Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Lebanon : Under the Sword

Lebanon : Under the Sword
Written by Agence Global
Wednesday, 23 January 2008


The Struggle for Lebanon
by Patrick Seale

It does not look as if the long-running Lebanese crisis will be resolved any day soon. The main reason is that the election of a Lebanese President is not a purely Lebanese affair. Numerous external powers want a say. To arrive at a consensus between them is no easy task. It will almost certainly need more time. Amr Moussa, the Arab League secretary-general, has exhausted himself in a valiant attempt at mediation between rival Lebanese factions and their external backers -- so far, without success.

[Republished at PFP with express Agence Global permission.]

Syria has vital security issues with regard to Lebanon, and sees its lesser neighbour as an essential geo-political partner. And Syria's security necessities could help stabilize Lebanon's political crisis, if the Arab World -- particularly Saudi Arabia -- can come to terms with Damascus. These external powers include such regional rivals as Saudi Arabia and Iran, but also Egypt, France, the United States and even Israel (operating through the United States). However, in the Lebanese context, the most important of these external actors is Syria, because Syria views developments in Lebanon as a matter of life and death. Rightly or wrongly, Syria feels it needs to exercise veto powers over the choice of a Lebanese President. The rumour in Damascus is that President Bashar al-Asad has asked Amr Moussa to travel to Riyadh in order to convey a conciliatory message to King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia. President Bashar is even quoted by some sources as saying that he will make no move without first securing the backing of the Saudi Kingdom. If these rumours are confirmed, they may signal a détente in inter-Arab relations -- and therefore hope for a breakthrough in Lebanon. President Bashar attended the Arab Summit in Riyadh in March 2007, when he conferred at length with King Abdallah. Lebanon was then the main issue, as it is today. Détente between Damascus and Riyadh is absolutely necessary, because the current coolness between them, verging on hostility, is one of the main impediments to a Lebanese settlement.

Some observers say that the Arab Summit next March may provide an opportunity to unblock the situation and allow a Lebanese President to be elected. Others believe, more pessimistically, that a decision may have to be postponed until after Lebanon's legislative elections later this year, which may change the current balance of power between majority and opposition. A key problem would seem to be that Syria has lost confidence in General Michel Suleiman, the Lebanese army commander who, it was hoped, would be a President acceptable to all sides. General Suleiman developed close ties with Syria in the 1990s when the Lebanese army was being rebuilt with Syrian help after the civil war. Last year, when Lebanon was battling a violent Islamic faction entrenched in the Palestinian camp of Nahr al-Barid in northern Lebanon, Syria supplied the Lebanese army with much-needed ammunition. In a word, General Suleiman's candidacy for the presidency of Lebanon was seen as a concession to Syria. But that was last year. Syria seems no longer to trust him, believing that he has moved into the Saudi/US camp. Another Damascus rumour is that the General paid a recent secret visit to Saudi Arabia, when he is said to have given pledges about his future alignment.

In any event, the General is no puppet, having emerged strengthened from the fierce battles at Nahr al-Barid. If elected, he is likely to be an independent President. This is a risk Syria seems unwilling to take. What does Syria want in Lebanon? This question is being asked in every local and foreign capital. It is best to begin by attempting to define what it does not want. It does not want to send its own army back into Lebanon, where it was for 29 years from 1976 to 2005. But nor can it tolerate a hostile, provocative government in Beirut, which would poison Syria's life on a daily basis. Syria wants a guarantee that whatever ruling establishment emerges in Lebanon, whatever President is elected and government formed, will recognize and respect Syria's vital interests -- be they political, economic or strategic. That is the bottom line for Syria's consent to a Lebanese settlement. Syria seems to have three immediate preoccupations. The first concerns the international tribunal set up to try the men who killed Rafiq al-Hariri, Lebanon's former Prime Minister, on 14 February 2005. The killers have not yet been identified, and indeed may never be, such is the complexity of the case.

Syria is, in fact, less concerned about the possible verdict of the tribunal than about its proceedings over the coming months and years. The tribunal will have the right to call dozens, perhaps hundreds, of witnesses. Its proceedings will be long-drawn out and will inevitably be politicised. They are likely to be used by Syria's enemies as a means to attack, and even destabilise, it. Syria suspects that the Tribunal will turn out to be a sort of 'Sword of Damocles' suspended over its head by a single horsehair -- as in the legend -- paralyzing all movement by the fear that it might fall. A second Syrian preoccupation is that a hostile regime in Lebanon might, with international support, seek to disarm Hizbullah, the Shi'ite party and militia allied to both Iran and Syria, which fought Israel to a standstill in the summer war of 2006. In Syrian eyes, the Tehran-Damascus-Hizbullah axis is the only force able to hold in check Israeli and American pressures and aggressions. A third major Syrian preoccupation is of an even more radical shift in the regional balance. Its fear is that if the anti-Syrian 14 March coalition consolidates its position in Lebanon, it may be tempted, or pressured, into concluding a separate peace with Israel, on the model of the American-brokered 17 May 1983 accord, which was concluded after Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. That separate peace threatened to draw Lebanon into Israel's orbit -- a mortal danger, from Syria's point of view -- which was only avoided when the late President Hafiz al-Asad managed to destroy the 17 May accord. Syria's enduring obsession is that Israeli influence will enter Lebanon, one way or another, if its own influence in Lebanon is eliminated or reduced. With Damascus a mere stone's throw from the Lebanese border, that would be a lethal threat. Syria is therefore demanding that Syria and its Lebanese neighbour be joined together, not in any formal political sense, but in a single geo-strategic space, able to confront external enemies.

