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Wednesday November 15, 2006

U.N. praises Lebanon approval of Hariri tribunal
By Edith M. Lederer

UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations on Tuesday called Lebanon's approval of an international tribunal for the suspected killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri "an important step" toward fulfilling the requirements of a Security Council resolution.
The Lebanese government approved the U.N. plan for a tribunal on Monday.

The U.N. secretary-general must now report to the Security Council about the government's decision, and the council must then decide whether to approve the final draft for the tribunal. If the council endorses the plan, it must then be approved again by Lebanon's Cabinet, signed by the president and authorized by a vote in parliament.

But Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's government is under intense pressure from the Shiite militant group Hezbollah and other Lebanese Shiites and final approval of the tribunal is far from certain.

"The secretary-general believes that the decision of the Lebanese Council of Ministers, approving the draft agreement and draft statute regarding the establishment of a tribunal of an international character, is an important step in fulfilling the Security Council's mandate in resolution 1664," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

The resolution, adopted on March 29, asked Secretary-General Kofi Annan to negotiate an agreement with the Lebanese government aimed at establishing a tribunal "of an international character based on the highest international standards of criminal justice" to assist Lebanon "in the search for the truth and in holding all those involved in this terrorist attack accountable."

Hariri was killed with 22 others in a suicide truck bombing in February 2005. The assassination sparked huge protests against Syria, which was widely seen as culpable. Syria denied involvement, but was forced to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, ending a 29-year domination of its smaller neighbor.

Saniora, whose anti-Syrian majority dominates the Cabinet, convened a meeting Monday over the objections of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud and despite resignations of six pro-Syrian ministers, five of them Shiite Muslims who quit in a dispute with the prime minister.

Saniora is under additional pressure because Hezbollah, which claimed victory in its war against Israel this summer, has threatened to call mass protests unless it and its Shiite Muslim allies gain effective veto power in the Cabinet.

The anti-Syrian camp in Lebanon has charged that Syria is behind the opposition to the tribunal because it seeks to avoid the prosecution of the Syrians implicated in Hariri's killing by a U.N. inquiry. Hezbollah officials have denied they oppose a U.N. tribunal.

Saniora indicated Monday that the tribunal was a top priority and he would press for its creation.

"We tell the criminals that we will not give up our rights, no matter what the difficulties and obstacles are," he said. "Our only aim is to achieve justice and only justice. Without it and without knowing the truth, the Lebanese will not rest and we cannot protect our democratic system and political freedom now and in the future." (AP)

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Lebanon PM rejects "tyranny of minority"
Tue Nov 14, 2006 8:26 AM ET

 

By Alistair Lyon, Special Correspondent

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said on Tuesday he would try to keep his depleted government afloat and resist demands by Hezbollah and its allies that would amount to "tyranny of the minority".

Siniora, who has lost a quarter of his 24-member cabinet since Saturday, said he would pursue dialogue despite the collapse of all-party talks and Hezbollah threats of street protests to bring down the anti-Syrian majority government.

He told Reuters in an interview that the majority was ready to expand the cabinet, but demands by Hezbollah, backed by its Shi'ite Muslim ally Amal and Christian leader Michel Aoun, for more than a third of cabinet seats were unacceptable.

"They will become able to paralyze the meetings of the cabinet of ministers ... and have the ability to topple the government," Siniora said at his office in downtown Beirut.

"In a democracy, this is not possible," he said, noting the majority his coalition commands in parliament.

"The point that's being mentioned there is the tyranny of the minority, which by all democratic principles, does not stand," said Siniora, a Sunni Muslim.

Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah told supporters on Monday that Siniora's Western-backed government had zero credibility and would soon be replaced by a "clean" cabinet. "This government will go," As-Safir daily quoted him as saying.

Hezbollah and its allies have been demanding a greater say in government decisions since the end of a July-August war with Israel in which the Shi'ite group claimed a "divine victory".

Their Sunni, Druze and Christian foes, who accused them of sparking a ruinous and unnecessary conflict, fear that meeting their demands would drag Lebanon into a Syrian-Iranian orbit.

Hezbollah in turn accuses the anti-Syrian majority of serving the interests of the United States, if not Israel. It argues that in Lebanon's sectarian system all religious and political forces must be fairly represented in government.

OLIVE BRANCH

Siniora, who has rejected the six ministerial resignations, said his cabinet had taken all but one of its decisions by consensus not by vote for the past 15 months and was ready to discuss the concerns of the Shi'ite community.

"We are willing to sit down and talk about all your worries as representatives of the minority and see what can be done."

Siniora said street protests by Hezbollah could lead to counter-demonstrations in a contest Lebanon could do without.

"One should really ask how this would help Lebanon ... after 30 years of civil strife, confrontations, invasion, occupation and debt that has accumulated," the prime minister said.

Any such street action could jeopardize Lebanon's prospects of benefiting from an international conference in Paris scheduled for January to raise funds for postwar recovery.

"If we miss this opportunity it will be very difficult to get a similar one in the future," Siniora said.

He defended his decision to press ahead with a cabinet meeting on Monday which approved U.N.-drafted statutes for a special court to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, despite the resignations of six ministers.

Siniora said setting up the tribunal was a major plank in the government's program and there was no point in delaying action on a matter affecting Lebanon's security and stability.

Siniora was a senior aide to Hariri before his assassination in a truck bomb attack blamed by many Lebanese on Syria -- which denied any hand in it. He became prime minister last year after the first election held after Syrian troops left Lebanon.

"I will not lose hope," Siniora said, pledging to try to restore trust among Lebanon's rival communities. "We are going to live together and stay together. That's why we will have to find ways and means to answer the worries of each group."

© Reuters 2006.

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Prospects of Breakthrough Thin as Berri's Return to Lebanon Seemed Put Off
Without help from the outside world, prospects for a peaceful breakthrough in Lebanon's critical political deadlock seemed thin Wednesday as the traveling organizer of the national talks had no intention of coming back soon.
The leading daily An Nahar said Speaker Nabih Berri, who flew to London Tuesday night ending a four-day official visit to Tehran, was "not in a hurry" to come back, a sign of a "political cry" to prompt rival Lebanese leaders to "present new criteria" that could help bring the stalled talks back in motion.

Sources close to Berri told An Nahar that the situation in Lebanon has reached a point where an "in-depth political solution" is required, adding that "it is no longer a matter of formalities that can be resolved by yelling and roaring."

"There will absolutely be a solution," one source said. "But there is a political crisis that has got to be settled."

Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's cabinet faced a deep crisis Tuesday as pro-Syrian opponents called for a change of government after it adopted a U.N. tribunal plan to try suspects in ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's murder.

Despite the resignations of six pro-Syrian ministers, the cabinet on Monday approved the U.N. draft to set up an international tribunal for the February 2005 assassination of the five-time prime minister.

However, Syrian protégé President Emile Lahoud and some opposition figures said the cabinet's approval was illegal because none of the five Shiite ministers were present -- having resigned on Saturday.

Lahoud issued a statement saying Saniora's government was not legitimate because the constitution states "all sects should be justly represented in the cabinet."

An Nahar said on Wednesday that Lahoud sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan explaining his case, saying cabinet's approval of the draft document was "non-binding to the Lebanese republic in any way because it had not been approved by the president" and because the current cabinet was unconstitutional.

The resignations of the five Hizbullah and Amal ministers as well as the government's approval of the U.N. draft text have prompted Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah to boycott Saniora's cabinet on Tuesday.

The constitution recognizes 18 religion-based communities and most of them are represented in a full cabinet by at least one minister.(Naharnet-AP)
 
 
 

Beirut, 15 Nov 06, 09:14

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Khamenei Tells Berri U.S., Israel Will be Defeated in Lebanon
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said the United States and Israel would be defeated in Lebanon, in talks with speaker Nabih Berri, Iranian media reported Wednesday.
Khamenei praised Berri for his "excellent role" in the July-August war between Hizbullah and Israel, and for the "victory" against the Jewish state, in their meeting on Tuesday.

"What led to this great victory was the unity and harmony between Hizbullah and Amal brothers which must go on in future more strongly than before," said Khamenei.

Berri is the head of the Amal movement that is allied with Hizbullah.

Lebanon "will be the defeat point for Israel and America," the two-arch enemies of the Islamic republic, Khamenei said.

Iran, along with Syria, is accused of arming and financing Hizbullah. Tehran denies the allegation, insisting it only gives "moral" support to the Shiite group.

"Today it is (America's) policies in the world and the region that are bound to fail. These opportunities must be exploited with determination and action," said Khamenei.

"The situation of Iran is better and stronger than before. The future will be much more promising."
Berri ended his four-day official visit to Tehran on Tuesday and reportedly flew to London rather than returning to Lebanon.(AFP-Naharnet)
 
 
 

Beirut, 15 Nov 06, 12:56


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U.N. Report: Hizbullah Training Somalia's Islamic Forces
 
Hizbullah is providing advanced training to Somalia's Islamic Forces in exchange for their military support to the Shiite group during its summer war with Israel, according to a confidential U.N. report.

The Washington post said on Wednesday that the 86-page report was prepared by a panel of U.N. weapons and financial experts.

The confidential report said Iran, Syria, Libya and Hizbullah are providing arms, training and financing to Islamic militants as they seize political and military control in the East African state of Somalia.

To shore up support for their cause, Somalia's Islamic fighters provided military support in the summer to Hizbullah, sending 720 of its most experienced fighters to help battle Israeli forces, according to the report. The fighters were promised $2,000 in payments to their families for serving, and as much as $30,000 if they fell in battle.

The report said that in exchange for their backing, Hizbullah provided advanced training to Somali fighters and sent five Hizbullah advisers to Somalia. It also allegedly solicited support for the movement from Iran and Syria.

It warned that the conflict could reignite a war between Eritrea, the chief foreign sponsor of the Islamics, and Ethiopia, which is backing Somalia's weak transitional federal government.

The report asserts that a huge inflow of outside military assistance, in violation of a U.N. arms embargo, is contributing to the emergence of an alliance of militants called the Islamic Courts Union as the first Islamic government since the United States overthrew Afghanistan's Taliban in 2002.

It warns that Somalia could become the site of insurgency tactics used in Iraq, including "suicide bombers, assassinations and other forms of terrorist and insurgent-type activities."

"The strongly sustained trend toward total military, economic and political dominance by the Islamic Courts Union in central and southern Somalia continues," according to the report by the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia. "They are currently the most powerful force in Somalia."

The Washington post said the report will be presented to the Security Council this week.

It said that the report's authors recommend that the Security Council tighten a U.N. arms embargo, impose sanctions on Somali individuals and businesses buying weapons, and launch an international diplomatic effort to dissuade states from arming the combatants.

The developments in Somalia represent a setback for the United States, which had sought to prevent the militants from taking power, according to the Washington post.

It said the report, however, provided no evidence to suggest that the United States provided clandestine support to anti-Islamic forces, as officials in Somalia's interim government have alleged.

But it did underscore the degree to which the United States' chief Middle East rivals, Iran and Syria, and its allies, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are prepared to challenge U.S. interests in East Africa, the paper said.

The U.N. team detailed three Iranian consignments of arms, ammunition, medical supplies and doctors to the Islamic fighters since summer. The report says one July shipment included land mines, 1,000 machine guns and M-79 rocket launchers, and 45 shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles.

It also says two Iranian nationals were negotiating the possibility of selling more weapons for access to Somalia's uranium deposits.

The report asserts that Syria has trained 200 Somali fighters in guerrilla warfare tactics and that Libya has provided arms and advanced military training to another 100. Libya also allegedly provided $1 million to finance future training missions and to pay salaries.

Iran and Syria denied in separate letters to the U.N. team that they had shipped weapons to Somalia or trained Somali forces. The U.N. team did not receive a response from the Libyan government.

The Washington Post said that representatives from the Islamic Courts Union said the allegations that they had received illegal arms shipments are "baseless."

The report cites a case in which Egypt agreed to train Somalia's Islamic militants. And it accuses Saudi Arabia of providing several shipments of food and medicine to Islamic combatants. Egypt denied the allegation; Saudi Arabia has yet to fully respond to the charges.

The report asserts that the most flagrant violations of the U.N. arms embargo have been committed by Eritrea and Ethiopia, which have sent dozens of weapons shipments and thousands of combat troops into Somalia on behalf of their proxies. It also charged that Uganda and Yemen had joined Ethiopia in supporting Somalia's losing Transitional Federal Government.(Naharnet filephoto shows Hizbullah fighters during a military parade).
 
 
 

Beirut, 15 Nov 06, 10:16


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U.N. Deals Blow to Lahoud, Says Tribunal Approval 'Important Step'
The United Nations has called Lebanon's approval of an international tribunal for the suspected killers of former Premier Rafik Hariri "an important step" toward fulfilling the requirements of a Security Council resolution.
Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's government approved the U.N. plan for the court in an extraordinary session on Monday despite the objections of Pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud and the resignation of six ministers, five of them Shiites.

U.N. Chief Kofi Annan must now report to the Security Council about the government's decision, and the council must then decide whether to approve the final draft for the tribunal.

"The secretary-general believes that the decision of the Lebanese council of ministers, approving the draft agreement and draft statute regarding the establishment of a tribunal of an international character, is an important step in fulfilling the Security Council's mandate in resolution 1664," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Tuesday.

The resolution, adopted on March 29, asked Annan to negotiate an agreement with the Lebanese government aimed at establishing a tribunal "of an international character based on the highest international standards of criminal justice" to assist Lebanon "in the search for the truth and in holding all those involved in this terrorist attack accountable."

The U.N. move was a blow to Lahoud who on Tuesday said in a letter to Annan that the cabinet decision was not binding on the Lebanese state because it was taken by an illegitimate body in breach of the constitution.

Hariri was killed along with 22 others in a bombing in February 2005. The assassination sparked huge protests against Syria, which was widely seen as culpable. Syria denied involvement, but was forced to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, ending a 29-year hegemony.

The anti-Syrian camp in Lebanon has charged that Damascus is behind the opposition to the tribunal because it seeks to avoid the prosecution of the Syrians implicated in Hariri's killing by a U.N. inquiry.

Saniora indicated Monday that the tribunal was a top priority and he would press for its creation.

"We tell the criminals that we will not give up our rights, no matter what the difficulties and obstacles are," he said. "Our only aim is to achieve justice and only justice. Without it and without knowing the truth, the Lebanese will not rest and we cannot protect our democratic system and political freedom now and in the future."(AP-Naharnet) (AP photo shows Saniora praying at Hariri's grave following Monday's cabinet meeting) 
 
 

Beirut, 15 Nov 06, 07:30


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Poll: U.S. 'Big Loser' in Eyes of Lebanese after Isarel's War
Israel's summer war with Hizbullah cost the United States dearly in the good will of the Lebanese, a poll taken just over a month after the violence found.
Part of the Gallup World Poll project, the survey released in Washington Tuesday, compared findings from its latest canvass, in August, 2005.

In almost every category, the United States was the big loser. Nearly two-thirds of the Lebanese -- 64 percent -- who said their opinions of the United States were worse after the July-August fighting than before.

Almost half those polled described their opinions as "much worse" after the war in which Israel's mainly U.S-equipped military did substantial damage to Lebanese villages, roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

The fighting that ended Aug. 14 was sparked by the killing of three Israeli soldiers and the kidnapping of two others in a cross-border Hizbullah attack. More than 1,200 people died in the war, mainly Lebanese civilians.

In the 2005 Gallup poll, Lebanese attitudes toward the United States were 39 percent favorable and 42 percent unfavorable, roughly and even split given the poll's 3 percentage point margin of sampling error.

The postwar poll released Tuesday showed Lebanese twice as likely to hold unfavorable opinions of the United Stats, 59 percent unfavorable to 28 percent favorable. Almost half the unfavorable described their views of the United States as "very negative."

Lebanese even took their dismay over the Americans to the extent that the United States was blamed as the country with the single greatest level of responsibility for the Israeli-Hizbullah war by 24 percent of the respondents.

No country except Israel itself was judged more at fault: the Israelis were blamed by 40 percent of Lebanese.

The poll also looked at countries the Lebanese admired. Rated on a 5-point scale from "very favorable" as 5 to "very unfavorable" as 1, France, once Lebanon's colonial ruler, was the most admired among 13 nations with a 3.6, with Canada at 3.5. The only countries below the midpoint 2.5 were the United States at 2.3, Britain 2.2 and Pakistan 2.0.

The poll taken nationwide of 1,000 adults aged 18 and over was conducted between Sept. 18 and Oct. 12 in all parts of the country except some war-torn southern regions. The sampling error is plus or minus 3 percent.(AP)
 
 
 

Beirut, 15 Nov 06, 10:59


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Lahoud: Cabinet's Approval of Hariri Court Void
Pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud rejected as null and void Tuesday the government's approval of a U.N. plan for an international tribunal to try ex-premier Rafik Hariri's suspected assassins.
"The cabinet's approval of the plans for the establishment of the court are not binding on the Lebanese state because the decision was taken by an illegitimate body in breach of the constitution," Lahoud said in a letter to U.N. chief Kofi Annan.

The decision was taken "without the approval of the head of state," added the president, who has already said that he no longer regards Saniora's cabinet as legitimate after the resignation of six pro-Syrian ministers.

The prime minister convened the government's extraordinary session Monday despite Lahoud's objections and the resignation of the ministers, five of them Shiites.

The parliamentary majority has accused Hizbullah and the Amal movement, the main pro-Syrian and pro-Iranian Shiite groups, of doing Damascus's and Tehran's bidding and seeking to undermine the formation of the international tribunal.

The United States has also warned that Syria and its Lebanese allies might seek to block the plans for an international court to try suspects in the February 2005 bombing on the Beirut seafront, which killed Hariri and 22 others.

"We are prepared to move quickly in the Security Council to approve the tribunal once we receive formal word from the government of Lebanon," U.S. ambassador John Bolton to the United Nations was quoted as saying.

"We call on all, especially Syria, to respect the Lebanese government's decision."(AFP-Naharnet) 
 
 

Beirut, 14 Nov 06, 20:38


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Siniora vows to keep Cabinet afloat despite Hizbullah pressure
Premier says he will resist 'tyranny of the minority'


Compiled by Daily Star staff
Wednesday, November 15, 2006

 

Lebanon's rival political camps dug in their heels Tuesday, with Hizbullah's leader insisting the government will fall and the premier vowing to keep his  Cabinet afloat. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said Tuesday he would resist demands by Hizbullah and its allies that would amount to "tyranny of the minority."

Siniora was responding to Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah's statements on Monday when he said that "this [Siniora's] government will go, and we have nothing to do with it after the resignations. A new government will come."

Nasrallah was quoted as saying in As-Safir newspaper that the "credibility of the current government is zero."

Nasrallah's remarks came a day after the government, defying the objections of the president and the resignations of six of its ministers, approved a UN plan for an international tribunal to try the suspected killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The vote dealt a blow to Hizbullah and its Shiite ally, the Amal Movement.

The two parties withdrew their five representatives from the government Saturday after the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority refused to meet their demand for a "national unity" Cabinet that would effectively give Hizbullah and its allies veto power over key decisions.

The sixth minister, Yaacoub Sarraf, a Christian allied with the president, resigned Monday, citing similar objections.

Siniora told Reuters the majority was ready to expand the Cabinet, but not yield a third of Cabinet seats to the opposition.

"They will become able to paralyze the meetings of the Cabinet of ministers ... and have the ability to topple the government," he said. "In a democracy, this is not possible."

Siniora, a Sunni who became premier 15 months ago after elections swept an anti-Syrian coalition to power, said he would pursue dialogue to resolve the political crisis.

But he said Hizbullah's threats to take to the streets in peaceful protest could spark counterdemonstrations and jeopardize Lebanon's chances of tapping foreign aid for reconstruction after the July-August war with Israel.

Nasrallah, who has threatened to stage street protests if Hizbullah's demand for a national unity government was ignored, assured the Lebanese that there would be no new civil war as a result of mounting political tensions among the country's rival factions.

The Hizbullah leader was addressing about 6,000 people whose homes were destroyed in Beirut's southern suburbs by Israeli air strikes during the Jewish state's 34-day war on Lebanon.

Nasrallah has lashed out at Siniora's government, which is dominated by anti-Syrians, saying it was unable to rebuild the country after the massive devastation caused by the Israeli attacks in Beirut's southern suburbs and in eastern and Southern Lebanon.

"A clean-handed government will come and rebuild. We will not leave the people. As we have said on the first day of victory, we are committed to rebuild your houses and institutions with clean money.

"Hopefully, the reconstruction of the Dahiyeh will begin in three months," pro-Hizbullah As-Safir quoted Nasrallah as saying.

He said Hizbullah, which began paying compensation to the victims of the war a day after a UN-brokered cease-fire ended the fighting on August 14, has so far paid $300 million to help people whose homes were destroyed or damaged by the Israeli bombing find new places to live.

Hizbullah's parliamentary bloc leader, Mohammad Raad, said Tuesday that the group and its allies would surprise the majority with their actions.

"Just like the minority surprised everyone with the resignation, they will surprise everyone with their coming actions," he said in a statement.

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt lashed out at Hizbullah Tuesday, ruling out giving Hizbullah and the pro-Syrian camp a decisive say in government.

"They have the president, who is totally favoring them, they have their alliance with the Iranians and Syrians, at the expense of Lebanese independence," he told Reuters.

"They have weaponry; nobody is speaking about their weaponry," he added.

Jumblatt and other anti-Syrian leaders say the Cabinet resignations were an attempt to block the creation of a special tribunal to try Hariri's suspected killers.

UN investigators have implicated Syrian and Lebanese security officials.

Siniora said he would hold talks with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a Hizbullah ally who also leads the Shiite Amal movement. Berri was due to return from Iran later in the day.

In Tehran Berri met with Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei and discussed the Israeli attack on Lebanon.

If those consultations fail to calm the atmosphere, Hizbullah may stage the street demonstrations it has promised.

Hariri's son, who heads the parliamentary majority, said there are certain parties threatening to destabilize the country if their demands are not met.

"We are not the ones making problems, other parties are threatening to create a crisis if they don't get what they want. We don't want to escalate, or take to the streets and we are not challenging anyone," MP Saad Hariri said during an interview with Al-Arabiyya on Tuesday.

He dismissed rumors that the anti-Syrian coalition was planning to deploy UNIFIL to protect themselves from Hizbullah.

"The UNIFIL are here to stop Israeli violations on Lebanon," Hariri said.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said the Shiite ministers resigned in attempt to halt the approval of the UN draft law that outlines the framework of the international court to try Hariri's killers.

"Certain people tried to portray the situation a dispute over Cabinet seats, this is not true ... the problem is specifically the international court," Geagea said. - Agencies, with additional reporting by Maher Zeineddine


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Annan vows to 'speed up' formation of Hariri court

By Leila Hatoum
Daily Star staff
Wednesday, November 15, 2006


BEIRUT: Outgoing UN Secretary General Kofi Annan voiced his support for the Lebanese government's decision to approve the final draft for an international tribunal to try those accused of assassinating former Premier Rafik Hariri. In comments to reporters late Monday in New York, Annan also promised to "speed up the technical measures" needed for the adoption of the draft tribunal at the Security Council "very soon."

Lebanon's Premier Fouad Siniora had sent the signed copy of the draft to Annan late Monday, hours after the Cabinet approved it despite the absence of six ministers who had resigned this week.

Annan called Siniora to inform him that he received the signed draft and that he will pass it on to the UN Security Council, a Lebanese government source said Tuesday.

The source told The Daily Star that the next step is "to wait for the Security Council to convene and endorse the final draft in a resolution and send it back to Lebanon for ratification in Parliament."

However, Lebanese President Emile Lahoud said the signed draft was void and illegal as it does not bear his signature.

In a letter addressed to Annan Tuesday, Lahoud said that "the Cabinet's approval of the draft ... is not binding to the Lebanese state because the decision was made by an illegitimate body in breach of the Constitution."

The decision was made "without the approval of the head of state," Lahoud said, adding that he did not receive a copy of the draft "until few days ago."

The parliamentary majority, known as the March 14 Forces, has accused Hizbullah and its allies of resigning from the Cabinet in an attempt to foil the formation of the tribunal - a charge Hizbullah strongly denies.

Five Hizbullah and Amal ministers, as well as Lahoud's ally Environment Minister Yaacoub Sarraf, resigned from the Cabinet after consultations on the formation of a national unity government reached a dead end.

In a sign of a possible warming of relations between Hizbullah and the Future Movement, MP Saad Hariri said that "Hizbullah wants to discuss things in details, and in my opinion Hizbullah has approved [the tribunal] in principal."

But during an interview with Al-Arabiya, Hariri said that "Hizbullah's ministers shouldn't have resigned at this critical time, so I think it was bad timing to take such a step on their part."

"We know that there are demands for the formation of a national unity government, but they could have waited for some time before taking such a step."

"I can assure you that Hizbullah wasn't involved in the assassination. I know Hizbullah's leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah very well and I know how they work and I know that they are true patriots and love Rafik Hariri, who had good relations with them," he added.

The tribunal "has passed through several stages of preparation ... and when it was finalized President Emile Lahoud started voicing his objections," Hariri said.

"Siniora has taken a difficult step forward through the approval by the Cabinet of this draft," he added. Hariri expalined that the draft will be adopted by the UN Security Council in a resolution then sent back to Lebanon for the Parliament's approval. Once ratified, the draft will then go back to the Security Council, which will form the tribunal, he said.

Hariri's ally, Chouf MP Walid Jumblatt, asked Tuesday: "Why does Hizbullah fear the tribunal? The tribunal is insurance to the group."

Meanwhile, the United States warned Syria and its allies against hindering the formation of the tribunal.

"We are prepared to move quickly in the Security Council to approve the tribunal once we receive formal word from the government of Lebanon," acting US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton said Monday. "We call on all, especially Syria, to respect the Lebanese government's decision." - With agencies


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Israeli Foreign Ministry calls for curb on overfights
Officials say not all flights are surveillance missions and unnecessarily provoke UNIFIL


Compiled by Daily Star staff
Wednesday, November 15, 2006


The Israeli Foreign Ministry wants the air force to cut back its flights over Lebanon, saying some are an unnecessary provocations of UN forces patrolling the South, Army Radio reported Tuesday. The United Nations and Lebanon regard the flights as a violation of the UN-brokered resolution that ended Israel's war on Lebanon on August 14.

But Israel has rebuffed their demands to halt the flights, saying they are vital intelligence-gathering missions.

On Tuesday, Army Radio cited Foreign Ministry officials as contending that not all the flights are surveillance missions, and those that are not unnecessarily provoke the expanded UN force policing Southern Lebanon as part of the cease-fire. Ministry officials weren't immediately available for comment.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has pointedly refused to publicly back his beleaguered military chief, who is coming under increasing pressure to resign over the much-criticized summer war in Lebanon.

Lieutenant General Dan Halutz has told confidants he has no intention of stepping down. But the chorus of calls for his resignation and a lack of backing from Olmert have again put Halutz' future at center stage.

Israeli media reported that Olmert, in Washington for talks with administration officials, was asked three times by reporters whether he backed his military chief. All three times, he evaded the question.

The front page of the Maariv daily showed Halutz, right hand touching his cap in a salute, near the headline: "I won't resign."

Halutz, along with Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, has been widely assailed for his performance in Israel's largest military operation since 1982. Reserve generals have criticized Halutz, a former air force chief, for focusing too much on aerial bombardments and not enough on ground operations.

Critics have also questioned his decision to send troops on a last-minute push in which more than 30 soldiers died.

Reports from the battlefield, meanwhile, described a military command that was indecisive and confused, and sent troops out to battle inadequately armed, clothed and fed.

The general in charge of the unit whose soldiers were ambushed quit Sunday after he was told an investigating panel would recommend he be fired.

Critics of Halutz demanded that he, too, be held accountable for the war's failures. And on Monday, a retired general took the unusual step of publicly demanding Halutz quit. Halutz continued with his regular duties Tuesday, visiting reserve soldiers training at a military base.

"There are those who make calls and those who do things. We are on the side that does things and we will continue to do what is necessary to meet the goal ... [of having a[ better-trained, higher-quality army," he said.

Peretz, who accompanied Halutz, gave a boost of support to the military chief. "It is time to stop this irresponsible persecution of the chief of staff," he said.

As criticism on Halutz' performance during the Lebanon war mounts in Israel, a military publication said that the Israeli military will restore its guerrilla warfare training center as a result of its experiences in the summer's war in Lebanon.

While not admitting that the lack of guerrilla training was a factor in the shortcomings of the summer war, the military is planning to restart it, according to the current issue of the soldiers' weekly, Bamahaneh.

Soldiers will learn camouflage techniques, navigation by GPS satellite systems, construction of hidden outposts and other skills, the weekly said, and they will test their newly won abilities in special paintball maneuvers.

Lieutenant Colonel Lior Lifshitz, commander of the Elyakim base, told the weekly that he hopes to set up a permanent paintball course at the base. The guerrilla training, on the other hand, would be taken to all the bases in the northern command area, with courses for both soldiers and officers.

"Our goal is to establish a cycle, so that within two years officers would receive extensive training and soldiers some training," Lifshitz told Bamahaneh.

The new center, which is to be operational within a few months, will also supply guerrilla warfare equipment to the various army units, the week-

ly reported.

The Israeli military closed down its guerrilla warfare training facility at the Elyakim base in Israel's north after Israeli forces pulled out of Lebanon in 2000, following a 22-year war against Hizbullah resistance forces. - Agencies


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Probe of Israeli 'war crimes' moves at snail's pace


Daily Star staff
Wednesday, November 15, 2006

 

Interview


BEIRUT: Those attempting to investigate the recent month-long conflict with Israel in the hopes of holding the Jewish state to account for its actions have discovered that the rule of law is clearly a challenging goal to achieve. Just ask MP Ghassan Mokheiber, the head of the parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, the Lebanese official tasked with compiling data on the war.

In a recent telephone interview with The Daily Star, Mokheiber said ongoing governmental and humanitarian efforts are currently focused on compiling "detailed, accurate and impartial information."

"The accuracy of information is imperative," he said. "Our immediate goal is to centralize it and make it available to all, such as the public, researchers, lawyers and various commissions of enquiry. We're doing it from the perspective that there has been a violation of international legal standards."

Mokheiber said the information being collected will accompany and follow-up on reports released by international human rights groups such as the International Crisis Group.

"We're coordinating efforts of official ministries and bodies and civil society organizations and volunteers," he added. "There will soon be a Web site available with the data at israeliwarcrimes.net where it will all be centralized."

So, two-and-a-half months after a cessation of violence was brokered between Israel and Lebanon, the government has nearly completed a Web site that will compile the atrocities.

Other investigations also seem to be lagging.

An investigation by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) is ongoing, and may play a part in determining whether Lebanon is entitled to compensation for the wide-ranging damage sustained to its infrastructure during the war and alleged violations of international law.

The jurists completed a 16-day preliminary fact-finding mission and is presently in the middle of a second stage of enquiry; the last update of which was issued nearly a month ago.

Amnesty International released a report in August entitled "Israel/Lebanon Deliberate Destruction or Collateral Damage? Israeli Attacks on Civilian Infrastructure," and although it suggested that Israel caused deliberate destruction, the eventual conclusion was that an official international investigation was needed.

However, Amnesty was able to complete many of the tasks in their initial assessment that the ICJ is still conducting, such as first-hand interviews.

Mokheiber said the delays were not for a lack of effort.

"We are simply collecting the information that's available. There's actually very little reliable information for us to go by; we are collecting all that we can," he said.

Reports compiled shortly after the war were "extremely preliminary," he added, with the goal being more accurate reports in the future.

"We're acting as a clearing house at the moment. We're coordinating with many other international reports as well as our own network," he said of his committee's efforts.

"The immediate value that can be had by this data is its use in reports, the most important of which being [that from] the Human Rights Council of the United Nations," he said. "They established a commission of enquiry specifically to investigate this case and will submit a report on their findings to the UN Human Rights Council on November 27."

The end use of such reports is to define whether or not a legal case against Israel on charges of war crimes or international law violations can be made.

However, some observers have argued that such a case would never make it to the International Criminal Court in The Hague or the International Court of Justice as neither Israel nor Lebanon accept the courts' jurisdiction.

Mokheiber said such legal actions could be pursued in the future, but added that that it was up to the Cabinet whether or not such actions were taken.

Nonratifying countries are able to submit their case under a provision within the Rome Treaty, he added, on the condition that further decisions are left to the designated prosecutor.

Such a scenario was pos-sible in the future, Mokheiber predicted, as long as Lebanon is willing to "submit and cooperate." - The Daily Star


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Fatfat tells gathering of Arab counterparts: 'Security' opens door to development


Daily Star staff
Wednesday, November 15, 2006

 

BEIRUT: Acting Interior Minister Ahmad Fatfat said Tuesday that security and safety are the basis of a country's prosperity and development. "There is no peace without security, no prosperity without security, and no development without security," Fatfat said.

Fatfat made his comments as the 30th Conference for Arab Police and Security Leaders kicked off in Beirut International Exhibition and Leisure Center (BIEL).

Representing Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Fatfat said: "Today, the march for truth regarding the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has started to take it course on local, Arab and international levels."

"The approval of a UN draft to create an international tribunal to try Hariri's assassins was a message to everyone who intends to commit assassinations in Lebanon," he said. "Our fierce determination to follow up on this issue is not aimed at getting revenge, but at protecting democracy and freedom."

The conference was opened in the presence of Mohammad Bin Ali Koman, secretary general of the Arab Interior Ministers Council and the head of Internal Security Forces, Major General Ashraf Rifi.

Security officials from Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Tunis, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Kuwait, Egypt, Morocco, Mauritania, Yemen and the Interpol also took part in the conference.

Koman said that fighting crime was not the responsibility of security forces alone, but "the whole society should take part in rebuffing the dangers threatening it."

"As a result, religious and educational institutions, media outlets and civil institutions should all play a major role in warning citizens against dangers menacing their society," he said.

According to Koman, the conference was held in Beirut to express Arab support for Lebanon's people and government following the "barbaric" Israeli bombardment this summer.

"We call on the international community to force Israel to abide by the ... Resolution 1701 and to work on clearing thousands of cluster bombs spread across South Lebanon by Israeli forces," Koman said.

He also stressed the need to promote cooperation between Arab security bodies through continued meetings and provide them with modern techniques and equipment.

Rifi said revealing the truth behind Hariri's killing would serve not only Lebanon but "all of humanity."

"We hope the Lebanese international experience proves criminals cannot escape sanctions no matter what," he added.

A closed session was held afterward. The meet's recommendations will be issued Wednesday afternoon. - The Daily Star


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Qabbani insists Cabinet's move to adopt tribunal was 'legitimate'
Hoss lashes out at attempts to justify constitutionality of session

 

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


BEIRUT: Reactions poured in on Tuesday to Cabinet's approval of a UN draft to create an international tribunal to try former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's assassins, despite the resignation of six ministers. Education Minister Khaled Qabbani insisted that Monday's Cabinet session did not violate the Constitution, adding that "since the quorum was met, the session was legitimate."

"The ministers' resignation has not affected the constitutionality of the session because Prime Minister Fouad Siniora did not accept [the resignation]," Qabbani told Voice of Lebanon radio station on Tuesday.

On Monday the remaining Cabinet members unanimously approved the draft of the international tribunal, despite the resignation of six ministers, including those from Hizbullah and the Amal Movement and Yaacoub Sarraf, a key ally of President Emile Lahoud.

Siniora officially received the resignations on Monday but refused to accept them and called for the ministers to return to their posts.

Qabbani said the presence of the six ministers in Cabinet is "necessary and important," adding that "they had distinctive governmental performance, which made Siniora reject their resignations."

The sheikh also stressed the need to "reap the fruit of the international community's support for Lebanon so the situation can return to normal."

Praising Speaker Nabih Berri's efforts to ease the tension, Qabbani said, "doors are still open to reunite the Cabinet and go forward in order to restore confidence in our country."

MP Robert Ghanem said Tuesday that the session was "100 percent constitutional."

Speaking to Voice of Lebanon, the head of Parliament's Administration and Justice Committee said that the session was held in a "legal way" since two thirds of the ministers were present.

Ghanem also echoed Qabbani, saying that "the resignations are not valid if President Emile Lahoud and the premier do not sign them."

Legal expert Shafik Masri told the radio station that the session was "legitimate" because two thirds of the ministers took part in it.

"According to the Constitution, when two thirds of the ministers participate in a session ... [it] is considered legitimate," Masri said.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Salim Hoss lashed out at attempts to justify the constitutionality of the session.

"The introduction of the Lebanese Constitution stipulates that any authority loses legitimacy when it contradicts the pact of coexistence," Hoss said in a statement.

"Are the conditions of coexistence met in a government suffering from a national imbalance?" he asked.

Hoss also said that when conflicts in the country revolve around the government, the solution cannot be democratic unless the government is changed.

"Does the ministers' agreement have any meaning in the absence of an eminent part of Lebanon's political arena?" Hoss asked.

The former premier urged Berri to call for a national dialogue meeting in order to reach "a minimum agreement" over the country's pending issues.

For his part, Lahoud rejected claims that Monday's Cabinet session was legitimate, adding a complaint that "ministers did not give the country's president the time to look into the UN draft."

"Article 52 of the Constitution gives the president the right to conclude international conventions in agreement with the prime minister ... I wonder how they [ministers] skipped legal points," former Minister Wadih Khazen quoted Lahoud as saying after meeting with him on Tuesday.

According to Khazen, Lahoud insists on revealing the truth behind Hariri's assassination and creating an international tribunal.

"Everybody knows that majority, in terms of popular representation, lies in MP Michel Aoun's parliamentary bloc," Lahoud said, according to the former minister.


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Tuesday November 14, 2006

Hezbollah Chief Says Lebanon Government "Will Go"
By REUTERS
Filed at 4:34 a.m. ET

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Western-backed government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora will soon be ousted and replaced by a ``clean'' cabinet, the leader of pro-Syrian Hezbollah was quoted on Tuesday as saying.

But Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah tried to ease fears that Lebanon was sliding toward chaos amid a deepening political crisis, saying Hezbollah would preserve the country's stability.

Six ministers from Hezbollah and its allies resigned from the cabinet after the collapse at the weekend of all-party talks on the pro-Syrian camp's demand for a cabinet reshuffle that would give them effective veto power.

``This government will go,'' Nasrallah was quoted by As-Safir newspaper as telling supporters at a meeting on Monday. ``We have no links to it after the resignation.

``There will be a new government,'' he said, adding that Siniora's government had ``zero credibility.''

Nasrallah said a ``clean government'' would come to rebuild Lebanon from the ruins of Hezbollah's war with Israel in July and August.

Al-Akhbar newspaper reported that Nasrallah had told the crowd that Hezbollah had so far spent $300 million in cash aid to those who lost their homes in the war, in which about 15,000 homes were destroyed and 30,000 others were damaged.

It said the group's chief said the money came from Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Khamenei is the spiritual leader to many Shi'ites in Lebanon and as such he is responsible for distributing to the needy aid donated to him by wealthy Muslims.

The government resignations brought to a head a crisis in Lebanon which has worsened since former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri's killing last year and was heightened by the war with Israel.

A depleted cabinet, made up of mainly anti-Syrian ministers, approved on Monday draft United Nations statutes for a tribunal to try Hariri's suspected killers.

Hezbollah has threatened to stage street protests to press its demands for more power in government, drawing pledges of counter-demonstrations from anti-Syrian leaders. This has raised fears of violence.

``There are those who are trying to exaggerate (the threat of violence),'' Nasrallah said. ``This is our country and we have given tens of thousands of martyrs and wounded ... to protect it.''

``We will not throw that away, we will preserve the civil peace and stability,'' he said.

Hezbollah and its ally, the Amal movement, enjoy overwhelming support among Lebanon's Shi'ites, the largest community in Lebanon.

They are also allied with Christian leader Michel Aoun who won an election in the Christian heartland in a parliamentary election last year but did not join the government.

The anti-Syrian coalition gathers Sunni, Druze and Christian leaders. It won a majority in the election held soon after Syria ended its 29-year military presence in Lebanon in April 2005.

 

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Nasrallah Boycotts Cabinet, 'Clean Government' to be Restored
Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has boycotted Premier Fouad Saniora's cabinet following the resignation of six pro-Syrian ministers, vowing to re-establish a "clean government."
"This government will go and nothing associates us with it (government) after the resignations," Nasrallah late Monday told a crowd of about 6,000 residents who lost their homes in Beirut's southern suburbs during the destructive Israeli war on Lebanon over the summer.

He was referring to the resignation of the six ministers, five of them from Hizbullah and Amal, hours after the national dialogue collapsed on Saturday.

"This country is ours. We sacrificed tens of thousands of martyrs, wounded, prisoners and disabled for the sake of safeguarding it (Lebanon) as well as protecting its dignity and glory; and we will not give up (these sacrifices)," the daily As Safir quoted Nasrallah as saying.

Addressing the Lebanese, Nasrallah said that "the clean government is coming up."

Lebanon's political crisis has taken a sharp turn for the worse following the resignations over demands for a Hizbullah veto power in the executive authority, which were vehemently rejected by the anti-Syrian ruling majority.

Nasrallah's declaration came as the cabinet approved on Monday a U.N. draft text setting up an international tribunal to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri despite the resignation of the ministers.

The leading daily An Nahar said Tuesday that the draft was sent back to the United Nations late Monday after being translated into English.

It said that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has promised Saniora in an overnight telephone call to work quickly in the Security Council to approve the document.

While Lahoud slammed the cabinet as no longer legitimate following the resignation, Speaker Nabih Berri said it was "constitutional as long as more than two thirds (of the ministers) remain in the government."

The direct challenge from the anti-Syrian March 14 Forces that dominate the cabinet and the cabinet's endorsement of the U.N. draft statutes have deepened the political divide.

The parliamentary majority has accused Hizbullah and the Amal movement, the main pro-Syrian and pro-Iranian Shiite groups, of doing Damascus's and Tehran's bidding and seeking to undermine the formation of the international tribunal.

Parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri directly accused Syria and Iran of seeking to scuttle the formation of the international court.

Iran on Monday rejected Hariri's accusations that Tehran was trying to block international efforts to try those behind his father's murder.

There was no immediate reaction from Syria but it has denied previous claims that it was trying to topple the Lebanese government.

Hizbullah, which gained increasing political clout for its fierce fight against Israel during the July-August war, recently threatened to call mass protests with the aim of bringing down the government unless it received greater cabinet representation.

Beirut, 14 Nov 06, 09:28

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U.S. to Syria: Respect Beirut's Decision on Hariri Murder Court
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton has urged Syria to respect the Lebanese government's decision to endorse the creation of an international tribunal, despite the resignation of six pro-Syrian ministers.
Premier Fouad Saniora's cabinet on Monday unanimously approved the document to establish the court into the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

"We are prepared to move quickly in the Security Council to approve the tribunal once we receive formal word from the government of Lebanon," U.S. spokesman Benjamin Chang quoted the U.S. envoy to the U.N. as saying.

"We call on all, especially Syria, to respect the Lebanese government's decision," Bolton was also quoted as saying.

The cabinet's approval came despite a government crisis sparked by the resignation of six ministers.

Saniora said the government approval was meant "to reject and confront attempts to assassinate Lebanon ... and to tell the criminals that we will not give up our right to achieve justice despite the difficulties."

An ongoing U.N. probe has implicated senior officials from Syria, which for decades was Lebanon's power-broker, and also Lebanese accomplices. Damascus strongly denies any connection with the Hariri killing.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the root of the political crisis brewing in Lebanon was because "some (people) are very, very nervous -- including in Damascus -- about where this tribunal issue is going to head."

"I can't imagine, other than they're nervous about themselves ending up before this tribunal or their friends ending up before this tribunal, why they would want to stand in the way of finding out who was responsible for the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister," he said.
When asked under what conditions the U.S. would want to talk to either Hamas or Hizbullah, McCormack said: "Certainly there's no change in our policy. We're not -- those two groups that you mentioned are terrorist groups in our view so we don't plan to have any contact with them."(AFP-Naharnet) (AP photo shows U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton waving to reporters)
 
Beirut, 14 Nov 06, 07:45

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Israeli Foreign Ministry Criticizes 'Unnecessary' Lebanon Overflights
The Israeli Foreign Ministry wants the air force to cut back its flights over Lebanon, saying some are an unnecessary provocation of U.N. forces patrolling southern Lebanon, Army Radio reported Tuesday.
The United Nations and Lebanon regard the flights as a violation of the U.N.-brokered resolution that ended Israel's summer war with Hizbullah on Aug. 14. But Israel has rebuffed their demands to halt the flights, saying they are vital intelligence-gathering missions.

On Tuesday, Army Radio cited foreign ministry officials as contending that not all the flights are surveillance missions, and those that are not unnecessarily provoke the expanded U.N. force policing southern Lebanon as part of the cease-fire.

Last week, the French government demanded that Israel stop mock raids over Lebanon after French peacekeepers with the U.N. mission came within seconds of shooting down Israeli warplanes.

On Monday, French Defense Minister Michelle Alliot-Marie said Israeli fighter jets have stopped mock air attacks targeting European peacekeepers following the French protest.

"There is no more of that attitude -- that is, an openly hostile attitude -- like we had over a French vessel, a German vessel and the French ground forces, which caused a real danger of legitimate defense measures being taken," Alliot-Marie told reporters at an EU meeting in Brussels.

The Israeli military's position that the flights are surveillance missions contradicts an internal army document that says the flights are intended in part to pressure the international community to stop arms smuggling to Hizbullah fighters and release two abducted Israeli soldiers, whose capture by Hizbullah on July 12 touched off the war.(AP-Naharnet)


Beirut, 14 Nov 06, 10:30

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Israeli Army Resumes Guerrilla Training After Lebanon War
The Israeli military will restore its guerrilla warfare training center as a result of its experiences in the summer's war in Lebanon, according to a military publication, using a distinctly modern method -- paintball.
The Israeli military closed down its guerrilla warfare training facility at the Elyakim base in Israel's north after Israeli forces pulled out of Lebanon in 2000, following an 18-year war against Hizbullah fighters.

In the summer, Israeli soldiers encountered Hizbullah again, fighting a 34-day war that included ground operations through Hizbullah-controlled areas. The fighters exacted a heavy toll against the Israelis with ambushes, mortars and anti-tank missiles.

The Israeli military has absorbed harsh criticism for the way it handled the war. Many soldiers, especially reservists, complained that their equipment and training were inadequate.

While not admitting that the lack of guerrilla training was a factor in the shortcomings of the summer war, the military is planning to restart it, according to the current issue of the soldiers' weekly, "Bamahaneh."

Soldiers will learn camouflage techniques, navigation by GPS satellite systems, construction of hidden outposts and other skills, the weekly said, and they will test their newly won abilities in paintball maneuvers.

Lt. Col. Lior Lifshitz, commander of the Elyakim base, told the weekly that he hopes to set up a permanent paintball course at the base. The guerrilla training, on the other hand, would be taken to all the bases in the northern command area, with courses for both soldiers and officers.

"Our goal is to establish a cycle, so that within two years officers would receive extensive training and soldiers some training," Lifshitz told the publication.

The new center, which is to be operational within a few months, will also supply guerrilla warfare equipment to the various army units, the weekly reported.(AP)

Beirut, 14 Nov 06, 10:19

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Qaida Threatens to Topple Saniora's Government in Purported Statement
Al-Qaida has purportedly issued a statement threatening to topple Premier Fouad Saniora's "corrupt" Western-backed government, according to Al-Hayat newspaper Monday.
The London-based Arabic daily reported that al-Qaida issued the statement from the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr el-Bared in northern Lebanon.

"The organization has arrived in Lebanon and we will work on destroying this corrupt government that receives orders from the American administration," Al-Hayat said, quoting the statement.

Although it was impossible to verify the authenticity of the message, Information Minister Ghazi Aridi cast doubt on its veracity Monday.

"There is nothing that proves that this statement was issued by al-Qaida," he told reporters Monday following a cabinet meeting in which the government approved a U.N. draft setting up an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Aridi suggested the statement could be the work of local or regional groups that were opposed to the international tribunal in an attempt to intimidate the ministers ahead of the vote on Monday.

Al-Hayat did not say how it obtained the message.

Although al-Qaida has rarely carried out attacks in Lebanon, it is believed to have sympathizers among extremist factions in Palestinian refugee camps.

Interior Minister Ahmed Fatfat has warned in recent months that al-Qaida was attempting to establish itself in Lebanon.

In December, al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for a rocket attack into northern Israel apparently carried out by a radical Palestinian group, and Fatfat has said Lebanese authorities had broken up four al-Qaida cells this year.(AP) (AFP photo shows a policeman securing area in downtown Beirut during the meeting of cabinet ministers to endorse the international tribunal)

Beirut, 13 Nov 06, 16:31

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Iran Rejects Hariri's Accusations Over International Tribunal
Iran on Monday rejected accusations by parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri that Tehran was trying to block international efforts to try those behind his father's assassination.
"Iran has not meddled and will not interfere in other countries' issues. These (accusations) are not true," government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham told reporters.

"Domestic issues and the sovereign rights of countries have been always respected by the Islamic republic," he said, adding that "other issues brought up on the sidelines are propaganda to create conflicts in the region."

Hariri on Sunday accused Iran and Syria of "plotting to stop the creation of an international court" to deal with those eventually charged for the 2005 killing of former Premier Rafik Hariri.
"This is a Syrian-Iranian plan to overthrow the legitimate authority and prevent the formation of the international tribunal," said Hariri at the end of a meeting of the March 14 Forces.

His comment followed the resignation of five Shiite ministers from Hizbullah and Amal after Prime Minister Fouad Saniora called a cabinet meeting to discuss a U.N. document that would pave the way for the establishment of the tribunal.

The Iranian reaction on Monday came as Speaker Nabih Berri held talks with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.(AFP-Naharnet)

Beirut, 13 Nov 06, 14:15

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Government Approves Hariri Tribunal Despite Resignation of 6 Ministers
The Lebanese cabinet approved on Monday a U.N. draft text setting up an international tribunal to try former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's suspected assassins.
"We unanimously approved the draft," Saniora told a news conference after the three-hour meeting.

"With this decision we tell the murderers that we will not give up our rights no matter what the difficulties and obstacles are," he said.

"Our only aim is to achieve justice and only justice. Without it and without knowing the truth, the Lebanese will not rest and we cannot protect our democratic system and political freedom now and in the future."

"Our brothers who could not join us in taking this decision were actually with us -- in our heart, our position and our decision," Saniora said, making an appeal for unity.

Saniora convened the extraordinary session Monday despite President Emile Lahoud's objections and the resignation of six ministers, five of them from Hizbullah and Amal.

Reacting to the government approval, Hizbullah MP Hussein Hajj Hassan accused the ruling majority of exercising a "hegemony and monopoly on decision-making".

He told AFP that Hizbullah objected "at the way" the ruling majority had approved the U.N. document.

Environment Minister Yaacub Sarraf, who is close to Lahoud, announced his resignation Monday, becoming the sixth government member to quit.

Saniora rejected the resignations of the ministers and invited them in a letter to return to their "effective participation" in the cabinet.

Lahoud has stepped up the pressure by saying the cabinet was no longer legitimate. The president's position, however, does not carry legal weight because he is not empowered to dissolve the government.

All 18 remaining ministers attending the meeting approved the United Nations document, and they defended the cabinet's decision as legal.

"It is 100 percent constitutional," Information Minister Ghazi Aridi quoted Saniora as saying.

With Sarraf's resignation, a quarter of the 24-member cabinet had quit. But legally it still has the necessary two-thirds quorum to meet and make decisions.

The direct challenge from the anti-Syrian March 14 Forces that dominate the cabinet and the parliament to convene the government Monday could deepen the political divide.

The parliamentary majority has accused Hizbullah and the Amal movement, the main pro-Syrian and pro-Iranian Shiite groups, of doing Damascus's and Tehran's bidding and seeking to undermine the formation of the international tribunal.

Parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri directly accused Syria and Iran of seeking to scuttle the formation of the international court.

"This is a Syrian-Iranian plan to overthrow the legitimate authority and prevent the formation of the international tribunal," said Saad at the end of a meeting of the March 14 Forces Sunday.

Iran on Monday rejected Saad Hariri's accusations that Tehran was trying to block international efforts to try those behind his father's murder.

"Iran has not meddled and will not interfere in other countries' issues. These (accusations) are not true," government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham told reporters.

There was no immediate reaction from Syria but it has denied previous claims that it was trying to topple the Lebanese government.

The resignation of Hizbullah and Amal ministers came Saturday just after the country's top leaders failed to reach agreement on the formation of a national unity government in which Hizbullah and its affiliates would have a third-plus-one veto power, a demand vehemently rejected by the ruling majority.

Lahoud's opposition to the cabinet meeting solidifies the political divide in Lebanon between anti- and pro-Syrian forces, with Lahoud and Hizbullah tilting toward Syria and Saniora and his allies opposing their powerful neighbor's influence over their country.

Hizbullah, which gained increasing political clout for its fierce fight against Israel over the summer, recently threatened to call mass protests to begin Monday with the aim of bringing down the government unless it received greater cabinet representation.

But its senior political officer in south Lebanon Sheikh Hassan Ezzeddine told The Associated Press Sunday: "Before going to the street, there are other steps to be taken as a means to pressure the government to meet our demand to form a national unity government made up of all factions,". He did not elaborate.(Naharnet-AP-AFP)

Beirut, 13 Nov 06, 15:32

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Alliot-Marie: French Protest Stopped Mock Air Attacks on EU Troops
Israeli warplanes have stopped mock air attacks targeting European peacekeepers in Lebanon following a French government protest, French Defense Minister Michelle Alliot-Marie said Monday.
"There is no more of that attitude -- that is, an openly hostile attitude -- like we had over a French vessel, a German vessel and the French ground forces, which caused a real danger of legitimate defense measures being taken," Alliot-Marie told reporters at an EU meeting in Brussels.

Paris demanded that Israel stop the raids after French peacekeepers came within seconds of shooting down Israeli warplanes two weeks ago.

Alliot-Marie said Israeli overflights of Lebanon were continuing in defiance of the United Nations, but said they were no longer taking a threatening approach to the peacekeepers.

She repeated that French forces could have launched an "automatic defense reaction" after Israeli planes failed to identify themselves while flying mock bombing runs at peacekeepers.

The commander of the French-led U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon said last week that such a scenario was avoided only because of restraint by French forces.

"I call on Israel to end them," General Alain Pellegrini said of the overflights. "I have a hard time understanding them ... This is dangerous."

The overflights "could give Hizbullah an occasion to react," Pellegrini was quoted as saying.

Israeli officials said flights over Lebanon are needed to monitor Lebanese compliance with U.N. demands, and said they were working with the peacekeeping force to avoid misunderstandings.(AP-Naharnet)

Beirut, 13 Nov 06, 17:25

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Cabinet shrugs off crisis, approves draft on Hariri tribunal
Siniora hails 'historic meeting' as key stop on 'the road to revealing the truth'

By Nafez Qawas
Daily Star correspondent
Tuesday, November 14, 2006

 

BEIRUT: Lebanon's political crisis deepened Monday as the Cabinet approved a UN draft to form an international tribunal to try former Premier Rafik Hariri's assassins, despite the resignation of six ministers. Official sources quoted by Reuters Monday said the Western-backed government of Premier Fouad Siniora would send the draft to UN headquarters in New York and wait for the final text on the court.

Speaking to reporters after the Cabinet session, Siniora called for unity to overcome the political crisis.

"Here we are today on the road to revealing the truth and achieving justice through the court ... that will be formed to stop this series of terrorist and criminal acts," Siniora said.

"In a historic meeting, the Cabinet approved unanimously by those present the draft of the special tribunal," he added.

The approval came despite a government crisis sparked by the resignation of six ministers, including those from Hizbullah and Amal, which accuse the ruling majority of monopolizing power.

The premier said the government's decision was meant "to reject and confront attempts to assassinate Lebanon ... and to tell the criminals that we will not give up our right to achieve justice despite the difficulties."

"Our brothers who could not join us in taking this decision were actually with us - in our hearts, our positions and our decision," Siniora said in an appeal for unity.

Following the session, Siniora telephoned Lebanese and Arab leaders to discuss the latest developments concerning the international tribunal.

Among the Arab leaders called were Saudi King Abdullah, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Abdullah II, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Arab League chief Amr Moussa, Bahraini King Hamad Issa Bin Khalifah and Emirati Foreign Affairs Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed.

The premier also called the various heads of Lebanon's religious sects.

Siniora officially received the resignation of the six resigned ministers on Monday.

However, the prime minister replied by letter to the resignations immediately, refusing the resignations and calling for the ministers to return to their posts.

Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said the convening of the Cabinet Monday was "100 percent constitutional."

Parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri, said the government's approval of the UN draft "is a blessed step toward revealing the truth and realizing justice" in the February 14, 2005 assassination of his father and 22 others, in addition to a string of attacks targeting politicians and journalists dating back to October 2004.

But President Emile Lahoud said any decisions reached during Monday's session have no constitutional or legal value as they were passed by an authority that had lost its legitimacy.

Hizbullah MP Hussein Hajj Hassan accused the ruling majority of exercising a "hegemony and monopoly on decision-making."

Hassan told AFP that Hizbullah objected to the manner by which the ruling majority approved the UN document.

"The majority is trying to tell people that the Lebanese are in conflict over the tribunal, and this is totally untrue. We are not against the tribunal - all Lebanese agree on this issue," he said.

Hassan added that Hizbullah would only agree to return to the government if its request for a "blocking minority" in the Cabinet was met - a demand seen as an attempt to stymie all future government decisions.

Resigned Labor Minister Trad Hamadeh said Siniora's Cabinet had three choices: "Either resign or replace the Shiite ministers or eliminate the reasons behind our resignation."

"Anything else means the parliamentary majority is violating the national covenant," Hamadeh said in a statement.

The Free Patriotic Movement, Hizbullah's main political ally, said the government had lost its legitimacy because it no longer represented all religious sects.

"Because the Shiites are no longer present in Cabinet, the Cabinet becomes automatically incapable of governing. It has lost its legitimacy," FPM leader MP Michel Aoun said Monday.

At the UN in New York, US Ambassador John Bolton said his country was prepared to move quickly in the Security Council to approve the tribunal "once we receive formal word form the government of Lebanon." - With agencies, additional reporting by Leila Hatoum


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Sfeir reprimands Christian politicians

By Maroun Khoury
Daily Star correspondent
Tuesday, November 14, 2006


BKIRKI: Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir on Monday criticized the near-daily speeches made by political leaders, notably those delivered by Christians, as "far from what they should be." "If politicians were aware of the principles of Christian education, wouldn't they put an end to their challenges and insults of one another?" Sfeir asked.

"Wouldn't they throw out hatred and envy and other feelings that do not reflect their respect for each other?" he added.

Sfeir's crticism came as the patriarch convened the 40th ordinary session of the Assembly of the Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops in Lebanon at Bkirki.

"Lebanon does not and should not encompass enemies, but brothers," he said. "This is not how brothers treat each other."

The assembly's session was opened in the presence of Melchite Catholic Patriarch Gregorius III Lahham, Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX, and the personal representative of the papal ambassador to Lebanon, Luigi Gatti, Monsignor Visvaldas Calpocas.

The participants met on the sidelines of the gathering to discuss the "dangerous" situation in Lebanon following the resignation of six Cabinet ministers over the weekend and Monday.

They called on all Lebanese to face the political impasse with "responsibility and patience," and away from "challenges and demonstrations."

They also urged officials to keep in mind the country's best interests and "provide citizens with a peaceful life."

A closed session of the assembly was also held Monday. A final statement will be issued Saturday, outlining the topics of discussion.


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Iran denies trying to block formation of court


Compiled by Daily Star staff
Tuesday, November 14, 2006

 

Iran on Monday rejected accusations leveled by Lebanon's parliamentary majority leader, MP Saad Hariri, that Tehran was trying to block international efforts to try those behind his father's assassination. "Iran has not meddled and will not interfere in other countries' issues. These [accusations] are not true," government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham told reporters.

"Domestic issues and the sovereign rights of countries have been always respected by the Islamic Republic," he said, adding that "other issues brought up on the sidelines are propaganda to create conflicts in the region."

Hariri accused Iran and Syria Sunday of "plotting to stop the creation of an international court" to deal with those eventually charged for the 2005 killing of former Premier Rafik Hariri.

Iran's reply to the accusation came as Lebanese Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri was in Tehran to meet with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Following the meeting, Berri said Iranian officials were keen to support Lebanon and preserve its "great victory [over Israel in this summer's war] so that it would lead to the Lebanese people's unity, solidarity and cooperation."

Berri said his meeting with Ahmadinejad and Expediency Council President Hashemi Rafsanjani was "good and serious."

During an interview with Iran's "Al-Aalam" television on Sunday, Berri said no steps would be made by his Amal Movement, Hizbullah or the Free Patriotic Movement following the resignation of five Shiite ministers on Saturday.

"We will simply be in the opposition ... We will oppose whenever opposition is needed and we will support whenever support is needed," he added.

The three parties want nothing more than to expand the sitting government "in an effective way in accordance with the Lebanese Constitution," the speaker said.

"We do not call for toppling the government or changing the prime minister, or even inking a new ministerial statement," he added. "We just want to expand the government."

"We wanted a true partnership between the so-called March 14 Forces and March 8 Forces ... but the refusal to set up a national unity government made us resign and leave the rule to the majority," he continued.

As for the creation of an international tribunal, Berri said: "We have all agreed to establish an international court. Claiming that the problem lies in the international tribunal is a pretext."

"Before holding consultation meetings, even before the recent war with Israel sparked on July 12, participants in the national dialogue, including Hizbullah, Amal and the FPM, agreed to create an international tribunal," he added. "I advise them [the government] to appoint substitutes for Hizbullah and Amal ministers."

Berri later met with his Iranian counterpart, Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, for talks on recent developments in the region and Hizbullah's recent war with Israel. No comments were released after the meeting.

Earlier in the day, Berri attended a ceremony held by the Iranian Shura Council on the occasion of its 100th anniversary.

"We thank the Iranian Republic for its continued assistance to Lebanon and the resistance, making the latter win the war," Berri said. - With agencies


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Hizbullah: 'There will be demonstrations'

By Leila Hatoum
Daily Star staff
Tuesday, November 14, 2006


BEIRUT: A Hizbullah spokesman announced on Monday that the group and its allies will take to the streets to press their demand for a national unity government, but that the timing of the action had not yet been decided. Hizbullah media officer Hajj Hussein Rahhal said the party "will not change its stand, and will utilize all the democratic and peaceful means allowed to express this stand.

"Of course there will be demonstrations and a move toward the streets, but we haven't yet decided when we will make this move. We also have to consult with our allies on the timing and the form of the move."

Hizbullah's main ally, Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun, dismissed any correlation between an international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri and the resignation of six Cabinet members since Saturday.

Aoun told reporters that "any attempt to link the tribunal issue with the failure of the consultations and the resignation of the ministers is a lie."

"They say that we were demanding one third of the Cabinet's seats to have a veto power over decision-making in return for passing the draft of the tribunal," he said. "So [this proves] their claim that we will block the tribunal draft isn't true."

The presidential hopeful said he had refused to accept an offer of four ministers to represent him in the Cabinet.

"How do you want us to integrate four ministers into the Cabinet when five ministers left?" he asked. "This is unacceptable, especially as we are demanding the formation of a national unity government."

Resigned Labor Minister Trad Hamadeh said the resignations came after the March 14 Forces refused to share power.

"It was a wise decision which came after the ruling party refused the participation of others in governance and preferred to practice a monopoly over power," he said on Monday.

On the other end of the political spectrum, prominent March 14 Forces member MP Walid Jumblatt accused Hizbullah and its allies of attempts to "create more tension that would lead the country into a dangerous vortex ... this complies with the interest of the Syrian-Iranian axis."

Former President Amine Gemayel, also a leading member of the anti-Syrian coalition, urged Hizbullah and Amal not to take to the streets, a move he said would "destabilize the country."

Meanwhile, reactions to the ministers' resignation continued to snowball on Monday.

Environment Minister Yaacoub Sarraf, considered close to President Emile Lahoud, resigned on Monday. The five Cabinet members representing Hizbullah and Amal withdrew on Saturday.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said the resignations were "clearly to block the formation of the [Hariri] tribunal."

"The ministers could have easily convened to approve the tribunal's draft and resign afterward, that is if what they say is true that they resigned after their demands for a national unity government failed ... They just wanted to block the tribunal's project," he added.

Echoing Gemayel's concerns, Geagea said that demonstrations could easily be hijacked by "small groups that would take advantage of the situation and carry out orders from the Syrian intelligence apparatus to destabilize the situation in the country."


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Israelis stop buzzing French troops in South

By Agence France Presse (AFP)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


BRUSSELS: French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said Monday that Israeli warplanes have stopped buzzing French troops in South Lebanon after two tense incidents there.

"While overflights continue, which poses a problem in terms of the respect of UN resolutions, we no longer have the hostile attitude that ran a real risk of meeting with legitimate defense" from French soldiers, she said.

The French forces involved in the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) came within seconds of firing at Israeli aircraft  staging mock air raids over UN positions on October 31, sparking an official complaint from Paris. Israel said they were reconnaissance flights and had been "wrongly interpreted."

UNIFIL's commander, French Major General Alain Pellegrini, also condemned Israeli's breaches of Lebanese airspace in an interview with Paris daily Le Figaro.

