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Tuesday October 31, 2006

US voices concern about more assassinations in Lebanon, hints at Syria link
WASHINGTON - US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has warned the Lebanese government could be the target of new assassination attempts and strongly suggested Syria was behind the destabilisation campaign.

Rice, in an interview with the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, said Washington had received information of plots against the government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and other anti-Syrian forces in Lebanon.

"We too have heard that there are people who would like to destabilize the government of Prime Minister Siniora," Rice said, according to a transcript of the interview which was released by the State Department late on Monday.

"We've heard that there are people who would like to intimidate or assassinate again, they've done it before in Lebanon," Rice said, referring to the 2005 murder of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri in a giant car bombing in Beirut.

"The evidence is there that foreign influences have -- ever since the assassination of the former prime minister Rafiq Hariri -- have tried to use assassination and intimidation against the Lebanese people," she said.

While insisting she didn't want to accuse anyone specifically of threatening new attacks on Lebanese authorities, Rice added: "It's not any great secret that there are concerns about what Syria, which once occupied the country, might try and do through continuing contacts in the country."

"I don't want to accuse any one place; I just want to make very clear that the international community believes there should be no foreign intimidation of the Lebanese people," she said in the interview, which was conducted late last week.

Rice meanwhile met Monday with Lebanon's Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a leading figure in the anti-Syrian movement, who was seeking US backing for the creation of an international court to try those found responsible for Hariri's assassination.

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 the mandate of Lebanon's pro-Syrian president, Emil Lahoud.

Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz, who heads a UN inquiry into the murder, has pointed to possible links between Hariri's death and 14 other attacks against anti-Syrian personalities in Lebanon since October 1, 2004.

Syria has steadfastly denied any responsibility for the killings, but has come under heavy international pressure to cooperate with the investigations.

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.

Since then, relations between the two neighboring countries have soured considerably, and leaders of the anti-Syrian majority that emerged in parliamentary elections two months later have repeatedly claimed they fear for their lives.
 
 
 Copyright 2005 AFP

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Security Council urges disarming of Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias
UNITED NATIONS - The Security Council on Monday again pressed for the disbanding and disarming of Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias and strict respect of Lebanon's territorial integrity and sovereignty as called for in a 2004 UN resolution. In a non-binding statement unanimously adopted by its 15 members, the council "notes with regret that some provisions of resolution 1559 have yet to be implemented, namely the disbanding and disarming of Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias."

Other provisions still remaining to be implemented include "the strict respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity, and political independence of Lebanon, and free and fair presidential elections conducted according to the Lebanese constitutional rules, without any foreign interference and influence."

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."

UN special envoy Terje Roed Larsen meanwhile told reporters that he had been informed by Lebanese authorities that arms were still being smuggled into the country from neighboring Syria, but said they gave no details on quantities or types of weapons.

"In order to have an effective arms embargo, there has to be cooperation with all regional partners, (including) Syria and Iran," he noted. "We are encouraging all to be helpful regarding all the provisions of 1559."

US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, for his part, welcomed the Beirut government's "significant progress ... in deploying the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) in the south of the country for the first time in almost 40 years, as well as the LAF'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," he added. "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."

In line with resolution 1559 which also called for the withdrawal of foreign troops, Syria withdrew its troops from Lebanon in 2005 after 29 years of military and political domination of its smaller neighbor.

Lebanon's Iranian-backed Hezbollah was involved in a month-long war with Israel in south Lebanon which ended with a UN-brokered truce in August under UN Security Council resolution 1701.

That resolution also called for the disarming of Hezbollah guerrillas and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon.

The Security Council also welcomed Annan's report earlier this month which stated that turning Hezbollah into a "solely political party" is the key to permanent peace in Lebanon and to full restoration of the country's sovereignty.

It stressed 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 UNIFIL to assist Lebanon in this task if requested.
 
 
 Copyright 2005 AFP


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UN: Arms still smuggled into Lebanon from Syria
Top envoy Terje Roed-Larsen says Lebanese authorities soft on issue due to their fragile political situation; ‘Political rhetoric shows that there are very high tensions, and I think we have to look at the situation in Lebanon with all caution,’ he says

Lebanon regularly reports arms being smuggling into the country from Syria but the authorities are treading softly due to their fragile political situation, a senior UN Envoy said on Monday.

Government officials have informed the United Nations of smuggling as recently as “The last few weeks,” although they are providing no information on the quantities or types of arms being secreted across the border, said Terje Roed-Larsen, the top UN Diplomat on Lebanese ties with Syria.

US Ambassador John Bolton, quoting Roed-Larsen, said the officials were not being precise about the smuggling for fear of retaliation from Syria.

“The absence of complete cooperation by the government of Syria remains very troubling in that respect and I think it’s very courageous for any of the democratic politicians in Lebanon to go about their business under that kind of threat,” Bolton told reporters.

Asked about Bolton’s comments, Roed-Larsen said he had no specific information about threats of retaliation.

But he noted there had been 14 assassinations or attempted assassinations in Lebanon since the February 2005 murder of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

“Generally speaking, the situation in Lebanon is worrisome,” Roed-Larsen said. “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.”

'Lebanon gov't is doing its very best'

Syria acknowledges there might be smuggling but insists the border is porous and very difficult to control, he said.

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 Hizbullah, an armed group as well as a part of the Lebanese government.

Israel regularly accuses Syria of continuing to smuggle arms to Hizbullah guerrillas in Lebanon, in violation of the Aug. 14 cease-fire ending the 34-day Israeli-Hizbullah war.

Israel has insisted on conducting surveillance flights over southern Lebanon, which also violate the cease-fire, saying it needs to do so to monitor the smuggling.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz told a parliamentary committee two weeks ago, “If it turns into a steady occurrence, we will deal with the smuggling ourselves.”

Roed-Larsen praised Lebanon’s efforts to end the smuggling by deploying soldiers along the border with Syria and in southern Lebanon, where Hizbullah guerrillas are active.

“I think the government of Lebanon is doing its very best to stop the transport of weapons across the border,” he said. “If this is sufficient, only time can show.” (Reuters)
 


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Druze leader seeks US backing for Hariri slaying tribunal
WASHINGTON - Lebanon's Druze leader Walid Jumblatt sought US backing Monday for an international court to try suspects in the 2005 murder of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

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.

"If someone opposes this international court, that means that he is covering up the crime," Jumblatt, a leading anti-Syrian figure in Lebanon's parliament, told reporters after meeting Rice at the US State Department.

"If Lahoud and Syria's allies in Lebanon don't want the international court, this issue will become dangerous," he added.

Earlier Monday in Beirut, Lahoud complained that he had been excluded from the process of organizing the court.

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 2004.

Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz, who heads a UN inquiry into the murder, has pointed to possible links between Hariri's death and 14 other attacks against anti-Syrian personalities in Lebanon since October 1, 2004.

Syria has steadfastly denied any responsibility for the killings, but has come under heavy international pressure to cooperate with the investigations.

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.

Since then, relations between the two neighboring countries have soured considerably, and leaders of the anti-Syrian majority that emerged in parliamentary elections two months later have repeatedly claimed they fear for their lives.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Rice reaffirmed Washington's strong support for the Brammertz investigation.

Jumblatt and Rice also discussed the aftermath of the recent month-long war between Israel and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, including US reconstruction aid, he said.

Jumblatt also met with US Vice President Dick Cheney.
 
 
 Copyright 2005 AFP


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Lebanon aid conference delayed
BEIRUT, Lebanon - An international conference on financial aid for war-ravaged Lebanon set to be held in Paris on January 15 has been delayed by 10 days, a Lebanese government source said Tuesday.

"The choice of January 15 wasn't convenient for all international and Arab participants at the so-called 'Paris-3' conference (so the) date has been delayed by 10 days for logistical reasons," the source told AFP.

Prime Minister Fuad Siniora announced the aid conference earlier this month after his country was devastated by Israel's month-long war on Shiite Muslim Hezbollah guerrillas that ended on August 14 under a UN-brokered ceasefire.

The conference is meant to win long-term financial assistance to help the country recover from Israel's blistering 34-day war offensive that caused damage of more than 3.5 billion dollars.

The Paris 3 conference was initially expected to take place in December, but has been repeatedly delayed as internal political disputes in Lebanon continued to hamper much-needed economic reforms, including privatisation.

The meeting will mark the third time the French capital has hosted an aid conference to help Lebanon since 2001 when the Paris 1 conference raised 500 million euros.

More than 18 countries, in addition to international institutions, took part in the Paris 2 conference which raised 2.6 billion dollars in 2002.
 
 
 Copyright 2005 AFP


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Welch Criticizes Syria for Interfering in Lebanese Internal Affairs
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch has slammed Syria for interfering in Lebanon and said that helping Premier Fouad Saniora's government is a priority for the Bush administration.
"There have been various actions by the (U.N.) Security Council to express concern in particular about Syrian interference in the political affairs of Lebanon. This is a very real and dangerous issue," Welch told a talk show on New TV Friday.

"First of all, our priority is to help the people of Lebanon. Through the government, we hope to be able to help economic and political reform take deep root in the country of Lebanon," Welch told George Salibi, the show's host.

He described the decision by France and the Saniora government to hold the Paris 3 conference on Lebanon's reconstruction as "an example of the kind of willingness on the part of people across the globe to help Lebanon pick itself up in front of all the challenges it faces and the destructions caused by the actions of one party and the interference of its neighbors."

Direct material damage to housing and infrastructure in Lebanon during the 34-day Israeli offensive has been put at $3.6 billion. The war was sparked by a deadly Hizbullah cross-border raid on July 12 and ended under a U.N. brokered ceasefire on August 14.

The U.S. labels pro-Syrian and pro-Iranian Hizbullah as a terrorist organization and blames it for the start of the war.

On the Israeli occupied Shabaa farms area, Welch said that Lebanon should get a commitment from Damascus on the Lebanese identity of the zone.

"The way to resolve that is for Lebanon and Syria to agree on the delineation and then the demarcation of the border in that area, so that everybody will understand whether it's Lebanese or Syrian. And then that matter can be addressed, depending on what the outcome is," he said.

When asked why the U.S. doesn't help Saniora's government by exerting pressure on Israel to respect international resolutions like Resolution 1701, Welch said that the Jewish State was fully implementing the resolution that brought an end to the war.

"I believe that Resolution 1701 is being implemented fully and faithfully by Israel. And I also think it's being implemented fully and faithfully by Lebanon. We want to see it observed in all its parts, and I think that will be very important for security and not just for Israel but also for the people of Lebanon," he said.

Welch also criticized Hizbullah without naming it.

"The direction of democracy between the political leadership in Lebanon should be towards the people. That is, heads of political parties should look toward what the voters in Lebanon want, not what the people in Damascus or Tehran would see as appropriate for Lebanon," he said. 
 
 

Beirut, 30 Oct 06, 21:25
 
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Security Council Urges Disarming of All Militias, Bolton Slams Syria
The Security Council has again pressed for the disbanding and disarming of Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias and strict respect of Lebanon's territorial integrity and sovereignty as called for in a 2004 resolution.
In a non-binding statement unanimously adopted by its 15 members Monday, the council "notes with regret that some provisions of resolution 1559 have yet to be implemented, namely the disbanding and disarming of Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias."

Other provisions still remaining to be implemented include "the strict respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity, and political independence of Lebanon, and free and fair presidential elections conducted according to the Lebanese constitutional rules, without any foreign interference and influence."

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."

U.N. special envoy Terje Roed Larsen meanwhile told reporters in New York that he had been informed by Lebanese authorities that arms were still being smuggled into the country from Syria, but said they gave no details on quantities or types of weapons.

"In order to have an effective arms embargo, there has to be cooperation with all regional partners, (including) Syria and Iran," he noted. "We are encouraging all to be helpful regarding all the provisions of 1559."

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, for his part, welcomed the Beirut government's "significant progress ... in deploying the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) in the south of the country for the first time in almost 40 years, as well as the LAF'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.

He called on Syrian President Bashar Assad to abide by the commitment he made to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to support the resolution that ended the month-long war between Israel and Hizbullah which is backed by Iran and Syria.

"Each U.N. member state also has an obligation to enforce the arms embargo established by Resolution 1701," he added. "Syrian President Assad made a commitment to Secretary-General 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."

In line with resolution 1559 which also called for the withdrawal of foreign troops, Syria withdrew its troops from Lebanon in 2005 after 29 years of military and political domination.

Resolution 1701 called for the disarming of Hizbullah fighters and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon.

Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari told reporters his country was fully complying with the arms embargo and all U.N. resolutions.

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 permanent peace in Lebanon and to full restoration of the country's sovereignty.

It stressed 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 National Interim Force in Lebanon to assist the country in this task if requested.(AFP-AP-Naharnet) 
 
 

Beirut, 31 Oct 06, 07:45


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Lahoud Slams International Court, Jumblat Accuses Him of Involvement in Hariri's Murder
President Emile Lahoud has slammed an international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri and Druze leader Walid Jumblat quickly accused him of "covering up the crime."
In a statement Monday, Lahoud took issue with a draft document that left out the word "international" from the title of the yet-to-be-formed court.

"Taking account of Article 52 of the constitution, which says that the head of state negotiates international treaties and ratifies them with the prime minister and support of the cabinet, (the president) expresses his reservations about the plan," said the statement released by the presidential palace.

Lahoud "particularly warns about adopting the name 'Lebanon Special Tribunal', which could have an impact on the image of Lebanese around the world and damage the tribunal's 'international character'," it said.

"This could lead one to believe that Lebanon is being judged for crimes such as collective massacre or ethnic cleansing ... as in crimes against humanity in countries where special tribunals have been created such as the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone," the statement added.

The pro-Syrian Lahoud also protested his exclusion from the process of organizing an international tribunal to try the suspects in Hariri's 2005 murder, saying that according to the constitution, the duty of negotiating the court's mandate with the United Nations falls to him.
A U.N. investigation into Hariri's killing has implicated top Syrian and Lebanese security officials, a charge Syria denies.

Lahoud's remarks drew quick criticism from his opponents, accusing him of seeking to stall the formation of the court to escape prosecution.

"If someone opposes this international court, it means that he is covering up the crime," Jumblat told reporters after meeting U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the U.S. State Department on Monday.

"If Lahoud and Syria's allies in Lebanon don't want the international court, this issue will become dangerous," added Jumblat, a strong opponent to Syria.

He regarded Lahoud's intervention as an "additional evidence of his involvement and (the involvement) of those who stand behind him" in Hariri's assassination.

Jumblat said that he discussed the proposed tribunal with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington.

Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh also accused Lahoud of involvement in Haririr's murder, and asked: "Since when does the suspect become a judge in choosing the court before which he will stand?"

Hamadeh said in a statement released by his office on Monday that Lahoud's objections were "political scandal and legal heresy."

He claimed that it was an attempt by Syrian authorities, through Lahoud, to undermine or delay the formation of the court.

A draft text on the project was sent to Lebanese authorities by the U.N. on October 21. The tribunal has yet to be approved by the U.N. Security Council or by Lebanon's cabinet and parliament.

An Nahar newspaper said Tuesday that the justice ministry received the official text Monday night, only hours after Lahoud issued his statement.

The idea for the international tribunal, which would meet outside Lebanon for security reasons, was floated in March by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Chief U.N. investigator Serge Brammertz has pointed to possible links between Hariri's death and 14 other attacks against anti-Syrian personalities in Lebanon since October 1, 2004.

Syria has steadfastly denied any responsibility for the killings, but has come under heavy international pressure to cooperate with the investigations.

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.

Since then, relations between the two neighboring countries have soured considerably, and leaders of the anti-Syrian majority that emerged in parliamentary elections two months later have repeatedly claimed they fear for their lives.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Rice reaffirmed Washington's strong support for the Brammertz investigation.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said late Monday discussions have been taking place between U.N. officials, the Lebanese government and other interested parties.

"There's obviously no agreement on the exact composition of the tribunal yet so those discussions will continue," he said. "What we're trying to do is find a formula that will work to have an effective tribunal."

Bolton noted that the resolution referred to "a Lebanese tribunal of an international character so there's obviously room for play there."

He said he hadn't read Lahoud's comments, but said, "everybody realizes that he acts on behalf of Syria and I think you have to take that into account."(Naharnet-AFP-AP)
 
 
 

Beirut, 31 Oct 06, 12:00


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Tueni Attacks Lahoud's Mutiny on the International Community
Commenting on President Emile Lahoud's sudden attack on the international tribunal, Lebanon's parliamentarian-columnist Ghassan Tueni dubbed the head of state "ruling from outside the framework of international legitimacy and mutineering" on the international community.
In an editorial front-paged by Lebanon's leading daily An-Nahar Tueni expressed "our concern that the president's stand is the first step towards ending international sympathy for Lebanon … and perhaps an attempt to put this country again in the shadows of the security system," in reference to Syria's dominance over Lebanon's political theater for nearly three decades.

Under the headline "Why don't we put martyrs on trial," Tueni said Lahoud's criticism of the international tribunal was tantamount to "opening fire on everything related to the United Nations."

He concluded by raising the question: "Does he (Lahoud) want to push Lebanon back into an international isolation and (change it into) an arena for wars staged by others and a base for terrorism." 
 
