Monday, July 30, 2007

Climbers to celebrate Jesus appearance

Climbers to celebrate Jesus appearance
The Daily Star

Climbers will embark on August 5 on a trek to the top of Mount Hermon, located in the Anti-Lebanon mountain range, to celebrate the anniversary of Jesus Christ's appearance there. The mayor of the village of Rashaya, Ziad El Aryan, where climbers will start their journey, said participants will pitch their tents and spend the first night at an altitude of 2,400 meters and then climb on the second day to the top of the mountain, where a mass will be held.
For more information, call: +961 3 919 007; +961 3 744 834; +961 3 615 702.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Lahoud rejects parcel from Israeli source in US

Lahoud rejects parcel from Israeli source in US
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: An unidentified 10-kilogram parcel sent from the Israeli Projects Center in Washington arrived by post on Wednesday addressed to President Emile Lahoud at the Baabda Palace. A spokesperson for the Presidential Palace in Baabda told The Daily Star the palace had refused to take delivery of the parcel and the matter was now in the hands of the judiciary. "We did not ask to open the parcel, we refused to take delivery and asked the shipper to return it to the sender," the spokesperson said. "It is now up to the judiciary, which may order the parcel opened or may not."

The Presidential Palace issued a statement Wednesday regarding the incident and said it placed the matter before Lebanese, Arab and world public opinion, adding that such Israeli practices were not surprising. "This highlights the policy of lies that the Jewish state pursues in response to Lebanon's steadfast position with regards to the Israeli enemy, whose similar practices will not change," the statement said.

Military Investigating Magistrate Jean Fahd has opened an investigation into the case to determine who is behind mailing the parcel, a judicial source confirmed on Thursday. Fahd interviewed several employees at the mail-sorting center of Rafik Hariri International Airport, where the parcel was received, but Fahd declined to comment until the investigation into the matter is completed. - The Daily Star

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Hopes for consensus on by-elections fizzle out

Hopes for consensus on by-elections fizzle out
Two candidates withdraw as deadline passes

Compiled by Daily Star staff

Hopes to forge consensus concerning by-elections in Metn and Beirut vanished Wednesday after efforts failed to have the Free Patriotic Movement's (FPM) Metn candidate Camille Khoury withdraw, while seven candidates will compete for the Beirut seat. Two candidates pulled out of the contests as the deadline for candidates to withdraw from the by-elections passed Tuesday evening. Nabila Mohammad Saab and Rafik Kamel Qassem withdrew their candidacies from the Beirut by-election. Although seven candidates are running in Beirut, the main competition appears to be between Future Movement candidate Mohammad Amin Itani and Ibrahim Halabi, the candidate of former MP Najah Wakim's People's Movement. While Wakim is known to be part of the opposition, Hizbullah announced earlier this week that it would not participate in the by-elections, after President Emile Lahoud refused to sign the government's decree calling for the by-elections. By-elections will be held on August 5 in the second district of Beirut and in the Mount Lebanon region of Metn to replace slain MPs Walid Eido and Pierre Gemayel, respectively.

The Metn by-election has drawn the most attention, with former President Amin Gemayel, the FPM's Khoury and independent Joseph Mansour Asmar contesting the empty seat of Gemayel's assassinated son. Khoury on Wednesday visited the headquarters of the Armenian Tashnag Party in Burj Hammoud, saying: "Tashnag and the FPM are known to be one big family, for the alliance between the two parties is old and steady." MP Michel Murr and the Tashnag Party announced their support on Monday for Khoury. The FPM thus potentially secured a large bloc of the Metn's roughly 32,000 Armenian votes. The Metn electorate numbers 162,950 voters. Tashnag member and MP Hagop Pakradounian reiterated his party's support of the FPM in the Metn by-election, "unless some sort of consensus is reached." FPM leader Michel Aoun has refused all compromise proposals made to him by Maronite bishops and MP Pierre Dakkache over the past couple of weeks. Aoun was in Germany on Wednesday and met with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The FPM-affiliated Reform and Change parliamentary bloc is expected to meet with Khoury at the bloc's headquarters in Jdeideh on Thursday.

