, Electronic Lebanon (21 May 2007)
BY TOPIC: Palestinian Refugees
BY TOPIC: Lebanon forces besiege Palestinian refugee camp (20 May 2007)
BY TOPIC: Opposition Demonstrations in Lebanon (1 December 2006-)
BY TOPIC: Israel attacks Lebanon (12 July 2006-)
Lebanon for Beginners
Must-see video: From Beirut to ... those who love us
Beirut: Before & After Multimedia
Maps & Satellite Imagery

Wayne Madsen Report (WMR)

http://www.waynemadsenreport.com/

May 21, 2007 -- Last month, WMR reported, "Our Lebanese sources now report that a NATO base is to be built soon on the grounds of the largely abandoned airbase at Klieaat in northern Lebanon. The base will serve as the headquarters of a NATO rapid deployment force, helicopter squadrons, and Special Forces units. The base will provide training for the Lebanese army and security forces. The base was pushed by elements in the office of the US Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Bush administration had recently warned Lebanon about the presence of "Al Qaeda" teams in northern Lebanon."

Just as if acting on cue from the Bush White House, a new "terrorist group" called Fatah al-Islam commenced operations in the vicinity of the Kleiaat airbase during the evening of May 20. Fath al-Islam laid road traps to prevent Lebanese army units from Tripoli from reaching the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, the scene of fighting between the Lebanese army and Fatah al-Islam that resulted in the killing and wounding of tens of Lebanese troops. Fatah al-Islam was reportedly started with funding and other support from the CIA and Lebanese Phalangist forces to act as a counterweight to Hezbollah. In reality, Fatah al-Islam is designed to give the Bush administration, NATO, and the Fouad Siniora government a pretext for granting the U.S. military and NATO access to northern Lebanon and the Kleiaat airbase. Fath al-Islam's activities are already being blamed on "Al Qaeda" units operating in the north of the country.

وبنشطات منظمة "القاعدة" في لبنان الشمالي، استعدت الولايات المتحدة للسيطرة
على مطار
القليعات


With "Al Qaeda" activity in northern Lebanon, US poised to take control of Kleiaat airbase.


الأمريكيون مستعدون للسيطرة على مطار القليعات في شمال لبنان
ترجمة: أديب قعوار

21 أيار/مايو 2007 --- كتبت Wayne Madison Report ، مصادرنا اللبنانية قالت أن
قاعدة للناتو ستبنى قريباً على أراضي مطار القليعات في لبنان الشمالي المهمل
تقريباً. لتستخدم كمركز لقيادة قوة التدخل السريع التابعة لقيادة الناتو، التي
ستضم سرباً من الطائرات العمودية (هليكوبتر) ووحدات من القوات الخاصة. وستستعمل
القاعدة لتدريب الجيش اللبناني وقوات الأمن. وقامت عناصر في مكتب وزير الدفاع
الأمريكي والقيادة المشتركة للقوات الأمريكية المسلحة بالدفع لتنفيذ المشروع.
وكانت إدارة الرئيس بوش مؤخراً بتحذير لبنان عن وجود مجموعات ل"القاعدة" في
لبنان الشمالي.

وكأن فريقاً ارهابياً كان واقفاً بطابور الانتظار لتلقي أوامر من البيت الأبيض
لبوش يدعى فتح الإسلام التي بدأت بعمليات في محيط مطار القليعات خلال ليل 20
أيار/مايو. وأقامت فتح الإسلام حواجز لمنع وحدات من الجيش اللبناني من طرابلس
للوصول إلى مخيم نهر البارد للاجئين الفلسطينيين، وقد نتج عن القتال بين الجيش
اللبناني وفتح الإسلام قتل وجرح عشرات من القوات اللبنانية.

ووفق التقارير أسست فتح الإسلام بتمويل وغيره من دعم ناتو، سي.آي.إي.
C.I.A.و"الكتائب اللبنانية" كقوة لمواجهة حزب الله.

في الحقيقة، صممت منظمة فتح الإسلام لإعطاء إدارة بوش، ناتو، وحكومة فؤاد
السنيورة الذريعة لإعطاء ناتو مدخلاً إلى شمال لبنان وقاعدة القليعات الجوية.
ولم يتأخر استخدام نشاطات فتح الإسلام كمدخل لاتهام "القاعدة" في لبنان
الشمالي.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Seymour Herch on CNN Your World Today

In an interview on CNN International's Your World Today, veteran journalist Seymour Hersh explains that the current violence in Lebanon is the result of an attempt by the Lebanese government to crack down on a militant Sunni group, Fatah al-Islam, that it formerly supported.
Last March, Hersh reported that American policy in the Middle East had shifted to opposing Iran, Syria, and their Shia allies at any cost, even if it meant backing hardline Sunni jihadists. A key element of this policy shift was an agreement among Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy National Security Advisor Elliot Abrams, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national security adviser, whereby the Saudis would covertly fund the Sunni Farah al-Islam in Lebanon as a counterweight to the Shia Hezbollah.
Hersh points out that the current situation is much like that during the conflict in Afghanistan in the 1980's - which gave rise to al Qaeda - with the same people involved in both the US and Saudi Arabia and the "same pattern" of the US using jihadists that the Saudis assure us they can control. When asked why the administration would be acting in a way that appears to run counter to US interests, Hersh says that, since the Israelis lost to them last summer, "the fear of Hezbollah in Washington, particularly in the White House, is acute." As a result, Hersh implies, the Bush administration is no longer acting rationally in its policy. "We're in the business of supporting the Sunnis anywhere we can against the Shia. ... "We're in the business of creating ... sectarian violence." And he describes the scheme of funding Fatah al-Islam as "a covert program we joined in with the Saudis as part of a bigger, broader program of doing everything we could to stop the spread of the Shia world, and it just simply -- it bit us in the rear."

TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW

HALA GORANI: Well, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reported back in March that in order to defeate Hezbollah, the Lebanese government supported a Sunni militant group, the same ones they're fighting today. Seymour joins us live from Washington. Thanks for being with us. What is the source of the financing according to your reporting on these groups, such as Fatah al-Islam in these camps of Nahr el Bared, for instance? Where are they getting the money and where are they getting the arms?

SEYMOUR HERSH: The key player is the Saudis. What I was writing about was sort of a private agreement that was made between the White House, we're talking about Richard -- Dick -- Cheney and Elliott Abrams, one of the key aides in the White House, with Bandar. And the idea was to get support, covert support from the Saudis, to support various hard-line jihadists, Sunni groups, particularly in Lebanon, who would be seen in case of an actual confrontation with Hezbollah -- the Shia group in the southern Lebanon would be seen as an asset, as simple as that.

GORANI: The Senora government, in order to counter the influence of Hezbollah in Lebanon would be covertly according to your reporting funding groups like Fatah al-Islam that they're having issues with right now?

HERSH: Unintended consequences once again, yes.

GORANI: And so if Saudi Arabia and the Senora government are doing this,whether it's unintended or not, therefore it has the United States must have something to say about it or not?

HERSH: Well, the United States was deeply involved. This was a covert operation that Bandar ran with us. Don't forget, if you remember, you know, we got into the war in Afghanistan with supporting Osama bin Laden, the mujahadin back in the late 1980s with Bandar and with people like Elliott Abrams around, the idea being that the Saudis promised us they could control -- they could control the jihadists so we spent a lot of money and time, the United States in the late 1980s using and supporting the jihadists to help us beat the Russians in Afghanistan and they turned on us. And we have the same pattern, not as if there's any lessons learned. It's the same pattern, using the Saudis again to support jihadists, Saudis assuring us they can control these various group, the groups like the one that is in contact right now in Tripoli with the government.

GORANI: Sure, but the mujahadin in the '80s was one era. Why would it be in the best interest of the United States of America right now to indirectly even if it is indirect empower these jihadi movements that are extremists that fight to the death in these Palestinian camps? Doesn't it go against the interests not only of the Senora government but also of America and Lebanon now?