 

Beirut, 31 Oct 06, 13:00


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Israeli Fighter Jets Stage Mock Raids over Beirut's Southern Suburbs
Israeli warplanes staged mock raids Tuesday over Hizbullah strongholds in south Beirut in the heaviest show of air power over Lebanon since the Aug. 14 cease-fire.
At least six times the Israeli fighter jets dived down to zoom low over the southern suburbs before roaring up to the sky.

No bombs were reported, but the roar of the jets caused concern among residents, some of whom took to the rooftops and balconies to watch.

Flights at Rafik Hariri international airport, which lies south of the city, were not affected.

It was not clear what prompted Israel to stage the mock raids, which lasted more than 30 minutes.

The overflights came only hours after U.N. envoy Terje Roed-Larsen told the Security Council that the Lebanese government had reported that arms were being smuggled into Lebanon from Syria.

Lebanon, with United Nations support, has frequently protested Israeli flights over its territory. Tuesday's show was the heaviest aerial incursion of Lebanon since the end of Israel's 34-day offensive against the Hizbullah.

In Jerusalem, the Israeli military refused to confirm that its planes had flown over Beirut, saying it does not give operational details.

The overflights also came a few hours before Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah was scheduled to appear on Al-Manar TV station.

Nasrallah has been in hiding since the Israeli offensive began in July, appearing in public only once, on Sept. 22, to give a speech at a Hizbullah "victory rally." Israeli officials have threatened to assassinate him.

Lebanese security officials said eight Israeli jets had crossed the border and dispersed, flying over southern and central Lebanon, with some reaching south Beirut.

In south Lebanon, officials and witnesses reported Israeli planes flying low over the towns of Nabatiyeh and Tyre.(AP)
 
 
 

Beirut, 31 Oct 06, 10:18


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Millions of Tons of Rubble Create Ecological Nightmare in Lebanon
One month of Israeli bombardment during the July-August war created millions of tons of rubble in Lebanon, adding to the ecological nightmare of a country that has suffered a succession of conflicts.
Even in normal times the main north-south coastal road was a handy dumping ground for rubbish, but now a dump of spectacular proportions is rising at Uzai on the southern exit from Beirut.

Between the highway and the shoreline an ever-growing mountain of acrid-smelling debris is piling steadily higher -- and also marching inexorably towards the breaking waves.

These are the ruins of the capital's southern suburbs, a Hizbullah bastion that was repeatedly pounded by Israel in July and August.

From this one area alone, in which 400 buildings were pulverized, engineers estimate the volume of debris at 1.2 million cubic meters. Every day some 400 trucks laden with rubble make the trip between the suburbs and the rubbish tip.

"For two days at the end of August everything was tipped directly into the sea," says Omar al-Naeem of Greenpeace Lebanon. "But organizations protested, and now it is all collected and deposited along the shore."

Clearing the suburb is expected to take at least until the end of the year.

At least this rubble mountain can be seen, and the authorities know where it is.

In the south of the country, where the fighting was fierce and the authorities say 10,649 homes were completely destroyed, you have to search for much of the debris which has often been dumped in the folds between hills.

Only by following garbage trucks does one come across these "secret" dumps -- along secondary roads, well-hidden at the bottom of valleys and along water courses, or down banks by the roadside.

Ten or 11 trucks hauling 13 tons each day are continuing to clear the village of Gandouriyeh, which was home to 6,000 people, according to the driver of one truck found emptying debris.

"The rubble of destroyed houses isn't just cement," says Ricardo Khoury, whose Elard environmental consulting agency is contributing to a United Nations Environment Programme assessment of the ecological damage caused by the war.

"You also find everything that makes a home, things like batteries, storage heaters, fridges, electronic equipment... millions and millions of dollars are needed to dispose of all this properly."

"It's not easy," he adds. "Neither is it a priority."

Elard has pinpointed 16 sites that Khoury says are high priority and need to be cleaned up quickly.

These include the generating station at Jiyeh south of Beirut, where aerial bombardment created a massive oil slick that coated the Lebanese shoreline with sludge; fuel-storage tanks at Beirut Airport; warehouses that storied food, detergents and chemical products at Shweifat, also south of the capital; plastics factories in Tyre; and a glass-producing plant in the Bekaa Valley.

All were hit by Israeli bombs or missiles and all burned for days. But the treatment of refuse -- wastewater included -- is practically unheard of in Lebanon.

Apart from Beirut and Zahle in the east of the country, the main coastal towns -- Tyre and Sidon in the south and Tripoli in the north -- discharge their waste directly into the sea, says Karim Jisr, environmental consultant to the World Bank and United Nations Development Programme.

"Neither the government nor local authorities can be expected to provide a long-term solution. They come under a lot of social pressure, hence these improvised dumping sites," Jisr says.

"The idea would be to find a secure location (for the debris), and then there would be enough time to sort the problem out."

He says the government's development and reconstruction council is looking into the possibility of using some the country's quarries, most of which are no longer in use.

"They could be filled in and then covered with inert material," Jisr says.

"However the real problem is the coastline which is mostly not government land, but is owned by churches or private individuals. It will become no longer possible to cover kilometers of coast with debris" from the war.(AFP) (AP photo shows a worker collecting twisted metal and other debris leftover from buildings demolished during the war in Beirut's southern suburbs) 
 
 

Beirut, 31 Oct 06, 09:48


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Hizbullah warns of resignations, protests if demands for unity government not met

By Nada Bakri
Daily Star staff
Tuesday, October 31, 2006

 

BEIRUT: Hizbullah will seek the formation of a new government through all democratic means, including the resignation of its two ministers and street protests, the group's senior MP said on Monday. Hizbullah and its allies have been demanding a new "national unity" government since the month-long war with Israel ended on August 14.

The group has been a fierce critic of Western-backed Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, whom it sees, along with the parliamentary majority, as keen to disarm its military wing.

"We are careful to practice all democratic and legitimate means to express our stand and our rejection of the continuation of this situation and to work toward forming a government of national unity," said Mohammad Raad, the head of Hizbullah's parliamentary bloc.

"We will take all available democratic steps to achieve this goal, including resigning from the government," he added.

Raad was speaking after holding separate talks with key opposition figures, former Prime Minister Omar Karami and Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun.

Speaker Nabih Berri on Sunday delayed talks with Leb-anon's political elite aimed at defusing tensions after several anti-Syrian leaders said they could not attend because they would be out of the country this week.

In his attempts to reduce tensions, Berri is expected to meet later this week with Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, who said in his Sunday sermon that "certain parties" are trying to return the country to the age of Syrian tutelage.

Sfeir is also scheduled to meet Aoun this week in their first meeting since relations between the two leaders deteriorated a few months ago over their stance regarding calls for a national unity government.

Berri told As-Safir newspaper on Monday that all leaders confirmed they will attend the talks next Monday, except for Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, who the speaker said "is a target for the Americans and the Israelis, and even if he decides to attend I will forbid him for his own safety and for that of Lebanon."

Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt is in Washington for meetings with US officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Jumblatt said in a statement in the PSP weekly magazine to be published today that discussing a national unity government is only possible after electing a new president.

"Political logic requires first solving the presidency issue ... afterwards we can discuss forming a national unity government ... then a new electoral law," the Druze leader said.

Former President and Phalanges Party leader Amin Gemayel is in Kurdistan, while Hariri is in Saudi Arabia.

Gemayel said Monday from Kurdistan that the current conflict in Lebanon is between "a party working for Lebanon ... and another one which insists on linking [Lebanon] to regional strategic interests that are closer to adventures, taking place on its land and destroying its infrastructure and killing and displacing its people."

The Lebanese Forces urged the government in its weekly session Monday "to take all necessary measures to prevent any party from violating the laws, hindering democracy and attacking the authority under certain political demands."

The March 14 Forces have demanded Berri widen the scope of talks to include items discussed during the National Dialogue sessions held earlier this year but abandoned with the outbreak of war on July 12.

Berri told As-Safir the agenda will only include the two original items, adding that, "The aim behind this initiative is not to ease tension but to reach a compromise since the opposition was planning to start street protests last week and this initiative came to postpone that."

"There is no party, regardless of how disciplined they are, that can control street protests, and all past experiences proved that," he added. "Second, I adopted the national unity government demand but I am keen on reaching it through dialogue to avoid [a political] vacuum."

Berri's parliamentary bloc warned during in its weekly meeting Monday against continued "inflammatory" statements between the parliamentary majority and their opponents, saying that such remarks could "hinder the consultation initiative and threaten stability."

MP Akram Chehayeb said  Sunday that "every demonstration will be faced with another demonstration and a bullet will not be met with a flower."

Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV responded by calling the March 14 Forces "devils" and warning that the party would give roundtable talks a one-week deadline to drag Lebanon out of the current "political impasse. "

In its Sunday evening newscast, Al-Manar quoted leading sources in Hizbullah and the FPM as saying that they "will not accept" the consultations being extended past the original 15-day deadline, which started on Monday.

Aoun's FPM also held its weekly meeting Monday, after which the party reiterated its demands for a national unity government to "restore political balance and form a fair electoral law." - With agencies
 
 


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Shebaa Farms to be demarcated, as UN meets to discuss Resolution 1559

By Rym Ghazal
Daily Star staff
Tuesday, October 31, 2006


BEIRUT: The UN has officially appointed a cartographer to demarcate the precise location and area of the Shebaa Farms, as members of the Security Council met with UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen late Monday to issue a presidential statement on the implementation of Resolution 1559.

"A cartographer and a small technical team have been named to settle the legal, political and cartographical issue of Shebaa Farms," a UN spokesperson in New York told The Daily Star. He declined to provide the name of the cartographer for security reasons, but said "he is from the Balkans."

Reports of the move were first made public over the weekend by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who said the cartographer would settle the dispute over land occupied by Israel since its withdrawal from most of South Lebanon in 2000.

The cartographer was to start work in mid-November from UN headquarters in New York and later would visit Shebaa, Israeli daily Haaretz reported Livni as telling the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday.

The course of action was determined following an October 19 report from Roed-Larsen on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559.

The Security Council meeting with Roed-Larsen was expected to focus on Hizbullah's disarmament and the demarcation of the Shebaa borders.

Roed-Larsen's report contained renewed calls for the disarmament of Hizbullah and

non-Lebanese militias, along with calls for the "strict respect of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity, and political independence of Lebanon under the sole and exclusive authority of the government."

The report also outlined "considerable progress towards [1559's] full implementation," in the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Lebanon and the deployment of the Lebanese Army in the South.

Lebanese Premier Fouad Siniora's office told The Daily Star it hadn't "received anything official from the UN regarding this move."

Israel took over the Shebaa Farms area in 1967 and sees it as part of the Golan Heights.

Hizbullah and Lebanon claim that the zone is Lebanese territory that is being occupied by Israel.


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UNICEF spearheads polio vaccination drive


Daily Star staff
Tuesday, October 31, 2006


BEIRUT: This week, more than 320,000 young children in Lebanon will receive the first round of polio vaccinations in a two-phase national immunization campaign. Starting on Monday and finishing on November 4, approximately 2,000 volunteers, trained by UNICEF and the Public Health Ministry, intend to go door-to-door to all homes and public health centers to ensure that all children under five years of age are immunized against polio. The second round of vaccinations will take place in December.

Although Lebanon was declared polio-free in 2002, and Lebanese children are normally vaccinated through primary-care services, the summer war severely disrupted routine health services, including vaccination, due to the mass population displacement.

During the conflict, UNICEF was able to vaccinate 8,000 children between 0-5 years of age against polio and 21,000 children between 0-15 years of age against measles.

However, dangerous and unstable conditions made it impossible to reach many children in the southern regions most affected by bombing, and the constant movement of children between locations made tracking extremely difficult.

"To keep Lebanon polio-free and protect children's health, it is critical to immunize every single child," says Roberto Laurenti, UNICEF Representative in Lebanon.

"The recent conflict severely disrupted routine vaccinations and public health systems. Since people from polio-affected countries in the region regularly move in and out of Lebanon, children are now vulnerable to infection. We need to act quickly and on a massive scale to eliminate that risk," Laurenti adds.

UNICEF has provided one million doses of the orally-administered polio vaccine, as well as cold-chain equipment (including 1,000 temperature-controlled vaccine carriers) to preserve the vaccine as it is stored and transported throughout Lebanon. This quantity is more than enough to supply both the first and second rounds of the vaccination campaign.

A "training of trainers" program was set up by the Ministry of Public Health in conjunction with UNICEF and the World Health Organization. The aim of the program was to brief health professionals on how to execute the vaccination campaign.

These health professionals in turn trained a total of 2,000 local volunteers, who will use the next six days to administer oral vaccines and track which children have been covered.

The campaign also aims to provide vaccines in refugee communities, including inside the Occupied Territories.

In December, the next series of National Immunization Days will deliver a second round of polio vaccinations to ensure full protection to all children less than five years of age and will also provide measles immunization to children in high-risk regions. - The Daily Star


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Israeli Supreme Court considerscommission to review war conduct

By Agence France Presse (AFP)

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


JERUSALEM: Israel's Supreme Court began deliberating on Sunday whether to order a state commission, the nation's highest board of inquiry, to look into the conduct of this summer's war on Lebanon. Seven high court justices, instead of the three that usually examine cases, were deliberating on an appeal by a non-governmental organization that argued that the probe set up by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government was not enough, officials at the court said.

Olmert's government voted on September 17 to establish the five-member commission to investigate the 34-day offensive against Lebanon that failed to achieve its main objectives.

The decision was taken against the backdrop of heavy protest against what was seen as an attempt by Olmert's Cabinet to avoid taking responsibility for the shortcomings by not appointing a state commission.

Members of a state commission are appointed by the head of the Supreme Court, while the members of the government inquiry established in September were appointed by the Cabinet.

The Supreme Court agreed in early October to hear an appeal by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, which said the probe established by Olmert's government was not enough.

Set up more than a month after a UN-brokered cease-fire ended the offensive on August 14, the government inquiry will probe how the government and defense establishments dealt with the threat from Hizbullah before and during the war.

Olmert has come under intense criticism over the war, which fell short of its goals. Israel has also weathered heavy criticism abroad for the devastating use of its firepower in Lebanon, where more than 1,200 people - mostly civilians - were killed, and thousands of homes and infrastructure targets were bombed. - AFP


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Israel sorry for 'misunderstandings' in shooting incidents with Germans

By Agence France Presse (AFP)

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday apologized for "misunderstandings" following a pair of shooting incidents with German forces backing up a UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon. "The prime minister explained to a German parliamentary delegation the nature of what happened and apologized for the misunderstandings which arose last week," said a statement from Olmert's office.

Olmert "highlighted the importance of the German forces' participation in the international force deployed in Lebanon" and vowed to keep up "direct contact between Israeli and German forces to avoid a repeat of such incidents."

In a later statement the prime minister's office said Olmert "expressed his regrets about the incidents between the Israeli Army and the German UNIFIL force" in a telephone conversation Sunday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"For Israel the deployment of a German force which is to play a key role in the implementation of UN resolutions on Lebanon is of utmost importance," the text added.

Olmert also stressed that Israel would do everything possible to cooperate with the German force so that such incidents do not happen again, it said.

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 UN mission off the Lebanese coast.

The confrontations came just days after Germany assumed command of the marine component of the UN peacekeeping forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on October 18.

German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung is to meet his Israeli counterpart Amir Peretz on Friday in a further attempt to clear up confusion surrounding the incidents. - AFP


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Basil Fuleihan institute celebrates 10th anniversary


Daily Star staff
Tuesday, October 31, 2006


BEIRUT: Finance Minister Jihad Azour said on Monday that the Lebanese are being "called upon not only to reconstruct Lebanon, but also to reactivate the country's economic cycle."

"We have to support the Lebanese citizens and the private sector so that the economy recovers its productive power and the citizen's confidence in Lebanon's future can be restored," said Azour, speaking at a ceremony held at UNESCO Palace in commemoration of the 10-year anniversary of the Basil Fuleihan Economic and Financial Institute.

The ceremony, entitled "Ten Years of Oxygen, Ten Years of Perseverance," was attended by a delegation from the French Industry, Finance and Economy Ministry as well as representatives of Lebanon's private and public sectors.

"Economic and financial reforms will not stop," said Azour, who went on to praise the Finance Ministry's efforts to "modernize" the Lebanese economy. "The ministry succeeded in relaunching the economic activity after this summer's war with Israel while helping those affected by that war."

France's Budget and Administrative Reform Minister Jean Franois Cope hailed Lebanese-French cooperation.

"France is keen on helping Lebanon's reconstruction and supporting it in the [international donor conference] Paris III to be held in January," Cope said.

A cooperation agreement was signed between the institute and the International Cooperation Agency (ADETEF) and the Institute of Public Management and Economic Development (IGPDE) affiliated with the French Finance Ministry. - The Daily Star


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Lahoud suggests changes to Hariri tribunal
Russia expresses desire to maintain right to veto court

By Rym Ghazal
Daily Star staff
Tuesday, October 31, 2006


BEIRUT: President Emile Lahoud released a 32-page report on Monday on the formation of an international court to try those accused of assassinating former Premier Rafik Hariri. In the report, Lahoud made several suggestions, such as changing the name of the court from "special," like that of Rwanda and Yugoslavia, to "a tribunal with an international status," as it will focus on "an assassination and not war crimes."