This is one of the fundamentals of Syria's external policy. But it carries a heavy price-tag. It has prevented an entente with France, and with its impatient President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has devoted enormous efforts in recent months to achieving a Lebanese settlement. His Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has traveled to Beirut no fewer than six times. But since France sees itself as a champion of Lebanon's independence, Syria interprets its efforts as a threat to its own vital interests. There is also a heavy domestic price to pay for Syria's security obsession. All opposition is crushed -- including the so-called 'patriotic opposition' of intellectuals, civil rights activists, leftists and moderate Islamists. Such repression deals a heavy blow to Syria's image and reputation in the West. Freeing these well-meaning patriots from jail and engaging them in dialogue should be a Syrian priority. Syria's concern with regime survival is understandable: The US has smashed Iraq; it threatens Iran; it turns a blind eye to Israeli slaughter of Palestinians; it apparently gave its approval to Israel's air strike last September against a mysterious military installation in north-east Syria. Moreover, Washington continues to impose unilateral sanctions on Syria and refuses to put Syria's Golan Heights, occupied by Israel in1967, on its agenda. Only a lessening of regional tensions and real progress with Arab-Israeli peace making might allow the 'Damascus Spring', such a welcome feature of President Bashar al-Asad first months in power, to flower again.

Patrick Seale is a leading British writer on the Middle East, and the author of The Struggle for Syria; also, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East; and Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire.

Copyright © 2008 Patrick Seale

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Bomb kills key ISF terror investigator

Bomb kills key ISF terror investigator
Bodyguard, three civilians also perish

By Hani M. Bathish
Daily Star staff


BEIRUT: A powerful bomb killed a key Internal Security Forces (ISF) investigator and at least four other people in a Beirut suburb on Friday. The attack next to the Chevrolet-Hazmieh highway, which targeted Captain Wissam Mahmoud Eid, head of the technical office at the ISF's Intelligence Bureau, also wounded at least 40 other people. Security sources said the bomb was placed in a BMW car parked on the side of an exit ramp. The explosive charge, estimated at 60 kilograms of TNT, was believed to have been detonated by remote control, according to judicial sources. The blast left a 5-meter-wide crater and sent plumes of black smoke into the air. Several vehicles on the highway at the time, as well as others parked in an adjacent lot, were also destroyed. Firefighters rushed to the scene to battle the blaze as Civil Defense and Lebanese Red Cross personnel worked to rescue people who were trapped in their cars by the explosion.

Eid had been investigating several terrorist bombings and assassinations that have taken place in Lebanon since 2005, including the slaying of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Eid, who hailed from the Northern village of Deir Ammar, was 31 years of age and single. He joined the ISF in April 2001. Also killed in the car with Eid was his bodyguard, First Sergeant Osama Mashhur Mereb, a 30-year-old from Akkar who was married with two children. Eid was given a posthumous promotion to the rank of major and Mereb was made an adjutant. The three civilian bystanders killed in the blast were identified as Elie Fares, Saeed Elias Azar and Alain Sandouk. The bombing was not the first to target officials linked to the Hariri investigation. In February 2006, a hand grenade was thrown at Eid's home. He was not at home at the time and escaped injury. Eid was also involved in the standoff with Fatah al-Islam militants along Mitain Street in Tripoli in May 2007. Lieutenant Colonel Samir Shehadeh, deputy head of the ISF Intelligence Branch, was wounded on September 5, 2006, in a blast south of Beirut that killed four of his bodyguards.

After hearing the news, residents of Deir Ammar burned tires and blocked the main highway in the town for three hours before mediation efforts allowed security forces to reopen the road. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora declared Saturday an official day of mourning. Interior Minister Hassan Sabaa, speaking to the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, said the perpetrators' target was security in the country, adding that Eid was among the ISF's most valuable officers. "This is not the first time the security forces are targeted in this way. This will not affect our moral, nor deter us from our mission ... There is a determination and a desire to work toward freedom and sovereignty," he said. The ISF's director general, General Ashraf Rifi, who visited the bomb site shortly after the attack, said the bombing targeted a valuable ISF employee who played a vital role in several investigations. "After the targeting of General Francois Hajj [chief of operations for the Lebanese Armed Forces], today a very important ISF officer has been targeted but we are continuing in our mission, whatever the cost, to protect this country," Rifi told reporters after inspecting the blast site. "We will not be scared off or deterred by such actions." "The message has been received. It is a terror message sent to us by targeting our martyr Eid, who was working on the technical aspects of all cases involving terrorist bombings in the country," Rifi added.