Despite the narrowing opportunity to reach a settlement for the Metn by-election, Dakkache pursued his mediation efforts by visiting Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea in Maarab on Wednesday. Geagea called on Aoun to avoid an "unnecessary battle in Metn," adding that he would support Gemayel if consensus is not reached. Aoun "ought to avoid any divisions on the Christian scene, because the by-election in Metn will not change much in the power balance in the country and will instead lead to skirmishes," Geagea said. While expressing support for Gemayel's "political stands," the Maronite Council also launched mediation efforts on Wednesday and expressed support for the Maronite bishops' mediation efforts. "Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir ought to be supported in order to ensure Christian unity, which is much needed during such difficult times," said Raymond Roufaiel, the head of the Maronite Council.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Rival camps dig in heels over Metn by-elections

Rival camps dig in heels over Metn by-elections
Compiled by Daily Star staff

Opportunities to negotiate a settlement concerning the Metn by-election dwindled on Tuesday, with rival parties showing unwillingness to compromise despite mediation efforts led by Maronite bishops and MP Pierre Dakkache. Lebanese newspapers reported Tuesday that consensus was difficult to reach and a battle in the Metn was inevitable. "While [former] President Amin Gemayel sees the by-election as a means to reclaim the seat of his slain son Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, the Free Patriotic Movement [FPM] headed by MP Michel Aoun considers the by-election a means to measure its popularity on the Christian political scene," said an editorial on Tuesday in the As-Safir newspaper. By-elections will be held on August 5 in the second district of Beirut and in the Mount Lebanon region of Metn to replace slain MPs Walid Eido and Gemayel, respectively.

MP Michel Murr and the Armenian Tashnag Party expressed their support Monday for the FPM's candidate in the Metn by-election. The FPM thus potentially secured a large bloc of the Metn's roughly 32,000 Armenian votes. The Metn electorate numbers 162,950 voters. "My alliance with the FPM and Tashnag is permanent and long-standing," Murr told reporters after a meeting with French envoy Jean-Claude Cousseran on Tuesday. Murr also advised Christian parties against trading accusations regarding the Pierre Gemayel's assassination. Aoun hinted on Monday that Gemayel's assassins could be found inside the government. "Despite everything," Murr added, "mediation efforts are still under way and consensus should not be ruled out."

Meanwhile, well-informed sources told the Central News Agency (CNA) that consensus was still likely to be reached in Metn. Mediation efforts focused mainly on convincing the FPM to withdraw their candidate and accept Gemayel as a consensus choice. CNA also reported that Aoun had suggested postponing the Metn by-election "until a consensus candidate, other than the three candidates currently running, is agreed upon." Gemayel, FPM candidate Camille Khoury and independent Joseph Mansour Asmar are running for the Metn seat.

Also on Tuesday, Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir reiterated his call to various political groups "to reconcile and opt for dialogue instead of battles." However, with Aoun traveling to Germany Tuesday and the deadline for candidates to withdraw from the by-elections at midnight Wednesday, a consensus is far from being reached. Commenting on Aoun's mention of assassins present within the government, Gemayel blasted the retired general Tuesday, saying Aoun's remarks "aim to escalate the problem even more. May God forgive him." "It is known that Aoun is a supporter of wars of elimination, for he never tolerates any competitors," Gemayel said following a meeting with a delegation of bishops dispatched by the Maronite patriarch to try to convince conflicting parties to reconcile. Grand Mufti Mohammad Rashid Qabbani expressed his support for Future Movement (FM) candidate Mohammad Amin Itani in the Beirut by-election where a less-tense battle pits the FM against Ibrahim Halabi, the candidate for the People's Movement headed by former MP Najah Wakim.

Monday, July 23, 2007

OTV goes on air, vowing to deliver 'objective' news

OTV goes on air, vowing to deliver 'objective' news
Station hopes to continue to expand

By Nour Samaha
Daily Star staff

MEKALLES: The long-awaited launching of OTV finally took place on Friday evening, bringing yet another Lebanese competitor into the running for television news audiences. With celebrations held throughout the country, and big screen TVs erected to broadcast the first news bulletin at 8 p.m., the station took its first step into the world of media broadcasting with what it says is the aim of providing objective and in-depth reporting and analysis. "We are going to be objective and meticulous with all of our information and our news, especially with regard to developments in politics," Jean Aziz, news and political program director of OTV, told The Daily Star on Friday prior to the launch. "We will prove it tonight with our first bulletin, in which everyone will see what we are about." Aziz, a veteran in the media industry having worked with the leftist newspaper Al-Akhbar prior to the television station's launch, said OTV's only yardstick for measuring itself against competitors will be the "truth." "We only have one competitor," he said. "And that is the truth. We are going to try to get the truth at all times, and make this known to all."

The OTV launching was originally set for the beginning of May, but due to unforeseen challenges, technical problems, and issues with office location, the date was pushed back to July. Now based in a newly constructed building with bright orange furniture and equipment dotted around the offices, OTV has overcome most of the setbacks, but is still in a period of transition until September. "We did face some technical issues, and some issues regarding formalities," explained Aziz. "For the next six weeks we are in a period of transition where only some of the programs will be aired, but by September we should be running all of our programs properly and efficiently ... We hope we will continue to expand."