Lahoud also highlighted his role and responsibilities in the court's formation, quoting Article 52 of the Constitution, which states the president "negotiates international treaties in coordination with the prime minister."

The report also included demands for a clarification of the criteria for selecting Lebanese judges for the tribunal, and the role of the Lebanese justice minister in the recruitment, specifying the steps taken to protect witnesses, pinning down the court's scope when prosecuting the case and the various degrees of punishments and penalties.

Responding to Lahoud, Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh said: "When was a suspect allowed to choose the court before which he will stand and the identity of the judges who will prosecute him?"

"When has the suspect, more precisely the killer, had a word to say on legal procedures that he believes adequate in a prosecution?" He asked.

He added: "Statements that are issued as presidential notes are nothing but a constitutional violation, a judicial heresy and a political scandal."

Hamadeh also said that Syrian President Bashar Assad was "using the president, whose term was extended by force, to hamper or delay the creation of an international tribunal that will prosecute Hariri's assassins."

He added: "The 30-page notes issued by [President] Emile Lahoud should be used as information against him and against his masters."

Local daily An-Nahar reported on Monday that Lahoud received a copy of the final proposal on the international court from Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh on Saturday and spent two days studying the document before releasing his suggestions.

Judicial sources told The Daily Star that in addition to concerns voiced by Lebanese, international figures are also interested in how the court is set up, with reports circulating that if Lebanese parties can't agree, the UN will take over the process.

Local newspaper reports have said that Russia has its own suggestions regarding the court's particulars, focused on six main points, including Russian's desire to maintain its veto during the duration of the court and the removal of a "crimes against humanity" clause from the procedures.

Three of Russia's main points, as published in As-Safir Monday, were that the court should not prosecute presidents, that it should not charge an accused in absentia, and that it should not abide by any international criminal agreements signed, or which will be signed, between Lebanon and another country.

Siniora's spokesperson had no immediate comment on Lahoud's or Russia's suggestions, saying only that "the Cabinet will meet soon to discuss any suggestions and changes, and it will decide the final steps."

The As-Safir article quoted prominent March 14 Forces members MPs Walid Jumblatt and George Adwan as criticizing Russia for meddling in Lebanon's internal affairs.

"Every time there is some progress on forming the international court, there are attempts to delay it by the Assad government and his international connections," a statement released by Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party said.

Lahoud's suggestions were also sent to Justice Minister Charles Rizk. Asked by LBC about statements saying that the creation of the international tribunal falls within the competence of the president and not the justice ministry, Rizk said that according to Article 52 of the Constitution, "the president negotiates international treaties with the Prime Minister. But the treaties cannot be ratified except after agreement of the Cabinet."

Rizk said that he was assigned by the government to follow-up on the creation of the international tribunal.

He added that legislative decree 151, which regulates the Justice Ministry's affairs, gives the ministry the authority to supervise judicial issues.


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Rights groups detail Israeli, Hizbullah legal violations

By Paige Austin
Special to The Daily Star
Tuesday, October 31, 2006

 

BEIRUT: Two Lebanese human rights organizations released a joint report Monday describing Hizbullah's and Israel's violations of international law during this summer's war. The report, provocatively titled "The 33-Day War," echoes other international organizations' findings that neither fighting force took adequate measures to protect civilian lives.

What distinguishes the publication, its authors say, is its emphasis on the legal statutes that ought to have restrained both sides - even in such an unconventional conflict.

"Part of our work is in educating the Lebanese population," explained Wa'il Kheir, managing director of The Foundation for Human and Humanitarian Rights (Lebanon), one of the organizations behind the report. "We feel it is not enough to report on violations. We need to train people that they have rights [under international humanitarian law] - even in cases of atrocities and civil wars."

Kheir and his colleague, Nabil Halabi of the Lebanese Association for the Promotion of Democracy and Human Rights, conceded disagreement on one aspect of the investigation at a news conference held to announce the report's release.

The sticking point was whether Hizbullah committed a "crime against peace" when it killed eight Israeli soldiers and kidnapped two others in a July 12 raid.

Questioned about the report's failure to reconcile the two organizations' stances, Kheir told reporters, "It's important to have a diversity of opinions. And if you know this region, you know how rare this is."

Another reason the report details relevant international legal statues, Kheir and Halabi explained, is the summer conflict had little historical precedent: Few conflicts have pitted a non-state actor against a state acting outside its own territory.

For legal scholars, they said, it was unclear whether the Geneva Conventions' additional protocol on armed conflict could be applied.

The two organizations concluded that it could - but their findings were hardly considered a boon for Hizbullah.

The authors of the report faulted the resistance group for creating "dual-use targets," or military targets couched in civilian areas, which are legal to hit under international law.

"Some people will say that this is a war of liberation, and a war of liberation always takes place among civilians, in their land," Kheir said. "We say that explains what happened, but it doesn't justify what happened."

The 26-page report, which features a mixture of material borrowed from international rights monitors Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as original testimony from people in southern Lebanon, will supplement a growing body of literature on abuses during the war.

Kheir and Halabi said their organizations plan to publicize their findings using their own mailing lists as well as local and foreign media outlets. Only Israeli media, they conceded, is beyond their reach.


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Monday October 30, 2006

Al-Manar Slams March 14 Forces as 'Devils', Hizbullah Gives 1 Week Deadline for Talks
Hizbullah's television channel has ultimately stepped up its attacks on the March 14 Forces calling them "devils" and warning that the Shiite party will give roundtable talks a one-week deadline to drag Lebanon out of its political impasse.
In its Sunday evening newscast, Al-Manar channel quoted leading sources in Hizbullah and the FPM as saying that they "will not accept other than the remaining week for consultations after it (dialogue) has been postponed for a week."

Speaker Nabih Berri, who has put off roundtable talks on a national unity government for a week ostensibly because three key members of the political elite are abroad, has set a maximum 15-day consultation period.

The new date was set for Monday Nov. 6 after Druze leader Walid Jumblat, former President Amin Gemayel and Parliament's majority leader Saad Hariri have apologized from attending the session that was first scheduled for Monday Oct. 30 for travel obligations.

Berri told An Nahar on Sunday that he preferred the presence of "first rank" leaders rather than representatives because talks among "second rank" politicians would slow the consultation process on the national unity government and the reformation of the electoral law.
Those two issues are key demands of pro-Syrian Hizbullah, which fought a summer war with Israel, and the FPM, the party's close political ally.

Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and Aoun have been recently calling for the resignation of Premier Fouad Saniora's government. They were among the top 14 leaders who took part in reconciliation talks, launched early March.

Al-Manar accused the anti-Syrian March 14 Forces of "betting on regional developments, for example, a possible American offensive against the Islamic Republic (of Iran)."

Without directly naming Hizbullah and its allies, the television station said that the March 14 coalition was "terrified of popular anger."

Al-Manar also quoted Hizbullah's executive chairman Sayyed Hisham Safieddine as saying that the national unity government was "on its way to being accomplished," adding that "there is no way that anyone could try to eradicate or run away from this reality."

Al-Manar's attack coincided with challenging statements by members of the March 14 camp.

Telecommunication Minister Marwan Hamadeh said Sunday "wrong who thinks that we are going to turn in the country or the government to a party which takes instructions from the Damascus regime."

MP Akram Shehayeb also warned against attempts of toppling the cabinet, saying: "This time we will not stay hands tight … popular anger will be confronted with popular anger and a bullet will be faced with a rose."

In the meantime, Lebanon's influential Maronite patriarch Nasrallah Butors Sfeir has said that certain parties in the country are trying to bring Lebanon back to the era of Syrian tutelage.

Without identifying them, Sfeir attacked pro-Syrian parties in his Sunday sermon, saying: "What we are hearing nowadays is very worrisome. The Lebanese society is divided and there are those who are working toward returning the country to the age of tutelage."

Syria, that controlled Lebanon for almost 30 years, withdrew from the country in April 2005 following local and international pressure in the aftermath of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's assassination.(Naharnet file photo shows Al-Manar newsroom)
 
 
 

Beirut, 30 Oct 06, 10:36


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UN to map disputed Shebaa farms area on Israel-Lebanon border
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz
The United Nations will appoint a cartographer to map the precise location and area of the Shaba Farms, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni reported to the cabinet on Sunday.

The status of the territory on the slopes of Mount Hermon is disputed by Lebanon, Syria and Israel and its boundaries have never been precisely defined.

Livni said the cartographer would start working in mid-November from UN headquarters in New York, and not conduct surveying at the site itself at this stage.

The move was decided on following the periodical report of UN envoy Terje Larsen about the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559.

Israel took over the area in 1967 and sees it as part of the Golan Heights. The UN accepted this position following the IDF's pullout from Lebanon in May 2000 but Hezbollah and Lebanon claim that this is Lebanese territory still under Israeli occupation.

During the recent war in Lebanon, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said Israel should leave the Shaba Farms and place the area in UN custody until the sovereignty issue is settled.

United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tried to persuade Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to agree to discuss Shaba Farms, but he refused.

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Israel and Lebanon trade accusations
Ryan R. Jones, All Headline News

JERUSALEM, Israel - Both Israel and Lebanon at the weekend accused the other of preventing full implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the summer's 34-day war between Lebanon's Hezbollah militia and the Jewish state.
In a meeting Saturday with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana in Beirut, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora urged his guest to put maximum pressure on Israel to end its military overflights of his country.

At a press conference following their meeting, Siniora also indicated that his government viewed Israel's control of the disputed Shebaa Farms region as a violation of the truce, despite the fact that the U.N. has certified that the area is not Lebanese territory.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz on Sunday reiterated his position that the overflights of Lebanon would continue until Israel is certain that arms shipments are not reaching Hezbollah.

Resolution 1701 calls for a complete arms embargo on Hezbollah, as well as the dismantling of the group as an armed force.

A spokesman for U.N. forces in southern Lebanon told reporters that while the Israeli overflights were "very discomforting for the Lebanese," he could not guarantee that weapons were not reaching Hezbollah.

Until Lebanon and the international community can confirm that Hezbollah is not being rearmed, Israel says it must maintain its own surveillance.

Appearing to bolster the Israeli position, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appeared on Lebanese television on Friday urging Hezbollah to lay down its arms and play a constructive role in its nation's politics.

In an interview with the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. taped in her office in Washington D.C., Rice noted that groups like Hezbollah "cannot have one foot in terror and the use of violence and the other foot in politics. It just doesn't work that way."

Rice went on to say that ending Hezbollah's unchallenged rule over southern Lebanon, from where it repeatedly attacked the Jewish state, is the sole responsibility of the Lebanese government.

"I'm counting on Lebanon to live up to its obligations, and I'm counting on Lebanon to want to evolve to a normal state," said Rice. "And a normal state has an army and police that answer to the state, not to a state within a state."
 

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Israeli FM: U.N. to Map Shabaa
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has said that the United Nations will appoint a cartographer to map the precise location and the area of the Shabaa Farms.
The status of the territory on the slopes of Mount Hermon is disputed by Lebanon, Syria and Israel and its boundaries have never been precisely defined.

The Israeli Haarezt daily said on its online edition Monday that Livni reported to the Israeli cabinet on Sunday that the cartographer would start working in mid-November from U.N. headquarters in New York, and not conduct surveying at the site itself at this stage.

The move was decided on following the periodical report of U.N. envoy Terje Roed-Larsen about the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559.

Resolution 1559 calls for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Lebanon, the disarming of all militias, the extension of government authority throughout the country and free and fair presidential elections.

Israel took over the Shabaa Farms area in 1967 and sees it as part of the Golan Heights. The U.N. accepted this position following the Israeli troops pullout from Lebanon in May 2000, but Hizbullah and Lebanon claim that the zone is Lebanese territory still under Israeli occupation.

Prime Minister Fouad Saniora has recently said Israel should leave the Shabaa Farms and place the area under U.N. custody until the sovereignty issue is settled.

Haaretz said that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has tried to persuade Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to agree to discuss the issue of the Shabaa Farms, but he has refused.
Lebanese political leaders meeting at national dialogue talks in Beirut last March have agreed that Shabaa is inside Lebanese territory. They said Beirut should get a clear commitment from Damascus that backs their decision. Then Lebanon can take up the issue with the U.N. to change the area's official status.
 
 
 

Beirut, 30 Oct 06, 11:36


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Tourism Industry Struggles to Cope with War's Aftermath
Before last summer's war, foreign tourists would pop into Sanda Spanioli's gift shop every few minutes to buy a magazine, a map or a postcard. Now, she's lucky to see 20 customers a day.
Lebanon's tourism industry was on track to break records this year before the war between Israel and Hizbullah broke out July 12 and brought business at hotels, restaurants and shops to a crashing halt.

Two months after the Aug. 14 cease-fire, few tourists are trickling into Lebanon, but industry experts say they're optimistic that the travel business can rebound by 2008 if the country remains stable and safe.

"Business is not good right now," said Spanioli as she stood behind the counter at The Visitor Books & Gifts. "Perhaps it could get better, but that's only if the political situation calms down a bit."

Lebanon relies heavily on tourism, which accounts for about 12 percent of national revenue.

The industry suffered some turbulence after the February 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, but the country enjoyed a period of relative calm after Syria withdrew its troops two months later and tourists crowded Beirut's beaches and Baalbeck's ancient ruins.

Before the war, Tourism Minister Joe Sarkis was predicting a record 1.6 million visitors in 2006 with revenues topping $2 billion.

But the rosy outlook ended with the war, replaced by more sullen forecasts. The Rafik Hariri International airport was closed for more than a month after it was attacked by Israeli warplanes and gunboats. An oil spill caused by Israeli airstrikes tainted Beirut's beaches, frescos in a Roman-era tomb in the southern port city of Tyre were shaken to the ground and a stone at the Roman ruins of Baalbeck toppled.

Nada Sardouk Ghandour, the Ministry of Tourism's general director, said the amount of money lost has not yet been calculated, but small and medium sized businesses were most affected.

"It was paradise to hell, that's what happened," Ghandour said. "Loss and catastrophe happened to Lebanon's economy, including the tourism industry."

According to Ministry of Tourism statistics, 26,684 people arrived in Lebanon in August -- an 85.4 percent decrease from the same month last year. In September, the number jumped to more than 67,000 -- a majority from other Arab countries -- but it was still nearly 43 percent less than September 2005. October figures were not available.

Lebanon had hoped for a slight bump in visitors during last week's Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr, when throngs of mostly Arab tourists usually flock to the country.

Ghandour said hotels averaged between 40 and 60 percent occupancy during the holiday. A scattering of tourists from other Arab countries could be seen dining at Beirut's swanky restaurants during the holiday, and a few tour buses could be seen traveling down the city's streets.

Jihane Shkar, general manager at the Albergo Hotel in Beirut, said her 33-suite hotel was luckier than most with 70 percent of the rooms occupied during Eid. But instead of staying for a week like they had in the past, many of her guests were in Lebanon for only three or four days, and some canceled at the last minute, she said.

Ghandour said the ministry is trying to work with banks and small businesses in the tourism industry to help them stay afloat. A program begun in the summer allowing visitors from some countries including the United States to enter the country without a visa will continue, and plans to promote Lebanon at international travel conferences are in the works.

Ghandour predicts that tourism will return to prewar levels by 2008 -- if the country rebuilds and remains stable.

"Tourism is coming back slowly," she said. "If there is some silence, it would help us a lot."

But stability is not a guarantee in Lebanon where fears of political unrest pervade. Beirut has witnessed a series of minor attacks over the past few weeks, including a grenade fired at a downtown building that houses a dance club. The explosion, which was near U.N. offices, injured six people, broke windows and damaged cars.

The unease has some international tour operators discontinuing trips to Lebanon, including Britain-based Explore, until the situation is safer.

Amr Abdel-Ghaffar, of the U.N. World Tourism Organization in Madrid, said based on the past, Lebanon can recover. After Hariri's death, the industry bounced back, not only attracting visitors from nearby Arab countries but from Europe, North and South America, he said.

"There is a resilience to bounce back. This is our experience with tourism not just in Lebanon but the whole Middle East," he said.

But there were just a scattering of diners at the Riviera Yacht Club along Beirut's coast on a recent sunny afternoon, and general manager Walid Noshie wasn't too optimistic the industry's near future.

"I was making 40 percent more business this year, and then they started this stupid war and the businesse is bad," he said. "We count on tourism. We count on stability. Tourism and instability don't work together."(AP) (AP photo shows Kuwaiti tourists in downtown Beirut)
 
 
 

Beirut, 30 Oct 06, 09:22


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Israel Sorry for 'Misunderstandings' in Shooting Incidents off Lebanese Coast
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has apologized for "misunderstandings" following a pair of shooting incidents with German forces backing up the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Lebanon.
"The prime minister explained to a German parliamentary delegation the nature of what happened and apologized for the misunderstandings which arose last week," according to a statement released by the premier's office on Sunday.

Olmert "highlighted the importance of the German forces' participation in the international force deployed in Lebanon" and vowed to keep up "direct contact between Israeli and German forces to avoid a repeat of such incidents."