The overflights "are unacceptable," he said, adding that  they constitute  a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended this past summer's 34-day war between Israel and Lebanon. - AFP


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Non-profit group offers free de-mining machine
Device can virtually end human losses in clearing of unexploded ordnance

By Leila Hatoum
Daily Star staff
Tuesday, November 14, 2006

 

BEIRUT: A group of engineers and activists are devising a machine that would help in defusing land mines and possibly small bombs, with the invention to be provided for free to the countries that need it. Nida Wakim, an activist, actor and the spokesperson for ARTID (Association de Recherche de Techniques Innovantes en Deminage Humanitaire), said the group was working on devising a new technique in demining that would lead to minimal human losses.

Wakim said ARTID "is a completely non-beneficiary foundation that will present its innovation, called Demichain, for free to the Lebanese government and any country that needs it."

He added that the machine "has only been tested in laboratories in France and ARTID is trying to get the approval of the Lebanese authorities to test it on live ammo."

"If we test and complete it in France, the French Army will confiscate it and later use it in return for money, which is something against our foundation's intent. We want to provide this machine for free," he said.

The machine used shockwaves and a cleverly designed iron net. The net is thrown on the ground and sends shockwaves to uncover any potential mines and causes them to detonate.

Israel laid hundreds of thousands of land mines throughout Southern Lebanon in past wars, and continues to withhold maps of where the deadly crop was sowed from Lebanese authorities. A partial map was given to the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon last month.

Israel also littered the South and parts of the Bekaa Valley with an estimated 1 million cluster bombs and thousands of unexploded ordnance during 34 days of fighting with Hizbullah this summer.

Over 170 Lebanese, including 30 children, have been killed or wounded since the UN imposed cessation of hostilities came into effect on August 14.

Wakim said ARTID is presently searching for funding for their invention, and has approached Lebanese Army officials with the National Demining Office and representatives from the United Nations Mine Action Coor-dination Center in this regard.

ARTID's efforts come amid growing international condemnation of the use of cluster bombs and land mines.

A global treaty to prevent future deaths and maiming by clearing up unexploded bombs in war-stricken countries came into force on Sunday.

The initial 25 signatory states must start removing unexploded shells, grenades, rockets and cluster bombs left over from conflicts or pay for their removal, under the Protocol on Explosive Remnants of War, signed in 2003.

"This is the first international agreement to require the parties to an armed conflict to clear all unexploded munitions that threaten civilians, peacekeepers and humanitarian workers once the fighting is over," the International Committee of the Red Cross said in Sunday.

The world's main military powers participated in the formulating of the document, the ICRC said. However, world leaders such as China, Russia and the US have yet to sign it.

Also absent from the signatories is Israel.

The start date for the new protocol coincides with a UN conference to review another proposed treaty that would go one step further than a clean-up by banning some types of munitions. The conference runs in Geneva until November 17.

Eighteen countries have voiced support for a new convention to ban cluster bombs, but Britain and the US remain opposed to the idea.

A US official told the conference Washington held the view the alternative to cluster bombs was to use an increased number of high explosive rounds, which have a more devastating effect.

The protocol enforced Sunday is an addition to an existing document, the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, which bans or restricts the use of some weapons that cause "unnecessary or unjustifiable suffering to combatants" or that indiscriminately affect civilians.

Currently it covers some types of fragmentation shells, some land mines or booby traps, and the use of incendiary devices in civilian areas. - With AFP


For more information on ARTID please visit www.artid.org, or call: 03.69.44.42.59, e-mail: association@artid.org

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Blair - we must work with 'Axis of Evil' states
By Philip Webster in London and Tom Baldwin is Washington
 
 
The  first cracks in the united front over Iraq between Tony Blair and President Bush appeared last night as the Prime Minister offered Iran and Syria the prospect of dialogue over the future of Iraq and the Middle East.

Mr Blair said there could be a new “partnership” with Iran if it stopped supporting terrorism in Iraq and gave up its nuclear ambitions. Syria and Iran could choose partnership or isolation, he said.
 
 
The Prime Minister tried to exploit moves in Washington to rethink strategy on Iraq by holding out the prospect of engagement with two countries once dubbed by President Bush as part of the “axis of evil”. For the first time he also explicitly ruled out military action against Iran.

And, in words clearly directed at Mr Bush as he prepares for his final two years in power, Mr Blair called for the United States to lead a new drive towards peace in the Middle East, including peace in Palestine and the Lebanon, arguing that ultimately it was the only way to defeat al-Qaeda.

Downing Street denied suggestions that Mr Blair was going “cap in hand” to Damascus and Tehran asking for help and insisted that they were being told that they had to make a “strategic choice” between giving up support for terrorism and nuclear ambitions in return for being brought in from the cold.

It added that Mr Blair was repeating the message that he first gave in a speech in Los Angeles in July.

But, with Mr Blair speaking tomorrow to the Iraq Study Group, which is looking at alternative solutions for Iraq including involving its neighbours, his speech to the Lord Mayor’s banquet at Guildhall this evening was different in tone and suggested that he wants to capitalise on the new mood in Washington. Mr Bush has been opposed to talk with Iran.

Mr Blair said that Iran’s “genuine fear” that America sought a military solution was “entirely misplaced”. It did not, he said bluntly.

Mr Bush ducked any direct confrontation with Mr Blair, saying that he had not read the speech. But, in a White House press conference alongside Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, he gave warning against cracks appearing in the united front with which the West has approached Iran.

“I think it’s very important for the world to unite with one common voice to say to the Iranians that, if you choose to continue forward, you’ll be isolated,” Mr Bush said.

Although Robert Gates, the new US Defence Secretary, is also among those who have advocated a more open approach to Iran, Mr Bush said that the regime’s nuclear ambitions were a “threat to world peace” and went on to discuss the prospect of economic sanctions against the regime.

Mr Blair said that the choice for Iran was clear. “They help the Middle East peace process, not hinder it; they stop supporting terrorism in Lebanon or Iraq and they abide by, not flout, their international obligations. In that case, a new partnership is possible. Or, alternatively, they face the consequence of not doing so: isolation.”

The Prime Minister still hopes to persuade the US to engage fully in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, but frustrated British diplomats in Washington say that the White House shows no real sign of being interested in the subject. Mr Bush yesterday said that he had discussed with Mr Olmert the two-state solution and the need for the Palestinian government to embrace the principles behind the road map for the Middle East peace process, but made it clear that their talks had focused on Iran and Iraq.

Earlier yesterday, Mr Bush met the Iraq Study Group, led by former Secretary of State James Baker, to discuss its imminent report charting a possible new course for Iraq. The President said that he would not “pre-judge” their findings while his spokesman emphasised that, despite Democrat control of Congress, Mr Bush remained commander-in-chief.

Senior Democrats have begun talking openly about the prospect of bringing troops home within six months, while others have urged the president to negotiate a diplomatic solution with Iraq’s neighbours.

But Mr Bush also had harsh words for Syria, a country with which, unlike Iran, the US has diplomatic relations. The President said that Syria should stop interfering in Lebanon and “harbouring extremists” and must begin helping “this young democracy in Iraq succeed”.

Imad Moustapha, the Syrian ambassador to the United States, said that his country was willing to engage with Britain and America.

 
--------------------------------------------------------------

Ahmadinejad: Israel’s destruction near

Published:  11.13.06, 08:53 

According to the Iranian media Monday, Iranian President Mahoud Ahmadinejad declared that Israel was destined to ‘disappearance and destruction’ at a council meeting with Iranian ministers.

“The western powers created the Zionist regime in order to expand their control of the area. This regime massacres Palestinians everyday, but since this regime is against nature, we will soon witness its disappearance and destruction,” Ahmadinejad said. (AFP)

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Monday November 13, 2006

March 14 points finger at Tehran, Damascus
Hariri says resignation of 5 shiite ministers 'was not a coincidence'

By Leila Hatoum
Daily Star staff
Monday, November 13, 2006

March 14 points finger at Tehran, Damascus

BEIRUT: The March 14 Forces accused Damascus and Tehran on Sunday of planning to topple the legitimate authorities in Lebanon and re-establish Syrian hegemony over the country.

In response to the resignations of the five Shiite ministers from Premier Fouad Siniora's government, the coalition met late Sunday at the Qoreitem home of the parliamentary majority leader, MP Saad Hariri, to form a unified stance. Afterward, Hariri read out a statement in which he accused Syria and Iran of being behind the resignations and plotting to foil the international tribunal to try those accused of killing his father, former Premier Rafik Hariri.

Hizbullah and Amal ministers resigned Saturday after accusing the March 14 Forces of "controlling the decision-making in the Cabinet" -  and on the eve of a planned session to pass the final draft of the court.

The ministers who resigned are Labor Minister Trad Hamadeh, Agriculture Minister Talal Sahili, Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh, Health Minister Mohammed Jawad Khalifeh, and Energy and Water Minister Mohammed Fneish.

"This resignation ... was not a coincidence. The March 14 Forces lament this step and see in it an attempt to foil the formation of the international tribunal," Hariri said. "We agreed twice to Speaker Nabih Berri's call for dialogue and consultations to maintain stability ... but it turned out that some parties didn't want this and their hidden intentions became clear to us ... It is a Syrian-Iranian plot to topple legitimate rule in Lebanon, destroy the Paris III donor conference, annul the tribunal and place this country back under the former [Syrian] mandate."

He added that "this plan was done by the Syrian regime and the [pro-Syrian] president [Emile Lahoud] ... who wants to assassinate Rafik Hariri a second time."

"Foiling this tribunal and protecting the criminals [bears the fingerprints] of a well-known murderous regime," he added, "which we will not allow to succeed."

Hizbullah and Amal rejected linking the resignation of their ministers with the idea of an attempt to halt the tribunal.

"Our stance on the tribunal is clear," Amal MP Ali Hassan Khalil told The Daily Star on Sunday. "We have nothing to hide and we have said so in the dialogue and consultations. In principle we agree on the tribunal and we have made it clear in our statements."

However, when the tribunal was first discussed after anti-Syrian MP Gebran Tueni was assassinated in late 2005, the same Shiite ministers suspended their participation in the Cabinet.

"We are in direct contact with our allies to assess the situation," Khalil added. "All options are being considered, and our resignation was for political reasons as there is domination over power and decision-making. When these reasons are taken into consideration by the majority and we reach an agreement on that, then maybe we will return to the Cabinet."

As to whether the Amal and Hizbullah blocs would resign from Parliament, a prominent Hizbullah official told The Daily Star on condition of anonymity: "There are many means of pressure that we can use, but resigning from the Parliament isn't one of them."

Street protests are one option that hizbullah has stressed.

Hizbullah's number two, Sheikh Naim Qassem, told Reuters on Sunday that the Cabinet resignation "was a first step. There will be other steps that we will discuss in detail with our allies and which we will announce gradually."

"Going ... to the streets is one of the important steps that Hizbullah and its allies will take," he added.

Also Sunday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abou al-Gheit argued that "efforts must be exerted to avoid, by all means, resorting to the street."

The resignation came as a surprise to many, despite the "electrified" nature of Saturday's consultation session.

A governmental source told The Daily Star that the session was tense and "electrified so it had to be postponed until Wednesday until Berri returns from his trip to Tehran."

Speaking from Iran after meeting Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki on the sidelines of a convention of Asian legislative leaders, Berri said the "situation ... has reached a divorce status, but this doesn't mean we have hit a dead end. Divorce can be revocable but this is in the hands of the majority."

He added that "I tried to find a remedy to the problem, but alas, we reached a point where divorce was inevitable."

Berri denied that street protests were imminent, saying: "No, no, we don't have any intention of that. It is in the hands of the majority, we have asked for participation, and the majority refused this, at that point we told them to rule on their own."

Hizbullah, Amal and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) have been calling for a unity Cabinet in which they would hold a third of the portfolios. But that number would give them a veto - something the majority has rejected for fear that the tribunal would not pass.

Siniora declined to accept the resignations, urging the Shiite ministers in a statement "to stick to their responsibilities and continue their work."

"We shall continue and will never stop and will not accept that anyone take this country to a place where the Lebanese don't want to go," he added. "Lebanon shall remain, shall remain, and shall remain."

He also delayed a trip this week to Seoul and Tokyo.

On Sunday, Siniora received phone calls from UN chief Kofi Annan, EU foreign policy representative Javier Solana, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed al-Nahayyan.

Prominent March 14 Forces member Walid Jumblatt said Sunday that the resignations "will lead the country into a dangerous vortex."

He attacked Hizbullah's ally, FPM leader MP Michel Aoun, saying he was used "to dividing the Christians. This man only sees his personal ambitions to become a president."

Aoun responded in an interview with NBN television that a March 14 offer of four portfolios for the FPM was a "maneuver" and that "the resignation of the ministers was the most wondrous thing they did to prevent resorting to the streets."

Salloukh cut short a trip to Cairo, where he had been participating in an Arab League meeting called for by Lebanon to discuss the crisis in Gaza.

"This is a natural and democratic way of objection," he said. "I returned after I was told of the resignation." - With agencies

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Sfeir accuses opposition of rejecting international support
Qabalan urges siniora to meet ministers who quit

By Maroun Khoury and Maher Zeineddine
Daily Star correspondent
Monday, November 13, 2006


BEIRUT: The head of the Maronite Church said Sunday that certain parties "are rejecting" the international community's support for Lebanon. In his Sunday sermon, Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir indirectly criticized the resignations of five Shiite ministers on Saturday, saying some Lebanese were acting like "they want to reject international help."

"Civil society is afflicted by disorder, which we fear will expand," Sfeir said. "We fear that those who are seeking to help us will know that we cannot manage our own affairs and we are in constant need of someone to control us."

Sfeir's statements came one day after the resignation of five Shiite ministers from Premier Fouad Siniora's Cabinet.

In remarks following a meeting with the patriarch, Reform and Change parliamentary bloc MP Neamatallah Abi Nasr said his bloc supports the creation of an international tribunal that will prosecute former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's assassins.

Asked why MP Michel Aoun rejected the parliamentary majority's offer of four ministerial seats, he said that the bloc had yet to meet to discuss this matter. "You can pose this question to General Aoun," he added.

Abi Nasr repeated his calls for the creation of a national unity Cabinet that would face the socioeconomic and political challenges created by Israel's summer war against Lebanon.

In an unprecedented statement, Abi Nasr added that Aoun's party and Hizbullah are not "allied," but only agreed on some specific points in their February 2006 memorandum of accord.

The Vice President of the Higher Shiite Council Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan praised on Sunday Siniora's rejection of the resignation of the ministers. 

"We ask that the ministers be patient because we want this Cabinet to remain united and we ask Premier Siniora to hold a meeting with those who submitted their resignations," he said.

Meanwhile, Deputy Speaker Farid Makari voiced his surprise at the resignations, which he said coincided with the delivery of the draft of the international tribunal to the government.

In a statement issued on Saturday, Makari said the timing of the resignations "raises suspicions and questions, especially after both sides had agreed on the creation of the tribunal during the previous national talks."

"What happened during Saturday's consultations confirmed that the March 14 Forces made the right choice by refusing to form a Cabinet with a vetoing third," Makari said, adding that if they had agreed to the opposition's demands, "there wouldn't be a Cabinet or an international tribunal."

Democratic Gathering bloc MP Wael Bou Faour said that the ministers' withdrawal from Cabinet revealed the truth behind their positions, as they "had always wanted to derail the formation of the tribunal."

Speaking on Sunday, Bou Faour said that "now we know who supports Lebanon's sovereignty and who doesn't and who wants to protect [Syrian President] Bashar Assad."

The MP added that he was not surprised by the refusal of President Emile Lahoud, whom he called the "Neron of Baabda," to hold a Cabinet session on Monday to discuss the tribunal's draft.

However, Amal MP Ali Bazzi defended his colleagues' decision to leave Cabinet, saying that "the resignation of the five ministers came in line with our political values and convictions."

In remarks on Sunday, Bazzi accused the parliamentary majority of monopolizing the decision-making process.

Addressing the majority, Bazzi said: "If you want partnership, we are ready; otherwise, we will practice our political role from outside the government and try to preserve civil peace and stability."

As for the creation of the international tribunal, Bazzi said that "we have the right to take our time to study any resolution because we are partners in this country."

Former prime ministers Salim Hoss, Najib Mikati and Omar Karami issued a joint statement on Sunday, urging Siniora to suspend Cabinet sessions until an agreement is reached between all the parties.

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Lebanon's crisis deepens as another minister quits
By Nadim Ladki
 
 
BEIRUT, Lebanon - Lebanon's political crisis deepened on Monday as the last pro-Syrian minister quit the cabinet shortly before it was to meet to discuss the framework of a special court to try killers of a former prime minister.

Environment Minister Yacoub Sarraf, a loyal supporter of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, resigned after five Shi'ite Muslim ministers from Hezbollah and its ally, the Amal movement, quit over the failure of talks on their demands for effective veto power in the government.

The anti-Syrian majority coalition has accused Hezbollah of implementing a Syrian-Iranian plan to overthrow the Western-backed government and foil efforts to set up the court to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

"As I can't find myself part of any constitutional authority that lacks representation from a whole religious sect... I herewith tender my resignation from the government," Sarraf, a Christian, said in his letter to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

Siniora rejected the resignations but a senior source close to the ministers said they would stand by their decision.

Lahoud opposed holding a cabinet session on Monday, saying any government meeting after the resignations would be unconstitutional. Siniora dismissed Lahoud's objections and said the meeting would go ahead as planned.

"The hidden plot has been revealed. It's a Syrian-Iranian plot to launch a coup against the legitimacy, stop the establishment of an international tribunal and foil (U.N.) resolution 1701," the anti-Syrian majority said in a statement.

Resolution 1701 ended a 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah in mid-August.

The United States has already accused Iran, Syria and Hezbollah of plotting to topple the Lebanese government, which Washington has held up as an example of emerging democracy in the Middle East.

Hezbollah has denied that it was trying to put hurdles in the way of establishing the Hariri tribunal, saying it had already agreed to it but wanted to discuss the details.

Hezbollah said on Sunday it would stage peaceful street protests as part of a campaign to press its demands for better representation in government.

Anti-Syrian leaders have pledged counter-demonstrations should Hezbollah take the political crisis to the streets, raising fears of confrontations and violence at a time of rising tension between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims.

Many Lebanese blame Syria for Hariri's killing. Damascus denies involvement.

The 2005 killing of Hariri led to mass protests against Syria. Under international pressure, Syria ended its 29-year military presence in Lebanon in April last year and anti-Syrian politicians swept to victory in ensuing elections.

A U.N. commission investigating the murder has implicated senior Lebanese and Syrian security officials. (Reuters)
 
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As Hezbollah Seeks Power, Lebanon Is Feeling Edgy
By Michael Slackman, New York Times

BEIRUT, Lebanon - In the upscale center of Beirut, the normally somber atmosphere at the graveside of the assassinated former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, is increasingly tense. His former supporters, long the most powerful constituency in Lebanon, anxiously talk about the wave of Shiite political power washing over the country.
“After the first of the year, I am leaving to Qatar,” one woman, Myrtha Hadidi, said Sunday, after she bowed her head and crossed herself in front of the grave. “The situation is very, very dangerous now. I think there will be a war again.”

Across town, along the crowded streets of the poor Shiite neighborhood devastated by Israeli bombs during the summer war, there is despair over the destruction, but confidence in the growing power of Lebanon’s Shiites.

“I am very optimistic about the future,” said Ziad Kamaan, as he prepared to reopen his women’s accessory store for the first time since the war ended in September.

Lebanon is in the middle of a political crisis that is not just a matter of jockeying for power, but a fundamental realignment of authority here — and perhaps in the region. It is seen in the faces of those Sunnis and Christians who visit the Hariri memorial, nervous and drawn, and the confidence of those picking their way through the debris and destruction of the Shiite neighborhood, known as Dahiya.

“Hezbollah gave us dignity and pride; they made us feel like human beings again,” said Ali Berro, owner of a small grocery in the neighborhood. “It’s true that America and Israel devastated this country, but we will rebuild again, ourselves.”

Long in the making, the 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah — which was waged to crush the group’s militia — seems to have accelerated the rise of Lebanon’s Shiites, from their onetime status as the nation’s unwanted stepchild to the cusp of political dominance.

As a political party, a militia and social welfare organization, Hezbollah has used the devastation of the war with Israel to help strengthen the allegiance of Shiites, giving out money and services that the government has so far failed to deliver. Though no one knows for sure the size of each group in Lebanon — there has not been a census since the 1930s — Shiites are believed to make up more than 30 percent of the population, and by some estimates have reached a plurality. But it would require a major leap for the Shiites to realize their political goal of dominance — and their efforts to reach it could threaten long-term instability, and perhaps bring armed conflict.

“This war has improved the Shiite identity and self-image,” said Judith Palmer Harik, a professor at the American University in Beirut who has studied and written about Hezbollah. “They got something out of this war that was pretty uplifting.”

On Saturday, Hezbollah and its main Shiite ally, Amal, provoked a political crisis when their five ministers resigned from the government after talks broke down about giving Hezbollah’s alliance more authority.

The stage is now set for a showdown between Hezbollah and its allies, which are aligned with Syria and Iran, and the Sunni, Druse and Christian leaders who control the largest bloc in Parliament and side with the West.

Hezbollah has threatened to stage demonstrations as early as Monday, but Hezbollah officials said Sunday that they were waiting to see how their opposition responded and were considering all options.

The governing coalition is expected to make its counterstrike on Monday. The coalition, led by Saad Hariri, the son of the former prime minister, has tried to tar Hezbollah and Amal as tools of Syria and contends that their ministers resigned to block creation of a tribunal to hear charges in connection with the assassination of Mr. Hariri.

Syrian officials have been implicated in the United Nations investigations. The governing coalition has also charged that Hezbollah wants to control or block the government to prevent it from carrying out the provisions of Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the war with Israel.

The United Nations sent a proposed framework for the court to Lebanon last week, and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has called a cabinet meeting for Monday to take up the proposal. If Lebanon does not adopt the proposal, the court could still be created by the Security Council, but it would be viewed here as having less legitimacy because it was imposed on the country.

“The hidden plot has been revealed,” the governing coalition said in a statement issued Sunday. “It’s a Syrian-Iranian plot to launch a coup against the legitimacy, stop the establishment of an international tribunal and foil Resolution 1701.”

Mr. Siniora and his allies have said that even without the Shiite members of the cabinet, they could adopt the proposal and have it pass in Parliament. It would, however, probably be rejected by the pro-Syrian president, Émile Lahoud, who issued his own statement on Sunday saying the “government had lost its constitutional legitimacy and, as a result, any cabinet meeting is anti-constitutional and worthless.”

But the maneuvering over the court is one piece of a much larger battle with Hezbollah on the offensive. Hezbollah is insisting that its alliance be given seats in the cabinet, to have veto power over all decisions. One Hezbollah official said the outcome of this fight could jeopardize the delicate system of power sharing between religious communities that was established in the Taif agreement of 1989, which brought an end to 15 years of civil war. “If they want to govern without Shiite ministers, then nothing would prevent a Shiite from running for president in the future,” said Tarrad Hamadeh, the Hezbollah minister of labor, who resigned Saturday. “They are messing with the country’s future.”

In war-torn neighborhoods of the south, in the Bekaa Valley, and in Dahiya, often the only sign of authority is Hezbollah’s yellow flag. Hezbollah remains the de facto government within its communities. “We can make a revolution in Lebanon, we can occupy Lebanon, but this is not what we want,” said Bilal Naeim, a Hezbollah politburo member who is overseeing the group’s relief effort. “We could make a coup d’état.”

Mr. Naeim works out of a large tent that Hezbollah put up in Dahiya to serve as a sort of office for reconstruction and distribution of assistance. Its office was flattened by Israeli bombs, but its work was not stopped. On Sunday, Ali Ahmed Raychouny entered the tent looking for help rebuilding his bookstore. Hezbollah is preparing to give out money for inventory damaged by the war, and since he and his employee and his landlord depend on the income from his bookstore, he wanted to make sure he was on the list.

“I never expect anything from the government of our country,” he said. “I have five kids and I support three families. Hezbollah is in my blood.”

Nada Bakri contributed reporting.


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Csmonitor, November 13, 2006
 
Lebanon crisis reignites wider 'cold war'
Five Shiite ministers quit Lebanon's government this weekend, ending talks and sparking a political upheaval
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By Nicholas Blanford
BEIRUT, Lebanon - A walkout by five Shiite cabinet ministers over the weekend has deepened Lebanon's political crisis and sharpened the divisions in a larger, "cold war" struggle for influence over the Middle East.

The tense power struggle within Lebanon's government is, in fact, a key front in a diplomatic battle that pits the US, which backs the government coalition, against Iran and Syria, which support the powerful Shiite Hizbullah party and militant group.

The resignation of the Shiite ministers in the 24-member government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora came after Lebanon's top leaders reached deadlock in a week-long series of round-table talks to discuss opposition demands for creating an expanded national unity government. The opposition, spearheaded by Hizbullah, is seeking a one-third share of the cabinet, granting it veto power over government decisions.

The walkout threatens to prolong political gridlock in Lebanon and raises the threat of Hizbullah launching street protests to demand early parliamentary elections.

"We are going to witness a peak in this political, media, and popular cold war that we saw in the aftermath of the Hariri assassination, only this time around the consequences are going to be much more profound for Lebanon, the region, and the United States," says Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a visiting fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Middle East center in Beirut.

Key role of the Hariri investigation

Rafik Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister, was killed in a massive car bomb explosion in February 2005. Monday, the government is due to discuss a draft United Nations resolution on the creation of an international tribunal to try those accused of Mr. Hariri's murder. With Syria widely blamed for the assassination, anti-Syrian Lebanese believe Damascus has mobilized its Lebanese allies to block the government from approving the bill.

"We are sure that Syria does not want to have the possibility of facing the international tribunal, which is why they are trying to [prevent] Lebanon from having an agreement with the UN on the formation of the tribunal," says Boutros Harb, a leading Christian lawmaker.

The tribunal can still be approved by the UN even if the Lebanese government rejects the draft resolution, but its credibility would be tarnished without formal Lebanese support.

Despite unyielding pressure from Washington, the Syrian regime has been strengthened in recent months due to a reinvigorated relationship with Iran, continued influence in Lebanon, and the weakening position of the US in neighboring Iraq. But, analysts say, the conclusion of a UN investigation into Hariri's murder represents a "sword of Damocles" from which Syria's leadership cannot escape.

"Syria and its allies are looking to close off this threat, or to diminish it, or neuter it anyway they can," says Andrew Tabler, a Damascus-based fellow of the Institute of Current World Affairs and editor-in-chief of Syria Today magazine. "The unfortunate outcome of the Hariri investigation is that it is internationally supercharged and Hizbullah [and its allies] feel that it's a Western threat - an American and Israeli threat - to the balance of power in Lebanon, and they want to stop it."

Still, there is far more at stake in the intensifying tussle for power in Lebanon than the fate of the international tribunal. Lebanon has once more reverted to its unenviable role as an arena for local, regional, and international interests struggling to dominate and fashion the Middle East in their own respective images.

For the US, Lebanon is seen as the most hopeful prospect for a flourishing pro-Western democracy in the Arab world, giving a boost to the Bush administration's flagging democratization program. Furthermore, Lebanon is a useful tool to maintain pressure on neighboring Syria and to block Iranian influence over the Arab-Israeli conflict through its ally, Hizbullah. By the same token, the anti-Western axis grouping Iran, Syria, Hizbullah, the Palestinian Hamas movement, and others is attempting to thwart Washington's influence in Lebanon which has grown since mass anti-Syrian protests in Beirut led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon 18 months ago.

The result is that Lebanon "has now emerged as the battleground of the new regional cold war and global confrontation," wrote Rami Khouri, a Jordanian political analyst in Lebanon's English-language Daily Star. "What we have here, in fact, is the continuation in political form of the military war that was waged in July-August by Hizbullah and Israel, on behalf of themselves and their respective allies, partners, and weapons suppliers."

The escalating political battle in Lebanon has led to sharp criticism from both camps. A warning two weeks ago by Hizbullah that it would resort to street protests if the anti-Syrian majority in the cabinet refused to accede to an expanded national unity government spurred the White House to accuse the Shiite party of attempting to stage a "coup." On Saturday, White House spokesman Tony Snow described Hizbullah and Iran as a "global nexus of terrorism," adding that Tehran's support for Hizbullah had allowed the group to "perpetuate violence throughout the world."

Taking to the streets

The struggle between the competing factions in Lebanon looks set to hit the streets in the coming days.

"Going down to the streets is one of the important steps that Hizbullah and its allies will take," Sheikh Naim Qassem, Hizbullah's deputy secretary-general, told Reuters Sunday.

In response, Mr. Harb, the anti-Syrian politician, says that the pro-government forces, known as the March 14 bloc, could stage counter demonstrations.

"We are studying what we should do to counterattack," he says, adding that Hizbullah is seeking to create a "chaotic situation in the country."

"We are studying the possibility of using the same [tactics] they are using," he says, referring to street protests. "We are awaiting their first steps."
 


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Lebanon stuck in a tug of war between US, Syria and Iran
BEIRUT, Lebanon - Amid failed political talks, resignations of Cabinet ministers and threats of mass street protests, Lebanon finds itself in a tug-of-war between the United States and opponents Iran and Syria that could hold high stakes for both America's democracy push and the Mideast's future.

The conflict centers on the militant Hezbollah group's strong push to gain a larger political role in Lebanon. Coming nearly three months after the end of Hezbollah's war with Israel, the demands by Hezbollah have many on edge.

The dispute pits Hezbollah and its allies in Lebanon's government and its backers Syria and Iran against anti-Syrian members of Lebanon's government who are allied with the United States and Europe.

The divisions have become so deep that Hezbollah has given the mostly pro-Western government an ultimatum — either create a "national unity" Cabinet that gives Hezbollah a veto on key decisions or the Iranian-backed militants will seek to topple the government in street protests and work toward early elections.

The country stumbled further into political crisis Saturday when talks among rival groups collapsed after they failed to agree on Hezbollah's demand for stronger political power through more Cabinet posts for its allies. The militant group responded hours later, withdrawing its two Cabinet ministers. Three Cabinet ministers from Hezbollah's Shiite Muslim ally, the Amal party, also resigned.

Prime Minister Fuad Saniora rejected the resignations. But in an indirect blow to the Western-backed Saniora, Lebanon's pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud said Sunday the resignations cost the Cabinet its legitimacy.

The White House and the European Union have come out strongly in favor of Saniora's government, which is considered the most friendly to the United States in over two decades.

That has led some to view the conflict in broad terms.

"The beginning of the confrontation between the Iranian axis and the American project is playing itself out in the conflict over the fate of the government," wrote columnist Emile Khoury, in the leading An-Nahar newspaper.

The United States has warned it thinks Lebanon's government is at risk of being toppled. And some in the region sound the same sort of sharp warnings — saying that giving Hezbollah veto power in the Cabinet would consolidate Hezbollah's power and consequently Syria's and Iran's.

Giving the guerrillas the ability to veto amounts "to completion of the takeover of the country," another columnist, Ali Hamadeh, wrote in An-Nahar, which has taken a pro-government line.

Lebanon has played such a proxy role before.

The country, a collection of 4 million people divided between 17 religious sects with an educated class and a free economy, historically has been a Middle East battleground, with world and regional powers settling scores here.

The last time Iran did battle with America in a proxy conflict here was in the 1980s, when a series of kidnappings and suicide bombings in Beirut blamed on pro-Iranian militants killed more than 270 Americans and drove the United States to pull its Marines from Beirut.

For the United States, the success of democracy in Lebanon after Syria was forced out last year was a significant high mark and a small dose of good news as Washington struggles in hot spots like Afghanistan and Iraq.

American failure in Lebanon would embolden Syria and Iran and could affect the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as well. Syria and Iran are accused of supporting hard-line Palestinian militants.

The United States was instrumental in forcing Syria to withdraw its army from Lebanon last year in the wake of the assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri, a killing blamed by his supporters on Syria. Syria has denied involvement, but thousands took to the streets in Beirut demanding Syria leave after nearly three decades dominance of in Lebanon.

The protests also led to Lebanon's pro-Syrian prime minister to step down, and elections afterward brought an anti-Syrian majority to the Parliament and Cabinet.

But anti-Syrian groups have been unable to wrest full control of the country's politics and military.

And the United States, entangled in an unpopular war in Iraq, also might have to deal with Iran — or at least its close ally Syria — if it wants to stabilize Iraq and bring its army home.

Sateh Noureddine, managing editor of the daily As-Safir, said the resignations of the five ministers were part of "the ongoing tug-of-war in Lebanon between the United States on the one hand, and Syria and Iran on the other."

Hezbollah appears to have decided to make the forceful political claims at this point to try to capitalize on its ability to withstand Israeli attacks in the 34-day summer war.

The group has said it felt it got a big political bounce from the war, although some Lebanese blame it for starting the fighting.

The guerrillas — who act both as a fighting force and a political party — also have proved to be highly organized and have the ability to bring tens of thousands of people to demonstrate in the streets.

On Sunday, Sheik Hassan Ezzeddine, Hezbollah's senior political officer in south Lebanon, said before going to the streets, other steps need to be taken to pressure the government to meet it demands. He refused to give details on those measures.

But Hamadeh warned that if Hezbollah and its allies are able to force the government to give it the ability to veto key decisions, it essentially would mean a Hezbollah takeover in all three government institutions, the presidency, the premiership and the parliament speakership.

"This is a very serious matter," he says. (AP)


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Anti-Syrian majority accuses Syria, Iran of obstructing Hariri tribunal
BEIRUT, Lebanon - Lebanon's anti-Syrian parliamentary majority on Sunday accused Damascus and Tehran of plotting to obstruct the formation of an international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri.

The latest development in Lebanon's turbulent political drama follows the resignation Saturday of five Shiite ministers from the country's cabinet, a move which according to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud undermines the legitimacy of the government.

The head of the anti-Syrian majority and the son of the slain former prime minister Saad Hariri on Sunday told reporters in Beirut: 'The plan is uncovered ... there is an Iranian-Syrian coup to stop the formation of an international court.'

Hariri called on the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to meet and approve the formation of the international court.

Lebanon has been riven by political turmoil following the February 14, 2005 killing of Rafik Hariri, leading to domestic and international pressure on Syria to end its three-decade military presence in Lebanon as well as its political domination of its smaller neighbour.

Tensions in the country have been deepened by the recent war fought in the south between Israel and the Shiite Hezbollah movement. The failure of roundtable political talks aimed at resolving the tensions led on Saturday to the resignation of the five Shiite ministers from Siniora's cabinet.

The cabinet is set to meet Monday to discuss the latest developments, sources said, without the five ministers and also in the absence of the pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud.

Lahoud had earlier Sunday accused the Siniora administration of having 'lost its legitimacy' in the wake of the resignations.

'This makes any cabinet meeting from now on illegal and non- constitutional,' a statement by the president's office said. 'Each cabinet should be represented by half Muslims, half Christians according to the constitution.'

Responding to the president's comments, Hariri said: 'I tell the president ... that he is not legitimate. He has breached the constitution during his terms several times.'

The ministers who resigned are members of the allied Shiite movements, Amal and Hezbollah, both of which are pro-Syrian. The resignation does not automatically bring down the government, but signals a loss of political backing from the country's majority Shiite sect and could make it difficult for the Western-backed premier to govern.

Druze leader and anti-Syrian Walid Jumblatt told Deutsche Presse- Agentur dpa on Sunday that the resignations 'would cause a real problem for the Siniora cabinet.' He accused the opposition, headed by the militant Hezbollah movement, of trying to bring back Syrian influence into the country.

Shiite House Speaker Nabih Berri, who is currently on a official visit to Iran, warned on Saturday that the country is heading towards a 'catastrophe.'

Meanwhile Hezbollah's deputy secretary general Sheikh Naeem Kassem was quoted by the group's al-Manar television station as saying: 'We will start consulting with our allies to prepare for our street demonstrations.'

Hezbollah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah had threatened to engineer street protests if talks failed to produce a unity government. Hezbollah, which had two representatives in the 24-member government, is attempting to win greater political influence via a cabinet reshuffle which would see the appointment of further Shiite ministers.

The anti-Syrian parliamentary majority has however rejected forming a unity government before securing a pledge for the ouster of Lahoud, whose term was extended in 2004 under Syrian pressure. Four of Lahoud's senior aides are in jail in connection with the assassination of Hariri. (DPA)


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Syria still meddling in Lebanon affairs, says opposition group
BEIRUT, Lebanon - The National Salvation Front in Syria, a Syrian opposition group founded in London, said in a statement Sunday that Damascus is still meddling in Lebanese internal affairs in order to destabilize the country.

'The Syrian regime is still meddling in the Lebanese domestic affairs to cause an internal conflict among the Lebanese. We believe this is a desperate move by the Syrian regime to regain their hegemony on Lebanon,' said the statement which was faxed to foreign news agencies in Beirut.

The statement warned Lebanon's pro-Syrian Hezbollah militant movement from falling 'into the Syrian trap.'

'Coming from our respect to Hezbollah and its struggling history we call on the group not to be trapped in the game of (Syrian President) Bashar al Assad,' the statement said.

It also accused the Syrian regime of trying to cover up its role in the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri who was killed in a massive car bomb blast in February 2005.

His death led to domestic and international pressure which pushed Damascus to pull its troops from Lebanon in April 2005, thus ending 30 years of military presence in its smaller neighbour.

The Front, which was created in June by around 50 anti-Syrians including outspoken former vice-president Abdel Halim Khaddam and Muslim Brotherhood leader Ali Sadreddin al-Bayanouni, said the Syrian regime had 'lost all the reasons for continued survival.'

Khaddam is one of the main figures of the 'old guard' of the Ba'ath party, which has ruled Syria since 1963. He has been living in exile in Paris since last summer, wanted for high treason and corruption by Assad's regime after he accused the Syrian president of ordering Hariri's assassination.

Talks between Lebanon's pro- and anti-Syrian groups on a possible unity government collapsed this week and five ministers offered their resignation from the anti-Syrian majority government. (DPA)


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Hariri tribunal behind Shiite ministers' resignation
by Salim Yassine
BEIRUT, Lebanon - A UN probe into the assassination of former premier Rafiq Hariri lies at the heart of the resignations of five Shiite ministers from the Lebanese government.

Saturday's resignations of the pro-Syrian Hezbollah and ally Amal ministers came two days ahead of a cabinet meeting called by Prime Minister Fuad Siniora to discuss a UN document on the tribunal that will try those eventually charged for the 2005 killing.

According to the cabinet sources, matters came to a head during Saturday's meeting when Siniora anti-Syrian majority insisted on going ahead with Monday's discussions of the UN draft, which must be approved by the Lebanese government before being sent to the UN Security Council for adoption.

An ongoing United Nations probe has implicated senior officials from Syria, which for decades was the power-broker in its smaller neighbour, and Lebanese accomplices. Damascus strongly denies any connection with the Hariri killing.

Al-Manar, Hezbollah's television channel, confirmed that the issue of the international court had been behind the resignations.

"They (Siniora's anti-Syrian majority) caused the flare-up by insisting on holding Monday's exceptional meeting in violation of the constitution and the prerogatives of the president of the republic," the channel said in a political commentary Sunday.

In announcing their resignations, the five ministers accused the ruling majority of monopolising power.

"We have resigned because the majority insists on exercising power on its own," the head of the group's parliamentary bloc Mohammed Raad said, referring to the anti-Syrian majority that has baulked at forming a unity government without first having guarantees that pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud will step down.

"We don't want ministers who blindly follow the majority," Raad said. "This is about giving a warning to the majority."

According to Sunday's press, sharp exchanges took place between Raad and leaders of the anti-Syrian majority, who accused Hezbollah of playing ball with Syria in an attempt to sabotage the constitution of an international court.

The row came after the failure on Saturday of a week of talks on forming a unity government and months of political stalemate because of disputes between pro- and anti-Syrian elements in parliament.

The powerful Hezbollah movement, supported by Syria and Iran and flush from its claimed "divine victory" in the summer war with Israel, had two portfolios in the 24-minister cabinet which is dominated by anti-Syrian politicians.

Two ministers from Shiite ally Amal also resigned, along with Foreign Minister Fawzi Sallukh who is considered close to Hezbollah.

Hezbollah wants to bring in opposition allies, represented by Christian ally Michel Aoun's parliamentary group -- with 21 of parliament's 128 deputies.

It also wants a number of cabinet posts that would ensure it had a "blocking minority" -- which could stymie any attempt by the Lebanese government to ratify the international court.

Hariri, whose son Saad heads the anti-Syrian bloc, was killed in a Beirut bombing last year that sparked protests leading to the departure of Syrian troops from Lebanon after almost three decades.

Theoretically, Siniora, who has refused to accept the resignations, can ignore the walkout of the Shiites as he has the two-thirds majority in the cabinet needed to approve the UN draft, legal experts say.

"But in Lebanon's consensual political system, the cabinet cannot govern without the participation of representatives of one of the country's principal communities", said political commentator Ghassan Ezze referring to the Shiites, who make up a third of the population.

Lahoud on Sunday said Siniora's government had lost constitutional legitimacy because of the resignations and that, as a result, "any cabinet meeting is anti-constitutional and worthless".

Without commenting on the likely outcome of Monday's cabinet meeting, Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said priority would be given to "the continuation of the participation of the important Shiite community" in government. (AFP)


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Hezbollah to stage protests after unity talks fail
By Nadim Ladki
BEIRUT - Hezbollah and its allies will stage peaceful street protests after the collapse of Lebanon's all-party talks on giving them more say in government, Hezbollah's deputy chief said on Sunday.

Five Shi'ite Muslim ministers from Hezbollah and its ally, the Amal movement, resigned from the cabinet on Saturday, hours after the talks on the pro-Syrian camp's demand for effective veto power in government were deadlocked.

"This was a first step. There will be other steps that we will discuss in detail with our allies and which we will announce gradually," Hezbollah deputy chief Sheikh Naim Kassem told Reuters by telephone.

He said the talks had failed because anti-Syrian majority leaders had refused to allow others effective participation in running the country.

Asked whether the government would face street protests, Kassem said: "I can say that this campaign will be varied and effective. Going down to the streets is one of the important steps that Hezbollah and its allies will take."

Anti-Syrian leaders have pledged counter-demonstrations should Hezbollah take the political crisis to the streets, raising fears of confrontations and violence at a time of rising tension between Sunnis and Shi'ites.

"Our movement is completely peaceful ... It will not be a one-off (protest) but rather an action that would be effective on the political issue," Kassem said.

The anti-Syrian majority coalition later accused Hezbollah of implementing a Syrian-Iranian plan to overthrow the government and foil U.N. efforts to set up a court to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

"The hidden plot has been revealed. It's a Syrian-Iranian plot to launch a coup against the legitimacy, stop the establishment of an international tribunal and foil (U.N.) resolution 1701," it said in a statement.

Resolution 1701 ended a 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah in mid-August.

The statement, read by coalition leader Saad al-Hariri, son of the slain former PM, urged the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to adopt a U.N.-drafted statute for a special court to try the killers of the former prime minister.

CONTROVERSIAL SESSION

Siniora has called for an extraordinary session on Monday to discuss the draft. Pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud said any government meeting after the Shi'ites quit the cabinet would be unconstitutional.

The United States has already accused Iran, Syria and Hezbollah of plotting to topple the Lebanese government, which the U.S. administration has held up as an example of emerging democracy in the Middle East.

Kassem denied that Hezbollah was trying to put hurdles in the way of establishing the Hariri court, saying the group had already agreed to it but wanted to discuss the details.

"The issue of the court has nothing to do (with the failure of the talks). It was brought up so that the parliamentary majority would not bear the responsibility for the failure of the talks," Kassem said.

Many Lebanese blame Syria for Hariri's killing. Damascus denies involvement.

The 2005 killing of Hariri led to mass protests against Syria. Under international pressure, Syria ended its 29-year military presence in Lebanon in April last year and anti-Syrian politicians swept to victory in ensuing elections.

A U.N. commission investigating the murder has implicated senior Lebanese and Syrian security officials. (Reuters)
 

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Lahoud says Lebanon cabinet 'lost legitimacy'

Pro-Syrian Lebanese President Emile Lahoud has said the government has lost its legitimacy after a series of ministerial resignations. He said any cabinet meeting now would be worthless and anti-constitutional.
Ministers from Hezbollah and other pro-Syrian Shia Muslim groups resigned on Saturday.

The government is due to discuss a draft UN document on a tribunal for those suspected of killing anti-Syrian former PM Rafik Hariri last year.

Tension in Lebanon has been building since this summer's conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, and ahead of the formation of the tribunal.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who is part of the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority, has refused to accept the ministers' resignations.

Hezbollah, which had been demanding a more powerful role in the government, has said it will not retract them.

It has threatened to hold mass protests unless its demands for more cabinet seats are met.

'Recent changes'

In multi-party talks, Hezbollah had asked for cabinet seats that would give it and its allies the power of veto but the majority group in parliament refused.

Health Minister Mohammed Jawad Khalifa, one of those who resigned, told the BBC the current cabinet did not reflect recent changes in the Lebanese political landscape.

"What happens when we reach a dead end?" said Mr Khalifa.

"Someone has to take responsibility. Our resignation is a result of not resuming the dialogue. There are no more consultations, and there are differences - so things have come to an end."

The BBC's Kim Ghattas in Beirut says the resignations were something of a surprise as there had been hope that the power-sharing talks would resume at a later date. The ministers who resigned were in charge of the foreign affairs, agriculture, health, energy and labour portfolios.

More than eight ministers would need to resign for the government to fall.

Mr Lahoud opposed the cabinet meeting, saying he needed more time to study the draft.

On Sunday, he deepened his opposition, saying: "Any cabinet meeting held by this government shall be absolutely illegal and unconstitutional because what is based on illegal grounds shall be considered null and void."

Our correspondent says the move could make things very difficult for Western-backed Mr Siniora.

She says Mr Siniora could appoint five different Shia ministers, but politically this would add to the growing tension in Lebanon between pro-Syrian groups and the anti-Syrian coalition government.

Hezbollah has accused the Lebanese government of failing in its job, and has proclaimed itself the victor of the conflict with Israel earlier this year. - BBC


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Cabinet to Convene Monday despite Resignation of Hizbullah, Amal Ministers
The cabinet will convene Monday despite the resignation of five Hizbullah and Amal ministers which has started a constitutional battle between the Syrian protégé president and the anti-Damascus prime minister.
Environment Minister Yaacub Sarraf, who is close to President Emile Lahoud, also announced his resignation Monday, becoming the sixth government member to quit.

Prime Minister Fouad Saniora has urged the government to meet in an extraordinary session at 12:00 midday Monday to endorse a U.N. draft text calling for an international tribunal in the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri.

Lahoud has stepped up the pressure by saying the cabinet was no longer legitimate. While the president's position is a blow to Saniora, it does not carry legal weight because the Lebanese president is not empowered to dissolve the government.

Although the 24-member government can still muster a two-thirds quorum to meet and take decisions, approval of the international tribunal without the presence of the Shiites could throw in doubt the legitimacy over such a decision in Lebanon's complex sectarian balance of political power.

The direct challenge from the anti-Syrian March 14 Forces that dominate the cabinet and the parliament to convene the government Monday could deepen the political divide.

The parliamentary majority has accused Hizbullah and the Amal movement, the main pro-Syrian and pro-Iranian Shiite groups, of doing Damascus's and Tehran's bidding and seeking to undermine the formation of the international tribunal.

Parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri directly accused Syria and Iran of seeking to scuttle the formation of the international court.

"This is a Syrian-Iranian plan to overthrow the legitimate authority and prevent the formation of the international tribunal," said Saad at the end of a meeting of the March 14 Forces Sunday.

There was no immediate reaction from Iran or Syria about Hariri's accusations but both have denied previous claims that they were trying to topple the Lebanese government.

If approved, the tribunal would try suspects in Rafik Hariri's 2005 assassination, which his supporters have blamed on Syria. Syria has denied the claims.

The resignation of Hizbullah and Amal ministers came Saturday just after the country's top leaders failed to reach agreement on the formation of a "national unity" government in which Hizbullah and its affiliates would have a third-plus-one veto power, a demand vehemently rejected by the ruling majority.

Lahoud opposed the cabinet meeting, saying he needed more time to study the draft. Saniora, in response, stressed that the meeting would go ahead and urged the president to attend.

Lahoud, in a letter sent to Saniora, based his position on Article Five of the constitution that states "all sects should be justly represented in the cabinet."

The declaration of the president solidifies the political divide in Lebanon between anti- and pro-Syrian forces, with Lahoud and Hizbullah tilting toward Syria and Saniora and his allies opposing their powerful neighbor's influence over their country.

But Saniora also came under criticism from fellow Sunni Muslim politicians. Three former prime ministers -- Salim Hoss, Najib Mikati and Omar Karami -- jointly appealed for Saniora to act "wisely."

"The authority in Lebanon has reached a situation whereby it does not conform in the pact of (sectarian) coexistence," the three former premiers said, according to the official National News Agency.

Hizbullah, which gained increasing political clout for its fierce fight against Israel over the summer, recently threatened to call mass protests to begin Monday with the aim of bringing down the government unless it received greater cabinet representation.

By Sunday night, there were no signs that Hizbullah would hold the rallies Monday, as the group had not made any calls for street protests.

"Before going to the street, there are other steps to be taken as a means to pressure the government to meet our demand to form a national unity government made up of all factions," Sheik Hassan Ezzeddine, Hizbullah's senior political officer in south Lebanon, told The Associated Press Sunday. He did not elaborate.(Naharnet-AP)
 
 
 

Beirut, 13 Nov 06, 09:09


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Environment Minister Becomes 6th Cabinet Member to Quit
Environment Minister Yaacub Sarraf, who is close to Damascus-backed President Emile Lahoud, announced his resignation on Monday, becoming the sixth government member to quit.
Sarraf, a Christian, joins five Shiite ministers who quit Saturday Premier Fouad Saniora's cabinet.

The National News Agency said Sarraf submitted his resignation in a letter to the Prime Minister.

"I don't see myself belonging to any constitutional authority in which an entire sect is absent," Sarraf said in his letter of resignation, according to the agency. "So I am tendering my resignation from your government."

The resignation came just before the cabinet planned to meet despite an announcement by Lahoud that the government lost its legitimacy after the resignations of the Hizbullah and Amal ministers.

With Sarraf's resignation, a quarter of the 24-member cabinet had quit. Legally, the government still has the necessary two-thirds quorum to meet and make decisions, although doubts may be raised about the constitutionality of any actions it takes because it lacks Shiite members.

Sarraf is an independent but is allied with Lahoud and Hizbullah. He is Greek Orthodox -- Lebanon's second largest Christian sect after Maronite Catholics.

Saniora swiftly rejected Sarraf's resignation as he did with the other five. However, on Monday, Hizbullah's two ministers made their resignations official by presenting them in writing to the cabinet secretary.

The withdrawal by the five ministers Saturday left the Shiites, the largest single sect in Lebanon, out of the government. Sarraf's resignation strengthens the Shiites' bid for a larger presence in the cabinet.(AP-Naharnet)
 
 
 

Beirut, 13 Nov 06, 11:34


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March 14 Accuses Syria, Iran of Plotting to Block Hariri Court
The anti-Syrian March 14 coalition has launched a campaign to defend the ruling majority's authority, accusing Iran and Syria of plotting to scuttle the creation of an international tribunal to try the assassins of former Premier Rafik Hariri.
"This is a Syrian-Iranian plan to overthrow the legitimate authority and prevent the formation of the international tribunal," said parliamentary leader Saad Hariri at the end of a meeting of the March 14 Forces late Sunday.

"The plot by Syria and Iran to stop the creation of an international court has been exposed," Hariri told reporters in a statement read out after the meeting at his Koreitem mansion in Beirut.

The conference came after five Hizbullah and Amal ministers resigned from the government Saturday just after the country's top leaders failed to reach agreement on the formation of a "national unity" government in which Hizbullah and its affiliates would have a third-plus-one veto power, a demand vehemently rejected by the ruling majority.

"This resignation was not a coincidence, but an attempt to foil the formation of the international court," Hariri said, stressing that the "crippling of the court and the protection of the criminals are the responsibility of a well-known murderous regime," in an indirect accusation to Syria.

"We are here to declare a battle to defend the legitimacy," Hariri added.

The cabinet will convene Monday despite the resignations which have started a constitutional battle between Syrian protégé president Emile Lahoud and anti-Damascus Prime Minister Fouad Saniora.


The statement also pointed a finger at Lahoud, saying that the president "wants to assassinate Rafik Hairi a second time."

On Monday, Environment Minister Yaacub Sarraf, a close ally to Syrian protégé President Emile Lahoud, also resigned, becoming the sixth government member to quit.

There was no immediate reaction from Iran or Syria about Hariri's accusations but both have denied previous claims that they were trying to topple the Lebanese government.(Naharnet-AFP)
 
 
 

Beirut, 13 Nov 06, 11:12

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Lahoud: Saniora's Government Lost Legitimacy
President Emile Lahoud took sides Sunday in Lebanon's latest political dispute, claiming that the cabinet was no longer legitimate following the resignation of five Shiite ministers.
On Monday, Environment Minister Yaacub Sarraf, who is close to Lahoud, announced his resignation too, becoming the sixth to quit the cabinet

But the anti-Syrian majority in parliament responded, urging the government to meet despite the resignations to approve a U.N. draft document calling for an international tribunal in the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri.

Lahoud, in a letter sent to the prime minister, based his position on Article Five of the constitution that states "all sects should be justly represented in the Cabinet."

"President Lahoud informed Premier Fouad Saniora that his government had lost its constitutional legitimacy and, as a result, any cabinet meeting is anti-constitutional and worthless," Lahoud said in his statement.

The declaration of the president solidifies the political divide in Lebanon between anti- and pro-Syrian forces, with Lahoud and Hizbullah tilting toward Syria and Saniora and his allies opposing their neighbor's influence over their country.

Saniora, in response, stressed that the cabinet meeting he called for Monday to discuss the international tribunal would go ahead and urged the president to attend.(AP-AFP-Naharnet)
 
 
 

Beirut, 13 Nov 06, 10:25

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Two French Peacekeepers Injured in Bulldozer Accident in the South
Two French soldiers serving with the U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon were seriously injured on Sunday when their bulldozer rolled over, a spokesman for the U.N. force said.
Milos Strugar said French troops were doing engineering and construction work when their bulldozer overturned at the French headquarters in the village of Bourj Qalawi near the southern port city of Tyre.

Two soldiers were seriously injured and flown by a U.N. helicopter to hospital in the southern port city of Sidon for treatment, Strugar said.

There are about 1,500 French soldiers serving with the reinforced U.N. peacekeeping force, which now numbers about 10,000 troops.(AP)
 
 
 

Beirut, 13 Nov 06, 10:13

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Crippled Cabinet will still discuss Hariri court

By Nada Bakri
Daily Star staff
Monday, November 13, 2006


BEIRUT: Lebanon's Cabinet will convene Monday in an extraordinary session to study the final draft that outlines the international court to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, despite the resignation of five of its ministers. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora decided to go ahead with his decision to hold the extraordinary session, despite statements by pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud that the government had "lost its constitutional legitimacy" following the five Shiites ministers' resignation.

The ministers, belonging to Amal and Hizbullah, resigned hours after the week-long national consultations broke down over demands made by Hizbullah's allies for veto power in the Cabinet. The ruling majority had rejected the demands.

In a statement late Sunday, Siniora's press office said the premier told his ministers on Thursday that he had scheduled an extraordinary Cabinet session for Monday.

It added that Siniora later agreed to postpone the session after Lahoud said he needed more time to study the final draft of the court before discussing it in Cabinet for approval.

Siniora said that he had requested a meeting with Lahoud on Sunday to discuss the latter's remarks on the draft law, but Lahoud did not respond.

Early Sunday, Lahoud issued a statement to the media, saying that the government "has lost its legitimacy, following the ministers' resignation and any decision it makes will be considered unconstitutional."

"Any Cabinet meeting is anti-constitutional and worthless," Lahoud's press office said in a statement.

In light of these developments, Siniora decided to go ahead with the session but addressed Lahoud in a letter urging him to attend.

"Your Excellency, I hope that you would attend the Cabinet's extraordinary session that will be held on Monday to study the  draft law of the international court," Siniora said in his letter.

"It is self-evident that Cabinet will discuss the different points of view and remarks on the draft law before making a just and fair decision," he added.

Lahoud's argument is based on a clause in the Constitution that stipulates "an authority that contradicts the national accord" and another that says "all sects should be fairly represented in Cabinet."

Siniora rejected the ministers' resignations, which came after the collapse of the talks aimed at creating a government of national unity.

Constitutionally, Siniora's government can function without the five Shiite ministers, since it commands a majority led by Hariri's son Saad in the 128-seat Parliament. But in a system based on sectarian consensus, the absence of representatives from the single biggest community could fatally weaken it.

The March 14 Forces say that according to the Constitution the Cabinet can convene and pass decisions despite of the resignation of the ministers.

"Cabinet's approval of the draft law would be valid and 100 percent constitutional," former President Amin Gemayel said on Sunday. - With agencies


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Israeli general in charge of troops at border resigns


Compiled by Daily Star staff
Monday, November 13, 2006


An Israeli general in charge of troops along the Lebanese border resigned on Sunday after being accused of failing to prevent the capture of two soldiers that triggered a month-long war with Lebanon. Brigadier General Gal Hirsch is the second Israeli general to quit amid widespread public criticism of military failures during the 34-day war that ended with a UN-brokered cease-fire on August 14.

"He has submitted his resignation," a military spokesperson said of Hirsch, who, according to Israeli media reports, stepped down after a military probe accused him of "improper functioning" after the two soldiers were seized on July 12.

Hizbullah captured the soldiers in a cross-border raid in which eight troops were killed.

Hirsch had been head of the Galilee Brigade, which is responsible for patrolling Israel's northern border.

Israeli media reports said the army's probe had accused him of failing to drill troops about the possibility of being captured, despite repeated warnings that Hizbullah planned to try to seize soldiers, Israel Radio said.

Israel's Maariv newspaper said Israeli reservist General Doron Almog, who has been carrying out an internal probe of events that led to the war, had called Hirsch and recommended he resign before he publishes his findings on the capture.

The paper quoted Hirsch as expressing anger over Almog's conclusions, telling colleagues the report was unfair.

"To say I don't deserve to be a commander is quite absurd. I don't deserve this," Hirsch said.

In mid-September, the top general in charge of Israel's northern front, Udi Adam, quit his command after the army was embarrassed by the nearly 4,000 rockets Hizbullah fired at the Jewish state during the war.

In another development, Israel continued over the weekend its violation of Lebanon's airspace, with more than five Israeli jets flying over various Southern towns. - Agencies


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National humiliation

 

Monday, November 13, 2006


First person Joseph el-Khoury


Along with many Lebanese abroad I have been feeling a deep sense of national humiliation over the past few days. I have been skeptical from the start, if not completely opposed to the idea of a national dialogue. This is understandable, as I still harbor distant memories of conferences held in fancy European resorts and Arab capitals. At the time it proved a very effective way to learn geography but none of these attempts at dialogue led to long-lasting and satisfactory resolutions. Ironically many of these so-called first-rank politicians who were part of the Lausanne and Geneva set are still debating our future 20 years later.

Once again our politicians have failed to behave responsibly. By agreeing to a national dialogue outside the normal framework of the institutions they have re-established a primitive process reminiscent of the days of the omnipotent militia leader. This tribal round-table is of course not suitable to any democratic process, let alone in a fragile society with ever-widening fault lines.

Out of the latest parliamentary elections and due to the complex nature of shifting alliances came a majority and a significant minority. While the Hizbullah-Aoun alliance deliberately refuses to behave as an opposition in what appears a tactical move to undermine the government, the behavior of the March 14 Forces is less clear. On one hand they insist on their popular and electoral mandate to govern the country and on the other they adopt the same posturing as their opponents. I might be unaware of some secret US-inspired recipe to win the standoff but I get the feeling that they are more comfortable in the roles of sectarian and feudal chiefs than in that of elected representatives.

I am not sure what would relieve my sense of humiliation. It is clearly not the lunches held by Samir Geagea and Michel Aoun or the sarcastic humor of Nabih Berri. I wish they chose to have this circus elsewhere than the not-so-vibrant heart of Beirut, where their security ring is guaranteed to keep every shopper, businessman or tourist at bay. May I suggest another fancy European capital next time!


Dr. Joseph El-Khoury
A Lebanese citizen in voluntary exile
London, UK


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Sayyed's lawyers accuse UN team of falsifying evidence in Hariri probe
Attorneys describe their client as 'political detainee'


Daily Star staff
Monday, November 13, 2006


BEIRUT: The defense attorneys for Major General Jamil Sayyed, one of four former security chiefs in custody on suspicion of involvement in the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri, lashed out on Sunday at Lebanese and international investigations into the string of assassinations that struck Lebanon last year.

During a news conference  at the Sheraton-Coral Beach Hotel in Beirut, Sayyed's attorneys accused former UN probe chief  Detlev Mehlis and his team of presenting false facts and false witnesses in order to "to throw Sayyed in jail."

The attorneys - Akram Azouri, Sayyed's son Malek Sayyed, along with French lawyers Antoine Korkmaz, Raphaelle Neron and Jerrod Brawel - referred to their client as a "political detainee."

They added that their client was offered freedom in return for "supporting a false witness who would bluntly accuse Syria of committing the murder."

The attorneys also accused Investigating Magistrate Elias Eid of "complying with the orders of the [UN] investigative committee, while completely disregarding his authority," adding that Sayyed's confinement, "contradicts the law."

Korkmaz claimed that two weeks prior to his arrest, Sayyed held three "secret meetings" with Gerhard Lehmann, Mehlis' senior assistant, who demanded that Sayyed provide the names of the people responsible for the assassination of Hariri - otherwise he would be incarcerated. 

"But Sayyed repeatedly informed Lehmann that he would not accuse innocent people," he said, adding that Mehlis and his team "went to excess in fabricating facts, and questioning imaginary witnesses."

The French lawyer said there were three major flaws in Sayyed's case. The first, he said, came in the manner in which his client was arrested, "which happened without resorting to the Lebanese judiciary."

Korkmaz accused Eid of approving Sayyed's arrest, "strictly on the basis of recommendations delivered by the [UN] committee, and not on the basis of any viable evidence."

The second flaw, according to Korkmaz, was the flagrant violation of the rights of the defense, whereby Sayyed's lawyers were not allowed to hold any private meetings with him, because a person from Lebanese intelligence services was constantly present during those meetings.

He said the third flaw was the fact that Sayyed has been detained for 14 months, "without being officially arrested."

He added that he and his colleagues cannot file an appeal due to the legal limbo their client is in, "and because Eid refuses to release our client until the UN probe is concluded."

Korkmaz said all the evidence gathered by Mehlis and his successor,  Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz, "is useless, since none of it has been able to prove that our client was connected to the murder."

Korkmaz added that if an international court were to be established, "Jamil Sayyed would surely be acquitted."

"But the establishment of such a court might take months, even years, and it is unjust that our client be kept confined for such a long time," he complained. - The Daily Star


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UN envoy delivers 'final draft' on court to try Hariri assassins

By Leila Hatoum
Daily Star staff
Saturday, November 11, 2006


BEIRUT: The Lebanese government has received the final draft of an international tribunal that will try those suspected of the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri, a source close to the government said Friday. The personal representative of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Geir Pedersen, handed Premier Fouad Siniora the final draft outlining the framework of the tribunal, negotiated by UN and Lebanese legal experts over the past year.

Annan sent a letter to the premier Thursday saying: "I wish to be able to indicate to the [UN Security] Council that your government agrees to the draft."

The source said the Cabinet was expected to discuss the draft after Siniora returns from a trip to Seoul and Tokyo next week and then refer it to Parliament for ratification.

President Emile Lahoud received a copy of the draft from Siniora, as per the constitution, according to Baabda Palace sources, and he will study it before discussing it with the premier, also according to Article 52 of the Constitution.

A previous version of the draft, initially reported as the final version, had been criticized by Russia and China. The submission to the Lebanese government of an altered draft is an indication that discord among the five permanent members of the Security Council over the tribunal has been resolved.

International law professor and legal expert Shafic Masri told The Daily Star on Friday that "it is understood Article 3, which gives the tribunal the power to look into crimes against humanity, was removed. This was intended for three reasons.

"The first is to narrow the jurisdiction of the tribunal to confine it to the [Hariri] killing only.

"The second is to avoid any possibility of trying crimes against humanity or other crimes which may be or may not be related to the original crime," he added. "The third purpose is a personal reason related to Russia's interests in the region."

Russia is a traditional ally of Syria and has repeatedly been accused of protecting Damascus against harsh resolutions at the Security Council.

A diplomatic source at the UN said Article 3 would empower the tribunal to handle trials concerning terrorist attacks in Lebanon.

The source added the draft was amended to prevent the tribunal from trying heads of state.

The March 14 Forces have accused Lahoud and his Syrian counterpart, Bashar Assad, of orchestrating Hariri's murder.


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Israel and America 'explore alternatives to overflights'

By Nada Bakri
Daily Star staff
Saturday, November 11, 2006


BEIRUT: In the face of growing international criticism of Israeli overflights of Lebanon, Israel and the United States are considering alternative methods for gathering intelligence in the country, the Haaretz newspaper reported on Friday. Among the various proposals to replace the regular violations of Lebanese airspace by Israeli aircraft are the use of American satellites and intelligence-gathering flights carried out by other countries with the approval of the government of Lebanon, the Israeli daily said.