HERSH: The enemy of our enemy is our friend, much AS the jihadist groups in Lebanon were also there to go after Nasrullah. Hezbollah, if you remember, last year defeated Israel, Whether the Israelis want to acknowledge it, so you have in Hezbollah, a major threat to the American -- look, the American role is very simple. Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, has been very articulate about it. We're in the business now of supporting the Sunnis anywhere we can against the Shia, against the Shia in Iran, against the Shia in Lebanon, that is Nasrullah. Civil war. We're in a business of treating in some places, Lebanon in particular, a sectarian violence.

GORANI: The Bush administration, of course, officials would disagree with that, so would the Senora government, openly pointing the finger at Syria, saying this is an offshoot of a Syrian group, Fatah al-Islam is, where else would it get its arms from if not Syria.

HERSH: You have to answer this question. If that's true, Syria which is close -- and criticized greatly by the Bush administration for being very close -- to Hezbollah would also be supporting groups, Salafist groups - the logic breaks down. What it is simply is a covert program we joined in with the Saudis as part of a bigger broader program of doing everything we could to stop the spread of the Shia, the Shia world, and it bit us in the rear, as it's happened before.

GORANI: Sure, but if it doesn't make any sense for the Syrians to support them, why would it make any sense for the U.S. to indirectly, of course, to support, according to your reporting, by giving a billion dollars in aid, part of it military, to the Senora government -- and if that is dispensed in a way that that government and the U.S. is not controlling extremist groups, then indirectly the United States, according to the article you wrote, would be supporting them. So why would it be in their best interest and what should it do according to the people you've spoken to?

HERSH: You're assuming logic by the United States government. That's okay. We'll forget that one right now. Basically it's very simple. These groups are seeing -- when I was in Beirut doing interviews, I talked to officials who acknowledged the reason they were tolerating the radical jihadist groups was because they were seen as a protection against Hezbollah. The fear of Hezbollah in Washington, particularly in the White House, is acute. They just simply believe that Hassan Nasrallah is intent on waging war in America. Whether it's true or not is another question. There is a supreme overwhelming fear of Hezbollah and we do not want Hezbollah to play an
active role in the government in Lebanon and that's been our policy, basically, which is support the Senora government, despite its weakness against the coalition. Not only Senora but Mr. Ahun, former military leaderm of Lebanon. There in a coalition that we absolutely abhor.

GORANI: All right, Seymour Hersh of "The New Yorker" magazine, thanks for joining us there and hopefully we'll be able to speak a little bit in a few months' time when those developments take shape in Lebanon and we know more. Thanks very much.

HERSH: glad to talk to you.

Who's Behind the Fighting in North Lebanon?

Who's Behind the Fighting in North Lebanon?
Inside Narh al-Bared and Bedawi Refugee Camps
By Franklin Lamb
Tripoli, Lebanon.


05/24/07 "Counterpunch" -- --- Wearing a beat-up ratty UNCHR tee-shirt left over from Bint Jbeil and the Israeli-Hezbollah July probably helped. As did, I suspect, the Red Cross jersey, my black and white checkered kaffieyh and the Palestinian flag taped to my lapel as I joined a group of Palestinian aid workers and slipped into Nahr el-Bared trying not to look conspicuous. Our mission was to facilitate the delivery of food, blankets and mattresses, but I was also curious about the political situation. Who was behind the events that erupted so quickly and violently following a claimed 'bank robbery'? A heist that depending on who you talked to, netted the masked bandits $ 150,000, $ 1,500 or $ 150! It seems that every Beirut media outlet has a different source of 'inside information' based on which Confession owns it and 'knows' the real culprits pulling the strings. But then, even we who are particularly obtuse have realized, as the late Rafic Hariri often counseled: "In Lebanon, believe nothing of what you are told and only half of what you see!"

My friends made we swear out loud that I would claim to be Canadian instead of American if Al Qaeda types stopped us inside the Camp. My impression was that they were not so worried about my safety but for their own if they got caught with me. It would not be the first time that I relied on my northern neighbors to get me out of a potential US nationality jam in the Middle East, so I ditched my American ID. We were advised as we approached the Fatah al Islam stronghold that we would be in the cross-hairs of Lebanese army snipers from outside of Nahr el-Bared Camp as well as Fatah al-Islam snipers from the inside, and that any false move or bad luck could prove fatal.

After three days of shelling and more than 100 dead and with no electricity or water, Nahr el-Baled reeks of burned and rotting flesh, charred houses with smoldering contents, raw sewage and the acrid smell of exploded mortars and tank rounds. Press figures of 30,000-32,000 are not accurate. 45,000 live in Bared! Contrary to some reports food and water still not being allowed in. 15 to 70 percent of some areas destroyed. Some light shooting this morning and afternoon. Army shelling at rate of 10-18 shells per minute from 4:30 am to 10 am on Tuesday. Army will not allow Palestinian Red Crescent to move out civilians because they don't trust them. Only the Lebanese Red Cross is allowed. It is possible to enter Bared from the back (east side). The Army taking cameras of journalists they catch. The Lebanese government is controlling the information and don't want extent of damage known yet. Still unrecovered bodies. 40 per cent of the camp population have been evacuated. The rest don't want to leave out of fear of being shot or that they are losing their homes for the 5th time or more for some. No electricity and cell phone batteries are dying. Relatives who fled are telling families to stay because there are not enough mattresses at Bedawi Camp. Bared evacuees are living up to 25 in one room in Badawi schools etc. 3,000 evacuees in one school in Bedawi. UN aid is starting to arrive at Badawi but workers not able so far to deliver it to Bared due to attack on relief convoy on Tuesday.

I met Abdul Rahman Hallab famous for Lebanese candy factory in Tripoli. Helped him unload 5,000 meals to evacuees from Bared staying in Badawi. He is Lebanese not Palestinian. The camp population all say that Fatah Al-Islam came in September-October 2006 and have no relatives in the camp. They are from Saudi, Pakistan, Algeria, Iraq, and Tunisia and elsewhere. No Palestinians among them except some hanger ons. Most say they are paid by the Hariri group.

Reports that Fateh al-Islam helps people in Bared are denied. " All they do is pray, one woman told me..and do military training.. They are much more religious than the Shia" she said. Population of Badawi camp was 15,000 and as of of this morning it is 28,000. Four bodies arrived this morning at Safad, the only Palestinian Red Crescent Hospitals in north Lebanon. I was told the army will have to destroy every house in Bared to remove Fateh al Islam. I expect to stay in Bared tonight with aid workers. Some say FAI with die fighting others than a settlement could be negotiated. I may try the latter with NGO from Norway here. Not sure if anyone in government is interested. One minute ago a member of Fateh at_Islam walked into the medical office I am using at Safed Hospital and said they want a permanent ceasefire and do not want more people killed or injured. They claim to have no problem with the army.

Now some background about Nahr el-Bared. Like the other Palestinian camps in Lebanon, it is inhabited by Palestinians who were forced from their homes, land, and personal property in 1947-48, in order to make room for Jews from Europe and elsewhere prior to the May 15, 1948 founding of Israel. Of the original 16 Refugee camps, set up to settle the more than 100,000 refugees crossing the border into Lebanon from Palestine during the Nakba, 12 official ones remain. The camp at Tal El-Za`tar was ethnically cleansed by Christian Phalange forces at the beginning of the 1975-1990, Lebanese Civil War and the Nabatieh, Dikwaneh and Jisr el-Basha camps were destroyed by Israeli attacks and Lebanese militia and not rebuilt. Those remaining include the following which currently house more than half of Lebanon's 433,276 Palestinian refugees: Al-Badawi, Burj El-Barajna, Jal El-Bahr, Sabra and Shatilla, Ain El-Helwa,Nahr El-Bared, Rashidieh, Burj El Shemali, El-Buss, Wavel, Mieh Mieh and Mar Elias. Nahr el-Bared is 7 miles north of Tripoli near the stunning Mediterranean coast and is home to more than 32,000 refuges many of whom were expelled from the Lake Huleh area of Palestine, including Safed. Like all the official Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, plus several 'unofficial' ones, Nahr el-Bared suffers from serious problems including no proper infrastructure, overcrowding, poverty and unemployment. Tabulated at more than 25%, Nahr el-Bared has the highest percentage of Palestinian refugees anywhere who are living in abject poverty and who are officially registered with the UN as "special hardship" cases. Its residents, like all Palestinians in Lebanon are blatantly discriminated against and not even officially counted. They are denied citizenship and banned from working in the top 70 trades and professions (that includes McDonald's and KFC in downtown Beirut) and cannot own real estate. Palestinians in Lebanon have essentially no social or civil rights and only limited access to government educational facilities. They have no access to public social services. Consequently most rely entirely on the UNRWA as the sole provider for their families needs.