In a later statement the prime minister's office said that Olmert "expressed his regrets about the incidents between the Israeli army and the German UNIFIL force" in a telephone conversation Sunday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"For Israel the deployment of a German force which is to play a key role in the implementation of U.N. resolutions on Lebanon is of utmost importance," the text added.

Olmert also stressed that Israel would do everything possible to cooperate with the German force so that such incidents do not happen again, the statement said.

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. peacekeeping forces in Lebanon on October 18, in its first military foray into the Middle East since World War II.

German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung is to meet his Israeli counterpart Amir Peretz on Friday in a further attempt to clear up confusion surrounding the incidents.

Jung will travel to the region Thursday for talks with Israeli and Lebanese officials.

Jung will also pay a visit to the German troops who are leading the naval component of UNIFIL.

The German defense ministry said Jung would meet with Prime Minister Fouad Saniora and Defense Minister Elias Murr in Beirut on Friday before traveling to Tel Aviv for talks with Peretz.(AFP-Naharnet) (AFP photo shows the U.N. flag fluttering as Israeli warplanes fly over southern Lebanon) 
 
 

Beirut, 30 Oct 06, 08:55


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Two Lebanese Killed by Storm
Two Lebanese boys and six Syrian people have died after torrential downpours hit both countries over the weekend, security sources said Monday.
Police in Lebanon said Saturday's fatalities included a four-year-old boy who drowned after being swept away by floodwaters in an irrigation channel.

The other, a shepherd, 16, was killed along with a flock of 100 sheep, by a lightning bolt in the village of Kanafez in Hermel in east Lebanon.

Lebanese weather forecasters said they expected further heavy rainfall until Wednesday, with snowfall above 1,800 meters.

Heavy rains also led to traffic accidents throughout the country.

In Aley, a woman was killed and her son hospitalized when their car slipped and hit a concrete partition that separates the road.

The incident came a day after a young mother and her one-year-old son were killed when their car plunged off the Taanayel bridge in the Bekaa Valley. The bridge was badly damaged by Israeli bombardment during the summer war, police said Sunday.

The official Syrian news agency SANA said six people, two of them firemen, had drowned in northeastern Syria over the weekend.

Three victims' bodies were recovered and searches were continuing for the three others, SANA said.(AFP-Naharnet) 
 
 

Beirut, 30 Oct 06, 12:19


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Mother, Baby Die in Destroyed Bekaa Bridge Plunge
A young Lebanese mother and her one-year-old son were killed when their car plunged off a Bekaa Valley bridge that was badly damaged by Israeli bombardment during the summer war, police said Sunday.
The father, who was at the wheel, and their five-year-old daughter were badly injured and taken to hospital at Taanayel, police added.

An Israeli missile hit the bridge during the 34-day onslaught, creating a six-meter-deep crater in the middle of the span.

The bridge is at Taanayel, a small village on the main Beirut-Damascus highway 10 kilometers from the Syrian border.

Since the war ended on August 14 at least five people have been killed in similar accidents.

During the month-long conflict, 70 bridges in Lebanon were either destroyed or damaged in Israeli attacks.

A massive program to rebuild the country's bridges is currently under way, funded mostly by private donations.

Direct material damage to housing and infrastructure during the Israeli offensive has been put at 3.6 billion dollars.(AFP)
 
 
 

Beirut, 29 Oct 06, 11:57


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

Solana Voices Support for Saniora's Government
European Union Foreign Policy chief Javier Solana met on Saturday with Lebanese political leaders in an attempt to shore up support for Premier Fouad Saniora's beleaguered government.
Solana, at a joint press conference with Saniora, voiced support for the Lebanese government and urged the implementation of the U.N. resolution that ended the Israel-Hizbullah war by all sides.

He said, prior to his Lebanon visit, he informed the Israeli prime minister and defense minister that overflights of Israeli airspace must be stopped.
The EU foreign policy chief is on a six-day swing through the Middle East to examine prospects for restarting stalled Israel-Palestinian peace talks and for stabilizing Lebanon in the wake of the recent Israel-Hizbullah war.

The one-day visit to Beirut was to send a strong message to Syria and its Lebanese allies that Europe, which is providing the bulk of a 7,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force, wants to keep Saniora's moderate government in office.

"We have real and important responsibilities in Lebanon" Solana said in Israel before heading to Lebanon.

Behind closed doors EU officials were expected to voice concern over growing tensions between rival Lebanese factions, which threaten Saniora's fragile coalition.

In the press conference, Saniora defended his government's performance during this summer's war with Israel, saying it had maintained national unity in the face of widespread devastation.

"This government is by itself a government that represents most of the political groups in the country" and it "has already demonstrated a high level of leadership in tackling most abuses," Saniora said.

"This is the government that managed to preserve the unity of the Lebanese in the face of major attacks," he added.

On Saturday, Solana also met with Maj. Gen. Alain Pellegrini, leader of the U.N. peacekeeping force, to get an assessment on the U.N. mission in southern Lebanon and the U.N. force's relationship with the Israelis.

A U.N. official said Pellegrini urged Solana to pressure Israel to end its controversial overflights of Lebanon.

"(Pellegrini) complained about the overflights," UNIFIL spokesman Daljeet Bagga told reporters. "He asked Solana to pressure the Israelis."

Germany has alleged that Israeli jets this week fired in the air over a German naval vessel meant to protect other peacekeeping ships off the Lebanese coast.

The Israelis have denied shots were fired.

Solana also met with Nabih Berri and welcomed an initiative launched by the Lebanese speaker, calling for consultations between rival political factions in Lebanon - both pro- and anti-Syrian, Christian and Muslim.

"We hope that the product of that dialogue will be a constructive one for the future of Lebanon," Solana said.

Late Friday, the EU foreign policy chief held talks for the first time with the influential Maronite patriarch Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir.

Notably absent from Solana's agenda was pro-Syrian Lebanese President Emile Lahoud.

Solana's visit came as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stepped up the pressure on Hizbullah to disarm. Rice said in an interview aired Friday on the LBCI that Hizbullah should drop its armed struggle if it wants to continue playing a role in Lebanese politics.

Tensions between rival political groups have risen in recent weeks, with Beirut witnessing a series of minor attacks, including a grenade fired from a rifle at a downtown building that houses a dance club.

The disarming of Hizbullah, a key international demand, has caused a tense internal struggle between the Saniora government and the Shiite party as Lebanese troops try to take control of Hizbullah's longtime stronghold in the south.

Leaders failed to agree on the disarmament issue during talks in June.

The U.N.-brokered cease-fire that ended the Israel-Hizbullah confrontation called for Hizbullah to disarm.

But Hizbullah has refused to lay down its weapons. Neither the 15,000 Lebanese troops nor U.N. peacekeepers who are to patrol a buffer zone in the south have the mandate to take the weapons by force.

Solana left Beirut Saturday evening and arrived in Amman, Jordan.(Naharnet-AP-AFP)
 
 
 

Beirut, 28 Oct 06, 08:47
 


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Lebanon's Political Tensions Drag on as Dialogue Postponed
Speaker Nabih Berri has postponed roundtable consultations on a national unity government for a week, ostensibly because three key members of the political elite are abroad.
Berri told An Nahar that he preferred the presence of "first rank" leaders rather than representatives because talks among "second rank" politicians would slow the consultation process.

The new date was set for Monday Nov. 6 after Druze leader Walid Jumblat, former President Amin Gemayel and Parliament's majority leader Saad Hariri have apologized from attending the session that was first scheduled for Monday Oct. 30 for travel obligations.

Jumblat traveled to the United States on Saturday and will meet with top U.S. officials in Washington on Monday, the day the talks were first scheduled to begin.

An Nahar said Friday that Jumblat will meet during his visit to the U.S. with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and David Welch, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs.

"Given previous engagements by some of the leaders and after consultations, it has been decided to postpone the talks to Monday Nov. 6 at 11 am in parliament to discuss the previously announced items on the agenda," said a statement released from Berri's office late Saturday.
The speaker on Wednesday called for fresh talks across Lebanon's sectarian divide for consultations over a national unity government and reforming the country's electoral law.

Those two issues are key demands of pro-Syrian Hizbullah, which fought a summer war with Israel, and Gen. Michel Aoun, the party's close political ally.

Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and Aoun have been recently calling for the resignation of Premier Fouad Saniora's government. They were among the top 14 leaders who took part in reconciliation talks, launched early March.

The thorny issue aimed at resolving Hizbullah's right to keep its weapons was last tackled by the pro and anti Syrian leaders before the discussions were adjourned late June. The outbreak of the Israel-Hizbullah war July 12 has prevented the resumption of the talks.

The speaker's postponement decision on Saturday came after the March 14 Forces announced they will join the roundtable consultations.

"We are going to take part in roundtable talks because we believe that the (current) tension overwhelming the country must be eliminated," said MP George Adwan, one of four members of the March 14 coalition entrusted by the anti-Syrian camp to meet Berri before coming out with a final decision on its participation.

On Thursday, Hizbullah welcomed Berri's initiative and said it hoped that the meeting would lead to a solution to move Lebanon from its current political impasse.

While Aoun did not give a final say in the resumption of the talks, he dubbed Berri's proposal as "positive" and said Saturday that he backed any form of dialogue that would solve the country's problems.
 
 
 

Beirut, 29 Oct 06, 08:20
 


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British Daily: High Radiation Level Samples Found After Israeli Bombing
Scientists studying samples of soil from Israeli bombardment craters in south Lebanon have shown high radiation levels, suggesting uranium-based munitions were used, a British newspaper reported Saturday.
The samples were taken from two bomb craters in Khiam and At-Tiri and have been sent for further analysis to the Harwell laboratory in Oxfordshire, southern England, for mass spectrometry used by the Ministry of Defense, The Independent said.

The samples thrown up by Israeli heavy or guided bombs showed "elevated radiation signatures," Chris Busby, the British scientific secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, was quoted as saying.

Britain's Ministry of Defense has confirmed the concentration of uranium isotopes in the samples, the newspaper said.

In his initial report, Busby said there were two possible reasons for the contamination.

"The first is that the weapon was some novel small experimental nuclear fission device or experimental weapon (ex. a thermobaric weapon) based on the high temperature of a uranium oxidation flash," it said.

"The second is that the weapon was a bunker-busting conventional uranium penetrator weapon employing enriched uranium rather than depleted uranium," Busby was quoted as saying.

A photograph of the explosion of the first bomb shows large clouds of black smoke that might result from burning uranium, the newspaper said.

The U.N., which has been studying the ecological damage in Lebanon caused by the war, said Saturday it would soon be able to say whether uranium-based munitions were used.

"If there is uranium we will find it," said Boutros al-Harb, director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for Asia and the Middle East, based in Bahrain.

Harb said he could not immediately confirm the claims of high radiation levels.

"The analysis of samples taken by our munitions experts is being done in a laboratory at Spitz in Switzerland. I am not able today to confirm nor rule out the presence of uranium," Harb told Agence France Presse by telephone from Bahrain.

The 34-day Israeli offensive on Lebanon left at least 1,287 people, nearly all civilians, dead and 4,054 wounded.(AFP-Naharnet) 
 
 

Beirut, 28 Oct 06, 08:06


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Berlin confirms second incident with Israeli planes off coast of Lebanon
German defense minister plans visits to tell aviv, beirut on Friday


Compiled by Daily Star staff
Monday, October 30, 2006


Germany confirmed on Sunday that its naval forces serving with the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon were involved in a second incident with Israeli warplanes last week, and said its defense minister would visit the region this week. Conflicting reports emerged last week about an incident that apparently took place on Tuesday. German officials said Israeli F-16 fighter-bombers buzzed the Alster, an intelligence-gathering vessel operating in international waters about 50 kilometers off the coast of Lebanon, and even fired several shots over the ship.

Israel denied that shots were fired and said the planes approached a helicopter after it took off from a German ship without notifying Israeli forces.

The German Defense Ministry said Sunday that its navy had been involved in a second incident involving Israeli jets.

The Defense Ministry said this one occurred later on Tuesday and that it involved a German Navy helicopter and Israeli F-16s.

The helicopter had taken off from an unidentified ship and was heading in the general direction of Israel but was turned back by the F-16s.

"We are aware of the episode, but it was not menacing," the spokesman said after the Bild am Sonntag newspaper reported that the Israeli planes had "dangerously badgered" the helicopter.

The spokesman said the area was used by the Israeli Air Force for training, adding: "Perhaps other standards apply for them than for us."

"There were certain incidents, which we have discussed with Israel in the appropriate form," German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung was quoted as saying by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily in a preview of an interview to be published Monday. "Conclusions have been drawn from this for the future. I view the case as closed," he added.

Jung will be traveling to Israel and Lebanon on Friday to discuss the incident with his counterparts. The trip to the Middle East was finalized after Jung held a telephone conversation with Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz over the weekend in which Peretz "expressed his regret" to his German counterpart for the incident and said he wanted to "achieve improvements in the cooperation with the state of Israel."

"I don't expect any repeat of such an incident," Jung said late Friday on Germany's state-run ZDF television.

After meeting with Peretz in Tel Aviv, Jung will fly to Beirut and meet with Lebanese Premier Fouad Siniora and Defense Minister Elias Murr.

Jung added that things were smooth with his Lebanese counterpart, saying: "This mission is proceeding properly. We have excellent cooperation from the Lebanese authorities."

The incidents have highlighted a problem of clarity over the naval force's jurisdictions, with the German press reporting that the naval force's mandate does not allow ships to come within 10 kilometers of the Lebanese coast without permission from Beirut.

But according to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, German ships can patrol all coastal waters without restrictions on to their deployments.

In mid-October, Germany took charge of the multinational naval force patrolling Lebanon's coastline to prevent alleged arms shipments from reaching Hizbullah following the recent war with Israel.

Merkel was quoted in Beirut's Al-Mustaqbal daily, which is owned by the late Premier Rafik Hariri's family, on Sunday as defending the presence of the Germany Navy off Lebanon.

"They are there to preserve the truce and Lebanon's sovereignty," she told the paper

Merkel added that in the event "the German [Navy] can't do its job, then there will be renewed discussions over their tasks," adding that so far, she is "comfortable" with how things are going for the German peacekeeping contingent.

The incidents with the Israeli forces have led to a heated debate within Germany, with several media outlets reflecting on the troops' mandate in Lebanon and the risk that they could clash with Israeli soldiers - a possibility that is viewed with considerable unease in Germany because of the country's Nazi past. - With agencies


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EU envoy pledges support for Siniora


Compiled by Daily Star staff
Monday, October 30, 2006


The European Union's top diplomat has urged Lebanon's rival parties and politicians to rally behind the current government, as he pledged the EU's commitment to rebuilding the country under Premier Fouad Siniora's rule. In a joint news conference Saturday with Siniora at the Grand Serail, the EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana told the prime minister: "The EU will be with you. You can be sure about that. You are going to have support of the EU in the time ahead of us."

Solana, who arrived in Lebanon on Friday in the course of a six-day tour of the region to revive peace talks and stabilize Lebanon after the July-August Israeli bombardment, left Saturday evening for Jordan and then Egypt.

In Beirut, Solana told Lebanese officials that Europe, which is providing the bulk of the current 7,000-strong UN peacekeeping force in South Lebanon known as UNIFIL, wants to keep Siniora's moderate government in office.

Solana, who met with Israeli officials last week, said during the conference that he had "seriously" asked the Israeli officials "to stop violating Leb-anon's sovereignty."

He added: "I come from Israel where I spoke to the Israeli defense minister and I asked him to implement [UN Security Council] Resolution 1701 and made seriously clear to them that Israeli overflights must stop."

Siniora, meanwhile, said: "We have assured Solana that Lebanon is implementing Resolution 1701 and is fully respecting the cease-fire, unlike Israel, which continues to stall

and violate Lebanon's airspace and territories.

"Israel continuous to occupy Ghajar in the South and the Shebaa Farms; it refuses to supply Lebanon and the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) with maps of land-mines and cluster bomb strike locations, and continues to detain Lebanese citizens with no right."

EU officials with Solana said UN officials told them that some 10,000 peacekeepers would be deployed in South Lebanon by the start of December.

Yet Solana said during his Beirut conference: "I don't think there is any need for the deployment of more UNIFIL troops."

UNIFIL was reinforced by 5,000 troops on the insistence of Israel when the cease-fire between Israel and Lebanon went into effect on August 14, 2006.

Siniora said that he discussed with Solana several "vital and important issues," including the possibility of "Lebanon returning to the Armistice agreement signed with Israel in 1949, once the issue of the occupied Shebaa Farms is solved."

As for relations between the UNIFIL and the Lebanese Army, Solana and Siniora agreed that both sides are maintaining excellent relations.

"The relation between the Lebanese army and the UNIFIL troops is in the best shape and the coordination between them is going well," said Solana.

When asked whether there is any confrontation between the UNIFIL troops and the Lebanese Army, Solana said: "There is nothing to worry about. Minor issues happened but the situation is going on in a constructive way and we hope the situation continues on this positive way."

On the disarmament of Hizbullah, Solana said: "Resolution 1701 doesn't give the UNIFIL the right to disarm any side. If the UN troops find anything suspicious they will report it to the Lebanese Army."