Labor Minister Trad Hamadeh, a close Hizbullah ally, said any intelligence gathered in Lebanon and transmitted to Israel by a foreign country would be considered a violation of Lebanon's sovereignty.

"American satellites or any other sort of intelligence-gathering or spying on Lebanon by any country that is transmitted to the enemy [would be] considered a severe violation of our sovereignty," Hamadeh told The Daily Star on Friday.

"I think that this current government, despite its pro-American stance, would still be capable of refusing transmission of information about its internal affairs to its enemy," he said.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's office refused to comment on the Haaretz report, saying on Friday that it knew nothing of any such plans.

The newspaper quoted a senior political source in Jerusalem as saying that the United States and Israel "do not want to embarrass the Lebanese government and create tensions with the states who deployed, at our request, troops to the United Nations force.

"If a solution can be found that would not require the overflights, and we could have another means to learn what goes on over there - perfect," the source said.

The US government has reportedly made it clear to Israel that it recognizes the need for gathering intelligence and knows that aerial photography provided important information for Israel in its execution of the recent war in Lebanon.

"We recognize Israel's need for these flights and are seeking a solution that will be suitable both for the international community and that meet Israel's needs," Haaretz quoted a senior US official as telling reporters in Tel Aviv this week.

The Americans are concerned, however, that continued overflights will weaken Siniora's Cabinet, which Hizbullah accuses of complicity in US efforts to achieve the disarmament of the group.

Washington also fears the flights will offer Hizbullah an excuse to violate United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, the international agreement that ended 34 days of fighting in Lebanon this summer, by arguing that Israel has broken the peace.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is expected to discuss the issue during a visit to Washington on Monday.

The flights over Lebanon have drawn severe international criticism. On Thursday France summoned the Israeli ambassador to Paris to protest an incident in which a plane "dived" at French troops. - With agencies


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March 14, Hizbullah strike unyielding poses ahead of key consultation session

By Leila Hatoum
Daily Star staff
Saturday, November 11, 2006


BEIRUT: Tough statements from various sides in Lebanon's current political showdown cast doubt Friday on the chances  for headway when leaders convene Saturday morning for the fourth session of national consultation talks. Hizbullah on Friday continued to insist on the expansion of the Cabinet to include more opposition members, while the March 14 Forces reiterated their demands for the ouster of President Emile Lahoud and the creation of an international court to prosecute suspects in the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri.

MP Ghassan Tueni proposed to Speaker Nabih Berri that he ask the president to resign, An-Nahar daily reported on Friday.

Tueni told the newspaper that he had informed Berri of a petition being circulated among MPs toward this goal.

The March 14 Forces also rejected a Hizbullah demand that discussions on Lahoud's fate be preceded by the formation of a unity government.

In an interview Friday with local radio station Sawt Al-Ghad, Hizbullah MP Hassan Fadlallah said participants in the national consultations "have entered a serious phase of discussions on the principle of a national unity government.

"Hizbullah is open to all suggestions as long as they bring us to the desired result, which is the formation of a national unity government," he said.

"We must be partners in this country to get out of this political upheaval and crisis," Fadlallah said. "We are still waiting for more consultations and the crystallization of the final stand of the current majority to decide its choice regarding our initiative."

Fadlallah said that Hizbullah's position on the proposed Hariri tribunal had already been established. "We have made our choice clear on this matter," he said. "We will discuss the draft when it reaches the Cabinet, which unanimously approved the demand to form such a tribunal - a decision we were a part of."

Fadlallah rejected efforts to link Hizbullah's demands for a unity government with the formation of the tribunal.

"The Lebanese agree on the necessity of trying the assassins of former Premier Rafik Hariri and to reach the truth," he said.

But March 14 sources said on Friday that Hizbullah was attempting to make the formation of a unity government a condition for the establishment of the new judicial body.

Meanwhile, Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir met with Social Affairs Minister Nayla Mouawad, who said she refused to allow "Syrian-Iranian dialogue" to govern Lebanon.

"Nor do we accept that our decision would be in the hands of the international community," she added.

"The country's true crisis began with a war which was imposed on us ... and we are paying the price now.

"I reiterate that Hizbullah engaged the country in an adventure and Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah confessed that he had not expected that the price would be this high," she said. "Therefore, we cannot get involved in new adventures, we cannot hand the presidency to one group and thus we cannot put our fate in Hizbullah's hands."

Mouawad added, however, that the March 14 "welcomes the participation of MP Michel Aoun in the government."

Saying the current situation "reminds me of the 1989 crisis," Mouawad called on the prelate to launch a dialogue that would "bring the Christians together." In 1989, with the signing of the Taif Accord that ended Lebanon's Civil War, then-General and interim Prime Minister Aoun led fighters against the Lebanese Forces (LF), headed by Samir Geagea, after which Aoun also launched a "war of liberation" against Syrian and Israeli forces stationed inside Lebanon.

Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan met separately with Sfeir Friday. After the meeting he said political tensions "will no longer prevail in relations between the LF and Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement."

Sfeir met with several other leading Christian politicians Friday, including former President Amine Gemayel, MPs Samir Franjieh and Farid Khazen, and former MP Fares Soueid.


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Finns accept Israeli explanation for wartime air strike that killed UN observers, but questions remain

By Agence France Presse (AFP)

Saturday, November 11, 2006


HELSINKI: Finland on Friday accepted that an Israeli bombardment of a UN post in Lebanon in which four observers were killed, including one Finn, was accidental but said questions still remained. "On the basis of the material available, the Khiam expert group has no reason to question Israel's explanation that the destruction of Patrol Base Khiam resulted from an error," a panel of military and diplomatic experts concluded.

"Nor does the expert group have any evidence that the attack on the UN in Khiam was intentional," it added.

But it regretted that on a number of technical military queries put to both Israel and the UN "no written replies were received."

Outstanding questions remain about the position of the Israeli forces near the South Lebanon border town of Khiam, the number of troops on observation duty and internal communications during the operation.

"It is not possible to form a full and detailed picture of the destruction of Patrol Base Khiam on the basis of the reports provided," the experts said.

Finnish Premier Matti Vanhanen also said the "Israeli and UN reports [on the attack] are logical but not exhaustive."

Despite these questions going unanswered, however, "the conclusions would have stood as they are," said the head of judicial affairs at the Finnish Foreign Ministry, Irma Ertman.

Four UN observers - from Austria, Canada, China and Finland - were killed during the Israeli bombardment of their post on the 13th day of the month-long Israeli war on Lebanon.

The post was destroyed by a 500 kilogram precision-guided  bomb on July 25, according to findings in a UN report published in September.

Tel Aviv blamed "a computer problem" which resulted in the UN post being "chosen as one of the targets for the Israeli Army," the experts' report said.

Israeli forces "should have paid greater attention to its air force targeting after receiving warnings through the communications channels of UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping operation in Lebanon, about bombings that could jeopardize the safety of UN bases," the report added.

"The decision not to monitor the use of fire when the intended target of artillery and air-force fire is situated only a few kilometers from Israeli territory is surprising," according to the report.

Helsinki put together an expert panel to examine the UN and Israeli reports into the incident after losing one of its nationals in the incident and not in its capacity as the current president of the EU. - AFP


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UN seeks end to 'very dangerous' overflights
Envoy holds talks with berri ahead of report on implementation of 1701

By Mira Borji
Daily Star staff
Saturday, November 11, 2006


BEIRUT: A senior United Nations envoy said Friday that Israel's continued violations of Lebanese airspace "are very dangerous," stressing the world body's keenness to "halt or at least reduce" Israeli overflights in the coming weeks. This came as France said Friday it hoped the US would put pressure on Israel to end military flights over Lebanon, after French peacekeepers nearly launched missiles at Israeli jets flying carrying out mock raids.

"This message must be sent by France and other countries, and also the UN ... We hope the Americans can send the same type of message to the Israelis," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei.

"The ambassador took note yesterday of what the minister said, and I think he has made a commitment to provide us with a certain number of clarifications," he added.

On Wednesday Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said French troops participating in the UNIFIL peacekeeping force in the South almost launched missiles at Israeli warplanes which had flown over their position in a threatening manner on October 31.

In Beirut, the visiting UN political affairs officer, Michael Williams said: "The Israelis promised the UN they would look into the issue ... We hope to achieve progress in this regard."

Williams, assigned by UN chief Kofi Annan to monitor the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701, spoke to reporters after a meeting with Speaker Nabih Berri.

Israel's occupation of a Lebanese village along the Southern border was also nearing an end, he predicted.

"I am sure that the Israelis will fully withdraw from Ghajar," he said, without providing any timeframe.

"We had a very good meeting," Williams added.

Resolution 1701, which secured a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hizbullah in this past summer's month-long war, took effect on August 14.

Williams also expressed support for ongoing national talks in Lebanon sponsored by Berri, saying: "The Lebanese will reach a successful result."

The UN envoy arrived in Beirut Thursday night after meeting earlier in the week with Israeli officials concerning the Jewish state's repeated violations of Lebanon's airspace.

He is charged with gathering information from Lebanon and Israel before submitting a report to Annan, who, in turn, will submit his own report on 1701 to the Security Council at the end of the month.

Earlier in the day, Williams met with Defense Minister Elias Murr for further discussion on the Israeli violations.

"The orders made by the Lebanese Army Command are clear in terms of defying the Israeli overflights," Murr said.

Accompanied by Geir Pedersen, Annan's personal representative in Lebanon, Williams later met with Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh, who underscored Beirut's commitment to implementing 1701.

"Weapons are not being smuggled from Syria," Salloukh said in reference to a report by another UN envoy, Terje Roed-Larsen, on October 19 which said weapons were being smuggled from Syria to Hizbullah.

Meanwhile, the National News Agency (NNA) said Friday that two Israeli bulldozers and an excavator were seen near Roueisset al-Alam, in the Shebaa Farms.

The NNA also reported the entry of an Israeli infantry unit into the Shebaa Farms Thursday night, moving toward the Seddanah base from which the Israelis withdrew last May.

And in the latest violations, a statement issued by the Lebanese Army Command said four Israeli jets violated Lebanese airspace on Friday.

The fighter-bombers flew over several parts of the country, including Rmeish, Bint Jbeil, Marjayoun, Nabatiyeh, Tyre, Beirut, Zahle, Baalbek, and Tripoli.


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Sunday November 12, 2006

The Sunday Times November 12, 2006

Hezbollah’s missiles back in Lebanon
Uzi Mahnaimi, Tel Aviv
 
FOUR months after Israel launched its onslaught against Hezbollah, the Lebanese guerrillas are back in south Lebanon stronger than ever and armed with more rockets than they had before the conflict, according to Israeli intelligence.
During the month-long war, which began on July 12, Hezbollah fired 200 to 250 rockets a day into Israel, killing 43 civilians and terrorising much of the north of the country.
 
“Since the ceasefire, additional rockets, weapons and military equipment have reached Hezbollah,” said an Israeli intelligence officer. “We assume they now have about 20,000 rockets of all ranges — a bit more than they had before July 12.”

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, has confirmed the Israeli estimate. In a recent interview with al-Manar, the Hezbollah television station, he claimed his organisation had restocked its arsenal and now held at least 30,000 rockets, sufficient for five months of war.

Israeli military intelligence has warned the government that renewed fighting with Hezbollah, which it regards as a terrorist organisation, should be expected as early as next spring.

In response, Israeli forces have taken emergency action. They have postponed a plan to reduce the length of national service — currently 36 months for men and about 24 months for women — and are stepping up production of better armoured tanks.

They are also grouping all special forces into a single new division and are developing laser technology, jointly with the United States, to shoot down Hezbollah’s rockets.

On the border with Lebanon it is easy to understand Israeli concerns. A sniper from the Israeli 50th infantry brigade said last week that Hezbollah was active, although its members wore civilian clothes rather than uniforms.

The sniper, a 24-year-old lawyer from New York on national service, watched through his gun sight as a young man carrying an AK-47 assault rifle climbed from a Jeep. “He was walking quickly and all of a sudden he disappeared into a hidden shelter,” he said. “Then the guy went back to the Jeep and back to the tunnel, checking how quickly he could get there. Then he climbed into the Jeep and drove away.

He added: “We feel that Hezbollah are constantly there, though we rarely see any weapons.”

The Israeli military estimates that at least 5,000 rockets are hidden in secret shelters along the border, which it failed to find before the ceasefire came into effect on August 14.

Iranian-made long-range Zelzal rockets, which could reach Tel Aviv, have been stored in hidden locations. “We’re now in a race to locate the new rockets,” said a Mossad source.

Tracking down the Iranian rockets was one of Israel’s few military successes in the summer. According to sources, the Israeli air force destroyed them on the first night of battle. “We believe Hezbollah have learnt their lesson and it will be much harder to locate them next time,” said the source.

Israel has not yet found a way to tackle the threat from the short and medium-range rockets. It is developing the Nautilus laser-guided cannon in an attempt to intercept them. “It still remains to be seen if the laser gun will work,” said another source. “But it will take up to three years and might be too late for the next war.”

Israel is alarmed at the burgeoning self-confidence of Nasrallah and what it perceives as his intention to undermine Lebanon’s fragile government and take over the country’s politics.

Talks in Beirut to defuse the crisis collapsed yesterday. Nasrallah has set a deadline of tomorrow for his demands to be met or he will stage mass demonstrations.
 
 
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Hezbollah to Stage Protests After Unity Talks Fail
By REUTERS
Filed at 7:03 a.m. ET

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Hezbollah and its allies will stage peaceful street protests to press their demands after the collapse of Lebanon's all-party talks on giving them more say in government, Hezbollah's deputy chief said on Sunday.

Five Shi'ite Muslim ministers from Hezbollah and its ally, the Amal movement, resigned from the cabinet on Saturday, hours after the talks on the pro-Syrian camp's demand for effective veto power in government were deadlocked.

``This was a first step. There will be other steps that we will discuss in detail with our allies and which we will announce gradually,'' Hezbollah deputy chief Sheikh Naim Kassem told Reuters by telephone.

He said the talks had failed because anti-Syrian majority leaders had refused to allow others effective participation in running the country.

``The parliamentary majority camp foiled the dialogue because they don't want widescale Lebanese participation in government and they want to monopolise decisions in this country. This is something that we... can't be witnesses to,'' Kassem said.

Asked whether the government would face street protests, Kassem said: ``I can say that this campaign will be varied and effective. Going down to the streets is one of the important steps that Hezbollah and its allies will take.''

Anti-Syrian leaders have pledged counter-demonstrations should Hezbollah take the political crisis to the streets, raising fears of confrontations and violence at a time of rising tension between Sunnis and Shi'ites.

The United States is not keen to see Hezbollah, which it regards as a terrorist organization, exert more influence over the government.

The White House on Saturday accused Iran, Syria and Hezbollah of plotting to topple the Lebanese government, which the U.S. administration has held up as an example of emerging democracy in the Middle East.

FEARS

``Our movement is completely peaceful...It will not be a one-off (protest) but rather an action that would be effective on the political issue,'' Kassem said.

Kassem denied that Hezbollah's move was aimed at putting hurdles in the way of establishing a special court to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

Some anti-Syrian politicians have said the talks collapsed over Hezbollah's objections to the court. Kassem said the group had agreed to the tribunal in earlier talks.

``The issue of the court has nothing to do (with the failure of the talks). It was brought up so that the parliamentary majority would not bear the responsibility for the failure of the talks,'' Kassem said.

Many Lebanese blame Syria for Hariri's killing. Damascus denies involvement.

Lebanon received from the United Nations on Friday a draft document outlining the structure and legal framework of the Hariri tribunal. Siniora had called a cabinet meeting for Monday to discuss the draft.

Pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud opposed the cabinet meeting, saying he needed more time to study the draft.

The 2005 killing of Hariri led to mass protests against Syria. Under international pressure, Syria ended a 29-year military presence in Lebanon in April last year and anti-Syrian politicians swept to victory in ensuing elections.

A U.N. commission investigating the murder has implicated senior Lebanese and Syrian security officials.


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Hezbollah: Quitting cabinet a warning to ruling majority
by Pierre Sawaya
BEIRUT (AFP) - All five Shiite ministers from Hezbollah and ally Amal quit the Lebanese government, the head of the group's parliamentary bloc said, but the prime minister said they must stay.

"We have resigned because the majority insists on exercising power on its own," Mohammed Raad said, referring to the anti-Syrian majority that has baulked at forming a unity government without first having guarantees that pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud will step down.

"We don't want ministers who blindly follow the majority," Raad said. "This is about giving a warning to the majority."

But Prime Minister Fuad Siniora immediately issued a statement saying he would not accept the resignations, which he said he heard about from Lebanese media.

"Mr Siniora rejects the resignation of Hezbollah and Amal ministers, even if they officially hand in their resignation, and insists that they take part in government," the statement said.

"This government respects the constitution and principles based on dialogue and consensus, and it insists on cooperating with all parties in order to find solutions which preserve the interests of Lebanon," it added.

The resignations came after the failure on Saturday of a week of talks on forming a unity government and months of political stalemate because of disputes between pro- and anti-Syrian elements in parliament.

The powerful Hezbollah movement, supported by Syria and Iran and flush from its claimed "divine victory" in the summer war with Israel, had two portfolios in the 24-minister cabinet which is dominated by anti-Syrian politicians.

Two ministers from Shiite ally Amal also resigned, along with Foreign Minister Fawzi Sallukh who is considered close to Hezbollah.

Hezbollah wants to bring in opposition allies, represented by Christian ally Michel Aoun's parliamentary group -- with 21 of parliament's 128 deputies.

It also wants a number of cabinet posts that would ensure it had a "blocking minority," a move opposed by the anti-Syrian majority that sees this as a Syrian attempt to return strongly to Lebanese politics.

Such a mechanism would allow the opposition to prevent the government from ratifying the formation of an international court to try those eventually charged for the 2005 assassination of former premier Rafiq Hariri.

An ongoing United Nations probe has implicated senior officials from Syria, which for decades was the power-broker in its smaller neighbor, and Lebanese accomplices. Damascus strongly denies any connection with the Hariri killing.

Lebanon on Friday received the final draft of a UN resolution on creating this court, which must be approved by the government before being sent to the UN Security Council for adoption.

Hariri, whose son Saad heads the anti-Syrian bloc, was killed in a Beirut bombing last year that sparked protests leading to the departure of Syrian troops from Lebanon after almost three decades.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in an interview in October that his movement would call demonstrators onto the streets if necessary.

"If dialogue does not result in a government of national unity, we will resort to demonstrations. It is our constitutional right, our democratic right to express out opinions in the street," he said.

The anti-Syrian majority says the country needs a tight government to carry out the post-war reconstruction and reform programme with the help of the international community.

But Hezbollah believes that only a national unity government can lead to stability and prevent Washington from interfering in Lebanon's affairs.

Earlier this month, the White House sounded the alarm over what it called "mounting evidence" that Hezbollah was "preparing plans to topple" the Beirut government in collaboration with its Iranian and Syrian allies.

Syria has denied trying to overthrow Beirut's pro-Western government and insists Lebanon can only be governed through "national unity." Tehran also termed the accusations baseless. - AFP
 

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Hezbollah Ministers Quit Lebanese Government
By REUTERS
Filed at 1:45 p.m. ET

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Five pro-Syrian Shi'ite Muslim ministers from Hezbollah and its ally, the Amal movement, resigned from Lebanon's cabinet on Saturday after the collapse of all-party talks on giving their camp more say in government.

The resignation of all the Shi'ite ministers from the 24-member Western-backed cabinet came two days before it was scheduled to discuss a draft U.N. document setting up a tribunal to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

Many Lebanese blame Syria for Hariri's killing but Damascus denies involvement. Anti-Syrian majority leaders say Hezbollah and its ally want a decisive say in government to block key decisions such as approving the tribunal.

The pro-Syrian camp say they want better representation in the cabinet and that they had agreed to the tribunal but want to discuss its details.

While the resignations will not bring down the government, they pose a major challenge to the majority anti-Syrian coalition in a country where the political system is based on a delicate sectarian balance.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora rejected the resignations but a senior political source close to Hezbollah said the ministers stood by their decision to quit.

``To pave the way for the majority to practice what it wants freely and so that we don't cover what we are not convinced of ... we announce the resignation of our representatives in the current cabinet,'' Hezbollah and Amal said in a joint statement.

The two groups allied to Syria said the anti-Syrian majority had rejected their demands for a decisive say in government during week-long talks that collapsed earlier in the day.

The United States and its allies in Lebanon are not keen to see Hezbollah, which Washington regards as a terrorist organization, exert more influence over the government.

SPIRALLING CRISIS

The escalating political crisis could provoke confrontation on the streets of Beirut at a time of rising tension between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims.

``Things will get worse. There will be a protest move soon,'' a senior political source close to Hezbollah said earlier. ``The climate at today's meeting was very bad. This stand (by the anti-Syrian) majority will not pass without reaction.''

Lebanon received from the United Nations on Friday a draft document outlining the structure and legal framework of the Hariri tribunal. Siniora had called a cabinet meeting for Monday to discuss the draft.

Pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud opposed the cabinet meeting, saying he needed more time to study the draft.

Anti-Syrian leaders who took part in the failed talks tried to ease fears that the crisis would spill onto the streets, dashing hopes of a recovery from last summer's war with Israel.

``I don't know who is spreading a climate of fear and tension as if something is about to happen. Nothing will happen,'' said Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces, a Christian party in the anti-Syrian camp.

Shi'ite Hezbollah, which claimed victory in its war with Israel in July and August, has led calls for a change in the government dominated by anti-Syrians from the Sunni-led majority bloc in parliament.

The pro-Syrian party has threatened mass demonstrations demanding new parliamentary elections unless more of its allies are admitted to the cabinet by mid-November.

The majority coalition is willing to bring in Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, but not to surrender a third of seats to the opposition. A third of ministers plus one can block motions in cabinet and automatically bring down the government by resigning.

The 2005 killing of Hariri led to mass protests against Syria. Under international pressure, Syria ended a 29-year military presence in Lebanon in April last year and anti-Syrian politicians swept to victory in ensuing elections.

A U.N. commission investigating the murder has implicated senior Lebanese and Syrian security officials.

 

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Lebanon Talks Collapse as Shiites Vacate Cabinet
By MICHAEL SLACKMAN, NYTimes
BEIRUT, Lebanon, Nov. 11 — Lebanon was thrown into a political crisis Saturday when talks broke down over giving the militant faction Hezbollah and its political allies greater control of the government. Almost immediately, cabinet ministers from the group and the other main Shiite party resigned.

Lebanon’s political leaders have held talks for four days, trying to defuse tensions among the various government factions after Hezbollah demanded a greater role in the cabinet and called for its alliance to have veto power over all government decisions. Hezbollah was politically emboldened after its 34-day war with Israel this summer, and it quickly pressed for more power.

Though for days it appeared the talks were headed toward a compromise, the negotiations collapsed when Hezbollah refused to relinquish its demand for a veto, people in the talks said. When the governing coalition refused, the talks collapsed, and within three hours the political brinksmanship began with all of the Shiite ministers resigning.

Under the accord that ended the civil war, called the Taif Agreement and signed in 1989, the government must include members from all the country’s main sects. With the departure of the Shiites, it now becomes an interim government with the authority only to handle day-to-day management of the country.

“It is an escalation,” said Hilal Khashan, a professor of political science at American University of Beirut. “They are telling them they are willing to stage confrontations.”

Lebanon’s political stability, and the success or failure of the sitting government, is not just consequential for this country of four million. It is part of a broader contest between the United States, which backs the government coalition, and Iran and Syria, which support Hezbollah.

One of the crucial decisions coming up, and one that cannot be addressed by an interim government, is whether to approve a law to participate in an international tribunal on the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister. The investigation into the killing has implicated Syrian officials. And on Friday, the United Nations Security Council presented Lebanon with a draft proposal for a framework of a tribunal to pursue the case.

“The reason behind the resignation is the international tribunal,” said Akram Chehayeb, a member of Parliament who belongs to the governing coalition, adding that the pro-Syrian parties had hoped Russia would have altered the proposal to their liking.

In a joint statement, the two main Shiite parties, Amal and Hezbollah, said their ministers had resigned because the government had entered the talks with conditions.

“We will not go along with anything that we are not convinced with and would damage the higher national interest,” the statement said.

Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, had threatened to stage street demonstrations aimed at bringing down the American-backed government if his alliance’s demands for greater power were not met by Monday. After the talks collapsed, Sheik Nasrallah’s deputy, Sheik Naim Qassem, said at a news conference that his group would study what happened and might decide to demonstrate.

“What we are going to do is study very carefully what happened today, and we will take the appropriate decision,” Mr. Qassem said. “Either we will wait with little patience, to give a chance for the talks to come up with a result if such a chance is available, or we will discuss with our allies the program of our protests, which will be wide, God willing.”

Not longer after, the ministers resigned, and officials from the governing coalition were saying that if Hezbollah took to the streets, its supporters might as well.

Shortly after talks began, it appeared that the sides would be able to find a compromise. One proposal was to bring Hezbollah’s main ally, the Free Patriotic Movement, into the government without granting veto power. One particular fear among members of the governing coalition was that with veto power, Hezbollah could paralyze the government and block the adoption of the international tribunal.

Former President Amine Gemayel, leader of the small Christian Phalange party, said Saturday that the mood in the room during the negotiations was “cold, very cold.” He said that the governing coalition was adamant about not giving Hezbollah the one-third plus one seats it would need for veto power. “They are still insisting on having the third of the government,” Mr. Gemayel said Saturday after leaving the negotiations. “It is a way in fact to control completely the government and the very existence of the government.”

Nada Bakri contributed reporting.


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Lebanon PM rejects Hezbollah resignations
BEIRUT, Lebanon - Lebanon's government was thrown into deep crisis as Prime Minister Fuad Saniora rejected the resignation of Cabinet ministers from Hezbollah and its allied Amal party.

The members quit after rival politicians failed to agree on a national unity government.

The premier's rejection meant the five Shiite Muslim ministers were still legally part of the government late Saturday, and the 24-member Cabinet of Western-backed Saniora remained in office.

But the resignations threw the country's political landscape into chaos hours after rival politicians failed to agree on Hezbollah's demand to form a government of national unity, in which the guerrilla group would have veto power.

They removed considerable political backing from Shiite Muslims, the country's main sect and made it difficult for Saniora to govern.

More than eight Cabinet ministers would, however, need to resign before the government would be dissolved.

Hezbollah and Amal said their ministers resigned because all-party talks on forming the national unity Cabinet fell through and government was trying to impose conditions on the negotiations, according to the guerrilla group's Al-Manar television.

The unfolding drama threw the government into a deadlock, with the ministers technically remaining part of the Cabinet but not participating in meetings.

Hezbollah's fierce resistance to Israel during their 34-day war last summer has gained the group increasing political clout in a country deeply split along religious and political lines, and the thousands-strong guerrilla is often described as "a state within the state." (AP)
 

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Lebanese Prime Minister Rejects Resignation of Shiite Ministers
Associated Press
November 12, 2006 6:46 a.m.

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Lebanon's government was thrown into deep crisis when the prime minister rejected the resignation of Cabinet ministers from Hezbollah and the allied Amal party who quit after rival politicians failed to agree on a national unity coalition.

The prime minister's rejection meant the five Shiite Muslim ministers were still legally part of the government late Saturday, and the 24-member Cabinet of Western-backed Prime Minister Fuad Siniora remained in office.

 
But the resignations threw the country's political landscape into chaos hours after rival politicians failed to agree on Hezbollah's demand to form a government of national unity, in which the guerrilla group would have veto power.

The resignations removed considerable political backing for the government from Shiite Muslims and made it difficult for Mr. Siniora to govern. More than eight Cabinet ministers would, however, need to resign before the government would have to be dissolved.

Hezbollah and Amal said their ministers resigned because all-party talks on forming the national unity Cabinet fell through and government was trying to impose conditions on the negotiations, according to the guerrilla group's al Manar television.

Hezbollah's fierce resistance to Israel during their 34-day war last summer has gained the group increasing political clout in a country deeply split along religious and political lines, and the guerrilla militia is often described as running "a state within the state" in southern Lebanon.

It wasn't clear late Saturday whether Mr. Siniora's government would have the political muscle to force Hezbollah and its allies to stay on. Last year, Shiite ministers boycotted Cabinet meetings for several months in a dispute with the majority.

But it appeared that Saturday's move by Hezbollah and Amal wasn't final and aimed instead at shaking the political stalemate to force the majority to accept Shiite demands. Hezbollah's Trad Hamadeh, the minister of Labor, said late Saturday that the resignations should push the ruling coalition to accept a new unity government.

It seemed unlikely that Mr. Siniora could name Shiite ministers who don't belong to Hezbollah or its allies. Though the prime minister could technically continue to govern without Shiite ministers, this could prove extremely difficult. Lebanon's constitution says that all major religious groups must back the government. The prime minister could, however, run a caretaker government while negotiating with Shiites.

There is a widening rift between Lebanese factions, with Christians and Sunni Muslims mostly opposed to interference from neighboring Syria while Shiites overwhelmingly support Hezbollah and Amal, the main parties allied to Syria and Iran.

The Shiite parties and their political allies have been demanding a national unity Cabinet with at least a one-third representation, which would effectively give them veto power over key decisions and bring down the government if they don't agree with a decision. The parliamentary majority has refused the demand, and the two sides had been holding talks for several days over the issue. Hezbollah has given the government an ultimatum to reach a deal on a new government or face mass street protests, beginning Monday.

Copyright © 2006 Associated Press

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U.N. Delivers Plan for Court in Hariri Case to Lebanon
By WARREN HOGE
UNITED NATIONS, Nov. 10 — The United Nations delivered a draft document to the Lebanese government on Friday outlining the framework of an international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of the country’s former prime minister, Rafik Hariri.

The killing is being investigated by a United Nations commission. The chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, told the Security Council in September that he was developing evidence suitable for presentation to a court.

The investigation has already implicated senior Lebanese and Syrian security officials, though Syria has denied any role.

The draft arrived in Beirut at a moment of heightened political tension. The Syrian-supported Hezbollah militia is seeking more power in the government and is not eager to see the tribunal go forward.

Mr. Hariri was killed along with 22 others in a truck bombing in downtown Beirut on Feb. 14, 2005.

He had been known as a fierce opponent of Syrian domination of his country, and his killing provoked civic outrage and mass demonstrations that led Syria to comply with a Security Council resolution calling on it to withdraw its troops from Lebanon after a 29-year presence.

The Brammertz investigation has concluded that the Hariri killing was highly organized and planned by professionals with past experience in such activities.

The special court will have jurisdiction over suspects in the Hariri killing and in 14 other assassinations that the Brammertz commission has been investigating.

The final draft does not include an earlier mention of the possibility of trials on crimes against humanity. But among the crimes the tribunal can judge, the draft lists acts of terrorism, crimes and offenses against life and personal integrity, illicit associations and failure to report crimes or evidence of conspiracy.

The draft was approved this week by the five permanent members of the Security Council after procedural objections from Russia were met over how the judges and prosecutors were to be chosen.

The draft calls for the judges to be appointed by the secretary general in consultation with a selection panel and the Lebanese government, and most of them to be from outside Lebanon. The lead prosecutor will be international and the deputy will be Lebanese.

The final draft stakes out no clear position on whether top leaders will be liable to prosecution by the court or whether they can claim head-of-state immunity.

The court’s location has also been left open. United Nations diplomats said they were looking for a site in the immediate region but outside of Lebanon, which does not want the court on its territory.

The personal representative of Secretary General Kofi Annan, Geir Pederson, gave copies on Friday to Fouad Siniora, the Lebanese prime minister, and other officials in Beirut. Mr. Siniora’s office said the cabinet would take it up starting Nov. 20, after he returns from a trip abroad.

If Lebanon signs off on the draft, Mr. Annan will send a report to the Security Council with the agreed-upon language. The court does not need a vote or a resolution to come into being, only the consensus of the 15 Council members.


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Lebanon Sinks Deeper into Political and Sectarian Turmoil
Lebanon's political crisis has taken a sharp turn for the worse following the resignation of the five Shiite cabinet members over demands for a Hizbullah veto power in the executive authority, which were vehemently rejected by the ruling majority.
The resignation of the pro-Syria Hizbullah and Amal ministers came Saturday just after the country's top leaders failed to reach agreement on the formation of a "national unity" government in which Hizbullah and its affiliates would have a third-plus-one veto power.

"We have resigned because the majority insists on a unilateral exercising of power," said Mohammed Raad, head of Hizbullah's parliamentary bloc. He was referring to the anti-Syria majority that has resisted a unity cabinet unless President Emile Lahoud stepped down and the opposition signed to an international court for trying the suspected murderers of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri.

"We don't want ministers who blindly follow the majority," Raad said. "This is a warning to the majority."
Hizbullah and Gen. Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement have been repeatedly calling for the formation of a national unity government. The Shiite group has also threatened street protests if its share in cabinet portfolios is not increased.

Hizbullah's deputy leader Sheikh Naim Kassem said that the group would examine the latest developments before deciding on the next move, which would be "diverse and effective."

Premier Fouad Saniora immediately issued a statement saying he would not accept the resignations.

"Mr. Saniora rejects the resignation of Hizbullah and Amal ministers, even if they officially hand in their resignation, and insist that they take part in government," the statement said.

"This government respects the constitution and principles based on dialogue and consensus, and it insists on cooperating with all parties in order to find solutions which preserve the interests of Lebanon," it added.

The resignations also came after Saniora called for an extraordinary cabinet meeting Monday to endorse the U.N. draft text of the international tribunal to try Hariri's killers.

The president opposed the meeting, saying he needed more time to study the draft. But An Nahar said Sunday that despite Lahoud's boycott, the anti-Syrian majority in cabinet will meet to "take the right stance."

Former President Amine Gemayel said from the seat of the Maronite Patriarchate in Bkirki that such a move was expected and "we are preparing ourselves for all possibilities."

While legislator Boutros Harb, who was among Christian politicians who held talks with Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir after Saturday's crisis, said the submission of resignations targets Monday's cabinet session.

Hizbullah has two portfolios in the 24-minister government which is dominated by anti-Syrian politicians. Speaker Nabih Berri's Amal movement has also two ministers including Foreign Minister Fawzi Sallukh.

The unfolding drama threw the government into a deadlock, with the ministers technically remaining part of the cabinet but not participating in meetings.

Last year, Shiite ministers boycotted cabinet meetings for several months in a dispute with the majority.

But it appeared that Saturday's move by Hizbullah and Amal was not final and aimed instead at shaking the political stalemate to force the majority to accept Shiite demands.

An Nahar quoted sources close to Berri as saying that the speaker himself took the decision for the ministers to resign after holding talks with the Amal leadership and coordinating with Hizbullah before leaving to Tehran.

Saturday's roundtable talks in parliament were the fourth in this month's effort to bridge the widening gap between Hariri's political heirs and pro-Syrian rivals apparently bent on blocking the international tribunal that could implicate influential Lebanese and Syrian politicians in the murder.(Outside An Nahar photo shows Saad Hariri laying a copy of the draft document setting up an international tribunal at his father's grave and inside AFP photo shows the ministers who submitted their resignations)
 
 
 

Beirut, 12 Nov 06, 09:37


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Sallukh Scraps Plan to Attend Cairo Meeting
Foreign Minister Fawzi Sallukh has decided not to travel to Egypt for an emergency Arab League meeting following the deepening of political schism in Lebanon.
Sallukh, who resigned from the government on Saturday, had been due to attend a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo on Sunday to examine Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip, including a raid that killed 19 Palestinians, mainly women and children, in Beit Hanoun on Wednesday.

A government source in Beirut said Sallukh would not be going, even though the meeting had been called for by Lebanon.

According to An Nahar newspaper Sunday, the Arab League was "very upset" at the minister's decision.

Sallukh is among five other Shiite ministers who resigned from Premier Fouad Saniora's government after the country's top leaders failed to reach agreement on the formation of a "national unity" government.
 
 
 

Beirut, 12 Nov 06, 10:08
 


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Rice: Syrian Territory Used for Accelerated Arming of Hizbullah
The United States believes Syria is a dangerous state whose territory is being used for the accelerated arming of Hizbullah, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in an interview with an Israeli daily Sunday.
"This is a dangerous state that is behaving in a dangerous manner," Rice told Israel's second largest daily, Maariv.

"The United States is concerned and is following closely the use of Syrian territory as a way-station for the accelerated arming of Hizbullah," the Hebrew-language newspaper quoted her as saying.

Israel has long maintained that Hizbullah, with which it fought a 34-day war this summer, receives its weapons from Iran via Syria -- a charge both these countries deny.

"Syria is a way-station for Iranian arms that cross the Middle East. It is not a state that contributes to stability in the Middle East," Rice said.

"This is obvious to everyone, and we are watching this situation closely. We are working with additional international agencies in order to tell Syria that it must change this behavior pattern."

"We clarified that Syria must change its behavior as soon as possible," she added.

Lebanese foreign minister Fawzi Sallukh, who submitted his resignation on Saturday, has repeatedly denied that arms were being transferred to Hizbullah via Syria.

"The Lebanese army has deployed on the Lebanese-Syrian border since August 17 with about 8,500 troops, with forces also on the maritime borders and in territorial waters," the minister said last week.

"Since that date no arms shipments have been seized on the land or maritime borders, and we know that the measures we have adopted are so tight that it is impossible for any shipment to enter without being seized," he added.(AFP-Naharnet) 
 
 

Beirut, 12 Nov 06, 09:55
 


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Olmert Acknowledges 'Many Mistakes' but Says Israel Stopped Hizbullah Threats
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said the Jewish State was able to prevent Hizbullah from threatening northern Israel but acknowledged it made "many mistakes" during its offensive on Lebanon.
"There were many mistakes committed but the overall picture is very significant," Olmert said in an interview published on Newsweek magazine's website on Saturday.

"The main objective of Israel was to create the necessary conditions for the deployment of the Lebanese army in the south of Lebanon and to stop Hizbullah from threatening the northern part of Israel, and I think that we have achieved these objectives," he added.
The Israel-Hizbullah war ended on August 14 with a U.N. brokered ceasefire that called for the deployment of the Lebanese army in the south with the help of U.N. peacekeepers.

Israel started its offensive on Lebanon on July 12 following a deadly cross border raid by Hizbullah and the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers.

"We still have to work hard in order to bring back the two abducted Israeli soldiers," Olmert said.

He also said he would negotiate with Syria if it stopped backing Hizbullah.

"I would be happy to negotiate with (Syrian President) Bashar Assad if he stopped his support of terror and of Hizbullah. Bashar Assad doesn't show any sign that he's ready to do this," Olmert told Newsweek.

"Bashar Assad has not reached the point where he can qualify as a legitimate partner. You can't say we will not negotiate with terrorists and negotiate with someone who is a great supporter of terrorists," he said.

"I don't believe Assad wants to be separated from Iran. What he wants is to recover the (Israeli occupied) Golan Heights, and I don't see any signs that he understands that he needs to pay for it," Olmert added.

Olmert's interview with Newsweek came on the eve of his visit to the United States where he will meet with U.S. President George Bush.

A high-ranking U.S. administration official said that Bush and Olmert will likely talk about Lebanon, as well as Iran on Monday.

It will be the first White House meeting for both leaders since Israel's war against Hizbullah in Lebanon, in which the United States lent its unfailing political support to its ally.
 
 
 

Beirut, 12 Nov 06, 11:28


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Shiite Schools Teach 'Resistance' to Children
Kindergarten teacher Zeinab Asfur stands in front of her class in the Shiite-dominated southern suburbs of Beirut. "Who are your heroes?" she asks. "The men of the resistance!" the children shout back in unison.
As early as four years old, pupils across the suburbs are taught about the "heroic resistance" of Hizbullah in Israel's summer war which completely devastated large parts of the area.

Their return to school this year has been overshadowed by the deaths of more than 1,200 people -- one third of them children -- during the 34-day Israeli onslaught which also destroyed roads, homes and schools.

Dozens of schools were flattened in the predominantly Shiite suburbs of the capital and in the south of the country, where Hizbullah fighters fought against Israeli troops during the war.

Private schools run by Hizbullah or other pro-Iranian Shiite groups in Beirut's suburbs or across eastern and southern Lebanon offer Islamic studies to their pupils, and this year they are marked by more militant teachings.

As public schools across the country provide general courses about religion, many private schools -- whether run by Christian or by Muslim institutions -- offer more enforced religious studies in their curriculum.

During her Islamic class at the private al-Mujtaba school in the teeming slums of Hay al-Sullom, Asfur teaches her kindergarten children about the holy Koran, Islam and the anti-Israeli "resistance.

She belongs to the Al-Koran al-Karim Association, which supplies instructors to teach the Koran in schools.

"Teaching small kids is part of the al-Hajja Umm Muslim program for children aged between four and five to learn the holy Koran and stories of Islam," Asfer said.

"I teach them every Monday for 20 minutes, and then their teachers will follow up during the week. The aim is to raise the children with a solid Islamic background based on the Koran," she added.

In a nearby classroom, Ramzia is teaching students the art of reciting verses from the Koran.

On the walls are pinned colorful cardboard cards bearing the words "martyrs," "resistance" and "the evils of Israeli racism and terrorism" in French -- the remnants of a previous language lesson in the classroom.

In addition to Arabic, Islamic studies and the other usual subjects, the 1,200 students at al-Mujtaba school, run by the al-Mabarat Charity Association of Shiite cleric Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, also learn French and English.

Al-Mabarat runs many schools and orphanages across Lebanon, many of which were destroyed or partly damaged by Israeli raids during the war.

At al-Imam al-Rida school, a portrait of bearded Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah hangs above the door of a third-grade classroom.

"The Islamic Resistance is as proud as Lebanon's mountains," says a slogan on a poster at the entrance to another classroom, also boasting of Hizbullah's "divine victory" against Israel in the summer war.

Haitham Amhaz, principal of al-Imam al-Rida school, said that teaching the Koran to the pupils has been welcomed by "all families, even those who do not abide by the rules of Islam."

"For many families, Islamic studies are the best protection for their children in a society full of temptation," he added.

Hajj Abdel al-Khalil, a senior official of the Al-Koran al-Karim Association, said "teaching Islam and the Koran is the only guarantee to protect our society."

Khalil complained about "bad influences" being spread through the Internet and on satellite television channels, mostly from the West, and denounced "a campaign to distort the image of Islam by portraying Muslims as terrorists."

"Islam is a religion of tolerance and forgiveness," he said. "Many people commit acts in the name of Islam and this is wrong."

Khalil said that his institution also sends teachers to non-Islamic schools where they have been allowed to teach the Koran to Muslim students.

"We have teachers in many non-Islamic schools in Lebanon, such as the Saint Antonios, the Frere and the Lycee De La Finnesse. We simply asked them if we could teach the Koran in their classes and they agreed," he said.(AFP) 
 
 

Beirut, 12 Nov 06, 08:39


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War's Deadly Legacy Continues to Kill
Three months after a U.N.-brokered ceasefire ended the 34-day Israeli offensive, the fields and olive groves of southern Lebanon remain sewn with a deadly crop -- unexploded cluster bombs.
On Friday, a farmer became the latest victim of the summer war. Police said he was killed and a companion was wounded as they gathered olives in the village of Kfar Roumman, near Nabatiyeh.

Since August 14 when hostilities ended, 23 people have been killed and another 136 injured by cluster munitions, according to an AFP count.

The Israelis fired the bomblets into south Lebanon during the month-long conflict, but according to the U.N., clearing them has been made more difficult by Israel not revealing the precise areas they targeted.

It is thought that up to 40 percent of the bombs did not explode when they hit the ground, becoming deadly traps for the unwary since they remain active and can detonate at the slightest movement.

Eight hundred locations have been identified provisionally and 58,000 bomblets have so far been neutralized. But not one of those 800 bomb-strewn sites has been fully cleared yet, says Dalya Farran, spokeswoman for the Mine Action Coordination Centre (MACC), a United Nations program working in the country with the cooperation of the Beirut government.

Since October 31, 47 foreign-led teams operating under a program financed by the United Arab Emirates and the U.N. has been working to clear south Lebanon completely of deadly unexploded munitions by the end of 2007.

The UAE has an unlimited budget to clear an area of 583 square kilometers in the Nabatiyeh-Hasbaya-Jezzine area, home to 250,000 people. Two British organizations have been sub-contracted to do some of the work, the UAE's Rashed al-Aryani told AFP.

Financing to clear other areas of south Lebanon has been secured until next June, according to the MACC.

"If the Israelis let us know the areas they targeted, the work could speed up," said Farran. "At the moment, we pinpoint the locations only when alerted by the local population or military."

She added that the cluster munitions used in Lebanon were both Israeli- and U.S.-made.

Israel has not responded to U.N. requests to identify the areas targeted, nor has it said how many bombs of this kind were launched on Lebanon. It says it did not use prohibited weaponry during the conflict.

Jan Egeland, the U.N.'s undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, on Tuesday called "on all states to implement an immediate freeze on the use of cluster munitions."

His appeal came at the beginning of a review conference in Geneva on the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, a global arms treaty restricting some types of conventional munitions that has been ratified by about 100 countries.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) made a similar appeal, also calling for stocks of cluster munitions to be destroyed.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan stopped short of Egeland's outright call for a moratorium, instead urging measures to reduce the harm caused to civilians.

He suggested a freeze on their use near civilian areas and on trade in cluster bombs "that are known to be inaccurate and unreliable."

Frenchman Frederic Gras, who supervises five mine-clearing teams working in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, said that in Lebanon cluster munitions were used mainly in urban areas rather than in open countryside.

"Everywhere I went in urban parts of south Lebanon I found cluster bomblets," he said, adding that clearing such weapons is more difficult in built-up areas.

Cluster munitions use large containers that open to spread dozens of bomblets over a wide area.

According to the war victims aid group Handicap International, 98 percent of cluster bomb victims are civilians. It said that of 11,044 cases recorded in 23 countries, just 125 were military and another 59 were deminers themselves.(AFP) (AFP photo shows a bomb expert inspecting a cluster bomb before neutralizing) 
 
 

Beirut, 12 Nov 06, 08:20


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U.N. Draft on Hariri Murder Tribunal to Hold 'Superintendent' Responsible
A U.N. international tribunal draft text handed to Lebanon on Friday has maintained its power to try "superintends and their subordinates" in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The leading daily An Nahar said Saturday that the new draft had obviously obliterated the phrase "heads of states" from its document.

"The person in charge and his subordinate will be held responsible for any crime he commits," the paper quoted article 3 of chapter 1 as saying.

The paper also said the assassination of former Prime Minsiter Rafik Hariri would not be defined as a "crime against humanity" or a "terrorist crime."

The draft text gives the international court the power to try suspects involved in the 14 bombings that had rocked Lebanon "if a link between these attacks was proven," An Nahar said.

Fourteen bombings, assassinations and murder attempts have shaken Lebanon since October 2005. Hariri was assassinated on February 14, 2005 in a massive bomb blast on the Beirut seafront that also killed 22 others.

The United Nations on Friday handed Lebanon a new draft text outlining the framework of an international tribunal to try Hariri's suspected assassins.

The handover of the final draft by U.N. representative Geir Pedersen to Prime Minister Fouad Saniora sets in motion the process of creating a "tribunal with an international character" as authorized by the U.N. Security Council to try suspects in the bombing that transformed Lebanon.
A U.N. probe into the murder has implicated senior officials from Lebanon and Syria, which for decades was Lebanon's power-broker. Damascus strongly denies any connection with the killing.

Syrian protégé President Emile Lahoud had objected to an earlier draft of the court's ruling, declaring that the Lebanese constitution gives him the final say.

In September, the Lebanese government said that a tribunal proposal submitted at the time needed clarification before a final version was adopted, without saying what issues were outstanding.

U.N. Chief Kofi Annan first suggested setting up the court of foreign and Lebanese judges in March.

After receiving the new draft, the next step is for the Lebanese government to approve it and ask parliament to pass it into law.

However, Lahoud informed Premier Fouad Saniora on Saturday his objection to hold an extraordinary cabinet session on Monday to endorse the court.
 
 
 

Beirut, 10 Nov 06, 21:06


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Pellegrini Calls on Israel to End Mock Raids as France Awaits Explanation
The head of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon French General Alain Pellegrini has called on Israel to cease its "dangerous" mock air raids, but said the Jewish State has vowed the flights would continue as long as two kidnapped soldiers were not freed.
Incidents have been avoided only because of French military restraint, Pellegrini said in an interview on the Internet site of the French conservative daily Le Figaro on Friday.

"I call on Israel to end them," he said of the flights over southern Lebanon, where U.N. peacekeepers and Lebanese troops have been stationed since the end of the 34-day war between Israel and Hizbullah. "I have a hard time understanding them ... This is dangerous."

The overflights "could give Hizbullah an occasion to react," Pellegrini was quoted as saying.

Asked if he excluded use of force against either party in the conflict, the general said: "No. I don't exclude it."

The French government demanded that Israel stop the raids after French peacekeepers came within seconds of shooting down Israeli warplanes less than two weeks ago. Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said a near-catastrophe was avoided.

"At the end of October, we just escaped an incident when French soldiers felt threatened," Pellegrini reportedly said. "They have to assure their self-defense."

"There is a difference between the overflight of a plane at 5,000 meters altitude and an aircraft that goes into a quasi-attack configuration," he was quoted as saying. "If we avoided an incident, it's because the French military showed great restraint and sang-froid."

On Friday, a spokesman for the French foreign ministry, Jean-Baptiste Mattei, said his country was still waiting for an official "explanation" of why Israeli war planes flew over French U.N. troops in southern Lebanon.

Israel's ambassador to France Daniel Shek said on Thursday they were reconnaissance flights and had been "wrongly interpreted."

But Mattei said this statement had been made only for the media and France still expected a proper explanation.

"We are now waiting to have an explanation through an official channel," Mattei said.

"This type of incident reinforces our determination that the Israeli overflights should cease," Mattei added.

Israeli officials said the flights were needed to monitor Lebanese compliance with U.N. demands, and said they were working with the U.N. peacekeeping force to avoid misunderstandings.

Pellegrini had another version.

"They want to see our activities on the ground and at sea. They don't trust us," he said, according to Le Figaro.

He also said, however, that Israel "told us they will continue overflights as long as they haven't recovered their two soldiers kidnapped by Hizbullah."

The soldiers' kidnapping by Hizbullah in a deadly cross border raid sparked the July-August war.

Pellegrini said it also appeared that Israel "has information on arms deliveries to Hizbullah via the Syrian-Lebanese border."

"As long as these arms passages continue, they tell us, they will overfly Lebanon," he said. Israel alleges there has been resurgence in Hizbullah military activity in the south, he said, adding that "for the moment" no such activity has been noted.

Pellegrini, the French head of the peacekeepers, said there were currently 9,500 soldiers in the unit, and that 2,000 more were to arrive by the end of the month or early December.(AP-AFP-Naharnet) (AFP photo shows a U.N. armored vehicle patrolling the southern village of Kfar Kila as Israeli warplanes violate Lebanese airspace)
 
 
 

Beirut, 11 Nov 06, 09:00
 


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Leaders Fail to Reach Agreement, No Date Set for Next Dialogue Round
All-party national dialogue leaders failed to reach agreement Saturday and no date for another round of talks was set amid growing tensions.
The Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International described Saturday's session as "very strained, particularly over the issue of the international tribunal."

Speaker Nabih Berri did not hold a news conference at the end of the crucial talks like he did in the previous three rounds of talks.

Lebanon on Friday received a draft document setting up an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

LBCI said Hizbullah representatives to the talks, however, assured the Lebanese that the group will not resort to street protests Monday as promised by its leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

Politicians emerged from the meeting, with some saying the talks failed to achieve a breakthrough.

In a sign of worsening tensions, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement Michel Aoun said the talks had failed to produce an agreement.

"The session was adjourned without assigning a new date for another round of talks," Aoun told reporters in a terse statement.

"We failed to reach an agreement or understanding and consequently we left (the talks)," said legislator Butros Harb.

Other politicians tried to downplay the breakup of the talks. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea acknowledged the dialogue had failed to reach any agreement but suggested the talks would resume at a later stage.

"We want to continue consultations until the last minute," he said, adding that the meeting was stopped partly because Berri was scheduled to leave for Iran.

Saturday's session was the fourth this week aimed at solving differences between Lebanon's bickering politicians.

Hizbullah, which is backed by both Syria and Iran, has threatened protests that could bring down the government if its share in cabinet portfolios is not increased.

The anti-Syrian March 14 Camp denied Saturday that it had accepted giving Hizbullah and its allies effective veto power over key decisions in the cabinet in exchange for the opponents approving the international tribunal's draft in Hariri's murder.

Participants -- Christian and Muslim, pro- and anti-Syrian -- have so far failed to bridge their differences in the all-party talks that started Monday.

Aoun insisted in an interview with Hizbullah's Al Manar TV Friday that Hizbullah and its allies should hold one-third cabinet posts.

Prime Minister Fouad Saniora, Berri and Aoun -- have scheduled trips abroad. Saniora was expected to travel to Japan, Berri to Iran and Aoun to Saudi Arabia.(Naharnet-AP)
 
 
 

Beirut, 11 Nov 06, 14:24


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Friday November 10, 2006

U.N. hands Lebanon draft on Hariri murder tribunal
Reuters
Friday, November 10, 2006; 7:51 AM

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon received from the United Nations on Friday a draft document outlining the framework of a tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, Lebanese officials said.

The move indicated that major powers on the Security Council had bridged differences that had delayed an agreement on the workings and structure of the court, the officials said.
 
They did not reveal details of the draft but said some Russian objections to an earlier draft had been taken on board.

One official source said the tribunal, to be made up of Lebanese and foreign judges, would have no power to try or question heads of states as the killing would not be defined as a "crime against humanity" or a "terrorist attack."

Hariri was assassinated on February 14, 2005, in a suicide truck bombing that killed 22 other people. The killing, which sparked large anti-Syrian protests that forced Syria to end three decades of military presence in Lebanon, is under investigation by a U.N. commission led by Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz.

The U.N. probe has implicated senior Lebanese and Syrian security officials. Syria has denied any role.

The personal representative of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Geir Pederson, handed copies of the draft to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and other officials in Beirut. He also gave a copy to Hariri's son Saad, parliamentary majority leader.

The next step is for the Lebanese government to approve the draft and ask parliament to pass it into law, officials said.

The draft arrived in Lebanon at a time of heightened political tension with rival leaders debating opposition demands for more say in the Western-backed cabinet.

Some anti-Syrian leaders have expressed fears that the aim of these demands by pro-Syrian Hezbollah and its allies is to secure enough cabinet seats to block formation of the tribunal.

Hezbollah and its allies, who have threatened to take to the streets if their demands are rejected, deny this and link their quest for a bigger role to the July-August war with Israel.

Pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud had raised about a dozen objections to an earlier draft of the court's statutes. Lahoud says the constitution gives him the final say in approving the tribunal. The government says its own authority is sufficient.

Four Lebanese generals loyal to Lahoud, in charge of the country's main security organs at the time, are currently in jail awaiting trial. Their lawyers say they are innocent.

Siniora asked U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in December for help in bringing Hariri's killers to justice once they were identified. Annan then asked U.N. legal counsel Nicolas Michel to discuss how to set up a tribunal with the Beirut government. Reuters

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'Very positive' to 'no progress:' Latest installment of national talks draws mixed reviews
Berri says participants have 'begun to trust each other'

By Leila Hatoum
Daily Star staff
Friday, November 10, 2006

 

Consultations day 3


BEIRUT: No headway was made on the formation of a unity government during national talks on Thursday, with parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri saying that the only positive outcome so far was that politicians have slowly "begun to trust each other." The consultations were to resume on Saturday. MP Atef Majdalani, who left the session an hour after it began, said the atmosphere in the talks was "worse than that of Tuesday's, unless Speaker Berri manages to break the ice."

MP Ghassan Tueni said it was time for a change.

"It is time for the Lebanese to change the tag they have held as people who constantly fight amongst each other. Peace must prevail," he said.

While Tueni said he "supports Murr's suggested plan" to include four additional representatives of Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun in the current Cabinet, "this has not been approved by all participants."

Berri said Thursday's session was "very positive and was one of the best rounds of consultations that we've had so far, despite all the attempts to ruin it. It was an ice-breaker.

"We have agreed to postpone the next consultation session for more deliberations until this Saturday at 11 a.m," the speaker said. "We hope to reach good results then."

MP Walid Jumblatt and Hizbullah MP Mohammad Raad refused to speak to reporters after the session. Reports from inside the meeting described passing friction between Raad and MP Saad Hariri.

"No matter what you say about supporting the resistance's weapons, we don't believe you," Raad was reported to have told Hariri.

Hariri was said to have replied: "And no matter how much you speak of the international tribunal that will try [former Premier] Rafik Hariri's assassins, I will not believe you."

Jumblatt was quoted as having asked: "Why do we go around in circles when we can never reach a solution? The problem is having two states and two governments."

Raad was reported to have responded: "Well, let's unify the two governments."

Jumblatt then said: "And the two states."

Premier Fouad Siniora said directly after the session that a plan to expand the government "lacks several ingredients, including salt and vegetables."

Responding to the premier's comments, Berri said: "I spoke to Siniora myself and he told me that he meant that the plan proposed by MP Michel Murr to expand the Cabinet to 26 ministers didn't work."

Berri, who will travel to Tehran Saturday for the Asian Parliamentary Speakers' Convention, said he would discuss the situation in Lebanon with Iranian officials.

"Iran and its officials have always called for unity and good relations among the Lebanese and the stability of the Lebanese internal situation," Berri said.

Berri denied reports that the Shiite ministers in Cabinet would resign if Hizbullah and the FPM's demands for one-third of governmental portfolios were not met.

"No one has spoken of toppling the Cabinet," Berri said. "The subject is to expand it to include a fairer representation" of realities on the ground.

"One third of Cabinet's portfolios to ensure a veto is not the demand. Our demand is the participation of all in the unity government," he said.

Berri also warned against false rumors spread by "ill-wishers and those who are trying to create an atmosphere of tension between the Lebanese."

"They have spoken of the March 14 Forces asking the permission of the Interior Ministry to demonstrate against the March 8 Forces on Monday, and vice versa, and all of this turned out to be untrue," he said.

In addition to local issues, participants in Thursday's consultations "unanimously condemned the Israeli massacres against the Palestinian people ... and the Israeli atrocities committed against the Lebanese," the speaker said.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea told reporters that "no progress" had been made.

"The March 14 Forces has no problem with more ministerial representation for Aoun ... but the current proposition under discussion lacks something," Geagea said. "We have been trying to reach a solution, but solutions need the highest level of reasoning," he added. "Today, there is a part that is demanding wider participation in the Cabinet under the pretext that they cannot stop any decision they don't approve of, and based on this they are demanding a third of the Cabinet's portfolios."

Geagea said the most important issue was the presidency. "The Cabinet [is the product of] a free and democratic Parliament, while the extension of the presidential term was imposed on us" by Syria, he said.

While Geagea said his allies would not "take to the streets," he said that the opposition was free to do so "in a democratic and civilized manner."

"Aoun's response to this was positive," he said, "but we don't know about Hizbullah."

As The Daily Star went to press, a fax purporting to contain a transcript of the session was received by this and other newspapers in Beirut. The sender was anonymous, however, so the authenticity of the document could not be ascertained.

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Tueni Proposes Parliamentary Petition for Lahoud's Resignation
MP Ghassan Tueni has proposed a parliamentary petition calling for the resignation of Syrian protégé President Emile Lahoud, a key demand by anti-Syrian factions to resolve Lebanon's political crisis.
Tueni's proposal was made during the third round of all-party talks in Beirut Thursday, in which rival leaders agreed to adjourn the dialogue for Saturday to give participants more time to look for ways to end the crippling stalemate.

The leading daily An Nahar said Friday that Tueni has already started obtaining signatures from parliament members.

The anti-Syrian March 14 coalition has rejected a major demand by Hizbullah that urges the formation of a national unity government before winning a pledge for the ouster of Lahoud.

Lahoud's term was extended for three years in a Syrian-inspired controversial constitutional amendment in September 2004.

The presidential election in the fall of 2007 and the creation of a special tribunal for the trial of suspects in the 2005 murder of ex-premier Rafik Hariri are at the heart of Lebanon's domestic disputes.

Commenting on an earlier proposal by MP Michel Murr to expand the present 24-member cabinet by incorporating four ministers from General Michel Aoun's bloc, Tueni said: "The government's recipe is not yet ready."

Murr on Wednesday said that he has "accomplished 70 percent (of his task)."

An Nahar headlined Friday: "The dialogue of obsessions adjourns consultations and puts off (threats of going to) the street."
Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has threatened to resort to the streets on Monday if the dialogue fails to produce a government of national unity.

Berri played down the threat, saying: "There has been talk about the March 8 Forces getting ready for (street) demonstrations on Monday. This is not true."

The March 8 Forces include Hizbullah as well as other pro-Syrian factions.

An Nahar said that an argument took place Thursday between Druze leader Walid Jumblat and Hizbullah representative MP Mohammed Raad over the thorny government issue.

"If you want to obliterate 1701, I don't mind. Go ahead then and take up power again in the south … let Hizbullah army take control of the whole of Lebanon," An Nahar quoted Jumblat as telling Raad.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which has brought an end to the Israeli-Hizbullah war Aug. 14, calls for the disarmament of Hizbullah and the deployment of the Lebanese army in the south.
 
 
 

Beirut, 10 Nov 06, 09:09

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Indonesians Join UNIFIL as Pellegrini Warns of Growing Tensions in South
A first batch of Indonesian troops arrived in Beirut on Friday to join the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIIFL), whose commander warned of growing tensions in south Lebanon.
Around 125 members of the 851-strong Indonesian contingent arrived at Rafik Hariri international airport on military planes, an Indonesian armed forces spokesman said. The rest of the team is due to leave Jakarta on November 24.

Indonesia's contingent had been scheduled to head to Lebanon in early October but the departure was delayed on several occasions because of logistical difficulties.

One of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's sons, an army first lieutenant, was among the peacekeepers in the advance party.

Israel, which does not have diplomatic ties with Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, had initially objected to Jakarta's involvement in UNIFIL.

Some 20 countries are contributing troops to the peacekeeping operation, with some 9,500 soldiers currently deployed in support of the Lebanese army in the south.

UNIFIL's French commander, General Alain Pellegrini, warned in an interview with the French daily L'Orient Le Jour published Friday of possible deterioration in the south amid political tensions in Beirut and the worsening Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"We fear the situation could deteriorate rapidly in the (border) zone, especially by actions that could be initiated from the zone in the direction of Israel," Pellegrini said, apparently referring to Hizbullah attacks.

"Also, there could be domestic dispute, in other words a repercussion from the inter-Lebanese problems that have shown up for example at the negotiating table.

Pellegrini was referring to consultations in parliament among the country's top rival leaders aimed at finding a solution to the current political impasse.

"We are following this affair very closely. Without wishing to be very pessimistic, we must acknowledge there are potential sources of fragility in the situation," said Pellegrini.

"There is also the Palestinian problem because we must not forget there are Palestinian camps in this (southern) zone which could react for example to the regional situation," cautioned Pellegrini.

"There are different sources of tension," he said, while also noting Israel's overflights of Lebanon in defiance of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701.(AFP-Naharnet) 
 
 

Beirut, 10 Nov 06, 13:04


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Ghazi Kanaan's Brother Commits Suicide
The brother of General Ghazi Kanaan, Syria's former intelligence chief in Lebanon, has reportedly committed suicide on a railroad almost one year after his brother allegedly killed himself.
"The body of Ali Kanaan, brother of Syria's former interior minister Ghazi Kanaan, was found crushed on a railroad near Bustan al-Basha region that is not very far from Kordaha," the Syrian Observatory (Marsad) for Human Rights said Thursday on its website.

It quoted family sources as saying that Kanaan committed suicide and that he was going through a state of depression.

His son told Marsad that Kanaan had been lately sleeping at his ranch on Jableh road near the northwestern city of Latakia and that his body was found Wednesday afternoon a few meters away from his car.

Interior Minister Gen. Ghazi Kanaan, who ruled Lebanon for years as Syria's military intelligence chief, allegedly committed suicide in October last year.

His Aide-de-Camp Brigadier Walid Abaza at the time told foreign news agencies that Kanaan shot himself in the mouth at his office in the interior ministry building in Damascus.

But there was widespread speculation abroad that he was either murdered or forced to shoot himself in anticipation of his indictment by chief U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis as the engineer of ex-Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri's assassination.

Elaph website said a Syrian official denied that Ali Kanaan's death was a "setup."

It said sources confirmed that his suicide was not in any way linked to political issues, given that Ali Kanaan was suffering from psychological disturbances.

The sources also said that the family has a history of suicides.

But Hariri's Al-Mustaqbal newspaper said Friday that a few months ago Ali Kanaan accused Syrian President Bashar Assad, his brother Maher and his brother-in-law Assef Shawkat of killing Ghazi Kanaan.

The daily said that the revelation was made to French journalist George Malbruno in an interview published in the French Le Figaro newspaper.

Syria news website, on the other hand, quoted sources close to the Assad regime as saying that the deceased is a man called Samih Kanaan, a retired army officer whom his neighbors described as "mentally ill."

The sources denied that the man was murdered or committed suicide, saying he died in a car crash.(Naharnet file photo shows Gen. Ghazi Kanaan) 
 
 

Beirut, 10 Nov 06, 10:09
 


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Syrian Arrested After Robbing Bank in the South
Police on Friday arrested one of three gunmen after robbing $25,000 from a bank in the southern Lebanese port city of Sidon.
The National News Agency said the hold up at Jammal Trust bank at the Sineeq bridge in Sidon took place at 8:10 a.m. It said none of the bank's staff or clientele was hurt.