It is not surprising that al-Qaeda sympathies, if not formal affiliations, are found in the 12 official camps as well as 7 unofficial ones. Groups with names such as Fateh al-Islam, Jund al-Shams (Soldier of Damascus), Ibns al-Shaheed" (sons of the martyrs) Issbat al-Anssar which morphed into Issbat al-Noor - "The Community of Illumination" and many others. Given Bush administration debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan and its encouragement for Israel to continue its destruction of Lebanon this past summer, the situation in Lebanon mirrors, in some respects, the early 1980's when groups sprung up to resist the US green lighted Israeli invasion and occupation. But rather than being Shia and pro-Hezbollah, today's groups are largely Sunni and anti-Hezbollah. Hence they qualify for US aid, funneled by Sunni financial backers in league with the Bush administration which is committed to funding Islamist Sunni groups to weaken Hezbollah. This project has become the White House obsession following Israel's July 2006 defeat.

To understand what is going on with Fatah al-Islam at Nahr el-Bared one would want a brief introduction to Lebanon's amazing, but shadowy 'Welch Club'. The Club is named for its godfather, David Welch, assistant to Secretary of State Rice who is the point man for the Bush administration and is guided by Eliot Abrams. Key Lebanese members of the Welch Club (aka: the 'Club') include: The Lebanese civil war veteran, warlord, feudalist and mercurial Walid Jumblatt of the Druze party( the Progressive Socialist Party or PSP). Another civil war veteran, warlord, terrorist (Served 11 years in prison for massacres committed against fellow Christians among others) Samir Geagea. Leader of the extremist Phalange party and its Lebanese Forces (LF) the group that conducted the Israel organized massacre at Sabra-Shatilla (although led by Elie Hobeika, once Geagea's mentor, Geagea did not take part in the Sept. 1982 slaughter of 1,700 Palestinian and Lebanese). The billionaire, Saudi Sheikh and Club president Saad Hariri leader of the Sunni Future Movement (FM).

Over a year ago Hariri's Future Movement started setting up Sunni Islamist terrorist cells (the PSP and LF already had their own militia since the civil war and despite the Taif Accords requiring militia to disarm they are now rearmed and itching for action and trying hard to provoke Hezbollah). The FM created Sunni Islamist 'terrorist' cells were to serve as a cover for (anti-Hezbollah) Welch Club projects. The plan was that actions of these cells, of which Fatah el-Islam is one, could be blamed on al Qaeda or Syria or anyone but the Club. To staff the new militias, FM rounded up remnants of previous extremists in the Palestinian Refugee camps that had been subdued, marginalized and diminished during the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. Each fighter got $700 per month, not bad in today's Lebanon. The first Welch Club funded militia, set up by FM, is known locally as Jund-al-Sham (Soldiers of Sham, where "Sham" in Arabic denotes Syria, Lebanon, Palestine & Jordan) created in Ain-el-Hilwa Palestinian refugee camp near Sidon. This group is also referred to in the Camps as Jund-el-Sitt (Soldiers of the Sitt, where "Sitt" in Sidon, Ain-el-Hilwa and the outskirts pertain to Bahia Hariri, the sister of Rafiq Hariri, aunt of Saad, and Member of Parliament). The second was Fateh-al-Islam (The name cleverly put together, joining Fateh as in Palestinian and the word Islam as in Qaeda). FM set this Club cell up in Nahr-al-Bared refugee camp north of Tripoli for geographical balance. Fatah el-Islam had about 400 well paid fighters until three days ago. Today they may have more or fewer plus volunteers. The leaders were provided with ocean view luxury apartments in Tripoli where they stored arms and chilled when not in Nahr-al-Bared. Guess who owns the apartments? According to members of both Fatah el-Islam and Jund-al-Sham their groups acted on the directive of the Club president, Saad Hariri. So what went wrong? "Why the bank robbery" and the slaughter at Nahr el-Baled?

According to operatives of Fatah el-Islam, the Bush administration got cold feet with people like Seymour Hirsh snooping around and with the White House post-Iraq discipline in free fall. Moreover, Hezbollah intelligence knew all about the Clubs activities and was in a position to flip the two groups who were supposed to ignite a Sunni -Shia civil war which Hezbollah vows to prevent. Things started to go very wrong quickly for the Club last week. FM "stopped" the payroll of Fateh el-Islam's account at the Hariri family owned back. Fateh-al-Islam, tried to negotiate at least 'severance pay' with no luck and they felt betrayed. (Remember many of their fighters are easily frustrated teenagers and their pay supports their families). Militia members knocked off the bank which issued their worthless checks. They were doubly angry when they learned FM is claiming in the media a loss much greater than they actually snatched and that the Club is going to stiff the insurance company and actually make a huge profit. Lebanon's Internal Security Forces (newly recruited to serve the bidding of the Club and the Future Movement) assaulted the apartments of Fatah-al-Islam Tripoli. They didn't have much luck and were forced to call in the Lebanese army. Within the hour, Fatah-al-Islam retaliated against Lebanese Army posts, checkpoints and unarmed, off-duty Lebanese soldiers in civilian clothing and committed outrageous killings including severing at four heads. Up to this point Fatah-al-Islam did not retaliate against the Internal Security forces in Tripoli because the ISF is pro-Hariri and some are friends and Fatah al-Islam still hoped to get paid by Hariri. Instead Fatah al Islam went after the Army.

The Seniora cabinet convenes and asks the Lebanese Army to enter the refugee camp and silence (in more ways than one) Fatah-al-Islam. Since entrance into the Camps is forbidden by the 1969 Arab league agreement, the Army refuses after realizing the extent of the conspiracy against it by the Welch Club. The army knows that entering a refugee camp in force will open a front against the Army in all twelve Palestinian refugee camps and tear the armyapart along sectarian cracks. The army feels set up by the Club's Internal Security Forces which did not coordinate with the Lebanese Army, as required by Lebanese law and did not even make them aware of the "inter family operation" the ISF carried out against Fatah-al-Islam safe houses in Tripoli.

Today, tensions are high between the Lebanese army and the Welch Club. Some mention the phrase 'army coup'. The Club is trying to run Parliament and is prepared to go all the way not, to 'lose' Lebanon. It still holds 70 seats in the house of Parliament while the Hezbollah led opposition holds 58 seats. It has a dutiful PM in Fouad Siniora. The club tried to seize control of the presidency and when it failed it marginalized it. Last year it tried to control of the Parliamentary Constitutional Committee, which audits the government's policies, laws and watch dogs their actions. When the Club failed to control it they simply abolished the Constitutional Committee. This key committee no longer exists in Lebanon's government. The Welch Club's major error was when it attempted to influence the Lebanese Army into disarming the Lebanese Resistance led by Hezbollah. When the Army wisely refused, the Club coordinated with the Bush Administration to pressure Israel to dramatically intensify its retaliation to the capture of the two soldiers by Hezbollah and 'break the rules' regarding the historically more limited response and try to destroy Hezbollah during the July 2006 war.

The Welch Club now considers the Lebanese Army a serious problem. The Bush administration is trying to undermine and marginalize it to eliminate one of the last two obstacles to implementing Israel's agenda in Lebanon. If the army is weakened, it can not protect over 70% of the Christians in Lebanon who support General Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement. The F.P.M. is mainly constituted of well educated, middle class and unarmed Lebanese civilians. The only protection they have is the Lebanese Army which aids in maintaining their presence in the political scene. The other type of Christians in Lebanon is the minority, about 15% of Christians associated with Geagea's Lebanese Forces who are purely militia. If the Club can weaken the Army even more than it is, then this Phalange minority will be the only relatively strong force on the Christian scene and become the "army" of the Club. Another reason the Club wants to weaken the Lebanese Army is that the Army is nationalistic and is a safety valve for Lebanon to ensure the Palestinian right of return to Palestine, Lebanese nationhood and the resistance culture led by Hezbollah, with which is has excellent relations. For their part, the Welch Club wants to keep some Palestinians in Lebanon for cheap labor, ship others to countries willing to take them (and be paid handsomely to do so by American taxpayers) and allow at most a few thousand to return to Palestine to settle the 'right of return' issue while at the same time signing a May 17th 1983 type treaty with Israel with enriches the Club members and gives Israel Lebanon's water and much of Lebanon's sovereignty.