The station will be hosting news bulletins and political talk shows, introducing socio-political and economic programs, entertainment programs, and documentaries by September. OTV, at times nicknamed 'Orange TV' due to its orange logo, has been linked on various occasions with the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) opposition party, whose logo is also orange. But ownership of the television station does not lie in the hands of just one patron, as is the case with many other local Lebanese channels. Rather, shares were sold all over the world, to both individuals and companies, in order to allow anyone who may have had an interest in the station to also share some of the responsibility of the ownership and running of it. Aziz was quick to point out that the rumors and accusations that the channel would be biased toward a certain political party will be put to rest after the launch. "We have received criticisms for being an organization affiliated with the FPM but this, I feel, will pass," he said. This point was reiterated by Patrick Naimeh, a director at OTV. "It is not because of the FPM that we are working here," he said. "We don't tend to discuss politics between us, so we don't have those kinds of divisions ... we are a team of professionals."

As OTV joins the game with the rest of the big players - such as LBC, Al-Manar, Future, and New TV - Naimeh said it is a little soon to be discussing competitors in the field. He explained that the immediate challenge facing the staff is proving their worth to all those that are waiting for results. "While it was a challenge working in the build-up to the launch," Naimeh said. "The pressure is now, with everyone watching," Naimeh said, adding that by everyone, he means both supporters of the governing coalition and the opposition forces.

Gemayel announces candidacy in Metn by-elections

Gemayel announces candidacy in Metn by-elections
Efforts to choose mp by consensus fail as rival parties announce nominees of their own

By Mirella Hodeib
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Former president Amin Gemayel on Friday announced he will run in disputed August 5 parliamentary by-elections to replace his son, Pierre Gemayel, who was assassinated in Beirut last November "I am a candidate for the deputy's seat in the Metn region ... Isn't it strange that the father is succeeding his son?" a visibly moved Gemayel asked a televised news conference. Former Industry Minister and member of the March 14 Forces Pierre Gemayel was gunned down on November 21 in a suburb north of Beirut. Soon after his news conference, Gemayel phoned Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir to discuss with him the reasons that prompted him [Gemayel] to run for elections. Parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri called Gemayel to "congratulate him about his candidacy," according to the National News Agency. Hariri told Gemayel that he was confident that "the unity of the March 14 Forces concerning national issues including by-elections in Metn and Beirut will demonstrate that the Lebanese will triumph over criminals and hamper any attempts to exploit political murders and paralyze the constitutional and parliamentary life in Lebanon."

By-elections to select replacements for Gemayel and Walid Eido, another MP who was killed in a Beirut car bombing on June 13, are scheduled to be held in the second district of Beirut and in the Mount Lebanon region of Metn on August 5. The deadline for submitting candidacy in the by-elections is midnight on Friday. The Future Movement (FM) also announced Friday that it has chosen businessman Mohammad al-Amin Itani as its candidate to replace Eido. The movement, headed by MP Saad Hariri, urged voters to participate in the August 5 by-elections and support Itani, a businessman and the former head of the federation of Beirut families. The statement described Itani as a "distinguished voice ... in defending Beirut and its families." Hariri also called Salam on Friday to thank him for statements made this week calling for by-elections in Beirut to be chosen by consensus."

Meanwhile, Beirut's governor Nassif Qalosh announced that according to Article 64 of the parliamentary law, billboards have been erected all across Beirut to be used by candidates during run up to the elections. "Therefore, candidates are urged to abide by the special billboards to display pictures and electoral slogans and not use any random spaces," the statement issued by the governor said. With the March 14 Forces announcing their candidates for by-elections, and rival political parties announcing candidates of their own, all consensus scenarios have been ruled out. Gemayel, the Free Patriotic Movement's official candidate Camille Khoury and independent Joseph Mansour Asmar will compete for the Metn seat.