The NNA identified the arrested man as Ibrahim Hamid, a Syrian.

The agency said traffic police caught Hamid after his Mercedes 230 crashed in a ditch near Sineeq as he sped away with the accomplices.

The two other gunmen, however, managed to run away, the NNA said.

The agency said policemen found a hand grenade and a 9mm pistol in the crashed Mercedes. 
 
 

Beirut, 10 Nov 06, 14:01
 


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UNDP: Lebanon's Living Standards Improved
The United Nations Development Program has said that Lebanon's living standards have improved since 2005.
According to the U.N.'s 2006 Human Development Index (HDI), Lebanon has moved up three places since last year, rating 78th out of 177 countries.

HDI, which was founded in 1990, is a comparative measure of life expectancy, literacy, education and living standards for countries.

The report was presented Thursday during a UNDP press conference at the U.N. headquarters in downtown Beirut.

Lebanon ranked 82nd in 2000 and 81st in 2005.

The report looks at 175 U.N. member countries, including the Palestinian territories. It says 2,6-billion people do not have access to adequate sanitation.

South Africa was rated 120 out of 177 countries, behind the Seychelles, Libya and Mauritius, but ahead of other sub-Saharan countries.

The top six countries were Norway, Iceland, Australia, Luxembourg, Canada and Sweden. The last three countries were Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone and Niger.

Some of Lebanon's data showed a marked improvement. Among 102 countries ranked according to the number of people living in poverty, it was listed 20th, ahead of Turkey and Brazil.

Based on the percentage of underweight children, a determinant of malnutrition, Lebanon ranked 7th best out of some 134 countries.

The 2006 report looks at the importance of increasing access to water for citizens and whether that has positive spinoffs to countries' economic growth.

Lebanon's water expert Tarek Majzoub, who attended the press conference along with Health Minister Mohammed Khalifeh, said that Arab countries, which lie in the world's most arid environments, will be gravely hit by climate changes in the near future.

UNDP resident representative Mona Hammam warned that the access of water in the Middle East was not just a domestic issue but already the cause of rising cross-border tensions.

"Combating the current water crisis is one of the biggest challenges facing human development in the 21st century," Hamman said.

She said that Israel, the Occupied Territories and Jordan in particular face a fight for the waters of the Jordan River.

Kuwait had the highest HDI listing of all Arab and Islamic states at 33rd. Bahrain (39), Qatar (46) and the United Arab Emirates (49) have all moved up from previous rankings.

While states like the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar are amongst the richest in the world in terms of GDP per-capita, their HDI ranking places them among much poorer states like Mexico, Romania and Argentina.

The UNDP report says this is because Gulf economies are heavily dependent on oil revenues, whereas the HDI also takes other aspects of economic and social data into account.
 
 
 

Beirut, 10 Nov 06, 13:03


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Lebanon, U.S. Sign Agreements on Military Equipment
Defense Minister Elias Murr and visiting U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter Rodman signed Thursday agreements providing a $10.5-million worth of military equipment to the Lebanese army.
"Through this transaction—the first through U.S. Foreign Military Financing in more than 25 years—the United States is contributing to the building of a modern, professional Lebanese army," the U.S. embassy said in a statement released Thursday.

It said that toward this aim, the U.S. has provided the Lebanese government with more than $40 million in assistance—to include humvees, military trucks, ammunition, training, and essential parts and repairs for all types of military equipment.

Rodman said at the signing ceremony at the defense ministry in Yarze that his country was "proud" to work with the Lebanese government "to ensure that its armed forces are trained and equipped to serve and protect the Lebanese people."

"I commended the minister for the deployment of the Lebanese armed forces to the south for the first time in 40 years," Rodman said. "This is an important step towards ensuring that the Lebanese people will never again have to experience the tragedy of war on their territory."

The embassy statement said that last year the U.S. provided $700,000 in military and security training to the Lebanese army and more than 130 army officers and non-commission officers attended professional military courses in the U.S. in 2006.

"I also reaffirmed to the minister of defense the strong commitment of the United States to expanding security cooperation," Rodman said. "I emphasized the willingness of the United States to assist Lebanon in building its capacity to protect its borders and establish sovereignty over all its territory."

"Lebanon is embarked on a historic transformation to sovereignty and independence," Rodman concluded.(AFP photo shows Lebanese soldiers guarding a stretch of road along the Lebanese-Israeli border) 
 
 

Beirut, 09 Nov 06, 19:14


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Israeli Overflights Continue Despite Repeated Calls for their End
Israeli fighter jets again flew over towns and villages of southern and eastern Lebanon on Thursday, security officials said. The move came despite repeated calls by the United Nations for Israel to cease such flights over Lebanese territory.
Warplanes flew over the southern coastal town of Naqoura and the port city of Tyre as well as Baalbeck in eastern Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, said Lebanese officials.

Naqoura hosts the headquarters of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) near the border with Israel.

Lebanon and the U.N. have called the Israeli flights a clear violation of the U.N.-brokered cease-fire that ended the 34-day war between Israel and Hizbullah in August.

Israel contends that the flights must continue because arms are still smuggled to Hizbullah from Syria.

Israeli fighter bombers on Oct. 31 staged mock raids over Hizbullah strongholds south of Beirut and in southern Lebanon in the strongest show of force since the war ended on August 14.

French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said Wednesday night that flights over Lebanon nearly caused a "catastrophe" that day, when French troops were seconds away from firing on the Israeli warplanes.

She said a squadron of Israeli F-15 fighter planes nose-dived that day over French peacekeepers' positions in southern Lebanon and were "clearly in attack position." French UNIFIL troops responded by readying an anti-aircraft missile, and were seconds away from firing on the warplanes, she added.

The French government summoned Israel's ambassador to Paris to complain about the incident.

French officials have regularly complained that Israel's overflights are in breach of U.N. Security Council resolution 1701 that brought an end to the July-August war.(AP-Naharnet)
 
 
 

Beirut, 09 Nov 06, 15:18


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12 Israeli jets violate Lebanese airspace as Paris seethes over mock attacks


Compiled by Daily Star staff
Friday, November 10, 2006


Twelve Israeli jets violated Lebanese airspace on Thursday, a few hours after Paris summoned Israel's ambassador in protest over Israeli warplanes diving on French UN peacekeepers in the South, the Lebanese Army said. The fighter-bombers entered Lebanon at 12:25 p.m. and flew high over the coastal town of Naqoura, headquarters of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) near the borders with Israel, an army statement said.

They then flew over other Southern regions before flying at a lower altitude over the eastern city of Baalbek, the army added. The 12 planes left Lebanese airspace at 1 p.m. after flying over Tripoli and Akkar in the North.

France on Thursday summoned Israeli ambassador  Daniel Shek to complain about an incident in which Israeli warplanes dived menacingly on French UN peacekeepers, officials said.

French officials said Israeli military aircraft dived toward

French troops serving with UNIFIL, who came very close to opening fire.

Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said Wednesday the French troops had been within "two seconds" of firing on the aircraft and a "catastrophe" was narrowly avoided.

"When an Israeli aircraft recently 'dived' on French UNIFIL soldiers, it is a miracle that nothing serious happened, because there could have been a response on the part of French troops," Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said Wednesday.

Defense Ministry officials would also not elaborate on why the French troops decided not to fire, nor explain why they waited eight days to announce the incident.

The planes were "in attack position," a spokesman for the chief of staff, Captain Christophe Prazuck, told reporters Thursday. French troops responded by readying an anti-aircraft missile, and were seconds away from firing on the warplanes, he said.

Prazuck said: "Thanks to the sang froid of French soldiers, we avoided a catastrophe."

A senior French officer with UNIFIL insisted that an "Israeli Army provocation" took place.

"The Israeli aircraft carried out a simulated attack," the official told AFP.

"It appears that these flights were deliberate. UNIFIL strongly protested to the Israeli authorities and asked them to cease these actions which are unacceptable and in violation of Resolution 1701," said Milos Strugar, senior adviser to the UNIFIL commander.

However, according to Israel's ambassador to France, the Israeli overflight was "not aggressive" and had been  "wrongly interpreted."

"All Israeli flights over Lebanon have one sole purpose, they are reconnaissance flights. There is no exception to the rule," Daniel Shek told AFP Thursday.

"It seems one of these flights was wrongly interpreted by the French force," he said.

France, which currently leads UNIFIL, has accused Israel of violating the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which brought about an end to hostilities, by sending its warplanes over Lebanon.

It has also noted that UNIFIL has a robust mandate allowing it to respond to aggressive moves by either Hizbullah or Israel.

The Israeli military on Thursday said it had no knowledge of any such incident. Defense Minister Amir Peretz has said the overflights were necessary to monitor what he charged was continuing arms smuggling by Hizbullah.

Lebanese President Emile Lahoud said on Thursday that Israel wanted to "take revenge on Lebanon after its humiliating withdrawal from South Lebanon in 2000."

During an interview with an Algerian radio station, Lahoud said: "Israel is defying all UN resolutions by its continuous sea, air and land violation of Lebanon's sovereignty." - Additional reporting by Nafez Qawas, agencies


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Cabinet puts off decision on Palestinian Embassy following contentious debate

By Nafez Qawas
Daily Star correspondent
Friday, November 10, 2006


BEIRUT: The Lebanese government suspended discussions Thursday on a controversial proposal for the establishment of a Palestinian Embassy in Beirut, after a heated debate and a request for postponement by the foreign minister. Some Lebanese politicians, including President Emile Lahoud, have expressed their fear that the establishment of an embassy would pave the way for permanent settlement of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

Sources close to the government said after an intense debate, Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh requested  that the issue be withdrawn from the agenda and dealt with at a later date.

The head of the Lebanese portion of the Lebanese-Palestinian dialogue committee, Ambassador Khalil Makkawi, said on Thursday he was surprised by the refusal of some parties to transform the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) bureau in Beirut into a full-fledged Embassy because of concerns over the settlement of refugees.

Makkawi said the establishment of an embassy would not lead to settlement; "on the contrary, it would promote the refugees' right to return to their homeland."

During an interview with the Central News Agency, Makkawi said that the PLO was the legitimate and sole representative of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

"I am very surprised by how some parties linked the establishment of an embassy with settlement," he said. "In fact, if the embassy released passports for the Palestinians, they would then be able to return to Palestine."

After a tense consultation session in Parliament among Lebanon's top politicians, the Cabinet convened Thursday evening at its temporary headquarters in Downtown Beirut.

In remarks before the beginning of the session, Lahoud said there was "no need to open a Palestinian Embassy here." He added that the idea posed several threats.

Lahoud also called for the creation of a national unity Cabinet through consensus.

The Cabinet approved the extension of an agreement signed between the government and the United Nations to allow the establishment of a second base for the UN team investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, in the Padova Hotel in Sin al-Fil.

According to diplomatic sources, probe chief Serge Brammertz's third report might contain specific names and therefore the UN is considering increasing security measures in Monteverdi and the Padova area to protect the team members. International forces may be deployed alongside Lebanese Army troops, the sources said.

The Cabinet was still in session when The Daily Star went to press.


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Lebanon edges up on UN's Human Development Index
Life expectancy, GDP figures hurt standing

By Constantin Schreiber
Special to The Daily Star
Friday, November 10, 2006

 

BEIRUT: Lebanon's living standards are improving, according to the United Nations' 2006 Human Development Index (HDI), which saw the country move up three places since last year to place 78th out of some 177 countries. The report's findings were presented Thursday during a press conference hosted by the United Nations Development Program at UN House in Beirut. Health Minister Mohammad Khalifeh and water expert Tareq al-Majzoub were in attendance.

Lebanon's 2006 ranking is one of its best performances since the index was created, the country having ranked 82nd in 2000 and 81st in 2005.

The HDI was founded in 1990 to provide a composite measure of three aspects of human development: life expectancy, education and standard of living.

This top three places to live this year were Norway, Iceland and Australia, with the latter two tied, according to the UN report.

On the other end of the scale, the 22 least-developed countries in the world are all African states, with Niger, Sierra Leone and Mali at the bottom.

Some of Lebanon's data showed a marked improvement. Among 102 countries ranked according to the number of people living in poverty, it was listed 20th, ahead of Turkey and Brazil.

Based on the percentage of underweight children, a determinant of malnutrition, Lebanon ranked 7th best out of some 134 countries.

However, life expectancy (currently at 72.2 years) and GDP per capita - two statistics that weigh heavily in the HDI rankings - have not significantly improved in almost eight years and are the main reasons for the country's middle-of-the-road ranking.

This year's UNDP report put special emphasis on water issues. Majzoub, a specialist for water-related problems, highlighted the "Arab water crisis."

Because almost all Arab countries are situated in some of the most arid environments in the world, they will be badly hit by climate changes in the near future, he said.

By 2050 all Arab states will have to deal with water resources insufficient to provide adequate supply to the public, he said. Lebanon was singled out as an exception due to its copious rainfall.

Mona Hammam, the UNDP's resident representative, said that in the Middle East access to water is not just a domestic issue but already the cause of rising cross-border tensions.

Israel, the Occupied Territories and Jordan in particular face a fight for the waters of the Jordan River, she said.

Majzoub said Israel, which was ranked 23rd overall, already consumes nine times more water from the Jordan River than the Palestinians, with further construction projects expected to only worsen the situation.

Kuwait had the highest HDI listing of all Arab and Islamic states at 33rd. Bahrain (39), Qatar (46) and the United Arab Emirates (49) have all moved up from previous rankings.

Saudi Arabia topped Lebanon by one position at 77. The least-developed Arab countries are Mauritania (153) and Yemen (150).

While states like the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar are amongst the richest in the world in terms of GDP per-capita, their HDI ranking places them among much poorer states like Mexico, Romania and Argentina.

The UNDP report says this is because Gulf economies are heavily dependent on oil revenues, whereas the HDI also takes other aspects of economic and social data into account.


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March 14 Forces warn insistence on formation of 'blocking minority' within Cabinet will end talks


Daily Star staff
Friday, November 10, 2006

 

BEIRUT: The March 14 Forces came out strongly on Thursday against the formation of a one-third opposition bloc within the Cabinet, saying further demands for such a "blocking minority" or demonstrations would bring ongoing national talks to a close. However, while refusing to dismiss any Cabinet members to make room for representatives of Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader MP Michel Aoun, the anti-Syrian camp said reaching an agreement on an expanded government was still possible.

In an interview with Voice of Lebanon radio ahead of Thursday's consultation session, Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh said the meeting "would be the final one if demands for a blocking minority or threats to transfer tensions to the street persisted."

Hamadeh added that the March 14 camp "would surely refuse to adopt the formula touted by [MP] Michel Murr concerning the shape of the national unity government."

Reports circulated in the media after Tuesday's session that participants had agreed to an expanded Cabinet including four ministers from Aoun's bloc.

Murr, himself a member of Aoun's parliamentary bloc, said Wednesday that a Cabinet including four Aoun allies, either in the government's current 24-member form or in an expanded 26-member Cabinet, was "70 percent" complete.

But several members of the March 14 Forces on Thursday said the coalition had not agreed to any deal to dismiss any current ministers, with reference to Justice Minister Charles Rizk, who lately has fallen out with President Emile Lahoud over key issues.

"We are not willing to dismiss a number of our colleagues, especially if they have shown high degrees of professionalism and integrity," Hamadeh said. "Our suggestion of having Aoun's bloc represented in the government, as Hizbullah and Amal are represented, without sacrificing any current members, was very clear, and still stands."

Hamadeh said the establishment of an international court to try suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was a priority for the March 14 Forces.

"However, we have major concerns about bringing a blocking minority into the reshaped government, especially if it will work to hinder the establishment of the court," he said.

Attaining one-third of the Cabinet would allow the opposition to block any decision it did not support.

Hamadeh added that, since its formation, the Cabinet had made no unilateral decisions and that "all major steps were thoroughly discussed and agreed upon with our partners in the government, Hizbullah and Amal."

Even if the national talks failed to reach any constructive solutions, he said, "this does not mean that we have reached a deadlock and that we should take to the streets."

Hamadeh said the consultation talks might resume after Speaker Nabih Berri returns from a scheduled visit to Iran over the weekend.

In separate comments, MP Wael Abou Faour said Thursday that it would be impossible for the March 14 Forces to comply with the opposition's insistence on attaining a one-third bloc in a reshuffled government.

"The March 14 Forces insist on a comprehensive settlement that would solve all pending issues, starting with the presidential setback, to reach the issue of ensuring a proper representation of the Free Patriotic Movement in the government," Abou Faour said, speaking after a meeting with Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir.

"Unfortunately, it seems that the March 8 Forces, in addition to the FPM, are not very receptive to our proposal," he said.

Should the opposition resort to demonstrations intended to topple the government, Abou Faour said, "we will do our best to defend this government, which was an essential instigator of the Cedar Revolution."

Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Talal Sahili said that behind-the-scenes efforts on the part of Saudi Arabia and various international powers were expected to ensure that the outcome of the talks were "as fruitful as possible."

Differences of opinion should not prevent further talks, he said, "especially as some concessions are required of all parties, if any accord is to be reached."

Also rejecting the establishment of a one-third minority, MP Akram Chehayeb lashed out at Hizbullah's second-in-command, Sheikh Naim Qassem, for saying Wednesday that such an agreement was "the only way to ensure political stability."

Chehayeb asked whether Qassem's "definition of political stability meant taking unilateral decisions about war and peace, or jeopardizing all what has been agreed upon during dialogue sessions." - The Daily Star


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Army signs deal for $10.5 million in equipment from US


Daily Star staff
Friday, November 10, 2006

 

BEIRUT: A visiting senior US Defense Department official said Thursday that Lebanon was on the verge of "a historical shift" toward sovereignty and independence. "In support of this upcoming change, we are proud to work with the Lebanese government to ensure that its armed forces are trained and equipped to serve and protect the Lebanese people," said Assistant Defense Secretary Peter Rodman.

The US official's comments were made after a meeting with Defense Minister Elias Murr at the Defense Ministry in Yarzeh.

The meeting, also attended by US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman, saw the signing of an agreement to provide the ar-my with $10.5 million in military equipment.

"The agreement represents an important step forward in US support for Lebanon," Rodman said.

"Through this initiative, the first through the US Foreign Military Financing Program in more than 25 years, the US is contributing to the building of a modern and professional Lebanese Army," he added.

The assistant secretary hailed the army's recent deployment in the South, and reaffirmed Washington's commitment to cooperate with Beirut on expanding its security capabilities.

"I emphasized the willingness of the US to assist Lebanon in building its capacity to protect its borders and establish sovereignty over all its territory," he said.

Outlining the details of the agreement, Rodman said the US would provide Lebanon with more than $40 million in assistance, including Humvees, trucks, ammunition, training and spare parts.

"The documents we signed today are an official confirmation of the government's acquisition of some of these items," he said.

A statement issued by the US Embassy Thursday said $700,000 in military and security training had been given to the Lebanese Army last year.

More than 130 officers and non-commission officers attended professional military courses in the US in 2006, the statement added.

Rodman then met with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to discuss recent developments in Lebanon and the region as well as the US military assistance to the army. No statements were released after the meeting. - The Daily Star


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Lebanese says Prophet cartoons led to bomb plot

By Agence France Presse (AFP)

Friday, November 10, 2006


BERLIN: A Lebanese man who has admitted plotting to bomb two trains in Germany said in an interview that he and his accomplice were driven by the publication of cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammad. Jihad Hamad told German public television NDR in his first interview since turning himself in to police in Beirut in August that he and fellow Lebanese national Youssef Mohammed al-Hajdib wanted to exact revenge for an affront against Islam.

"Youssef told me that two German newspapers had printed the Mohammad caricatures. He told me that we could not do nothing," NDR quoted him as saying. "We would go to hell if we did not do anything."

Hajdib, who was registered as a student in Germany, is in custody in Berlin.

The publication of the 12 Mohammad cartoons in a Danish newspaper last year, and their reproduction in other mostly European media this year, sparked Muslim anger worldwide and triggered a wave of violent protests.

Authorities believe Hamad and Hajdib are the two men captured on security cameras July 31 planting suitcases packed with bombs on trains. Technical defects in the bombs prevented an almost certain bloodbath.

Hamad told NDR that he and Hajdib had no other accomplice. "There was no third person," he said.

NDR said that although Hamad had told Lebanese authorities in questioning after he was taken into custody that the aim of the attacks had been "to kill as many people as possible," he and Hajdib never intended for the bombs to go off.

"We wanted to scare people," Hamad said.

He said his confession on September 4 had been made under duress. "I was beaten after my arrest. I was threatened. They told me 'If you don't admit it we will give you electric shocks'," he said.

However his lawyer, Fawaz Zakaria, told NDR that his client had not been abused in jail.

NDR said that before moving to Germany, Hamad had attended a mosque in the North Lebanon city of Tripoli that was known for a fundamentalist imam with radical views on "holy war against infidels."

The imam, Abu Abdallah Husam az-Zahid, told NDR reporters that the cartoons justified the planned attacks.

"Someone who insults the Prophet and then shows no remorse must be killed. That is the sentence foreseen by the Sharia," he said.

When asked by a reporter whether he felt these views were extreme, Hamad answered "no." - AFP


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Summer war exposed sectarian fault lines
Lebanon still in search of leadership that puts unity before self-interest

By Marco Vicenzino

Friday, November 10, 2006

 

EXPERT OPINION Marco Vicenzino


In the year preceding the recent conflict between Hizbullah and Israel, a "national dialogue" was convened in Lebanon that included factions from across the political spectrum. Limited, if any, significant progress was achieved, particularly when considering the context and the environment in which the dialogue was conducted.

Political debate was often dominated by sensationalist, headline-grabbing rhetoric marked by personal vitriolic attacks designed to keep the chattering classes occupied with petty discussion. Suspecting and branding others as being on the "payroll" of an interested third-party or individual is a national past-time. It is obviously politically convenient and useful to employ simplistic language to demonize and label others, deliberately avoid careful and objective analysis of relevant issues and selectively use facts to mislead.

There was very little, if any, substantive debate of critical issues necessary for the positive transformation and evolution of the nation's political culture. More time was spent on deciding procedure than actual substance, placing credible reform in doubt. Perhaps there are many across the political spectrum with a vested interest in preserving and maintaining the status quo. Overcoming challenges and resolving issues may render their political existence obsolete. Therefore, prolonging difficulties over an open-ended period of time can ensure their political survival and potentially extend their spheres of influence to their heirs.

In retrospect, Lebanon's political class must assume a significant portion of blame for allowing itself to be bought off over the years by different internal and external players who skillfully exploited the sectarian differences to their advantage. Ultimately, it is difficult for any willing internal and external benevolent actors (if any exist) to contribute to positive change if domestic leaders are unable to cooperate, coordinate or organize themselves in a politically efficient manner.

Opening the door to a new generation of political leaders would be grounds for some hope but would not necessarily result in the changes that many people wish for, since the careers of many of the young figures are subject to the discretion of existing leaders. It may be best understood in feudal terms. In order to operate in the political system, each aspiring politician is equivalent to a vassal that is dependent upon a political master or lord. It is nearly impossible to act as a political independent, unless one has acquired a financial fortune abroad and attempts to convert it into political capital and influence. This has occurred particularly among some members of the diaspora who left Lebanon before or during the Civil War. However, often such independents meet with limited success, since many lack the grass-roots machinery and local or national constituency needed to sustain long-term political survival and success. In addition, their absence from the country for a considerable period may have detached many from Lebanon's realities and struggles, particularly of the Civil War years, decreasing their credibility.

Proper etiquette in Lebanese society requires one never to inquire as to sectarian affiliation, although it may by evident by first name and/or surname. Such decorum may often mask a deeper level of suspicion and, at times, animosity toward other sects. Although there is a younger and well-educated generation with limited or no recollection of the Civil War, they may have somewhat learned the lessons of the past.

A pessimistic view may proceed as follows: The 1975-90 Civil War never fully ended, although alliances have clearly shifted since then. The Taif Accord and Syrian occupation simply placed conditions in suspended animation for 15 years. This suspension of conflict was clearly shattered by the recent Israel-Hizbullah war, which unleashed concealed sentiments and hostile forces. The brief 18-month interlude between 1) the Hariri assassination and 2) the ensuing Syrian withdrawal and July-August 2006 conflict was a period of uncertainty that presented a brief window of opportunity to change course and implement necessary reforms. In retrospect, the failure by Lebanon's political class to seize the historical moment and initiative will be retrospectively remembered as the nation's last opportunity to achieve a national consensus and reconciliation.

For optimists, the memory of the Civil War and the brutality of the current conflict will eventually force Lebanese to unite and reconcile and prevent a precipitation into the abyss of a new civil war. For pessimists, the mission of UN forces to separate Hizbullah from Israel will eventually be extended to separating Lebanese factions from each other. For realists, uncertainty combined with slowly emerging post-conflict realities will dominate for the foreseeable future.

In the meantime, the unpredictability of Lebanese politics, its sporadic twists of fate and its ubiquitous potential for converting apparent losses into unexpected gains and historic opportunities always continues to lurk in the background.


Marco Vicenzino is the founder and executive director of the Global Strategy Project and served as deputy executive director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies-US in Washington.


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Enduring gratitude: Armenian diaspora mobilizes on behalf of land that took in forebears

By Christopher Atamian
Special to The Daily Star
Friday, November 10, 2006


FIRST PERSON Christopher Atamian


Armenians the world over owe a special debt to Lebanon and the Lebanese people. From 1915 to 1923, starved Armenian refugees - victims of a genocide at the hands of Ottoman Turks - came straggling across the desert into what is now Syria and Lebanon. Whether out of compassion - so say idealists - or demographic politics - so say cynics - Armenians were welcomed with open arms.

Statistics are hard to come by, but by most measures some 50,000 Armenians started their lives again in the land of the Cedars - principally in the Karantina camp (they later moved on to Bourj Hammoud) and in the village of Anjar.

With time, as most Lebanese will tell you, Armenians became successful in all areas of life in Lebanon and numbered as many as 250,000 to 350,000. At the height of their presence, the Armenians operated 40 schools and opened the only Armenian university in the diaspora - Haigazian University.

Many Armenians left Lebanon during the Civil War and the diaspora spread elsewhere. But many remained. As many as 150,000 to 200,000 still call Lebanon home.

It is no surprise, then, that Armenians from all over the diaspora have responded to the war in Lebanon this past summer with the same compassion once extended to them. In France, an Armenian Web site - www.yevrobatsi.com - reported from Lebanon throughout the 34-day Israeli offensive.

The exposure meant a lot to people stranded in Beirut or Broummana or, for that matter, Southern cities such as Tyre.

"The support of Yevrobatsi meant that we felt that someone out there understood what was happening to us during the Israeli bombings and that we were not alone," says Nada Haddad, who served as a correspondent for the site from Beirut.

In New York and Washington, curator and Aleppo-born cultural critic Neery Melkonian, who spent her adolescence in Beirut, led protests by a group of repatriated Armenian-Lebanese demonstrating against the war. The collective Melkonian formed - Armenians in Solidarity with Lebanon - issued a mission statement of sorts, outlining its support for Lebanon.

"We deplore the Bush administration's approval of Israel's excessive military response to a political conflict," the statement read. "We believe that all countries in the region have the right to exist in peace and security. All sides to the conflict must recognize this reality."

Financial support for Lebanon has also begun to arrive from organizations in the Armenian diaspora, ranging from small individual donations to million-dollar cash infusions. The Armenian Network recently donated several thousand dollars through the charity organ of the Armenian Diocese, the Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR).

Most recently, Harut Sassounian, president of the United Armenia Fund (UAF), boarded a plane to Beirut on November 2. The purpose of his trip was to lend assistance to 28 Armenian schools currently operating in Lebanon.

The UAF is a collective effort of several Armenian-American associations, including the Armenian Assembly of America, the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), the Armenian Missionary Association of America, the Armenian Relief Society, the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, the Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America and the Lincy Foundation (the latter being the charity arm of multi-billionaire Kirk Kerkorian's operations).

All in all, the UAF will donate a total of $4.7 million to Lebanon's Armenian schools.

The support coming from the Armenian diaspora is also more than immediate and urgent. Mid- to long-term assistance is in the works as well. On November 22, three youth organizations - the Armenian Students Association, the AGBU Young Professionals and the Armenian Network - are teaming up with the Hye Q's, the Armenian Gay and Lesbian Association of New York, at a downtown nightclub called Earth to party and raise money for both Armenia and Lebanon.

As one Armenian-Lebanese aptly puts it: "Lebanon took in our grandparents. It's our second home. The least we can do now is give back as much as we can to the country."

Given their history, Armenians have tended to look out for themselves and to donate disproportionately to Armenia and Armenian causes.

Now, perhaps wealthier and more confident than in the past, they are returning a long-term favor to those who, in their hour of gravest need, opened their arms to them some 90 years ago.


Christopher Atamian is a New York-based writer and journalist of Armenian-Lebanese origin
who writes on culture and politics for The New York Times, Gourmet, New York Press and more.


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Witnesses say Israel still has troops in and around Ghajar

By Iman Azzi and Mohammed Zaatari
Daily Star staff
Thursday, November 09, 2006


BEIRUT/GHAJAR: The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) expects to confirm the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Lebanese part of Ghajar and other border territories today, a UN spokesman said on Wednesday. "UNIFIL is carrying out an investigative patrol in order to confirm the Israeli withdrawal from the area around Ghajar," UNIFIL spokesperson Milos Strugar told The Daily Star. "UNIFIL will verify the withdrawal tomorrow with the handover of the area to the Lebanese Army.

"The Israelis are still present inside Lebanese territory in Ghajar and the immediate vicinity of a few hundred meters. Hopefully, soon we will have an agreement over this."

In Israel, an Israeli military official confirmed on Tuesday that "at 1500 hours (1300 GMT) we withdrew forces from open areas north of the village of Ghajar. But at the moment, we are not changing our deployment inside the village itself."

Eyewitnesses reported on Wednesday that Israeli troops had still not withdrawn from Ghajar or its surrounding areas, however, and Lebanese journalists in the area reported a confrontation with Israeli forces on the outskirts of the village. The National News Agency's Southern correspondent told The Daily Star that "any withdrawal of the Israeli Army from Ghajar has not been yet spotted."

In addition, Israeli soldiers reportedly set up checkpoints in and around Ghajar and conducted extensive patrols of the area on Wednesday.

While standing next to barbed wire separating the northern part of Ghajar from Lebanon, a group of Lebanese journalists were approached by an Israeli soldier who ordered them to leave the area, despite their position on Lebanese land.

The Israeli patrol threatened that it would be forced to fire on the journalists "since the area is still under Israeli authority," one patrol member said.

When a reporter from Hizbullah's Al-Manar television stationed refused to budge, the Israeli soldier singled him out and said "you specifically cannot be here."

Soldiers from the Indian contingent of UNIFIL intervened, convincing the journalists to follow Israeli orders and recording the incident.

UNIFIL's commander, Major General Alain Pellegrini, told reporters that the force would be looking closer into the Israeli presence around Ghajar.

As for the Israeli withdrawal from the village of Ghajar itself, Pellegrini said that the Israeli troops informed him they soon would be pulling out from the western bank of the Hasbani River, which runs near the border village.

The developments came as a top US defense official, speaking from Amman on Wednesday, said that Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government should exert sovereignty over all Lebanese territory to avert another war.

"Our Defense Department is going to do its share in helping the Lebanese armed forces to take control over the whole country," US Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Peter Rodman told reporters.

"In order to prevent another crisis from happening, the Lebanese government, the Lebanese Army, have to exert its sovereign control over the whole country, including the Aouth," Rodman added on the eve of a trip to Beirut. - With agencies, Naharnet


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Thursday November 9, 2006

Lebanese leaders resume crisis talks on government
BEIRUT, Lebanon - Anti-Syrian leaders in Lebanon were set on Thursday to reject a Hezbollah demand for more cabinet seats for its allies that would give the opposition effective veto power over the Western-backed government.

Rival Lebanese factions, resuming crisis talks that began on Monday, were expected to debate a proposal to reshuffle the government to give Hezbollah and its allies nine ministers in a 26-seat cabinet, political sources said.

The sources said majority coalition leaders would reject the proposal, put forward by former deputy prime minister Michel al-Murr.

The coalition is willing to bring in representatives of Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, but not to surrender a third of seats to the opposition, they said.

A third of ministers plus one can block motions in cabinet and automatically bring down the government by resigning.

Syrian-backed Hezbollah, which claimed victory in its war with Israel in July and August, has led calls for a change in the government now dominated by anti-Syrian politicians from the majority bloc in parliament.

Hezbollah accuses Prime Minister Fouad Siniora of failing to back it during the war and of supporting U.S. and Israeli demands for the disarmament of its guerrillas.

The guerrilla group, popular with Lebanon's large Shi'ite Muslim community, has threatened to stage mass demonstrations demanding new parliamentary elections unless more of its allies are admitted to the cabinet by mid-November.

Hezbollah and its main ally Amal have five ministers in a government of 24. Pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud has one ally in the cabinet. Opponents of Syria control the other ministries.

Rival demonstrations by the pro- and anti-Syrian camps would further destabilize Lebanon and could degenerate into violence.

The killing of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri in 2005 led to mass protests against Syria, which many Lebanese blamed for the assassination. Damascus denies any involvement.

Under international pressure, Syria ended a 29-year military presence in its smaller neighbor in April last year and anti-Syrian politicians swept to victory in ensuing elections. (Reuters)

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U.S. Official: Government Should Exert Sovereignty Over All Lebanese Territory
A top U.S. defense official said Wednesday that Premier Fouad Saniora's government should exert sovereignty over all Lebanese territory to avert another war.
The July-August war between Israel and the Iranian-backed Hizbullah "helped to clarify the picture," U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Peter Rodman told reporters in Amman.

"In order to prevent another crisis from happening, the Lebanese government, the Lebanese army, have to exert its sovereign control over the whole country, including the south," Rodman said on the eve of his visit to Beirut.

"Our defense department is going to do its share in helping the Lebanese armed forces to take control over the whole country," he added.

He branded Iran as the "biggest danger" to Washington and its Arab allies, after talks in Jordan on ways to bolster military cooperation.

"There is a consensus in America and with our Arab friends that Iran is a big danger, the biggest danger we all face," Rodman said.

"When we talk with our Jordanian friends there is a common view of the regional danger, and Iran figures large in this picture. Gulf Arab countries are also very concerned about the Iranian threat," he said on the sidelines of the 29th annual meeting of the joint U.S.-Jordanian military commission.

Rodman and his delegation met with air force chief Prince Faisal, the brother of Jordan's King Abdullah II, and chief of staff General Khaled Sarayreh.

"The purpose of our talks is what ways we can support the Jordanian armed forces, modernization plans of the Jordanian forces and Jordan's ability to defend itself," Rodman said.(Naharnet-AFP) (Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Defense website)

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Syria attacks UN report of arms traffic to Lebanon
By Irwin Arieff
UNITED NATIONS - Syria accused a senior U.N. official on Wednesday of falsely claiming that Lebanon had reported the recent smuggling of arms into the country from Syria in violation of Security Council resolutions.

Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Jaafari dismissed as "untrue" an Oct. 30 statement on alleged smuggling by Terje Roed-Larsen, the top U.N. diplomat on Lebanese ties with Syria.

The envoy's report set off alarms in the Middle East because it bolstered Israeli charges that Syria was smuggling arms to Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, in violation of the Aug. 14 cease-fire ending the 34-day Israeli-Hezbollah war.

Israel has used the charges to justify surveillance flights over southern Lebanon -- which also violate the cease-fire -- on grounds it needs to monitor activity on the ground.

Roed-Larsen, briefing the Security Council and later speaking with reporters on Oct. 30, said Lebanese officials had regularly reported to him that arms were being smuggled into the country from Syria.

The officials were treading softly on this matter due to the Lebanese government's fragility, he added.

Jaafari, in a letter made public by the United Nations on Wednesday, expressed Syria's "extreme regret" over what he termed the "untrue allegations" by the U.N. diplomat.

He asked Annan to inform his envoys of "the need to strive for accuracy and truth in statements by them regarding matters of extreme political sensitivity."

Roed-Larsen's allegations had also been denied by Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh and Defense Minister Elias al-Murr, Jaafari said.

U.N. chief spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Wednesday that the United Nations was sticking by Roed-Larsen's statements.

According to U.S. Ambassador John Bolton, Roed-Larsen told the council behind closed doors on Oct. 30 that the Lebanese authorities were being imprecise about the smuggling for fear of retaliation from Syria.

Asked by reporters at the time about Bolton's statement, Roed-Larsen had said he had no specific information about threats of retaliation.

But he had noted there were 14 assassinations or attempted assassinations in Lebanon since the February 2005 murder of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, whose killing is under U.N. investigation. Many Lebanese blame his death on Syria, although Damascus has denied any involvement.

Syria has previously acknowledged that arms might be smuggled across the border into Lebanon but has said the border is porous and very difficult to control.

Security Council resolutions in 2005 and 2006 imposed an arms embargo on Lebanon and called on it to disarm all militias on its soil, including Hezbollah, an armed group as well as a part of the Lebanese government. - Reuters

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Murr Proposes 26-Member Cabinet to Salvage Lebanon
MP Michel Murr has proposed an expanded 26-member cabinet as part of a formula to salvage Lebanon from the critical political impasse as all-party leaders resumed talks Thursday to avert street protests.
Murr, who was assigned to work out a "recipe" to drag Lebanon out of the current crisis, said Wednesday that his meetings with Lebanese leaders have "accomplished 70 percent (of his task)."

His meetings included talks with Speaker Nabih Berri, a close Hizbullah ally, and Free Patriotic Movement leader General Michel Aoun.

An Nahar said Thursday that while Hizbullah and its political ally, Aoun, as well as Berri have agreed to Murr's proposal, Hariri has not.

Murr suggested to enlarge the present 24-member cabinet by including four ministers from Aoun's bloc.

An Nahar on Thursday quoted a senior official in the anti-Syrian March 14 coalition as saying that the camp will announce in Thursday's roundtable talks "its welcoming of the inclusion of Aoun's bloc in the government … on condition that neither party be eligible to deactivate the cabinet."

Meanwhile, Hizbullah deputy Secretary General Naim Qassem said in a statement released Wednesday that the formation of a national unity government "is the least expensive."

Qassem emphasized the need to achieve an "effective participation in the fateful decisions; and this cannot be established without the one-third contribution in the entire political operation in Lebanon."

His statement reinforced an earlier demand by Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah to reshuffle the cabinet so as to give Hizbullah and its allies a third of the 24-member ministerial positions and effectively gain veto power.
Anti-Syrian factions had maintained they would not discuss changing the government until President Emile Lahoud steps down.

A two-thirds vote in the cabinet is needed to pass decisions that are not made by consensus. A resignation of one-third of the cabinet automatically brings down the government.

The March 14 coalition has rejected the idea of a national unity government before winning a pledge for the ouster of Syrian protégé President Emile Lahoud.

Lahoud's term was extended for three years in a Syrian-inspired controversial constitutional amendment in September 2004.

Nasrallah has threatened to resort to street protests if the dialogue fails to produce a government of national unity within a week from Monday.

In response, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea warned that the March 14 camp was ready to stage counter-street protests.(Naharnet-AP-AFP)
 
 
 

Beirut, 09 Nov 06, 09:10


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France Summons Israeli Ambassador Over Warplane Incident
The French government summoned Thursday Israel's ambassador to Paris to complain about an incident in which warplanes dived menacingly on French troops in south Lebanon, officials in Paris said.
The ambassador, Daniel Shek, was called to speak to officials at the French foreign ministry, that ministry and the French defense ministry said.

French officials said Israeli military aircraft dived towards French troops serving with the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in the south.

The French troops had been within "two seconds" of firing on the aircraft and a "catastrophe" was narrowly avoided, French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said Wednesday.

Her ministry said the incident occurred October 31 but did not say where exactly.

France currently leads the UNIFIL and is due to hand over command to Italy in February.

The French foreign ministry has accused Israel of violating the terms of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 that ended the Israel-Hizbullah war by sending its warplanes over Lebanon.

It has also noted that UNIFIL has a robust mandate permitting it to respond to aggressive moves by either Hizbullah or the Israeli military.

"When Israeli aircraft recently 'dived' on French UNIFIL soldiers, it is a miracle that nothing serious happened, because there could have been a response on the part of French troops," Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said Wednesday.

The Israeli military on Thursday said it had no knowledge of any such incident.

"We are not aware of this incident," a military spokesman in Jerusalem told AFP.

A senior French officer with UNIFIL insisted that the "Israeli army provocation" took place.

"The Israeli aircraft carried out a simulated attack," the official told AFP.

The Israeli military spokesman said, however, that the "Israeli air force never carries out offensive overflights over south Lebanon."(AFP-Naharnet) 
 
 

Beirut, 09 Nov 06, 13:47


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French Troops 'Seconds' Away from Firing at Israeli Fighter Jets
French U.N. peacekeepers were "two seconds" away recently from firing at Israeli aircraft diving towards their position in southern Lebanon, French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie has said.
"Two seconds later there would have been a shot against the aircraft which were directly menacing our forces," Alliot-Marie told parliament on Wednesday

"A catastrophe was avoided thanks to the judiciousness of our troops," she added.

The incident occurred on October 31, the defense ministry told Agence France Presse, without giving the exact location.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said that a caution would be given to the Israeli authorities, saying that "Israeli flights over southern Lebanon are a source of serious concern."

"When Israeli aircraft recently 'dived' on French UNIFIL soldiers, it is a miracle that nothing serious happened, because there could have been a response on the part of French troops," Douste-Blazy said.

The foreign ministry gave no details on the form that the caution would take.

Alliot-Marie had warned last month that Israeli air violations in Lebanon were "extremely dangerous" and must end in the interest of all parties.

French President Jacques Chirac had also urged Israel to stop violating Lebanon's air space.

Alliot-Marie spoke on October 20 discussed with U.N. chief Kofi Annan the Israeli intrusions into Lebanese air space.

"These violations are extremely dangerous because they may be felt as hostile by forces of the coalition that could be brought to retaliate in case of self-defense and it would be a very serious incident," the French minister had said.

She was reacting to a suggestion made by the commander of U.N. troops in Lebanon, French General Alain Pellegrini, that the rules of engagement for his forces might have to be changed to allow the use of force to stop the Israeli air violations.

"If the diplomatic means should not be enough, maybe it could be considered other ways," Pellegrini added, referring to the possible use of anti-aircraft missiles by French forces in Lebanon.

But he noted that such a move would require "new rules of engagement drafted and decided here (at U.N. headquarters in New York)."

He insisted that the Israeli air violations were a "clear violation" of Security Council resolution 1701 which ended the month-long war between Israel and Hizbullah in August.

That resolution also called for the disarming of Hizbullah fighters and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon.

Alliot-Marie stressed at the time that the ground-to-air missiles protecting the French contingent in the U.N. mission in Lebanon were exclusively for self-defense.(AFP-Naharnet) 
 
 

Beirut, 09 Nov 06, 08:52


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Lebanese Troops Deploy Around Ghajar
Lebanese troops on Thursday deployed around the border town of Ghajar, two days after Israeli troops withdrew from its outskirts but continued to occupy the Lebanese parts of the village.
Security sources said Lebanese soldiers from the 10th brigade set up three positions along the Wazzani river, only 600 meters west of Ghajar.

They said Lebanese troops were also removing barricades 20 meters north of Ghajar in a bid to set up another position there.

The U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon said Israeli troops withdrew Tuesday from an area surrounding Ghajar, the last piece of Lebanese territory still occupied following the July-August offensive on Lebanon.

UNIFIL also confirmed that the Israeli army "is still present inside the northern part of the village of Ghajar and the immediate vicinity, inside Lebanese territory."

On October 26, UNIFIL said "minor administrative issues" continued to delay the pullout of Israeli forces from Lebanese parts of Ghajar.

Israeli troops continued to occupy the Lebanese parts of the village after their October 1 withdrawal from southern Lebanon. That came almost seven weeks after a U.N.-brokered truce took effect on August 14, ending 34 days of fighting between Israel and Hizbullah.

Ghajar lies at the foot of Mount Hermon and straddles the Lebanese-Syrian border. It is inhabited by Alawites, most of whom have obtained Israeli citizenship even though they consider themselves Syrian.

The village is an extension of the Syrian Golan Heights plateau, which Israel occupied during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and then annexed in 1981.

According to a U.N.-drawn "blue line" marking the border between Israel and Lebanon following a May 2000 Israeli troop pullout, one-third of the village is on Lebanese soil, while the other two thirds are part of occupied Syrian territory.(AP photo shows Israeli soldiers standing behind the fence of the divided village of Ghajar) 
 
 

Beirut, 09 Nov 06, 12:42


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Nasrallah Calls for Arming of Palestinians After Gaza "Massacre"
Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has called for weapons and money to be sent to the Palestinians after 18 people were killed in an Israeli artillery strike on Beit Hanun in the Gaza Strip.
"Arms, money and medicine must be delivered to this nation of resistant fighters and the blockade imposed on them must be broken," Nasrallah said in a statement Wednesday.

"Then it will be able to repeat the victory that took place in Lebanon," he added, referring to the 34-day war in July and August between his fighters and Israel.

"Where are the Arabs? Where are the Arab rulers? ... Where are their courageous peoples? Where is the resounding scream of anger in the face of the butchers?" Nasrallah said.


"From Qana (in south Lebanon where nearly 30 civilians were killed by Israeli bombardment in July) to Beit Hanun, it is always the same massacres and the same fighting," he said.


President Emile Lahoud denounced the killings, saying in a statement, "the words of condemnation are unable to confront the pain."


The Arab League also condemned the Israeli attack on Beit Hanun as a "massacre" and called for an emergency meeting of its foreign ministers.

Its secretary general Amr Mussa told reporters in Cairo he had telephoned the ministers to organize "an emergency meeting ... to discuss the Israeli aggression" in the Palestinian territories.(AFP-AP-Naharnet)
 
 
 

Beirut, 09 Nov 06, 09:19


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Murr touts impending deal on unity Cabinet

By Nada Bakri
Daily Star staff
Thursday, November 09, 2006

 

BEIRUT: Lebanon's leading politicians are expected to reach a deal over a national unity government, a key demand of Hizbullah and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), during Thursday's consultation meeting. According to MP Michel Murr, the official assigned to work out a "formula" Wednesday to rescue the country from political crisis, the formation of a national unity government was "70 percent" complete.

"I have so far accomplished 70 percent of my mission, and now I am waiting for the last meeting, which is the most important," with Parliament majority leader MP Saad Hariri, Murr said early Wednesday afternoon.

Murr added that Hariri did not oppose this formula.

Hariri's office said Wednesday evening that the two officials had discussed the new formula, but declined to elaborate. Murr's spokesperson was not available for comment.

Earlier meetings included talks with Speaker Nabih Berri, a close Hizbullah ally and sponsor of the national talks, and FPM leader Michel Aoun.

Murr said following his meeting with Berri that all participants during the roundtable talks on Monday and Tuesday agreed to a Cabinet that includes four ministers from Aoun's bloc.

He added Aoun wanted to be represented in Siniora's Cabinet - whether in its current 24-member form or in an expanded 26-member government.

Either scenario would see the addition of two FPM ministers and two of the party's allies in the Armenian Tashnak Party and the Zahle bloc headed by MP Elie Skaff.

The question is whether two or four current Cabinet members will be tossed.

Hizbullah and the FPM have been demanding a more inclusive government since this summer's war with Israel ended on August 14, to correct what they argue is a misrepresentation of political power.

The two parties threatened to take to the streets to force a change if the anti-Syrian majority refused to meet their demands by mid-November.

Sources close to Murr told the Central News Agency that the former deputy prime minister is looking to bring "a neutral blocking minority" into Siniora's reshaped Cabinet.

The sources said participants must choose one of three options: Replace four ministers with FPM ministers; expand Cabinet to 26 members and introduce amendments to certain portfolios; or form a 30-member Cabinet which will guarantee a higher likelihood of pleasing all parties.

Hizbullah and Amal, headed by Berri, have five ministers, pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud has three ministers, including Defense Minister Elias Murr, Justice Minister Charles Rizk and Environment Minister Yaacoub Sarraf.

Attaining one-third of Cabinet would allow the opposition to block any Cabinet decision it did not support.

However, media reports said Wednesday that Lahoud will not approve any new government that includes Rizk, who has not seen eye to eye with the president on key issues as of late.

Rizk told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation on Wednesday that he has had "differences of opinion" with Lahoud since the formation of Siniora's Cabinet on two main issues: judicial appointments and an international tribunal to try those accused of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The Central News Agency quoted sources close to Berri on Wednesday as saying that

a breakthrough might be pos-sible on Thursday "if the right Arab and international coverage is available."

But these sources said it was unlikely that a new government would be formed - if a deal is

reached Thursday - before November 13, the deadline Hizbullah set for a new Cabinet.

Hizbullah MP Hussein Fadlallah said Wednesday his party insists on acquiring greater representation through a national unity government.

"We hope that the governing majority realizes the importance of this opportunity to correct the misrepresentation in power after they have violated all the agreements, which were the basis for accepting to participate in the current government," Fadlallah said.

"We will not give up our demand ... We are not seeking to topple the government or change it, but we want to participate in power to boost the country," he added.


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Witnesses say Israel still has troops in and around Ghajar

By Iman Azzi and Mohammed Zaatari
Daily Star staff
Thursday, November 09, 2006

 

BEIRUT/GHAJAR: The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) expects to confirm the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Lebanese part of Ghajar and other border territories today, a UN spokesman said on Wednesday. "UNIFIL is carrying out an investigative patrol in order to confirm the Israeli withdrawal from the area around Ghajar," UNIFIL spokesperson Milos Strugar told The Daily Star. "UNIFIL will verify the withdrawal tomorrow with the handover of the area to the Lebanese Army.

"The Israelis are still present inside Lebanese territory in Ghajar and the immediate vicinity of a few hundred meters. Hopefully, soon we will have an agreement over this."

In Israel, an Israeli military official confirmed on Tuesday that "at 1500 hours (1300 GMT) we withdrew forces from open areas north of the village of Ghajar. But at the moment, we are not changing our deployment inside the village itself."

Eyewitnesses reported on Wednesday that Israeli troops had still not withdrawn from Ghajar or its surrounding areas, however, and Lebanese journalists in the area reported a confrontation with Israeli forces on the outskirts of the village. The National News Agency's Southern correspondent told The Daily Star that "any withdrawal of the Israeli Army from Ghajar has not been yet spotted."

In addition, Israeli soldiers reportedly set up checkpoints in and around Ghajar and conducted extensive patrols of the area on Wednesday.

While standing next to barbed wire separating the northern part of Ghajar from Lebanon, a group of Lebanese journalists were approached by an Israeli soldier who ordered them to leave the area, despite their position on Lebanese land.

The Israeli patrol threatened that it would be forced to fire on the journalists "since the area is still under Israeli authority," one patrol member said.

When a reporter from Hizbullah's Al-Manar television stationed refused to budge, the Israeli soldier singled him out and said "you specifically cannot be here."

Soldiers from the Indian contingent of UNIFIL intervened, convincing the journalists to follow Israeli orders and recording the incident.

UNIFIL's commander, Major General Alain Pellegrini, told reporters that the force would be looking closer into the Israeli presence around Ghajar.

As for the Israeli withdrawal from the village of Ghajar itself, Pellegrini said that the Israeli troops informed him they soon would be pulling out from the western bank of the Hasbani River, which runs near the border village.

The developments came as a top US defense official, speaking from Amman on Wednesday, said that Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government should exert sovereignty over all Lebanese territory to avert another war.

"Our Defense Department is going to do its share in helping the Lebanese armed forces to take control over the whole country," US Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Peter Rodman told reporters.

"In order to prevent another crisis from happening, the Lebanese government, the Lebanese Army, have to exert its sovereign control over the whole country, including the Aouth," Rodman added on the eve of a trip to Beirut. - With agencies, Naharnet


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Indonesians on their way - or are they?


Compiled by Daily Star staff
Thursday, November 09, 2006

 

The first Indonesian troops left Wednesday for Lebanon to join a UN peacekeeping force.

Indonesia's contingent had been scheduled to head to Lebanon in early October but the departure was delayed on several occasions because of logistical difficulties.

The departure of 125 troops was then delayed until October 10, while the departure of the main body of 850 troops was delayed until October 24.

Once again, none of the troops showed up at the two designated dates.

The last delay was on Sunday, when some 30 Indonesian troops were expected to arrive in Beirut but did not.

The 125-member advance team finally left Indonesia Wednesday and according to Major Mohammad Irawadi, a spokesman for the Indonesian peacekeepers, they "will prepare for the arrival of the remaining 800 troops later this month."

Among those who boarded a commercial flight for Lebanon was 1st Lieutenant Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, the son of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who volunteered for the mission. He was seen off by his father, a retired army general.

The Indonesian force's vehicles and other supplies left Jakarta last week for Lebanon onboard the USS Wilson as part of an arrangement agreed to by the revamped United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, the Antara news agency reported.

The advance team was expected to arrive in Lebanon Thursday and the main body of over 800 troops will leave Indonesia on November 24, Irawadi said.

Israel, which has no diplomatic relations with mainly Muslim Indonesia, had initially objected to the involvement of Indonesia in the UN force. - Agencies


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Jumblatt: Dumping Rizk will hurt Hariri tribunal
Lahoud wants justice minister out

By Maher Zeineddine
Daily Star correspondent
Thursday, November 09, 2006


BEIRUT: Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt voiced concern Wednesday that a possible Cabinet reshuffle that could see the removal of Justice Minister Charles Rizk  would have negative repercussions on the creation of an international tribunal to try former Premier Rafik Hariri's assassins.

Jumblatt telephoned Rizk on Wednesday to "express solidarity" with the minister against what he called "a political campaign ... that falls within attempts to hamper the formation of an international tribunal."

Pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat quoted a French diplomatic source as saying that Rizk's presence as head of the ministry was a "guarantee that no [Lebanese] party would meddle with an international decision."

"If a unity Cabinet is formed, Lebanon should, in exchange, give its final approval of the law; otherwise the international tribunal would be toppled," the source added.

Jumblatt said warnings of such a scenario had gone unheeded.

"We tried to tell this stubborn party that the crisis is escalating and that the unconditional support to the tribunal would help us avoid divisions and protect the resistance," he said.

In an interview with LBC on Wednesday, Rizk said there were "attempts in the Security Council to find a consensual formula for the tribunal."

However, sources close to Baabda Palace said President Emile Lahoud made clear on Tuesday that he would not approve any new or expanded Cabinet that included Rizk.

The justice minister admitted to "a major disagreement" between himself and the president over the tribunal.

"I took charge of the issue of the tribunal in line with my legal authority and Cabinet's decision," he added.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan met Tuesday with, Serge Brammertz, the head of the UN commission investigating Hariri's murder, Annan's office said. The United Nations described the meeting as routine.

The Lebanese government received a final proposal last week for the international court. The draft awaits the approval of Beirut and the Security Council.

The US envoy to the UN, John Bolton, said Tuesday that Washington wanted to see the proposal move forward rapidly.

"We are very concerned to move quickly to set up the tribunal," Bolton told reporters, "within the next few days, or certainly next week, if possible."

The French source quoted by Al-Hayat said the Security Council could refer an endorsed resolution for the creation of the tribunal to the Lebanese government in the coming days.

The UN wants the tribunal to be set up before the conclusion of Brammertz's investigative panel, which is due to issue its next report in mid-December, a UN official said.

The source added that Moscow has made clear to Paris its determination to no longer represent Syrian interests at the Security Council after the emergence of evidence that Hizbullah used Russian weapons provided by Syria during the July-August war with Israel.

The Al-Hayat report quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergui Lavrov as having told his French counterpart, Philippe Douste-Blazy, that his government supported the international tribunal but still has reservations concerning the proposal. - With agencies


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UNIFIL investigates reports of thefts by Italian troops

By Mohammed Zaatari
Daily Star staff
Thursday, November 09, 2006


BINT JBEIL: UNIFIL's military police are investigating reports that a group of Italian troops in Hariss, near Bint Jbeil, stole more than $300 in merchandise from a shop in the village.

In the village of Hariss in the qada of Bint Jbeil, soldiers from the Italian contingent allegedly walked into a shop that sells military apparel and gear and pocketed over $300 in merchandise.

The shop's owner, Moussa Souweidan, said eight Italian soldiers engaged in "military tactics" to shoplift from his store, meaning one group distracted him while another attempted to provide cover for a third group that loaded their pockets with various items.

Souweidan realized that something was up when he noticed that the Italian soldiers' shopping bags contained a lot more items than what they had paid for. The shop owner also noticed that a number of items, including boots displayed outside the store, were missing.

Souweidan confronted and accused the peacekeepers of stealing but was prevented by the soldiers from searching their vehicle for the stolen goods.

A quick call was then made to the Lebanese Internal Security Forces, who arrived on the scene along with some members of the UN's military police.

"The security forces, along with the military police, attempted to shush the whole issue, and promised they would pay me compensation for the stolen goods," Souweidan told The Daily Star.

Speaking to The Daily Star Wednesday, UNIFIL spokesperson Milos Strugar said: "UNIFIL is aware of the case and it is currently under investigation by the UNIFIL military police."

A UNIFIL source told The Daily Star the incident was "a solitary act," and such incidents "could be controlled by imposing strict military laws."

Meanwhile, local news reports said a Spanish patrol attempted to search a home in Khiam late Tuesday.

This is the second time patrols from UNIFIL's Spanish contingent have allegedly entered the inner roads of villages to search homes in search of arms. The first claim was made in Houla on Monday.

But Strugar denied the reports, as he had earlier this week, saying: "There were absolutely no searches on houses or attempts to search," he said, adding that such reports were "dangerous" for the mission.

A group of Khiam residents denounced the alleged searches during a protest held Wednesday in front of the local municipality to call upon the Lebanese Army for protection. - Additional reporting by Iman Azzi


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Upgrade of Palestinian bureau to embassy?


Daily Star staff
Thursday, November 09, 2006


BEIRUT: The official negotiator for the various Palestinian factions in Lebanon said on Wednesday that he could not confirm rumors that the Cabinet was set to discuss today the question of turning the recently opened Palestinian bureau in Beirut into a full embassy.

Pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat reported on Wednesday that the official negotiator, Ambassador Khalil Makkawi, has repeatedly called on Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to discuss the issue with his ministers.

When contacted by The Daily Star on Wednesday, Makkawi said the idea of transforming the Palestinian bureau into an embassy was nothing new and that he could not say whether the issue was up for discussion in the near future.

Siniora attempted to include such a discussion in the Cabinet's agenda in September, but the topic was refused by President Emile Lahoud, the report said.

The idea is expected to be opposed by Hizbullah ministers and other parties who fear that such a transformation could lead to the settlement of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Al-Hayat reported.

"Setting up an embassy has nothing to do with settling the Palestinians ... The settlement of Palestinians is out of the question," Makkawi said.

"The establishment of an embassy is aimed at promoting dialogue between the Lebanese and Palestinians," he said. "All Arab countries have a Palestinian Embassy ... We just want to do the same."

The report also mentioned a plan to offer UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees residency permits in Lebanon.

Around 270,000 Palestinians are registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

A ministerial source quoted in the report said: "Making the bureau into an embassy representing the Palestinian state means dealing with all political issues between Lebanon and Palestine, notably those related to the Palestinians in Lebanon." - The Daily Star


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Activists meet to discuss drug abuse

By Paige Austin
Special to The Daily Star
Thursday, November 09, 2006


BEIRUT: Leaders of anti-drug organizations from seven Middle Eastern countries described substantial challenges ahead in fighting drug abuse in the region as a Beirut conference on drug-abuse prevention wrapped up on Wednesday. "The problem of drugs has been and remains among the gravest threats face by all societies," the head of Lebanon's Internal Security Forces, Major General Ashraf Rifi, told members of the Arab Federation of NGOs for Drug Abuse Prevention. "The battle against it is a human duty and a national duty.

"In the past year, we have arrested 808 people for using drugs and 608 for the crimes of trafficking, circulating and smuggling drugs," he added. "In the present year to date, we have arrested 1,197 people for using drugs and 536 people for the crimes of trafficking, circulating and smuggling drugs."

Joseph Hawat, president of the Lebanese-based organization Youth Against Drugs, or JAD, suggested that Afghanistan's growing output of narcotics may be one factor behind the rise in use.

"The state of Afghanistan's opium output this year will reach 6,100 tons, an increase of 49 percent from last year," Hawat told a news conference as the meeting closed.

"According to studies by JAD on the facts of drug use in Lebanon, the average age of

addicts has fallen to 18 - leading to a terrible increase in the

number of drug-related deaths," he added.

Also on hand at the press conference was Gabrielle Bou Rached, the winner of this year's Miss Lebanon pageant.

"Drugs are a danger that threatens the whole society, because they target its very foundation: the youth," she said.  

The heads of anti-drug organizations in Egypt, the UAE, Kuwait, Libya, Jordan and Saudi Arabia attended the meeting, as well as a representative from the UN's regional office for the fight against drugs and crime.


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Lebanon Leaders to Work out Formula to Avert Showdown in Streets
Lebanon's rival leaders took a one-day break before going back to dialogue on Thursday in a bid to work out a formula that would avert a showdown in the streets.
Speaker Nabih Berri, who is hosting the national talks in Beirut, said the all-party conference would resume Thursday morning to allow participants to study "various proposals" aimed at ending the political stalemate.

The leading daily An Nahar on Wednesday headlined: "The (parliamentary) majority: An expansion excluding the inactive one-third, or a new government following Lahoud's resignation."

This was a reference to a key Hizbullah demand to reshuffle the cabinet so as to give the Shiite group and its allies a third of the 24-member ministerial positions and effectively gain veto power.

Anti-Syrian factions had maintained they would not discuss changing the government until President Emile Lahoud steps down.

An Nahar described Wednesday's session as "stormy," saying the diverse demands by Hizbullah and its political ally, General Michel Aoun, from one side and the pro-government March 14 coalition on the other has indicated that the "bridge is gone."

However, the bold headline of As Safir newspaper read: "Murr to settle consultations, or the resignation of the (Hizbullah) opposition ministers."

As Safir said Defense Minister Michel Murr has been designated by the participants to work out a "formula" that would drive the country out of the current political crisis.

The leaders have been meeting for the past two days in a bid to ward off street protests over the demand by Hizbullah for the formation of a national unity government.

Lebanon has witnessed a series of bombings in recent weeks, and last week Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened to bring down the government of Prime Minister Fouad Saniora unless his group and its allies received a third of the seats in the cabinet.

Tuesday's talks were attended by all the major political leaders, except for Nasrallah, who sent the head of his parliamentary bloc, Mohammed Raad, because he fears for his own security after Israeli threats to assassinate him.

Berri said that discussions were now focused on establishing a unity government, and there's no talk of ousting Saniora's government.

Nasrallah has given Saniora's government until Nov. 13 to grant his demand for an enlarged cabinet role. If his request is not met, the Hizbullah leader has said his party would call for peaceful mass demonstrations.

But pro-Saniora leader Samir Geagea has threatened to stage counter protests if Hizbullah's supporters take to the streets.(Naharnet-AP)
 
Beirut, 08 Nov 06, 09:06

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Wednesday November 8, 2006

Lebanon Leaders to Work out Formula to Avert Showdown in Streets
Lebanon's rival leaders took a one-day break before going back to dialogue on Thursday in a bid to work out a formula that would avert a showdown in the streets.
Speaker Nabih Berri, who is hosting the national talks in Beirut, said the all-party conference would resume Thursday morning to allow participants to study "various proposals" aimed at ending the political stalemate.

The leading daily An Nahar on Wednesday headlined: "The (parliamentary) majority: An expansion excluding the inactive one-third, or a new government following Lahoud's resignation."

This was a reference to a key Hizbullah demand to reshuffle the cabinet so as to give the Shiite group and its allies a third of the 24-member ministerial positions and effectively gain veto power.

Anti-Syrian factions had maintained they would not discuss changing the government until President Emile Lahoud steps down.

An Nahar described Wednesday's session as "stormy," saying the diverse demands by Hizbullah and its political ally, General Michel Aoun, from one side and the pro-government March 14 coalition on the other has indicated that the "bridge is gone."

However, the bold headline of As Safir newspaper read: "Murr to settle consultations, or the resignation of the (Hizbullah) opposition ministers."

As Safir said Defense Minister Michel Murr has been designated by the participants to work out a "formula" that would drive the country out of the current political crisis.

The leaders have been meeting for the past two days in a bid to ward off street protests over the demand by Hizbullah for the formation of a national unity government.

Lebanon has witnessed a series of bombings in recent weeks, and last week Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened to bring down the government of Prime Minister Fouad Saniora unless his group and its allies received a third of the seats in the cabinet.

Tuesday's talks were attended by all the major political leaders, except for Nasrallah, who sent the head of his parliamentary bloc, Mohammed Raad, because he fears for his own security after Israeli threats to assassinate him.

Berri said that discussions were now focused on establishing a unity government, and there's no talk of ousting Saniora's government.

Nasrallah has given Saniora's government until Nov. 13 to grant his demand for an enlarged cabinet role. If his request is not met, the Hizbullah leader has said his party would call for peaceful mass demonstrations.

But pro-Saniora leader Samir Geagea has threatened to stage counter protests if Hizbullah's supporters take to the streets.(Naharnet-AP)
 
 
 

Beirut, 08 Nov 06, 09:06

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Talks Adjourned for Thursday, Berri Not for Toppling Saniora
Speaker Nabih Berri said Tuesday he was not for the toppling of Premier Fouad Saniora's government, but rather for expanding it.