During Saturday's conference, Siniora said his government was strong enough to withstand factional infighting that some politicians have warned could spill into the streets.

"This is a government that managed to have a cease-fire ... [and] managed ultimately to achieve the withdrawal of Israeli forces," Siniora said.

"This government managed to preserve the unity of the Lebanese," he added.

Lebanon has witnessed rising political tensions during the past few weeks, with the capital witnessing a series of minor explosives attacks.

Parliament speaker Nabih Berri has called for consultations among the heads of the Lebanese political parties to discuss the formation of a national unity government.

"We hope that the product of that dialogue will be a constructive one for the future of Lebanon," Solana said after meeting with Berri Saturday.

Siniora later said he agreed to join the talks, but that his participation did not amount of a concession of his ruling government.

Siniora added: "We are going to participate it the consultation process ... We are people that do dialogue everyday, so I don't see this as a concession."

The premier said that he hoped the upcoming Paris donor's conference would be "a success."- Agencies


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

Berri delays talks over key absences

By Nada Bakri and Maher Zeineddine
Daily Star staff
Monday, October 30, 2006

 

BEIRUT: Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has delayed key cross-party consultation meetings scheduled for Monday due to the absence of some participants, his press office announced on Sunday. Last week, Berri invited rival politicians to hold talks on two issues - the formation of a national unity government to replace Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's Cabinet and coming up with a new electoral law -  in an attempt to prevent escalating political tensions from erupting into street clashes between various camps.

The statement said Berri also postponed the talks until November 6 to allow more time for discussions about the agenda.

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 Free Patriotic Movement.

Berri's announcement came as Lebanon's influential Maronite patriarch said Sunday that certain factions in the country are trying to return Lebanon to the age of Syrian tutelage.

During his Sunday sermon, Cardinal Nasrallah Butros Sfeir attacked the country's pro-Syrian parties without identifying them, saying: "What we are hearing nowadays is very worrisome. Lebanese society is divided and there are those who are working toward returning the country to the age of tutelage."

Meanwhile Beirut's An-Nahar daily quoted Berri as voicing "concern that important officials be present" for the talks, alluding to former President Amin Gemayel, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri.

Gemayel is on three-day visit to Kurdistan, Hariri is in Saudi Arabia, and Jumblatt left Saturday evening for Washington, where he is scheduled to meet with top US officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

According to sources close to Jumblatt, the Progressive Socialist Party leader "will take advantage of his trip to the US to update the American leadership on Lebanon's current situation."

"He will also call on the international community to support the decisions reached during the national dialogue," which include disarming militia and establishing diplomatic relations with Syria.

While welcoming Berri's proposed consultations, the March 14 Forces have complained that the agenda is too limited and should include discussions on Hizbullah's weapons and the fate of Lebanon's pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, who the anti-Syrian majority wants removed from office.

The March 14 Forces held a meeting with Berri over the weekend in which they urged him to amend the agenda of the talks. The speaker said that cannot be done but that leaders can suggest to discuss anything they want during the talks.

Hizbullah MP Qassem Hashem said in a statement Sunday that Berri's postponement of the talks was "positive," adding that the consultations will be more successful if all leaders attend. "The consultation initiative is the last chance to end political bickering ... and allow [full] participation in the political, economic and social rescue journey," he said. - With agencies


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

French make presence felt on border

By Agence France Presse (AFP)

Monday, October 30, 2006


Anne Chaon

Agence France Presse


YAROUN, Lebanon: Hard against Lebanon's "Blue Line," at the point known as position 6-50, a group of French UN peacekeepers survey the Israeli orchards below. Barbed wire and fence just 30 meters away give reality to a frontier traced by the United Nations to keep peace between Israel and Lebanon.

From their lookout, the French "blue helmets" - binoculars around necks and assault rifles slung from shoulders - watch the Israeli patrols on the other side of the strip of no-man's land.

"We see them passing regularly from east to west," said Lieutenant Champy, who commands the position of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

The French force took over for a Ghanaian contingent at the site at the end of September.

At this forward position, around 30 men and three small AMX-10 armored troop transporters from the Chad Regiment's Third Combat Company have the job of watching over an area 4 kilometers long by 3 kilometer wide.

It was from a point a few hundred meters away, in the small valley, that the Israeli Army launched its pursuit of Hizbullah fighters after the capture of two soldiers on July 12.

Two gaping holes in the frontier and tank tracks over the nearby hills, through brush and olive trees, bear witness to the invading force's passage.

That particular track has also been cleared of mines, in contrast to the narrow lane leading to post 6-50 some 3 kilometers from the village of Yaroun. The length of that route is festooned with red markers showing the danger of land mines, planted by the Israelis during their earlier 22-year occupation of South Lebanon.

After the Israelis pulled out, the region became the territory of Hizbullah. Today, a small notice proclaims that access to the zone is still theoretically banned: "Danger - entry forbidden - Hizbullah military territory."

It is a warning that does not bother the French.

"Anyway, one never sees anyone here," said the French officer, a veteran of NATO peacekeeping work in Kosovo. "The area is too close to the border and too far from the village." French troops now occupy six positions in South Lebanon.

The presence of Leclerc tanks - noisy monsters of 56 metric tons each, which are repainted UN white on arrival in Beirut - should be sufficient dissuasion against aggression, said patrol leader Laurent Naturel.

Perched on one of the tanks near Kunin, Naturel said: "These tanks are a symbol of the transition from UNIFIL 1 to UNIFIL 2." He was referring to the original 2,000-strong UNIFIL force in place before the war last summer, and the promise now of a force totaling 15,000.

"The people are impressed by [the tanks'] size, but reassured by their color," said Naturel. "Up to now the only tanks they have seen were the [Israeli] Merkavas."


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

Spanish UNIFIL troops begin rotation


Compiled by Daily Star staff
Monday, October 30, 2006


A first unit of the Spanish peacekeeping troops operating with the recently expanded United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) left the country on Sunday under a previously established rotation schedule. As the soldiers began their journey home for the Southern port city of Tyre, the Spanish contingent's media officer,  Colonel Puig Terrero, said his troops had built strong and positive ties with all residents in the area where they were located, and that no problems occurred during their stay.

Terrero added that the number of Spanish troops is expected to increase to 1,100 for a one-year mission from September 2006 to July 2007.

"The Spanish government will later on decide whether it will renew the troops' mandate," he added.

Terrero said that since the "withdrawal of the Israeli Army in October from all the sections we deployed in, they have not violated the Blue Line."

Terrero later briefed the media about the social and medical services provided by the contingent. He added that members of his country's contingent had cleared around 4,000 cluster munitions and other forms of unexploded ordnance in less than two months.

The eastern sector of the South is under the command of the Spanish contingent. The Nepalese, Indonesian, and Chinese troops work under the supervision of the Spanish. The Spanish, meanwhile, work under French leadership. The French will pass on the leadership of the UNIFIL to the Italians in February.

Portugal will begin deploying the 140 troops which it has committed to UNIFIL next week, Defense Minister Nuno Severiano Teixeira has said.

Twelve Portuguese troops will head to the country Tuesday, with the remaining 128 due to arrive by the end of November, the minister told reporters late Friday.

"The troops are ready," the Lusa news agency quoted him as saying in Lisbon.

The Portuguese contingent will be stationed near Tyre.

Meanwhile, some 130 Italian troops arrived at Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport on Saturday to bolster their comrades already serving with UNIFIL in the South. - Agencies


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Sunni leader denies plan to meet Khaddam during trip to France

By Nafez Qawas
Daily Star correspondent
Monday, October 30, 2006


BEIRUT: Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Qabbani has denied claims that he will meet with former Syrian vice president Abdel-Halim Khaddam in Paris. Press reports emerged over the weekend that while on a trip to the French capital to attend a conference on intercultural dialogue, the cleric would meet with the former Syrian official, who has accused the Syrian regime of assassinating former premier Rafik Hariri.

Qabbani's press office issued a statement Sunday, saying: "The press office strongly rejects such claims and stresses that his Eminence is visiting Paris to participate in a conference about intercultural dialogue."

Qabbani himself warned Sunday against hasty reactions over controversial issues that he said would lead the country to internal disputes.

In a statement, Qabbani said: "The Lebanese, Muslims and Christians should join forces to spare Lebanon further conflicts and disputes."

Separately, the Higher Islamic Religious Council said it was "very concerned over political tension prevailing over the country," and emphasized "Qabbani's national role in unifying ranks between the Lebanese people."

After a Saturday meeting in Beirut, the council said that Dar al-Fatwa, the Sunni's religious authority headed by Qabbani, "always works to achieve the unity of the Lebanese and fulfill national interests."

The council urged all relevant authorities to cooperate and "put Dar al-Fatwa aside from their political disagreements."

But a statement issued by the council's vice-president Omar Mesqawi on Sunday said that the meeting was held upon an initiative by its members.

"Consequently," he added, "the statement issued by the council was not official."

A visit of Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea last week to Qabbani instigated criticism mainly from Sunni former Prime Minister Omar Karami.

Geagea was convicted in 1999 of assassinating Karami's brother, former premier Rashid Karami, in 1987.

A news conference will be held Tuesday by the Future Movement department in Ras al-Nabeh and other committees to condemn the campaign against Qabbani and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

The Beirut Ullemmas' Gathering criticized Saturday what they called a "programmed campaign launched by some Islamic and political movements against Dar al-Fatwa."

The gathering said that the campaign "is accompanied by another attack on Prime Minister Fouad Siniora in an attempt to weaken his post and create divisions among the Muslims."

The gathering emphasized its "absolute support" to Qabbani, saying that "those who criticized his meetings with some officials "have met and allied with figures, who bombarded the Lebanese, and the Muslims in particular, during the Civil War." 

The vice president of the Higher Shiite Council, Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, called Qabbani on Saturday and stressed the need to deploy efforts to ease political tensions, according to a report from  the National News Agency.


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UN vows answers on whether Israel used uranium munitions during summer war
Samples from 2 bomb craters in south show high radioactivity

 

Monday, October 30, 2006

 

BEIRUT: The United Nations, which has been studying ecological damage in Lebanon caused by Israel's summer offensive, said Saturday that it would soon be able to say whether uranium-based munitions were used, as reported by a British newspaper. The Independent newspaper said scientists studying samples of soil after Israeli bombing in Lebanon have shown high radiation levels, suggesting that uranium-based munitions were used.

It said samples taken from two bomb craters in Khiam and Al-Tiri have been sent for further analysis to the Harwell laboratory in Oxfordshire, southern England, for mass spectrometry.

"If there is uranium we will find it," said Boutros Harb, director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) for Asia and the Middle East, based in Bahrain.

The samples thrown up by Israeli bombs showed "elevated radiation signatures," Chris Busby, the British scientific secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, was quoted as saying.

Britain's Defense Ministry has confirmed the concentration of uranium isotopes in the samples, the report added.

In his initial report, Busby said there were two possible reasons for the contamination.

"The first is that the weapon was some novel small experimental nuclear fission device or experimental weapon based on the high temperature of a uranium oxidation flash," it said.

"The second is that the weapon was a bunker-busting conventional uranium penetrator weapon employing enriched uranium rather than depleted uranium," Busby was quoted as saying.

A photograph of the explosion of the first bomb shows large clouds of black smoke that might result from burning uranium, the newspaper said.

An Israeli Army spokesman denied Saturday the use of illegal munitions.

"All the arms and ammunition that we use are legal and conform to international laws," he told AFP.

"The analysis of samples taken by our munitions experts is being done in a laboratory at Spitz in Switzerland. I am not able today to neither confirm nor rule out the presence of uranium," Harb told AFP by telephone from Bahrain.

"The results should be sent to us by mid-November."

Around 20 UNEP experts spent two weeks, with Lebanese environmentalists, from the beginning of October evaluating the impact on the environment of the July 12 to August 14 war, Harb said.

The experts tested air, water and soil samples at some 75 heavily bombarded sites in southern Lebanon and the mainly suburbs of southern Beirut, Harb added. Their report will be made public mid-December in Beirut.

At least 1,140 civilians - 30 percent of them children under 12 - have been killed along with 43 Lebanese Army and police troops in the offensive, the state Higher Relief Commission said. Many have unexplained wounds and burns that are still being studied. - Agencies


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

Sunday October 29, 2006

October 29, 2006

Breaking News 

Five navies led by US begin naval exercise Sunday, Oct. 29, off Persian Gulf Iranian coast. Iran’s armed forces on high alert, its air force chief replaced

The Western navies are to practice tactics for blocking the smuggling of nuclear weapons and components. Iran’s armed forces responded at once by declaring a high state of preparedness and branding the war games “adventurous.” Their alert encompassed the joint naval units of the military and Revolutionary Guards in the Persian Gulf, while the Revolutionary Guards, the Iranian army, navy and air force were placed on “yellow” alert, one level short of full war.

Also Sunday, supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei replaced Iran’s air force chief, Karim Qavami with Brig Gen Capt Ahmad Miqani, on the recommendation of the Revolutionary Guards commander.

In September, the outgoing air force chief, a US-trained pilot, commanded Iran’s military maneuvers which tested a new air defense system, fighter planes and laser-guided bombs. DEBKAfile’s Iran sources report that Khamenei did not approve of Qavami’s admiration of America’s military capabilities – especially the US air force’s advanced aircraft and equipment. He was the one who spoke out at general staff meetings in favor of procuring a new air fleet to better  stand up to a possible US attack. His successor follows the supreme ruler without question and has complete faith in the ability of Iran and its air force to match the US and its air might.

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Monday October 30, 2006

The Security Council is scheduled to hold consultations in the afternoon on the 1559 report

UN Security Council hears a briefing on UN 1559

3.00 p.m. Consultations of the whole (closed) - Consultations Room

- Middle East (Lebanon) (S/2006/832) *

- Other matters

__________

* With a view to a formal meeting.

LEBANON SPECIAL ENVOY TO BRIEF SECURITY COUNCIL, MEDIA

In response to earlier questions about the Secretary-General’s latest report on the implementation of Resolution 1559, regarding Lebanon, which went to the Security Council last week, the Spokesman said that Terje Roed-Larsen, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the implementation of that resolution, will brief the Council on that report Monday, in closed consultations.

After that, Roed-Larsen has agreed to talk to the press at the stakeout outside the Security Council.

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Nabih Berri's Consultations - POSTPONED! 

Lebanon's Political Tensions Drag on as Dialogue Postponed
Speaker Nabih Berri has postponed roundtable consultations on a national unity government for a week, ostensibly because three key members of the political elite are abroad.

Berri told An Nahar that he preferred the presence of "first rank" leaders rather than representatives because talks among "second rank" politicians would slow the consultation process.

The new date was set for Monday Nov. 6 after Druze leader Walid Jumblat, former President Amin Gemayel and Parliament's majority leader Saad Hariri have apologized from attending the session that was first scheduled for Monday Oct. 30 for travel obligations.

 

Former President Amin Gemayel called the points that Berri wants to discuss “ the demands of the alliance of 4 parties which he named as Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and general Aoun” . He welcomed the talks but criticized Berri ’s agenda and insisted that Lebanon’s needs should come first in any dialogue talks.

 

Carlos Edde , leader of the National Bloc , also criticized Berri’s agenda . He said the agenda in any dialogue should represent the interest of all parties concerned if this is to be talks about unity. He added “ it is no secret that the agenda represents only the interests of Syria and Iran and their allies."

Eddeh also said “ It is strange that these same people that are now trying to shorten the term of the current parliament are the same people that extended illegally the term of president Lahoud by another 3 years."

Many political observers are of the opinion that there can be no government of unity if the whole purpose of the talks is to bring Syria back as the main power player in Lebanese politics …. The agenda at this stage clearly does not serve the interest of the Lebanese people.

Jumblat traveled to the United States on Saturday and will meet with top U.S. officials in Washington on Monday, the day the talks were first scheduled to begin.

An Nahar said Friday that Jumblat will meet during his visit to the U.S. with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and David Welch, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs.

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Saturday October 28, 2006

Rice says Hezbollah must disarm to be part of Lebanon's political process
Posted 10/27/2006 6:38 PM ET
BEIRUT (AP) — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stepped up international pressure on Hezbollah to disarm, saying in a television interview aired Friday that the guerrilla group must surrender its weapons if it wants to remain part of Lebanon's political process.
Rice urged Hezbollah to lay down its arms according to the cease-fire that ended its 34-day war with Israel last summer, and choose between being a militant group and a legitimate political organization.

Hezbollah is under heavy international pressure to surrender its weapons, but the Iranian- and Syrian-backed group — which holds 11 seats in the Lebanese parliament and two spots in the Cabinet — has refused to disarm.

"If Hezbollah wants to be in politics... Hezbollah should be disarmed. You cannot have one foot in terror and the use of violence and the other foot in politics. It just doesn't work that way," Rice said in an interview with the privately-owned Lebanese Broadcasting Corp.

"Hezbollah has to decide whether it's going to maintain its terrorist wing and remain a terrorist organization or whether it's going to ... be part the political process," she said.

The interview was taped at Rice's office in Washington, and conducted by May Chidiac, a Lebanese journalist who lost an arm and a leg in car bombing in Lebanon in September 2005.