Also at the scene on Friday was the government representative to the Military Tribunal, Judge Jean Fahd, followed by Military Investigating Magistrate Rashid Mizher and State Prosecutor Said Mirza. The Red Cross initially confirmed four dead, but one of the civilians died a few hours later. Most of the wounded were taken to hospitals in the area. "Around 40 people who suffered minor injuries were admitted to hospitals," Georges Kettaneh, director of the Lebanese Red Cross, told The Daily Star. "Most of the injuries were from flying shrapnel and burns." Retired General Elias Hanna, now an analyst and university lecturer, said Eid may have been targeted because more senior officers were out of reach. "When MPs were about to elect a new president MPs were being targeted, when General Michel Suleiman was named as the consensus candidate Hajj was targeted," he said. "Now the target are the security institutions in the country." He said while no one knows for sure why Eid was targeted, it all depends on what he was working on at the time. "Maybe he spoke to people during his investigations which led him to other people," Hanna said. "Who knows where he got to in his investigation? Maybe he was killed because the assassins could not get to more senior officers, or maybe he got somewhere in his investigation." A funeral for Eid and Mereb will take place at 9 a.m. Saturday at ISF headquarters in Achrafieh, after which their remains will be taken to their respective hometowns, Deir Ammar and Tripoli.

Friday, January 18, 2008

FBI team arrives to aid in probe of Karantina blast site

FBI team arrives to aid in probe of Karantina blast site
Capital remains on high alert following attack

By Hani M. Bathish
Daily Star staff


BEIRUT: A US team of forensic and counterterrorism experts from the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) inspected Thursday morning the site of Tuesday's car bomb blast in Karantina which targeted a US Embassy vehicle, the first such attack aimed at a US diplomatic mission in Lebanon since the end of the 1975-90 Civil War. Four FBI counterterrorism experts, who have examined other similar bomb sites in Lebanon, arrived in Beirut late Wednesday night to join local investigators in helping to recover vital evidence. Authorities cordoned off the blast site located in an industrial zone along the sea route, a road parallel to the main Dora/Karantina highway. The blast killed three bystanders and wounded 25 others. A giant white tent was placed over the scene to preserve evidence and security teams worked to remove water that had seeped into the crater created by the blast. "The technical expertise of the US team will allow for recovery of possible DNA evidence belonging to the perpetrators," a security source told The Daily Star Thursday.

The source said the US team have asked permission to conduct a "technical survey" of the blast site for the next three days after which they will prepare a report on their findings and presenting a copy to State Prosecutor Saeed Mirza. FBI investigators joined Lebanese investigative teams in the search for evidence at the site. Associated Press Television showed at least three people, presumed to be US investigators, some in white overalls and others dressed in blue, collecting evidence from the wreckage of several vehicles damaged in Tuesday's blast. On Thursday Mirza met with Andrea Belmar, the new head of the International Independent Investigative Commission investigating the slaying of former Premier Rafik Hariri and other political assassinations. Meanwhile, security forces in Greater Beirut and Mount Lebanon have been placed on the highest level of alert before state of emergency, a security source said, adding that stringent security measures have been taken including foot and mobile patrols and mobile checkpoints set up around the capital. In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack had said that a joint team of agents from the department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the FBI would travel from Washington to Lebanon on Wednesday to investigate the incident.

The embassy, located 13 kilometers from the explosion site, told Americans Wednesday to avoid popular public places in case of further attacks, and departing US Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman canceled a meeting and dinner in Beirut. The embassy advisory on Wednesday reminded all Americans in Lebanon "to maintain a high level of vigilance, especially when planning travel." It added: "Americans are also advised to avoid popular gathering spots." The bombing Tuesday occurred shortly before the embassy was to hold a farewell reception in a Beirut hotel for Feltman. But Feltman made a farewell visit to Speaker Nabih Berri on Thursday according to the NNA. - With Agencies

Lebanese family climbs to peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro

Lebanese family climbs to peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro
By Ayman Oghanna
Special to The Daily Star


BEIRUT: This New Year's Eve a Lebanese family celebrated the advent of 2008 in a rather unusual place, on the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Hanna Hibri, 50, and her three sons climbed Africa's highest mountain, in what she described as a gruelling yet exhilarating experience. Hanna's youngest son Hadi, at just 13 years of age, is probably the youngest Lebanese to have ever successfully completed the ascent. The Hibri family represent a small number of Lebanese adventure enthusiasts, who have been growing in number ever since Maxim Chaaya became the first Lebanese to successfully scale Mt. Everest in 2006. Kilimanjaro's stunning views and well-developed tourist industry make it a popular stepping-stone for budding mountaineers wanting to follow in Chaaya's footsteps. At a gigantic 5,895 meters, Kilimanjaro is the tallest free-standing mountain in the world and includes Africa's highest peak. Despite being dubbed as the 'Everyman's Everest,' reaching the peak is not necessarily an easy climb. Extreme altitudes, a severe lack of oxygen, rockslides and unpredictable weather conditions means that reaching the peak remains a difficult and serious challenge. The number of people who fail to make the ascent each year is estimated as being between 50 and 80 percent.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Protesters block road to airport for second day

Protesters block road to airport for second day
Daily Star staff
Wednesday, January 16, 2008