Long story short, Fatah el-Islam must be silenced at all costs. Their tale, if told, is poison for the Club and its sponsors. We will likely see their attempted destruction in the coming days. Hezbollah is watching and supporting the Lebanese army.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

أموال خليجية تتدفّق إلى إسلاميي لبنان

أموال خليجية تتدفّق إلى إسلاميي لبنان!
REUTERS
24 ايار 2007

نقلت وكالة “رويترز” أمس عن خبراء ومسؤولين سابقين في الاستخبارات الأميركية قولهم إن الخليجيين عموماً والسعوديين خصوصاً يزيدون إسهاماتهم الخاصة لـ“المتشددين السنّة في لبنان، ما قد يغذي عنفاً جديداً في إطار صراع إقليمي متنامٍ بين السنة والشيعة”.

ويقول مسؤولو استخبارات أميركيون سابقون ومحللون مستقلون، بحسب الوكالة نفسها، إن آخر تدفق للأموال بدأ في كانون الأول في محاولة لخلق ثقل في مقابل حزب الله. وينظر هؤلاء المسؤولون إلى الأمر على أنه “جزء من جهود السعودية لتعزيز الإسلام السنّي في مواجهة النشاط الشيعي المتنامي في الشرق الأوسط وأفريقيا”.

ونقلت الوكالة عن مسؤول استخبارات سابق رفيع المستوى، وصفته بأنه “يراقب الشرق الأوسط عن كثب، قوله إن “هناك أموالاً سعودية تتدفق على جماعات سنّية متطرفة لنيّة محددة هي مواجهة الشيعة وحزب الله في لبنان”.

وأوضحت الوكالة أن كلام مصادرها جاء منسوباً إلى مسؤولين سعوديين وسوريين “لكنهم رفضوا أن يكونوا أكثر تحديداً في ما يتعلق بمصادر معلوماتهم”. وأوضحت أن “بين الجهات التي تلقت الأموال، عصبة الأنصار. وقالوا إن أموالاً أيضاً ذهبت الى جماعة فتح الإسلام. واعتبروا أن الولاء لجدول أعمال السعودية وأسرة الحريري هو المتوقّع في المقابل”

Aley Explosion pictures 24 May 2007





Seven wounded as bomb strikes resort town of Aley

Seven wounded as bomb strikes resort town of Aley
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: A third bombing in four nights struck Lebanon on Wednesday as a blast wounded at least seven people in the mountain town of Aley, about 15 kilometers east of Beirut. According to the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp., the device went off just 100 meters from the local serail, which houses government offices, courts and the Internal Security Forces (ISF). The blast shattered windows and caused extensive damage to the facade of a stone building. The attack took place at about 9:15 p.m., when many cafes and restaurants in the area are still teeming with customers, but was on a side street next to retail shops and at least one bank that had closed several hours before.

A spokesperson for Aley's Iman Hospital told The Daily Star it had received seven patients who were wounded in the bombing, two of them - a man and a woman - described as being in critical condition. Investigating Magistrate Ahmed Oueidat arrived to carry out an initial inspection of the crime scene within an hour of the blast. Local political figures also visited, including Aley MP Akram Chehayyeb, a leading member of Walid Jumblatt's pro-government Democratic Gathering parliamentary bloc. Some members of the crowd chanted "God bless Walid Jumblatt" and heaped abuse on Syrian President Bashar Assad. The mood was angry, and unconfirmed reports indicated that Jumblatt supporters had captured two men they believed were suspects in the attack.

Law-enforcement agencies bodies have struggled to step up security in the capital and its environs after similar attacks in the capital neighborhoods of Achrafieh on Sunday and Verdun on Monday. The army, already taxed by a heavy deployment to the South since last summer's war with Israel and additional duties related to the opposition sit-in in Beirut since December, has also been heavily engaged at the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp since Sunday. This has left the more lightly armed ISF to occupy many army positions in the capital and other regions. Aley, a predominantly Druze community, is also a resort that has long been a popular destination for tourists, especially from the Gulf. - Maher Zeineddine, with agencies

PLO backs army entry into Nahr al-Bared

PLO backs army entry into Nahr al-Bared
Fatah al-islam has 'clear-cut agenda against palestinians'

By Nafez Qawas and Mohammed Zaatari

BEIRUT/TYRE: The representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Lebanon said Wednesday that the PLO would not object if the Lebanese Army decided to send troops into the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp "to crush Islamist extremists entrenched there." "This is a Lebanese decision," Abbas Zaki said following a meeting with Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir in Bkirki. At least 55 combatants and 27 civilians have been killed in three days of fighting between the army and Fatah al-Islam militants in the camp. "We have repeatedly declared that we supported Lebanon's sovereignty and endorse any decisions Lebanese authorities made," Zaki said. Also on Wednesday, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyya asked Lebanon to help resolve a humanitarian crisis facing Palestinian refugees following three days of fighting with Islamists. Haniyya, of the Islamist group Hamas, called Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, Premier Fouad Siniora and Speaker Nabih Berri to express solidarity with Lebanese security after the raid against Fatah al-Islam. "Prime Minister Haniyya confirmed the Palestinian position that we stand by the protection of Lebanon's security and law, and confirmed the need to protect Palestinian people in this refugee camp," his office said in a statement. He conveyed the "need to resolve the humanitarian issues after the clashes" and "we [the leaders] agreed to pursue this issue to find a quick solution to this crisis," the statement added.

Zaki had visited the Grand Serail on Wednesday - the third consecutive day he has done so - to discuss the conflict in the North with Siniora. Sources close to Siniora quoted the premier as saying on Wednesday that all attempts to stoke tensions between the Lebanese and the Palestinians "will fail." Sources added that Siniora was "totally aware" of the fact that Palestinians living in Lebanon "had no connections whatsoever with terrorist groups such as Fatah al-Islam." Siniora took a phone call Wednesday from Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema, who expressed his government's support for the Siniora government and the army in their fight against "terrorism." Siniora is expected to hold a news conference on Thursday at noon at the Grand Serail to comment on the developing security situation and to mark the 2000 withdrawal of Israel from South Lebanon. Liberation Day falls on Friday, May 25.

Separately, the special envoy of the UN secretary general to Lebanon, Geir Pedersen, visited Zaki at the PLO headquarters in Beirut. Zaki and Pedersen discussed the fighting at Nahr al-Bared and the living conditions in general of Palestinians in Lebanon. French Ambassador Bernard Emie also met with Zaki on Wednesday to thank him for the efforts of the PLO and the Fatah Movement to evacuate five French nationals inside the Nahr al-Bared camp when clashes erupted. In other developments, the commander of Fatah in Lebanon, Brigadier Sultan Abu al-Aynayn, dismissed on Wednesday media reports that he planned to send fighters to the Nahr al-Bared camp to fight Fatah al-Islam. "We did not sent any fighters and we are not planning to do so since the suppression of Fatah al-Islam is not the responsibility of Fatah solely," Abu al-Aynayn said at a news conference held at the Rashidieh refugee camp near Tyre. Various Palestinian factions "ought to reach a common" agreement about Fatah al-Islam, "and Fatah will decide on its future action accordingly," he said. The Fatah commander said that organizations like Fatah al-Islam constituted "a real threat to Palestinians more than the Lebanese" and said Fatah al-Islam had a "clear-cut agenda targeted against Palestinians." Abu al-Aynayn called on the leaders of various Palestinian factions in Lebanon "to put their words into action" in order to "find proper and effective means to abolish Fatah al-Islam terrorists." - With AFP

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Scandal: Who is supporting Fateh El Islam (video)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEI0QmBywJY

Click on the link above to view the television interview (Arabic) with Mr. Talal Al Saad (former deputy in Future Mouvement) on NTV May 20th, 2007.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The list...