"I have personally not proposed to change Saniora … but an expansion (of the current cabinet) is possible" with Saniora's consent, Berri said at the end of the second round of consultations in parliament.

Berri said the talks were adjourned for Thursday to allow participants to study "various proposals" presented during the talks aimed at ending Lebanon's political stalemate.

"Everyone is keen to reach solutions that would be in the interest of Lebanon," Berri told reporters, without elaborating on the proposals.
He said Tuesday's talks among Lebanon's rival leaders focused on the thorny government issue, describing the session as "rich and honest."

However, the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International said "tension" prevailed over the cabinet topic.
Asked about Hizbullah demands to give the opposition one-third of the 24-member cabinet, Berri said: "I'd rather call it (one-third) participation."

Last week, Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah caused a stir when he announced that his group wanted the cabinet to be reshuffled so as to give Hizbullah and its allies a third of the ministerial positions -- effectively veto-power.

Under tight security measures, roundtable talks began at 11:00 a.m. at parliament building after Monday's meeting served to "break the ice" by allowing participants to air their demands.

An Nahar daily headlined Tuesday: "Proceedings of the first round of consultations … Warnings of Failure and Street (protests); Strong disagreement between the two camps."

It its front page story, An Nahar said that the pro-government March 14 coalition has informed Hizbullah representatives and their allies that they refuse to negotiate the issue of a new government before settling that of the presidency.

The anti-Syrian March 14 Forces want this week's talks to include the future of President Emile Lahoud, a staunch pro-Syrian whom they have been trying to oust for more than a year. Lahoud has rejected repeated calls for him to step down.

An Nahar also said that the parliamentary majority has ruled out any accord that would give the opposition an upper hand in the cabinet.

Nasrallah said that if Saniora did not grant a new government by Nov. 13, Hizbullah supporters would resort to the streets to bring down the government.

An Nahar said that the opposition, in contrast, has refused "to keep the authority in the hands of the parliamentary majority."

Hizbullah and its ally, General Michel Aoun, have also stood rock-solid in their demand for the formation of a national unity government, the paper reported.

Lebanon has in recent weeks seen bombings and threats to bring down the government through demonstrations, something that would further destabilize the country less than three months after a destructive war between Israel and Hizbullah.(Naharnet-AP-AFP)
 
 
 

Beirut, 07 Nov 06, 10:28
 


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Indonesian UNIFIL Troops Depart for Lebanon
A first batch of Indonesian peacekeepers will leave on Wednesday to join the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon, a military spokesman in Jakarta said.
Armed forces deputy spokesman Ahmad Yani Basuki told Agence France Presse that around 125 members of the 851-strong Indonesian force would leave later in the day. He said the rest of the team would leave on November 24.

Indonesia's contingent had been scheduled to head to Lebanon in early October but the departure was delayed on several occasions because of logistical difficulties.

Israel, which does not have diplomatic relations with mainly Muslim Indonesia, had initially objected to the involvement of Indonesia in the U.N. force.

One of the sons of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is reportedly among the troops in the force.

Last week, military gear left Indonesia aboard a U.S.-flagged ship ahead of the dispatch of the troops to join UNIFIL, American officials said.
About 200 pieces of equipment are bound for Lebanon aboard the SS Wilson, an American-owned ship hired for the mission by the U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command, a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta said Saturday.(AFP-Naharnet)
 
 
 

Beirut, 08 Nov 06, 13:20


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Israel Begins Pullout from Around Ghajar
Israeli troops began withdrawing Tuesday from around Ghajar, the last piece of Lebanese territory still occupied following the July-August offensive on Lebanon, the U.N. and Israeli sources said.
Troops "have begun to withdraw" from an area on the edge of the village, said Andrea Tenenti, a spokesman for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). He did not give any further details.

In Jerusalem, a military official confirmed that "at 1500 hours (1300 GMT) we withdrew forces from open areas north of the village of Ghajar. But at the moment, we are not changing our deployment inside the village itself."

Earlier, UNIFIL's commander, French General Alain Pellegrini, said the pullout was about to begin.

"I welcome the IDF (Israeli army) withdrawal from the area around Ghajar," he said in a statement.

"I hope that we will reach an agreement very soon for full IDF withdrawal from Lebanese territory, in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, including the northern part of Ghajar village," he said.

The U.N. statement said Pellegrini met with senior officers from the Lebanese army and the Israeli military at the U.N. position at the border crossing at Ras Al-Naqoura.

"It was agreed that the (IDF) will withdraw their forces from most of the surrounding area of Ghajar village today," it said.

"UNIFIL will carry out intensive patrolling and set up temporary checkpoints in the specified area to confirm that the IDF were no longer present there."

The statement, which gave no further details on the timing and areas of the withdrawal, said the Israeli army "is still present inside the northern part of the village of Ghajar and the immediate vicinity, inside Lebanese territory."

On October 26, UNIFIL said "minor administrative issues" continued to delay the pullout of Israeli forces from Lebanese parts of Ghajar.

Israeli troops continued to occupy the Lebanese parts of the village after their October 1 withdrawal from southern Lebanon. That came almost seven weeks after a U.N.-brokered truce took effect on August 14, ending 34 days of fighting between Israel and Hizbullah

Ghajar lies at the foot of Mount Hermon and straddles the Lebanese-Syrian border. It is inhabited by Alawites, most of whom have obtained Israeli citizenship even though they consider themselves Syrian.

The village is an extension of the Syrian Golan Heights plateau, which Israel occupied during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and then annexed in 1981.

According to a U.N.-drawn "blue line" marking the border between Israel and Lebanon following a May 2000 Israeli troop pullout, one-third of the village is on Lebanese soil, while the other two thirds are part of occupied Syrian territory.(AFP) (AFP photo shows the road leading to the southern Lebanese village of Ghajar) 
 
 

Beirut, 07 Nov 06, 18:28


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Brammertz Holds Talks with Annan
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has met with the head of the U.N. probe of the murder of ex-premier Rafik Hariri, Annan's press office said.
Serge Brammertz, a Belgian prosecutor who is leading the international investigation into the 2005 assassination, made no comment to reporters Tuesday as he left the meeting with Annan.

The United Nations described the meeting as routine, but it came as a proposal for the creation of a special international tribunal to try suspects in the attack, remained mired in controversy.

Lebanese media reported last week that the government had received the proposal for the international court, which would require approval by the U.N. Security Council and the Lebanese cabinet and parliament.

U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, said Tuesday that Washington wanted to see the proposal move forward rapidly.

"We're very concerned to move quickly to set up the tribunal," Bolton told reporters, expressing hope that the Security Council could consider the proposal "within the next few days, or certainly next week, if possible."

The U.N. wants the tribunal to be set up before the conclusion of Brammertz's investigative panel, which is due to issue its next report in mid-December, a U.N. official said.

The idea for the international tribunal, which would meet outside Lebanon for security reasons, was floated in March by Annan.

Hariri was assassinated on February 14, 2005 in a massive bomb blast on the Beirut seafront that killed 22 others.

The popular five-time prime minister had opposed the three-year extension of pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud's mandate, pushed through by Syria in 2004.

Brammertz has pointed to possible links between Hariri's death and 14 other attacks against anti-Syrian personalities in Lebanon since October 1, 2004.

The U.N. probe has implicated senior officials from Syria, which for decades was Lebanon's power-broker. Damascus strongly denies any connection with the killing.

An international outcry over the murder of Hariri forced Syria, which had dominated Lebanese politics for three decades, to withdraw its troops from Lebanon in April 2005.

In December 2005, the Lebanese government adopted the principle of a U.N.-mandated international tribunal to try the suspects in the Hariri case.(AFP) 
 
 

Beirut, 08 Nov 06, 10:05


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U.N.: No Evidence of Uranium-based Munitions Used in Lebanon
U.N. experts have found no evidence to support a press report that Israel used depleted uranium (DU) munitions during its July-August offensive on Lebanon, the U.N. Environment Programme has said.
"The samples taken by the UNEP scientists show no evidence of penetrators or metal made of DU or other radioactive material," UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said in a statement in Nairobi Monday.

"In addition, no DU shrapnel, or other radioactive residue was found. The analysis of all smear samples taken shows no DU, nor enriched uranium nor higher than natural uranium content in the samples."

In October, the British daily The Independent said samples of soil taken from two bomb craters in Lebanon showed high radiation levels, suggesting that uranium-based munitions had been used.

The craters, at Khiam and At-Tiri, were caused by Israeli heavy or guided bombs and showed "elevated radiation signatures," the Independent quoted Chris Busby, the British scientific secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, as saying.

Britain's ministry of defense had confirmed the level of uranium isotopes in the samples, which were also being tested by mass spectrometry at a laboratory in Oxfordshire, the report had said.

The UNEP statement said a sub-team of inspectors looking specifically at the DU issue had visited 32 sites south and north of the Litani river.

"Following strict field procedures, a range of smear, dust and soil samples were taken. The samples were analyzed in October-November at an internationally-recognized laboratory in Switzerland," it said.

UNEP had sent the team as part of an assessment into environmental damage caused by the war.

The investigation confirmed that Israel had used artillery and mortar ammunition containing white phosphorus, the statement said.

Israel says that none of its weapons are illegal and acknowledged on October 22 that it used the phosphorus.

Human rights groups have long argued that phosphorus weapons, which cause agonizing injuries, should be banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention.(AFP) 
 
 

Beirut, 07 Nov 06, 15:48


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Norway Asks Syria Not to Meddle in Lebanon, Condemns Violations of 1701
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store said during his visit to Beirut Tuesday that Oslo has asked Syria not to interfere in Lebanon's internal affairs.
"I conveyed a message from Norway that all outside countries should respect the integrity of the Lebanese state, the Lebanese borders and the different Lebanese political groups to work out their own future," he said.

Store was answering questions about his talks with Syrian leaders during a visit to Damascus on Monday.

In Lebanon, Store met Tuesday with Prime Minister Fouad Saniora and Foreign Minister Fawzi Sallukh before ending his 24-hour visit.

After his meeting with Saniora at the Grand Serail, Store told reporters that they discussed the political situation in Lebanon and the ongoing consultations in parliament between the country's top rival leaders.

He also announced his country's commitments to Lebanon's post-war reconstruction.

"Norway will back the Paris 3 conference…and I informed Premier Saniora that we are going to play a leading role in this framework," Store said.

About Resolution 1701, the Norwegian foreign minister said any violation of the international edict must be condemned.

Sallukh told reporters at a joint press conference at Boustros Palace that he heard "good news" from the visiting minister but he will not reveal it until it becomes official "soon."

Store told reporters upon arrival to Rafik Hariri international airport Monday "We condemn any violations of Resolution 1701, either by air, sea or land."

He was referring to the U.N. Security Council resolution that ended the Israel-Hizbullah war. The Jewish state has continued its overflights of Lebanon since the August 14 truce, despite Lebanese and U.N. protests.

On Monday, Store and his accompanying delegation held talks with Druze leader Walid Jumblat in Clemenceau. No comment was released after the meeting, except for a statement saying "the delegation wished to specifically ask Jumblat's opinion on the country's current situation."

A Norwegian embassy statement said Monday that Oslo was ready to participate in the January 2007 Paris conference to raise financial aid for Lebanon, recovering from the summer war that caused more than 3.5 billion dollars of damage.

Norway contributes four fast patrol boats and 100 personnel to the naval contingent of the beefed-up U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, and it granted 23 million dollars in immediate humanitarian assistance and oil spill clean-up efforts.(AFP-Naharnet) (AFP photo shows Prime Minister Saniora meeting Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr) 
 
 

Beirut, 07 Nov 06, 08:33


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Lebanese leaders get down to details, discuss possible reshuffle of Cabinet


Compiled by Daily Star staff
Wednesday, November 08, 2006

 

Consultations day 2


Rival Lebanese leaders will meet again on Thursday in an attempt to agree on a government reshuffle following two days of talks aimed at defusing a political crisis that has threatened to spill into the streets. The talks, which began on Monday with a pledge by Lebanon's politicians to refrain from verbally attacking each other in the media, focused on Tuesday on Hizbullah's demand that its allies get a bigger say in the running of the country.

The head of the Amal Movement, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who convened the talks, described the session as "frank, deep and rich" and said the leaders would use the break to consider various proposed compromises such as expanding the government to include more opposition members.

"Bringing down the government is not an option. Personally, I am not proposing a new prime minister or a new ministerial statement or a vote of confidence in the government," Berri said after the session.

"The government could expand or contract. In this case, participation cannot be except with more than a third."

He set Thursday as the date for the next meeting.

A government source who is close to the March 14 Forces and who is attending the consultations told The Daily Star Tuesday that Monday's consultations were more decisive than those of Tuesday.

The source said "MP Michel Aoun asked that he be given four ministers in the current government so that the Cabinet can be expanded to 24 ministers.

"This demand was not accepted and MP Michel Murr suggested that Aoun get three ministers and that the current defense minister, Elias Murr, [Michel Murr's son] be counted as the fourth minister."

A March 14 Forces MP participating in the talks told The Daily Star the members discussed the presidential issue, but failed to reach any new decisions on the matter.

He said that Aoun suggested that early parliamentary elections be held before asking for a presidential change.

The source said that participants agreed to delegate MP Michel Murr to conduct a series of talks with political parties about the issue.

According to the source, Thursday's consultation meeting will be the last held this week before resuming on Monday, November 20, as three of the participants - Berri, Aoun and Premier Fouad Siniora - have meetings outside Lebanon.

The Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation quoted sources describing the consultations as "very tense, requiring a 15-minute break because the participants were lashing out at each other, after which participants decided to resume the talks on Thursday."

LBC said the March 14 Forces rejected the demands of Hizbullah and its allies, prompting Aoun to suggest early parliamentary elections.

At that point, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea reportedly suggested that each participant express his concerns and fears and allow the others to try to offer guarantees.

But Hizbullah representative MP Mohammad Raad said that would not solve the situation and insisted on having veto power in Siniora's Cabinet, prompting parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri to say that "clearly this is an Iranian decision, to either quit or take to the street. Take to the street then and take responsibility for that."

Raad responded by saying that "if that were true, we would not have waited until now."

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt responded by saying, "you have orders from Iran and you have to execute them on time."

Berri then suggested a 15-minute break, after which talks were postponed until Thursday.

During the meeting, Berri reproached participants for leaking information to the media about Monday's meeting, which was supposed to remain secret.

After the session, Berri sarcastically said he would like to "thank the press for not publishing everything you were told."

A political source told Reuters news agency that the leaders had not made major progress and divisions remained deep, but that Thursday's session could be decisive.

Hizbullah, which has led calls for a change in the government, accuses the coalition led by Siniora of failing to back it during the war and supporting US-Israeli demands for its disarmament. The party has threatened to stage mass demonstrations demanding new elections unless more of its allies are admitted to the Cabinet by mid-November.

Anti-Syrian politicians say they are willing to expand the government to include more opposition members but will not give them the crucial one-third of ministerial posts which would be enough to block motions in Cabinet and automatically bring down the government if they resigned.

Hizbullah and its main ally Amal have five ministers in a Cabinet of 24. Pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud has one ally in the Cabinet with the rest controlled by opponents of Syria.

Hizbullah wants its main Christian ally, Aoun, who made a strong showing in last year's polls, to join the Cabinet. - Agencies, with additional reporting by Nafez Qawas, Leila Hatoum and Nada Bakri


---------------------------------------------------------------

Prominent Lebanese politicians to go globe-trotting

By Leila Hatoum
Daily Star staff
Wednesday, November 08, 2006


BEIRUT: Three prominent Lebanese political leaders will be visiting world capitals in the coming days in an attempt to achieve stability in their small country, which is currently facing political upheaval. Speaker Nabih Berri will be flying to the Iranian capital, Tehran, this Saturday, while Premier Fouad Siniora will be visiting Seoul, South Korea, and Tokyo, Japan next week. Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun will also be traveling to Saudi Arabia next week, but no specific date has been set.

Berri's trip will be to "take part in the Asian Parliamentary Speakers' convention to be held in Iran," a source close to Berri told The Daily Star on Tuesday.

The source, who wished to remain anonymous, said: "When Speaker Berri is conducting such visits, it is normal that he also holds meetings with the officials of the countries he visits."

"It is most likely that Speaker Berri will be meeting with Iranian President [Mahmoud]Ahmadinejad, [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei and other high-ranking Iranian officials," the source added.

"The meeting will discuss the situation in Lebanon and the region and the possible means to protect Lebanon and the like," the source said, adding: "This is due to the fact that Iran "is a major player in the region and on the Lebanese arena."

Berri had visited the Saudi Arabia last month, where he held talks with the Saudi king and top Saudi officials.

After his visit, Berri came back with the suggestion of initiating national consultations among prominent Lebanese political leaders in an attempt to break the political impasse the country witnessed after the national dialogue came to a halt due to this past summer's war with Israel.

Meanwhile, Aoun's media office said the timetable for the MP's trip to Saudi Arabia "has not been finalized yet."

The office confirmed to The Daily Star that Aoun will be meeting with high-ranking Saudi officials, and added that a "statement will be issued later to clarify the schedule and timeframe of [Aoun's] visit."

Saudi Arabia had extended an invitation to Aoun earlier this month after relations between the two sides soured over the former army general's support of Hizbullah during the July-August war.

Meanwhile, Siniora will be meeting, "by mid-November, with South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon, who is also the newly appointed UN secretary general," a source from Siniora's office told The Daily Star Tuesday.

The source added: "The trip to Japan, where the premier will be meeting with high ranking Japanese officials, will come afterward."

The nature of both meetings is to "gather more international support for Lebanon," said the source, adding: "The meetings with the Japanese officials will also discuss the preparations for [the] Paris III [donor conference]" expected in January.

The meeting with Ban is also expected to deal with the Shebaa Farms and a possible Israeli withdrawal from the area.


---------------------------------------------------------------

Israeli troops leave areas near Ghajar

By Iman Azzi
Daily Star staff
Wednesday, November 08, 2006


BEIRUT: Israeli troops have begun withdrawing, and were due to completely pull out Tuesday night, from most of the surrounding areas near the occupied village of Ghajar. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) reported on Tuesday that the troops had left two communities around the divided border village in South Lebanon.

UNIFIL spokesperson Milos Strugar confirmed the Israeli withdrawal from two Lebanese villages, Barzan and Ain Arab, and lands around Ghajar after a meeting held at the Ras al-Naqoura border crossing between UNIFIL and Lebanese and Israeli officials.

"The Israeli Army was occupying a much larger area than Ghajar and has withdrawn from a few kilometers inside Lebanese territory to 200 meters north of the village and northern Ghajar," Strugar told The Daily Star in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Israel has not set any date to withdraw from the remaining land occupied by the Jewish state this summer, Strugar said.

UNFIL's commander, Major General Alain Pellegrini, hailed the move as a positive first step that would hopefully be followed by a full withdrawal from the Lebanese part of Ghajar.

More meetings are expected to take place to set a mechanism for Israel's full withdrawal.

"I welcome the [Israeli Army] withdrawal from the area around Ghajar," Pellegrini said in statement released by the UN. "I hope that we will reach an agreement very soon for full [Israeli Army] withdrawal from the Lebanese territory, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1701, including the northern part of Ghajar."

According to a UN-demarcated "Blue Line," which set the border between Israel and Lebanon following Israel's May 2000 withdrawal from most of the South, one-third of the village is on Lebanese soil, while the other two-thirds are on Syrian territory, part of the Golan Heights which Israel has occupied since 1967. Its residents are primarily Alawites, most of whom have obtained Israeli citizenship, although they consider themselves Syrian.

A complete withdrawal from northern Ghajar would put Israeli forces behind the Blue Line for the first time since the July-August war.

UNIFIL pledged in a statement released Tuesday that it would carry out "intensive patrolling and set up temporary checkpoints" in the Lebanese section of Ghajar once Israel completes its withdrawal.

UNIFIL has been in discussions with the Israeli military since last month in an effort to convince them to withdraw from Lebanese territories and to respect the Blue Line. On October 26, a UNIFIL statement said "minor administrative issues" continued to delay the pullout of Israeli forces from the Lebanese part of Ghajar.

Israeli troops remained in the Lebanese parts of Ghajar and Al-Abbad Hills after their October 1 withdrawal from most of South Lebanon. That came almost seven weeks after a UN-brokered cease-fire took effect on August 14.

The Israeli military continues to occupy Lebanese territory in the Shebaa Farms and the Kfar Shouba Hills. - With agencies


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UN confirms Israel's use of white phosphorous shells in South

 

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


NAIROBI: A UN team carrying out an environmental assessment of Lebanon after this summer's war with Israel confirmed that the Israeli military used artillery containing white phosphorous, banned under the Geneva Conventions, but found no evidence of depleted uranium, a UN official said Tuesday.

Achim Steiner, UN undersecretary general and executive director of the UN Environment Program, said samples taken by scientists confirmed "the use of white-phosphorous-containing artillery and mortar ammunition" by the Israeli military during the conflict.

Last month, an Israeli minister said the Israeli Army used phosphorous artillery shells against Hizbullah targets during their war, confirming Lebanese allegations for the first time.

But Steiner also said the UN team found no evidence of penetrators or metal made of depleted uranium or other radioactive material. The assessment appeared to counter some media reports that suggested uranium-based munitions had been used during the month-long war.

Steiner said in a statement: "In addition, no DU shrapnel or other radioactive residue was found. The analysis of all smear samples taken shows no DU, nor enriched uranium nor higher-than-natural uranium content in the samples."

Steiner said the UN team collected samples from September 30 to October 21 with one group focusing on munitions during the conflicts. Several samples were taken to three independent laboratories in Europe for tests, the statement said.

In October, the British daily The Independent said samples of soil taken from two bomb craters in Lebanon showed high radiation levels, suggesting that uranium-based munitions had been used.

Britain's Defense Ministry had confirmed the level of uranium isotopes in the samples, which were also being tested by mass spectrometry at a laboratory in Oxfordshire, the report had said. - Agencies


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Annan calls for freeze on use of cluster bombs


Compiled by Daily Star staff
Wednesday, November 08, 2006


UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called on Tuesday for a freeze on the use of cluster bombs in or near populated areas, saying they had "atrocious, inhumane effects" on civilians. Debate over the use of the weapon has intensified after Israeli warplanes and artillery scattered an estimated 4 million of them across South Lebanon during this past summer's war, with possibly 40 percent of the submunitions failing to explode on impact.

"I call on you to freeze the use of cluster munitions against military assets located in or near populated areas. At the same time, we should all remember that placing military assets in such areas is illegal under international humanitarian law," Annan said in a speech read out on his behalf at the opening of a 10-day conference aimed at reviewing the 1980 UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW).

Annan also called for freezing "the transfer of those cluster munitions that are known to be inaccurate and unreliable."

Cluster bombs burst into bomblets and spread out across the ground. While some aim to destroy tanks, others are designed to kill or maim people over a wide area. Unexploded bomblets can pose a risk to civilians for years after a conflict has ended.

Those that do not explode right away may detonate later at the slightest disturbance, experts say. Children are especially vulnerable because the bomblets are often an eye-catching yellow with small parachutes attached.

The issue of cluster bombs is expected to be debated, with some countries calling for action, but no decision is expected to be taken at the 10-day talks in Geneva, diplomats said. Cluster bombs are not banned by an international treaty.

The CCW bans or restricts the use of chosen types of weapons that cause "unnecessary or unjustifiable suffering to combatants" or that indiscriminately affect civilians. The countries involved have so far failed to agree on including cluster munitions.

But a US official speaking on condition of anonymity said on Monday that Washington did not believe that new rules were necessary.

Annan's demand that the munitions not be used in populated areas echoed a call by United Nations humanitarian chief Jan Egeland, who called Tuesday for an immediate glo-bal freeze on cluster bombs following their intensive use during the recent Israeli war on Lebanon.

"As a matter of urgency, I call on all states to implement an immediate freeze on the use of cluster munitions," Egeland said in a statement.

"This freeze is essential until the international community puts in place effective legal instruments to address urgent humanitarian concerns about their use," he added.

"Ultimately, as long as there is no effective ban, these weapons will continue to disproportionately affect civilians, maiming and killing women, children and other vulnerable groups." Egeland added.

"The states gathered for the Review Conference should commit to immediately freeze the use of cluster munitions and strengthen existing international humanitarian law." 

"I call upon all states to ratify and implement it in order to help us in the humanitarian community address the challenges posed by cluster munitions in post-conflict settings," Egeland said.

The United Nations has said the density of unexploded cluster munitions in Lebanon was higher than those found after conflicts in Kosovo and Iraq - which had already caused alarm among humanitarian agencies.

Unexploded cluster munitions are a "constant threat" to 200,000 refugees and internally displaced people in Lebanon as well as for hundreds of thousands of people returning to their homes and for humanitarian and reconstruction workers.

At least five of the 20 or more people killed by unexploded ordnance in Lebanon since the August 14 truce were children. The toll is feared to rise as families go into their fields to harvest olives and other crops. Over 100 have been injured so far.

United Nations Children's Fund spokesman Michael Bociurkiw told reporters at a news briefing in Geneva on Tuesday that "UNICEF hopes that these and other forums will raise worldwide awareness of an issue that is quite literally a ticking timebomb for children." - Agencies


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Fatfat: Court has to order demolitions

By Leila Hatoum
Daily Star staff
Wednesday, November 08, 2006


BEIRUT: A court order is required to demolish unlicensed buildings already erected along the old airport road in Beirut, acting Interior Minister Ahmed Fatfat said Tuesday. In an interview with The Daily Star, Fatfat said the Internal Security Forces (ISF) personnel "are preventing the building of more illegal constructions," in Ramel al-Ali, but "what has been built, the ISF cannot bring down unless there is an order from the court. The Lebanese judiciary is the legal party to issue the decision to tear down the illegal buildings."

Residents of Ramel al-Ali clashed with the ISF last month as when authorities moved to halt illegal construction.

Two children, aged 14 and 17, died in the clashes. Fatfat had told The Daily Star in an earlier interview that the military judiciary is conducting an investigation into the clashes.

Also Tuesday, Fatfat headed a meeting of the Central Security Council which discussed "the security situation in the country, including the recent grenade attack" last week in the Beirut neighborhood of Tariq al-Jdideh in Beirut.

He also explained that while recent CSC meetings had been described as "extraordinary,  "it turned out that according to the law regulating the CSC, the council should meet every month. We were calling our meetings extraordinary which caused worry among the people. From now on the meetings are ordinary by law."


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Norway warns outsiders to leave Lebanon alone
Siniora: talk of meeting with olmert is 'false news'


Compiled by Daily Star staff
Wednesday, November 08, 2006

 

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere stressed Tuesday the need for all countries, including Syria, to refrain from interfering in Lebanon's internal affairs. "I conveyed a message from Norway that all outside countries should respect the integrity of the Lebanese state, the Lebanese borders and different Lebanese political groups to work out their own future," he said.

Stoere was answering questions about his talks with Syrian leaders during a visit to Damascus on Monday.

This came as Premier Fouad Siniora denied a report that efforts were under way to mediate a get-together with his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Olmert.

Siniora, in a statement released by his office on Monday, accused the Jewish state of "producing false news in a bid to undermine Lebanon's unity."

The statement also slammed Olmert for trying to "cover up his military and political failure in Lebanon," by spreading rumors.

Olmert said in an interview on Israel's Channel 2 television Monday that he has urged the mediation of "two top world leaders" to arrange a meeting with Siniora.

He reiterated that Lebanon "will be the last Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel."

Stoere spoke to reporters following his meeting with Siniora, after which he underlined the need for the Lebanese to settle internal disagreements through consensus and condemned Israeli violations of UN Resolution 1701.

"The presence of peace-keeping forces is a factor of stability but it is not the adequate framework the Lebanese should rely on to resolve their problems," he said.

"The Lebanese should resolve their problems on their own without any interference from foreign forces," he added.

"I understand that this would be hard to achieve due to the challenges facing the Lebanese political life," said the Norwegian official.

Stoere added that he had discussed Israel's overflights with all the Lebanese officials that he had met so far, saying that any violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 "is unacceptable."

Israeli warplanes violated the Lebanese skies again on Tuesday, flying over the towns of Marjayoun and Khiam and the Kfar Shouba Hills, the National News Agency reported.

Israeli forces also set up barbed-wires fences along its borders with Lebanon, from the town of Abbassiyeh to the Shebaa Farms, the NNA said.

Israeli trucks were seen transporting equipment and tools to erect the fences, it added.

During a news conference held following a meeting with Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh on Tuesday, Stoere reiterated Norway's commitment to "support Lebanon's right to promote its democracy, sovereignty and unity."

He also expressed Oslo's determination to pursue support for peacekeeping and reconstruction efforts in Lebanon following the 34-day war in July and August.

Salloukh said that he heard "good news" from his Norwegian counterpart, but said he would not reveal the content of the news before an official announcement by Norway.

Salloukh added that discussions during the meeting tackled Lebanon's "good implementation" of Resolution 1701 and Israel's continuous violations of the Lebanese airspace. He also said that talks centered on the Palestinian cause.

Stoere arrived from Syria on Monday to meet with Lebanese officials and extend his country's support for peacekee-ping and reconstruction efforts in Lebanon.

Norway has contributed 100 troops to the naval contingent of the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, and it granted $23 million in immediate humanitarian assistance and oil spill clean-up efforts.

A Norwegian Embassy statement said Monday that Oslo was ready to participate in the January 2007 Paris conference to raise financial aid for Lebanon, recovering from the summer war that caused more than $3.5 billion in damage. - With agencies, Naharnet


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Tuesday November 7, 2006

Lebanon leaders hold talks, decide to pursue discussions
by Nayla Razzouk
BEIRUT, Lebanon - Lebanese leaders have held "ice breaking" talks on a demand by the pro-Syrian Hezbollah for a greater part in the Western-backed government, a move rejected by opponents as a Syrian bid to regain influence in Lebanese politics.

Following more than three hours of round table talks at parliament house in downtown Beirut amid tight security, the leaders decided to pursue discussions early on Tuesday, parliament speaker Nabih Berri said.

"It is necessary to reach a solution because we cannot stay in this situation. Everyone is keen to unite in order to resolve issues," Berri told reporters Monday.

With threats from both sides to take to streets, Lebanese leaders -- except Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah who sent representatives for security reasons -- met for three and a half hours, a day after a bomb blew up near a police barracks in the Lebanese capital.

The talks follow a warning from French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie on Saturday of the risks of renewed violence on the Lebanon- Israel border after the Jewish state's devastating summer offensive in Lebanon and its war with Hezbollah.

Nasrallah has threatened to resort to street protests if the talks fail to help produce a government of national unity within a week from Monday.

In response, anti-Syrian Christian leader Samir Geagea warned that his camp was ready to stage counter-demonstrations.

"Consultations start countdown for settlement or confrontation," warned the frontpage headline of the leading An Nahar newspaper.

"Open letter to the negotiators today: spare us discord!" pleaded the bold headline of the leftist As Safir daily.

The influential Berri called for the national dialogue among leaders of the various communities to consider a unity government and the adoption of a new electoral law to end the political stalemate.

The Shiite group Hezbollah has been seeking to cash in on its "divine victory" -- for its guerrillas' fierce resistance to the month-long Israeli offensive -- by pressing for a government of national unity.

Hezbollah, which has two representatives in the 24-member government, is attempting to win greater national political power by inviting more of its allies into the cabinet to secure a "blocking minority."

The anti-Syrian parliamentary majority has rejected the demand for a unity government before achieving a pledge for the ouster of Damascus protege President Emile Lahoud.

Lahoud's term was extended for three years in a Syrian-inspired controversial constitutional amendment in September 2004.

The presidential election in the fall of 2007 and the creation of a special tribunal for the trial of suspects in the 2005 murder of anti-Syrian former premier Rafiq Hariri are at the heart of Lebanon's domestic disputes.

Syrian officials and their Lebanese allies have stood accused of Hariri's assassination in a Beirut bombing which forced Damascus to end nearly three decades of military and political domination of Lebanon in April 2005.

In an overnight interview with LBCI television, parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri said the call for government change was "the result of (Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad's call for a political coup d'etat" in Lebanon.

Hariri criticised Hezbollah's camp for demanding a "blocking minority at a time we have a president who is blocking everything." (AFP)


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Lebanese Leaders Resume Roundtable Talks on Core Problems
Rival political leaders resumed roundtable talks Tuesday, days ahead of a Hizbullah ultimatum for Premier Fouad Saniora's cabinet to form a new government or face the threat of escalating political tensions.
Under tight security measures, crucial talks began at 11:00 a.m. at parliament building after Monday's meeting served to "break the ice" by allowing participants to air their demands.
Meanwhile, An Nahar daily headlined: "Proceedings of the first round of consultations … Warnings of Failure and Street (protests); Strong disagreement between the two camps."

The paper said that Tuesday's talks will focus on the core problem -- the "thorny government issue."

It its front page story, An Nahar said that the pro-government March 14 coalition has informed Hizbullah representatives and their allies that they refuse to negotiate the issue of a new government before settling that of the presidency.

The anti-Syrian March 14 Forces want this week's talks to include the future of President Emile Lahoud, a staunch pro-Syrian whom they have been trying to oust for more than a year. Lahoud has rejected repeated calls for him to step down.

An Nahar also said that the parliamentary majority has ruled out any accord that would give the opposition an upper hand in the cabinet.

Last week, Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah caused a stir when he announced that his group wanted the cabinet to be reshuffled so as to give Hizbullah and its allies a third of the 24 ministerial positions -- effectively veto-power.

Nasrallah said that if Saniora did not grant this by Nov. 13, Hizbullah supporters would resort to the streets to bring down the government.

A two-thirds vote in the cabinet is needed to pass decisions that are not made by consensus. A resignation of one-third of the cabinet automatically brings down the government.

The move, if successful, would significantly raise Hizbullah's standing in the cabinet, where it and its Shiite ally, Amal, currently have five ministers. Such veto power and influence in decision-making would also bolster their standing in the 128-seat parliament, where the group and its allies hold less than half the seats, compared to 70 seats held by the anti-Syrian majority.

An Nahar said that the opposition, in contrast, has refused "to keep the authority in the hands of the parliamentary majority."

Hizbullah and its ally, General Michel Aoun, have also stood rock-solid in their demand for the formation of a national unity government, the paper reported.

Saniora and leaders of his anti-Syrian majority sat down on Monday with pro-Syrian Hizbullah legislators and Aoun in the parliament building of downtown Beirut.

After four hours of talks, Berri, initiator of the national dialogue, adjourned the meeting for Tuesday, saying that the participants had succeeded in "breaking the ice" and had agreed on a "media truce."

Lebanon has in recent weeks seen bombings and threats to bring down the government through demonstrations, something that would further destabilize the country less than three months after a destructive war between Israel and Hizbullah.(Naharnet-AP-AFP)
 
 
 

Beirut, 07 Nov 06, 10:28


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Lebanon rivals break ice, halt media campaigns
By Nadim Ladki
BEIRUT - Rival Lebanese leaders agreed on Monday to halt media campaigns against each other as an ice-breaker in talks to defuse a political crisis threatening to spill over into violence.

There was no breakthrough over Hezbollah's demands for a national unity government giving the guerrilla group's allies a bigger say in running the country, but talks with anti-Syrian majority leaders were due to continue throughout the week.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who heads the Hezbollah-allied Amal movement and is convening the talks, said the atmosphere at the first session had been positive.

"The ice has been broken," he told reporters in the central Beirut parliament building after the meeting was adjourned. "We have started by agreeing a media truce... to ease tensions."

The political power struggle has intensified since Lebanon's devastating war with Israel. Hezbollah accuses the anti-Syrian coalition led by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora of failing to back it during the war and supporting U.S.-Israeli demands for the disarmament of its Shi'ite Muslim guerrillas.

Though the United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Nations backed Berri's call for "national consultations," a political source close to the talks said the first session had shown just how deep divisions between the pro- and anti-Syrian camps really were.

While Syrian-backed Hezbollah and its allies pressed for a new government, the majority leaders called for replacing pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, he said.

The leaders will meet again on Tuesday.

Washington last week accused Syria, Iran and Shi'ite Muslim Hezbollah of working to topple the government led by Siniora.

Damascus and Tehran denied the charge but Hezbollah, popular among Shi'ite Muslims who comprise Lebanon's largest religious community, has given the anti-Syrian majority until mid-November to agree to a unity government giving its allies more say or face street protests demanding new elections.

Demonstrations and counter-demonstrations could degenerate into violence or instability that would cripple prospects for recovery from the war in July and August.

TIGHT SECURITY

The leaders met amid tight security. Scores of Lebanese army soldiers and police cordoned off central Beirut around parliament blocking traffic and searching pedestrians.

Political sources said there were only faint hopes of a breakthrough but that talks would focus on a possible compromise to expand Siniora's government.

Hezbollah has called for the cabinet to include more opposition members after what it saw as its victory in the war.

Anti-Syrian leaders have said they were willing to consider including representatives of Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, to Siniora's Western-backed government.

However, they vehemently oppose forming a new government or giving their opponents one third of the seats in Siniora's cabinet, a proportion that would allow them to block motions or bring down the entire government by resigning.

Aoun, once an outspoken foe of Damascus, has allied with Hezbollah in opposing the policies of the anti-Syrian majority who kept him out of the government although he swept elections in the Christian heartland last year.

Hezbollah and Amal together have five ministers in Siniora's cabinet. Lahoud has one, while Aoun is not represented. (Reuters)


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U.N. Urges Immediate Freeze on Use of Cluster Bombs After Lebanon War
United Nations humanitarian chief Jan Egeland called Tuesday for an immediate global freeze on cluster bombs following their intensive use during the Israel-Hizbullah war.
The U.N. said in a statement that hundreds of thousands of Lebanese were at risk due to unexploded cluster munitions, marking only the most recent example of the "devastating" and lingering impact of such weaponry.

"As a matter of urgency, I call on all states to implement an immediate freeze on the use of cluster munitions," Egeland, the U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, said in a statement.

"This freeze is essential until the international community puts in place effective legal instruments to address urgent humanitarian concerns about their use," he added.

The appeal came at the beginning of a review conference in Geneva on a global arms treaty that restricts some types of conventional munitions, which has been ratified by more than 87 countries.

"Ultimately, as long as there is no effective ban, these weapons will continue to disproportionately affect civilians, maiming and killing women, children and other vulnerable groups," Egeland said.

"The states gathered for the Review Conference should commit to immediately freeze the use of cluster munitions and strengthen existing international humanitarian law."

The Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons bans or restricts the use of chosen types of weapons that cause "unnecessary or unjustifiable suffering to combatants" or that indiscriminately affect civilians.

The countries involved have so far failed to agree on including cluster munitions.

The U.N. said the density of unexploded cluster munitions in Lebanon was higher than those found after conflicts in Kosovo and Iraq -- which had already caused alarm among humanitarian agencies.

Unexploded cluster munitions are a "constant threat" to 200,000 refugees and internally displaced people in Lebanon as well as for hundreds of thousands of people returning to their homes and for humanitarian and reconstruction workers, it added.

Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam are still suffering from the burden of unexploded cluster munitions some 30 years after the end of conflicts there, hampering farming and key building projects.

"While some progress has been made in the intervening years, these weapons have continued to be used with devastating effect, most recently in Lebanon and Israel by both sides to the conflict," the U.N. added.(AFP) (AFP photo is of U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland) 
 
 

Beirut, 07 Nov 06, 11:43


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Saniora Denies Reports of Plans to Meet with Olmert
Prime Minister Fouad Saniora has denied a report that efforts were underway to mediate a get-together with his Israeli counterpart Ehud Olmert.
Saniora, in a statement released by his office on Monday, accused the Jewish state of "producing false news in a bid to undermine Lebanon's unity."

The statement also slammed Olmert for trying to "cover up his military and political failure in Lebanon," by releasing rumors.

This was a reference to the month-long Israeli war on Lebanon.

Olmert said in an interview on Israel's Channel 2 television Monday that he has urged the mediation of "two top world leaders" to arrange a meeting with Saniora.

Saniora reiterated that Lebanon "will be the last Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel." 
 
 

Beirut, 07 Nov 06, 11:43


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German Navy Equipped Against Suicide Attacks in Lebanon
The German military, which commands the marine component of the United Nations force in Lebanon, is prepared to defend itself against suicide attacks, a defense ministry spokesman in Berlin has said.
Citing German military and intelligence sources, the top-selling Bild newspaper had reported that the navy feared attacks mounted by Hizbullah using speed boats loaded with explosives.

It said that small craft were difficult to trace on radar and that the navy was now equipping its command bridges with heavy machine guns to repel potential attackers.

Defense ministry spokesman Thomas Raabe told a regular government news conference on Monday that the navy was prepared for attacks and confirmed that frigates such as the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, stationed off the Lebanese coast, had such firearms.

German vessels are patrolling the Lebanese coast to prevent arms being smuggled to Hizbullah by sea, in Berlin's first military foray in the Middle East since World War II.(AFP) 
 
 

Beirut, 07 Nov 06, 09:07


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Norwegian FM in Lebanon to Support Peacekeepers, Reconstruction Efforts
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store has met with Lebanese officials to extend Oslo's support for peacekeeping and reconstruction efforts.
"We condemn any violations of Resolution 1701, either by air, sea or land," Store told reporters upon arrival to Rafik Hariri international airport Monday.

He was referring to the U.N. Security Council resolution ending a July-August war between Israel and Hizbullah. Israel has continued its overflights of Lebanon since the August 14 truce, despite U.N. protests.

Arriving from neighboring Syria, Store was met by Foreign Minister Fawzi Sallukh. On Tuesday, Store held talks with Premier Fouad Saniora at the Grand Serail.

After his meeting with the prime minister, Store told reporters that they discussed the political situation in Lebanon and the ongoing consultations in parliament between the country's top rival leaders.

He also announced his country's commitments to Lebanon's post-war reconstruction.

"Norway will back the Paris 3 conference…and I informed Premier Saniora that we are going to play a leading role in this framework," Store said.

About Resolution 1701, the Norwegian Foreign Minister said any violation of the international edict must be condemned.

On Monday, Store and his accompanying delegation held talks with Druze leader Walid Jumblat in Clemenceau. No comment was released after the meeting, except for a statement saying "the delegation wished to specifically ask Jumblat's opinion on the country's current situation."

"Store will discuss the political situation in Lebanon and the region as well as Norwegian support for the Lebanese reconstruction efforts," said the Norwegian embassy.

"Norway wants to participate in the Paris conference in January 2007" to win long-term financial aid to help Lebanon recover from the summer war that caused damage of over 3.5 billion dollars.

Norway contributes four fast patrol boats and 100 personnel to the naval contingent of the beefed-up U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, and it granted 23 million dollars in immediate humanitarian assistance and oil spill clean-up efforts.

Store was also due to inspect the Norwegian contingent on Tuesday and head a ceremony to deliver ambulances to the Lebanese Red Cross.(AFP-Naharnet) (An Nahar photo shows Stoere and Sallukh) 
 
 

Beirut, 07 Nov 06, 08:33


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Report: Lebanon Witnesses Improvement in Corruption Levels
Transparency International said Monday that Lebanon was among several countries that witnessed a considerable improvement in perceived levels of corruption.
"Countries with a significant improvement in perceived levels of corruption include: Algeria, Czech Republic, India, Japan, Latvia, Lebanon, Mauritius, Paraguay, Slovenia, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uruguay," the global graft watchdog said.

Lebanon came 63rd and scored 3.6 in TI's annual Corruption Perceptions Index that covers 163 countries. Lebanon ranked 83rd and scored 3.1 in 2005.

The index score relates to perceptions of the degree of corruption as seen by business people and country analysts and ranges between zero, which is highly corrupt, and 10, which is very clean.

Haiti, Myanmar and Iraq are perceived as the most corrupt countries in the world, while Finland is seen as the cleanest, TI said.
The organization noted that the index includes only those countries that feature in at least three surveys, meaning that many nations -- including some which could be among the most corrupt -- were missing from the list.

TI said that many countries' weak performance could be blamed in part on "facilitators of corruption" who help political elites launder or protect unjustly acquired wealth, including looted state assets.

"The presence of willing intermediaries -- who are often trained in or who operate from leading economies -- encourages corruption," TI said in the report.

"It means the corrupt know there will be a banker, accountant, lawyer or other specialist ready to help them generate, move or store their illicit income."

The organization called for a number of measures to fight such facilitation including the adoption of corruption-specific codes of conduct by professional associations, professional training to ensure honest intermediaries do not become unwitting accomplices and legal sanctions for professionals who enable corruption.

It also urged stronger scrutiny of the role of non-transparent financial centers in aiding graft.(Naharnet-AFP) (Photo courtesy of TI's website)
 
 
 

Beirut, 06 Nov 06, 13:02


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'Ice Breaking' National Dialogue Adjourned for Tuesday
Lebanon's rival political leaders meeting for the first time in nearly five months decided Monday to carry on national talks Tuesday in a bid to bring calm to the war-ravaged country.
Speaker Nabih Berri, dubbing Monday's session an "ice breaker," said Lebanon's top leaders would meet again at parliament house at 11:00 a.m. Tuesday.

"We agreed to a news media truce," Berri told reporters after the four-hour meeting at parliament building in downtown Beirut which began at 11:00 a.m.

This was a reference to the political bickering between Hizbullah and its allies from one side and the anti-Syrian March 14 Forces on the other, which was highlighted by threats from both sides to take to streets.

"It is necessary to reach a solution because we cannot stay in this situation. Everyone is keen to unite in order to resolve issues," Berri said.

All 13 "first-rank" politicians sat for the dialogue amid tight security, except for Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah for safety reasons. The group's secretary general was represented by chief legislator Mohammed Raad.

Hundreds of police officers cordoned off parliament in a major security operation that caused huge traffic jams in downtown Beirut.

The leading daily An-Nahar said Monday a consensus has been reached to include General Michel Aoun's bloc in the 24-member cabinet of Premier Fouad Saniora.

However, this has not been Hizbullah's primary demand.

Nasrallah has said he wants his Shiite party, which has two representatives in the government, and allies to comprise one-third of the cabinet. That effectively means that Hizbullah and its allies could veto key decisions.
A two-thirds vote in the cabinet is needed to pass decisions that are not made by consensus. A resignation of one-third of the cabinet automatically brings down the government.

The move, if successful, would significantly raise Hizbullah's standing in the cabinet, where it and its Shiite ally, Amal, currently have five ministers. Such veto power and influence in decision-making would also bolster their standing in the 128-seat parliament, where the group and its allies hold less than half the seats, compared to 70 seats held by the anti-Syrian majority.

An-Nahar said the so-called "one-third" issue remains an "explosive topic" in Monday's consultation session.

Hizbullah has been seeking to cash in on its "divine victory" -- for its fighters' fierce resistance to the month-long Israeli offensive -- by pressing for a government of national unity.

The March 14 coalition has rejected the idea of a national unity government before winning a pledge for the ouster of Syrian protégé President Emile Lahoud.

Berri, the dialogue's initiator, has called for the roundtable talks among leaders of the various communities to consider a unity government and the adoption of a new electoral law to end the political stalemate.

Lahoud's term was extended for three years in a Syrian-inspired controversial constitutional amendment in September 2004.

The presidential election in the fall of 2007 and the creation of a special tribunal for the trial of suspects in the 2005 murder of anti-Syrian former premier Rafik Hariri are at the heart of Lebanon's domestic disputes.

The anti-Syrian majority says the country needs a tight government to carry out the post-war reconstruction and reform program with the help of the international community.

But Hizbullah insists that only a national unity government can lead to stability and prevent Washington from meddling in Lebanon's affairs.

Nasrallah has threatened to resort to street protests if the national dialogue fail to help produce a government of national unity within a week from Monday.

In response, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea warned his camp was ready to stage counter-protests, while warning that Hizbullah's demonstration may be used by other pro-Syrian parties to provoke violence.(Naharnet-AP-AFP)
 
 
 

Beirut, 06 Nov 06, 09:39


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Lebanese politicians kick off 'ice-breaking' talks to debate calls for unity government

By Nada Bakri
Daily Star staff
Tuesday, November 07, 2006

 

Consultations day 1


BEIRUT: Lebanon's top politicians kicked off "ice-breaking" talks on Monday to debate the demands of Hizbullah and its allies for the formation of a national unity government.

Following the four-hour session, Speaker Nabih Berri, who is sponsoring the meetings, said the leaders decided to pursue their consultations on Tuesday.

Berri called for the talks in a bid to prevent rising tensions from degenerating into street clashes between the country's political groups.

"It is necessary to reach a solution because we cannot stay in this situation. They were ice-breaking talks and everyone is keen to unite in order to resolve issues," Berri said later.

The talks were attended by all major political leaders, except Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah who sent the head of his parliamentary bloc, MP Mohammad Raad, to represent him for security reasons.

Most participants, leaving Parliament building in Downtown Beirut, refused to comment on the talks but said that they were "positive."

Transport and Public Work Minister, Mohammad Safadi, who represents the anti-Syrian Tripoli bloc, told reporters the consultations will likely result in a new government.

"They will lead to the formation of a new Cabinet and future ministerial statements should include all debatable issues and solutions to them including the presidential crisis," Safadi said.

Political sources close to the talks told Reuters there seemed to be little chance of an agreement as intense contacts over the past few days had failed to bridge the gaps between the camps.

They said the talks would focus on a possible compromise to expand Siniora's government.

President Emile Lahoud said Monday there is a good chance these talks might succeed if leaders put their differences aside.

"I hope everybody understands that we will all pay a high price if justice and real democracy in this country are not well preserved and practiced," Lahoud said.

Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC) reported that during the talks Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader Michel Aoun demanded at least four seats in a new Cabinet.

Parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri said the problem is in the presidency and there would be no government change "without a presidential" one, while Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said it is important to reach a united vision.

Druze leader MP Walid Jumblatt told Raad during the session to "calm down. Sayyed Nasrallah used to sit for four hours and discuss the issues with us calmly." It was unclear why Jumblatt made those comments.

Aoun and Geagea later had lunch together at one of the restaurants in Downtown Beirut and FPM MP Abbas Hashem said the former general accepted the invitation to prove that there are no tensions between his party and the LF.

Hizbullah and the FPM have been demanding a governmental change since the war with Israel ended on August 14.

The groups have threatened to take to the street to force a change if the talks fail to produce a national unity Cabinet by mid-November.

These demands are seen by Hizbullah's opponents as a bid by Damascus to regain influence in Lebanese politics, after it was forced to withdraw its troops from the country in 2005.

Hariri, who heads the Future Movement, told LBC Sunday night he was waiting to hear what reasons there could be for changing the government.

"We want to know what this government, which took 99 percent of its decisions by consensus, is guilty of. Why do they want a third [of the seats] in a government, whose decisions are made by consensus and are unanimous?" Hariri asked.

In response to Nasrallah's threats to take to the streets, Geagea had warned last week that his camp was ready to stage counterdemonstrations.

Demonstrations and counterdemonstrations could degenerate into violence and instability that would cripple prospects for postwar recovery following Israel's devastating war on Lebanon.

Hizbullah, which has two representatives in the 24-member government, is attempting to win greater national political power by inviting the FPM into the Cabinet to secure a "blocking minority."

The anti-Syrian majority has said it is willing to consider adding FPM representatives to Siniora's government.

But it opposes forming a new government or giving its opponents a third of the seats in Cabinet. Such a proportion can block decisions or bring down the government by resigning.

It also says a unity government can only be achieved after the ouster of Lahoud.

The presidential election in the fall of 2007 and the creation of a special tribunal for the trial of suspects in the 2005 murder of former Premier Rafik Hariri are at the heart of Lebanon's domestic disputes.

Syrian officials and their Lebanese allies have stood accused of Hariri's assassination in a massive Beirut bombing which forced Damascus to end nearly three decades of military domination of Lebanon in April 2005. - With agencies, additional reporting by Nafez Qawas


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Jewish state claims Hizbullah, Syria planning new war

By Leila Hatoum
Daily Star staff
Tuesday, November 07, 2006

 

BEIRUT: Israel is bracing itself for a possible new war with Lebanon, the chief of operations for the Jewish state's northern border area said on Monday. "We are preparing for a second war ... and we are very optimistic, but on our side we must do everything to prepare for a worst-case scenario and we are readying for a scenario that [UN Security Council] Resolution 1701 will not succeed," said Lieutenant Colonel Guy Hazoot.

Resolution 1701 ended a brutal 34-day Israeli bombardment that demolished much of Lebanon's infrastructure, displaced one quarter of the population and killed and wounded over 5,000 people.

"We will not give Hizbullah the opportunity to come back to these positions," Hazoot said, gesturing to Lebanese territory across the border.

Israeli daily Haaretz reported on Monday that according to military assessments, Hizbullah and Syria "are likely to start a war against Israel next summer" and "all preparations are being made to ensure maximum preparedness."

Several top Israeli officials have said the Jewish state must prepare for a second round of hostilities with the militia, which it says is armed by Syria and Iran. Both Damascus and Tehran deny the charge.

Hizbullah media officer Hussein Rahhal told The Daily Star on Monday that the Israeli threat was real.

"The Israelis continue to reveal aggressive intentions towards Lebanon all the time," Rahhal said. "That is why we have to take into consideration that the major military power deployed along our southern borderline can, at any moment and under any pretext or without an excuse, launch an attack on us. ... The Israeli generals' statements are the clearest proof that the resistance's reasoning is true. The resistance has to be ready to face any attack at all times. There has to be conformity between the resistance and the Lebanese Army and the role of the government and that of the people."

 According to Rahhal, "this is the only way to confront Israel, because we are a weak country. The strength of Lebanon lies in the unity of its resistance, people and army in the face of Israel."

Meanwhile, UNIFIL denied allegations that the force's Spanish contingent carried out on Monday a house-to-house search for weapons in the southern town of Houla.

"The reports are wrong," UNIFIL spokesman Milos Strugar told The Daily Star in a telephone interview.

"Spanish troops were not searching residential houses ... The troops were conducting normal operations in the area."

When asked about the nature of the operations, the spokesman said: "We don't normally talk or comment or discuss these operations."

Houla is a border town facing Israeli military posts across from South Lebanon's Al-Abbad Hills.

Houla residents complained to reporters that an extensive number of Spanish troops that raided several houses, cars and workshops in the town.

"They also searched two houses under construction next to mine but they found nothing ... I have complained to a Lebanese Army colonel about this," said Deeb Abboud, who said his house was searched by Spanish soldiers. One report said the UNIFIL troops were acting based on information that there were several young men hunting in the area.

Defense Minister Elias Murr met with EU Ambassador  Patrick Laurent Monday and discussed the matter of supplying the Lebanese Army with weapons and training "but didn't speak of specific preparations or weaponry," Laurent said after the meeting.

Iranian Ambassador Mohammad Reza Sheibani annunced on Sunday that his country "is ready to provide Lebanon with modern anti aircraft missiles," but no official Lebanese government response was made in this regard. - With agencies, additional reporting by Mohammed Zaatari


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Iraq scores next to last on index of transparency

By Iman Azzi
Daily Star staff
Tuesday, November 07, 2006


BEIRUT: Violence-plagued Iraq is perceived as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, Transparency International (TI) said in a study released Monday. The Berlin-based corruption watchdog ranked 163 countries based on perceived levels of corruption in its 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, was ranked last, just below Iraq, Myanmar and Guinea, reflecting what TI described as a high degree of correlation between violence, poverty and corruption.

"Corruption traps millions in poverty," TI chair Huguette Labelle wrote in the report.

The index focuses on corruption in the public sector and defines corruption as the abuse of public office for private gain.

"Despite a decade of progress in establishing anti-corruption laws and regulations," Labelle wrote, "today's results indicate that much remains to be done before we see meaningful improvements in the lives of the world's poorest citizens."

Lebanon ranks 63, tied with the Seychelles and Thailand, with a score of 3.6 out of 10. The surveys used to determine the index were completed in May and do not reflect any change that might have occurred during the July-August war with Israel.

"Lebanon improved after the Syrian Army left. There is a perception that people can speak more freely now and a sense that nothing is as hidden," said Khalil Gebara, co-executive director of the Lebanese Transparency Association, during a press conference at the Press Club Monday.

Lebanon was one of many countries - including Algeria, the Czech Republic, India, Japan, Latvia, Mauritius, Paraguay, Slovenia, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uruguay -  which saw an improvement in perceived levels of corruption compared to 2005.

Although Lebanon has improved from 2.7 to 3.6 since 2004, Gebara added that sectarianism continues to constrain the fight against corruption.

"The confessional system is the biggest challenge to corruption in Lebanon," he argued. "As long as we have to hire based on confessional lines there will be corruption."

Established in 1999, the Lebanese Transparency Association works for greater transparency in Lebanon. Gebara said upcoming projects include an investigation into corruption during reconstruction and amendments to current legislation. According to the elicit wealth law, for example, in order to accuse a politician of corruption the accuser must post a bond of $15,000 which is forfeit if the politician is not found guilty.

"This law seems to punish you for seeking out corruption. We need to implement region-

al standards," Gebara argued.

The United Arab Emirates ranked highest, at 31, of all the Arab nations measured on the index. Iraq ranked second to last and was the lowest Arab state, although Sudan was only slightly better.

"This survey suggests that corruption in Iraq is very bad," TI chief executive David Nussbaum said.

"When you have high levels of violence, not only does security break down, but so do checks and balances, law enforcement and the functioning of institutions like the judiciary and legislature," he added. "If all that is under strain the very system that works to prevent corruption is undermined."

Iraq has suffered rising sectarian violence since the US-led 2003 invasion.

Nussbaum pointed to US engineering giant Bechtel Corporation's decision last week to pull out of Iraq as a sign of how bad the security situation had become; some 52 Bechtel employees have been killed in Iraq since 2003.

Countries suffering from a significant worsening in perceived levels of corruption in this year's index include: Brazil, Cuba, Israel, Jordan, Laos, Seychelles, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia and the United States. - With agencies


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Fatfat: Unity Cabinet hinges on Hariri court


Compiled by Daily Star staff
Tuesday, November 07, 2006


The March 14 Forces are willing to discuss the formation of a national unity government as long as this doesn't hinder the formation of an international court to try suspects in the killing of former Premier Rafik Hariri, according to acting Interior Minister Ahmad Fatfat. In an article published by the Hariri-owned Al-Mustaqbal newspaper Monday, Fatfat said: "The March 14 Forces are open to all discussions to form a national unity government, as long as this doesn't delay the tribunal's formation."

The newspaper added, based on Russian diplomatic sources, that "the Russian mission to the United Nations in New York withdrew a major part of its notes on the final draft of the formation of the tribunal of an international character."

The article said this comes in the context of a Russian "decision to support the formation of the tribunal, not to hinder its works in the attempt to contribute in the revealing of the truth behind Hariri's assassination."

Meanwhile, Al-Mustaqbal also reported that Washington said that the permanent members of the UN Security Council have started to transcend their differences on the formation of the tribunal, which will also look into 14 other explosions that occurred in Lebanon throughout 2005 and are linked to the main crime of Hariri's assassination.

Christine Salzberg, the assistant US secretary of state for foreign affairs, told US-funded Radio SAWA Sunday that her country "supports the quick formation of this tribunal to send out a clear and strong message to the whole Middle East region that such crimes are unacceptable and that anyone who would commit a similar crime in the region will face justice."

Salzberg was also quoted as saying that there are current contacts within the UN Security Council to agree on the makeup of the tribunal, adding that she believes that this will be set soon so that the tribunal would commence its work shortly after the chief of the UN probe looking into Hariri's assassination, Serge Brammertz, hands in his official report on the investigation by mid-December. - Agencies


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70 FPM members attend strategy meeting in Zahle

By Nada Raad
Daily Star staff
Tuesday, November 07, 2006


BEIRUT: The Free Patriotic Movement held a "Strategic Planning Retreat 2007" in Zahle last week, with 70 senior party members attending. Senior members of the movement use the annual gathering to discuss the party's status. "The purpose of the retreat was to acquaint participants with strategic planning as a tool for long-term thinking, and to put strategic planning into practice by carefully examining the present situation of the party and recommending a plan to guide FPM's efforts over the next years," Kamal Yazigi, a retreat organizer, told The Daily Star on Monday.

Retreat participants stayed at the Grand Hotel Qadri in Zahle for three days beginning on Friday.

After an introductory session introducing strategic planning, participants broke into smaller groups for a thorough assessment of the current situation of the party.

"We looked critically and objectively at how we operate, trying to identify weaknesses and short-comings and coming up with objectives aimed at improving performance," Yazigi said. "The retreat was a pioneering initiative that opens great opportunities for improvement. It will eventually become an annual tradition."

Asked about the importance of strategic planning for the party, Yazigi said: "It encourages the long-term view. By definition, to plan you have to look ahead."

Besides, he said, "planning creates an openness to change. After all, strategic planning is about planning for change."


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Norwegian envoy condemns 'any' breaches of 1701
Foreign minister meets top officials

By Maher Zeineddine
Daily Star correspondent
Tuesday, November 07, 2006

 

BEIRUT: Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere kicked off a series of visits to Lebanese officials on Monday to extend his country's support for peacekeeping and reconstruction efforts in Lebanon. "We condemn any violations of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, either by air, sea or land," Stoere told reporters upon arrival at Rafik Hariri International Airport in reference to Israel's continued violations of Lebanese airspace.

Upon arriving from neighboring Syria Monday, Stoere was met by Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh, officials said. The Norwegian official stressed the importance of continuing political dialogue  to resolve Lebanon's internal disputes, while Salloukh praised the Norwegian participation in UNIFIL.

After leaving the airport, Stoere held a meeting with Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt for talks on the latest developments in the Lebanese arena. No comments were released after the meeting, except for a statement saying "the delegation wished to specifically ask Jumblatt's opinion on the country's current situation."

"Stoere will discuss the political situation in Lebanon and the region as well as Norwegian support for the Lebanese reconstruction efforts," said a statement issued by the Norwegian Embassy Monday.

"Norway wants to participate in the Paris III donor conference in January to win long-term financial aid to help Lebanon recover from this summer's war with Israel," the statement said.

Norway had contributed four patrol boats and 100 personnel to the naval contingent of the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, and granted $23 million in immediate humanitarian aid and oil-spill clean-up efforts.

Stoere is expected to meet with Premier Fouad Siniora Tuesday and is also due to inspect the Norwegian contingent and head a ceremony to deliver ambulances to the Lebanese Red Cross.

Stoere arrived in Damascus on an unannounced visit Sunday and met Monday with President Bashar Assad and several Syrian officials.

According to Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, Stoere's talks with Assad were "beneficial" and tackled recent developments in the region, including the situation in Lebanon.

Moallem said on Monday that Syria hopes for a Middle East peace process to be launched next year and is pleased that some Israelis want to reopen negotiations on the Golan Heights.

"We hope to have in 2007 a peace process to settle the [Arab-Israeli] conflict," Moallem said during a joint news conference with Stoere in Damascus.

Moallem said despite "dangerous" predictions in the Israeli press of another Middle East war, Syria welcomed a debate going on inside the Jewish state about whether to resume negotiations with Damascus over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Talks between Israel and Syria over the Golan Heights, a mountainous plateau occupied by Israel since 1967, collapsed in 2000 after Syria insisted on regaining control of all the strategic piece of land.

"If the Israelis are planning to start a war in 2007, we, for our part, believe the peace process will be relaunched in 2007. Israeli officials should understand that using force does not solve issues," Moallem said without elaborating.

European nations have begun re-establishing high-level contacts with Syria since the latest war with Israel sparked in July.

Officials from Britain, Spain, Italy and Germany have had contacts with the Syrian side.

Highlighting the importance of Syria's role in the region, Stoere said Damascus, "which hosts high-level Hamas officials and backs Hizbullah, is a key player."

"Syria is a neighbor to all regions that need urgent solutions ... Negotiations should then be held to reach a peace agreement between Syria and Israel," Stoere said.

"Several measures are being taken in this regard," he added stressing Syria's effect on those measures. - With agencies


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Monday November 6, 2006

Hopes rest on deal to avert Lebanon protests
By Ferry Biedermann in Beirut

Published: November 6 2006 00:52 | Last updated: November 6 2006 00:52

Lebanon’s rival political camps on Sunday held out the possibility of a compromise over demands by Hizbollah for a national unity government that threaten to cause unrest on the streets.

With a week of “national consultations” between the pro- and anti-Syrian parties due to begin Monday, Hizbollah has threatened protests to back its demands. The governing anti-Syrian March 14 movement has vowed to respond with counter-demonstrations.

Ahmad Fatfat, the acting interior minister who belongs to the anti-Syrian camp, told the Financial Times that a solution to the crisis might involve “a new president and elections”. That could allow both sides to achieve their goals.

March 14 has wanted to replace the country’s pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud, since it won parliamentary elections last year.

Saad Hariri, the leader of the anti-Syrian camp and the son of slain former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, said yesterday that “the presidency has always been our priority”.

The pro-Syrian Hizbollah movement and its Christian ally, the former general Michel Aoun, are demanding a greater say in the government or new elections.

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbollah’s leader, has given the anti-Syrian majority until mid-November to agree to his demands. But Mr Fatfat said March 14 could bring out more supporters to counter-demonstrate than ever before.

The movement takes its name from last year’s demonstration against Syria after the Hariri murder. Many Lebanese accuse Syria of involvement, a charge it denies.

The “national consultations” that start Monday have been called by Nabih Berri, the parliament speaker and a Hizbollah ally. One official in his Shia Amal movement, Ali Hamdan, said there were indications both sides were considering a compromise to avoid conflict.