BEIRUT: Approximately 100 people blocked the road leading to Beirut's airport with burning tires for the second day in a row on Tuesday. The Lebanese Army and the Internal Security Forces (ISF) contained the resulting fires and dispersed the protesters. The blockade was held near the Higher Shiite Council on Haret Hreik's old airport road and was carried out in protest of deteriorating living conditions and excessive power cuts in Beirut's southern suburbs. While the Lebanese Army worked on reopening the road by extinguishing a fire caused by the burning tires, other troops and the Internal Security Forces patrolled the area. The army also reopened the road near Al-Rasul Al-Aazam Hospital, which was also blocked by burning tires. On Monday, the Lebanese Army detained eight people who were suspected of having encouraged a crowd to block traffic in Beirut's southern suburb following a rumor about an increase in the price of bread. A security source said a crowd of about 100 people set fire to tires and blocked traffic along the road linking the roundabout near the Kuwaiti Embassy to Ghobeiry Square and chanted slogans against Premier Fouad Siniora's government. Army and ISF patrols rushed to the area, dispersed protesters and reopened the road to traffic after a closure of one hour. No group has claimed responsibility for the protest, which was carried out despite denials of rumors of a price hike by the Economy Ministry and the bakers' syndicate. The General Labor Confederation, along with agricultural syndicates, are planning large-scale demonstrations on January 24 to protest against dire financial and economic conditions plaguing Lebanon. Hizbullah head Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah warned in his latest speech that the opposition will take to the streets if initiatives to solve the year-old political standoff fail. - The Daily Star

At least three Lebanese freeze to death in recent cold snap

At least three Lebanese freeze to death in recent cold snap
By Mira Borji
Daily Star staff


BEIRUT: At least three people have died in a cold wave that has swept Lebanon over the last two weeks, with weather forecasters expecting the freezing temperatures to ease on Wednesday. Environmental expert Wilson Rizk told The Daily Star on Tuesday that the cold wave had resulted from two factors: global warming and air pollution. "When carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are trapped in the atmosphere, this will lead to boosting global warming and contributing to climate change," Rizk said. "Therefore," he added, "the summer season witnesses high temperatures and drought, while low temperatures and storms prevail in winter." According to Rizk, Lebanon is currently affected by cold winds coming out of the north. "Such northern winds cause temperatures to drop without rainfalls," he said. "We are used to such sort of winds, but this year is exceptional." "Last year, for example, the temperature along the coast reached 9 degrees Celsius, a relatively low temperature, but this year temperatures have dropped to less than 5 degrees, even in Beirut," he added. "This is really an unprecedented phenomenon." The weather in Lebanon will be partly cloudy, with temperatures increasing gradually, according to the forecast from the Civil Aviation Department at the Rafik Hariri International Airport on Wednesday. Ice layers will continue to form on mountainous roads and in the Bekaa Valley, primarily at night and in the early morning. The forecast added that the Eastern Basin of the Mediterranean Sea would be affected by cold fronts. The temperature is expected to range between 1 and 16 degrees Celsius along the coast, between zero and 8 degrees in the Cedars and between -5 and 11 degrees in the Bekaa Valley. Northern to northeasterly winds will blow at a speed ranging between 8 and 25 kilometers per hour.

The director general of the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute, Michel Frem, told the national News Agency (NNA) that temperature would not drop below freezing levels as of Wednesday. "The temperature along the coast is expected to vary between 3-4 degrees Celsius, while in the Bekaa Valley it will lift from 10 degrees below zero Celsius to -5," he said. "The cold wave will continue until the end of the week but with higher temperatures," Frem added. He also urged the Lebanese, particularly farmers, to take the necessary precautions in order to avoid further losses in their agricultural crops. "Farmers are called to warm up plastic greenhouses, water their crops and burn tires when ice layers start to appear," he said. The Bekaa Valley's agricultural fields were the worst-hit by the current bitterly cold weather, with some farmers estimating losses at $3 million. "We urge the government to compensate us for the loss inflicted on our main source of living," farmer Wadih Nabhan told the NNA.

In addition to inflicting heavy losses on farmers, the chill since last week has claimed the lives of at least three people who froze to death. In the northern town of Tripoli, Ali Hammoud, 70, died on Monday when temperatures dropped well below freezing levels, causing him to have a heart attack. Hammoud was a homeless man from the southern region of Jwayya but had lived in Tripoli for the last several years. In the southern region of Bint Jbeil, two people have frozen to death. Two others were killed in a car accident that resulted from icy roads on Monday. In the village of Labweh in the region of Baalbek, farmer Yahya Hussein Shamas was killed as icy roads caused his tractor to crash. The icy roads also caused several car accidents that resulted in injuries across the country over the past two days.

Three killed by bomb meant for US Embassy vehicle

Three killed by bomb meant for US Embassy vehicle
At last 21 wounded in attack that leaves intended victims virtually unscathed

By Hani M. Bathish
Daily Star staff


BEIRUT: An explosion targeting a US Embassy vehicle ripped through the Karantina industrial zone near Beirut on Tuesday, leaving three people dead and at least 21 wounded. Two embassy security employees, both Lebanese citizens, were in the vehicle at the time of the attack, according to an embassy statement. One suffered minor wounds, while the other emerged unscathed. Two people in a Fiat were killed when their car, traveling just meters behind the embassy vehicle, bore the brunt of the explosion. The vehicles were traveling along the sea route, a road parallel to the main Dora/Karantina highway, which experienced heavy congestion in the hours following the blast. The Fiat was registered to one Joseph Khalil Khoury, a Sin al-Fil resident, according to a security source. The identities of the two victims inside the car could not be readily established as they were badly burned. A third man killed in the blast was identified as Ghassan Ali al-Hussein, a Syrian national who was riding a motorcycle.