Former MP Najah Wakim told The Daily Star on Thursday that Ibrahim Halabi, vice-president of the People's Movement, which Wakim heads, will run as candidate in Beirut. Reports circulated on Thursday reported that Gemayel might have his second son Sami run for elections. However, Lebanese newspapers reported on Friday that while Sami would have made an excellent consensus MP, Amine decided to enter the contest after the FPM ruled out any consensus by announcing their candidate. Efforts to reach an agreement between Gemayel and FPM leader Michel Aoun, in order to avoid any further divisions on the Christian scene have not born fruit. A well-informed source told The Daily Star that those efforts were still under way despite "implicit mutual criticism voiced by Gemayel and Aoun in their respective news conferences on Friday." "I cannot grasp all the talk about reclaiming representation in the Metn region, are the current Metn MPs alien to Metn?" Aoun asked on Friday, in direct response to comments voiced by Gemayel. Gemayel said it was "high time the Metn people be truly represented in the Parliament." While expressing his support for Gemayel's candidacy, member of the March 14 Forces Gabriel Murr said Aoun should not try to launch any battles against the Gemayel family, "since it was they who introduced Aoun in the political sphere and appointed him in high-ranking positions."

Earlier this month, Aoun said the FPM will not run for by elections if President Emile Lahoud does not sign the decree. Lahoud has refused to counter-sign the government's decree on holding the by-elections; on the grounds that the Cabinet has been "illegitimate" since the resignation in November of six ministers. Lebanon's state court rejected on Wednesday a motion contesting the call by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government for by-elections. The motion was advanced by Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) supporter Tony Orian. In an interview with Sawt al-Ghad radio, the FPM candidate said the FPM will advance another motion, "in order top preserve the only few remaining rights of the President." "However," Khoury added, "If the motion is once again rejected we will not withdraw our candidacy because we want to voice our opposition of the current government's deficient performance." - With agencies

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Roadside bomb explodes near UNIFIL peacekeepers in South Lebanon

Roadside bomb explodes near UNIFIL peacekeepers in South Lebanon
By Mohammed Zaatari
Daily Star staff

QASMIYEH: A small bomb exploded near a UN peacekeeping vehicle in South Lebanon Monday, causing no casualties, witnesses and UN officials said. Witnesses said the bomb detonated near the Qasmiyeh Bridge on the main coastal road north of Tyre, where UN military police maintain an observation post near a Lebanese Army checkpoint. The explosion led to limited damage to a UN four-wheel-drive vehicle. A Lebanese security source said the military police unit involved was from Tanzania, which has some 80 soldiers serving as part of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). "We can confirm an explosion occurred in the area of the Qasmiyeh bridge involving one UNIFIL vehicle," said UNIFIL's spokeswoman Yasmina Bouziane, adding no casualties had been reported. UNIFIL began investigations at the scene. A Lebanese military spokesman also reported an explosion on the bridge. The army immediately cordoned off the area and diverted traffic from the bridge. Security officials in South Lebanon speaking on conditions of anonymity said two peacekeepers parked their jeep on the coastal road near the Qasmiyeh Bridge to monitor the speed at which UN vehicles travel in the South. The bomb exploded minutes after the two soldiers stepped out of the jeep. Monitoring the speed of UN vehicles began after four members of a Lebanese family, including two children, were killed in the South on July 3 when a UN water truck lost control and rammed into their car. The incident enraged locals, who demanded that United Nations troops refrain from driving at high speeds.

In response to Monday's explosion, Amal MP Ali Osseiran condemned such attacks, saying they targeted "the implementation of UN Resolution 1701 in addition to peacekeepers." "All the Lebanese condemned the criminal attacks against UNIFIL in June and those on Monday," he said in a statement issued on Monday. Officials from Hizbullah and the Amal Movement in the South also met Monday to discuss the latest attack on UNIFIL. "We strongly condemn the attack on the UNIFIL troops and we think that such an attack only serves the insecurity of the South," they said in a joint statement. UNIFIL has grown to 13,300 troops and naval personnel from 31 countries under a UN Security Council resolution that halted last summer's war with Israel. The UNIFIL peacekeepers operate alongside some 15,000 Lebanese Army soldiers deployed in the South following the 34-day war. A car bomb killed six members of UNIFIL's Spanish contingent in the South on June 24. No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but Madrid said it suspected Al-Qaeda-inspired Islamist militants.

On Monday, 1,100 Spanish soldiers replaced their outgoing comrades as part of a routine rotation performed periodically. Strict security measures were used during the rotation, which was held at theheadquarters of the Spanish contingent in Marjayoun. The bombing was the second attack on United Nations peacekeepers since the expansion of UNIFIL's mandate. The June attack was aimed primarily at damaging the stability of Lebanon, UNIFIL commander Major General Claudio Graziano said at the time. Al-Qaeda's second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri, in an audio message posted on the Internet last week, praised the June 24 attack as "a response against those invading Crusader forces who were occupying a beloved part of the land of Islam." - With agencies

Michel Hayek: from butcher's boy to Middle East's 'Nostradamus'

Michel Hayek: from butcher's boy to Middle East's 'Nostradamus'
By Agence France Presse (AFP)
Haro Chakmakjian

BEIRUT: Michel Hayek, a butcher's boy who has risen to the status of an Arab media celebrity, has the knack of making accurate predictions in an anxious and uncertain Lebanon looking for answers and a touch of baraka. "I believe everyone has what I have. It's a sense like your eyes, or your ears. If I feel something strongly, I follow my instinct," says the man nicknamed the "Nostradamus of the Middle East" who hails from a Metn mountain village northeast of the capital. "I was born with it. If you call your eyes a gift, then it's a gift," he says, seated in a garden with Mediterranean views in front of his two-storey luxury apartment on the outskirts of Beirut.