There is a list of local places supposedly targeted by terrorists going around by email.

People, we dont need an email to warn us to avoid such public places, i think its common sense.

But distributing it in emails such as this is clearly another attempt to further cripple the Lebanese economy. I mean, common sense is one thing but explicit warnings of this sort are another, especially from unknown or unverified sources.

I would refrain from forwarding this email if i were you.... especially that this email might cause mass panic with parents and students.

Life as usual. Avoid too public places and stay in your homes at night. I guess we are used to this by now.

What are we waiting for?

I do not understand politics much and i do not know much about the political engine...
But really, if Palestinians are denying any involvement and have claimed to support the Lebanese army, why are we still not allowed to go into the camps and weed out those bastards despite the 1969 Cairo agreement, since Palestinians are distancing themselves from this group?
If a joint 'political decision' between the Lebanese and the Palestinian governments is what is needed to resolve the situation, why havent they came up with the decision...?
And better yet, why aren't the Palestinians in the camps joining forces with the army and fighting this terrorist group from within?

Verdun explosion, 21 May 2007



Monday, May 21, 2007

Light your balconies from 9:00 PM till 10:00 PM tonight in support of the Lebanese Soldiers

http://www.lfpm.org/forum/showthread.php?t=26197

A group of Lebanese have just launched a large scale mission to get everybody around us light their balconies from 9:00 PM till 10:00 PM tonight in support of the Lebanese Soldiers.

The group started spreading the event through “Facebook” and several activists groups are being contacted right now to support this initiative and make of it a success.

Lebanon: here we go again!!

Lebanon is making headlines again. Why is it that every summer we get hit anew? Every year Lebanon waits for the summer season to try to make up for previous losses with its great weather, hospitable people and magnificent joie-de-vivre. And this year is no different. I have heard from many of my friends all about their plans to come spend time in Lebanon this summer and we wake to this piece of news today... probably many if not all have already changed their minds :(

When will it end? For God's sake we need a break!!

The Government is blaming Syria. I am really not a fan of Syria but word on the streets is that militants in the north (said to be linked to Al Qaeda) have been funded and armed to create sunni arms in response to the shia's hizballah. The word on the street is that Lebanese sunnis will not hold arms and fight so yes, such militants have been created and grown as a possible retiliation. Of course, just like the US couldn't control Al Qaeda which in reality it helped create, these militants will be very hard if not impossible to control as well. Proof of the matter... these days events.

The only armed force in Lebanon should be the Lebanese Army. Any other party (of God or otherwise) is illegal and should eventually give out its arms. I realize that things are not so simple and to expect them to disarm is unrealistic at this point. But so is the idea that the government would resign. It is sad that instead of moving forward, we are moving backwards. Instead of one party being armed... now seem we have two (officially at least)... of apparently opposing camps. If the government resigns, the army would be incapacitated pending the formation of a new government (no?). I leave the rest to everyone's imagination.
We should ALL stand united behind our army and completely remove these terrorists from our land! We do not need permission from neighboring countries (since according to some treaty we are not allowed to enter Palestinian camps), we have the excuse! This needs a 'political decision' and every Lebanese leader should stand up and just make it happen!

Petition in support of the Lebanese Army - Please sign!

Our Army is our pride - Petition

- Our support goes to the Lebanese Army, our soldiers, our national pride
- We send our condolences to the families and the martyrs
- Always proud, always in our hearts, always in our prayers! God Bless YOU and your families for the sacrifices you make each and every day
- We bow in respect in front of their courage and devotion- We are a witness to the strength, honour, wisdom and patriotism of the Lebanese Armed Forces as well as its glorious history and magnificent skills and tremendous heroic sacrifices it gave our beloved Lebanon

Support our army and our soldiers for all the sacrifices they are making.
they are the guarantee to our salvation


http://lebanesearmy.net/petition/index.php

Here we go again: Ashrafieh, near ABC mall, explosion - May 20, 2007





Robert Fisk: Scores dead as Lebanese army battles Islamists in bloodiest day since civil

Robert Fisk: Scores dead as Lebanese army battles Islamists in bloodiest day since civil war
Published: 21 May 2007

Butchery was the word that came to mind. Twenty-three Lebanese soldiers and police, 17 Sunni Muslim gunmen. How long can Lebanon endure this? Just before he died, one of the armed men - Palestinians? Lebanese? - we still don't know - shot a soldier right beside me. He fell down on his back, crying with pain, and I thought he had slipped on the road until I saw the blood pumping out of his leg and the Red Cross team dragging him desperately out of the line of fire. Not since the war - yes, the Lebanese civil war that we are all still trying to forget - have I heard this many bullets cracking across the streets of a Lebanese city.

And the dead. Five of the 17 gunmen were killed after paramilitary police stormed an apartment block in 200 Street in the centre of Tripoli. One lay on his back like a child, water from a broken hydrant streaming over his corpse. Another lay crumpled in a doorway amid glass and the Kalashnikov rifle he was still firing when he died. "How young they all were," a woman remarked with a kind of weariness, and I noticed the dead were also bearded, the little stubble beards al-Qaida's men like to wear.

The bloody events in Lebanon yesterday passed so swiftly - and so dangerously for those of us on the streets - that I am still unsure what happened. Clearly, an al-Qaida-type group tried to ambush the Lebanese army - and succeeded all too appallingly; 23 dead soldiers and police is a fearful figure for a tiny country such as Lebanon. But was it really a Syrian plot, as Fouad Siniora's government suggested? Was this the long hand of Syria stretching out once more across Lebanon's green and pleasant land?

So here are a few facts. A group of armed men tried to rob a Tripoli bank on Saturday and got cornered in an apartment block. Others holed up in the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camp north of the city. When I arrived yesterday, army tank fire was bursting in the camp and black-hooded policemen were preparing to storm, Iraqi-style, into the city-centre building. But the robbers were said to have stolen only $1,500 (Jounoune's note: the amount supposedly stolen is 150,000$). Was that worth this massacre? And is "Fatah al-Islaam" - which has existed in the shadows of the camp for months - really a 300-strong armed group?

Certainly the dead gunmen were real. I found two more heaped together in Tripoli, covered in spent ammunition clips, the apartment building on fire - so hot I could not get up the stairs - but families still struggling down. One woman carried a baby. "Only four days old, he is only four," she wailed at me. One family I found huddling in their bathroom, 12 terrified Lebanese who had spent 24 hours in this tiny room as bullets swept the walls of their home. So what in God's name happened in Lebanon yesterday?

Well, Mr Siniora claimed it was an attempt to destabilise Lebanon - a good guess, to put it mildly - and Saad Hariri, son of the former prime minister murdered here more than two years ago, called the armed men "evil-doers who had hijacked Islam". This is the same Saad Hariri whom at least one American reporter - I refer to Seymour Hersh - suggested was indirectly helping to funnel Saudi money to these same gunmen in a recent article in The New Yorker. The Shia Muslim Hizbollah are supposed to be the bad guys in this scenario, not a Sunni group.

But Tripoli is the most powerful Sunni city in Lebanon - so powerful that not a drop of alcohol wets its restaurant tables - and the men and women running in terror across Tripoli's streets yesterday were also Sunnis. So are the Syrians really concocting an "al-Qaida" in Lebanon? And who are its enemies? The Nato army of the UN force in southern Lebanon, perhaps? But surely not the Lebanese army, the very same army which bravely prevented civil war last January? Yet in 2000, an al-Qaida-type group also ambushed the Lebanese army in northern Lebanon. Was this, too, supposed to be a Syrian invention?

Showers of bullets were still tracing their way over Tripoli last night and the army was said to be preparing to move into the camps. Fatah, Yasser Arafat's clapped-out organisation, announced it was on the side of the army, a wise decision after yesterday's bloodbath. "A dangerous attempt to undermine Lebanon's security," was the response of a government whose Shia cabinet ministers abandoned it last year in the hope of bringing the whole Siniora administration down. But where do we go from here?