The US State Department said Tuesday one "private US citizen" was also slightly wounded. The man was identified as a bystander who happened to be in the area at the time and was not affiliated with the US government or the embassy vehicle, said State Department spokesperson Sean MacCormak. The armored embassy vehicle bore no diplomatic plates, only one set of Lebanese license plates in the back. The vehicle was returning from Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport after dropping off an embassy staffer, according to media reports. The embassy vehicle was damaged on its right side and pushed off the road by the power of the blast. A senior security source told The Daily Star that the US Embassy vehicle was in the area on a scouting mission to ensure the road was safe. "The road was under surveillance all day. It was to be used by US Ambassador Jeffery Feltman, who was planning to attend a farewell party at the Phoenicia InterContinental Hotel held in his honor Friday evening," the source said. The party was cancelled as a result. Many of the wounded were working in nearby buildings and factories at the time of the blast. They were taken to both Mar Youssef Hospital in Karantina and Jeittawy Hospital in Achrafieh. Army forces imposed a security cordon around the area and blocked access to the blast site, causing heavy traffic. Heavily armed US Embassy security staff were als on hand.

The security source said the bomb had been placed behind two metal dumpsters, attached to the wall of a two-story building on the side of the road and to the left of the embassy vehicle as it passed. The device went off after the embassy car had passed the dumpsters, thus the vehicle immediately behind the embassy car sustained the full blast. State Prosecutor Saeed Mirza, who visited the blast site, took personal charge of the investigation since the bombing targets a diplomatic mission in the country. Also visiting the blast site Tuesday were the government commissioner at the Military Tribunal, Judge Jean Fahd, and Military Investigatiing Magistrate Rasheed Mezher. Two men were taken into custody by Lebanese Army soldiers at the blast site. It was not immediately clear if the two were suspects in the case or just being taken for questioning.

'Innocent martyrs fell today' - Aridi

BEIRUT: The Lebanese government strongly condemned the bombing that targeted a US Embassy vehicle on Tuesday, one day before Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa's expected return to Lebanon to continue his mediation in the country's domestic political crisis Information Minister Ghazi Aridi, addressing reporters following a scheduled ministerial meeting Tuesday evening, said all indications were that Moussa's visit Wednesday was still on. Aridi offered the government's deepest condolences to the families of the victims of the attack, wished the wounded a swift recovery and expressed commitment to protect all diplomatic missions in the country. The ministerial meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, was held to discuss the Arab initiative and Moussa's return to Beirut. "This bombing targets Lebanon at a politically critical and delicate juncture," Aridi said, adding that the government embraced the Arab initiative to fill the vacancy in the presidency and end the series of bombings that have plagued the country since 2005. "The attack, whether it targeted the US Embassy or any other, was on Lebanese soil and as a result it targets the security of the Lebanese," he said. "Innocent martyrs fell today who have nothing to do with all that is happening politically. They were not embassy staff, whose vehicle was targeted. Therefore these attacks target the security and stability of Lebanon."

Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, whose group is labeled a "terrorist" organization by the US, also spoke out against the blast. "We condemn and denounce any explosion that takes place on Lebanese territory," he said, "regardless of who is targeted, and especially if innocent people are killed." Parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri said the bomb targeted stability in Lebanon. He said the perpetrators do not wish to see the country return to normality. Hariri said he regretted that innocent Lebanese had paid a heavy price for continuous attacks targeting their country. He said he had called US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman to confirm that he was unharmed and expressed regret on the injury of two embassy staffers.

In the immediate aftermath of the bombing in Karantina, the embassy released a single-sentence statement indicating that a farewell reception planned for the outgoing Feltman had been cancelled. This was followed by a more detailed statement that condemned the incident "in the strongest term." "The embassy is outraged that there are still those who work to undermine Lebanon's stability through murder and intimidation," the mission said. "The Lebanese people deserve to live in peace and security in an independent and united Lebanon." It added that "crimes" like Tuesday's bombing "will not weaken the international partnership working to support and strengthen Lebanon's independence and democracy." US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also weihged in. "I want to state the outrage of the United States against the terrorist attack that took place in Lebanon today," Rice said during a joint press conference in Riyadh with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal. Rice said the United States would not be deterred by "intimidation" in its efforts to help democratic forces in Lebanon and the Lebanese people to "resist foreign interference in their affairs" State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said US Embassy security people were working with the Lebanese government and were going to look into the circumstances of the blast. France's UN ambassador, Jean-Maurice Ripert, deplored what he described as the "cowardly" bomb attack, which killed three bystanders. "We really once again condemn this cowardly attack," Ripert told reporters after attending a Security Council meeting on the situation in Ivory Coast. "We have to express our deep concern once again [over] the fact that some people are trying very hard to add some more confusion to the situation in Lebanon whereas we are needing peace, dialogue serenity," Ripert said. He recalled comments by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner Monday that Lebanon's political crisis would have to be taken to the United Nations if the Arab League effort to end the impasse failed. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also condemned the blast. "The attack showed once more that the domestic crisis in Lebanon needs to be resolved as quickly as possible in order to put an end to the violence," he said in a statement. The foreign minister urged political forces in Lebanon and the region to work together to elect a new president and form a new government. Reports from Damascus said that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem would travel to Germany on Thursday to discuss the Lebanese crisis and other issues with Steinmeier. - With agencies