Hayek, 40, says his lifestyle is financed by salaries, plus bonuses, paid by three companies overseas: firms of solicitors, accountants and stockbrokers. He has been on their payrolls for the past seven years. An investor in real estate, a profitable sector in Lebanon even as it struggles to recover from last year's war with Israel and political paralysis, Hayek also restores, converts and then sells old Lebanese houses. Among past - and documented - predictions, Hayek has foreseen the untimely deaths of Britain's Princess Diana and Lebanon's ex-Premier Rafik Hariri, as well as MP and media baron Gibran Tueni. He tried to warn the Americans of the Challenger space shuttle disaster before it blew up in 1985, but was not taken seriously. New predictions see "dangers" lurking at Lebanon's Baabda presidential palace, amid a lack of consensus on a candidate to be elected by Parliament with barely four months to go before President Emile Lahoud's term runs out. He also sees a new Hariri family tragedy in 2007, and the date 10/10/2007 has mysteriously appeared before his eyes.

Despite reservations, Hayek has a tradition of going on air on the LBC satellite television every New Year's Eve to make a long list of predictions, many of them vague. "Some people hate anything to do with the future," Hayek says of his critics who accuse him of being a phoney with a talent for lucrative self-publicity. He has also been seen at times as a "doer of evil, or even a devil." But "I am not a thief of the future," he protests. "I have no power to change the will of the Creator." Hayek puts much of his own popularity down to widespread disgust with Lebanese politicians and his strong track record. He is frustrated by rumors linked falsely to his name that swirl though Beirut to sow insecurity, often for political ends. "I'm someone who can feel things and see a bit of the future, a bit like children, something similar," he says, while admitting to being fascinated by magic from an early age, for which he often ran into trouble at school.

Hayek started from modest roots, helping out at the butcher's shop of his father after being stirred daily from bed in the middle of the night to collect meat in the family van from a local slaughterhouse. He happily switched to a grandfather's church bell-manufacturing business but was kept out of the loop on secrets of the trade, before finding his real vocation. With predictions aplenty ever since his youth, Hayek started making a name for himself on radio, traveled around the world for 13 years, drawing the attention of newspapers. But it was the launch of Arab satellite televisions that gave him celebrity status. "All I am doing is what I am feeling," he says. It has not been easy at times, especially at the end of 2004 when Lebanon was booming, its market-leading Solidere shares for downtown reconstruction riding high, and Gulf Arab visitors spending lavishly and snapping up real estate.

In hugely unpopular predictions for 2005, Hayek foresaw the massive seafront explosion in Beirut that killed Hariri, and he warned that Tueni was also in danger. "No one believed me. They were angry with me, they made fun of me on TV comedies," he says. "I said at the time I can see 12/12, when the rock of Beirut will cry for someone," he says. "I went to Tueni's funeral and got dirty looks. I had warned his wife not to allow him to buy that black four-wheel-drive" in which the MP was gunned down on December 12, 2005." Offering a peek into his private life, Hayek this year plans to marry Caroline, a student in children's psychology, after proposing on only their third date. "Something inside me told me to propose. She was very surprised, but I told her I have a feeling."

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Palestinians flee as Lebanon army set to storm camp By Nazih Saddiq

Palestinians flee as Lebanon army set to storm camp By Nazih Saddiq

About 160 Palestinians fled a refugee camp in north Lebanon on Wednesday as the Lebanese army prepared to launch a final assault against al Qaeda-inspired militants holed up inside. Troops have been battling Fatah al-Islam fighters at Nahr al-Bared for nearly eight weeks in Lebanon's worst internal violence since the 1975-1990 civil war. A total of 205 people have been killed. The army seized all the militants' positions on the outskirts of the camp last month but refrained from entering its official boundaries.