The U.S. government has labeled Hezbollah a terrorist organization and blames it for the deaths of 241 U.S. Marines in the bombing of their Beirut barracks in 1983, as well as for two attacks on the U.S. embassy in Beirut and the 1985 TWA hijacking that killed an American serviceman on board. Hezbollah has repeatedly denied such accusations and says it now opposes terrorism.

Rice also urged the Lebanese government to end what it called Hezbollah's "state within a state" and prevent weapons from reaching the militant group.

"I'm counting on Lebanon to live up to its obligations, and I'm counting on Lebanon to want to evolve to a normal state," Rice told the satellite channel. "And a normal state has an army and police that answer to the state, not to a state within a state."

The U.N. cease-fire resolution that ended the Hezbollah-Israel war on Aug. 14 called for the Lebanese army to deploy alongside international peacekeepers in Hezbollah strongholds across south Lebanon. Some 16,000 Lebanese troops have fanned out across the region, including along the border with Israel, for the first time in decades.

The two forces are tasked with establishing a Hezbollah-free buffer zone stretching some 30 kilometers (18 miles) north of the Israeli border.

Rice also warned that as Lebanon tries to rebuild, some people might try to destabilize its Western-backed government.

"We've heard that there are people who would like to intimidate or assassinate again," she said, referring to the 2005 assassinations of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and other anti-Syrian politicians. She did not elaborate.

Asked if Syria was trying to destabilize Lebanon following its withdrawal last year, Rice said: "It's not any great secret that there are concerns about what Syria, which once occupied the country, might try and do through continuing contacts in the country. But I don't want accuse any one place. I just want to make very clear that the international community believes there should be no foreign intimidation of the Lebanese people."

(hd-aj-lf)

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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Rice to Hizbullah: If You Want to Be in Politics You have to Disarm
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stepped up international pressure on Hizbullah to disarm, saying on the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation Friday that the group must surrender its weapons if it wants to remain part of Lebanon's political process.
Rice urged Hizbullah to lay down its arms according to the cease-fire that ended its 34-day war with Israel last summer, and choose between being a militant group and a legitimate political organization.

Hizbullah is under heavy international pressure to surrender its weapons, but the Iranian- and Syrian-backed group -- which holds 11 seats in parliament and two spots in Premier Fouad Saniora's cabinet -- has refused to disarm.

"If Hizbullah wants to be in politics... Hizbullah should be disarmed. You cannot have one foot in terror and the use of violence and the other foot in politics. It just doesn't work that way," Rice said in an interview with May Chidiac on the LBCI.

"Hizbullah has to decide whether it's going to maintain its terrorist wing and remain a terrorist organization or whether it's going to ... be part the political process," she said.

The interview was taped at Rice's office in Washington, and conducted by Chidiac at the LBCI's offices in Adma, north of Beirut.

The U.S. government has labeled Hizbullah a terrorist organization and blames it for the deaths of 241 U.S. Marines in the bombing of their Beirut barracks in 1983, as well as for two attacks on the U.S. embassy in Beirut and the 1985 TWA hijacking that killed an American serviceman on board. Hizbullah has repeatedly denied such accusations.

Rice also urged the Lebanese government to end what it called Hizbullah's "state within a state" and prevent weapons from reaching the group.

"I'm counting on Lebanon to live up to its obligations, and I'm counting on Lebanon to want to evolve to a normal state," Rice told the TV station. "And a normal state has an army and police that answer to the state, not to a state within a state."

The U.N. cease-fire resolution that ended the Israel-Hizbullah war on Aug. 14 called for the Lebanese army to deploy alongside international peacekeepers in Hizbullah strongholds across the south. Some 16,000 Lebanese troops have fanned out across the region, including along the border with Israel, for the first time in decades.

The two forces are tasked with establishing a Hizbullah-free buffer zone stretching some 30 kilometers north of the Israeli border.

Rice also warned that as Lebanon tries to rebuild, some people might try to destabilize its Western-backed government.

"We've heard that there are people who would like to intimidate or assassinate again," she said, referring to the 2005 assassinations of former Premier Rafik Hariri and other anti-Syrian politicians. She did not elaborate.

Asked if Syria was trying to destabilize Lebanon following its withdrawal last year, Rice said: "It's not any great secret that there are concerns about what Syria, which once occupied the country, might try and do through continuing contacts in the country. But I don't want to accuse any one place. I just want to make very clear that the international community believes there should be no foreign intimidation of the Lebanese people."(AP-Naharnet)
 
 
 

Beirut, 28 Oct 06, 07:28

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Solana in Beirut to Shore Up Support for Saniora's Government
European Union Foreign Policy chief Javier Solana met on Saturday with Lebanese political leaders in an attempt to shore up support for Premier Fouad Saniora's beleaguered government.
Voice of Lebanon Radio Station said Solana, who arrived in Beirut late Friday, held talks with Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh, Speaker Nabih Berri and PM Saniora.

Solana was scheduled to hold a joint press conference with Saniora at 3:00 p.m.
The EU foreign policy chief is on a six-day swing through the Middle East to examine prospects for restarting stalled Israel-Palestinian peace talks and for stabilizing Lebanon in the wake of the recent Israel-Hizbullah war.

The one-day visit to Beirut was to send a strong message to Syria and its Lebanese allies that Europe, which is providing the bulk of a 7,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force, wants to keep Saniora's moderate government in office.

"We have real and important responsibilities in Lebanon" Solana said in Israel before heading to Lebanon.

Behind closed doors EU officials were expected to voice concern over growing tensions between rival Lebanese factions, which threaten Saniora's fragile coalition.

On Saturday, Solana also met with Maj. Gen. Alain Pellegrini, leader of the U.N. peacekeeping force, to get an assessment on the U.N. mission in southern Lebanon and the U.N. force's relationship with the Israelis.

A U.N. official said Pellegrini urged Solana to pressure Israel to end its controversial overflights of Lebanon.

"(Pellegrini) complained about the overflights," UNIFIL spokesman Daljeet Bagga told reporters. "He asked Solana to pressure the Israelis."

Germany has alleged that Israeli jets this week fired in the air over a German naval vessel meant to protect other peacekeeping ships off the Lebanese coast.

The Israelis have denied shots were fired.

The EU foreign policy chief held talks for the first time with the influential Maronite patriarch Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir late Friday.

Notably absent from Solana's agenda is pro-Syrian Lebanese President Emile Lahoud.

Solana's visit comes as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stepped up the pressure on Hizbullah to disarm. Rice said in an interview aired Friday on the LBCI that Hizbullah should drop its armed struggle if it wants to continue playing a role in Lebanese politics.

Solana will round up his Lebanon visit by touring pro-Hizbullah neighborhoods of south Beirut which were pounded by Israeli air strikes during the July-August war. He will then travel to Jordan and Egypt.

Tensions between rival political groups have risen in recent weeks, with Beirut witnessing a series of minor attacks, including a grenade fired from a rifle at a downtown building that houses a dance club.

Solana has welcomed Berri's initiative to launch fresh talks between rival factions in Lebanon, both pro- and anti-Syrian, Christian, and Muslim.

The disarming of Hizbullah, a key international demand, has caused a tense internal struggle between the Saniora government and the Shiite party as Lebanese troops try to take control of Hizbulla's longtime stronghold in the south.

Leaders failed to agree on the disarmament issue during talks in June.

The U.N.-brokered cease-fire that ended the Israel-Hizbullah confrontation called for Hizbullah to disarm.

But Hizbullah has refused to lay down its weapons. Neither the 15,000 Lebanese troops nor U.N. peacekeepers who are to patrol a buffer zone in the south have the mandate to take the weapons by force.(Naharnet-AP-AFP)
 
 
 

Beirut, 28 Oct 06, 08:47

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British Daily: High Radiation Level Samples Found After Israeli Bombing
Scientists studying samples of soil from Israeli bombardment craters in south Lebanon have shown high radiation levels, suggesting uranium-based munitions were used, a British newspaper reported Saturday.
The samples were taken from two bomb craters in Khiam and At-Tiri and have been sent for further analysis to the Harwell laboratory in Oxfordshire, southern England, for mass spectrometry used by the Ministry of Defense, The Independent said.

The samples thrown up by Israeli heavy or guided bombs showed "elevated radiation signatures," Chris Busby, the British scientific secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, was quoted as saying.

Britain's Ministry of Defense has confirmed the concentration of uranium isotopes in the samples, the newspaper said.

In his initial report, Busby said there were two possible reasons for the contamination.

"The first is that the weapon was some novel small experimental nuclear fission device or experimental weapon (ex. a thermobaric weapon) based on the high temperature of a uranium oxidation flash," it said.

"The second is that the weapon was a bunker-busting conventional uranium penetrator weapon employing enriched uranium rather than depleted uranium," Busby was quoted as saying.

A photograph of the explosion of the first bomb shows large clouds of black smoke that might result from burning uranium, the newspaper said.

The U.N., which has been studying the ecological damage in Lebanon caused by the war, said Saturday it would soon be able to say whether uranium-based munitions were used.

"If there is uranium we will find it," said Boutros al-Harb, director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for Asia and the Middle East, based in Bahrain.

Harb said he could not immediately confirm the claims of high radiation levels.

"The analysis of samples taken by our munitions experts is being done in a laboratory at Spitz in Switzerland. I am not able today to confirm nor rule out the presence of uranium," Harb told Agence France Presse by telephone from Bahrain.

The 34-day Israeli offensive on Lebanon left at least 1,287 people, nearly all civilians, dead and 4,054 wounded.(AFP-Naharnet) 
 
 

Beirut, 28 Oct 06, 08:06


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Portuguese UNIFIL Troops to Head to Lebanon Next Week
Portugal will next week begin deploying the 140 troops which it committed to the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, Portuguese Defense Minister Nuno Severiano Teixeira has said.
Twelve Portuguese soldiers, the first batch of the contingent, will head to Lebanon on Tuesday with the remaining 128 members of the team due to arrive by the end of November, the minister told reporters in Lisbon late Friday.

"The troops are ready," he said after holding talks in the Portuguese capital with his visiting Angolan counterpart Kundi Paihama, the Lusa news agency reported.

Lisbon agreed in August to contribute 140 troops to the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) which is helping to monitor a ceasefire between Israel and Hizbullah, following a month-long war.

The Portuguese contingent will be stationed near the southern port city of Tyre where it will be under the direct command of Maj. Gen. Alain Pellegrini, the French general who is in charge of UNIFIL in the south.(AFP-Naharnet) 
 
 

Beirut, 28 Oct 06, 11:44
 


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U.S. to Rebuild Mdeirej Bridge Destroyed by Israel
The United States will pay to rebuild the Mdeirej bridge in Lebanon, the highest in the Middle East, which was damaged by Israeli bombardment during the July-August war, a senior U.S. official has said.
The 70 meter high bridge, on the mountainous road linking Beirut and Damascus, was hit on July 21 in the early days of Israel's 34-day offensive on Lebanon. A 200-metre-long section was destroyed.

U.S. State Department Director of Foreign Assistance Randall L. Tobias, in Lebanon on a two-day visit, said Friday work on the bridge is tangible proof that U.S. pledges of assistance "amount to more than just words."

Tobias is also administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which will pay an estimated 20 million dollars in repairs.

The $44 million bridge was built by the Italian company Toto and was inaugurated in 1998 by slain ex-Premier Rafik Hariri.

Direct material damage to housing and infrastructure in Lebanon during the war has been put at $3.6 billion.

Private Lebanese and foreign firms are repairing or rebuilding some of the 80 bridges damaged or destroyed by Israeli bombardment.

Funding for the Mdeirej bridge project is part of a U.S. commitment of $230 million in post-war aid to Lebanon, the U.S. embassy said in a statement.

"The $230 million committed by President (George) Bush in August have a very clear and important purpose—to help the Lebanese people rebuild their lives and communities after this summer's tragic conflict," Tobias said after meeting with Lebanese officials.

He said $90 million has already been disbursed to meet basic humanitarian needs and to assist the Lebanese in the early stages of recovery.

"I have been deeply encouraged by Lebanon's commitment to rapid recovery and economic growth and would like to reassure the Lebanese people that the American people are completely behind you," Tobias added.(Naharnet-AFP) 
 
 

Beirut, 28 Oct 06, 07:13


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Israel Expresses Regret for Ship Incident off Lebanon's Coast
German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung has said the Israeli military's chief-of-staff had "expressed his regret" to his German counterpart for the armed incident in which Israeli warplanes fired at a German warship.
"I don't expect any repeat of such an incident," Jung said late Friday on ZDF, Germany's national public television broadcaster.

Israeli jets fired in the air over a German intelligence-gathering ship off Lebanon's coast, German officials said Friday, as both countries continued to give different versions of what happened.

The ship, the 83-meter Alster, was not listed as part of the German flotilla sent to prevent weapons smuggling off the coast of Lebanon as part of the expanded U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Defense Ministry spokesman Thomas Raabe said.

Raabe said the Alster was 90 kilometers off the coast in international waters when six Israeli F-16s flew over it and misaimed shots were fired in the air. The unarmed ship was there as part of efforts to protect the UNIFIL naval force, he said, noting that Israeli vessels had been hit with missiles during fighting with Hamas.

Asked what the motive for the jets' overflight was, he said, "I don't want to speculate. I don't think there is a serious background." He added that Israel had high security needs given the situation in the Middle East.

Raabe wouldn't say how Israel explained the incident to Germany's government.

Israel issued a statement saying that the planes approached a helicopter after it took off Tuesday from a German ship without notifying Israeli forces. The Israelis denied shots were fired.(AP)
 
 
 

Beirut, 28 Oct 06, 09:38
 


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Alleged Al-Qaida Suspect's Wife Condemns U.S. House Search
The wife of the alleged al-Qaida recruiter and leader of a North American terror support cell has said she felt intimidated and coerced into allowing FBI agents to search her Florida home after her husband's 2002 arrest.
"I was very scared. I felt like I had no choice," Nahed Wannous, wife of defendant Adham Amin Hassoun, said testifying through a live video hookup from Beirut. "I was being pushed very hard."

Wannous' video testimony was a key part of an effort by Hassoun's lawyers to persuade a judge to suppress evidence seized in the June 12, 2002, search of the family's home in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Sunrise, Florida.

Hassoun, a 44-year-old computer programmer born in Lebanon, is charged along with alleged al-Qaida operative Jose Padilla and others with supporting violent Islamic extremists worldwide by providing money, recruits and supplies. All have pleaded not guilty, with trial scheduled in January.

Dressed entirely in black, including gloves, and with only her eyes visible above a veil, Wannous said the FBI agents put intense pressure on her to sign a search consent form when she asked if they had a court-ordered search warrant.

If she insisted on a warrant, an FBI agent told her they might stay at the home through much of the night, she said. "It might scare the children. We might flip over the couches. It will be very disorderly," Wannous quoted the agent as saying.

The FBI agents have previously testified that the search was handled by the book, with no threats or intimidation. Among the items seized were a 9mm handgun and papers, documents and videotapes that prosecutors say support their contention that Hassoun was a terrorist recruiter and fundraiser.

"Did they yell at you? Did they point their fingers at you threateningly?" asked Russell Killinger, one of the federal prosecutors in the case.

"No," Wannous replied.

Wannous said she lived in the United States for 11 years but left about 2 years ago, in part because she felt persecuted as an observant Muslim in this country after the 2001 terror attacks. She had been granted asylum to live in the U.S. after claiming that she might be killed by Hizbullah if she went back to Lebanon.

But given the choice between the two -- and with her husband jailed awaiting trial -- Wannous said she preferred to take her chances with Hizbullah by returning with their three sons to Beirut.

"I felt that I'd better come back to Lebanon, staying away from the areas where Hizbullah has authority," she said, without explaining why she feared the Shiite group.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Brown said he would allow the FBI agents to testify again next week in response to Wannous's claims and then issue a ruling on the validity of the evidence.(AP)
 
 
 

Beirut, 28 Oct 06, 10:11


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Still few takers for Berri's invitation to new talks

By Nada Bakri
Daily Star staff
Saturday, October 28, 2006

 

BEIRUT: Despite expressing support for Speaker Nabih Berri's call for consultation meetings to discuss national issues, Lebanon's leading politicians have yet to announce if they will participate in the talks scheduled to begin Monday. Berri called Wednesday for the consultations to be held, for a maximum of 15 days, to discuss the formation of a national unity government and a new electoral law.

The March 14 Forces want Berri to include more items on the agenda of the talks, notably those discussed during the national dialogue sessions begun in March but abandoned in June.

A source close to the March 14 camp said the anti-Syrian coalition, which will meet Saturday to discuss the conditions of its participation, believes that limiting the discussion to Berri's two items means adopting the demand of the pro-Syrian parties and the Free Patriotic Movement to replace Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's Cabinet with a national unity government.

Reforms, the source argued, should start with electing a new president to replace Emile Lahoud, widely embattled domestically and internationally.

The March 14 Forces also want to resume discussions over the fate of Hizbullah's military wing, the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended last summer's war with Israel, and Siniora's seven-point peace plan that helped shape the international decision.