“What is the alternative? Nobody wants to go the way of Iraq or Gaza,” he said.

Mr Hamdan added that if the March 14 movement was serious about changing the president, then “this is better than a golden opportunity”. In Lebanon, parliament elects the president.

A small bomb exploded yesterday outside a police barracks in Beirut, causing no injuries. It was the latest in a series of similar attacks since the summer that has contributed to a feeling of insecurity in the country.

Several leaders of the anti-Syrian coalition have said Hizbollah’s attempt to gain veto power in the cabinet is an effort to block the international tribunal to judge the suspects in the killing of Mr Hariri. A disagreement between Russia and the other four permanent members of the United Nations Security Council is said to be holding up the finalising of a draft resolution to set up the tribunal.

But analysts close to Hizbollah have said the movement feels under pressure because of the presence of government soldiers and a beefed-up international Unifil force in its strongholds in the south of the country, after the recent conflict with Israel. It may fear a “siege” if Lebanon’s border with Syria were to be sealed to stop arms shipments.

Mr Fatfat said there was no prospect the government would ask Unifil to help monitor the Syrian border. “I am sure there is no political consensus for that,” he said.

■Germany has accused Israel of ignoring arrangements with the UN to police the ceasefire with Lebanon and of struggling to accept the role of the Unifil peacekeeping mission, Gerrit Wiesmann reports from Frankfurt.

“That Israel is still trying to control the airspace over Lebanon despite the international presence of French, Italian and other soldiers, runs contrary to every agreement,” Gernot Erler, the German deputy foreign minister, said.

“The Israelis have so far rejected every internationalisation of their security. But this is now happening with the Unifil mission. It’s evidently something the Israeli armed forces take some getting used to,” the Social Democrat politician told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

Germany has eight ships off the coast of Lebanon monitoring the cease fire between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas and preventing weapons smuggling. Relations with Israel dipped last month after Israeli air force jets flew too close to the formation.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006

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Top Lebanese Leaders Resume Crucial Dialogue
Rival Lebanese leaders resumed roundtable talks Monday to discuss possible government changes amid an abyss between Hizbullah and the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority that could lead to street protests.
All 13 "first-rank" politicians sat for the dialogue at parliament house in downtown Beirut at 11:00 a.m. amid tight security, except for Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah for safety reasons.

Nasrallah was represented by cabinet minister Mohammed Fneish as well as parliament members Mohammed Raad and Hussein Hajj Hassan.

The meeting came a day after a bomb blew up near a police station in Tarik Jedideh, causing no casualties.

The leading daily An-Nahar said Monday a consensus has been reached to include General Michel Aoun's bloc in the 24-member cabinet of Premier Fouad Saniora.

However, this has not been Hizbullah's primary demand.

Nasrallah has said he wants his Shiite party, which has two ministers in the cabinet of the ruling anti-Syrian parliamentary majority, and allies to comprise one-third of the cabinet. That effectively means that Hizbullah and its allies could veto key decisions.
A two-thirds vote in the abinet is needed to pass decisions that are not made by consensus. A resignation of one-third of the cabinet automatically brings down the government.

The move, if successful, would significantly raise Hizbullah's standing in the Cabinet, where it and its Shiite ally, Amal, currently have five ministers. Such veto power and influence in decision-making would also bolster their standing in the 128-seat parliament, where the group and its allies hold less than half the seats, compared to 70 seats held by the anti-Syrian majority.

An-Nahar said the so-called "one-third" issue remains an "explosive topic" in Monday's consultation session which is to be held in parliament at 11:00 a.m.

Hizbullah has been seeking to cash in on its "divine victory" -- for its fighters' fierce resistance to the month-long Israeli offensive -- by pressing for a government of national unity.

The March 14 coalition has rejected the idea of a national unity government before winning a pledge for the ouster of Syrian protégé President Emile Lahoud.

Speaker Nabih Berri, the dialogue's initiator, has called for the roundtable talks among leaders of the various communities to consider a unity government and the adoption of a new electoral law to end the political stalemate.

Lahoud's term was extended for three years in a Syrian-inspired controversial constitutional amendment in September 2004.

The presidential election in the fall of 2007 and the creation of a special tribunal for the trial of suspects in the 2005 murder of anti-Syrian former premier Rafik Hariri are at the heart of Lebanon's domestic disputes.

The anti-Syrian majority says the country needs a tight government to carry out the post-war reconstruction and reform program with the help of the international community.

But Hizbullah insists that only a national unity government can lead to stability and prevent Washington from meddling in Lebanon's affairs.

Nasrallah has threatened to resort to street protests if the national dialogue fail to help produce a government of national unity within a week from Monday.

In response, anti-Syrian Christian leader Samir Geagea warned his camp was ready to stage counter-protests, while warning that Hizbullah's demonstration may be used by other pro-Syrian parties to provoke violence.(Naharnet-AFP-AP)
 
 
 

Beirut, 06 Nov 06, 09:39


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Haaretz: Possibility of Syria, Hizbullah War Against Israel Next Summer
Syria and Hizbullah are likely to start a war against Israel next summer, according to assessments of Israeli military intelligence, said the online edition of Israel's daily Haaretz on Monday.
It said the assessments were gathered by what it called "General Staff" during a series of meetings in recent weeks.

While there is no specific estimate concerning the timing of a potential attack, all preparations are being made to ensure maximum preparedness in advance of summer 2007, it added.

It said that since the lessons of the war in Lebanon have not yet been finalized in reports, it was decided to consider 2007 as an interim period, and to make decisions concerning a multiple-year force build-up only at the end of that year.
Meanwhile, it said, two important interim decisions were made during the recent deliberations: The development, within three years, of a system capable of intercepting 220 mm. and 302 mm. surface-to-surface rockets, of the sort that Hizbullah used to target Haifa and other towns during the recent war; and to wait to make a final decision with respect to cancellation of the Merkava tank production line.

The rocket interceptor system will be developed on the basis of existing missiles, and according to future developments of these platforms, Haaretz said on its website.

It said that regarding the Merkava, an analysis of the use of tanks during the fighting in Lebanon in the July-August war, and particularly the performance of the Merkava Mark-4, suggests that if properly deployed, the tank can provide its crew with better protection than in the past.

The conclusion is that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) still require an annual supply of dozens of advanced tanks in order to replace the older, more vulnerable versions that are still in service, Haaretz added.

Also, it was decided to postpone for a year the decision made by the previous Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz on shortening the duration of military service for conscripts by four to eight months, which was to go into effect in March 2007, according to the website.

It said that retaining the current terms of service will allow the necessary training to enable divisions to be prepared for combat and to heighten their effectiveness in battle.

It said that at the end of a series of General Staff meetings, Chief of Staff Dan Halutz designated five main areas, or scenarios, that the IDF must seriously consider, including:

Preparation for conflagration in the north: A war initiated by Syria or Hizbullah, separately or together, with backing from Iran. The likelihood is that such a conflagration will erupt in the next two years, peaking in the spring-summer months of 2007.

Among the reasons for tension: a growing sense of "success" among forces in the region that oppose Israel and the West.

A decision in Washington to withdraw the majority of its forces from Iraq will contribute to this atmosphere and will necessitate concentrating on the possibility that Iraq may become part of an eastern front comprising Iran and Syria. Israeli Military Intelligence estimate that there are 5,000 Katyushas in southern Lebanon, even after IDF mop-up operations there.

Asymmetric fighting: Hostile Arab states, with Syria at the lead, and paramilitary organizations, prominent among them Hizbullah, have relinquished - even before the fighting in Lebanon and as a consequence of it - the possibility of a direct confrontation with Israel.

In their view, Haaretz said, Israel's superiority in both air and armored forces negates the chances of a major ground offensive succeeding. Instead they have opted for a war of continuous attrition, with the deployment of infantry forces heavily equipped with anti-tank weapons, commando units, ballistic weapons and tunnel access.

In countering them, the IDF would like to develop necessary preparedness, partly overt, in an effort to deter them, or in case of failure, to achieve a significant military gain quickly, along parameters determined by the political leadership, Haaretz wrote.(Naharnet file photo shows a Hizbullah fighter walking on the rubble of detroyed buildings in Beirut's southern sububrs during the war)
 
 
 

Beirut, 06 Nov 06, 11:46


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Bomb Explosion Near Tarik Jedideh Police Station, No Casualties
A bomb exploded near a police station in Beirut Sunday night on the eve of a dialogue session among Lebanon's rival leaders to consider Hizbullah calls for a government of national unity, security sources said.
They said no one was hurt in the bomb that went off in a parking lot near the Tarik Jedideh police station in Beirut. No other details were given.

Witnesses said the bomb exploded under a vehicle parked in the parking lot, causing damage.

Unknown gunmen fired a rifle grenade at the Helou police garrison in Beirut on Wednesday, causing minor material damage but no casualties.

The grenade explosion was the second on the Helou garrison in nearly three weeks.

Sunday's blast was part of a series of assaults aimed at destabilizing the security situation in Lebanon.

Five similar security incidents took place in Beirut last month.

The Lebanese government recently decided to set up a network of surveillance cameras in Beirut and its suburbs, two years after the start of a spate of bombing attacks that mainly targeted figures who opposed Syrian domination.

Among those targeted was former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed by a massive car bomb in the capital in February 2005. (Naharnet-AFP) (AP photo shows a Lebanese soldier taking evidence from the scene of the explosion) 
 
 

Beirut, 05 Nov 06, 23:21


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Switzerland Imposes Arms Ban on Lebanon
Switzerland has imposed an arms embargo on Lebanon few days after a similar move by Bulgaria, a defense news service reported.
"The Swiss cabinet has decided to impose a ban on arms exports to Lebanon in line with a United Nations Security Council resolution," Middle East Newsline (MENL) said Monday.

It quoted the Swiss economics ministry as saying the embargo does not target the Lebanese government but is meant to prevent Swiss weapons from being transferred to Hizbullah.

Bulgaria's government on Thursday also introduced an embargo on arms and ammunition sales to Lebanon in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 that brought an end to a month-long war between Israel and Hizbullah.

Resolution 1701 requires all states to take measures to prevent "the sale and supply to Lebanon of arms and related material of all types including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment."

It also bans any assistance or training related to "provision, manufacturing, maintenance or use" of such material.

In line with the resolution, the EU also put an embargo on the sale and supply of arms and related materiel to Lebanon in mid-September. 
 
 

Beirut, 06 Nov 06, 11:24


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Hizbullah's Main Backer Iran Willing to Supply Lebanon With Anti-Aircraft Arms
Hizbullah backer Iran has said it was ready to equip the Lebanese army with anti-aircraft weaponry following Israel's devastating offensive on Lebanon.
The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) quoted Iran's Ambassador to Lebanon Mohammad-Reza Sheybani as telling Army Commander Gen. Michel Suleiman that his country would "supply modern anti-aircraft arms to Lebanon."

"Sheybani also called for promotion of joint cooperation in the field of defense and implementation of agreements previously signed in this regard," according to IRNA.

It said Gen. Suleiman told Sheybani during their meeting Saturday that one of the reasons behind Hizbullah's victory in the July-August war with Israel was the army's backing.

"Lebanese military support of the resistance during the recent Israeli attack on Lebanon was one of the factors of resistance (Hizbullah) victory," he said.

He also said that the Jewish State attempted to destroy the solidarity between the army and Hizbullah by attacking military bases during the 34-day offensive. But because of the "will to support the resistance, the conspiracy didn't succeed."

Iran and Syria are the main backers of Hizbullah. The Islamic Republic insists that its support for Hizbullah is only moral in nature and rejects allegations it funds or arms the group via Syria.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which put an end to the fighting on August 14, required all states to take measures to prevent "the sale and supply to Lebanon of arms and related material of all types including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment."
 
 
 

Beirut, 05 Nov 06, 08:22


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Private Political Daily Hits Syrian Newsstands with Cartoon of Saniora
A privately-owned political daily has hit Syrian newsstands, hailing its arrival as a first in this tightly-controlled country for decades.

The editor of Al-Watan, Arabic for homeland, said it was "neither an opposition paper nor a state-controlled daily.

"We do not belong to any movement, we do not express the points of view of any party," Waddah Abed Rabbo wrote in an editorial, adding that it was the first private political newspaper to appear in Syria in more than 40 years.

The front page covered a visit to the paper's offices by Information Minister Mohsen Bilal and Economy Minister Amer Lotfi, as well as news from Iraq, Lebanon and on sports.

A cartoon in the first edition shows Prime Minister Fouad Saniora seated on the knees of U.S. President George W. Bush and asking Syria and Iran "not to interfere in Lebanon's affairs."

Abed Rabbo also owns the economic daily Al-Iqtissadiya, or the economic, launched in 2001, while a privately-owned weekly, Abiad wa Asswad (white and black), has been on sale since 2002.

But an independent satirical paper, Addomari, which came out in 2001, was closed down by the authorities two years later after publishing articles critical of Syria's domestic situation.(AFP) 
 
 

Beirut, 06 Nov 06, 10:40


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French Defense Minister Warns of Dangers on Lebanon-Israel Border
France's Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie warned Saturday of the risks of renewed conflict on the Lebanon-Israel border after the Jewish state's July-August war with Hizbullah.
Speaking during a visit to Kuwait, she called the current situation in south Lebanon "stable and fragile" after a U.N. resolution ended 34 days of fighting between Israel and Hizbullah on August 14.

"That is why it is imperative to avoid any risk of provocation that could lead to renewed conflict or other parties not to respect their obligations" under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, Alliot-Marie told a news conference.

Asked about ongoing Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace, she said they were "worrying because such overflights take a hostile form -- as was the case with a French naval vessel and a German one."

"There is always the risk that the crews on board these ships will exercise their legitimate right to defense and return fire," she said.

Airspace violations "may also be an incitement for others not to respect their obligations under the United Nations resolution and to reply to provocation at a time when the interest of everyone in the region is in having peace," Alliot-Marie added.

She urged the Lebanese people to "show cohesion" on the political level, as Lebanon is "a formidable example... of the capacity of men and women of different origins, religions and cultures to live together."

Israel has drawn intense international criticism by continuing its overflights of Lebanese territory despite the ceasefire.

France currently commands the beefed up U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon whose job is to police the ceasefire.(AFP) 
 
 

Beirut, 04 Nov 06, 19:09


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UNIFIL Nears Strength Deemed Sufficient by Pellegrini
The U.N. peacekeeping mission has now nearly reached the strength its commander considers sufficient, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon has said.
"Some 9,450 troops from 20 different countries have now been deployed," UNIFIL said in a press release.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 that brought an end to the July-August war between Israel and Hizbullah has authorized the deployment of 15,000 U.N. troops. But UNIFIL Commander Maj.-Gen. Alain Pellegrini said last month that he thought 10,000 might be sufficient.

The beefed-up peacekeeping mission now has 7,730 troops deployed on the ground between the Litani River and the U.N. drawn Blue Line, and a Maritime Task Force with 1,700 naval personnel patrolling the coastline to prevent alleged arms smuggling. 
 
 

Beirut, 05 Nov 06, 09:16


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Lebanese leaders return to table in bid to ease tensions

By Nada Bakri
Daily Star staff
Monday, November 06, 2006

 

BEIRUT: Lebanon's political elite were to return today to roundtable talks to discuss the demands of Hizbullah and its allies for a national unity government, in an attempt to prevent escalating political tensions from erupting into street clashes between various camps. Hizbullah and the Free Patriotic Movement have been demanding a governmental change since the 34-day war with Israel ended on August 14. The groups have threatened to take to the street to force a change.

In addition to discussing a national unity government to replace Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's Cabinet, the key cross-party consultations initiated by Speaker Nabih Berri were to address the adoption of a new electoral law and early elections.

The two items on the agenda are key demands of Hizbullah's leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, and his ally, Christian opposition leader MP Michel Aoun.

Hizbullah, with two ministers in the Cabinet of the ruling parliamentary majority, wants the inclusion of other groups in government, particularly that of Aoun's FPM.

But the anti-Syrian majority demands the departure of President Emile Lahoud, whose mandate was extended by three years in 2004, in accordance with Damascus' wishes.

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Nations have all backed Berri's call for the talks. But Washington last week accused Syria, Iran and their ally Hizbullah of working to topple Siniora's government.

Hizbullah's leader vowed last week to stage peaceful protests demanding fresh elections unless the March 14 Forces agree to a new government by mid-November.

Such demonstrations and likely counter-demonstrations could degenerate into street clashes, leading to instability that would cripple prospects for recovery from the summer's devastating war.

A senior political source allied with Hizbullah told Reuters on Sunday that the chances of the national consultations producing a deal to form a new government were slim. The source did not rule out a compromise that would expand the current Cabinet, however.

"There are some positive signs, the first of which is that all leaders have agreed to attend the consultations and to discuss the demand for a government change," the politician, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

The politician said a compromise could be reached to expand the 24-member Cabinet by adding six members, most of whom would be from Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun's bloc.

Aoun, once a bitter foe of Syria, has allied with Hizbullah in opposing the policies of the anti-Syrian majority, which has kept him out the government even though he won elections in the Christian heartland.

Hizbullah and Berri, a frequent ally on many issues, currently have five ministers. Lahoud has one, while Aoun is not represented. The leaders want to make up a third of the Cabinet, enough to block any decisions.

Their opponents say such demands would effectively make the government hostage to Syria's allies because the resignation of a third of the Cabinet ministers would automatically lead to the resignation of the whole government.

Anti-Syrian Christian leader Samir Geagea warned that his camp was ready to stage counter-demonstrations, saying Hizbullah's demonstration may be used by other pro-Syrian parties to provoke violence.

"We will participate in the consultations session to say that solving the situation in Lebanon cannot be reached unless a new president is elected," Geagea said during an interview with Saudi-based Web site Elaph, published Sunday.

Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt said he was open to the formation of a national unity government, but only after a legitimate president has been elected.

"I extend my hand to Nasrallah again ... I advise Nasrallah to put national unity before his alliance with Syria," Jumblatt told Al-Hayat newspaper on Sunday. "Let's agree first on a legitimate president elected by the first free Parliament and then form a national unity government."

The March 14 Forces held a meeting Sunday at parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri's Qoreitem residence in which they discussed their strategy for Monday's consultations.

Except for Nasrallah - who has been the target of assassination threats by Israel in recent months - all the key Lebanese players are expected to attend the talks. Hizbullah is likely to send the head of its parliamentary bloc, Mohammad Raad.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia denied it was working on a compromise to expand Siniora's Cabinet, as reported by Agence France Press last week.

Saudi Ambassador Abdul Aziz Khoja said Saturday that "the kingdom doesn't have an initiative" in this vein.

"We hope that everyone participates in the consultation proposed by Speaker Nabih Berri the same way they did during the national dialogue," he added.

- With agencies, additional reporting by Nafez Qawas


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French defense minister: Situation in South is 'stable and fragile'


Compiled by Daily Star staff
Monday, November 06, 2006


French Defense Minister Michelle Alliot-Marie warned over the weekend of the risks of renewed conflict on the Lebanese-Israeli border. Speaking during a visit to Kuwait on Saturday, Alliot-Marie said the current situation between Lebanon and Israel  "stable and fragile."

"That is why it is imperative to avoid any risk of provocation that could lead to renewed conflict or other parties not to respect their obligations" under UN Security Council Resolution 1701, Alliot-Marie told a news conference.

Asked about ongoing Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace, she said they were "worrying because such overflights take a hostile form - as was the case with a French naval vessel and a German one."

"There is always the risk that the crews on board these ships will exercise their legitimate right to defense and return fire," she added.

Airspace violations "may also be an incitement for others not to respect their obligations under [1701] and to reply to provocation at a time when the interest of everyone in the region is in having peace," Alliot-Marie added.

She urged the Lebanese people to "show unity" on the political level, as Lebanon is "a formidable example ...  of the capacity of men and women of different origins, religions and cultures to live together."

Israel has drawn intense international criticism by continuing its overflights of Lebanese territory despite the cease-fire.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said the overflights were necessary to monitor what he charged was continuing arms smuggling by Hizbullah.

France currently commands the beefed-up UN peacekeeping force in South Lebanon whose job it is to monitor the cease-fire.

Meanwhile, the United Nations gave a positive assessment Saturday of the situation in South Lebanon almost three months after the war, except for the airspace violations.

"Things in the South are looking very well, but we need an end to the overflights," Geir Pedersen, the Lebanon representative of UN chief Kofi Annan, said after meetings with Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh and Speaker Nabih Berri.

Pederson also met with Senior Shiite cleric Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, who said afterward that 1701 did not reassure the Lebanese.

"The Lebanese people," Fadlallah said, "fear that Israel's violations will pave the way for a new offensive against Lebanon."

On Friday, a senior Israeli government official revealed on condition of anonymity that the United States had joined world governments in expressing discontent about continued Israeli flights over Lebanon.

Germany's deputy foreign minister also condemned Israel's violations of Lebanese airspace.

Gernot Erler was quoted as saying on Saturday that "Israel is still trying to control the airspace over Lebanon despite the international presence of French, Italian and other soldiers ... contrary to every agreement."

Erler told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung that "the Israelis have so far rejected internationalization of their security. But this is now happening with the UNIFIL mission. It's evidently something the Israeli armed forces take some time getting used to."

Germany assumed command of a UN naval force off Lebanon last month and has sent eight ships and 1,000 personnel to join the international peace operation in the region.

Erler's comments, published in a preview of Sunday's edition, follow incidents in which Israeli Air Force encounters with German forces provoked so-called "misunderstandings."

The first, late last month, involved two planes which a German paper said had fired twice as they flew over a German Navy ship. It was followed by a separate run-in between a German Navy helicopter and Israeli warplanes. Erler said he had confidence in Israel's assurances that such incidents would not be repeated. If this were not the case, the two sides would need to talk again, he said. - Agencies


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Tehran offers anti-aircraft missiles to Beirut

By Leila Hatoum
Daily Star staff
Monday, November 06, 2006


BEIRUT: Iran is prepared to provide Lebanon with anti aircraft missiles, the Islamic Republic's ambassador to Lebanon said over the weekend. "Iran is ready to supply modern anti-aircraft arms to Lebanon," the official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Ambassador Mohammad Reza Sheibani as saying after talks late Saturday with the commander of the Lebanese Army, General Michel Suleiman.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's office had no comments on the Iranian initiative.

A high-ranking Lebanese Army source confirmed to The Daily Star Sunday that the statement "was indeed given by the Iranian ambassador and the Lebanese Army has no comments on the matter so far."

However, the source added: "the Lebanese Army has no problem with the source of any received weapons as long as they are provided in the context of defending Lebanon."

"Accepting and buying any weapons remains a political decision that has to be taken by the government. The government's approval is needed to accept these weapons," the source added. "There [was] a statement by the Lebanese government issued in the aftermath of the recent Israeli aggression on Lebanon in which the government promised to re-inforce the army's ability and arsenal and that it will exert efforts with sisterly and friendly states in an attempt to receive such weapons."

He added that the government also issued a decision to "stand in the face of Israel in this context."

The Lebanese Army "currently isn't capable of facing the Israeli arsenal," he said.

A source from Hizbullah said that "currently, Hizbullah has no comments ... What matters now is the Lebanese government's opinion on this issue."

The United States and Israel accuse Iran of supplying arms and financial support to Hizbullah, and accuse Syria of being one of the routes by which such weapons are smuggled to Hizbullah in Lebanon.

Damascus and Tehran deny the allegations.

Lebanon was subjected to a massive Israeli offensive in July and August that demolished the country's infrastructure, killed over 1,400 citizens, one third of whom were children, and wounded over 4,000 people, mostly women and children.

The army has since said it was in market for anti-aircraft and anti-tank weaponry.

According to the IRNA dispatch, Sheibani also called on "Lebanese political groups to maintain their unity to foil plots" of America and Israel.

His comments came as Lebanese politicians were preparing to start consultation rounds on Monday to discuss a possible change of Cabinet amid threats of protests by both Hizbullah and the March 14 Forces.

Hizbullah and it ally, the Free Patriotic Movement, have been calling for the formation of a national unity government which truly represents all Lebanese powers, while the March 14 Forces have threatened to launch counter-demonstrations in order to preserve the current Cabinet. - With agencies


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First Indonesian troops due late Sunday


Compiled by Daily Star staff
Monday, November 06, 2006


Some 30 Indonesian troops were expected to arrive in Beirut on Sunday to join the United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon, after four separate delays in their dispatch. Military gear left Indonesia on Saturday aboard a ship flying a US flag, American officials said. As The Daily Star went to press, the Indonesian forces had yet to arrive in Lebanon.

"About 200 pieces of equipment are bound for Lebanon aboard the SS Wilson, an American-owned ship hired for the mission by the US Navy's Military Sealift Command," a statement from the US Embassy said.

The equipment included armored personnel carriers, trucks and ambulances, all emblazoned with bright-white UN markings, the embassy said.

Later this month, 850 members of Indonesia's Garuda XXIIIA Troop unit will fly to Lebanon to join peacekeepers from some 20 countries in UNIFIL, the statement said.

"We've been working with the Indonesian military for several weeks to coordinate the arrival of equipment at the port as well as to develop a plan to load it aboard the vessel," the statement quoted Lieutenant Colonel Colice Powell, commander of the US Army's Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, as saying.

The statement said the cargo ship SS Wilson, which arrived in Indonesia and began loading equipment on Thursday, belongs to Sealift, Inc. of Long Island, New York. The ship is staffed by US personnel, the statement said.

Separately, and in a message delivered Saturday on the 50th anniversary of the creation of the first UN Peacekeeping Operation, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said: "Just look at the rapid deployment of thousands of reinforcements - from the developed and developing world alike - to the expanded and reenergized UN Interim Force in Lebanon."

Annan said that the UNIFIL "shows ... that so long as peacekeeping has the political and practical support and commitment of the international community, as expressed through the main organs of the United Nations, anything is possible." - Agencies


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Palestinian students lack funds when they need them most
Scholarship grants dry up as poverty spreads

By Paige Austin
Special to The Daily Star
Monday, November 06, 2006

 

BEIRUT: Palestinian students at Lebanese universities are facing a precipitous drop in loans and fellowships available to help them offset tuition costs this year. The European Union, which last year provided the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) with a $1.1 million grant for university scholarships as a one-time offer, has declined to renew its donation this year.

At the same time, the Palestinian Student Fund, a non-governmental organization which offers Palestinians students loans to cover their tuitions, responded to its own decline in funding by raising eligibility requirements and narrowing the field of specialties loan recipients can study.

On September 25, the Palestinian Democratic Youth Union warned UNRWA officials in a letter that without additional help, many of Lebanon's estimated 3,500 Palestinian university students might be forced to abandon their studies.

"We call upon the administration of UNRWA to raise an urgent fund to provide help to all Palestinian students in different universities and especially those with high tuition fees," the letter stated.

The letter also noted that the recent hike in eligibility requirements for loans from the Palestinian Student Fund - from a score of 70 on the high school baccalaureate exam to one of 75 - left only 15 percent of Palestinian high school graduates eligible for loans.

"This requirement is unrealistic for most of our students," Youth Union director Youssef Ahmad said in an interview with The Daily Star. "In Shatila there is often no electricity; other camps are even worse. These conditions are simply not conducive to scoring so high."

Faced with this pressure, the Student Fund dropped the new requirement soon after announcing it in September. But for Palestinian students struggling to pay the costs of a university education, serious, systemic problems remain. Without Lebanese citizenship, they are not eligible for government support. And though UNRWA has administered hundreds of internationally funded scholarships since 2000, the number available each year fluctuates with donor interest.

Since 2000, a Canadian- and Qatari-backed fund for female students, administered by UNRWA, has provided 179 scholarships. The program's coordinator, Roula al-Rifai, explained in an email to The Daily Star that the recipients are chosen on the basis of "academic excellence combined with economic need." This year, 25 women were selected from 103 applicants. A second donation from the Japanese government, to be announced this week, will fund an additional 25 scholarships for men and women.

According to Wafaa al-Yassir, a member of the selection committee for the women's Scholarship Fund, these programs have inspired hundreds of Palestinian students who once considered university beyond their reach.

"The students started getting hope to be able to enter university, so the success rate in the official exams went up," she said. "Now we are faced with a big number of students with very high grades."

But with donations like the EU's on the wane, demand far outstrips supply.

At the Palestinian Student Fund, too, resources have been decreasing, both because of thinning donations and a growing number of college graduates who cannot afford to repay.

"The money available ... has really decreased," said Yassir, who is also an adviser to two organizations that support the Student Fund. "The Palestinians in the Gulf used to be the main donors, so [when they were expelled after the Gulf War in 1991] that caused the funds donated to decrease."

According to an education specialist at UNRWA, Diab al-Tabari, problems began even earlier than that.

"Until '88, universities [in Lebanon] were affordable," he explained in an interview with The Daily Star. "But in '86 and '87 the Lebanese pound started deteriorating - and then the Lebanese tuitions started increasing." Three years later, UNRWA decided the grants it had been offering were now too small to be useful, and discontinued the practice all together.

That wasn't all that changed. Before the fall of the Soviet Union, said the Youth Union's Ahmad, as many as 150 Palestinians a year received scholarships to study in communist countries. And before that, they also received assistance from the Palestine Liberation Organization. Now, Ahmad added, "the PLO gives no assistance to Palestinian students in Lebanon."

The decrease in support has coincided with a rise in poverty among Lebanon's 400,000-strong Palestinian population. In 2000, UNRWA reported that 11 percent of Palestinians in Lebanon were "special hardship cases" - the highest proportion in the Arab world, and the highest rate in Lebanese history.

Ahmad Halimeh, an UNRWA schoolteacher and co-founder of Popular Aid for Relief and Development (PARD), a Palestinian aid group in the Sabra area, sees the problem both in his classroom, where poverty and trauma distract and dispirit his students, and at home.

"My son Mahmoud is about to take his exams," he said. "I am an UNRWA teacher and I have money - but I can't pay for him. I would have to take a loan from the bank, and I can only do that for one year. So what about the hardship cases? Some people are paid only $6 or $8 a day."


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Druze council installs new sheikh aql

By Maher Zeineddine
Daily Star correspondent
Monday, November 06, 2006

 

CHOUF: The Druze Religious Council officially installed the community's new spiritual leader, or sheikh aql, during a session at the body's headquarters in the Chouf on Sunday. Hassan's election by the council last month was unopposed. He succeeds the community's acting spiritual leader, Sheikh Bahjat Ghaith. 

Hassan's election came in line with a new law that regulates the sect's affairs, whose ratification was strongly opposed by former Minister Talal Arslan and his allies.

The session was attended by the head of the Democratic Gathering parliamentary bloc, MP Walid Jumblatt; Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh; Information Minister Ghazi Aridi and MPs Anwar Khalil, Akram Chehayeb and Wael Bou Faour.

Early last month, Arslan appointed his own spiritual leader, Sheikh Nasreddine al-Gharib, in violation of the law. Gharib was also recognized by President Emile Lahoud, leading to deep divisions in the Druze sect.

The law in question, which restructured the Druze sect's civil order, was passed by Parliament in June amid complaints from Arslan and his supporters that the legislation would divide the Druze community.

Lahoud refused to ratify the law due to these complaints, but Parliament passed the bill a second time, overriding the president and making the bill law.

Traditionally, council membership had been at the sole discretion of the highest Druze religious authority, the sheikh aql, and reached through an agreement between Jumblatt and Arslan.


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Forecast calls for relief from rain, but temperatures will likely keep falling

By Mohammed Zaatari
Daily Star staff
Monday, November 06, 2006


BEIRUT: The Lebanese will finally see some sunshine on Monday, but temperatures are set to decrease, the meteorological department of the Civil Aviation Directorate General said on Sunday. Temperatures today and Tuesday will range between 12 and 21 degrees along the coast, six to 15 degrees in the mountains and zero to eight degrees in the Cedars, with scattered rain showers in a few Lebanese regions, the department said.

Humidity on Monday was expected to vary between 60 and 85 percent.

Stormy weather over the weekend prevented ships from docking in the port of Sidon and unloading cargo on Sunday.

Sidon's fishing port also closed over the weekend as fishermen were afraid that strong winds would destroy their boats.

Garbage from the infamous Sidon dump was carried by the waves and covered the beach, causing the smell to permeate the city.

Meanwhile, volunteers from Lebanese environment groups joined forces on Sunday to clean the beach of Sarafand of garbage and help rebuild the port, which was damaged by Israel's 34-day war on the country.

The campaign was launched by the Organization for the Development of the Environment, in cooperation with the municipality of Sarafand and the South Lebanon Fishermen's Union.

The organization's president, Fadlallah Hassouneh, said the campaign was aimed at "helping fishermen overcome the repercussions of the summer Israeli offensive."

In the North, heavy rains completely damaged the road leading from Tripoli to Koura and water leaked into several apartments, damaging furniture.

The port of Tripoli also closed over the weekend as waves reached a height of three meters and wind speed surpassed the 70 kilometers per hour. Rain also flooded some cars in the northern town of Airounieh.


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Sfeir warns country faces 'lurking threats'

By Maroun Khoury
Daily Star correspondent
Monday, November 06, 2006


BKIRKI: Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir voiced his concern on Sunday over the escalating political bickering, saying that the extreme "divergence in views and positions does not bode well."

"What we see today of disagreements in positions and directions don't reassure us at all but rather worry us about a possible clash between the Lebanese," he said.

During Sunday Mass in Bkirki, the prelate warned of "lurking threats," adding that "bickering might drown the country in endless conflicts and fights."

Sfeir urged the Lebanese to unify ranks in order to overcome the repercussions of the 34-day summer war on Lebanon.

Following the Mass, the prelate met with the vice president of the Lebanese Forces executive committee, MP George Adwan, who said that the creation of a national unity Cabinet was not an urgent priority for the Lebanese people.

"Do the Lebanese care about replacing a minister by another or a seat by another?" He asked. "No, what the Lebanese people want now is to see stability and security established in the country."

Adwan reiterated the March 14 Forces' "commitment to the implementation of the decisions made during the national dialogue," which included among others the creation of an international tribunal to try former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's assassins, demarcating the borders with Syria, establishing Lebanese-Syrian diplomatic relations and disarming Palestinian refugees outside the camps.

As to the consultation sessions that are expected to kick off on Monday, Adwan said: "We are ready for dialogue with the different parties but at the same time, we won't surrender to any kind of intimidation." Hizbullah secretary general Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah announced last week that the opposition would hold demonstrations if participants in the consultations did not agree on the formation of a unity Cabinet.


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Survey predicts fierce battles if early vote held
Future, hizbullah, fpm gain non-sectarian support

 

Monday, November 06, 2006


BEIRUT: Lebanon has recently witnessed sizzling debates concerning major political files, with each party attempting to impose its political agenda on the basis that it represents the popular majority.

During the tumultuous phase after the 2005 parliamentary elections, alliances broke apart and new ones were formed. Now major issues of concern have been replaced by new ones following the July-August war.

In light of recent developments, it has become a necessity to reveal the electoral support for various Lebanese players, and to make predictions about the results of any potential early elections.

This survey forecasts the makeup of the upcoming Lebanese Parliament, taking into consideration the various scenarios for any electoral law that is to be adopted.

Two scenarios are currently being examined for an electoral law, as could be deducted from the recent political debates: the small district (qada) suggested by the National Council for Elections and passed on to the Cabinet, or the proportional representation module whereby all of Lebanon is considered as one district.

The Beirut Center for Research and Information conducted a survey to determine the electoral support for all political players in all regions.

The survey was conducted between October 19 and October 31; 5,000 survey questionnaires were administered - 1,350 of which were in Mount Lebanon, 1,300 in the North, 1,050 in the South, 850 in the Bekaa, and 590 in Beirut. The sample consisted of only those people who expressed their willingness to vote in the next elections.


Analysis Mode

The survey determined the electoral support for various Lebanese political groups in each qada (small district).

The qadas were summed up to determine the size on the level of the governorate (Mohafaza) based on the number of voters in the 2005 parliamentary elections, which reached 1,388,000 voters.

The survey revealed that the Lebanese opposition (Hizbullah, FPM and allies) constitute 58.1 percent of respondents, as opposed to a 41.9 percent for the March 14 coalition.


Results


Beirut Governorate

The Future Movement remains ahead of its Sunni opponents combined, even if it has lost some of its popularity among Sunnis.

A total of 11 percent of the respondents who voted for the Future Movement in 2005 will not vote for the movement again in the next elections, while 85 of the Sunnis in Beirut still support the Future Movement.

The survey revealed that Hizbullah has become one of the major players in the Sunni sphere; 12.5 percent of Sunnis said that they would vote for any list backed by Hizbullah.

With respect to Christian respondents, results show that the competition is at its peak between the opposition and the March 14 Forces; the March 14 Forces' electoral size reaches 59 percent as opposed to a 41 percent for the opposition.

The results show that the number of voters is expected to increase among all sects, especially Christians and Shiites.


North Lebanon Governorate

Results show that the Future Movement has lost ground in Tripoli and Akkar, where 7 percent of Sunni respondents in Tripoli and 11 percent in Akkar said that they will not vote for the Future Movement in the next elections.

In contrast, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and its ally the Marada Party, headed by former Minister Suleiman Franjieh, are expected to sweep the majority of Christian votes in both Akkar and Zghorta.

In the district of Bsharri, the Lebanese Forces are expected to amass the majority of votes.

In the Koura and Batroun region, the results of the survey indicate that the competition between the opposition and the March 14 Forces would be fierce.


The Bekaa

In the West Bekaa and Hasbayya districts, the March 14 coalition still prevails, especially among Sunnis and Druze. In Zahle, the opposition is expected to monopolize the votes.


Mount Lebanon Governorate

Results show that the FPM is still very popular in four qadas (Kesrouan, Jbeil, Metn, and Baabda) and will be able to sweep all 10 seats with any electoral law adopted.

In Aley and the Chouf, MP Walid Jumblatt is still a leading force, and is popular among Sunnis in Iqlim al-Kharroub.


South Lebanon Governorate

Hizbullah and Amal will win all seats because of its huge popular support. It is worth noting that the FPM is very popular among Christians. Also, the Progressive Socialist Party will get the majority of votes in the Hasbayya region in the South.


Conclusion


A simple mathematical equation reveals that a drastic change did not occur after the war, compared to the support for various parties during the 2005 elections.

The results also showed that the Future Movement, Hizbullah, and the Free Patriotic Movement have crossed sectarian borders and can now be considered more secular parties.


Abdo Saad is the head of Beirut Center for Research and Information.


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Iran reaffirms support for Lebanon's national unity
Tehran, Nov 5, IRNA
Iran-Lebanon-Speaker
Iran will support efforts to bring about national solidarity and a government representing people from all walks of life in Lebanon, said Majlis speaker here on Sunday.

Speaking in a telephone conversation with his Lebanese counterpart, Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel expressed hope that discussions among all Lebanese parties will lead to national solidarity and a unified government.

"Iran always underlines the importance of unity among Lebanese people," he added.

For his part, Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri described the present condition in the country as critical, and pointed to the need for consensus among Lebanese parties.

He noted that discussions to form a government of national unity will begin from Monday.

Berri added that in the talks the parties will strive to respect the rights of all groups and avert all forms of discrimination.

He hoped that the discussion approved by Lebanese parties, regional states and the United Nations will be fruitful.

The Lebanese official appreciated the position adopted by Iran as well as its support, particularly the clear-cut stance of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei.


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Sunday November 5, 2006

Iran 'sending funds to Hezbollah'
By James Whittington
BBC News, Beirut 

A senior Hezbollah official has told the BBC that Iran is providing the group with money to help fund its reconstruction activities in Lebanon.
Kassam Allaik said Iran also had its own groups in Lebanon, rebuilding bridges, roads and mosques.

Lebanon's Finance Minister, Jihad Azour, also acknowledged that Iranian money is going directly to Hezbollah.

Mr Azour said that he is trying to persuade Iran to finance the relief effort through the government.

Since the end of the conflict with Israel, Hezbollah has shifted focus from fighting to reconstruction.

It has paid lump sums of cash to the 15,000 or so households which lost their homes in the fighting and it has organised teams of engineers to help with the rebuilding.

'Direct transfer'

Mr Allaik, the head of Hezbollah's construction arm - Jihad Construction - has admitted that Iran is providing funds directly to Hezbollah to help the reconstruction effort.

He said that Iran also has its own groups in Lebanon rebuilding bridges, roads, mosques and schools


Mr Azour has said that he has been in talks with Iranian officials who had promised to direct funds through the Lebanese government but so far no money has been received.

"Iran is officially providing assistance to Hezbollah, but the reconstruction is done by the government," Mr Azour said.

"The government repaired electricity, repaired telecommunication, repaired the roads, repaired the water. And the government is compensating for the loss of houses," he said.

"Therefore what Iran is giving is a direct transfer to a political party, not to Lebanon as a country, as a state, if you want."

Tensions are growing between the Lebanese government and Hezbollah in the aftermath of the conflict with Israel.

Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has threatened to organise street protests later this month to push for a government of national unity in a bid to increase his influence.

And the issue of funding for reconstruction is a sensitive one, especially as many people in southern Beirut and the south of Lebanon have been crediting Hezbollah rather than the Lebanese government for the rebuilding so far.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/middle_east/6112036.stm

Published: 2006/11/02 22:36:05 GMT

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Saturday November 4, 2006


Jumblat, Hariri: March 14 Forces to Counter Conspiracy on Lebanon
Druze leader Walid Jumblat and MP Saad Hariri have vowed that the March 14 Forces will "counter the conspiracy on Lebanon," as Speaker Nabih Berri voiced concern that street protests were not going to be "mere excursion."
An-Nahar daily said Jumblat and Hariri made their remarks following a two-hour meeting in Paris on Friday that focused on the current political crisis.

The anti-Syrian leaders have agreed that "Lebanon is facing a conspiracy and that the responsibility to confront it falls on the March 14 Forces," said a source close to Jumblat and Hariri.

"It's our obligation to protect Lebanon and safeguard its sovereignty and independence," the source quoted the two leaders in the parliamentary majority as saying.

An-Nahar said the March 14 coalition was going to hold wide-range consultations prior to Monday's roundtable talks "in order to come out with a united and harmonized stand."

Meanwhile, Berri, the organizer of the national talks, was worried that street protests advocated by Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah would lead to wide-range crisis.

"I'm afraid that going to the streets will not be mere excursion," Berri said Friday.

Nasrallah has warned of street protests if Premier Fouad Saniora's cabinet did not meet his demand on the formation of a national unity government, in which Hizbullah and its allies would have a veto on key decisions. Nasrallah set a deadline of Nov. 13.

Berri also emphasized that his initiative to resume the stalled national dialogue was only aimed at including General Michel Aoun's bloc in the cabinet.

An-Nahar quoted sources as saying that Berri denied rumors about expanding or amending the current government.

He has assured Saniora that there were "no intentions of toppling the government," the sources said.
 

Beirut, 04 Nov 06, 09:49

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Pederson Gives Positive Assessment of Situation in the South Except for Overflights
The United Nations gave a positive assessment Saturday of the situation in south Lebanon almost three months after the Israel-Hizbullah war except for continued Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace.
"Things in the south are looking very well, but we need an end to the overflights," Geir Pedersen, the Lebanon representative of U.N. chief Kofi Annan, said after a meeting with Foreign Minister Fawzi Sallukh in Boustros palace.

The Jewish State has drawn intense international criticism by continuing the overflights despite the August 14 ceasefire that ended a 34-day Israeli offensive on Lebanon

Last month, Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said the overflights were necessary to monitor what he charged was continuing arms smuggling by Hizbullah from Syria.

On Friday, a senior Israeli government official revealed that the United States had joined world governments in expressing discontent about continued Israeli flights over Beirut.

The National News Agency said that Sallukh stressed to Pederson that the deployment of the Lebanese army in the south and on the border with Syria was preventing any weapons smuggling.

Pederson also met with Speaker Nabih Berri at his home in Ain al Tineh on Saturday. After their meeting, Annan's representative said he hoped a solution will soon be found to the Israeli occupied southeastern border village of Ghajar.

Last month, the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon said "minor administrative issues" were delaying the pullout of Israeli forces from Ghajar.

The village, on the Lebanese frontier with the Golan Heights which were annexed by Israel in 1981, is the last position occupied by Israeli forces since their October 1 withdrawal after two and a half months of occupation.

Pederson said the Israeli overflights were a violation of Lebanese sovereignty and of Security Council Resolution 1701 that put an end to the war on August 14.(AFP-Naharnet)
 

Beirut, 04 Nov 06, 15:32


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Feltman Backs Dialogue to Avert Hizbullah-Government Showdown
U.S. ambassador Jeffrey Feltman has declared support for Lebanon's all-party talks, saying the dialogue that starts Monday was an opportunity for the country to resolve the tension generated by Hizbullah's demand for a bigger role in government.

Earlier this week Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah threatened to call mass demonstrations if his demands on the formation of a national unity government are not met.

The White House accused Hizbullah and its Syrian and Iranian sponsors of seeking to topple Premier Fouad Saniora's government.

All the major factions are due to take part in roundtable talks in parliament on Monday, convened by Speaker Nabih Berri. A political ally of Hizbullah, Berri has proposed the talks focus on the formation of a national unity cabinet and a new electoral law.

"These consultations are, in our view, a real opportunity for the Lebanese to determine themselves a peaceful, and constitutional, way forward," Feltman told reporters after meeting Berri in Ain el Tineh Friday.

Feltman praised the speaker for his initiative, saying that in the talks the Lebanese would be "employing dialogue rather than confrontation."

Saniora has refused calls to step down. Before Hizbullah's ultimatum this week, the prime minister had repeatedly said there would be no change of government.

But on Wednesday -- a day after Nasrallah's threat -- Saniora said the issue of reshaping the cabinet would be discussed in the talks, "and we'll see what's in the country's interest."

Nasrallah wants Hizbullah and its allies to hold a third of the cabinet's 24 seats, which would make their support essential for all major decisions. He threatened to bring his supporters on to the streets unless Saniora granted his demand by Nov. 13.

Parallel to the talks, Saudi Arabia is reportedly working on a compromise to expand the cabinet to satisfy the demands of Hizbullah and Gen. Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement.(AP-Naharnet)
 

Beirut, 04 Nov 06, 08:15

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Portugal Sends More UNIFIL Troops to Lebanon, Albania to Follow Suit
Six more army officers along with 93 tons of equipment left Portugal on Friday for Lebanon to join the United Nations peacekeeping force, Portuguese military officials said.
The group, part of a military unit of 140 construction engineers which Lisbon committed to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, left the southern city of Beja on board an Antanov-124 military transport plane leased by the U.N., an army spokesman said.

The first batch of the contingent, 12 army officers, left Portugal for Lebanon on Wednesday and the remaining 122 members of the team are due to arrive by the end of the month.

The Portuguese contingent will be stationed near the southern port city of Tyre where they will help in efforts to rebuild infrastructure damaged during the July-August war between Israel and Hizbullah.

The U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 that led to the ceasefire on August 14 called for 15,000 troops to join a similar number of Lebanese army troops deploying in the south of the country.

Also Friday, Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha announced that his country would soon send an army unit to Lebanon to join UNIFIL.

Speaking in front of 1,400 army officers of a fast reaction brigade after a training exercise, the premier said an army unit would join Italian forces in Lebanon soon. He did not give any further details.

"We hope units of this brigade will take joint duties with the units of the Italian army to assist, consolidate peace to our two friendly countries, Israel and Lebanon," Berisha said.(AFP-AP-Naharnet)
 

Beirut, 04 Nov 06, 08:40

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Indonesian Troops' Gear Leaves for Lebanon, Malaysia Delays Departure
Military gear left Indonesia aboard a U.S.-flagged ship Saturday ahead of a dispatch of Indonesian troops to join the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, American officials said.

About 200 pieces of equipment are bound for Lebanon aboard the SS Wilson, an American-owned ship hired for the mission by the U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command, a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta said.

The equipment included armored personnel carriers, trucks and ambulances, all emblazoned with bright-white U.N. markings.

Later this month, 850 members of Indonesia's Garuda XXIIIA Troop unit will fly to Lebanon to join peacekeepers from some 20 countries in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, the statement said.

"We've been working with the Indonesian military for several weeks to coordinate the arrival of equipment at the port as well as to develop a plan to load it aboard the vessel," the statement quoted Lt. Col. Colice Powell, commander of the U.S. Army's Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, as saying.

The statement said the cargo ship SS Wilson, which arrived in Indonesia and began loading equipment on Thursday, belongs to Sealift, Inc. of Long Island, New York.

Meanwhile, Malaysia delayed the departure of 360 peacekeeping troops to Lebanon, with defense forces still working on logistic details and planning the deployment, an official said Saturday.

Malaysia's deputy defense minister Zainal Abidin Zin last month said the troops were expected to depart on November 5, but a ministry official said a reconnaissance team sent to Lebanon had only recently returned with details.

"The team just got back and they are giving feedback. They are planning when to go," a defense ministry official told Agence France Presse.

Malaysia's defence forces chief Anwar Mohamad Nor said the Malaysian peacekeepers would take up their duties only after January 15, the state Bernama news agency reported.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi announced in October that the U.N. had approved the deployment of the Malaysian peacekeepers to join UNIFIL.

Malaysia, which strongly criticized Israel's offensive on Lebanon, had offered 1,000 soldiers for the expanded U.N. force but only received U.N. approval to send 360 troops.(AFP)
 

Beirut, 04 Nov 06, 10:26

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Senior U.S. Official Urges Strong Support for Saniora's Cabinet
A senior U.S. State Department official has said that the international community must do all it can to aid Premier Fouad Saniora's government.

"We have to ensure that the (U.N.) Security Council resolutions that we've passed in terms of Lebanon are fulfilled, and I think ... we want to do as much as we can to support the government," J. Scott Carpenter, deputy assistant secretary for the Middle East, told reporters in Berlin Friday after meetings with German officials.

The comments come after White House spokesman Tony Snow said Wednesday there was "mounting evidence" that Syria, Iran and Hizbullah "are preparing plans to topple Lebanon's democratically elected government."

Snow said any attempt to stir up demonstrations, threaten or use violence against Lebanon's Western-backed leadership would be a clear violation of the country's sovereignty and of three U.N. Security Council resolutions.

His comments drew a quick denial from Syria.

Carpenter said the upcoming Paris III conference on Lebanon would provide a good platform to bolster the Saniora government. The international donors conference is planned for early 2007.

"The meeting in Paris is fast coming upon us and I think that's a good opportunity for us to demonstrate our commitment to this government," he said. "We will diplomatically, economically and in every other way seek to support the Saniora government with what it is trying to achieve for the Lebanese people."(AP)
 

Beirut, 04 Nov 06, 08:57


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Germany Expects No More Shooting Incidents with Israel
Germany's Defense Minister said on Friday that he expected no more shooting incidents between the Israeli army and German forces backing up a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Lebanon.
"I assure you that no more incidents of this kind are going to happen," Franz Josef Jung told reporters following talks in Beirut with Prime Minister Fouad Saniora.

"I would like to stress here that we are here to secure the ceasefire which will also be a precondition for finding a political solution," Jung said.

"We are currently implementing our mandate ... and I assure that there'll be no more incidents of this kind, so we are able to fulfill our mission here," he said before flying to Israel.

The German defense ministry said last week that in two separate incidents, Israeli warplanes fired shots over a helicopter and an unarmed German vessel backing up the U.N. mission off the Lebanese coast.

The confrontations came just days after Germany assumed command of the marine component of the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on October 18, in its first military foray into the Middle East since World War II.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday apologized for "misunderstandings" following the shooting incidents.(AFP)
 

Beirut, 03 Nov 06, 16:37

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Aoun Indicates Street Protests Could Be Called Off
General Michel Aoun indicated Friday that Hizbullah advocated street protests in an attempt to push for the formation of a new government could be called off.
While Aoun adhered to "our right" in protesting, he said "strides could precede going to the street."

"It's our wish to change the cabinet," Aoun told reporters at the end of a meeting with Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir at Bkirki.

Aoun and Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah have been repeatedly calling for the resignation of Premier Fouad Saniora's cabinet and the formation of a national unity government.

Nasrallah threatened to take to the streets Nov. 13 if roundtable talks in parliament failed to meet his demands on the formation of a national unity government.

Aoun's visit came a day after U.S. ambassador Jeffrey Feltman allegedly warned the Christian general of "grave consequences" over his alliance with Hizbullah.

Lebanon's Maronite Bishops expressed concern on Wednesday about growing divisions among Lebanese over demands for the formation of a national unity government.
 

Beirut, 03 Nov 06, 16:02

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Geagea Urges March 14 Forces to Get Ready for Peaceful Rally, Saudi Intervention to Resolve Crisis
The March 14 coalition has allegedly stressed that it will not succumb to Hizbullah demands to replace or expand Premier Fouad Saniora's cabinet, as Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea urged the anti-Syrian camp to rally peacefully.

In the meantime, Saudi diplomats were secretly negotiating with political forces to agree on a unity government.

Saudi Arabia "is making discreet contacts and holding talks, primarily though its ambassador in Lebanon Abdel Aziz Khuja, to placate the political situation in Lebanon," Arab diplomatic sources in Bahrain said Thursday.

The sources said that the kingdom was also working to "remove barriers to holding national dialogue talks" as called for by Speaker Nabih Berri.

The leading An-Nahar daily said Friday that the March 14 Forces will "no way agree to any expansion or replacement of the government … the consultation session will only tackle a package deal starting with the replacement of the president."

The anti-Syrian majority demands the departure of President Emile Lahoud whose mandate was controversially extended for another three years in 2004, in accordance with Damascus's wishes.

Berri has set November 6 for the resumption of the stalled national dialogue across Lebanon's rival leaders in a bid to drag the country out of its political impasse.

"The replacement or the expansion of the government means the power will be turned in to Syria and Iran; and this is something utterly rejected by the majority forces," An-Nahar quoted a source close to the March 14 camp as saying.

Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has warned of street protests if Saniora did not accept his group's demands and a national unity government, in which Hizbullah and its allies would have a veto on key decisions. Nasrallah set a deadline of Nov. 13.

In a Thursday night interview with the Lebanese New TV channel, Geagea called on the March 14 Forces to "get ready for a new quiet, peaceful and arrogant rally to prove that we are the majority."

Geagea also ruled out the formation of a national unity government. But he said the inclusion of Gen. Michel Aoun's bloc in the cabinet was "negotiable … but (the demand) to activate the paralyzed one-third (of the cabinet) is totally rejected."

Nasrallah has said that Hizbullah and its allies should comprise one-third of the 24-member cabinet. That effectively means the Shiite party and allies could veto key decisions. A two-thirds vote in the cabinet is needed to pass decisions that are not made by consensus. A resignation of one-third of the cabinet automatically brings down the government.

Geagea warned that if street protests turn into riots "we will be there to back up the (Lebanese) security forces anywhere and we put ourselves under their command." He refused to elaborate.(Naharnet-AFP)
 

Beirut, 03 Nov 06, 10:45

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Feltman Denies Warning Aoun Over Alliance with Hizbullah
U.S. ambassador Jeffrey Feltman denied Friday a newspaper report that he has warned General Michel Aoun of "grave consequences" over his alliance with Hizbullah.

Feltman slammed a front-page report by the Lebanese daily As-Safir on Friday in which it also quoted him as accusing Hizbullah of plotting to obliterate Lebanon.

Dubbing the report a "fabrication," Feltman said he was "surprised and disappointed" with As-Safir's story.

"I had very good discussions with general Aoun yesterday … we exchanged points of view as to what serves (Lebanon) best in the coming few weeks," Feltman told reporters after talks with Speaker Nabih Berri on the current political crisis.

As-Safir, citing leading sources in Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement, said Feltman's remarks were made during a visit to Aoun at his house in Rabieh on Thursday.

"Hizbullah is constantly working on destroying and obliterating Lebanon, as well as sowing chaos," the paper quoted one source as saying.

The sources claimed that Feltman also slammed the so-called "political understanding" between Aoun and Hizbullah, but said that Aoun reasserted his adherence to this agreement.

They said Feltman has indirectly threatened Aoun that his alliance with Hizbullah would bear "grave consequences on his political future."

As-Safir said that this was a tortuous reference to the presidency issue, in which Aoun is eligible for. Under the Lebanese constitution, only Maronite Christians can run for presidentship.

Feltman also denied previous media reports that said Berri was on a U.S. no-fly list to screen airline passengers for terrorists.

As-Safir also said that the FPM had previously received similar threats from the American administration warning Aoun against establishing any "material or financial ties with Hizbullah, or be blacklisted" for assisting terrorists.

The sources said Aoun handed over to Feltman a copy of the letter he had sent earlier on Thursday to President George Bush expressing his regret over the recent White House statement which accused Iran, Syria and Hizbullah of "preparing plans to topple" Premier Fouad Saniora's government.

The sources said that Feltman had made clear to Aoun that the White House statement was not directed at him.

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack also said on Thursday: "It's sort of interesting that an individual decided to -- singled himself out regarding a statement that didn't single out any particular individuals. So I'm not sure why he thought that was particularly directed at him."

"We would expect that General Aoun as well as others would try to play a positive role in furthering efforts at democratic political reform as well as economic reform," McCormack added.
 

Beirut, 03 Nov 06, 14:04

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Germany expects no more 'incidents' off Lebanese coast


Compiled by Daily Star staff
Saturday, November 04, 2006

Germany expects no more 'incidents' off Lebanese coast

German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said in Beirut on Friday that he expects no more shooting incidents between the Israeli Army and German forces backing up a UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon. The German defense ministry said last week that in two separate incidents, Israeli warplanes fired shots over a German helicopter and on an unarmed German vessel off the Lebanese coast.

"I assure you that no more incidents of this kind are going to happen ... The important thing is to implement United Nations Security Council resolution 1701," Jung said following talks in Beirut with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

"We are currently implementing our mandate ... and I assure that there'll be no more incidents of this kind, so we are able to fulfill our mission here," he said before flying to Israel.

Two US officials demanded that Israeli Air Force overflights of Lebanon be halted, saying that such flights undermine the standing of Siniora, Haaretz daily reported on Friday.

The two US diplomats, David Welch and Elliott Abrams, held short meetings Thursday with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

The incident also follows repeated warnings by France and the United Nations over the past three weeks that Israel was endangering the multinational peace mission in Lebanon by sending its fighter planes into Lebanese airspace.

The confrontations came just days after Germany assumed command of the marine component of the UN Interim forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on October 18, in its first military foray into the Middle East since World War II.

Germany has sent a force of eight ships and 1,000 service personnel charged with preventing weapons smuggling and helping maintain the cease-fire.

The country is only heading the naval component of the UN force in Lebanon, having refused to contribute ground troops in a bid to avoid clashes with Israeli forces due to lingering sensitivities over the Holocaust.

Jung said he discussed the incidents with his Israeli counterpart and added "I hope that we all cooperate together to fully implement resolution 1701 and we are doing our best to do so."

"I believe we should fully implement the resolution to ensure Lebanon's sovereignty, existence for Israel and a clear solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," he said.

"The cease-fire is a precondition for finding political solutions for the Middle East."

Jung also held talks on Friday with his Lebanese counterpart Elias Murr.

Flying from Beirut, Jung went straight into talks with his Israeli counterpart, Amir Peretz, at the Defense Ministry in Israel's commercial capital, Tel Aviv.

Israeli officials said the talks focused on Iran's nuclear program and on the situation in Lebanon since the UN-brokered August 14 cease-fire that ended the war in Lebanon.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday apologized for "misunderstandings" following the shooting incidents.

The incidents were the first reported clash between the Israeli Army and the international peacekeeping force in Lebanon. - Agencies


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US stands behind Siniora Cabinet

By Leila Hatoum and Nafez Qawas
Daily Star staff
Saturday, November 04, 2006

BEIRUT: The international community must do all it can to aid the government of Lebanese Premier Fouad Siniora, according to a senior US State Department official. "We have to ensure that the [UN] Security Council resolutions that we've passed in terms of Lebanon are fulfilled ... We want to do as much as we can to support the government," J. Scott Carpenter, the US deputy assistant secretary for the Middle East, said in Berlin Friday.

Carpenter's comments come after the White House alleged Wednesday there was "mounting evidence" Syria, Iran and Hizbullah "are preparing plans to topple Lebanon's democratically elected government."

The US official said an upcoming international donors' conference in Paris would provide a good platform to bolster the Siniora government.

The conference is planned for early 2007 but the French Foreign Ministry has said there is not yet a specific date.

"The meeting in Paris is fast coming upon us and I think that's a good opportunity for us to demonstrate our commitment to this government," he said. "We will diplomatically, economically and in every other way seek to support the Siniora government with what it is trying to achieve for the Lebanese people."

Reports circulated Friday that  Saudi Arabia, a key Arab ally of the US was conducting secret negotiations with political figures in Lebanon to agree on a national unity government.

"The kingdom is making discreet contacts and holding talks, primarily though its ambassador in Lebanon, Abdel-Aziz Khoja, to placate the political situa-tion in Lebanon," a diplomat in Beirut said Thursday night on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, MP Saad Hariri met with prominent March 14 Forces member MP Walid Jumblatt in Paris Friday after the latter wrapped up a week-long visit to Washington.

"The meeting saw a deep discussion of Lebanon's political situation ... There was a consensus that Lebanon was facing a conspiracy and that March 14 Forces' responsibility is to face this conspiracy and defend Lebanon's independence and sovereignty," a statement from Hariri's office said.

The MPs "discussed the issue of the tribunal of an international character in light of what Jumblatt heard during his US visit," it added.

Also Friday, Siniora said Lebanon was passing through "a very critical situation and we should all be aware the situation on the national level demands a clear vision, policies and actions."

"We need stability to be able to carry on with the reconstruction process, which would allow our brothers and friends to aid Lebanon and the Lebanese."

Elsewhere, Hizbullah MP Mohammad Raad met separately Friday with MP Michel Murr and MP Fouad Saad on the formation of a national unity government.

Responding to comments made by Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea Thursday night, Raad said: "This is not the first time that Geagea rushes into things, maybe because he doesn't have all the information. We feel the only option to save the country is the option of reaching a consensus on a national unity government."

Geagea's comments, made during a televised interview with local station New TV, centered on Hizbullah and MP Michel Aoun's calls for demonstrations should a national unity government not be formed.

"The possibility of adding ministers representing Aoun in Cabinet is open for discussion, but the demand of having one third of the Cabinet is completely unacceptable," Geagea said.

"If Hizbullah wants to take to the streets within legal limits, then it is its right to do so, but we will exercise the same right ... Should the demonstration turn into riots, then we will back the security apparatus in quelling the riots," he added.

As for Geagea's suggestion that demonstrations would lead to "Al-Mahdi's army in Beirut," Raad said: "This is nonsense that Geagea might have taken from some newspapers."

"We don't represent others' interests in the country ... Our relation with Syria isn't something we deny, but we don't take orders from Syria or anyone else. We are an independent Lebanese political force and we have our friends," he added.

Murr told reporters Friday that the main item on the table during consultation meetings set to begin Monday would be a national unity government.

"There is a crisis in the country and everyone is worried, and if we manage to successfully launch the consultations then we would be on the path toward sidelining the country from another shock," he said.

As for Tourism Minister Joe Sarkis' statement before Thursday's Cabinet session that the LF "body is fit" and willing to hold counterdemonstrations to oppose Hizbullah, Raad said: "It is a slip of tongue which reveals their deepest thoughts."

"It is fine to demonstrate to demand a right, but not just to take to the streets in the face of another demonstration. We are all trying not to collide and clash because it would constitute our enemies' chance to work against our country's stability," he added.

The Hizbullah minister welcomed the reports of secret Saudi mediation efforts in Lebanon.

"We welcome any effort that would contribute to the formation of a national unity government in which a true representation of the political powers is manifested, and in this sense we are open to any idea that comes within the context that ensures national choices," he said.

But Raad called on the US to end its "interference" in Lebanese affairs, saying: "The Lebanese are mature enough to run their affairs independently from anyone else." - With agencies


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Hizbullah has 'a price' for information on prisoners


Compiled by Daily Star staff
Saturday, November 04, 2006

Hizbullah is asking "a price" for information about whether two Israeli soldiers captured by the group are still alive, Britain's ambassador to the United Nations said Thursday. "They're asking a price for proof of life," Emyr Jones Parry said Thursday, referring to how Hizbullah has set a price for information about the two captured Israeli soldiers.

Parry gave no details on what he meant by "price," but Hizbullah's leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, revealed on Tuesday night that "serious negotiations" were taking place over the two Israeli soldiers whose capture sparked the July-August war.

Nasrallah said in an interview on his party's Al-Manar television channel that an unidentified negotiator appointed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan had been mediating between Hizbullah and Israeli officials.

Nasrallah would not provide details about the negotiations, but said: "We have reached a stage of exchanging ideas, proposals or conditions."

In Jerusalem on Wednesday, Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisin declined to confirm any indirect talks with Hizbullah, which Israel and the United States regard as a terrorist organization.

"We don't comment about anything that has to do with the abducted soldiers," Eisin said. "Israel will do all it takes to get their release without hurting Israel's security."

Two months after the 34-day war ended, information and reports on the conflict's consequences and failures continue to pop up regularly and dominate Israeli political life.

The British envoy's comment come a day before yet another report in the Israeli daily Haaretz was published on Friday by a division of the Israeli Army on an internal problem they encountered during the war.

The Senior Northern Command and Division 91 officers said they were not informed of essential intelligence information regarding Hizbullah's deployment prior to the war.

According to Haaretz, the intelligence information was available to the Israeli Army and included "accurate information" about the locations of Hizbullah bunkers and positions, as well as the internal structure of such positions, but was prevented by the Intelligence Directorate's Committee on Source Security from being circulated, claiming that the "information was secret."