A 1969 Arab agreement had banned Lebanese security forces from entering Palestinian camps. The agreement was annulled by the Lebanese parliament in the mid 1980s but the accord effectively stayed in place. Security and political sources said the army was concerned it was being dragged into a war of attrition with the militants dug in inside the camp's narrow alleys and decided to move in to crush them after they refused repeated calls for surrender. A soldier was killed by a sniper on Tuesday. At least 87 soldiers, 75 militants and 43 civilians have been killed in the fighting that began on May 20. The sources said the army deployed extra troops in the area and was expected to use helicopter gunships and naval boats as well as tanks and heavy artillery in any assault on the coastal encampment. Palestinian sources said some of the last remaining civilians in the camp left on Wednesday ahead of the expected assault. Local representatives of Fatah and other factions of the Palestine Liberation Organisation also left.

Witnesses said some two dozen men who left the camp were taken by the army to a nearby barracks for questioning. Red Cross sources said a total of 161 people, including women and children, left. Most of Nahr al-Bared's 40,000 inhabitants fled in the early days of the fighting but a few thousands have stayed behind. The Lebanese government says Fatah al-Islam is a tool of Syrian intelligence, a charge Damascus and Fatah al-Islam deny. The group says it has no organizational ties with al Qaeda, but supports its militant ideology. Some of its members -- mainly Lebanese, Palestinians, Syrians and Saudis -- have fought in Iraq. Security sources say at least 10 Saudis are among the dead militants. The authorities have blamed the group for twin bus bombings in a Christian area near Beirut in February that killed three civilians. Investigators are also pointing a finger at the militants in the assassination of an anti-Syrian Christian government minister last November.

Authorities defuse bomb found near FPM offices

Authorities defuse bomb found near FPM offices
The Daily Star

Faytroun authorities discovered a bomb late Monday inside the municipality building near the offices of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), the party said in a statement on Tuesday. The bomb was found during a regular meeting of the local FPM party, the statement said. Lebanese Army intelligence and the Internal Security Forces reportedly defused the bomb. The statement did not describe the nature of the bomb or speculate on its provenance.The party denounced the incident as entailing "undemocratic methods."The FPM statement said Lebanon's ruling majority was incapable of fulfilling its responsibilities and should step down.

Geagea defends Siniora against charges of 'Islamizing' state

Geagea defends Siniora against charges of 'Islamizing' state
Qassem slams ruling coalition as 'tool to fulfill us interests'

Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Lebanese Forces (LF) leader Samir Geagea on Monday whole-heartedly defended Premier Fouad Siniora's government, denying it was trying to "Islamize" the country and saying that a recent statement by the Maronite Bishops Council on the matter had been exploited for political ends. During a news conference held at his new residence in Mirab, Geagea instead accused Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah of having plans to Islamize Lebanon, saying that in a 1982 speech the opposition leader spoke about plans to make Lebanon an Islamic state. "Is Prime Minister Siniora trying to Islamize Lebanon or are others are seeking to do so?" Geagea asked. "We regret the political use of the latest statement issued by the Bishops."

Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir said Sunday the monthly statement of the Council of Maronite Bishops was misinterpreted by parties on both sides of the divide. The bishops' statement had criticized the government's attempts to "Islamize" the country by making it a signatory to the Children's Rights in Islam charter. It also criticized the acquisition by foreigners of more than 7 million square meters of land in Lebanon. "Premier Siniora, in all his statements ... stresses the importance of keeping the balance between all Lebanese sects," Geagea said. Geagea told reporters that the biggest acquisition of land by foreigners came as part the "Sannine Zenith" project, which planned the construction of a $1 billion ski resort on Lebanon's Sannine peak. Geagea said that Siniora, who was finance minister at the time, had objected to the project and that President Emile Lahoud had supported it.

A debate over whether the developer of the project, Al-Salam Holding - a Lebanese company with possible non-Lebanese shareholders - was legally entitled to purchase the land for the project caused the land sale to stall. In response to Geagea's comments about the Zenith project, Lahoud issued a statement on Monday accusing the LF leader of "falsifying facts in a bid to rally support from the public and provide a cover-up for the current Siniora government." The statement added that Lahoud, "unlike Geagea, refuses to take part in any sectarian fracas and has always implemented policies that would restore national interests and maintain national unity."