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Beirut blast hits U.S embassy car: TV

BEIRUT (Reuters) - At least three people were killed in an explosion in Beirut on Tuesday which wounded a passenger in a diplomatic car, security sources said, and Lebanon's LBC television channel said a U.S. embassy car was hit. Security sources said the explosion occurred in a Christian neighborhood of Beirut. Witnesses said ambulances rushed to the scene, as smoke rose into the sky. The blast was heard loudest in the Dora suburb in north Beirut, the sources and witnesses said. Lebanon has seen more than 30 explosions in the past three years, many targeting anti-Syrian politicians and journalists. Last week a roadside bomb wounded two U.N. peacekeepers in southern Lebanon.

(Reporting by Nadim Ladkil; Editing by Caroline Drees)

She is Lebanese... : "ma bedna heyk noweb"

video

An old Lebanese woman's tirade against the current politicians, situation and general living conditions in Lebanon!! Listen carefully...

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Lebanese launch Arabic search engine

Lebanese launch Arabic search engine
Us-based company offers access to web sites with non-latin characters

By Christian Porth
Special to The Daily Star


BEIRUT: In 2007, Lebanese Habib Haddad and Lebanese-American Imad Jureidini founded Language Analytics LLC, an Internet start-up company based in Boston, Massachusetts. The introduction of a new Internet start-up may be old news, but what is not is their unique, first-of-a-kind YAMLI Internet search engine, designed specifically for Arabic speakers. The initial idea came in the aftermath of the 2006 war with Israel. Haddad, a graduate of both the American University of Beirut and the University of Southern California, was in the US at the time and desperate for news from Lebanon. He began searching for Arabic news on the Internet regarding what was happening, only to be met with frustration by the inability of most search engines to accurately locate Arabic news. "It was very frustrating. I could express myself in Arabic perfectly, but it's hard to use English to find sites in Arabic. Then it hit me," Haddad said. "From people I've spoken to, no one else recognized it as a problem until I brought it up and then they were like 'yeah, I've never thought of that,'" he told The Daily Star. Haddad suggested the idea to his then-colleague at another firm, Jureidini, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The two launched YAMLI, a sophisticated but extremely user-friendly piece of software, on November 15, 2007. While the site is new, the pair hopes to begin focusing on acquiring partners for their venture. The most interesting thing about YAMLI, aside from the software itself, is the new business opportunities it can create. "Our goal is to give the Arab culture and language a chance on the Internet," Haddad said. According to research done by Haddad and Jureidini, out of the 30 billion sites on the Internet there are only 150 million Arabic sites. Two key reasons for this are that typing in Arabic is complex and that the majority of the world uses Latin-based keyboards.

What YAMLI does is open the Arabic Internet for Arabic speakers who are accustomed to using English transliteration - phonetically typing out Arabic words into English. "Most Arabic speakers are not using Arabic content so there is a low demand for Arabic content, which in turn creates a low supply," Haddad said. With more Arabic speakers able to access the Arabic portion of the Internet, Haddad and Jureidini hope there will be greater demand for sites with Arabic content that companies will be more willing to advertise on. "It's complicated enough to find Arabic Web sites through search engines like Google or Yahoo, so businesses don't see the value in advertising," said Jureidini, who holds a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A lot of companies are interested in using YAMLI in their services as well. We're also hoping that through the ad cycle we can provide a revenue model for bloggers and small businesses to have and write content in Arabic as well," Jureidini said. "We don't want end users to bear any costs in using our services, we need businesses and advertisers to invest in our functionality," he added.

While they are currently based in Boston, the two hope to expand into the Middle East as soon as possible. "We are a small company and YAMLI just started but once we expand we are looking to open offices in the Middle East," Haddad said. YAMLI is easy to use. Haddad and Jureidini designed it that way, recognizing differences in the Arabic dialect and that there are words that do not exist in English which can only be spelled phonetically. "Lebanese, Egyptians and even Saudis can find the Arabic word they are looking for," Haddad explained, "because YAMLI will return multiple spellings and words to match what they want."

Make it a dozen: Berri delays presidential poll again

Make it a dozen: Berri delays presidential poll again
Moussa calls crisis 'artificial,' says resolution could be easy if lebanese would cooperate
Compiled by Daily Star staff

Speaker Nabih Berri on Friday postponed a Parliament session to elect a new president until January 21 - the 12th such delay - in spite of intense international efforts for rival parties to accept an Arab initiative aimed at resolving the long-standing political impasse. A statement issued by Berri's office said that Saturday's scheduled session had been postponed to allow time for Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa's mediation efforts to continue. While Moussa was expected to leave Beirut on Saturday, he said Friday he could extend his visit to Lebanon should the need arise. Moussa continued his rounds of talks Friday and met with Lebanese Forces boss Samir Geagea, former Prime Minister Omar Karami, parliamentary majority leader MP Saad HaririSaad-Hariri-Profile Sep-07 and Berri. The Arab League chief said the Lebanese problem needs time to resolve, adding that his efforts are geared toward saving Lebanon and reaching a solution that pleases all parties After meeting Geagea in Maarab Friday, Moussa denied that a planned meeting between Hariri and Change and Reform bloc leader MP Michel Aoun had been scuttled and that Geagea was among those who were opposed to the meeting. "No meeting was arranged for there to be any obstacle to such a meeting," Moussa said. "There are many ideas coming out of Beirut, left and right, but we cannot say there was agreement on something which was obstructed. This is not accurate."