The source said the coalition "might propose transforming the consultation meetings into a dialogue session and to rearrange the items of the talks in an attempt to draft a political understanding over a united economic and political rescue plan."

Deputy Speaker Farid Makari said following a meeting with Berri on Friday that discussions should first tackle the presidency.

"We cannot talk about the issue of a national unity government when there is a presidential crisis that needs to be resolved first," he argued.

"Consultations and dialogue remain the best way to reach solutions. Hopefully we will reach an agenda for the talks that will satisfy all parties," he added.

The Central News Agency quoted sources close to Berri on Friday as saying that "political atmospheres and reactions to the speaker's initiative are not encouraging so far."

Berri said Wednesday that Hizbullah's leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, whom some Israeli officials say is still a target for assassination, would be allowed to send a representative to the talks to be held in the Parliament building in Downtown Beirut.

On Thursday, local daily An-Nahar reported that the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, MP Walid Jumblatt, was scheduled to leave for the United States on Monday, the day the talks are supposed to start, for meetings with Vice President Dick Cheney, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other officials.

Jumblatt's press office did not confirm or deny the trip.

The sources said Berri will postpone the date of the talks if leaders cannot attend Monday.

In a statement issued late Thursday, Hizbullah said it welcomed Berri's initiative and expressed its willingness to participate in the meetings.

An-Nahar quoted sources in Washington as saying US officials want to know Jumblatt's assessment of the situation in Lebanon after the war and the condition of Siniora's Cabinet.

Berri met Friday with the Qatari deputy prime minister, Abdullah al-Atiyya, who said he hoped Berri's initiative would "end the internal crisis."

"We would like to emphasize that Lebanon plays a positive role in the region and that all the problems will be discussed during roundtable talks in a closed room to reach solutions and avoid any crisis," Atiyya said. - With agencies


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German MPs demand explanation for clash with Israel


Compiled by Daily Star staff
Saturday, October 28, 2006


Members of the German parliamentary opposition demanded on Friday an explanation for what was described as a confrontation between Israeli jets and a German intelligence warship off Lebanon's coast. Defense Ministry spokesman Thomas Raabe said an unarmed intelligence vessel called the Alster, carrying highly sophisticated listening equipment, was 50 nautical miles (about 90 kilometers) off the coast in international waters when six Israeli F-16s flew over the ship and fired above it.

The unarmed ship was part of efforts to protect the UN Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) naval component, Raabe said, noting that Israeli vessels had been hit with missiles during fighting with Hizbullah.

Birgit Homburger, of the opposition Free Democrats, asked the government to announce what German troops would do if the incident recurred.

The Free Democrats opposed Germany's naval deployment with the expanded UNIFIL because of concerns it could lead to a confrontation between German troops and Israeli forces, a sensitive issue given Nazi Germany's role in perpetrating the Holocaust during World War II.

The German newspaper Tagesspiegel reported Friday that the 83-meter-Alster was a reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering vessel not listed as part of the UNIFIL flotilla sent to prevent weapons smuggling off the coast of Lebanon as part of the expanded UNIFIL peacekeeping force.

Asked what the motive for the jets' overflight was, Raabe said: "I don't want to speculate. I don't think there is a serious background." He added that Israel had high security needs given the situation in the Middle East.

He wouldn't say how Israel explained the incident to Germany's government.

A German Armed Forces spokesman in Berlin had told The Daily Star Thursday that the German warship "is part of the German contingent task force which is currently dispatched in Lebanon," but it "was outside the Lebanese territorial waters" at the time of the incident.

However, the German warship "was not flying the UN flag" at the time, a source working closely with UNIFIL told The Daily Star on Thursday.

Germany assumed command of the UN naval force off Lebanon 12 days ago, and has sent eight ships and some 1,000 personnel to join UNIFIL.

The naval force is charged with preventing the smuggling of weapons and helping maintain a cease-fire between Israel and Hizbullah.

German officials have said they are looking into an incident in which two shots were fired in the air near the vessel. The Israelis have issued a statement saying the planes approached a helicopter after it took off Tuesday from a German ship without notifying Israeli forces. The Israelis denied shots were fired.

But a German Air Force spokesman confirmed that one of six Israeli F-16 fighters had fired on the German vessel.

He said: "According to our information, at 10:11 a.m. Tuesday, six Israeli F-16 [fighter-bombers] flew low-level over the German warship. They fired several flares, the kind used [to defeat heat-seeking missiles], and one of the F-16s fired two shots from its gun [over] the German ship, but it didn't hit the ship."

The incident has reminded some observers of Israel's June 8, 1967, attack on a US Navy intelligence vessel, the USS Liberty. As Israeli forces battled those of Egypt, Jordan and Syria in the 1967 war, the Liberty was struck repeatedly by Israeli fighter-bombers and torpedo boats. Some 34 American servicemen lost their lives, and 173 were wounded.

Israel said later that its sailors and airmen misidentified the Liberty as an Egyptian horse carrier. Many of the survivors still insist that they were deliberately attacked because the Israelis suspected the Liberty had intercepted radio transmissions proving Israel was negotiating a cease-fire in bad faith and/or that its soldiers had committed atrocities against Egyptian prisoners. They also complain that they have been subjected to a cover-up by their own government. - Agencies


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Fatfat says tighter security will last until end of year


Daily Star staff
Saturday, October 28, 2006


BEIRUT: Amid rumors that security officials had uncovered a Syrian-Palestinian-Lebanese terrorist organization, Interior Minister Ahmed Fatfat said on Friday that increased security measures in greater Beirut "will continue until mid-January." In a telephone interview with The Daily Star, Fatfat said the security clampdown was initiated one month ago through joint efforts by all security departments and the Lebanese Army.

Meanwhile, a security source said thousands of security officers and army personnel "will be conducting patrols every night in and around greater Beirut" as of Sunday.

"This is part of a 75-day security plan timed to coincide with the kick-off of the consultation meetings between the heads of Lebanon's political parties that Speaker Nabih Berri hopes to start on Monday," the source added.

The measures will also include an increased security presence near embassies and government buildings.

The security clampdown comes after four separate attacks in the capital that targeted two ISF barracks in Verdun and Corniche el-Mazraa, a commercial building downtown and an affluent neighborhood in Ramlet el-Baida that houses the residences of the Saudi and UAE ambassadors to Lebanon.

The same security source said the "extensive ongoing-investigation" into the attacks have led to the arrest of three members of a Syrian-Palestinian-Lebanese terrorist group.

The detainees "have given valuable information and named other members of the criminal web who might have taken refuge in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Beirut and Ain al-Hilweh in Sidon," the source said.

The source said surveillance cameras in Ramlet el-Baida captured footage in the latest attack, despite rumors that a power outage had occurred at the time of the attack and disabled all electronic devices.

"The cameras were still operational and captured footage of a suspected car," the source said. - The Daily Star


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'UNIFIL won't disarm Hizbullah' - Russian defense minister


Compiled by Daily Star staff
Saturday, October 28, 2006

 

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Friday that "UN peacekeepers deployed in Lebanon are unlikely to be able to disarm the Hizbullah, as entailed by UN Security Council Resolution 1701."

In a statement to the official Russian news agency Friday, Ivanov added that "I strongly doubt that the UN will fulfill this task."

Ivanov said that concern over this controversial aspect of the peacekeepers' mission was one of the main reasons Moscow decided to send a peacekeeping contingent to Lebanon under an accord reached separately with the Lebanese government, instead of under the UN mandate.

Peacekeepers are instructed to ensure Lebanon's Southern border with Israel is "free of any armed personnel and weapons other than those of the Lebanese Armed Forces and UNIFIL [the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon."

Ivanov said the 308 Russian soldiers are expected to repair eight bridges bombed by the Israelis, in a mission that would last for six weeks.

The first temporary steel bridge built by the Russian troops was inaugurated Friday in the coastal city of Damour in the presence of Russian Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Isakov and Public Works and Transport Minister Mohammad Safadi.

Russian troops arrived in Lebanon earlier this month to help in the reconstruction of several bridges destroyed by Israeli attacks during the July-August war.

The Russian mission does not operate under the command of the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon. Following the ceremony, Isakov saluted the efforts of Russian engineers, and said "Russia would never hesitate to help Lebanon overcome any difficulties."

Also on Friday, Indonesia announced for the fourth time that is has had to delay sending troops to Lebanon to join the UN peacekeeping mission because of unexpected transport problems, a military spokesman said on Thursday.

A 125-member advance team had been due to leave over the weekend, with a main body comprising 725 soldiers following in early November.

"The reason is exclusively technical, and is related to transportation facilities," the Indonesian military spokesperson said.

Israel had initially objected to peacekeepers coming from nations which, like Indonesia, do not have diplomatic relations the Jewish state, but later abandoned that stance.

A spokesman for the Italian troops in South Lebanon said Friday that the Italian contingent was to increase to a total of about 2,400 by the end of November.

"The number of Italian soldiers reached on Thursday 1,450 with the arrival of 450 soldiers," he said.

He added that the Italian contingent would be based in the Bint Jbeil area of Tibnin, in addition to three other bases located in the Tyre regions of Shamaa, Maarakeh and Zibqine.

"The Italian contingent is keen on supporting the Lebanese Army in extending its authority over the South," the Italian official said.

Meanwhile, the commander of UNIFIL, Major General Alain Pellegrini, decorated the Indian battalion on Friday with peace medals in a farewell ceremony marking the end of their mission in Lebanon.

The Indian peacekeepers have been part of UNIFIL since 1998 and have shown "high levels of professionalism and sincerity in carrying out their mission," said Pellegrini.

On another level, The Lebanese Army on Friday finished removing barbed wire set by Israeli forces near the town of Khiam about a month ago. The task lasted for five days and was monitored by UNIFIL. The army also laid barbed wires at the crossings established by Israel during the war to facilitate the entrance of its forces to Lebanese territory.

Safadi and Sidon MP Bahia Hariri also inaugurated the new Zahrani bridge, one of over 100 bridges destroyed in the July-August Israeli offensive.

The Zahrani is one of six overpasses in and around the port city of Sidon being rebuilt by two of late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's sons, Saad and Bahaeddine. Chafik Hariri, general manager of Genico, the company charged with managing the rebuilding process, said the inauguration might help solve congestion problems in the area. - Agencies, additional reporting by Mohammed Zaatari and Maher Zeineddine


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Rice tries to put positive spin on Resolution 1701


Daily Star staff
Saturday, October 28, 2006


BEIRUT: US Secretary Of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday that UN Security Council Resolution 1701 was a "remarkable coming together by the international community to try and provide conditions that would not lead to a situation similar to the one that happened this summer."

In an interview late Friday night with Lebanese talkshow host May Chidiac, Rice said: "Hizbullah, a state within a state, launched attacks across the Blue Line, attacks which the Lebanese government had no knowledge of, and launched the entire country into war."

She added, however, that the positive outcomes are that the Lebanese Army has deployed for the first time in 30 years along the Southern border and the international community is committed to the reconstruction of Lebanon.

Asked about Lebanese politicians who are at risk of assassination, Rice said: "You get information from time to time that there are those who wish to do that. This is something that has happened before and can happen again in Lebanon and if we have anything we will pass it onto the Lebanese."

"We've had information" on a new list of targets, she said, "but it's no great secret that Syria ... would wish to [occupy Lebanon] again." - The Daily Star


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USAID envoy announces start of repair work on Mdeirej bridge


Daily Star staff
Saturday, October 28, 2006


MDEIREJ: Reconstruction work on the Mdeirej bridge - the famed, Italian-built viaduct in the Bekaa Valley erected at a cost of $50 million and completed in 2002 - has finally begun, said Randall L. Tobias, director of foreign assistance at the US State Department, on Friday.

Tobias visited the site to mark the start of work on the bridge, which the US has committed to rebuild after it was destroyed in Israeli air strikes. Tobias is also an administrator for the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

On July 21, several pre-dawn Israeli air strikes pounded the soaring Mdeirej bridge, Lebanon's primary link to neighboring Syria, causing parts of the structure to collapse and setting passenger buses on fire. No casualties were reported.

Over 70 meters high and nearly half-a-kilometer long, the two-span Mdeirej bridge is one of tallest bridges in the Middle East. It is also one of Lebanon's most vital commercial routes and a key overland passenger route.

After a preliminary assessment, repairs and rehabilitation of the bridge were estimated to cost about $20 million and require approximately 18 months of work.

A more accurate estimate is scheduled to be made in four to five weeks, once a full assessment of damages is complete.

Funding for the bridge's rebuilding is part of the $230 million in US donations announced by President George W. Bush on August 21, to go for humanitarian, reconstruction and security assistance for Lebanon. - The Daily Star


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USAID chief 'deeply encouraged' by Lebanon visit


Daily Star staff
Saturday, October 28, 2006


BEIRUT: The head of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) said Friday that the goal of the Bush administration's foreign policy was "helping the Lebanese people and government in implementing their future plans." "This visit gave me the opportunity to understand Lebanon's needs, plans and aspirations," Ambassador Randall Tobias said.

Tobias' remarks came after a meeting with Finance Minister Jihad Azour, Economy Minister Sami Haddad and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's special assistant, Ambassador Sami Shatah, at the Grand Serail.

"I have been deeply encouraged by Lebanon's commitment to rapid recovery and economic growth and would like to reassure the Lebanese people that the American people are completely behind you," Tobias said.

"The $230 million committed by President [George W.] Bush in August has a very clear and important purpose: to help the Lebanese people rebuild their lives and communities after this summer's tragic conflict," he said. "I'm pleased that $90 million has already been disbursed to meet basic humanitarian needs and to assist the Lebanese people in the early stages of recovery."

Tobias said that in addition to supporting the clean-up of a fuel-oil spill along the Lebanese coast, USAID funds "have provided new playgrounds for children in the South, cash for students harvesting apples in the North and support for fishermen and their families along the coast."

America's commitment to Lebanon "is embodied in the partnership between the governments of our two diverse and democratic countries," he said.

The USAID administrator said his meeting with Haddad, Azour and Chatah had focused on further American support.

Tobias later traveled northeast of Beirut to the Mudairej Bridge, which was destroyed by an Israeli air strike during the July-August bombardment.

"The US will help rebuild this bridge as reconstruction efforts continue," he said. - The Daily Star


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French Socialist leader brings message of support to Sidon


Daily Star staff
Saturday, October 28, 2006


SIDON: A visiting French Socialist leader called on the French government Friday to implement cooperation agreements between cities in Lebanon and France. Speaking after a meeting with Sidon MP Bahia Hariri, the president of the French Socialist Movement, Francois Hollande, reiterated his country's commitment to help rebuild Lebanon after this summer's devastating Israeli bombardment.

"Hariri is at the core of the strong friendship that links Lebanon and France," he said, in praise of the MP.

Hariri said the meeting focused on the means by which to address the repercussions of the war, "notably on an educational level."

"We are open to all sides and we will forge good relations with all of our friends and brothers," she said.

Hollande later met with Sidon Mayor Abdel-Rahman Bizri at the municipal palace.

In his meeting with Hollande, the mayor accused the French government of giving certain Lebanese parties preferential treatment. "Unfortunately, French foreign policy is biased toward one Lebanese group and toward a US-Israeli project that disregards our right to defend our land and resist the occupant," Bizri said.

The mayor also slammed the Lebanese government's handling of the influx of international aid after Israel's "barbaric attacks."

"We were shocked by the Lebanese state's neglect of its citizens," he said.

"The international aid was left undistributed most of the time. If not it was dispatched to a certain political group under the cover of aid offered to social and humanitarian organizations," he said.

Bizri did, however, express support for Hollande's proposal of further cooperation between Lebanese and French municipalities.

The Socialist leader said his visit to Lebanon was intended to show "respect for the efforts being deployed" in Lebanon to rebuild the country.

"On behalf of France, I reiterate the French support for rebuilding Lebanon," he said.

Hollande further called for an end to Israel's continued violations of Lebanese airspace. France would help "resolve the Palestinian problem," the Socialist leader said.

"As long as the Palestinians have no state and no rights, there will be no stability in the region ... the French will deploy all the necessary efforts to provide them with security," he said.

Hollande arrived in Lebanon Wednesday and met with Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt.

On Thursday he met with parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri before paying a visit to French peacekeepers posted in Tyre. - The Daily Star


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Lawyer reports working for Syria on Hariri probe


Daily Star staff
Saturday, October 28, 2006


BEIRUT: Syria refused to comment Friday on a report that it had gathered a team of lawyers to assess UN reports on the assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri. A prominent Malaysian lawyer said Friday that he had been asked by Syria to head the legal team to make an independent assessment on UN reports into the murder, which implicate Syrian officials.

"I was hired about a year ago. I am heading a team of lawyers. My work is to do analysis and give opinion on the UN reports," Shafee Abdullah told Agence France Presse.

But in a telephone interview with The Daily Star, Syrian officials could not confirm the lawyer's work, saying: "We have no information on this."

"We have to investigate the source of this story before we can comment," added an official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Hariri was killed along with 22 others in a massive bomb blast on Beirut's seafront in February 2005. Syria was widely suspected of links to the assassination and forced to end 29 years of armed presence in Lebanon following domestic and international protests.