Hizbullah number two Sheikh Naim Qassem, meanwhile, slammed the government on Monday, saying it was a "mere tool" to fulfill the United States' interests in Lebanon. "Our demands for true partnership did not aim to increase the number of opposition ministers and lawmakers, but was rather aimed to save Lebanon and limit the US interference," Qassem said during a political rally organized by the education unit of Hizbullah. Hizbullah had lashed out at US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman on Friday, accusing him of being the "true leader" of the March 14 Forces. Qassem said that the ruling coalition had several obligations to the US to fulfill. "Our demands for partnership have a sole objective, which is to protect the Lebanese as well as the ruling coalition from US influence." Qassem added monopoly has "only contributed in weakening Lebanon even more on all levels." He further said the ruling coalition was following a strategy designed to "waste time and reject any calls for dialogue." "Even if they consider that it is too late to form a national unity government, we think that such a government is likely to defuse tensions," he said. "A national unity government will work as an icebreaker and pave the way for healthy and constitutional presidential elections."

On the issue of foreign interference in Lebanese affairs, Sfeir said the Lebanese should not rely on external forces to solve internal problems. "Foreign forces are not charities, for such forces would rather fulfill the interests of their own countries rather than Lebanon's interests, and it is up to the Lebanese solely to reach a solution to the continuing impasse," Sfeir told reporters during a gathering at Diman, his summer headquarters. Sfeir said he hoped a summit of Lebanese leaders to be held in France next week would "produce with positive outcomes to solve the crisis." Participants in the dialogue session will head to Saint Cloud, near Paris, on July 14. - The Daily Star

Friday, July 06, 2007

The Story of Lebanon...

Check out this great narrative in Arabic at the following link:

Georges Khabbaz's famous toast which was a beautiful poem about Lebanon, but also illustrated with pictures. The people who made this video did a great job!

Bil Alb ya Watan: TV ad

Check out this great TV commercial currently playing on TV:

This is the TVC of an initiative campaign carried out in Lebanon during the month of July 07. It is done in an effort to express the citizens' love and support for The Army during a period when the country is facing turbulent political times.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

'Fortress Gemmayzeh' wants its customers back

'Fortress Gemmayzeh' wants its customers back
Bars and restaurants unite to make area safer

By Nour Samaha
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: The bars and restaurants in the Beirut neighborhood of Gemmayzeh have responded to concerns that the popular area is at risk of attacks by boosting security and launching a mini-marketing campaign. Business revenues in Gemmayzeh have dropped dramatically in the past month as a result of recent explosions targeting commercial areas in and around Beirut. Some bar-hoppers and restaurant-goers are choosing to stay away following rumors that the area was unsafe and at risk of future attacks because of lax security measures.

Emails circulated from companies and official institutions warning employees Gemmayzeh was "next" on the hit-list - an attempted smear campaign against the flourishing of businesses in the area, according to some. As a response, the owners of the businesses decided to instigate a campaign to bring back their patrons. "We want to motivate people to come back to 'The Street' again by placing advertising campaigns in the local newspapers," said Walid Baroudi, owner of Italian restaurant Corleone. "We want to remind people that we are still here, and [that] we are a safe and secure area. We have introduced a new security system that is one of the best." "Gemmayzeh is unique because it has a wide variety to offer the public," said Makram Zeeni, owner of Barbu and head of the committee trying to woo back its clientele. "Every outlet is special in itself ... There is a mistaken impression among the people that we are closed. We are never closed and we will never be closed, and that is why we are launching this campaign." The street, which consists of almost five dozen small- to medium-sized bars and eateries, has witnessed a 40 per cent drop in revenue, according to Baroudi, although he said that business was beginning to pick up over the last few days. "We've seen a better situation the past few days, and hope that things will continue to improve," he said. "As soon as people stop listening to the rumors, the place will be booming again." The past month and a half has witnessed a significant decline in business in the area, added Zeeni. "For four weeks we were running at 2 or 3 percent of our total income," he said. "But in the last couple of weeks it has increased between 15 and 20 percent."

At least half a dozen explosions have been detonated in Beirut since May 20, instilling fear and panic among the population. Targeting popular tourist and commercial areas like Achrafieh, Verdun and Aley, the explosions have been followed by hesitance on the part of residents to go out, out of fear of being caught up in the next attack. Gemmayzeh was known as one of the upcoming hotspots for both locals and tourists - attracting all different types of people to its diverse venues. Yet the last few weeks the neighborhood has visibly emptied - almost a ghost town during the week with only a few die-hard loyalists perched on bar stools. "As soon as Gemmayzeh was mentioned as a target, people stopped coming," said Nimr Abboud, owner of Bread restaurant, referring to the emails. "I've lost approximately 90 percent of my business over the last month, so we hope that the idea of the new security company will bring people back." "On a psychological level people will feel safer knowing we have improved our security on the street," he added. "On top of that, they do numerous checks on cars and people in the area." Some night-time revelers are choosing to make their new haunts rooftop venues such as White, Sky Bar and Bubbles, citing security as a prominent reason. Yet, since these venues tend to be seasonal, Zeeni feels that the novelty will soon wear off. "We are here all year round, regardless of the season," he said. "They think they feel secure there, but it makes no difference really, and our security here is very tight."