And who were the dead men I saw yesterday, perforated by bullets, partly torn open by grenades? Silent testimony is all we receive from the dead. One of them had big eyes above his fluffy beard, eyes which stared at us and at the police who jeered at his corpse. I wonder if they will not come to haunt us soon. And if we will discover what lies behind this terrible day in Lebanon.

http://news.independent.co.uk/world/fisk/article2565126.ece

Lebanese troops, militants battle for second day

Lebanese troops, militants battle for second day
REUTERS

Lebanese troops fought with al Qaeda-linked militants around a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon for a second straight day on Monday, security sources said. They said soldiers, who had tightened their grip around Nahr al-Bared camp after battles that killed 57 people on Sunday, were shelling positions of Fatah al-Islam at the entrances of the camp. There was no immediate word on casualties from the new fighting. Plumes of smoke rose into the sky as tank shells crashed in to the coastal camp, home to some 40,000 refugees. Militants were firing grenades and machinegun fire at the army posts, witnesses said.

Political sources said the Lebanese army was holding back from entering the camp to pursue the gunmen in line with a 1969 Arab agreement banning it from the country's 12 refugee centers.

At least 27 soldiers, 15 militants and 15 civilians were killed in Sunday's battles, the worst internal fighting since Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Lebanon army battles militants in north, 19 killed

Lebanon army battles militants in north, 19 killed
By Nazih Siddiq
REUTERS


Lebanese troops battled al Qaeda-linked militants in northern Lebanon on Sunday and at least 19 people were killed, 11 of them soldiers, security and medical sources said. A cabinet minister said the clashes with the Fatah al-Islam group, which the government says is backed by Syria, seemed timed to try to derail U.N. moves to set up an international court to investigate political killings in Lebanon. The soldiers were killed at Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli and in an attack on an army patrol in al-Qalamoun, just south of the city, a security source said. Four Fatah al-Islam fighters were killed in the camp, which is home to 40,000 Palestinian refugees. Medical sources in the camp said four civilians, including two children, had also been killed and 45 wounded. The army had tightened its grip around Nahr al-Bared camp since authorities charged Fatah al-Islam members with two bus bombings in a Christian area near Beirut in February. Three civilians were killed by the bombs.

Cabinet minister Ahmad Fatfat, speaking in Tripoli, linked the clashes to what he said were efforts to derail U.N. moves to set up the international tribunal for suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. A U.N. probe has implicated Syria and Lebanese officials in the Hariri killing. Damascus denies any involvement in the killing. It also denies any link to Fatah al-Islam which, according to its leader, has no organizational links to al Qaeda but agrees with its aim of fighting 'infidels'. Fatfat told Lebanon's pro-government Future TV: "There is someone trying to create security chaos to say to world public opinion: 'Look, if the tribunal is established, there will be security trouble in Lebanon."' The United States, France and Britain last week circulated a draft U.N. resolution that would unilaterally set up the court, which is at the heart of a political crisis in Lebanon. Syria closed two of its border crossings into northern Lebanon because of the security situation there, according to an official Syrian statement. The main crossing remained open.

CLASHES IN TRIPOLI

The rattle of assault rifles and machineguns could be heard, and thuds from explosions rocked the Nahr al-Bared area after the fighting broke out before dawn. Residents were trapped indoors and called for a ceasefire to evacuate the wounded. The army sent in reinforcements to the outskirts of the camp where smoke could be seen rising into the air. The army is not allowed into Palestinian camps under a 1969 Arab agreement. An army statement said the clashes began when Fatah al-Islam attacked army posts around the camp and in northern Tripoli. Security forces had also been trying to arrest Fatah al-Islam members suspected of robbing a bank on Saturday, security sources said. A group of suspected Fatah al-Islam members had been detained, the sources said. Security forces clashed with gunmen in Tripoli itself while trying to arrest Fatah al-Islam members holed up in a building in the predominantly Sunni Muslim city, which is Lebanon's second largest. Fatah al-Islam was formed last year by fighters who broke off from the Syria-backed Fatah Uprising group. Its leader, Shaker al-Abssi, told Reuters in March his group's main mission was to reform the Palestinian refugee community in Lebanon according to Islamic sharia law before confronting Israel.

(Additional reporting by Beirut bureau)

Friday, May 18, 2007

Belated storms wreak havoc in Lebanon

Belated storms wreak havoc in Lebanon
By Mirella Hodeib and Maher Zeineddine
Daily Star staff

CHOUF/BEKAA: Unusually late spring-time storms in Lebanon have left a trail of low-level destruction across the country, damaging cherry crops in the Chouf and flooding hamlets in the Bekaa Valley, where the government deployed earth-moving equipment Thursday to redirect waters that had trapped residents in their homes. Meteorologists disagree on whether the persistence of cloud cover and rainfall in May is part of a broad, long-term alteration of the country's weather patterns. For most observers of Lebanon's skies, however - be they frustrated beachgoers, soggy pedestrians in the streets of the capital or farmers concerned about the year's harvest - 2007 has repeatedly served up unexpected atmospheric surprises. "We never saw such grumpy weather since 1948," said Nidal Zeineddine, a longtime cherry farmer in the Chouf. "Our whole season is now at real risk." Torrential rains caused flooding in Ras Baalbek and Fekha in the northern Bekaa Valley Thursday, turning streets and avenues into fast-flowing rivers and preventing inhabitants from leaving their homes.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's office said he was concerned with weather-related damage in the Bekaa and had met to discuss the issue with Interior Minster Hassan Sabaa, Internal Security Forces chief Ashraf Rifi and Yehia Raad, director general of the Higher Relief Council (HRC). The HRC reported that it had provided concerned municipalities in Baalbek with necessary equipments and vehicles to open roads for motorists. The council is expected to survey losses as soon as the water recedes. The Civil Aviation Department at Rafik Hariri International Airport predicted on Thursday that rainy and cloudy weather would give way to sunshine on Friday afternoon. Wilson Rizk, professor of environmental engineering at the Saint Joseph University, told The Daily Star that the current weather was "not predictable, especially for this time in the year." Lebanon's climate, Rizk said, is undergoing a broad change and can no longer be divided into four distinct seasons. "Fall and spring are barely noticeable and they are being replaced with harsh winters and burning summers," he said. "In Lebanon, and because we can no longer consider spring as being a full-fledged season, summer weather and winter weather have entered a power struggle, and this is clearly manifested in the cold periods followed by very hot periods that Lebanon is currently witnessing," he said.

However, Abdel-Rahman Zawawi, head of weather forecasting at the Civil Aviation Department, told The Daily Star that the weather this year was "typical Lebanese spring weather, which alternates between hot periods followed by cold ones." "The difference this year, however," Zawawi said, "is the fact that this alternation renewed in both May and April due to excessive occurrences of warm fronts tagged along with cold ones." Distraught cherry cultivators in the Chouf called on the government to survey damage in the region and to compensate their losses. Farmers in upper Chouf villages such as Niha, Jbaa, Mrestey, Maaser, Botmeh and Barouk mostly cultivate cherry trees. High winds and hail this year have smashed both trees and fruits, farmers said. Zeineddine said that if the HRC does not respond to the "many" calls for compensation, cherry cultivators would stage protests. Rizk said that the weather fluctuations could "all be related to climate change." "Industrial development caused the levels of carbon dioxide to double in the atmosphere," he said. "On the other hand, the decline in green spaces worldwide has also added to climate change, which is the main factor behind all this altered weather."