Geagea said the opposition does not have a positive attitude toward the Arab initiative, and voiced his support for the initiative in its entirety. "We should begin to implement it, starting with the first clause which all parties support," he said. The first clause calls for the immediate election of the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, General Michel Suleiman, as president. "The March 8 Forces do not want to elect a president," Geagea said, adding that the arguments put forward by the opposition "are a cover to prevent the election." He said the first clause of the Arab initiative is very clear: "It calls for the immediate election of General Suleiman as president in accordance with constitutional norms." Geagea said that the clause dealing with the formation of a new government requires a president first to conduct consultations in keeping with constitutional mechanisms and to form a government. He warned against blackmailing the presidency and "taking it hostage" to try to win a certain share of seats in the new government. Geagea also denied obstructing a meeting between Hariri and Aoun. "Why should we meet [with the opposition] as long as they do not apply the first clause agreed on, the election of Suleiman as president?" he asked. "Even if we did not agree on the second clause why not apply the first? Must Baabda Palace remain vacant?" Geagea said the Arab initiative will not fail because it is backed by all the Arab states - with the exception of Syria, which, he accused of publicly supporting the initiative while working in secret to scuttle it. He said the ruling coalition will spare no effort to facilitate Moussa's mission but would not succumb to blackmail.

Moussa also met Karami Friday morning. After the hour-long meeting, Karami said that he agrees with former President Amin Gemayel's proposal for setting up a neutral government. "I would add to that proposal that a neutral government be given a deadline of three months to pass the historic [electoral] law and after six months ... hold parliamentary elections," he said. Karami said the opposition's stance is well known: to let the people decide who wins a majority in Parliament based on the new electoral law. Moussa said efforts aimed at finding a solution are ongoing, reiterating that the Arab initiative is clear. "The wall of crisis is artificial and easy to tear down and get rid of; if the Lebanese work together, breaking down this wall will not be a problem," Moussa said. He described his late-night meeting Thursday with Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah as very good. Nasrallah reportedly told Moussa that Aoun is the one involved in negotiations regarding the presidential crisis. "Sayyed Nasrallah informed the Arab League delegation that [Aoun] is the one involved in negotiations on behalf of the opposition regarding this crisis," a late-night Hizbullah statement said. Gemayel said the proposal he floated Thursday to set up a neutral government was aimed at supportomg the Arab initiative and moving forward to elect a president rapidly. "We are concerned that any proposal fall within the framework of the Arab initiative and for all leaderships to understand the urgency of electing a president immediately," Gemayel said. - Agencies

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Modern version of Phoenician boat to spread Lebanese spirit

Modern version of Phoenician boat to spread Lebanese spirit
By Mohammed Zaatari
Daily Star staff


TYRE: A Phoenician-style boat will soon set sail for Europe from the port city of Tyre in a bid to highlight the contributions of the ancient peoples of current-day Lebanon to human civilization, as well as the role that the country can continue to play in modern global society. The ship was named Europa, after the Phoenician princess Europa, the daughter of Agenor, the Phoenician king of Tyre. According to Greek mythology, Europa was abducted and taken to Crete by Zeus, the king of the gods, who had transformed himself into a great white bull. Legend has it that the continent of Europe is named after her.

The project is being carried out by the Peace Missions Association. Fadi Maalouf, a member of the association, told The Daily Star on Tuesday that the boat "will carry 16 people representing Lebanon's different sects on a tour that will include Cyprus, Greece, Turkey, Malta, Italy, Spain and France." "The project will be formally launched during a conference to be held at the American University of Beirut on January 14, before the trip takes place in the spring," he added. Maalouf said the goal of the project is to raise awareness among citizens of foreign countries about past and present civilizations in Lebanon. "The project also aims to encourage our officials to organize their relationships, unify their efforts and respect their country's past and present while working on building its future," he added.

Charbel Helou, one of the participants in the trip, said, "We will show the entire world that Lebanon is not an arena for conflicts and explosions, and deliver a humanitarian message that the country enjoys a rich culture and knowledge." The boat measures 13 meters long and 4 meters wide, with a sail representing the Lebanese flag. Maalouf said the boat was designed according to the Phoenician style. "The front of the boat was given the shape of the head of a horse, while the back has taken the form of the tail of a whale, just like real Phoenician ships."