Middle East Security, the security company employed in Gemmayzeh, is a local firm that protects the entire area, not just the main street. Receiving compensation of $25,000 a month, the firm says it is using all possible means to ensure the security in the area, including the use of dogs, random checks, parking security, and patrols. "We want to live despite all that is being said, and also because [the people circulating the rumors] don't want us to live," said Zeeni.

Monday, July 02, 2007

From George W. Bush... [no comments!!]

Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Persons Responsible
for Policies and Actions That Threaten Lebanon's Sovereignty and Democracy

June 29, 2007
White House

A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

In order to foster democratic institutions in Lebanon, to help the Lebanese people preserve their sovereignty and achieve their aspirations for democracy and regional stability, and to end the sponsorship of terrorism in Lebanon, it is in the interest of the United States to restrict the international travel, and to suspend the entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of aliens who deliberately undermine or harm Lebanon's sovereignty, its legitimate government, or its democratic
institutions, contribute to the breakdown in the rule of law in Lebanon, or benefit from policies or actions that do so, including through the sponsorship of terrorism, politically motivated violence and intimidation, or the reassertion of Syrian control in Lebanon.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, including section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), and section 301 of title 3, United States Code, hereby find that the unrestricted immigrant and nonimmigrant entry into the United States of persons described in section 1 of this proclamation would, except as provided for in sections 2 and 3 of this proclamation, be detrimental to the interests of the United States.

I therefore hereby proclaim that:

Section 1. The entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of the following aliens is hereby suspended:

(a) Lebanese government officials, former Lebanese government officials, and private persons who deliberately undermine or harm Lebanon's sovereignty, its legitimate government, or its democratic institutions, or contribute to the breakdown in the rule of law in Lebanon, including through the sponsorship of terrorism, politically motivated violence or intimidation, or the reassertion of Syrian control in Lebanon;

(b) Syrian government officials, former Syrian government officials, and persons who meet the criteria for designation under section 3(a)(i) or (ii)of Executive Order 13338 of May 11, 2004, who deliberately undermine or harm Lebanon's sovereignty, its legitimate government, or its democratic institutions, or contribute to the breakdown in the rule of law in Lebanon, including through the sponsorship of terrorism, politically motivated violence or intimidation, or the reassertion of Syrian control in Lebanon;

(c) Persons in Lebanon who act on behalf of, or actively promote the interests of, Syrian government officials by deliberately undermining or harming Lebanon's sovereignty, its legitimate government, or its democratic institutions, or contribute to the breakdown in the rule of law in Lebanon, including through the sponsorship of terrorism, politically motivated violence or intimidation, or the reassertion of Syrian control in Lebanon;

(d) Persons who, through their business dealings with any of the persons described in subsection (a), (b), or (c) of this section, derive significant financial benefit from, or materially support, policies or actions that deliberately undermine or harm Lebanon's sovereignty, its legitimate government, or its democratic institutions, or contribute to the breakdown in the rule of law in Lebanon, including through the sponsorship of terrorism, politically motivated violence or intimidation, or the
reassertion of Syrian control in Lebanon; and

(e) The spouses and dependent children of persons described in subsections (a), (b), (c), and (d) of this section.

Sec. 2. Section 1 of this proclamation shall not apply with respect to any person otherwise covered by section 1 where entry of such person would not be contrary to the interests of the United States.

Sec. 3. Persons covered by section 1 or 2 of this proclamation shall be identified by the Secretary of State or the Secretary's designee, in his or her sole discretion, pursuant to such procedures as the Secretary may establish under section 5 of this proclamation.

Sec. 4. Nothing in this proclamation shall be construed to derogate from U.S. Government obligations under applicable international agreements.

Sec. 5. The Secretary of State shall have responsibility for implementing this proclamation pursuant to such procedures as the Secretary, in the Secretary's sole discretion, may establish.

Sec. 6. This proclamation is effective immediately. It shall remain in effect until such time as the Secretary of State determines that it is no longer necessary and should be terminated, either in whole or in part. Any such determination by the Secretary of State shall be published in the Federal Register.

Sec. 7. This proclamation is not intended to, and does not, create any right, benefit, or privilege, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity, by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, instrumentalities, or entities, its officers or employees, or any other person.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty eighth day of June, in the year of our Lord two thousand seven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-first.


Naharnet Lebanon News

Marketing in Lebanon