There have been regular reports about the Israeli Army's "failure," with various reports exposing the internal struggles within the army and the mishaps that lead to an outcome in which Hizbullah claimed victory over the Israeli Army.

"These are all excuses for the Israeli Army's failure in this war," political analyst Simon Haddad told The Daily Star on Friday. "The Israeli Army failed to weaken the Hizbullah fighting core, and so they keep mak-

ing elaborate excuses for that failure," argued Haddad, who added that it was usual for the Jewish state to conduct assessments of its army's performance following wars.

"The Lebanese side doesn't do that, and well, Hizbullah considers itself the winner, so there was never any need for any reports," he said.

The Israeli newspaper reported that the officers' demands to gain access to information on routine security preparations that could counter Hizbullah raids inside the border fence were also rejected, and led to repeated and heated arguments among various units.

The information on Hizbullah positions was also withheld from the units during the war itself. Although there was a plan to transfer the data to relevant units during a war, it was not carried out in time.

Haaretz said the initial intelligence reached the division command only a week after the initial encounter between an Israeli Army unit and Hizbullah fighters inside a bunker (on July 19), but was too late as it was difficult to adapt the intelligence to the immediate needs of the unit fighting there. - With agencies


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UNIFIL reaches 'initial operating capacity,' with more reinforcements on the way


Compiled by Daily Star staff
Saturday, November 04, 2006

The expanded UN force in South Lebanon said Friday that a total of 9,450 troops from 20 countries have been deployed in Lebanon since an August 14 cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hizbullah. "UNIFIL is progressively enhancing its operational capabilities in order to fulfill its responsibilities under Security Council Resolution 1701," a statement said regarding the UN-brokered agreement.

The statement added that 7,730 troops have been deployed between the Litani River and the Blue Line, in addition to a 1,700-strong Maritime Task Force.

Indonesia's ambassador to the UN said Friday that Indonesian troops are set to join the peacekeeping mission in Lebanon this month.

A 125-member advance team will leave Sunday, Rezlan Jenie, the head of the Indonesian mission to the UN in New York, told reporters.

The main body consisting of some 725 soldiers will follow in late November.

As the Indonesian troops prepare to join the UN peacekeeping mission, 160 Spanish soldiers arrived in Beirut Thursday to join their compatriots, the Defense Ministry said.

The group flew into Rafik Hariri International Airport in the late afternoon, just hours after a Spanish merchant ship unloaded equipment and vehicles at the capital's port.

Spain has been gradually rolling out its force since mid-September, when 170 members of an engineering unit left to prepare the infrastructure for the contingent in Southern Lebanon.

Madrid agreed to send up to 1,100 troops as part of the UNIFIL mission.

They will operate out of the Miguel de Cervantes base in the Marjayoun region between the Litani River and the border with Israel.

The Spanish will command a multinational brigade tasked with helping the Lebanese

government supervise the South of the country, a longtime Hizbullah stronghold.

The force will also undertake reconstruction work to provide local people with water and power.

With Thursday's arrivals the ministry said the brigade had reached "initial operative capacity," though some troops from other contributing nations, including Indonesia and Nepal, have yet to be incorporated.

Separately, Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha said Friday that an Albanian Army unit would soon join the UN force in Lebanon.

Speaking in front of 1,400 army officers of a rapid-reaction unit after a training exercise, the premier said an army force would join Italian troops in Lebanon soon. He did not give any further details.

"We hope units of this brigade will take joint duties with the units of the Italian Army to assist, consolidate peace to our two friendly countries, Israel and Lebanon," Berisha said.

The UNIFIL statement said two new sector headquarters in the South became operational on Wednesday.

The Sector West Headquarters is located in Tibnine un-der Italian command, and will

consist of two battalions from Italy, and one each from Ghana and France, it added. The Sector East Headquarters located near Marjayoun under Spanish command presently consists

of one Indian and one Spa-nish battalion.

"Two additional battalions from Nepal and Indonesia are to deploy in this sector soon," the statement said.

On the humanitarian level, UNIFIL said it had treated 414 civilians in the past week, while 105 civilians received dental treatment at Indbatt. The veterinarian from Indbatt treated 563 animals for various ailments. - With agencies


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UN Security Council splits over particulars of Hariri tribunal
Russia objects to process for appointment of judges

By Rym Ghazal
Daily Star staff
Saturday, November 04, 2006

BEIRUT: Major powers on the UN Security Council are divided over plans for an international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, with Russia in one corner and the other permanent council members in the other. "We want a fair trial," a spokesperson for the Russian mission in the UN told The Daily Star on Friday after reports that it had put forth a number of objections to the formation of the court.

UN diplomats speaking on condition of anonymity have said that Russia wants the council to pick the international court's judges, while the other four permanent members - the United States, Britain, China and France - argue that the judges should be chosen by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

"We can't comment on specifics as they are being discussed as we speak," said the Russian spokesperson.

The dispute reflects divisions between the Lebanese government, the majority of which is backed by Washington, and Syria, a Russian ally that Washington and many Lebanese suspect of having orchestrated Hariri's assassination in 2005.

The four powers argue that allowing the council to pick the judges would give the permanent members a veto over the selections, threatening to politicize the process, the diplomats said.

The other main unsettled question is the timing of the court's establishment. The Lebanese government wants the tribunal in place as soon as possible while pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, Hizbullah and others want to wait until the UN inquiry into Hariri's death is over.

John Bolton, the US ambassador to the United Nations, was quoted in Al-Hayat newspaper Friday as "wanting to reach an agreement on formation of the court to move the case forward as quickly as possible."

Despite the reported delays on the international front, Justice Minister Charles Rizk said the formation of the court will not be delayed by much longer as it "would have been completed within days even it wasn't for the latest development locally."

A 32-page list of suggestions published by Lahoud on the various issues in the formation of the court caused uproar within Lebanon and its various political forces.

"I trust things will get resolved soon as there is national unity over the main points in the formation of this court, and since the international world is paying close attention to the case, the delays won't last long," said Rizk after a meeting with Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea.

Rizk also added that the Lebanese government is waiting for the final draft from the UN through its Security Council and left it to the UN to decide on the best course of action "in line with Lebanese constitution."

Annan is expected to submit a report to the 15-nation council this month in which he will outline his recommendations for the tribunal's procedural workings and structure.

Syria has so far been tight-lipped on the deliberations.

Annan on Wednesday called envoys from the five permanent council members to his office to press them, without success, to agree among themselves on how to resolve outstanding issues.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora asked Annan last December for help in bringing the killers of Hariri to justice once they were identified.

Annan then asked UN legal counsel Nicolas Michel to discuss the details of an international court with Beirut.

Hariri was killed on February 14, 2005, in a bomb blast in Beirut that is under investigation by a UN commission led by Belgian Serge Brammertz. - With agencies


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French analyst warns of lasting trouble in Lebanon 'if problem of Iran is not resolved'

By Iman Azzi
Daily Star staff
Saturday, November 04, 2006

BEIRUT: As long as there is unresolved conflict in the Middle East, Lebanon will not be able to establish lasting peace, Joseph Maila, director of the French Research Center, told an audience at Saint Joseph University on Thursday evening. "A regional crisis still exists," Maila said. "There will still be a problem here if the problem of Iran is not resolved." He added that the current instability of Iraq and the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories are other external forces challenging Lebanon's prospects for peace.

"It is a question of power and how such power will be used that will determine the peace in this country," he said.

Maila hailed UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which led to a cease-fire after 34 days of war in Lebanon this summer, as "very important," but he said the resolution could not be used by foreign nations to impose their interests on Lebanon or it would not contribute to regional stability.

Lebanon today is faced with three choices, Maila said. The country can align with another nation, for example Syria, to form a coalition that would protect it from other international intervention. Lebanon could "become the champion of battle," strengthening its nation to become a leading force in the region. Or it can choose to neutralize its role in the region, Maila said.

The lecture, entitled "The International Community and Regional Conflicts: the Case of Lebanon," was attended by over three hundred, including Lebanese government officials and the French ambassador to Lebanon, Bernard Emie.

"The bombardment of Lebanon was inhumane," said Maila, who was assistant dean of the Faculty of Humanities at Saint Joseph University from 1977-84. He placed hope in a tribunal to investigate the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri as a start to lasting stability.

Maila also cautioned the crowd on the United State's actions in Iraq, claiming that the US remains interested in claiming power over the region.

"The US always has a grand vision. Remember Reagan and Nixon," he said, adding that grand schemes for the region have rarely met with success.


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Top Shiite clerics urge politicians to take united stand


Daily Star staff
Saturday, November 04, 2006

BEIRUT: Lebanon's senior Shiite cleric said Friday that "some parties want Lebanon to live in constant internal disputes, which are aimed at transforming the dialogue into the so-called dialogue of the deaf."

In his weekly sermon at the Imamein Hassanein Mosque, Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah said the country "lives amid a crisis where politicians are moving around with closed eyes, thinking in a sectarian manner and according to plans lost between foreign pressure and internal complications."

"The end of the recent war with Israel should lead to a solution, not to a crisis," he said, calling for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701. "Israel's violations of Lebanese airspace should stop, the Shebaa Farms should be recovered and the detainees should be released," he added.

The cleric also called for launching a political, financial and economic reform program that "ensures the success of the Paris III donor conference" to be held in January.

Meanwhile, the vice president of the Higher Shiite Council called on Premier Fouad Siniora to meet with the opposition at the Grand Serail in order to discuss the formation of an expanded government.

In his Friday sermon, Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan expressed his support for Speaker Nabih Berri's call to hold consultation meetings, urging participants to ensure that Berri's initiative "succeeds."

Addressing the country's religious figures, Qabalan called on them to "break the silence and unite efforts for the sake of public interest."

"Bkirki, Dar al-Fatwa and the Higher Shiite Council should work together in order to serve the country's interests away from hypocrisy," he said.

While he sharply criticized Israel's violations of Lebanese airspace, he also advised appreciation for Hizbullah's achievement instead of "defying it."

"Let us unite stands to put an end to Israeli violations. Let us prevent arms smuggling by inspecting the suitcases of foreign diplomats who are smuggling silencers instead of inspecting ours," he said. - The Daily Star


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Feltman says Berri and government have gained international confidence

By Mira Borji
Daily Star staff
Saturday, November 04, 2006

Feltman says Berri and government have gained international confidence

BEIRUT: US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman said Friday that Speaker Nabih Berri and the government have gained the confidence of "international players who can bring resources and opportunities to Lebanon when the Paris III donor conference will be held in early 2007."

"According to the US, it is not enough to support Lebanon's survival. We should work collectively to ensure Lebanon's economic and democratic revival," he said after holding talks with Berri.

Highlighting the US commitment to preserve Lebanon's independence, Feltman said: "Our commitment to assist Lebanon is firm and nonnegotiable."

"The US is ready to support a process by which the Lebanese themselves are freely able, without intimidation or outside interference, to exercise their own responsibility for Lebanon's future," he added.

Feltman praised Berri's call to hold consultation meetings, which he said "give the Lebanese an opportunity to go forward in a constructive way."

Separately, British Ambassador Frances Mary Guy said Friday she informed Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh of the outcome of a British envoy's visit to Damascus earlier this week.

"I told Salloukh about the contacts made by Sir Nigel Sheinwald, Prime Minister Tony Blair's top foreign policy adviser, in Damascus. He [Salloukh] welcomed British openness to Syria," Mary Guy said, refraining   from giving additional details.

Top British officials visited Damascus Monday to urge Syria to influence the Hamas Movement into moderating its views.

Sheinwald led the secret delegation to Monday's meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad, according to British press accounts published Wednesday.

The diplomats urged Syria to accommodate Western positions on Israel, Lebanon and Iraq in exchange for an easing of its isolation.


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Aoun meets Sfeir, vows steps to unseat Cabinet
'Syria and iran are not present. the desire to change the government is ours'

By Maroun Khoury
Daily Star correspondent
Saturday, November 04, 2006

Aoun meets Sfeir, vows steps to unseat Cabinet

BKIRKI: MP Michel Aoun said Friday it was "still too early" to speak of demonstrations to topple the government, but vowed that other steps would be taken. "I hope the Lebanese will not be surprised," he added. The Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader's comments came after a meeting with Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir. Sources close to Bkirki and the FPM said the session was the result of previous talks between Sfeir and Reform and Change bloc MP Ibrahim Kenaan.

"It was a positive and excellent meeting which focused on the need to put the country's interest above any other interest," the FPM source said.

Asked about his repeated calls on the government to resign, Aoun said the Cabinet should heed such calls due to its "inappropriate" performance.

Aoun and Hizbullah's leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, have stepped up their campaign in recent weeks for the formation of a national unity government. Aoun dismissed recent warnings from US officials alleging foreign interference in Lebanon.

"The Americans are the ones who are bringing the idea of Syrian and Iranian interference into Lebanon's affairs," he said. "Syria and Iran are not present in Lebanon. The desire to change the government is ours."

But the Kesrouan MP said all those in power in Lebanon owed their positions to Syria.

"As the parliamentary majority came to power through a Syrian decision, President Emile Lahoud's mandate was extended through a Syrian decision," he said, referring to the fact that the majority was elected based on an electoral law drafted by the Syrian administration in 2000.

Addressing criticisms by the March 14 Forces on opposition protest plans, Aoun said: "No one is entitled to prevent people from holding demonstrations ... The state is the only power which should interfere in demonstrations, if conflicts arise."

With regard to negotiations on the formation of a unity government, Aoun said he had not yet set a date for a trip to Saudi Arabia after an invitation from King Abdullah Bin Abdel-Aziz, whose government is mediating on the issue.

As for consultation meetings organized by Speaker Nabih Berri and set to begin Monday, Aoun said they would succeed only "as far as the government wants it to succeed."


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Friday November 3, 2006

Geagea Urges March 14 Forces to Get Ready for Peaceful Rally, Saudi Intervention to Resolve Crisis
The March 14 coalition has allegedly stressed that it will not succumb to Hizbullah demands to replace or expand Premier Fouad Saniora's cabinet, as Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea urged the anti-Syrian camp to rally peacefully.
In the meantime, Saudi diplomats were secretly negotiating with political forces to agree on a unity government.

Saudi Arabia "is making discreet contacts and holding talks, primarily though its ambassador in Lebanon Abdel Aziz Khuja, to placate the political situation in Lebanon," Arab diplomatic sources in Bahrain said Thursday.

The sources said that the kingdom was also working to "remove barriers to holding national dialogue talks" as called for by Speaker Nabih Berri.

The leading An-Nahar daily said Friday that the March 14 Forces will "no way agree to any expansion or replacement of the government … the consultation session will only tackle a package deal starting with the replacement of the president."

The anti-Syrian majority demands the departure of President Emile Lahoud whose mandate was controversially extended for another three years in 2004, in accordance with Damascus's wishes.

Berri has set November 6 for the resumption of the stalled national dialogue across Lebanon's rival leaders in a bid to drag the country out of its political impasse.

"The replacement or the expansion of the government means the power will be turned in to Syria and Iran; and this is something utterly rejected by the majority forces," An-Nahar quoted a source close to the March 14 camp as saying.

Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has warned of street protests if Saniora did not accept his group's demands and a national unity government, in which Hizbullah and its allies would have a veto on key decisions. Nasrallah set a deadline of Nov. 13.

In a Thursday night interview with the Lebanese New TV channel, Geagea called on the March 14 Forces to "get ready for a new quiet, peaceful and arrogant rally to prove that we are the majority."

Geagea also ruled out the formation of a national unity government. But he said the inclusion of Gen. Michel Aoun's bloc in the cabinet was "negotiable … but (the demand) to activate the paralyzed one-third (of the cabinet) is totally rejected."

Nasrallah has said that Hizbullah and its allies should comprise one-third of the 24-member cabinet. That effectively means the Shiite party and allies could veto key decisions. A two-thirds vote in the cabinet is needed to pass decisions that are not made by consensus. A resignation of one-third of the cabinet automatically brings down the government.

Geagea warned that if street protests turn into riots "we will be there to back up the (Lebanese) security forces anywhere and we put ourselves under their command." He refused to elaborate.(Naharnet-AFP)
 
 
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Anti-Syrian majority refuse to yield to Hezbollah demands

BEIRUT, Lebanon - The March 14 coalition has allegedly stressed that it will not succumb to Hezbollah demands to replace or expand Premier Fouad Saniora's cabinet, as Saudi diplomats were secretly negotiating with political forces to agree on a unity government.

Arab diplomatic sources said Thursday that Saudi Arabia "is making discreet contacts and holding talks, primarily though its ambassador in Lebanon Abdel Aziz Khuja, to placate the political situation in Lebanon."
The sources said that the kingdom was also working to "remove barriers to holding national dialogue talks" as called for by Speaker Nabih Berri.

March 14 Forces will "no way agree to any expansion or replacement of the government … the consultation session will only tackle a package deal starting with the replacement of the president," daily An-Nahar said.

The anti-Syrian majority demands the departure of President Emile Lahoud whose mandate was controversially extended for another three years in 2004, in accordance with Damascus's wishes.

Berri has set November 6 for the resumption of the stalled national dialogue across Lebanon's rival leaders in a bid to drag the country out of its political impasse.

"The replacement or the expansion of the government means the power will be turned in to Syria and Iran; and this is something utterly rejected by the majority forces," An-Nahar quoted a source close to the March 14 camp as saying.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has warned of street protests if Saniora did not accept his group's demands and a national unity government, in which Hezbollah and its allies would have a veto on key decisionss. Nasrallah set a deadline of Nov. 13.

In the meantime, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea has called on the March 14 Forces to "get ready for a new quiet, peaceful and arrogant rally to prove that we are the majority."

In a Thursday night interview with the Lebanese New TV. channel, Geagea also ruled out the formation of a national unity government.

He said the inclusion of Aoun's bloc in the cabinet was "negotiable … but (the demand) to activate the subversivethird is totally rejected," in reference to Hezbollah's allies who are not represented in parliament.

Geagea warned that if street protests turn into riots "we will be there to back up the (Lebanese) security forces anywhere and we put ourselves under their command." He refused to elaborate.(with AFP


Beirut, 03 Nov 06, 10:45
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Feltman Warns Aoun of "Grave Consequences" Over Alliance with Hizbullah

U.S. ambassador Jeffrey Feltman has allegedly warned General Michel Aoun of "grave consequences" over his alliance with Hizbullah, accusing the Shiite group of plotting to obliterate Lebanon.

"Hizbullah is constantly working on destroying and obliterating Lebanon as well as sowing chaos," the Lebanese daily As-Safir quoted Feltman as saying.

It said his remarks were made during a visit to Aoun at his house in Rabieh on Thursday.

The paper quoted leading sources in Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) as saying that Feltman also slammed the so-called "political understanding" between Aoun and Hizbullah.

But Aoun has reiterated his adherence to the "political understanding," the sources said.

They said that Feltman has indirectly threatened Aoun that his alliance with Hizbullah would bear "grave consequences on his political future."

As-Safir said that this was a tortuous reference to the presidency issue, in which Aoun, a Maronite, is eligible for under the Lebanese constitution.

The paper also said that the FPM has previously received similar threats from the American administration warning Aoun against establishing any "material or financial ties with Hizbullah, or be blacklisted" in assisting terrorists.

The sources said Aoun handed over to Feltman a copy of the letter he had sent earlier on Thursday to President George Bush expressing his regret over the recent White House statement which accused Iran, Syria and Hizbullah of "preparing plans to topple" Premier Fouad Saniora's government.

The sources said that Feltman had clarified to Aoun that the White House excluded the FPM from this accusation.

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack also said on Thursday: "It's sort of interesting that an individual decided to -- singled himself out regarding a statement that didn't single out any particular individuals. So I'm not sure why he thought that was particularly directed at him."

"We would expect that General Aoun as well as others would try to play a positive role in furthering efforts at democratic political reform as well as economic reform," McCormack added. 
 
 

Beirut, 03 Nov 06, 14:04


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Israel Says U.S. Dissatisfied with Lebanon Overflights
The United States has expressed its discontent about continued Israeli flights over Beirut, a senior government official in Jerusalem revealed Friday.
U.S. officials "expressed their dissatisfaction on Thursday," during telephone conversations with senior Israeli officials, the source said.

It was the first time Israel publicly revealed U.S. criticism about its flights into Lebanese airspace since this summer's war between the Jewish State and Hizbullah ended with a U.N.-brokered ceasefire.

Israel has drawn intense international criticism by continuing the overflights despite Security Council Resolution 1701 that brought an end to the July-August war.

Last month, Defense Minister Amir Peretz said the overflights were necessary to monitor what he charged was continuing arms smuggling to Hizbullah from Syria.(AFP-Naharnet) 
 
 

Beirut, 03 Nov 06, 12:41


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US expresses discontent over Israeli flights over Beirut

JERUSALEM - The United States has expressed its discontent about continued Israeli flights over Beirut, a senior government official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
US officials "expressed their dissatisfaction on Thursday," during telephone conversations with senior Israeli officials, the source said Friday.

It was the first time Israel publicly revealed US criticism about its flights into Lebanese airspace since this summer's war between Israel and Lebanon-based Shiite militia Hezbollah ended with a UN-brokered ceasefire.

Israel has drawn intense international criticism by continuing the overflights despite the August 14 ceasefire.

Last month, Defense Minister Amir Peretz said the overflights were necessary to monitor what he charged was continuing arms smuggling by Hezbollah. (AFP))


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Spain Completes South Lebanon Deployment
One hundred and sixty Spanish soldiers have arrived in Beirut to join their compatriots serving with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
The group flew into Rafik Hariri international airport Thursday afternoon.

Spain has been gradually rolling out its force since mid-September, when 170 members of an engineering unit left to prepare the infrastructure for the contingent in southern Lebanon.

Madrid agreed to send up to 1,100 troops to Lebanon as part of UNIFIL.

They will operate out of the Miguel de Cervantes base in the Marjayoun region in the southeast of the country between the Litani river and the border with Israel.

The Spanish contingent will command a multinational brigade tasked with helping the Lebanese government supervise the south of the country, a Hizbullah stronghold.

The force will also undertake reconstruction work to provide local people with water and power.

With Thursday's arrivals the Spanish justice ministry said the brigade had reached "initial operative capacity," though some troops from other contributing nations including Indonesia and Nepal have yet to be incorporated.

In all, 15,000 troops are to deploy in the region in line with United Nations resolution 1701 which ended hostilities between Israel and Hizbullah on August 14.(AFP-Naharnet) (AP photo shows a Spanish U.N. peacekeeper monitoring the unloading of vehicles and heavy machinery from a navy ship at the Beirut port) 
 
 

Beirut, 03 Nov 06, 12:04
 


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London: Hizbullah has Set a Price for Information About Seized Soldiers
Hizbullah is asking "a price" for information about whether two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by the group in a deadly cross border raid are still alive, Britain's U.N. ambassador has said.
Emyr Jones Parry's comment comes two days after Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, revealed Tuesday night that "serious negotiations" were taking place over the two soldiers, whose capture on July 12 provoked a 34-day Israeli offensive on Lebanon.

"They're asking a price for proof of life," Jones Parry said Thursday. He gave no details on what he meant by "price."

Nasrallah said in an interview on Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV channel that an unidentified negotiator appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan had been mediating between the group and Israeli officials.

Nasrallah would not provide details about the negotiations, but said: "We have reached a stage of exchanging ideas, proposals or conditions."

In Jerusalem on Wednesday, Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisin declined to confirm any indirect talks with Hizbullah, which Israel and the United States label as a terrorist organization.

"We don't comment about anything that has to do with the abducted soldiers," Eisin said. "Israel will do all it takes to get their release without hurting Israel's security."(AP-Naharnet)
 
 
 

Beirut, 03 Nov 06, 11:31


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Hizbullah: U.S. Using Lebanon to Wage War Against Syria, Iran
Hizbullah on Thursday rejected U.S. accusations that it was seeking to topple Premier Fouad Saniora's government and accused Washington of using Lebanon to wage "war" against Syrian and Iranian allies.
"The latest American position is a blatant interference in a Lebanese internal affair concerning the Lebanese people's choices over their government and policies," a Hizbullah statement said.

The White House on Wednesday sounded the alarm over what it called "mounting evidence" that Hizbullah was "preparing plans to topple" the Lebanese government in collaboration with Iranian and Syrian allies.

Hizbullah said "the American position is meant to obstruct the internal settlement sought by parties attempting to reach a comprehensive national solution."

"It is also meant to throw Lebanon into Washington's battle against forces and states that are friendly and brotherly to Lebanon and its people, including Iran and Syria," it said.

Hizbullah accused Washington of seeking to "turn Lebanon into a tool of the war of the Bush administration against those considered enemies," it said in an apparent reference to Iran and Syria.

Hizbullah advised Saniora's Western-backed government to "listen to the opinion of the (Lebanese) people, and not to Bush's opinion, and follow the pulse of the Lebanese street and not the pulse of the White House.

"This American violation of our national sovereignty will not scare our people or prevent them from practicing all their constitutional rights, including the right to demonstrate, vote and select the government," it said.

Earlier Thursday, a Syrian foreign ministry statement also said "the rumors put about by the U.S. administration according to which Syria, Iran and Hizbullah are seeking to destabilize the situation in Lebanon are wrong."

The statement insisted the Assad regime remained committed to the national dialogue process.

"Ever since it withdrew its forces from Lebanon (in April 2005), Syria has said repeatedly that it is ready to back any agreement reached by the Lebanese through their national dialogue," it said.

"Lebanon can only be governed through a national consensus."

White House spokesman Tony Snow refused to provide details on the Bush administration's information, saying it was classified and that keeping the charge vague "serves a diplomatic purpose and an important one."

Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has demanded that Prime Minister Saniora agree to a national unity government and threatened to take his case to the streets if upcoming (national dialogue) talks between the country's top rival leaders fail.(AFP-Naharnet) (AFP photo shows Lebanese men walking in front of posters of Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and Hizbullah martyrs in the southern village of Abbasiyeh) 
 
 

Beirut, 02 Nov 06, 16:38


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Bulgaria Bans Arms Sale to Lebanon in Accordance With 1701
Bulgaria's government said Thursday it had introduced an embargo on arms and ammunition sales to Lebanon following similar measures taken by the U.N. Security Council and the European Union.
"(The ban on) the sale and supply of arms, ammunition, military vehicles and equipment was introduced in line with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, adopted on August 11, which is mandatory for all U.N. member states and corresponds to the European Union's Common Position," it said in a statement.

The foreign, the interior, and the economy and energy ministries as well as customs were in charge of controlling the execution of the ban, it added.

Bulgaria, which is to join the EU on January 1, exported about 120 million euros (153 million dollars) worth of arms in 2005, economy ministry data show.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which put an end to a month of devastating fighting between Israel and Hizbullah in July and August, required all states to take measures to prevent "the sale and supply to Lebanon of arms and related material of all types including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment."

It also banned any assistance or training related to "provision, manufacturing, maintenance or use" of such material.

In line with the resolution, the EU also put an embargo on the sale and supply of arms and related materiel to Lebanon in mid-September.

Bulgaria, which strongly condemned the violence in Lebanon in July, also sent in mid-October a frigate with 160 crew and a mandate of up to two months to bolster the larger United Nations peacekeeping mission in Lebanon (UNIFIL).(AFP) 
 
 

Beirut, 02 Nov 06, 13:5


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Israeli Army Document: Overflights Aimed to Pressure International Community
An internal Israeli military document says the air force's controversial flights over Lebanon are intended in part to pressure the international community to take action to stop arms smuggling to Hizbullah and release two abducted soldiers, a senior Defense Ministry official in Jerusalem said Thursday.
Israeli officials have previously said the overflights are routine reconnaissance operations designed to gather intelligence about Hizbullah fighters, who clashed with Israel over the summer in a monthlong war.

The document, titled "Strategic diplomatic messages: the army must continue overflights to secure international pressure," was approved by chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, the official said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Aviv Shir-On said it wasn't the job of the Israel Defense Forces to set political objectives.

"I'm not familiar with this document. But if political goals are indeed defined in an IDF document, this matter must be looked into because ... the IDF is in charge of Israel's security and others are in charge of political goals," Shir-On told Israel Army Radio.

The army had no immediate comment.

Lebanon and the United Nations have called on Israel to halt military flights over Lebanese territory, calling them a violation of the U.N.-brokered resolution that ended the war on Aug. 14.

Israel insists the flights must continue because arms are still smuggled to Hizbullah, which is backed by Syria and Iran, and the soldiers have not been freed, in violation of the cease-fire. Hizbullah's kidnapping of the soldiers on July 12 sparked the 34-days offensive on Lebanon.

U.N. envoy Terje Roed-Larsen confirmed Israel's assertions on Tuesday when he said the Lebanese government has reported arms smuggling into Lebanon from Syria since the truce. Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah also said the group had reinforced its arsenal although Foreign Minister Fawzi Sallukh on Wednesday denied Roed-Larsen's suggestions.

Hours after Roed-Larsen spoke, Israeli fighter jets roared over Hizbullah strongholds in the strongest show of force since the war ended.(AP-Naharnet) (AFP photo shows Lebanese Army officers pointing at Israeli soldiers standing on the other side of the border in south Lebanon)
 
 
 

Beirut, 02 Nov 06, 12:1


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Saudis mediate back-channel talks on unity government for Lebanon
Hizbullah, syria, iran deny us claims of plan to overthrow siniora cabinet


Compiled by Daily Star staff
Friday, November 03, 2006


Saudi diplomats are secretly negotiating with political figures in Lebanon to agree on a national unity government, Arab diplomatic sources said Thursday after Washington accused Hizbullah and its domestic and regional allies of aiming to topple the Lebanese government.

"The kingdom is making discreet contacts and holding talks, primarily though its ambassador in Lebanon, Abdel-Aziz Khoja, to placate the political situation in Lebanon," a diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

Saudi Arabia was also working to "remove barriers to holding national dialogue talks as called for by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri," the diplomat said. Berri called last week for consultation meetings among Lebanon's political elite to discuss the formation of a national unity government and the drafting of a new electoral law.

Both items are key demands of Hizbullah and its ally, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) headed by MP Michel Aoun.

Hizbullah, with two ministers in Premier Fouad Siniora's Cabinet, wants the inclusion of its allies in the government.

The diplomat did not rule out the possibility of "enlarging the current government, which would be a middle-of-the-road solution acceptable to all." Saudi Arabia's priority was to "avoid escalating tensions within Lebanon," the diplomat said.

This came as France's Foreign Ministry said Thursday it had no information on alleged plans by Hizbullah and its domestic and regional allies to destabilize Lebanon, but warned against any moves in that direction.

"We have no specific details of plans of that nature," ministry spokes-man Denis Simonneau said. "France, for its part, reaffirms its support for the government of Siniora and for his efforts to stabilize Lebanon and permit the rapid reconstruction of the country," he added.

Hizbullah and its allies rejected the US accusations and accused Washington of using Lebanon to wage "war" against Syria and Iran.

"The latest American position is blatant interference in a Lebanese internal affair concerning the Lebanese people's choices over their government and policies," a Hizbullah statement said on Thursday.

The statement added that "the American position is meant to obstruct the internal settlement sought by parties attempting to reach a comprehensive national solution."

"It is also meant to throw Lebanon into Washington's battle against forces and states that are friendly and brotherly to Lebanon and its people, including Iran and Syria," it said.

The FPM also denied Washington's allegations.

"It is unfortunate that the highest levels of the American government have been penetrated with misinformation alleging that we - those who fought longest and hardest for Lebanon's independence from Syria - are now trying to bring back Syrian tutelage over Lebanon," Aoun said in a statement on Thursday.

"It is time for the US administration to realize that the desire for a new government in Lebanon comes from the Leb-anese people" he added.

Aoun said that if the US truly desires democracy, then let it not lend its support to an "unrepresentative government which came about as a result of a Syrian-imposed electoral law, and let it work together with all Leb-anese to achieve a government ... for all the Lebanese people."

Aoun's statement came following a meeting with US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman. No joint statement was issued after the meeting.

A Syrian Foreign Ministry statement said "the rumors put about by the US administration according to which Syria, Iran and Hizbullah are seeking to destabilize the situation in Leb-anon are wrong." 

The comments came a day after Hizbullah's leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, gave Siniora

until the middle of this month to agree on the formation of a unity government or face protests demanding a new election.

An editorial in Syria's government-owned Al-Baath said newspaper the United States, "which claims to know everything," should make public any evidence of the alleged Syrian role in efforts to topple the Lebanese government.

US officials say the information is classified.

A spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry, Mohammad Ali Husseini, denied the US accusation and argued that Washington should review its policies in the Middle East. 

"These are repeated claims aimed to create divisions among Lebanese people and their government," he said.

The United States has no diplomatic ties with Iran and has strained relations with Syria, accusing both countries of supporting terrorism and destabilizing the Middle East.

Both countries deny the charges and Iran says its offers only moral support to Hizbullah.

A spokesman for the US State Department said Nasrallah's ultimatum has raised US concerns about the intentions of Hizbullah and other players in Lebanon.

Anti-Syrian politicians have dismissed calls for a national unity government, saying such demands were aimed at re-asserting Syria's influence in Lebanon.

Berri said that Washington's expressions of strong support for Siniora's government could prove its undoing.

"Some kinds of love are fatal," Berri said in a statement. "Is it [the US statement] meant to defend Lebanon or push it toward constructive chaos? Does it echo concern for the government or incitement against it?"

"Anyway, we reassure the White House that the Lebanese people have enough of a democratic tendency to make them resort to dialogue and consultations, rather than to the advice of the protector of Israel which violates international resolutions every day and whose planes never depart our airspace," the speaker added. - Agencies


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Anti-Syrian majority refuse to yield to Hezbollah demands

BEIRUT, Lebanon - The March 14 coalition has allegedly stressed that it will not succumb to Hezbollah demands to replace or expand Premier Fouad Saniora's cabinet, as Saudi diplomats were secretly negotiating with political forces to agree on a unity government.

Arab diplomatic sources said Thursday that Saudi Arabia "is making discreet contacts and holding talks, primarily though its ambassador in Lebanon Abdel Aziz Khuja, to placate the political situation in Lebanon."
The sources said that the kingdom was also working to "remove barriers to holding national dialogue talks" as called for by Speaker Nabih Berri.

March 14 Forces will "no way agree to any expansion or replacement of the government … the consultation session will only tackle a package deal starting with the replacement of the president," daily An-Nahar said.

The anti-Syrian majority demands the departure of President Emile Lahoud whose mandate was controversially extended for another three years in 2004, in accordance with Damascus's wishes.

Berri has set November 6 for the resumption of the stalled national dialogue across Lebanon's rival leaders in a bid to drag the country out of its political impasse.

"The replacement or the expansion of the government means the power will be turned in to Syria and Iran; and this is something utterly rejected by the majority forces," An-Nahar quoted a source close to the March 14 camp as saying.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has warned of street protests if Saniora did not accept his group's demands and a national unity government, in which Hezbollah and its allies would have a veto on key decisionss. Nasrallah set a deadline of Nov. 13.

In the meantime, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea has called on the March 14 Forces to "get ready for a new quiet, peaceful and arrogant rally to prove that we are the majority."

In a Thursday night interview with the Lebanese New TV. channel, Geagea also ruled out the formation of a national unity government.

He said the inclusion of Aoun's bloc in the cabinet was "negotiable … but (the demand) to activate the subversivethird is totally rejected," in reference to Hezbollah's allies who are not represented in parliament.

Geagea warned that if street protests turn into riots "we will be there to back up the (Lebanese) security forces anywhere and we put ourselves under their command." He refused to elaborate.(with AFP


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Rizk expects UN to approve Hariri tribunal this week

By Therese Sfeir
Daily Star staff
Friday, November 03, 2006


BEIRUT: The UN Security Council will approve the formation of an international tribunal to try those accused of former Premier Rafik Hariri's assassination this week, Justice Minister Charles Rizk said Thursday. Rizk said he expected the Security Council to ratify the final draft of a proposal for the court within "two days" after Russia and China gave their approval on the issue.

The minister hoped the Lebanese would "assume their responsibility" and ratify the draft.

In a clear reference to President Emile Lahoud's criticisms of the draft made earlier this week, Rizk warned that a government failure to ratify the draft would force the Security Council to move forward without Lebanese representation.

The Cabinet, which is chaired by Lahoud, earlier this year asked Rizk to assign two judges to negotiate the details of the tribunal with the United Nations.

Judges Ralph Riachi and Chukri Sader have met with UN officials several times this year in New York to discuss the matter.

If the Lebanese are "not up to their responsibilities, especially on a crucial issue like Hariri's assassination, then international tutelage will be imposed on us," the justice minister added.

Rizk praised Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah's call, made during an interview with

Al-Manar Tuesday night, for the international court to be "a meeting point for the Lebanese."

Asked about his relations with Lahoud, Rizk said the president was his "friend," but that "one should separate between friendship and responsibilities."

Rizk and Sader met Thursday with French Ambassador Bernard Emie to discuss the international tribunal.

The minister also held separate talks with Russian Ambassador Serguei Boukin.

UN chief Kofi Annan convened a meeting of the Security Council Wednesday to ensure unity on the nature of the court, a spokesman for the UN chief told Al-Hayat newspaper in comments published Thursday.

Stephane Dujarric said talks on the court had been held on "a constant basis" among the council's five permanent members.

Separate sources close to Annan told Al-Hayat Wednesday's meeting had nothing to do with Lahoud's 32-page list of suggestions concerning the tribunal.

Annan had called the meeting "to make sure the Security Council's position toward the court is united," the sources added.

Other sources at the UN accused Russia of representing Syria's interests on the council.

These sources said Wednesday's meeting had also been an opportunity to "pressure the Russians and tell them they can't continue presenting Syria's views."

For his part, Defense Minister Elias Murr said the court was a matter of life or death for Lebanon, and vowed to fight for the tribunal's creation during an interview with Future Television Wednesday night.

"This ... can guarantee a safe future for Lebanon," he said.

The defense minister, himself the victim of a 2005 assassination attempt, urged Lahoud not to "derail the creation of the tribunal," stressing the need for the court to investigate all assassinations and attempts since October 2004.

"The main objective of the creation of the court is to prevent new terrorist attacks from happening," he said.

The Higher Judicial Council on Thursday denied media reports that it would issue a statement in response to Lahoud's comments on the tribunal.


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Israeli document: Mock air raids are a pressure tactic


Compiled by Daily Star staff
Friday, November 03, 2006

 

An internal Israeli military document says the air force's illegal mock raids over Lebanon are intended in part to pressure the international community to press for the release of the two Israeli soldiers whose capture by Hizbullah on July 12 sparked the war, a senior Defense Ministry official said Thursday.

The document, titled "Strategic diplomatic messages: the army must continue overflights to secure international pressure," was drafted by the army's planning wing and approved by the Israeli military's chief of staff, Lieutenant General Dan Halutz. It also wanted pressure on the expanded UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon to do more to stop arms being smuggled in to Hizbullah from Syria.

Israel has drawn intense international criticism by continuing the overflights despite UN Resolution 1701, which established a cease-fire on August 14 after 34 days of war. French and European Union officials have condemned the raids as violations of Lebanese sovereignty and urged Israel to stop them.

Israeli officials have said the overflights are reconnaissance operations designed to gather intelligence. Last month, Defense Minister Amir Peretz said the overflights were necessary to monitor what he said was arms smuggling by Hizbullah.

A senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official criticized the army document, saying it appeared to overstep the army's prerogatives by outlining policies.

"If it turns out that this army document lists diplomatic goals, we will have to review the issue, because the army is in charge of Israel's security while others are responsible for political questions," the official, Aviv Shir-On, told Israeli radio on Thursday as commemorations marked 11 years since the assassination of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish extremist.

Israeli commanders want the international community to apply pressure on Lebanon and Hizbullah to release the two captured soldiers, Israeli radio said, citing the army document.

Speaking from London, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Peres told reporters that Israel would like to negotiate with Syrian President Bashar Assad, but it would not do so while Syria supported Hamas and Hizbullah and demanded the return of the Golan Heights, which Israel occupied in 1967, as a pre-condition for peace negotiations.

"I for one would like to see us negotiating with the Syrians, but again the Syrians are having a double approach," Peres said. "They are hosting in Syria the leadership of Hamas, the most extreme part of it. They are helping Hizbullah and we are suspicious they are continuing to supply Hamas with arms."

This week Nigel Sheinwald, British Prime Minister Tony Blair's most senior foreign policy adviser, traveled to Damascus, meeting Assad and other senior figures. Blair is expected to return to the Middle East before the end of the year.

German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung arrived in Beirut late Thursday and is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Defense Minister Elias Murr today before traveling to Israel for talks with senior Israeli officials.

He will be discussing the German role as head of the UNIFIL maritime task force charged with patrolling the waters off Leb-anon. After two incidents between German UNIFIL soldiers and Israeli warplanes, Jung will be looking for a clearer mandate for his forces. - Agencies


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Fadlallah says UNIFIL should give Lebanon missiles to stop Israeli airspace violations


Daily Star staff
Friday, November 03, 2006

 

BEIRUT: Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah sharply criticized Israel's violations of Lebanese airspace Thursday, calling on the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to provide the Lebanese Army with defensive weapons. "Israel is still violating our skies without taking UNIFIL's role into consideration," the country's senior Shiite cleric said during a meeting with Spanish Ambassador Miguel Benzo Perea. "UNIFIL should provide the army with surface-to-air missiles so it will be able to prevent any Israeli violation of Lebanon's airspace."

Perea, in turn, said Spanish troops serving with UNIFIL "are unbiased and have a peacekeeping role."

"Spanish soldiers work on preserving the country's security while cooperating with the Lebanese people and army," Perea said.

Fadlallah also expressed opposition to foreign interference into Lebanon's affairs, which he warned might create conflicts in the country and complicate relations among the Lebanese.

"We do not accept any international or regional tutelage," the cleric said.

The Israeli violations were also the subject of a discussion between Health Minister Mohammad Khalifeh and Geir Pedersen, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's personal representative to Lebanon.

"Israel justifies its continued overflights by claiming the presence of weapons smuggling into Lebanon," Khalifeh said. "It seems that someone in the government has informed the UN of weapons smuggling without discussing the issue before the Cabinet, which means that the person is trying to conceal a probable attack on Lebanon," he added.

In his latest report, UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen mentioned that a Lebanese government official told him that weapons were being smuggled into Lebanon. A few days later, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora denied the report.

Asked if Pedersen had spoken to Khalifeh of the UN's stand regarding Israel's violations of 1701, the health minister said: "There is a great fear from this issue and the UN is deploying all efforts to settle it."

Following his meeting with Khalifeh, Pedersen also met with Siniora to discuss the Israeli violations. - The Daily Star


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LF vows to counter Hizbullah with street protests of its own
Tourism minister: 'our body is fit for this'

By Leila Hatoum and Nafez Qawas
Daily Star staff
Friday, November 03, 2006

 

BEIRUT: The war of words being waged among Lebanon's leading political forces escalated Thursday, with a Lebanese Forces Cabinet member threatening that his party would also take to the streets to counter Hizbullah's calls for a national unity government.

Tourism Minister and Lebanese Forces member Joe Sarkis vowed before entering a weekly Cabinet meeting Thursday that his party "will take to the streets to defend the Lebanese Republic."

"Our body is fit for this, and we are able to demonstrate," Sarkis added.

For his part, Energy and Water Minister Mohammed Fneish, who is also a Hizbullah member, told reporters on his way into the session that the resistance would have "no problem" with an LF demonstration.

Pro-Hizbullah Labor Minister Trad Hamadeh was less cordial, telling reporters: "We know their bodies are fit and we don't need anyone to tell us that."

"We will practice all our democratic rights, as noted in the Constitution, to demand a national unity government that includes all Lebanese political powers that are willing to defend Lebanon's sovereignty, independence and future," Hamadeh added.

The Cabinet session ended late Thursday night, with the ministers postponing a discussion on the formation of a regulatory committee within the Telecommunications Ministry to the next session.

Speaking to reporters before entering the session, President Emile Lahoud also addressed Sarkis' comments.

"What kind of talk is this? We used to hear this talk during the days of the [Civil War]," Lahoud said. "This has been over since the rise of the state. Peacefully demonstrating is a democratic right and we are not against it, and anyone who wants to peacefully demonstrate is welcome. As for talks like 'our body is fit,' this is unacceptable.

"We also hear talk from abroad that we will ruin the country and that this is unacceptable and against international legitimacy, which must be respected. I tell you ... No matter what others say, there will be no problems in this country because we stand united," he added.

Concerning Israel's repeated violations of Lebanon's airspace, Lahoud hinted at an international conspiracy.

"The Israeli overflights have been occurring for some time now under the pretext of preventing arms smuggling to Hizbullah. Today, we heard that NATO has finalized an agreement with Israel to monitor its airspace," he said. "If we link this with what France said a month ago about its readiness to administer Lebanese airspace, this means when they prevent Israel from doing overflights, then other countries will do this instead and this is unacceptable," he added.

The president also demanded that Israel be brought to account for its alleged use of banned weaponry during the July-August war.

"Over two months ago we spoke of Israel's use of white phosphorous bombs, depleted uranium bombs and cluster bombs. Today this was confirmed through the results of British inspections," he said.

"We made a decision in the Cabinet and we must hurry in filing a complaint against Israel, because they must know that when they do this they will be punished and won't be left free as when they committed the Qana [massacres in 1996 and this past summer]," he added.

Concerning his recent list of suggestions for the formation of an international court to try those accused of killing former Premier Rafik Hariri, Lahoud said his criticisms did not mean he opposed the court.

"We are for revealing the truth behind the assassination," he said. "Yet, if people are to be accused for political reasons without evidence, we fear that some might tend to form a tribunal that would politically indict people, and this is unacceptable."

"There is also the issue of their king witness [Mohammad Zuheir Siddik], who is in France, which refuses to hand him over to Lebanon to face the four detained former security chiefs," he added. "Why doesn't France accept that the four detainees go to Paris to face him?"

For his part, Premier Fouad Siniora was asked about Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz's "concern" about the status of the Lebanese Cabinet.

"What more do you want now that our enemy is worried?" he asked. "Let him worry."

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh dismissed UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen's claim earlier this week that Siniora had complained of Hizbullah's receiving arms from Syria.

"Siniora denied this remark, and the Lebanese government didn't inform Roed-Larsen of this," he said. "The Foreign Ministry and the Lebanese Army also resent this remark."


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Grenade attack aimed to 'create mayhem'


Daily Star staff
Friday, November 03, 2006


BEIRUT: Acting Interior Minister Ahmad Fatfat said Thursday that Wednesday night's attack on the Helou Barracks in Beirut was an "attempt to create mayhem inside the country and attack the Internal Security Forces for their role in keeping the peace." In a telephone interview with Tele Liban on Thursday, Fatfat said the incident was aimed at attacking all security forces "and not just me personally."

"Investigations are under way and all security bodies are cooperating to investigate similar incidents that happened previously," he said.

A grenade was launched at the Helou police barracks in Corniche al-Mazraa on Wednesday evening, causing no casualties but damaging a major ISF building. Police barracks were also targeted by the same type of grenades in two other incidents in October.

"The October incidents, in which the same kinds of weapons were used, show that the same group is behind these terrorist and criminal acts," Fatfat said.

The minister added that the aim of the incidents "is to exploit the current political tension to undermine any chance of reaching an agreement during the consultation meetings [proposed by Speaker Nabih Berri] next week."

"Security forces are not part of the political conflict. Their mission consists of protecting citizens," he said.

"I hope the Lebanese don't resort to the streets because they know that none of the pending issues can be settled in the street," the minister added. - The Daily Star


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Egyptian envoy urges Lebanese 'not to waste time' on trivial issues

 

Friday, November 03, 2006

 

BEIRUT: Egyptian Ambassador Hussein Darrar urged Lebanon's politicians Thursday "not to waste time by getting into internal disputes over trivial issues." The ambassador met with Speaker Nabih Berri at his residence in Ain al-Tineh to discuss recent developments and the consultation meetings to be held next week.

Asked if Egypt "advises Lebanon to change its government," Darrar said: "Egypt does not give any advice ... It only calls for national unity. Does anybody reject national unity?"

Describing the current situation as "critical," Darrar said discussions were being held with Saudi Arabia as well as with Lebanese leaders to find a solution to Lebanon's internal crisis.

"The whole region is going through a critical period and Lebanon is now the top of our priorities," he said.

Speaking after his meeting with Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir in Bkirki Thursday, Darrar said that the Lebanese people's interests and future "should come first."

Hailing the resistance's "honorable achievements in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict," Darrar also praised "Lebanon's President Emile Lahoud, who is the head of this state."

"Though Lebanon's leaders have different points of view, they should work on meeting the needs of their people inside and outside the country," he said.

Responding to questions about Berri's call to hold consultation meetings, Darrar said that Egypt "supports all that might gather Lebanese of all political affiliations."

"Discussing national issues among all of the country's parties is a necessity since it gives them the opportunity to fulfill the Lebanese people's expectations," he added.

Sfeir also met with Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Michel Pharaon.

Pharaon stressed the need to hold early presidential elections to spare the country "a new year of disputes and problems."

"Lebanon's politicians should agree without previous conditions over early presidential polls," he said. - Additional reporting by Maroun Khoury


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Higher Shiite Council says unity government can defuse crisis

By Mira Borji
Daily Star staff
Friday, November 03, 2006


BEIRUT: The Higher Shiite Council said Thursday that a national unity government "constitutes the right step to get out of the present political crisis." After its regular weekly meeting, the council called on Lebanon's politicians to stop "tense" speeches, which "intensify" the political crisis, and deliver "moderate" statements.

"The formation of a national unity government does not aim to undermine the work of the state. Nor does it look to thwart the investigation into former Premier Rafik Hariri's assassination," the statement said.

The council also denounced foreign interference into Lebanon's internal affairs, notably when it comes to forming a government, and they called on all of the country's officials to reject foreign meddling in order to preserve Lebanon's independence, freedom and sovereignty.

It also urged the government to "eliminate" the effect of the recent war with Israel by restoring damaged roads and bridges.

"The council holds the UN Security Council responsible for the continued Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace and Israel's insistence on challenging international resolutions, namely 1701," the statement said.

The council's vice president, Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, said the situation in Lebanon "is difficult," and urged the country's leaders to agree over controversial issues "without challenging each other."

Qabalan also urged UNIFIL to "protect Lebanese territory and put an end to Israel's impudent violations."


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Hizbullah: New Cabinet 'will see the light'

By Therese Sfeir
Daily Star staff
Friday, November 03, 2006


BEIRUT: Hizbullah expressed confidence on Thursday that a national unity government would be formed, while the March 14 Forces remained vague as to their next step in the matter will be. "The countdown for the formation of a national unity Cabinet has begun," the head of Hizbullah's parliamentary bloc, MP Mohammad Raad, said Thursday.

"It will see the light sooner or later," he said, after a visit to Tachnag Party headquarters.

Raad said Hizbullah and its allies did not intend to bring about "a coup, but [rather to] unify the Lebanese ranks in order to face Israeli threats ... We won't mind if Prime Minister Fouad Siniora heads the national unity Cabinet."

Meanwhile, Speaker Nabih Berri continued to hold private meetings with leading politicians on Thursday in the run-up to consultations set to begin Monday on a national unity government and a new electoral law.

Sources close to the speaker told the Central News Agency on Thursday that Berri would meet with the head of the Future Movement, MP Saad Hariri, later in the day.

Hariri was expected to return from Saudi Arabia in the evening. The Gulf kingdom has been mediating between the country's political parties in past weeks.

Saudi Ambassador Abdel-Aziz Khoja held a lengthy meeting with Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah last week. The ambassador also met separately with Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun, Hizbullah's main ally.

While the details of the meetings were not disclosed, sources said talks focused on overcoming the current impasse between the two parties and the March 14 Forces.

Democratic Gathering bloc MP Wael Bou Faour said Thursday that the March 14 Forces were prepared to consider expanding the Cabinet, but that recent comments "from political parties who accused the parliamentary majority of conspiring with Israel" were not helpful.

Nasrallah had leveled several allegations at "certain members of the government" during an interview with Al-Manar television on Tuesday night.

Bou Faour told the Voice of Lebanon radio that MP Walid Jumblatt may attend Monday's consultations.

March 14 Forces MP Boutros Harb, also speaking to the Voice of Lebanon, said there was a need to "hold serious discussions about the means to resolve pending problems."

Lebanon's leading politicians should accept Berri's initiative "without setting any preconditions," he said, referring to Nasrallah's threat Tuesday of demonstrations should a national unity Cabinet not be formed by November 13.

For his part, Defense Minister Elias Murr said Thursday that holding street demonstrations would only create more divisions in the country.

He called on all parties to resolve their differences through Berri's consultations


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Ramel al-Ali residents stage protest to demand explanation in youths' deaths
Fatfat says military judiciary is handling investigation

By Leila Hatoum
Daily Star staff
Friday, November 03, 2006

 

BEIRUT: With tight security measures in place, dozens of residents of the impoverished Ramel al-Ali area held a protest outside the Grand Serail Thursday demanding an explanation for the death of two children. On Friday, October 6, 2006, clashes broke out between the Internal Security Forces and residents of the area over illegal construction following the July-August war.

The clashes resulted in the instant death of Hassan Soueid, 17, followed by Mohammad Hussein Naji, 14, who died two days later of serious injuries to his head. It remains unclear who fired the shots.

The protestors on Thursday demanded that the government reveal the circumstances of what really happened.

Ali Al-Ouzyer, 7, and Khodor Ammar, 11, were also treated for serious bullet injuries.

The parents accused the ISF of deliberately shooting the children last month and held pamphlets saying: "What happened to the investigations? ... Who is responsible?"

According to an ISF statement issued after the incident, the clashes broke out at "2:30 p.m. on Friday on the second day of security personnel attempts to stop illegal construction near the Beirut airport road."

Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah had said on Tuesday that some "750 bullets were shot by the ISF" to quell the residents of Ramel al-Ali, some of whom were constructing illegal buildings.

Acting Interior Minister Ahmed Fatfat told The Daily Star Thursday that the investigations into the incident "are being handled by the Military Judiciary, not the ISF or Interior Ministry."

"I consider the children who died that day martyrs," he said. "We are still waiting for the final results from the military judiciary, as well as the results of the official results from the state coroner."

The head of the ISF, Brigadier Ashraf Rifi, had told The Daily Star last month that dum-dum bullets were responsible for several injuries at the scene of the clashes. The ISF does not use dum-dum ammunition, Rifi said.

The state's delegate to the Military Court magistrate, Jean Fahd, and ISF investigators have reportedly taken statements from 27 security forces members who were at the scene of the clashes. Several attacks on security forces outposts have followed the shootings, including a grenade attack Wednesday on a police barracks in Corniche al-Mazraa.


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Hamadeh defends nominees for regulatory panel on privatization


Daily Star staff
Friday, November 03, 2006


BEIRUT: Telecommunication Minister Marwan Hamadeh on Thursday defended the ministry's nominees for a regulatory authority that will supervise the privatization of Lebanon's telecom and electricity sectors. Responding to criticism from President Emile Lahoud, Hamadeh said that that all the candidates that were nominated for the regulatory body were selected because of their broad experience in the telecom field.

"All of the five nominees have degrees from prestigious universities and wide experience in the telecom field," Hamadeh said, adding that none of the nominees belongs to any political party.

Lahoud claimed that the nominees were chosen in an irregular manner and that most of them lacked good experience in telecom.

"The nominees were interviewed extensively by the panel committee which is composed of experts," Hamadeh said.

Kamal Shehadeh, who has wide experience in telecom, was selected by the panel to head the regulatory body.

Hamadeh said the panel that interviewed the candidates was headed by the president of the Civil Service Council.

Observers believe that the debate over the regulatory body is part of a bigger smear campaign between Lahoud and anti-Syrian groups. They warned that any delay in the creation of the body will deal a serious blow to the government's efforts to privatize state owned firms. - The Daily Star


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Fneish signs deal with French firm to start using wind for power generation


Daily Star staff
Friday, November 03, 2006

 

BEIRUT: Lebanon took its first serious step to reduce dependence on expensive forms of energy Thursday by signing an agreement with a leading French company to implement a windmill project. Energy and Water Minister Mohammad Fneish signed the pact with Paris-based Global Wind Energy in the presence of the United Nations Development Program's resident representative, Mona Hammam, and officials from the ministry and Electricite du Liban (EDL).

"We are pinning high hopes on energy rationing and today we are signing this important agreement that will pave the way for the introduction of the first windmill project in Lebanon," Fneish told reporters.

He said the agreement is part of the ministry's plan for alternative energy, especially in light of higher oil prices.

According to the contact, the project will be executed over the next seven months and an international tender will be issued soon to attract investors.

The minister stressed that the Parliament made the necessary amendments to Law 462, which will authorize the Cabinet - rather than EDL - to issue the required permits for windmill projects.

He added that the ministry selected the French company because it made the best offer and has wide experience in the field of wind energy.

Like old-fashioned windmills, today's machines use blades to collect the wind's kinetic energy. The blades are connected to a drive shaft. which rotates along with the blades and drives an electric generator to produce electricity.

The government has been pressing the Energy Ministry to find radical solutions for EDL's woes because it has been draining the resources of the Treasury for years.

The Finance Ministry allocated $800 million in 2005 to subsidize the losses of EDL.

Privatization of electricity production and distribution are among the choices the government is considering in its reform program.

Fneish added that the smuggling of fuel oil from Syria to Lebanon is the responsibility of the Lebanese government: "Syrian fuel oil is subsidized by the government and for this reason many Lebanese buy this oil because it is much cheaper than the ones sold here." - The Daily Star


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Thursday November 2, 2006

US tells Iran, Syria 'hands off' Lebanon
by Olivier Knox
WASHINGTON - The White House on Wednesday sounded the alarm over what it called "mounting evidence" that Iran, Syria and the Hezbollah militia were "preparing plans to topple" Lebanon's government.

But spokesman Tony Snow refused to provide details or even describe the information underpinning the accusation, saying it was classified and that keeping the charge vague "serves a diplomatic purpose and an important one."

"We're making it clear to everybody in the region that we think that there ought to be hands off the Siniora government; let them go about and do their business," he said, referring to Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.

Syria's embassy in Washington dismissed the accusations as "ludicrous" and "unfounded" and insisted that "Syria fully respects the sovereignty of Lebanon and does not interfere in its internal politics."

Earlier, Snow said in a statement that Damascus apparently hoped to derail efforts to set up an international tribunal to try those accused of taking part in the 2005 murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

"Any such effort to sideline the tribunal will fail, however, for the international community can proceed with establishing it no matter what happens internally in Lebanon," said the spokesman.

"The United States is committed to working with its international partners and the legitimate government of Lebanon to ensure that the tribunal is quickly established and that all those responsible for the assassinations of Rafiq Hariri and other Lebanese patriots since 2005 are brought to justice," he said.

"Support for a sovereign, democratic and prosperous Lebanon is a key element of US policy in the Middle East," Snow said in a statement.

"We are therefore increasingly concerned by mounting evidence that the Syrian and Iranian governments, Hezbollah and their Lebanese allies are preparing plans to topple Lebanon's democratically elected government, led by Prime Minister Siniora," he said.

"Any attempt to destabilize Lebanon's democratically elected government through such tactics as manufactured demonstrations and violence, or by physically threatening its leaders, would, at the very least, be a clear violation of Lebanon's sovereignty" and UN resolutions, said Snow.

Snow's comments came after Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, accused Lebanon's government of promoting the occupation of Lebanon by the UN force policing a ceasefire between his Shiite group and Israel.

The militia is calling for the formation of a government of national unity, and warning that it may call demonstrators into the streets if it does not get its way.

"What is happening in Lebanon is a purely domestic political issue," Syria's embassy said in a statement that urged Washington "to stop instigating the Lebanese people against each other and against other countries."

The war of words came two days after Lebanon's Druze leader Walid Jumblatt sought US backing for the international court to try suspects in Hariri's slaying.

Jumblatt said he discussed the proposed tribunal with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during an unannounced meeting here.

The Druze leader notably complained of opposition to the court from Lebanon's pro-Syrian President Emil Lahoud.

A draft text on the project was sent to Lebanese authorities by the UN on October 21. The tribunal has yet to be approved by the UN Security Council or by Lebanon's cabinet and parliament.

The idea for the international tribunal, which would meet outside Lebanon for security reasons, was floated in March by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Hariri was assassinated on February 14, 2005 in a massive bomb blast on the Beirut seafront that killed 22 others. The popular five-time prime minister had opposed the three-year extension of Lahoud's mandate, pushed through by Syria in 02004.
 
 
 Copyright 2005 AFP

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Siniora warns against Hezbollah ultimatum

BEIRUT, Lebanon - Prime Minister Fouad Siniora warned against pushing Lebanon to the abyss after Hezbollah has threatened to force his Cabinet's collapse by street protests.
"Taking matter to the verge of the abyss is not in the interests of anyone," Siniora said Wednesday, stressing that "we will resort to dialogue and consultations."

"Let no party think that it can be a winner because it is in nobody's interest for the country to collapse or become a struggle scene... Also, no party should try to push the other to a wall by saying 'either you take a certain decision or else...,'" Siniora added.

He stressed that Lebanon is passing through a very critical and sensitive phase that necessitates "patience, not tensions."

Hezbollah Secretary-General Seyed Hassan Nasrallah served a seven-day ultimatum to Siniora's government to resign and allow the formation of a national unity administration or he will force its collapse through street demonstrations.

In a three-hour interview with Hezbollah's Manar Television Tuesday night, Nasrallah called for dialogue with the opposition on the formation of a national unity government to include his Christian ally Gen. Michel Aoun, a former army commander and leader of the Free Patriotic Movement.

The proposal for dialogue on a new government was made by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, head of the Shiite Amal Movement, who suggested a week-long deadline to resolve the crisis instead of resorting to the streets, a move which is bound cause friction.

Meanwhile, the Christian Maronite clergy cautioned against a renewal of the war between Israel and Hezbollah under the pretext of continued arms smuggling to the Shiite militant group from Syria.

A statement by the Council of Maronite Archbishops said "Israel's violations of Lebanese air space, under the pretext of uninterrupted arms smuggling through the Lebanese-Syrian border, are worrying and raise fears of resumption of the war, from which all the Lebanese suffered its wrath." (UP


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No plan to oust Siniora: Syria

WASHINGTON - Syria has rejected US claims that it has been plotting with Iran and Hezbollah to oust the Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.
US President George W Bush's spokesman Tony Snow earlier said there was "mounting evidence" that Washington's two foes and the Shi'ite militia were "preparing plans to topple" the government.

But the Syrian embassy in Washington dismissed the claims as "ludicrous" and "unfounded" and accused the United States of abusing its power.

"In reference to the statements made by the White House press secretary, regarding the ludicrous accusations against Syria, the Embassy of Syria in Washington totally dismisses these unfounded allegations," a statement from the Syrian embassy said.

"It is a shame that the US, the world's superpower, is belittling itself to such petty politics.

"What is happening in Lebanon is a purely domestic political issue.

"Syria fully respects the sovereignty of Lebanon and does not interfere in its internal politics.

"Therefore, we call on the US to follow suit and to stop instigating the Lebanese people against each other and against other countries."

Details scant

Mr Snow refused to detail information underpinning the accusation, saying it was classified and that keeping the charge vague "serves a diplomatic purpose and an important one."

"We're making it clear to everybody in the region that we think that there ought to be hands off the Siniora government; let them go about and do their business," he said, referring to Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.

He said in a statement that Damascus apparently hoped to derail efforts to set up an international tribunal to try those accused of taking part in the 2005 murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

"Any such effort to sideline the tribunal will fail, however, for the international community can proceed with establishing it no matter what happens internally in Lebanon," said the spokesman.

"The United States is committed to working with its international partners and the legitimate government of Lebanon to ensure that the tribunal is quickly established and that all those responsible for the assassinations of Rafiq Hariri and other Lebanese patriots since 2005 are brought to justice," he said.

"Support for a sovereign, democratic and prosperous Lebanon is a key element of US policy in the Middle East," Mr Snow said.

"We are therefore increasingly concerned by mounting evidence that the Syrian and Iranian governments, Hezbollah and their Lebanese allies are preparing plans to topple Lebanon's democratically elected government, led by Prime Minister Siniora."

"Any attempt to destabilise Lebanon's democratically elected government through such tactics as manufactured demonstrations and violence, or by physically threatening its leaders, would, at the very least, be a clear violation of Lebanon's sovereignty" and UN resolutions, he said.

Demonstrations may follow

Mr Snow's comments came after Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, accused Lebanon's government of promoting the occupation of Lebanon by the UN force policing a ceasefire between his Shiite group and Israel.

The militia is calling for the formation of a government of national unity, and warning that it may call demonstrators into the streets if it does not get its way.

The war of words came two days after Lebanon's Druze leader Walid Jumblatt sought US backing for the international court to try suspects in Mr Hariri's slaying.

The Druze leader notably complained of opposition to the court from Lebanon's pro-Syrian President Emil Lahoud.

A draft text on the project was sent to Lebanese authorities by the UN on October 21. The tribunal has yet to be approved by the UN Security Council or by Lebanon's cabinet and parliament.

The idea for the international tribunal, which would meet outside Lebanon for security reasons, was floated in March by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Mr Hariri was assassinated on February 14, 2005 in a massive bomb blast in Beirut, which killed 22 others.
 