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Michel Hayek Predictions for 2008

Every New Year eve Michel Hayek presents his predictions on the LBCI.
Here is what he said for 2008 courtesy of http://www.youtube.com/, please click here to view: http://ca.youtube.com/watch?v=XmERMLRD8u8

Wishing you all a Great and Peaceful New Year 2008!
J.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Opposition 'plans protests at airport, ports' in Lebanon

Opposition 'plans protests at airport, ports' in Lebanon
Steps to begin if mediation fails
By Hani M. Bathish
Daily Star staff


BEIRUT: The Hizbullah-led opposition is considering staging protests at the Beirut Rafik Hariri International Airport, as well as at major ports across Lebanon, Bkirki and the US Embassy in Awkar, according to local media reports on Thursday. The reports were carried by both the Al-Akhbar and Al-Mustaqbal dailies. Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, in an interview on NBN television on Wednesday night, warned that the opposition would not "remain silent" in the face of the ruling coalition's attempts to "monopolize rule." He said the opposition would give current mediation efforts a week to 10 days before taking "decisive measures," but did not specify what these measures would be. The opposition is demanding nothing less than veto power in a new government. Hizbullah politburo member Ghaleb Abu Zeinab told The Daily Star that the opposition is waiting to see what will happen. "When a decision is taken to move it would mean all mediation efforts have reached a dead end. We will then evaluate the situation and take steps, and all steps taken will be within the democratic framework," Abu Zeinab said. He did not rule out that such measures would include the closure of the airport road and sea ports and other forms of protest, including sit-ins. "Sayyed Nasrallah did not set a strict deadline of 10 days after which the opposition would take action," Abu Zeinab said. "If the 10 days pass and efforts continue and there is an Arab initiative, for example, we will wait." Abu Zeinab said that Hizbullah and the opposition are very keen to avoid the eruption of any Sunni-Shiite sectarian strife. "We are very careful to avoid such an outcome, but the other side should be equally careful to avoid it, just as we are. In the end we cannot simply sit at home and do nothing," he said.

Al-Akhbar, citing unidentified sources, said the opposition was studying the possibility of closing down the airport and most sea ports in the country. It said the opposition was also examining the prospects of "organizing a large sit-in" near the US Embassy in Awkar and blocking vital roads, in a move reminiscent of January 23 last year when the opposition closed roads and burned tires to protest against what it said was the unconstitutional government. The daily said these "ideas were still under serious debate among various factions to avoid plunging the country into strife." Al-Mustaqbal, meanwhile, said the opposition's plans include organizing a sit-in outside Bkirki, the seat of the Maronite Patriarchate, to protest the Maronite church's stance on the presidential election. It said a similar sit-in at Awkar would be organized to protest US support of the March 14 alliance. Al-Mustaqbal said the aim was to plunge the country into chaos and exhaust security forces, particularly the army. Pro-Syrian politician and former Minister Wiam Wahab said on Thursday that the ongoing presidential crisis is "open-ended," that the Taif Accord is "dead" and that the opposition would shift to "another battle in a few days" to gain veto power in decision-making. Wahab made his comments in remarks to reporters after visiting former President Emile Lahoud. "The opposition will shift to the battle of reforming the [government]. ... The battle for early parliamentary elections will be launched within days and the presidential election battle will be of secondary importance," Wahab said. "Taif is dead. This is the truth. We should reform the authority and we should reconsider powers that Taif took from the presidency," Wahab added. In answering a question as to whether the presidential crisis would persist for a long time, Wahab said: "Seven or eight months, maybe a year. It is open-ended." The Hizbullah-led opposition, according to Wahab, wants a national unity government in which it holds 11 Cabinet posts.

Meanwhile, Lebanese Forces boss Samir Geagea on Thursday called on Nasrallah to sit and discuss the threats facing Lebanon "whether they are Syrian, American, Israeli or French." Nasrallah had said in his interview that the opposition is not confronting Lebanon's majority, but rather US President George W. Bush and his administration. "If the American agenda poses a threat to Lebanon, then it must be confronted by all the Lebanese people," Geagea said. "There should be consensus, through dialogue, over such a theory and other issues ... That is why we should sit with Sayyed Hassan to discuss ... any agenda, be it Syrian, American, Israeli or French." He said the opposition, which is backed by Syria and Iran, "should take a clear stand regarding all assassinations and bombings, as well as regarding re-launching state institutions." Development and Liberation MP Ali Hassan Khalil, in a statement, accused parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri and his allies of wasting time to avoid reaching a consensus on a presidential candidate by trying to "push for elections through a half-plus-one vote of MPs." Khalil also hit back at Hariri, saying talk about Speaker Nabih Berri's "isolation from negotiations by Syria" and the "diminishing of Nasrallah's role by Iran" are rumors. Hariri had on Wednesday accused Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem of "twisting facts," adding that the French were aware of that. Hariri had also accused Moallem of trying to "isolate Berri from negotiations" and said Syria "aimed to restrict dialogue to Change and Reform bloc leader MP Michel Aoun." Hariri also accused Moallem of sending a serious message to Lebanon in an attempt to block Arab efforts aimed at settling the ongoing presidential crisis. In a statement released by his press office, Hariri said remarks made by Moallem on Wednesday were a pre-emptive move to block efforts by Arab foreign ministers who are scheduled to tackle the Lebanese crisis in a meeting in Cairo Sunday. Hariri said that Syria wants to block the road for whoever wants to extend a hand to Lebanon to help it emerge from the existing presidential vacuum. He stressed that Lebanese Armed Forces commander General Michel Suleiman is a serious consensus candidate for the presidency. "The list of demands announced by Moallem on behalf of the Syrian regime ... tells the Lebanese that the destiny of their national entente remains in Damascus and that any presidential candidate, General Suleiman included, would not be able to find his way to Baabda Palace without a full understanding with the Syrian regime," Hariri stated.

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