Temperatures on Friday were expected to increase gradually and will range from 16-24 degrees Celsius along the coast, from 12-20 degrees in the mountains and from 11-24 degrees in the Bekaa Valley, according to the airport weather center. Weather forecasts said that winds on Friday would blow at speeds of 10-30 kilometers an hour, with visibility medium along the coast and poor in the highlands due to thick fog. The forecast called for 60-90 percent humidity.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Siniora officially asks UN to form Hariri tribunal

Siniora officially asks UN to form Hariri tribunal
Opposition slams 'stubbornness' of premier

By Rym Ghazal and Nafez Qawas
Daily Star staff


BEIRUT: In an official letter to the United Nations on Monday, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora requested help with the establishment of an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri "as a matter of urgency." "We called on the UN Security Council to establish the court as soon as possible after all possible means to ratify it in Lebanon have failed," Minister of Information Ghazi Aridi told reporters after a Cabinet meeting late Monday. Siniora sent the letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday morning. The letter, copies of which were released to the media, asked the Security Council to set up the court by whatever means "it deems appropriate." It went on to explain that attempts to ratify the tribunal in Parliament had failed. "We found all the doors closed in Lebanon regarding this issue," said Aridi. Opposition leaders said on Monday that the government had made no real effort to reach a compromise on the tribunal. "We worked hard to turn the court into a point of unity between the Lebanese," Amal MP Ali Hassan Khalil told reporters after a meeting with Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun. "But the stubbornness of the head of this illegitimate government and his followers ruined any chance of that," he said. "I don't believe this move will help any of the current problems."

The government first officially sought the world body's help in establishing the court in a petition submitted on April 10. Since then, government supporters have repeatedly called for the establishment of the court under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which would bypass parliamentary approval. The opposition has expressed concern that the court will be used for political ends and other reservations. "There is no basis for all the fears and worry over the establishment of the court under Chapter 7," said Aridi.

A spokesman at UN headquarters in New York told The Daily Star on Monday that the world body had been "expecting" the prime minister letter but that no hearings on the issue were planned. "Currently there is nothing scheduled this month with the UN Security Council on the court issue," he said. Ban has urged Lebanese officials to work on reaching a compromise on the court.

Local daily Al-Mustaqbal quoted Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh as saying that the world body would take measures to ratify the tribunal starting in the middle of next week. The Security Council was expected to meet on Tuesday and "unanimously" vote to approve the tribunal, the sources said. Khalil, the Amal MP, said the court was not a panacea for the country's ills. "Will [the court] help solve problems with the government?" he said. "And will it help us head to the presidential elections united?"

Monday, May 14, 2007

Only in Syria ... again ;)




Lebanese politicians trade warnings over presidency

Lebanese politicians trade warnings over presidency
By Hani M. Bathish
Daily Star staff


BEIRUT: Amid veiled threats of the establishment of a parallel government emanating from Baabda, and warnings from Ain al-Tineh on Sunday of dire consequences should that happen, hopes dimmed that a consensus on the issue of the presidency would be reached any time soon. Vatican officials, including Pope Benedict XVI, have stressed the need to avoid leaving the presidential post vacant, urging the Lebanese to prevent the creation of two competing governments. Quoting informed sources, local An-Nahar daily said on Saturday that a papal envoy would visit Lebanon to head off a possible crisis over the next presidential election.
President Emile Lahoud warned on Sunday that if the time for the presidential election in Parliament, which is scheduled for September 25, arrives and "they fail to elect a new president, I will be forced to take a decision, that is the lesser of two evils, rather than allow an unconstitutional government to assume the role of the president." Lahoud made his comments during an interview with France 24 television. He said that he fears what may befall the Lebanese in the event of a failure to elect a new president. Lahoud also rejected resorting to Chapter 7 of the UN Charter to establish a tribunal of to try suspects in the slaying of former Premier Rafik Hariri. Chapter 7 status would allow the court to begin work without parliamentary approval. Lahoud said Chapter 7 may only be invoked in the absence of the Lebanese judiciary and to prosecute mass murderers, as was the case in the former Yugoslavia.

Hizbullah MP Hussein al-Hajj Hassan, speaking to reporters Sunday, said that Lahoud would not surrender power to an unconstitutional government and warned of an impending constitutional crisis if the ruling majority elects a new president with only a simple majority in Parliament. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri vowed last week to convene the legislature to elect a new president, provided that a two-thirds majority of members attend the session. Berri, in an interview with Kuwait's Al-Anbaa newspaper on Sunday, expressed fears that Lahoud would set up an interim government if the parliamentary majority attempts to elect a president with a simple majority of MPs. "In the event the majority violates the Constitution and elects a president with a half-plus-one majority, I fear President Lahoud will set up another government justifying his actions as protecting the Constitution; this is my real worry," Berri said. Asked if it would be possible to elect a new president if a quorum of two-thirds is not achieved on September 25, Berri said: "It would be very difficult if not impossible to do so, as in the first electoral session we need two-thirds of members of Parliament present, neither the opposition nor the majority possesses two-thirds of parliamentary seats." The speaker said that there was currently a new Saudi-Iranian initiative aimed at solving the political deadlock in Lebanon, but that the Arab League was absent from this effort.

In response to perceived opposition pressure against holding a presidential election, the Maronite Church announced a series of steps to guard against attempts to block the presidential election and the creation of the international tribunal. Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir has said that both the Maronite Church and the Vatican support an election without foreign interference. During a surprise visit to Baabda Friday, Sfeir reportedly impressed on the president the importance of "facilitating the election of his successor" and that the church rejected all attempts leading to establishing two governments in Lebanon.

Lebanese Forces (LF) leader Samir Geagea, speaking to a student delegation from the Beirut Arab University on Sunday, stressed the importance of holding a presidential election to avoid disastrous consequences. Geagea said the only alternative to holding an election was for the Cabinet to assume the responsibilities of the president. He rejected this option, calling on MPs to attend the electoral session on September 25 as called for by the speaker. He also voiced objection to proposals for a so-called "compromise candidate." "Our candidate will be from March 14 or from among those who support its political agenda," he said, adding that the candidate would be announced at a later date. The LF leader said that Sfeir's visit to Lahoud was an attempt by the patriarch to guarantee a suitable environment for a normal election. "There are those trying to use president Lahoud and push him in a different direction such as setting up an interim government," Geagea said.

Meanwhile, Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader MP Michel Aoun, speaking Friday at the annual dinner for physicians affiliated with the FPM, reiterated his view that the current Parliament is "unconstitutional and is incapable of electing a new president."

Friday, May 11, 2007

Funny Lebanese Expressions (Arabic)

While browsing the LFPM forums, I found this thread and thought to share some of it contents :) Enjoy!

belli testrak sater
ta2 albé
Akho l chlite
Bayyak 2ezez? Aw emmak claire?
bit 3a2id
tannaket ma3e
Angaret ma3eh
ritak todrab
salbe
mda2ra ma3on
yehre2 7arichak
Rakkablo 2roun
Farratné dehek
Fa2a3né dehek
Ma ajlatak!
Malla labsa! Ma byetkannas
FARJINEH 3ARID KTEFAK
ZAHIT MIN HON
yi chou wati awta mn el chafra 3al ared
rou7 ballet el baher
fek 3an sama rabbi
ta2 7anak
to2borni nshallah: Burry me god willing
shou mahdoum: What digestive
de2 l'may bi dalla may: Beat the water and it stays water
3aynak bayda: Ton oeil est blanc
shou fi ma fi: Qu'est- ce qu'il y a et il n'y a pas?
Yi7ri2 deebak ma asmakak
ya rabbi el setra
l ghala dareb atnabo
betfouto bel 7et
Hayda feyi2 w reyi2
tanjra w le2it ghataha
houwwe ras bala mokh (copyrighted ziad)
shou fete7
Ritak tenfezir
ati3a to2ta3ak
todrab nchallah
ma at2al dammak
3al sous w no2ta
batikh yi kasser ba3do
darbeh 3al 7efer darbeh 3al mesmar
la thezzo we2ef 3a shwar
Danna2et! Bass danna2 fiya? (J'ai gelé dans elle)
Ghéché w méché!! Ekhid ghatta!! (Il prends un atterrissage)!
Byékhdak 3al ba7er w bireddak (Il te prends à la mer et te rends)
MTA2TA2 3atach (brisé de soif)!!
Zbélo: Poubelle-le
Echi3 eddik 7mar (Je vois le coq un âne!)
Ma ta3méllé berrezz basal (Ne me fais du riz des oignons!!)
La chaghlé wala 3amlé, 2é3id ykechch 7amém!
3a Rassé!!
Tekram 3aynak!
Mech 3arif kou3o men bou3o!
Mech 3arif allah weyn 7atto!
Titi titi mitel ma rehte mitel ma jite
bomor -> Point-mort
deberyage -> embrayage
Chamberyel -> Chambre à air
Achekman -> Echappement
Talephon -> Téléphone
Calucatrice -> Calculatrice
men temmak la beib el sama
min gher charr
bala zoghra
ma twekhzouneh bhal kelme
bala 2atcheh 3an hadissak
mich beyiss temma gheir emma
tob el jarra 3ala tema btotla3 el benet la emma
chakar bakar
yihri2 hareesho
htara2 sallafeh------> By sideburns burned!
Karbaj 3anno elanfes------> He handcuffed his breaths
3anzeh wlaw taret
Ana khartouch fardak
Allah m3a dwelibak
rakeblo sabouneh
chou jeb toz la marhaba
chi tiktik chi ti3a
Chou jeib Tarazan la Texas
bi7sib allah ma khala2ak
shamassneh
Mitl al 2atrach bil zaffé
Toul bala ghallé
Toli3 3ala bélé
Nkassar al Char
Khalis la alla
3mol mni7 w kib bil ba7ér
Bala3na al mousse
Toli3 7alib al nawar
Chou osstak bit dal hézzik mézzik
ya3ne kif maken
Rahet l kahraba, dawer l moteur, tak l dejoncteur, khafif l oudowieh, 3ali l dejoncteur
n2ta3it l may, fodi l khezen, ija l citerne