 
Copyright 2005 AFP

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Hezbollah rebuilds its military force under nose of UN
By Michael Hirst, Telegraph
 
 
Members of Palestinian militant group Ansar Allah with a poster of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah
 
Hezbollah has stepped up the rebuilding of its military infrastructure in southern Lebanon despite the deployment in recent weeks of thousands of Lebanese troops and international peacekeepers to limit the Islamic militant group's activities.

Standing firm against international pressure to disarm, the Shia group is rearming and rebuilding tunnels and trenches destroyed by the Israeli army during this summer's 34-day war.

Locals in Bint Jbeil, a town which saw fierce fighting, told yesterday how Hezbollah was using the major reconstruction efforts to rebuild their security infrastructure.

"They are working extremely fast," said one, who did not want to be named. "Militants in Shia strongholds have interconnected tunnels and bunkers under their houses. These are being rebuilt under cover of the reconstruction work."

He said cables and telecommunications equipment had been installed and the number of trucks delivering aid and supplies made it easy to disguise weapons smuggling.

advertisement"They have a security network of hundreds of motorcycles, linked up by walkie-talkies. Wherever outsiders move in the south they are followed. You don't see guns, but Hezbollah knows exactly where you are." On the crater-lined streets of Bint Jbeil, there was evidence of substantial reconstruction and young men on motorcycles, but it was impossible to discern whether any were Hezbollah fighters.

Another resident said: "Hezbollah is everywhere. But after the war the fighters put away their guns and uniforms and went back to being school teachers, engineers, farmers and business people."

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) argues that the presence of 8,800 "blue helmets" and 12,000 Lebanese soldiers between southern Lebanon's Litani river and the Israeli border since the Aug 14 ceasefire has severely restricted Hezbollah activity.

UN vehicles were in plentiful evidence yesterday, and at numerous points Lebanese soldiers scrutinised traffic.

"We have fixed outposts between which we patrol night and day," said Lt Laurent Trochet, the deputy commander of the French Unifil contingent based north of Bint Jbeil. "This makes the smuggling of arms very difficult."

But Lt Trochet admitted that the UN forces had very little intelligence about Hezbollah activity. "I imagine that the people here are Hezbollah, but they don't show themselves," he said. "We're trying to make contact with the militants, but it's difficult because they're so disciplined." UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which brought an end to the conflict, calls for Hezbollah to disarm and stop smuggling arms from Syria. The UN argues that its patrols have no mandate to disarm militants, merely to prevent the smuggling of arms, track suspicious trucks and boats, and report their findings to the Lebanese army.

But locals argue that Hezbollah's popularity among the south's predominantly Shia population has provided it with an extensive spying network, which makes such work increasingly difficult.

Despite increasing pressure from the international community for Hezbollah to put aside its weapons, analysts see it as highly unlikely that the group will disarm voluntarily.

Timur Goskel, a former Unifil spokesman with close connections to the group, said: "If Hezbollah is in parliament, having only been born in 1982, it's there because of the guns. They're never going to give those guns up."

In Bint Jbeil, the overwhelming feeling among the locals was that Hezbollah should keep its weapons.

"Still the Israelis come over the border, with their drones and jets" said one woman. "Only Hezbollah keeps us safe. If they leave the area, we will leave too."


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Syria says U.S. accusations on Lebanon "vilification"
DAMASCUS - A Syrian government newspaper said on Thursday U.S. accusations that Damascus is trying along with Iran and Hezbollah to topple the Lebanese government were "pure vilification."

The White House said on Wednesday Washington had evidence that Syria, Iran and their allies in the Shi'ite Muslim group were preparing to topple the Beirut government, which is dominated by U.S.-backed politicians.

"This pure vilification is meant to raise turmoil in Lebanon and cause fallout with Syria, which paid with blood to maintain Lebanese independence and sovereignty," an editorial in Syria's Baath daily said.

The newspaper said the U.S. government "which claims to know everything" should make public any evidence of the alleged Syrian role.

U.S. officials say the information is classified.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has given Prime Minister Fouad Siniora until the middle of this month to agree on the formation of a unity government or face protests demanding a new election.

A State Department spokesman said Nasrallah's ultimatum has raised U.S. concerns about the intentions of Hezbollah and other players toward Lebanon.

Anti-Syrian politicians had dismissed calls for a national unity government, saying such demands were aimed at regaining Syria's influence in Lebanon.

Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said Washington's strong support of Siniora's government could prove its undoing.

"Some love is fatal," Berri said in a statement. "Is it (the U.S. statement) meant to defend Lebanon or push it toward constructive chaos? Does it echo concern for the government or incitement against it?"

Berri, a Shi'ite Muslim leader allied to Hezbollah, has called for roundtable talks between various Lebanese leaders next week to discuss formation of a new government.

"Anyway, we reassure the White House that the Lebanese people have enough of a democratic tendency to make them resort to dialogue and consultations rather than to the advice of the protector of Israel which violates international resolutions every day and whose planes never depart our airspace," he said.

Syrian forces pulled out of Lebanon after a 29-year presence following last year's assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

A U.N. investigation implicated Syrian security officials in the killing. Damascus, which denies involvement, has deepened its ties with Tehran after facing increasing isolation by the West following the assassination. (Reuters)
 

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Lebanon power struggle raises fears of violence
BEIRUT, Lebanon - A bitter power struggle between Hezbollah and leaders of the Western-backed Beirut government threatens to spill into the streets 11 weeks after Lebanon emerged from a devastating war with Israel.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah vowed on Tuesday to stage peaceful protests demanding fresh elections unless his opponents agree to a national unity government by mid-November.

In a political atmosphere soured by mutual acrimony, such demonstrations could degenerate into violence, perpetuating instability and crippling prospects for postwar recovery.

“It’s a very volatile situation,” said Michel Naufal, foreign editor of al-Mustaqbal newspaper owned by the family of assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

Both sides feel betrayed and threatened.

Hezbollah accuses the anti-Syrian “March 14” coalition of failing to back it during the war and of supporting US-Israeli demands for the disarmament of its Shia Muslim guerrillas.

Nasrallah said the coalition was bent on expanding the mandate of UN peacekeepers in the south to other parts of Lebanon to neutralise Hezbollah’s military capacity.

The March 14 group, which won its parliamentary majority partly as a result of its electoral alliance with Hezbollah, blames Nasrallah for dragging Lebanon into a disastrous war at the behest of its Syrian and Iranian allies.

The struggle reflects a wider conflict in which Hezbollah follows an Islamist-Arab nationalist agenda of resistance to US-Israeli “hegemony” and pro-Western Arab leaders.

Hezbollah’s Sunni Muslim, Druze and Christian critics fear this will draw Lebanon into a Syrian-Iranian axis and shatter hopes for independence after Syria withdrew its troops last year following mass protests over Hariri’s Feb. 14 assassination.

“They are fighting over matters of high principle,” said Hilal Khashan, a political science professor at the American University of Beirut. “Each wants to get rid of the other.”

Crisis talks

Nabih Berri, Parliament Speaker and Amal leader, has asked the two sides to meet next week to defuse the crisis.

But no sign of a compromise has yet emerged over Nasrallah’s demand that Hezbollah and its allies -- the Shia Amal faction and Christian leader Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement -- make up a third of the cabinet, enough to block any decisions.

A possible tradeoff would be for the March 14 group backing Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s government to agree to an expanded cabinet on condition that plans proceed for a tribunal with an international character to try Hariri’s killers.

The tribunal has fuelled a side-conflict between the March 14 group and pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, whose removal is one of the majority coalition’s key demands.

A new president must be elected by parliament within the next 12 months, setting the stage for another struggle, heralded by Nasrallah’s threat to demand early legislative polls under a revised electoral law if he does not get his way on the cabinet.

“If there is no compromise by the March 14 group, Hezbollah will try to overthrow the government, which will be highly destabilising because Hezbollah is questioning the system’s legitimacy,” said Amal Saad Ghorayeb, an expert on Hezbollah.

“They are saying parliament and the government are not representative at the popular level,” she added.

A previous “national dialogue” organised by Berri before the July-August war already suggested that flaws in representation prompted the recourse to a forum outside parliament and cabinet.

Hezbollah and Amal have five ministers in the cabinet, but Aoun, the election victor in Maronite Christian heartlands, was excluded and has now aligned himself with the pro-Syrian Shia factions -- despite his past record as a fierce foe of Damascus.

Ghorayeb said the March 14 coalition faced an unpalatable choice in how to deal with the demand for a unity cabinet.

“If they agree, they will effectively lose the ability to impose their decisions. If they refuse, the government will fall and the whole system will be delegitimised,” she argued.

UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen has described the situation in Lebanon as worrying. “The political rhetoric shows there are very high tensions,” he told reporters in New York this week.

The spectre of street confrontations turning violent scares many Lebanese still traumatised by the 1975-90 civil war. The language some politicians are using will not reassure them.

“Protest will be met by protest. The bullet will not be confronted with a flower,” declared Akram Shuhayeb, a member of parliament and senior aide to Druze leader Walid Jumblat.  (Reuters


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Israel's Peres voices doubt over British overtures to Syria
LONDON - Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres voiced doubts over Britain's attempt to push Syria to play a positive role in the Middle East peace process "because of the Syrians", The Guardian reported on Thursday.

According to The Guardian, Peres told reporters in London: "I wouldn't like to make any remarks about British movements (but) I'm sceptical, not because of Britain but because of the Syrians."

This week Sir Nigel Sheinwald, Blair's most senior foreign policy advisor, travelled to Damascus, meeting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and other senior figures.

According to the Financial Times, which first reported the British official's trip to Damascus, the initiative is aimed at pressing Syria to cease its support for radical groups.

Peres said that Israel would like to negotiate with Assad, but it would not do so while Syria supported the Hamas and Hezbollah militias and demanded the return of the Golan Heights, which Israel seized in 1967, as a pre-condition for negotiations.

"I for one would like to see us negotiating with the Syrians, but again the Syrians are having a double approach," Peres said.

"They are hosting in Syria the leadership of Hamas, the most extreme part of it. They are helping Hezbollah and we are suspicious they are continuing to supply Hamas with arms.

"And ... they're talking about peace, but with reservations. They say they are for peace but they would not like to meet the Israelis. How can you do it? You can not make peace by proxy."

Peres said that while he supported the idea of "engagement by the quartet (the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States) ... it will be very hard to have any negotiations without American participation."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair will make a fresh trip to the Middle East before the end of the year, his spokesman said Wednesday, as transatlantic efforts to seek peace in the region were renewed.

"The prime minister, following his visit to Jerusalem, Ramallah and Beirut (in September), said that he would be returning to the region some time later this year and .. it is still his intention to do so," said Blair's spokesman.
 
 
Copyright 2005 AFP

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Murr: 20,000 Troops Across Beirut to Thwart Riots, Siege
Defense Minister Elias Murr has said that 20,000 Lebanese troops were already deployed across Beirut to thwart possible riots or siege of any public institution following threats by Hizbullah leader to "go to the streets" November 13 if a national unity government was not formed.
"The Lebanese army will be on the lookout for anybody, any rebel, or any side that attempts to benefit from the would-be demonstrations or sit-ins by causing unrest," Murr said in a Wednesday night interview with Future television.

He said that the military "would do what it has to do even if the government did not ask them to do so."

Murr also warned that the Lebanese army will "prevent the siege of any public institution, be it the prime ministry or the parliament … or the presidential headquarters."

"Let no one fear riots because the army, which now numbers 60,000, has 20,000 of its special forces deployed in Beirut," Murr assured the Lebanese.

His statement came a day after Nasrallah warned of street demonstrations if the roundtable dialogue failed to produce a national unity government, a key demand by the Shiite group and its allies.
Speaker Nabih Berri, a Hizbullah ally, has called for the resumption of the stalled national talks among Lebanon's rival leaders to consider a national unity government and the adoption of a new electoral law to end the political stalemate.

The dialogue, which was first set for October 30, has been postponed until Monday, November 6 because of the absence of several top anti-Syrian leaders.

Nasrallah warned that if talks fail, Hizbullah would "go to the streets" to demand a unity government and call for early parliamentary elections.

Hizbullah is calling for the formation of a national unity government to "face up to the challenges with which Lebanon is confronted." It wants the inclusion of other political groups, particularly that of its Christian ally, former General Michel Aoun.

Nasrallah said Hizbullah, despite attempts to keep arms from being smuggled to the Shiite group, has "regained all its vigor." The group has 33,000 rockets, he said -- up from the 22,000 he said his fighters had on Sept. 22.
 
 
 

Beirut, 02 Nov 06, 09:36


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Israeli Army Document: Overflights Aimed to Pressure International Community
An internal Israeli military document says the air force's controversial flights over Lebanon are intended in part to pressure the international community to take action to stop arms smuggling to Hizbullah and release two abducted soldiers, a senior Defense Ministry official in Jerusalem said Thursday.
Israeli officials have previously said the overflights are routine reconnaissance operations designed to gather intelligence about Hizbullah fighters, who clashed with Israel over the summer in a monthlong war.

The document, titled "Strategic diplomatic messages: the army must continue overflights to secure international pressure," was approved by chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, the official said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Aviv Shir-On said it wasn't the job of the Israel Defense Forces to set political objectives.

"I'm not familiar with this document. But if political goals are indeed defined in an IDF document, this matter must be looked into because ... the IDF is in charge of Israel's security and others are in charge of political goals," Shir-On told Israel Army Radio.

The army had no immediate comment.

Lebanon and the United Nations have called on Israel to halt military flights over Lebanese territory, calling them a violation of the U.N.-brokered resolution that ended the war on Aug. 14.

Israel insists the flights must continue because arms are still smuggled to Hizbullah, which is backed by Syria and Iran, and the soldiers have not been freed, in violation of the cease-fire. Hizbullah's kidnapping of the soldiers on July 12 sparked the 34-days offensive on Lebanon.

U.N. envoy Terje Roed-Larsen confirmed Israel's assertions on Tuesday when he said the Lebanese government has reported arms smuggling into Lebanon from Syria since the truce. Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah also said the group had reinforced its arsenal although Foreign Minister Fawzi Sallukh on Wednesday denied Roed-Larsen's suggestions.

Hours after Roed-Larsen spoke, Israeli fighter jets roared over Hizbullah strongholds in the strongest show of force since the war ended.(AP-Naharnet) (AFP photo shows Lebanese Army officers pointing at Israeli soldiers standing on the other side of the border in south Lebanon)
 
 
 

Beirut, 02 Nov 06, 12:14


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Hizbullah Snaps Back at U.S. Accusations, Berri Suspicious About American Intentions
Hizbullah has denied a White House accusation that it sought to topple Premier Fouad Saniora's government, and Speaker Nabih Berri voiced suspicion about America's intentions with such statements.
The group accused Washington on Wednesday of interfering in Lebanese politics by trying to shore up Saniora's government.

"It is just one more American interference in Lebanese affairs," chief Hizbullah spokesman Hussein Rahhal told al-Arabiya television channel.

Hizbullah and its allies' demands for a "national unity" cabinet in Lebanon "has nothing to do with Syria and Iran," he said.

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said Wednesday that "mounting evidence" showed Syria and Iran were teaming up with Hizbullah to topple the Lebanese government. Syria and Iran are the group's primary backers.

Snow told reporters that any attempt to stir demonstrations, threaten or use violence against Lebanon's U.S.-backed leaders would be a clear violation of the country's sovereignty and of three U.N. Security Council resolutions.

But Rahhal said the U.S. was trying to boost Saniora's regime, against the will of the majority of Lebanese.

"It is clear that the charges are aimed at supporting Saniora's government after the Americans felt that it enjoys no popular support, and that it lacks the support needed to continue," he said.

The White House accusation came a day after Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah issued an ultimatum for the Lebanese government to form a new cabinet by Nov. 13 -- one in which the group and its allies would have veto power over key decisions. Otherwise, Nasrallah threatened to stage street protests that could bring down the government and force early elections.

Nasrallah said a dialogue among political leaders that Berri has called for next week would offer an opportunity to reach a compromise.

There was no immediate reaction from Saniora's office on Wednesday. But Berri, a close Hizbullah ally, was quick to criticize the White House.

"Love sometimes can be deadly," Berri said in comments carried by the official National News Agency. "Is it in defense of Lebanon? Or is it to push Lebanon toward the creative chaos? Is it out of keenness for the (Lebanese) government or incitement against it?"

Berri also said "the Lebanese have the democratic heritage to resort to dialogue and consultations and not to the advice of the protectors of Israel which violates international resolutions every day." He was referring to the United States.

Snow said there were indications that Syria wants to prevent the Saniora government from approving the statute for an international tribunal that would try those accused of involvement in former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's 2005 assassination.

A Lebanese agreement to form the tribunal has been held up in Beirut. President Emile Lahoud, a staunch pro-Syrian, on Monday objected to the draft document setting up the international court, and declared no agreement could pass without his approval.

Lahoud's security chiefs are under arrest in connection with Hariri's killing. The U.N. commission investigating Hariri's killing has implicated top Syrian and Lebanese security officials, a charge Syria denies.

Last month, the U.N. handed Lebanese authorities a draft document spelling out details of the structure and legal framework for the international tribunal.(AP-Naharnet) (AFP photo is of Speaker Nabih Berri)
 
 
 

Beirut, 02 Nov 06, 08:38


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Grenade Attack on Helou Barracks for 2nd Time in 3 Weeks, No Casualties
Unknown gunmen fired a rifle grenade at a police garrison in Beirut Wednesday night, causing minor material damage, but no casualties, security sources said.
They said the grenade exploded at the rooftop of the Helou barracks in the Mar Elias commercial thoroughfare shortly after night fall.

Police deployed around the barracks after the attack, the sources said.

The Helou police station was subject to a similar attack nearly three weeks ago as part of a series of assaults aimed at destabilizing the security situation in Lebanon.

Four similar security incidents took place in Beirut last month, including most recently the October 25 detonation of a small amount of dynamite on a road running next to the Mediterranean, also causing no casualties.

On October 15, six civilians were slightly wounded when rockets hit the Assayleh building next to the U.N. headquarters and Premier Fouad Saniora's offices in downtown Beirut.

Police barracks were also targeted by grenades in two other October incidents that caused no casualties.

The Lebanese government recently decided to set up a network of surveillance cameras in Beirut and its suburbs, two years after the start of a spate of bombing attacks that mainly targeted figures who opposed Syrian domination.

Among those targeted was former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed by a massive car bomb in the capital in February 2005.(Naharnet-AFP) 
 
 

Beirut, 02 Nov 06, 10:59
 


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U.S.: 'Mounting Evidence' of Plan to Topple Saniora's Government
The White House on Wednesday sounded the alarm over what it called "mounting evidence" that Iran, Syria, and Hizbullah were "preparing plans to topple" Premier Fouad Saniora's government.
"Support for a sovereign, democratic, and prosperous Lebanon is a key element of U.S. policy in the Middle East," spokesman Tony Snow said in a statement.

"We are therefore increasingly concerned by mounting evidence that the Syrian and Iranian governments, Hizbullah, and their Lebanese allies are preparing plans to topple Lebanon's democratically-elected government led by Prime Minister Saniora," said Snow.

Last week, a well-known U.S. official told An Nahar newspaper that Syria was preparing an "intimidating political campaign" to overthrow the Lebanese government through Gen. Michel Aoun and his allies.

Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement and Hizbullah have been recently calling for the resignation of Saniora's government and the formation of a national unity cabinet. On Tuesday, Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah warned of street demonstrations if rival political leaders scheduled to meet at parliament Monday fail to agree on his demands.
"Any attempt to destabilize Lebanon's democratically-elected government through such tactics as manufactured demonstrations and violence, or by physically threatening its leaders would, at the very least, be a clear violation of Lebanon's sovereignty and United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1559, 1680, and 1701," said Snow.

He accused also Syria of trying to obstruct the formation of an international tribunal to try ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's assassins.

"There are indications that one goal of the Syrian plan is to prevent the current Lebanese government from approving the statute for an international tribunal…Any such effort to sideline the tribunal will fail, however, for the international community can proceed with establishing it no matter what happens internally in Lebanon," Snow said.

The statement came two days after Druze leader Walid Jumblat sought U.S. backing for the international court to try suspects in Hariri's Feb. 2005 slaying.

Jumblat said he discussed the proposed tribunal with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington.

The Druze leader notably complained of opposition to the court from pro-Syrian President Emil Lahoud.

"If someone opposes this international court, that means that he is covering up the crime," Jumblat said.(Naharnet-AFP)
 
 
 

Beirut, 01 Nov 06, 18:00


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Sallukh: No Weapons Being Smuggled in from Syria
Foreign Minister Fawzi Sallukh denied Wednesday suggestions by U.N. envoy Terje Roed-Larsen that arms were still being smuggled in to Hizbullah from Syria.
"The Lebanese army has deployed on the Lebanese-Syrian border since August 17 with about 8,500 troops, with forces also on the maritime borders and in territorial waters," said the minister.

"Since that date no arms shipments have been seized on the land or maritime borders, and we know that the measures we have adopted are so tight that it is impossible for any shipment to enter without being seized," he said.

"These facts are confirmed by the Lebanese army command, which is the relevant authority."

Without referring to him by name, Sallukh criticized Roed Larsen for saying on Monday that he had been informed by Lebanese authorities that undisclosed quantities of unspecified weapons were still being smuggled in.

Roed Larsen told reporters at the U.N. headquarters in New York however that the Beirut authorities gave no details on quantities or types of weapons.

Sallukh said: "We have previously asked for a clear and transparent mechanism to inform the United Nations about the situation in Lebanon in an official and documented way."

"It is better than having people exploiting allegations ... which affect the stability of Lebanon and the region."

Israel has justified its continued violation of Lebanese airspace in defiance of international criticism as a means of monitoring what it says is persistent arms smuggling by Hizbullah.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which put an end to a month of devastating fighting between Israel and Hizbullah in July and August, required the Lebanese army to deploy to the international border to prevent arms smuggling.

It also authorized an expanded U.N. peacekeeping force to help the Lebanese army to secure the border if requested.(AFP-Naharnet) 
 
 

Beirut, 01 Nov 06, 17:32


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Bishops Worried Over Mounting Divisions Among Lebanese
The Council of Maronite Bishops expressed concern on Wednesday about growing divisions among Lebanese over the international tribunal that would try ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's assassins and demands for the formation of a national unity government.
The bishops, in a statement released after their monthly meeting, urged the Lebanese to unite and to work for the interest of the country.

The council "expresses sorry for the… division over the international court, the national unity government and the new electoral law," the statement said.

"This calls on all Lebanese to work for the Lebanese interest" rather than the interest of factions, it added.

The Bishops' reaction came a day after Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah warned that his group will resort to street demonstrations if the roundtable dialogue failed to produce a national unity government.

Hizbullah and Gen. Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement have been calling for the toppling of Premier Fouad Saniora's government and the formation of a national unity cabinet.

Rival leaders – Christian and Muslim, Pro-Syrian and anti-Syrian – are scheduled to hold roundtable consultations in parliament on Monday to discuss the issue of the government and the electoral law.

The statement also came a few days after Pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud slammed the international tribunal to try Hariri's suspected assassins.

The anti-Syrian parliamentary majority accuses Lahoud and pro-Syrian groups of calling for the formation of a national unity government to obstruct the formation of the court.

Hariri was killed in February 2005 along with 22 others in a huge bombing on the Beirut seafront. 
 
 

Beirut, 01 Nov 06, 10:57


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Nasrallah Warns of 'Street Demonstrations' if National Unity Government is not Formed
Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has warned of "street demonstrations" if the roundtable dialogue failed to produce a national unity government.
In a late Tuesday interview with Al-Manar television channel, Nasrallah accused the parliamentary "ruling majority" of seeking to transform the beefed up U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) into a multinational force whose mandate would be to disarm Hizbullah.

"The ruling majority is seeking to make UNIFIL ... occupy Lebanon and disarm the (Hizbullah) resistance," Nasrallah charged.

He warned that any attempts by an international force to disarm the resistance would transform Lebanon into another Iraq or Afghanistan, adding that "this plan was already hoped for by the (leadership) before the Israeli aggression. It is an American-Israeli demand."

In the three-hour taped television interview, Nasrallah also said that "serious negotiations" were under way over the fate of two Israeli soldiers whose July 12 capture by his group sparked a month of brutal fighting in Lebanon.
He said a negotiator appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has been meeting with Hizbullah and Israeli officials.

Nasrallah has offered to exchange the two Israeli soldiers for Arab prisoners in Israeli jails, but Israel has repeatedly refused. Although the U.N. resolution that ended the 34-day war called for the soldiers' unconditional release, Israel has exchanged prisoners in the past.

Speaker Nabih Berri, a Hizbullah ally, has called for a national dialogue among Lebanon's rival political leaders to consider a national unity government and the adoption of a new electoral law to end the political stalemate.

The talks have been postponed until Monday, November 6 because of the absence of several anti-Syrian leaders.

Nasrallah warned that if talks fail, Hizbullah would "go to the streets" to demand a unity government and call for early parliamentary elections

"If dialogue does not result in a government of national unity, we will resort to street demonstrations," Nasrallah warned. "It is our constitutional right, our democratic right to express out opinions in the street."

Hizbullah is calling for the formation of a national unity government to "face up to the challenges with which Lebanon is confronted." It wants the inclusion of other political groups, particularly that of its Christian ally, former General Michel Aoun.

Nasrallah also accused the "ruling majority" of seeking to sow fear among the public by harping on insecurity in the country.

"The ruling majority is weak and frightened," he said. "It has lost all credibility in the street."

Nasrallah said the U.N. resolutions "were for the benefit of Israel and not for Lebanon."

He said Hizbullah, despite attempts to keep arms from being smuggled to the Shiite group, has "regained all its vigor." The group has 33,000 rockets, he said -- up from the 22,000 he said his fighters had on Sept. 22.

"The resistance in Lebanon is strong, cohesive, able and ready, and they will not be able to undermine it no matter what the challenges are," he said.

The Hizbullah chief also accused the United States of being responsible for continued violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying U.S. policy in the region has failed.

"Afghanistan is a failure ... In Iraq, there is clear failure on the security, military and political levels ... Who shoulders responsibility? It's the American administration and the occupation forces in control of the situation," he said.

Nasrallah said America's plans in the Middle East face "failure, frustration and a state of collapse," and predicted the U.S. would be forced to leave the region in the future -- just like it left Vietnam after the war there three decades ago.(AFP-AP-Naharnet)
 
 
 

Beirut, 01 Nov 06, 06:46


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Jumblat: Hizbullah Advocated Street Demonstrations Will Paralyze Lebanon
Druze leader Walid Jumblat has warned that Hizbullah advocated street demonstrations to topple Premier Fouad Saniora's government would paralyze the country and cause "chaos."
Jumblat's comments were made Tuesday during a panel discussion at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, at the end of a U.S. visit where he met with top U.S. officials.

On Hizbullah's demands for the formation of a national unity government, Jumblat said that the Shiite group and its Christian ally General Michel Aoun intended to form a new cabinet so they could control one-third of the government.

If the current government is overthrown, Jumblat said, "the country would live in paralysis."

He said that the reason behind this demand "is to cause chaos, stop the international tribunal" and interrupt the implementation of U.N. resolutions."

The idea for the international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of Premier Rafik Hariri, was floated in March by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Hariri was killed along with 22 others in a massive truck bombing in Beirut in February 2005, sparking large anti-Syrian protests in Beirut and leading, along with international pressure, to the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon that ended nearly 30 years of military presence.

About means to disarm Hizbullah, Jumblat said that "we should persuade (Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali) Khamenei," adding that "our problem with Hizbullah is that it (the group) is an arc that begins in Lebanon, passes through Syria and ends in Iran."

Jumblat emphasized the significance of establishing an international tribunal which is the only way "to deter the Syrian regime and bring the (suspected) leaders before justice, including Damascus' ruler," a reference to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

"Without the international tribunal, Bashar Assad will not leave us in peace," he said.

Jumblat accused Syria of wanting to keep the issue of the Shabaa Farms area "vague," describing it as a "Syrian trick."

Shabaa lies at the convergence of the Lebanese-Syrian-Israeli borders. Israel captured the area from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war, and it is now claimed by Lebanon with Damascus's consent.

Israeli troops have retained control of Shabaa Farms since their withdrawal from south Lebanon in May 2000 after two decades of occupation and has remained the flashpoint for cross-border fighting since then.

Jumblat said that the anti-Syrian March 14 Forces had suggested during the first round of national talks earlier in March that Lebanon adopt the Swiss system where every Swiss is an army member.

Jumblat said that Nasrallah has to choose between wanting to be "part of Lebanon and adhere to the Lebanese law … or be a state within the state, which is the current situation."
 
 
 

Beirut, 01 Nov 06, 13:2


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Israel: We will Continue Overflights Despite Protests
Israeli warplanes will continue to overfly Lebanon despite protests from the United Nations and Beirut, an Israeli minister told public radio Wednesday.
"They can protest for as long as they like. Our reconnaissance flights will continue," deputy defense minister Ephraim Sneh said in response to a question about the fierce international criticism of the flights.

His comments come a day after the U.N. and France, which commands the U.N. peacekeeping force overseeing a truce that ended this summer's war between the Jewish state and Hizbullah, called on Israel to halt the overflights which they said were a violation of the ceasefire.

"We consider them contrary to the spirit and the letter of Resolution 1701," the U.N. Security Council resolution adopted in August that ended the July-August war, French foreign ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said.

"We call for all the parties to abstain from any act that could fuel or escalate tensions," Mattei told reporters.

A U.N. statement issued in the name of special envoy to Lebanon, Geir Pedersen, condemned the persistent violations of Lebanese airspace.

"Geir Pedersen expresses his serious concern at the continuing overflights by Israel which constitute a breach of Lebanese sovereignty and specifically of Security Council Resolution 1701," it said.

Spain's defense minister Jose Antonio Alonso and the EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana also "asked clearly" the Israeli government to end its air force's operations over Lebanon.

On Tuesday, Israeli fighter jets carried out intensive mock air raids at low altitude over Beirut and south Lebanon.

The overflights were concentrated over the capital's southern suburbs that were devastated by the war, security officials said.

In the south, where the French-commanded peacekeeping force is policing the ceasefire resolution that came into force on August 14, the warplanes also carried out low-altitude mock raids, police said.(AFP-Naharnet) 
 
 

Beirut, 01 Nov 06, 09:51


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Report: Hizbullah Rebuilds Military Force Despite U.N. Presence
Hizbullah has stepped up the rebuilding of its military infrastructure despite the deployment of Lebanese troops and U.N. peacekeepers in southern Lebanon, a British daily has said.
"Standing firm against international pressure to disarm, the Shiite group is rearming and rebuilding tunnels and trenches destroyed by the Israeli army during this summer's 34-day war," The Daily Telegraph reported Tuesday.

It quoted a Bint Jbeil resident in the south as saying that Hizbullah is working fast to rebuild its security infrastructure.

"Militants in Shiite strongholds have interconnected tunnels and bunkers under their houses. These are being rebuilt under cover of the reconstruction work," the man told the daily.

He also said "cables and telecommunications equipment had been installed and the number of trucks delivering aid and supplies made it easy to disguise weapons smuggling."

The daily quoted another resident as saying that "Hizbullah is everywhere. But after the war the fighters put away their guns and uniforms and went back to being school teachers, engineers, farmers and business people."

However, The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon argues that the presence of 8,800 peacekeepers and more than 12,000 Lebanese soldiers south of the Litani river has severely restricted Hizbullah activity.

Deputy commander of the French UNIFIL contingent based north of Bint Jbeil Lt Laurent Trochet told the daily: "We have fixed outposts between which we patrol night and day…This makes the smuggling of arms very difficult."

But, according to the Daily Telegraph, Lt Trochet admitted that the U.N. forces had very little intelligence about Hizbullah activity. "I imagine that the people here are Hizbullah, but they don't show themselves," he said.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 which brought an end to the Israel-Hizbullah war on August 14, calls on Hizbullah to disarm and urges the end of arms smuggling to the group.(AFP photo shows a Hizbullah flag flying behind French soldiers on patrol in the southern village of Bint Jbeil)
 
 
 

Beirut, 01 Nov 06, 10:45


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Spain, EU Ask Israel to Stop Lebanon Overflights
Spain's defense minister Jose Antonio Alonso and the EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana on Tuesday called for Israel to stop flights over Lebanon.
Alonso and Solana "asked clearly" the Israeli government to end its air force's operations over Lebanon, they said at a joint press conference in Madrid.

The Israeli air force on Tuesday flew repeatedly at low altitude over Beirut and southern Lebanon, where the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is deployed, provoking a military response from Lebanon which said it had fired anti-aircraft weapons.

France repeated its call for an end to overflights on Tuesday, saying it constituted "a violation of Lebanese sovereignty."

Alonso and Solana said after their meeting in Madrid that Israel must respect resolution 1701 of the U.N. Security Council on Lebanon "like everyone else."

Solana said the overflights "clearly" weaken the U.N.'s mandate in Lebanon.(AFP) 
 
 

Beirut, 31 Oct 06, 21:03


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Washington warns of 'mounting evidence' of bid to bring down Siniora Cabinet
White house says it supports a 'sovereign, democratic' lebanon

By Leila Hatoum
Daily Star staff
Thursday, November 02, 2006


BEIRUT: Washington warned of "mounting evidence" Wednesday that Iran, Syria and Hizbullah are "preparing plans to topple" the Lebanese government. White House spokesman Tony Snow said in a statement that "support for a sovereign, democratic and prosperous Lebanon is a key element of US policy in the Middle East."

"We are therefore increasingly concerned by mounting evidence that the Syrian and Iranian governments, Hizbullah and their Lebanese allies are preparing plans to topple Lebanon's democratically elected government, led by Prime Minister [Fouad] Siniora," Snow added.

"Any attempt to destabilize Lebanon's democratically elected government through such tactics as manufactured demonstrations and violence, or by physically threatening its leaders, would, at the very least, be a clear violation of Lebanon's sovereignty" and UN resolutions, he said.

Hizbullah's leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, warned late Tuesday that Hizbullah and its allies will take to the streets "for as long as it takes ... to either topple the government or hold early and new parliamentary

elections," if consultations to form a national unity government should fail.

In an interview with Hizbullah's Al-Manar television, Nasrallah said it is a democratic right to demand the change of a government through "peaceful demonstrations."

"Those who are currently in the government demonstrated in the streets last year until they toppled the Cabinet of Premier Omar Karami," he noted. "Why aren't we allowed to do the same? If we demand this right, they call us rioters?"

March 14 Forces member Fares Soueid said Wednesday that his allies "took to the streets last year against Syria and its [allies] in Lebanon. Against whom does Nasrallah want to demonstrate this time?"

Meanwhile, in comments made after a meeting between Speaker Nabih Berri and Siniora, the premier denied claims by UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen that a Lebanese official said arms continued to be smuggled across the Syrian border.

"Neither the government, nor I, have informed anyone of this matter," the premier said.

In related comments, Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh said Wednesday that since the Lebanese Army was deployed along the Syrian-Lebanese border in August, "no truckloads of weapons were caught entering the country from land or sea ... There are strict procedures being taken so that if there are any attempt to smuggle weapons, then they will be seized."

Siniora also accused Nasrallah of launching "inaccurate and aggressive" accusations against the government.

"Sayyed Hassan knows that what he said is inaccurate," the prime minister said.

Nasrallah had accused unidentified members of the government of trying to "mortgage the country" to the US and of plotting the expansion of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) into an "occupation power to help them to control the country."

The resistance leader said Hizbullah welcomed UNIFIL, as long as it did not have a Chapter Seven mandate, "or else the resistance will deal with them as an occupation."

"Many countries taking part in UNIFIL contacted Hizbullah beforehand to get guarantees and we gave them the guarantees they needed," he added.

Concerning consultations set to begin next Monday and calls for the formation of a national unity government, Siniora said: "We will take part in the consultations ... When we sit down for discussions, we will find Lebanon's best interests. We all know each has taken things to the extreme ... It is in no one's interests to turn the country into a battlefield or corner someone with the option of taking a decision 'or else.'"

A source close to Berri, the sponsor of the latest national talks, said Wednesday that the first round of consultations will take place on Monday, and that all party leaders and prominent politicians will attend, except for Nasrallah, who will be represented by the head of Loyalty to the Resistance parliamentary bloc, MP Mohammad Raad.

The consultations will focus on two topics: a national unity government and a new electoral law, the source added.

Any discussions on the presidential file "must meet with the acceptance of all Christian leaders," the source said.

Nawaf Mussawi, Hizbullah's foreign affairs officer, said the government had to go.

"We ask this helpless government," he said, "which couldn't stop the [Israeli] onslaught or reconstruct the country or preserve Lebanon's sovereignty by giving parts of it to the occupation in preparation to fully handing it over, what is the use for it to stay?"

"Why should a government stay if its premier has nothing to do but to watch ... Nasrallah's televised interview, then issue a curative statement in which he speaks of his resistance through politics?" he asked. "Nasrallah didn't name Siniora or accuse him of things, but apparently 'the needle pricks the person putting it under his armpit.'"

Siniora's office issued a statement late Tuesday night, denying Nasrallah's accusation that governmental officials and the March 14 Forces wagered on the US disarming Hizbullah during this summer's war.

Chouf MP Marwan Hamadeh said Nasrallah's comments were "unacceptable, especially a one-week deadline for those attending the consultations to approve a national unity government.

"This is not the way that a national unity government is formed," he added.

Hamadeh said he was concerned by "attempts to block every constitutional institution in the country through a political coup d'etat." - With agencies


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Mount Lebanon mufti lashes out at Hizbullah

By Maher Zeineddine
Daily Star staff
Thursday, November 02, 2006


CHOUF: Mount Lebanon Mufti Mohammad Ali Jouzou had harsh words for Hizbullah and its allies Wednesday, bluntly accusing the resistance of serving Iranian and Syrian interests.

"All of the exploits Hizbullah brags about are purely Persian deeds, and do not benefit the Arabs or Arabism in any way," the mufti said.

In comments made during a meeting with a delegation from the Progressive Youth Movement (PYP), Jouzou said that Lebanon - through Hizbullah - was being controlled by Iran.

"Whoever does not see eye to eye with them is accused of being pro-American, and that is illogical," Jouzou added.

The Mount Lebanon leader said he could not see the logic in bringing "a country to rubble" for the liberation of three detainees in Israeli prisons, in reference to the number of Leb-anese detainees held by Israel.

Jouzou added that Hizbullah's claims of having maintained close ties with former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri were unfounded, "especially given that directly following the murder of Hariri, Hizbullah organized the March 8 rally in tribute to Hariri's murderers," in reference to the Syrian leadership.
http://www.dailystar.com.lb

Responding to President Emile Lahoud's remarks on the formation of an international court to try those accused of Hariri's assassination, Jouzo said: "Lahoud's stance serves a sole purpose, that of defending his position along with that of the four former security chiefs and the Syrian regime."

MP Alaeddine Terro, who presided over the PYP meeting with Jouzou, said the delegation had come to express support for Jouzo's stands.

The PYP and Druze MP Walid Jumblatt "condemn the harsh campaign against Jouzzo" being led by Hizbullah and its allies, he said.

Terro added that the opposition's demands for the formation of a national unity government and Lahoud's recent report on the establishment of an international court were aimed at preventing the formation of an international tribunal and concealing the identities of "Lebanese and Syrian parties who assassinated Hariri."


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National Gathering Sunnis say Dar al-Fatwa is 'for all Lebanese'


Daily Star staff
Thursday, November 02, 2006

 

BEIRUT: Sunni members of the National Gathering said Wednesday Dar al-Fatwa "is for all the Lebanese people and should not side with a certain party." In a statement issued after a two-hour meeting at the home of former Minister Abdel-Rahim Mrad, the Gathering's Sunni figures said they had decided to expand the framework of their meeting to include additional Sunni leaders in order to "rectify Dar al-Fatwa's path and restore its national role."

The meeting, headed by former Prime Minister Omar Karami, included Sidon MP Osama Saad, former MPs Fathi Yakan, Jihad Samad, Wajih Baarini, Adnan Arakji and Bahaeddine Itani, as well as former Minister Zaher Khatib.

Responding to questions from reporters about Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea's recent visit to Dar al-Fatwa, the Sunni community's highest religious body, Karami said: "The [national] dialogue is one thing, visiting the mufti is another."

"We support a well-founded national reconciliation that preserves dignity at least," he said.

Geagea traveled to Dar al-Fatwa last week for a meeting with Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani.

"The issue is not that of Rashid Karami ... There are thousands of people of all sects, especially Sunnis, who were killed and assassinated for their sectarian affiliation. Headed by Geagea, the LF was responsible for that," Karami said.

"Let [Geagea] apologize, at least" for the death of former Premier Rashid Karami, the late leader's brother said.

Meanwhile, delegations from various Lebanese regions flooded to Dar al-Fatwa to denounce the "attack" on Qabbani.

"Whoever tries to attack Dar al-Fatwa or Qabbani will be attacking all of the Muslims and all of the Lebanese," Future Movement MP Ammar Houri said.

"In the name of the Future Movement, and in the name of its leader, MP Saad Hariri, we came here to express our readiness to offer any sacrifice for the sake of Dar al-Fatwa," Houri added. "We will not allow anyone to attack Dar al-Fatwa, the mufti, or any of our religious figures."

Karami has repeatedly accused Geagea of planning his brother's 1987 assassination.

Rashid Karami was killed by a bomb placed inside an army helicopter that was bringing the then-premier to Beirut from Tripoli during the height of the 1975-1990 Civil War.

"Our objective is to spare the Sunnis divisions," Karami said. "Resorting to the street is not confirmed yet ... We are ready to take all the necessary measures in order to keep the sect away from partition." - The Daily Star


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Berri says Israeli attacks targeted commercial rivals

By Leila Hatoum
Daily Star staff
Thursday, November 02, 2006


BEIRUT: Israel targeted Lebanese factories which rivaled Israeli factories during the recent month-long war in Lebanon, Speaker Nabih Berri said Wednesday. Addressing MPs during a Parliament session to discuss and pass laws Wednesday, Berri, who was calling for a vote on a draft-law concerning importing dairy products from abroad, said: "The only reason behind the Israeli targeting of the Lebanese factories is the competition the Lebanese factories created."

"Israel destroyed the Liban Lait dairy factory simply because it won a bid over an Israeli company to provide [the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] with milk and dairy products," he added.

The speaker said several other Lebanese factories in the South, Choueifat and the Bekaa Valley were destroyed because they "at one point or another, went into international bids against Israeli companies."

Wednesday's session of Parliament was relatively calmer than that on Tuesday, with MPs discussing and passing laws rather than engaging in tense debates on the presidency and the government's performance.

Of the several laws ratified Wednesday, notable new legislation included: a law facilitating the right of handicapped persons to apply and receive housing grants; the creation of a committee that will look into regulating the electricity sector, and which also granted the private sector the authority to manage new power plants established by the government in the interim; and a law approving a 15-percent pay raise for public school directors initially proposed in 2001


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Full speed ahead for plans to revamp refugee camps

By Paige Austin
Special to The Daily Star
Thursday, November 02, 2006

 

BEIRUT: High-ranking officials in charge of aiding Lebanon's Palestinian community detailed plans for infrastructure and security improvements in the country's refugee camps on Wednesday, while emphasizing their continued need for international funding. "The conditions in which Palestinians live in Lebanon are, quite frankly, appalling," said Richard Cook, Lebanon director for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) responsible for aid to the refugees, adding that the shelters in which many refugees live are "some of the worst I have seen in my United Nations career."

To deal with the most basic infrastructure needs, UNRWA and the Lebanese government agreed over a year ago to jointly identify and undertake "essential" development projects in the camps.  Cook reported yesterday that a few of those projects - such as one to address environmental problems in Beirut's Shatila camp - are now under way. Fundraising efforts to foot the $50 million bill, he added, have so far garnered "a very positive response" from donor nations.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's commitment to the projects, first conveyed to UNRWA during a meeting in October 2005, marked a turning point in a historically troubled relationship.

Speaking at the news conference Wednesday, the chairman of the government committee on Lebanese-Palestinian dialogue, Ambassador Khalil Makawwi, cited several examples of that coordination bearing fruit.

He noted Siniora's announcement of a reduction in the time needed to secure Lebanese Army authorization to bring construction materials into the camps in the South - "from several weeks to 48 hours" - as well as a mutual agreement on controlling arms inside the camps.

"Siniora has explained to Palestinian groups that the Lebanese state considers them brothers," said Makawwi. "They are under the government's protection and we do not seek confrontation with any of them."

Among the projects described by Cook were upgrades in sewage, water and electricity systems in the camps, most of which, he said, are nearly a half-century out of date. He also noted UNRWA's plan to construct hundreds of much-needed shelters in the camps around Tyre, and to commission further studies on Palestinians' economic and physical needs. These initiatives, he said, should be regarded as part and parcel of broader efforts at reconstruction.

"Neither environmental nor health problems respect man-made boundaries," he said. "Therefore improvements in the lives and services of the Palestinian refugees will also benefit the Lebanese community."

Still, he counseled, "All these solutions need funding."

At an international donor conference in Stockholm in August, UNRWA officials sought to position the Palestinian projects in the larger process of Lebanon's postwar reconstruction.


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Maronite Bishops appeal for calm in political arena
Council laments 'chaos'

By Therese Sfeir
Daily Star staff
Thursday, November 02, 2006

 

BEIRUT: The Council of Maronite Bishops voiced concern Wednesday over mounting political tensions, urging all Lebanese to work together toward national interests. In a statement issued after its monthly meeting in Bkirki, headed by Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, the council said: "The bishops strongly regret the chaos prevailing over the Lebanese political arena, which has divided the Lebanese into opposite groups that don't know what they want."

Lebanon's political elite is divided over an international tribunal that will look into former Premier Rafik Hariri's assassination, the formation of a national unity government, a new electoral law and other issues.

"In light of this situation, the Lebanese should put the country's interests above personal ones in order to find the adequate solutions to these problems," the statement said.

The council also criticized Israel's continuing violations of Lebanese airspace.

"Lebanon's skies are still being violated by Israeli warplanes under the pretext of arms smuggling across the Syrian-Lebanese border, despite the presence of international forces in the South," it said. "Those violations do not augur well; on the contrary, they might represent the resumption of fighting, the bitterness of which was experienced by the Lebanese."

Israeli warplanes conducted mock air raids over Beirut and other parts of the country Tuesday. The violations, described by army officials as the "most intensive" over the capital since the end of the 34-day war this summer, were condemned by France, the European Union and the United Nations.

The bishops also had harsh criticism for "infringements committed in some ministries, in particular the Education Ministry."

The Education Ministry was singled out for its "failure to appoint a competent director general and the disregard of traditions by holding official exams on Sundays."

Also mentioned was the need to compensate farmers, industrialists and hotel owners, "who were stricken by the war on Lebanon."

The bishops also slammed recent clashes at local universities over political issues such as a fight which broke out last month at La Sagesse University between partisans of the Progressive Socialist Party and the Free Patriotic Movement.

The Education Ministry was quick to response to the bishops, saying the appointment of a director general is carried out via a decree issued by the Cabinet. The ministry also emphasized its respect for all religions and sects, saying that it was forced to hold final exams under an exceptional schedule because of the war with Israel and that setting Sunday as one of the dates of the exams was a coincidence.


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Israel insists on violations despite wide condemnation

By Rym Ghazal
Daily Star staff
Thursday, November 02, 2006


BEIRUT: Lebanese officials were united in their condemnation Wednesday of Israel's air violations of their country, while Israeli officials vowed the overflights would continue despite international pressure. "They can protest for as long as they like. Our reconnaissance flights will continue," Israel's deputy defense minister, Ephraim Sneh, told public radio Wednesday in response to a question about the fierce international criticism over the daily violations.

The Israeli official's comments come one day after the UN, Spain and France, which currently commands the expanded UN peacekeeping force overseeing the UN-brokered truce that ended this summer's war between the Jewish state and Lebanon, uniformly called for an end to the overflights.

International and local figures have repeatedly condemned the Israeli violations as a breach of Lebanon's sovereignty and of the August 14 cease-fire, as outlined in Security Council Resolution 1701.

Tuesday's violations included the most intensive over the capital since the end of the 34-day war in July and August.

Future Movement leader MP Saad Hariri described the latest violations as an "offensive" breach of Resolution 1701.

"We demand that the international body take on the responsibility to ensure 1701 gets properly and fully implemented," said a statement released by Hariri's office Wednesday.

The Lebanese Army said eight Israeli jets violated Lebanese airspace Tuesday, flying over the country for over an hour. Four of the eight planes flew over the South, while the others covered the North, the Bekaa Valley, Mount Lebanon, and Beirut. Army units fired several shells at the warplanes in the South, the military said.

The Israeli violations continued into early Wednesday, when a lone plane flew from "the shoreline in Naqoura all the way up to Beirut's shores, circulated around the area and then left," a statement released by the Army Command said.

"It is in Israel's history and nature to keep violating international agreements. It will take every opportunity possible to hit at sensitive spots," said a statement issued Wednesday by the Progressive Socialist Party.

"The violations are a blunt slap to Lebanon's sovereignty and we applaud the Lebanese Army's constant efforts in responding to the air and land violations committed by Israel."

The army has been working for the past month to remove illegal fencing and other Israeli violations of Lebanese territory along the Southern border under the supervision of UNIFIL peacekeepers. - With agencies


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World powers weigh in on debate over Hariri tribunal

By Rym Ghazal and Therese Sfeir
Daily Star staff
Thursday, November 02, 2006


BEIRUT: World powers stepped up their consultations with Lebanese officials Wednesday on the formation of an international tribunal to try those suspected of involvement in former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's assassination. Renewed interest in the issue by the United States, France and Russia came two days after President Emile Lahoud published a 32-page list of suggestions on the court's formation.

US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman met with Justice Minister Charles Rizk Wednesday to discuss the "latest developments on the tribunal," the minister's spokesperson said, but refused to provide details of the meeting.

France and Russia, two of the most vocal countries on the court, will dispatch their ambassadors to the Lebanese Justice Ministry today to discuss the formation of the court, the spokesperson added.

While officials remained tight-lipped about the details of these meetings, the spokesperson said the Justice Ministry would release a detailed response to Lahoud's suggestions "in the next few days."

Judicial sources said prominent legal experts at the ministry have begun studying Lahoud's report in order to base their response on the various articles of the Constitution cited by the president.

While the sources would not comment on the merits of Lahoud's suggestions, they said legal experts were determining if Lahoud has "the authority to ratify or object to the draft of the international tribunal if the Cabinet, presided over by Lahoud, already asked the United Nations to form the court."

Meanwhile, sources close to the presidential palace criticized the attacks on Lahoud's report.

While attacks leveled by March 14 politicians "were political and personal," the source said, Lahoud's suggestions "were legal and constitutional."

The source criticized both Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Rizk for "not communicating to the president the changes and latest developments in the formation of the court, which is in violation of the president's constitutional rights."

But legal expert Hassan Rifai told the Voice of Lebanon radio Wednesday that Lahoud should have made his suggestions at the beginning of negotiations.

"Lahoud's publishing his remarks now was a big mistake," Rifai said.

The Cabinet has already appointed Rizk as the official in charge of handling the matter and appointed judges to negotiate with the United Nations, he added.

The president "is not allowed to say now that the justice minister is not competent but the foreign minister is," Rifai said. "Since the Cabinet has already assigned the Justice Minister to deal with the tribunal, the foreign minister no longer has any competence in this matter."

"It seems like violating the Constitution has become one of our traditions," he added in a thinly veiled shot at Lahoud's term extension in late 2004.

Rifai said Rizk had in fact informed the president of all developments in the negotiations concerning the tribunal.

The draft cannot be adopted by the United Nations without the approval of the Lebanese Cabinet, he added.

France also weighed in on the issue Wednesday. Al-Hayat quoted French Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jean-Baptiste Mattei in an article published Wednesday as saying: "We were informed of President Emile Lahoud's remarks and we knew that the Lebanese government would present its position on this issue."

The international community was deploying "continuous" efforts for the creation of the tribunal in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1559, he added.

"We hope that the tribunal would be created and would get the approval of both the United Nations and the Lebanese authorities," he said.

French President Jacques Chirac and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, had discussed the international tribunal, among other issues, Mattei said, adding that Russia wants clarification on some points in the draft but will not hamper the creation of the tribunal.

But according to other European sources quoted by Al-Hayat, "the Russians are making negotiations [over the tribunal] very difficult, but they won't be able to hamper its formation."

US sources said the main point of contention was whether the UN Security Council or secretary general should choose the court's judges.

Other unidentified sources were quoted as saying that Russia wanted the Security Council to choose the judges, while European countries preferred that current Secretary General Kofi Annan be given the responsibility. These sources added that the US thinks the next secretary general should decide on the judges, not Annan.

The Al-Hayat article said Russia also thinks that the international court should not have the authority to level a sentence in absentia. This is a crucial point, as any country would then be able to refuse to hand over a citizen to the court.


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Research team tests Khiam soil samples for signs of radiation

By Mohammed Zaatari
Daily Star staff
Thursday, November 02, 2006

 

SIDON: A team from the National Organization for Nuclear Power, affiliated with the National Council for Scientific Research (NCSR), surveyed the town of Khiam on Wednesday to follow up on an Environment and Development magazine report that showed high levels of radiation in samples taken from a bomb crater in the area.

The team said it used a DETA 5 receiver set to measure the emission of Alpha and Beta rays in a number of bomb craters, but detected no radiation.

The head of the research team, Professor Omar Abed al-Samad, said they had gone to Khiam "to extract samples from the soil and water, in order to have them thoroughly examined in our laboratories." The results of lab tests will be revealed within 10 days, he added.

Meanwhile, separate research teams from the expanded UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon took samples from water sources in Khiam, but said lab tests showed water in the area was not at all potable or fit for irrigation.

NCSR president Mouin Hamzeh said Tuesday that Leb-anon "was free of any signs of radiation, but that the NCSR has taken recent media reports claiming the presence of depleted uranium into consideration."

A previous assessments in the Khiam area, conducted by the Lebanese University directly after the August 14 cessation of hostilities, failed to detect any presence of radioactive substances in the area.

Numerous other lab tests and analyses have produced similar results.

However, international experts and non-governmental organizations have urged the Lebanese to take precautionary measures in areas suspected to be contaminated with depleted uranium in order to avoid any potential complications.


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Builders race to finish bridges before weather worsens

By Mohammed Zaatari
Daily Star staff
Thursday, November 02, 2006


SIDON: Contractors are racing against the clock to wrap up renovation and reconstruction work on the various bridges destroyed by Israeli attacks during the July-August war.

The heavy showers Lebanon has witnessed in the past couple of weeks set off the alarm to bring construction work to an end before weather conditions worsen and various rivers, particularly the Litani, are swollen by rain. October's unexpectedly heavy rains caused the levels of several rivers to rise, delaying construction works.

The Public Works Ministry was forced to set up a number of bypasses and detours as a replacement for all the destroyed bridges in the South. All bypasses and detours on the riverbed of the Litani were equipped with drains in order to pump out any excess water.

The Hasbani, Khardali, Ain Arab, February 6, and Quassmiyeh bridges are destroyed, and are still not open to the public due to delays in construction works.

Steel bridges have been set up where the Ain Arab and Quassmiyeh bridges were completely destroyed during the last offensives. Work on the Zahrani bridge was completed last week and it has been opened to the public.

Weather forecasts for the next couple of days in Lebanon predict plenty of rain, with thunderstorms and wind speeds of 60 kilometers per hour, according to the forecast from the Civil Aviation Department at Rafik Hariri International Airport on Wednesday.

Southwesterly winds with speeds ranging between 15 to 50 kilometers per hour, reaching 60 kilometers per hour in the North, are expected.

Visibility is expected to worsen in the mountains, with temperatures varying between 8 and 18 degrees Celsius. The temperature on the coast will range between 14 and 25 degrees Celsius, in the Bekaa Valley between 7 and 20 degrees, and in the Cedars between 4 and 11 degrees.


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De Freij lauds increased European role in Lebanon
More troops on way to bolster Unifil

By Iman Azzi
Daily Star staff
Thursday, November 02, 2006

 

BEIRUT: Future Bloc MP Nabil de Freij praised the increased role European nations have adopted in Lebanese politics on Wednesday after a meeting with visiting German legislator Joachim Horster. "I think the [German] mission is doing well," de Freij told The Daily Star of the German-led force responsible for patrolling Lebanon's waters as part of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

"Before Israel did not accept any role for Europeans, but now because of what is happening in Iraq, and what is happening to US soldiers in Iraq, Israel is giving Europeans a chance to join the process here," the MP added.

De Freij insisted Horster's visit to Qoreitem was purely informational and did not cover the continuing debate over Germany's rules of engagement after two related incidents with Israel warplanes last week.

"He wanted to listen and asked us what we thought about UNIFIL," he said, adding that the topics of discussion did not include Israel.

Horster's visit came one day before German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung is scheduled to arrive in the region. Apart from meeting with Lebanese officials, Jung will also pay a visit to German military personnel serving in Lebanon.

The German Defense Ministry said Jung would meet with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Defense Minister Elias Murr on Friday before traveling to Israel for talks with senior Israeli officials.

Jung and Peretz have reportedly spoken several times since Israeli F-16s fired shots over an unarmed German reconnaissance ship backing up the UNIFIL naval mission last week, but the incident has many calling for further clarification of the peacekeepers' role.

The German Defense Ministry said Israeli forces had also confronted a German helicopter over the Mediterranean, where the UNIFIL fleet is monitoring shipping activity.

Berlin has called for "smooth cooperation" from Israel, which has been reprimanded by the UN for continually violating Lebanese airspace with its fighter planes.

Germany's Social Democratic Party accused Israel of regularly violating Lebanese airspace and endangering the stability of the cease-fire in place since August 14, according to German daily Die Welt, and has expressed hopes that Jung will press Israel on the matter during his trip.

Other German politicians demanded that Germany rethink its role in the UNFIL mission altogether.

The Free Democratic Party (FDP) renewed its criticism of the Lebanon deployment.

"We should get our navy home, before the deployment starts to become really expensive," an article in Die Welt on Tuesday quoted FDP chief Dirk Niebel as saying.

As German troops and politicians continued to debate their position at sea, more international troops headed for Lebanon Wednesday to strengthen the  UNIFIL ground forces based in Southern Lebanon.

Twelve Portuguese Army officers left Wednesday for Lebanon to join the peacekeeping force in reconstruction missions.

The group, part of a military unit of some 140 construction engineers, will set up camp for the rest of the force, expected to arrive in Lebanon by the end of November.

The Portuguese contingent will help in efforts to rebuild infrastructure damaged by Israel's extensive bombing campaign this summer.

Also expected to arrive by the end of the month is a contingent of 850 Indonesian soldiers, the first of whom departed Jakarta on Wednesday.

UNIFIL has been operating in Lebanon since 1978 with 2,000 soldiers but the number was boosted to 15,000 as part of Security Council Resolution 1701, implementing a cease-fire after a 34-day war with Israel.

UNIFIL troops are also supported in the South by an equal number of Lebanese Army soldiers. - With agencies


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War of words dominates Parliament's opening session

By Nafez Qawas and Leila Hatoum
Daily Star staff
Wednesday, November 01, 2006


BEIRUT: Tensions boiled over at the Lebanese Parliament's opening session Tuesday as members of the parliamentary majority verbally attacked President Emile Lahoud, while the opposition slammed the Cabinet's political and economic performance since the war with Israel.

The March 14 Forces MPs accused Lahoud of attempting to derail efforts to establish an international tribunal to try those accused of assassinating former Premier Rafik Hariri.

Lahoud has criticized the Cabinet, Premier Fouad Siniora and Justice Minister Charles Rizk, who he called "the illusive majority," for excluding him  from negotiations with the UN on the creation of the tribunal.

Sidon MP Bahia Hariri, sister of the slain premier, criticized Lahoud's remarks, saying that this "constitutes an attempt to derail the establishment of the tribunal which might lead us to the truth."

"Trying to evade the tribunal's formation based on weak legal excuses is not legitimate," she added.

Hariri said that Lahoud headed the Cabinet's regular sessions in which the tribunal had been discussed and that "he has no excuse in saying that he wasn't aware of the decisions made on the matter."

"His statements are an attempt to destroy the tribunal and hide the truth," she added.

Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh went a step further, using profanity to describe the president and his attempt to "hide the truth and hinder the tribunal's formation." However, Speaker Nabih Berri stopped him and asked that the wording be omitted from the session's minutes.

Siniora said the president was present at the Cabinet's session "on December 12, 2005, when Justice Minister Charles Rizk was delegated by all the attendees to choose two magistrates to handle the deliberations with the United Nations on the matter of the international tribunal."

He added that the president also received the first draft of the formation of the tribunal. "It is sad that the president

decided to choose the media to discuss such a matter, rather than talking with me directly as per the Constitution."

Lahoud issued a statement on Tuesday in response to the session, saying that he should have been informed of the deliberations, despite the fact that Rizk had been delegated to assign the two magistrates.

Lahoud asked: "Is it in accordance with the rules that the discussion of the formation of the tribunal occurs between Beirut and New York and other capitals in the world and the president isn't informed of that, despite the fact that he is constitutionally responsible for negotiating international agreements?"

March 14 Forces MP Butros Harb also criticized the president, asking, "why did the president decide to speak now and not before? Where was he when the deliberations and discussions were taking place? Why is he portraying himself a defender of suspects in the crime?"

Future Movement MP Mohammad Qabbani said: "Our fears have become a reality and the masks have fallen ... what Lahoud means is that there will be no tribunal and no justice and no accountability for the criminals ... the problem lies with the president, and will not end before a new president, who enjoys our trust, is elected."

Progressive Socialist Party MP Akram Chehayeb describes Lahoud's remarks as "a war launched against the formation of the tribunal ... We read it clearly in the presidential notes, and we see that there is an effort to hinder the attempt to reveal the truth behind

the assassination."

The arguments continued as Hizbullah MPs criticized the government for not paying compensation to the victims of the recent war with Israel, as it had promised.

A dispute erupted between two MPs, Mohammad Hajjar and Abbas Hashem, over governmental aid to certain areas in Lebanon "while others," according to Hashem "are deprived."

Also during the session, Berri requested that the government buy land-to-air missiles to protect Lebanon and shoot down Israeli airplanes violating airspace - something which Siniora said would be discussed with the Defense Ministry and the Lebanese Army.

The session also witnessed the ratification of 19 draft-laws dealing with various legal and development and administrative issues


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UN hails 'important progress' on Resolution 1559


Compiled by Daily Star staff
Wednesday, November 01, 2006


The United Nations Security Council reiterated calls on Monday for the disarmament of all militias inside Lebanon, as the UN envoy on Resolution 1559 announced that arms were still being smuggled from Syria to Hizbullah. In a non-binding statement unanimously adopted by its 15 members, the council said "important progress" has been made on the implementation of Resolution 1559, particularly with the deployment of the Lebanese Army in the South.

But the council also noted "with regret" that some provisions of the resolution have yet to be implemented, namely the disbanding of militias; the maintenance of strict respect for Lebanon's "sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence"; and free and fair presidential elections "without any foreign interference and influence."

The Security Council statement followed a presentation by UN special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen on the progress of the implementation of Resolution 1559.

After the meeting, Roed-Larsen told reporters that he had been informed by Leb-anese authorities that arms were still being smuggled into the country from neighboring Syria. The envoy said the officials gave no details on quantities or types of weapons.

Roed-Larsen said representatives of the Lebanese government "have stated publicly and also in conversations with us that there have been arms coming across the border into Lebanon."

"The consistent position of the government of Syria has been that, 'yes, there might be arms smuggling over the border, but this is arms smuggling and that the border is porous and very difficult to control,' Roed-Larsen said.

"In order to have an effective arms embargo, there has to be cooperation with all regional partners, [including] Syria and Iran," he said.

Roed-Larsen called the situation in Lebanon "worrisome." "The political rhetoric shows that there are very high tensions, and I think we have to look at the situation in Lebanon with all caution. And there are reasons for being worried about where this is heading," he said.

Generally, the council renewed its call for "the full implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559 and urged all concerned states and parties ... to cooperate fully with the government of Lebanon, the Security Council and the Secretary General to achieve this goal."

US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, for his part, welcomed the Beirut government's "significant progress ... in deploying the Lebanese Armed Forces in the South of the country for the first time in almost 40 years, as well as the army's historic deployment along the eastern part of the Blue Line, as well as along Lebanon's border with Syria."

"Despite this advance, we continue to be concerned that Syria and Iran are actively trying to destabilize the democratically elected government of Lebanon, in contravention of Resolution 1559's call for strict respect for Lebanon's sovereignty and political independence," Bolton said.

"Each UN member state  also has an obligation to enforce the arms embargo established by Resolution 1701," Bolton said.

"Syrian President Assad made a commitment to [UN] Secretary General [Kofi] Annan that Syria would support the implementation of Resolution 1701 and comply with its obligation to enforce the arms embargo; Syria must abide by the promises it made to the Secretary General," he said.

There was no mention made of Israel's repeated air violations, with the past week witnessing a high level of overflights over most of Lebanon in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701.

In its statement the Security Council also welcomed Annan's report earlier this month, which stated that turning Hizbullah into a "solely political party" is the key to a permanent peace in Lebanon and to full restoration of the country's sovereignty.

The council underscored the point that to achieve this goal "on the path toward the greater objective of consolidating the Lebanese state" it was essential that "all parties who have influence in Lebanon support a constructive political process."

Under Resolution 1701, Lebanon is to secure its border and entry points to prevent the passage of illicit arms or related material.

The resolution authorizes the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to assist Lebanon in this task if requested. - Agencies


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