And the best of all: kiss me again

Most Lebanese people know at least 3 languages; here are some hellos Lebanese style:
1 language: arabic
'sabah lnour,marhaba, kifna lyom?'
2 languages:
1*arabia-french
'salut kifak mnih, bonjour kifak lyom, bonjourik ya helweh?'
2*arabic-english
'hi chou kifak, good morning kifak, or how are you mnih?'
3 languages: arab-eng-fren
'hi comment ca va mnih'
and the most popular and used one is: 'hi kifak ca va?'

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Blast and bomb scare rattle Beirutis

Blast and bomb scare rattle Beirutis
Security forces ring two neighborhoods as precaution
By Rym Ghazal
Daily Star staff


BEIRUT: Almost three months after twin bus bombings in Ain Alaq and multiple discoveries of explosive devices set off a wave of anxiety in Lebanon, a small explosion at a vacant lot in Beirut and a subsequent bomb scare sparked panic among residents of two capital neighborhoods. No one was hurt in the explosion. Security forces received a report of an explosion at an empty lot near a cemetery in Tahwita at around 9 a.m. The explosion caused panic as police and soldiers deployed in the area and investigators began sifting the dirt for evidence. "It was an old rusty B2 grenade that went off due to the heat," an Internal Security Forces spokesperson later told The Daily Star. "It wasn't serious and it didn't cause any injuries or damage."

Earlier in the day, the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation had reported that a stick of dynamite or a concussion bomb had been tossed from a speeding car into the lot. Not long after, security forces received a report of an abandoned suitcase at a bus stop in Hazmiyeh, near the site of the explosion. The suitcase was found to be filled with clothes, but a heavy security presence and news of a possible bomb in the area caused a massive traffic jam. Army troops surrounded both the Tahwita and Hazmiyeh neighborhoods as they investigated both the explosion site and the abandoned bag.

Witnesses said that two fire engines were sent to the site of the explosion, which was also near the Order of Physicians offices and a number of government buildings. Security reports said that a fire in the lot or nearby may have caused the explosion. In Hazmiyeh, a witness told The Daily Star that a man was seen leaving the bag before boarding a bus. "We were scared, as the situation is not stable in the country and bombs go off all the time," said the witness, who identified himself as Samer, and who was working at a construction site at the time of the incident.

In addition to the summer 2006 war with Israel, Lebanon has been rocked by a series of explosions since late 2004, many targeting anti-Syrian politicians and journalists. The largest of the explosions was the February 2005 truck bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri near the St. Georges Hotel. The Ain Alaq blasts on February 13 killed three people and wounded 20 others.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Siniora defends state's handling of postwar reconstruction

Siniora defends state's handling of postwar reconstruction
'Any delay, if it had occurred, was unintentional'
By Lysandra Ohrstrom
Daily Star staff


BEIRUT: Prime Minister Fouad Siniora defended his administration's handling of postwar reconstruction on Monday, following a blistering attack from Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah a day earlier accusing the government of failing to provide financial assistance to all the Lebanese people. Siniora said the government has spent a total of $318 million on reconstruction since the 2006 war, and received $707 million of the $1.3 billion of pledged assistance, most of which has come from Arab donors so far. "The government is working in the service of all of its citizens and is not asking for anything but cooperation," he told reporters and members of his Cabinet at the Grand Serail. "Any delay, if it had occurred, was unintentional and due to the enormity of the disaster. The steps that we've taken are undoubtedly ... very, very big although they remain less than what we aim for." The Higher Relief Commission (HRC) has distributed $172 million of initial indemnity payments - via the Amal-led Council of the South - to residents of 272 villages and municipalities in South Lebanon, he said, according to a survey of 69,745 housing units damaged during the 34-day war. A further $108 million of compensation will be distributed to 60,000 additional homes that were assessed, he added. Siniora admitted that some villages have yet to be surveyed, and consequently "a number" of households have not received payments. He said the HRC has begun processing indemnities for 1,064 of the 25,000 destroyed or damaged housing units in the four municipalities of the Dahiyeh, Beirut's southern suburbs. Engineers from Khatib and Alami - the firm contracted by the government immediately after the war without an open tendering process to serve as what officials have alternately referred to as either a consultant or independent auditor - have conducted damage assessments on 10,149 apartments, and approved future indemnity payments for 6,924 units. Khatib and Alami also identified 4,952 housing units in need of $108 million worth of rehabilitation, but Siniora did not offer an estimate for the cost of reconstructing the 230 completely destroyed buildings in Dahiyeh.

In an interview televised Sunday on Al-Aalam, Nasrallah accused the government of "politicizing" the reconstruction by delaying the rebuilding in Dahiyeh. Hizbullah's construction wing, Jihad al-Binaa, formed a separate unit to rebuild the southern suburbs following the resignation of the opposition Cabinet ministers in November. An undisclosed number of residents have since signed power of attorney over to the Waad (Promise) project to lead the rebuilding process, but a Waad project manager told The Daily Star that the government is not recognizing their authority. "I cannot comment on partially destroyed houses since the Waad project is not concerned with those, but very little compensation has been paid for destroyed buildings, less than LL1 million, I think," the Waad official told The Daily Star shortly after the news conference on condition of anonymity. The government agreed to pay an average indemnity of $55,000 for each destroyed home last year. The Waad official said "$100 million from Saudi Arabia was supposed to be used to rebuild Dahiyeh, but the government is holding on to it to exert pressure on the Lebanese people. "Siniora said people must collect indemnities in person which is illegal because the government is supposed to recognize power of attorney," he added.

The premier said the progress the government has made in the nine months since the August 14 cease-fire is evident. "The blood that was spilled last summer cannot be replaced with indemnities, but compared to the amount of damage caused, we worked efficiently," Siniora said in response to whether the government has prioritized the reconstruction. "One experienced international expert said during his visit after the war that 'despite hindrances, the Lebanese government has accomplished more than any other country that has faced disasters of this magnitude,'" Siniora said. Thanks to generous donations from Arab and Muslim countries - including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Iraq, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan and Indonesia, though Siniora declined to specify the amount of Iran's donation or whether the government would accept it - $54 million has been spent repairing damaged roads, bridges, power and water networks, and around $42 million on assisting civilians displaced by the conflict. A total of 791 of the 862 damaged and destroyed schools have been rehabilitated. The HRC also "has concluded [$4 million of] renovations and maintenance work in the 353 schools that welcomed the displaced during the war." "We are working on performing renovation and maintenance work for an additional 29 schools based on requests filed by the Education Ministry," Siniora said.

The fate of Dahiyeh, however, is yet to be determined. Nasrallah said Sunday that the Waad project was nearly done with an urban planning scheme for the Dahiyeh, and was in the process of tender agreements to begin construction on May 25.Nasrallah would not say how much the rebuilding in Dahiyeh would cost or where the funds would come from, but he promised that Hizbullah would pay for it.

Naharnet Lebanon News

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