Two reports last year by then-chief UN investigator Detlev Mehlis implicated senior Syrian officials and highlighted a lack of cooperation by Damascus in the inquiry.

However, Serge Brammertz, who took over the probe in January, said in his reports that Syria has cooperated in a "generally satisfactory" manner with the investigating commission but urged more cooperation.

Shafee said he had already submitted his first report to the Assad regime and was working on a second.

He declined to elaborate on his investigations except to say "for now, there is no evidence against Syria as a country or a government" in Hariri's murder.

Malaysian English language daily The New Straits Times said Friday that Shafee's first report criticized Mehlis' findings and said the United States and Israel stood to gain if Syria was blamed for Hariri's murder.

The daily cited diplomatic sources as saying that Shafee's team had visited Damascus and Lebanon on several occasions and had met with a roster of top Syrian officials.

Shafee would not name the other lawyers, but the newspaper said the team also comprised a Queen's Counsel, a prominent London solicitor, a senior lawyer from India and a former senior Scotland Yard police officer. - Naharnet, with agencies, additional reporting by Rym Ghazal


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Solana upbeat on 1701 at start of visit with 'old friends'
Salloukh hails role of eu foreign policy chief

By Rym Ghazal
Daily Star staff
Saturday, October 28, 2006

 

BEIRUT: EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana arrived in Beirut on Friday, kicking off a two-day visit with "old friends," by saying he was "generally satisfied" with the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 to date. "There are still some elements that need to be panned out, but overall, I am satisfied with how the different parties have implemented 1701," Solana told reporters after holding talks with the Maronite patriarch, Cardinal Nasrallah Butros Sfeir.

Solana is in the middle of a Middle East tour, with Lebanon as his third stop after the West bank and Israel, to be followed with visits to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

"I am pleased to be back to Lebanon where I will be meeting up with old friends," Solana said shortly after his arrival at Rafik Hariri international Airport in Beirut.

The EU official was met at the airport by Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh, who described Solana as "a friend of Lebanon."

Solana was tight-lipped on whether he discussed Lebanon with Israeli officials during his meetings with them Thursday.

He joked with reporters when asked if he had brought any deals from Israel on a possible prisoner exchange.

"I am not carrying anything with me but papers," he said, searching his pockets and pulling out a scrap.

Asked his opinion on Israel's repeated insistence that it will continue to violate Lebanese airspace, he said: "That issue was not discussed with me."

Salloukh praised Solana for his efforts in the Middle East genrally and for "trying to help Lebanon achieve stability and peace and finding solutions to conflicts with Israel."

Solana has made several trips to Lebanon over the past three months as part of EU efforts to secure a cease-fire to last summer's month-long war on Lebanon and support subsequent reconstruction efforts.

He is scheduled to head to the South Saturday and meet with the commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, Major General Alain Pellegrini. He will then meet with Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea.

The EU official is also scheduled to visit the headquarters of the Social Movement in the southern suburbs neighborhood of Ghobeiry, where he will meet with officials overseeing two EU-funded projects.

According to a statement from by the Delegation of the European Commission, the first project aims at the "re-insertion of youth facing difficulties," while the second concerns the "social and professional integration of young offenders."


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IT training centre opens in Lebanon town
Posted: Saturday, October 28, 2006


 
 
Dubai


The PCA ICT Academy, an ICT development project which aims to transform the lives of thousands of families throughout Lebanon, has announced the opening of a training and technology centre in Baalbek.

The academy, run in collaboration with a group of international companies, including Intel, MercyCorps, IESC, Cisco, Microsoft, UNDP and CA as well as government entities and NGOs, is set to provide opportunities for youth in displaced areas of Lebanon in order to nurture their skills and help them reach the next level of ICT proficiency.

Also present at the opening which took place in Baalbek over Iftar, was Dr Rami Lakkis of Lebanese Organization for Studies and Research in Baalbek.

The opening of this centre in Baalbek is part of a PICTA initiative launched last month with the mandate of developing fully equipped and staffed training and technology centers in seven Lebanese towns. -TradeArabia News Service
 


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Lebanon: Statement by Ambassador Randall L. Tobias U. S. Director of Foreign Assistance and Administrator, USAID
Grand Serail
Beirut, Lebanon
October 27, 2006

I want to begin by thanking Minister of Economy and Trade Sami Haddad, Minister of Finance Jihad Azour, and the Prime Minister's Special Assistant, Ambassador Mohammad Chatah- and the Lebanese people-for welcoming me to Lebanon. I have been looking forward to this trip since I met with Prime Minister Siniora in Stockholm, during the Donors' Conference for Lebanon's Early Recovery. At that conference, the United States urged donors to ensure that our pledges amounted to more than just words. In this visit, I had the opportunity to see that our early commitment has indeed translated into immediate action.

I have been deeply encouraged by Lebanon's commitment to rapid recovery and economic growth and would like to reassure the Lebanese people that the American people are completely behind you. Yesterday I visited Byblos and saw first-hand that, working in partnership with the Government of Lebanon, we are making progress in cleaning up the oil spill along the cost and improving the livelihoods of the communities who live there. Through other projects I have visited, the U.S. Government is supporting Lebanon's efforts to strengthen the economy by addressing job creation and income generation in rural areas. I met local farmers using a jointly-supported agricultural center to improve upon their products and market them not only locally in Lebanon, but globally. Our partnership has provided these farmers an opportunity to compete in a marketplace inaccessible not too long ago.

I also visited beneficiaries of our microfinance program. With these programs, we are helping Lebanese entrepreneurs realize their economic aspirations. In doing so, we are partnering with the Lebanese people to expand economic opportunities for all in a way that is sustainable and supportive of the entrepreneurial spirit of the Lebanese people.

The $230 million committed by President Bush in August have a very clear and important purpose-to help the Lebanese people rebuild their lives and communities after this summer's tragic conflict. I'm pleased that $90 million has already been disbursed to meet basic humanitarian needs and to assist the Lebanese people in the early stages of recovery. In addition to supporting the clean-up effort vital to getting Lebanon's tourism industry back on track, these funds have provided new playgrounds for children in the south, cash for students harvesting apples in the north, and support for fishermen and their families along the coast. Later today, I will tour some of the damaged infrastructure-such as the Mudairej Bridge-the United States will help rebuild as reconstruction efforts continue.

The strong commitment of the United States to the people of Lebanon is embodied in the partnership between the governments of our two diverse and democratic countries. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss with Ministers Haddad and Azour and Ambassador Chatah their views on how our governments might best partner in support of the Lebanese people.

After all, supporting the mutual aspirations of people around the world for lasting peace and prosperity is precisely what U.S. foreign assistance is all about.

Again, I thank the Ministers, Ambassador Chatah, and the people of Lebanon for their hospitality. The United States looks forward to working in partnership with them as they realize their vision of a peaceful and prosperous Lebanon with opportunities for all its citizens.


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Friday October 27, 2006

Christian leader foresees turbulence in Lebanon
By Alistair Lyon, Special Correspondent
THE CEDARS, Lebanon - Former Christian militia chief Samir Geagea expects turmoil in Lebanon that may spill into the streets as Hezbollah and its allies campaign against the anti-Syrian government, but no slide into civil war.

Geagea's Lebanese Forces, now a political party, has one minister in Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's Western-backed cabinet, which is resisting demands from Hezbollah and its main Christian ally Michel Aoun for a national unity government.

"I see some turbulence, but it will not be destructive or fatal," Geagea told Reuters in an interview on Friday.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has asked politicians to start talks on Monday on a unity cabinet and new electoral law.

Speaking at his well-guarded home at the Cedars ski resort in the snow-powdered peaks of north Lebanon, Geagea said he favoured dialogue, but criticised Berri's agenda as too narrow.

He said it was more important to discuss what had led to Israel's devastating 34-day war with Hezbollah and how to apply the U.N. resolution that halted the conflict on Aug. 14.

Resolution 1701 demands a weapons-free border zone in the south policed by the newly deployed Lebanese army and U.N. peacekeepers, and indirectly calls for Hezbollah's disarmament.

Geagea said the best way to achieve this would be to recover the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms area, which is claimed by Lebanon and which Hezbollah cites as a reason to keep its arms.

"PARALYSED PRESIDENCY"

Geagea rejected calls for a cabinet giving Hezbollah and its allies more than the five ministries they now hold.

Siniora's government, formed after last year's elections, was at least functioning, he said, whereas the presidency held by Syrian-backed Emile Lahoud was a legacy of the era of Syrian tutelage over Lebanon and was "completely paralysed".

Geagea said he would not run for the presidency, reserved for Maronite Christians in Lebanon's power-sharing system, next year because "you have to compromise your attitude and beliefs".

He would focus instead on rebuilding the Lebanese Forces as a political party after what he said was 15 years of repression that ended when Syrian troops left Lebanon in April 2005.

He said rearming the party was out of the question "because we would be betraying our own beliefs in the state". His goal was a pluralistic, sovereign, democratic, independent Lebanon.

Geagea, 54, the only Lebanese militia chief to be jailed after the 1975-90 war, spent 11 years in solitary confinement, serving four life terms for political murders.

Amnestied by parliament 15 months ago, the former medical student has always said he was a political prisoner victimised for opposing Syria's grip on Lebanon, which was loosened only after last year's assassination of ex-premier Rafik al-Hariri.

Syria denies involvement in Hariri's killing and subsequent assassinations of anti-Syrian figures in Lebanon.

Geagea said he had received death threats this year -- "two or three letters ... written in a very Alfred Hitchcock way".

LESSONS OF CAPTIVITY

He said his prison experience had deeply affected his personal outlook, without shifting his political convictions.

"I see things from a much wider angle. I can easily understand others, even though I am in contradiction with them politically," Geagea said quietly. "I can even love them."

He remains a hero to many Maronites. Even his old foes mostly backed his release, setting aside past animosity for a man they once feared for his military adventures and readiness to ally with Israel against Syria and Palestinian guerrillas.

Of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, one of his bitterest wartime foes, he said with a smile: "Now he is my bitterest friend."

Jumblatt, once a Syrian ally, now denounces Damascus.

"It was war unfortunately, but now things have taken a completely different turn and here we are, all together, with a clear political agenda," Geagea said of his new-found Druze and Sunni Muslim allies.

Geagea said he had learned in captivity that anger was "a real poison" falsifying reality. He said he had never despaired.

"In jail I reflected a lot on everything that occurred in my life," he said. "Of course there were many, many things that I will not do again. So in this meaning it was very enriching." (Reuters)

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Argentina charges Iran, Hizbullah in 1994 strike
Attack on jewish charity killed 85


Compiled by Daily Star staff
Friday, October 27, 2006

 

Hizbullah refused to comment Thursday on formal charges by Argentinean prosecutors against the group and Iran in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish charity's office in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people and wounded 300. "We deem it proven that the decision to carry out an attack on July 18, 1994, on the AMIA (Argentine Israeli Mutual Association) was made by the highest authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which directed Hizbullah to carry out the attack," Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman said Wednesday.

Leaders of Argentina's Jewish community have in the past accused Iran of organizing the attack. Tehran has repeatedly denied the accusations.

Officials at Iran's embassy in Argentina contacted by The Associated Press said they would have no comment.

Contacted by The Daily Star, a source from Hizbullah said the group would need to study the case carefully before commenting on anything.

Prosecutors called for the arrest of top Iranian authorities at the time, including then-President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who currently heads Iran's Expediency Council, a powerful body that mediates between the nation's Parliament and clerical hierarchy.

In Beirut, a Hizbullah source told AFP she had not yet heard that Hizbullah had been formally charged but that it came as no surprise.

"I have not yet heard that but it is not new," she said. "The Zionists want that [the two parties be charged]."

No one has been tried for the crime in more than a decade since Argentina's worst-ever terror attack.

Federal Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral had no public comments following the news conference by Nisman and fellow prosecutor Marcelo Martinez Burgo. The judge, under Argentine law, is allowed an indefinite amount of time to accept or reject the recommendations.

The two prosecutors urged the judge to seek international and national arrest orders for Rafsanjani, who was Iran's president between 1989 and 1997.

They also were asking the judge to detain several other former Iranian officials, including a former intelligence chief, Ali Fallahijan, and former Foreign Minister Ali Ar Velayati.

They also said they were urging the judge to order the arrest of two former commanders of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, two former Iranian diplomats and a man they said was a former Hizbullah security chief, Imad Mugniyyeh.

"These are the first conclusions of a year of work," said the prosecutor.

"The decision to detonate the center was taken in 1993 in the Iranian city of Mashad, during a meeting that gathered the highest political and religious authorities of the regime," Nisman said.

The prosecutors said they suspected that Hizbullah never undertook activities outside Lebanese territory "save under orders directly emanating from the regime in Tehran."

The two prosecutors head a special investigative unit probing the attack, which flattened the former Jewish center, since rebuilt into a heavily guarded fortress-like compound.

The investigation unit was created after Argentina's federal courts in 2004 halted a botched investigation into the case by then-Judge Juan Jose Galeano.

Galeano was removed from the case and later stripped of his judgeship.

On September 2, 2004, an Argentine court acquitted 21 former police officers and a trafficker of stolen cars who were charged with aiding the attackers. The same court then ordered former top government officials investigated for botching the 10-year case.

Galeano was accused of having paid $400,000 to a key witness to testify against four police officers accused of providing logistical support in the plot.

Investigation of the bombing has been a festering issue in Argentina for 10 years, as Argentine Jews and international rights groups have criticized Argentine leaders for their inability or unwillingness to find those behind the bombing. - Agencies

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U.N. Presidential Statement on 1559 to Be Released on Monday
The new U.N. presidential statement, which has stressed its support for a "comprehensive implementation" of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, was reportedly to be released on Monday.
An-Nahar daily said Friday that the draft statement, which was presented by the United States, France and Britain, reasserts the Security Council's support in maintaining Lebanon's sovereignty, independence and regional security.

It said the draft statement has also confirmed that a "great progress" has been made in the implementation of 1559, especially towards the Lebanese army deployment in south Lebanon for the first time in 30 years following the end of the Israel-Hizbullah war.

Resolution 1559, which was adopted by the Security Council in September 2004, calls for the disarmament of Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias, including Hizbullah, the withdrawal of foreign troops from Lebanon as well as free and fair presidential elections.

The statement, however, has "regretfully noticed" that some articles of the resolution have not been carried out, particularly on the matters of the disarmament of the militias, free and fair elections and full respect to Lebanon's sovereignty, An-Nahar reported.

It said that the draft statement has repeated its call on the Security Council for the complete implementation of 1559 and has urged all concerned states and parties for "comprehensive cooperation with the Lebanese government and the U.N. Security Council and the U.N. Secretary-General to achieve this goal." 
 
 

Beirut, 27 Oct 06, 12:33

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Hizbullah to Join Talks on National Unity Government, Jumblat Will Not
Hizbullah will join talks on a national unity government proposed by Speaker Nabih Berri in a bid to drag Lebanon out of a crippling political impasse, but Druze leader Walid Jumblat will not.
"Hizbullah welcomes the initiative launched by Speaker Berri and announces its readiness to take part in the envisaged meeting," said a statement released by Hizbullah on Thursday.

It said Hizbullah hopes that the meeting would lead to a "genuine patriotic political solution capable of moving Lebanon from its current political impasse and putting it on the road to the construction of a just and viable state."

Berri on Wednesday called for fresh talks across Lebanon's sectarian divide for consultations over a national unity government and reforming the country's electoral law.

Those two issues are key demands of Hizbullah, which fought a summer war with Israel, and General Michel Aoun, the party's close political ally.

While Aoun did not give a final say in the resumption of the national dialogue, he dubbed Berri's initiative as "positive."

Berri suggested that the talks, which would resume roundtable discussions held earlier this year, begin next Monday and last for a maximum of 15 days.

Hizbullah, with two ministers in the cabinet of the ruling anti-Syrian parliamentary majority, wants the inclusion of other political groups in government, particularly that of Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement.

Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah issued a statement last Friday reiterating his call for a national unity government in what was seen as a bid to turn the popular acclaim his fighters won in their war with Israel into greater national political power.

Meanwhile, sources told An-Nahar daily on Friday that Druze leader Walid Jumblat would be in Washington October 30, the day the talks are scheduled to begin.

An-Nahar's correspondent in Washington said that Jumblat, a leading figure of the anti-Syrian March 14 Forces, will begin a visit to the U.S. capital, where he will meet Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and David Welch, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs.

The leading Beirut paper quoted well-informed sources in Washington as saying that the U.S. officials want to hear Jumblat's evaluation of the Lebanese situation following the July-August Israel-Hizbullah war and the government's condition in the wake of political and security changes in the region.

The sources said that the officials were going to emphasize during their talks with Jumblat that developments in the region, especially in Iraq, would not "alter or diminish America's interest" in Lebanon.

The newspaper said that leaders of the March 14 Forces were expected to meet within the coming day or two to come out with a "final stand."

Premier Fouad Saniora has welcomed Berri's proposal, but voiced concern about the talks' agenda, suggesting additional items to be tackled during the discussions.(Naharnet-AFP) 
 
 

Beirut, 27 Oct 06, 09:53

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Malaysian Says he Heads Syria's Probe Into U.N. Reports on Hariri's Murder
The Syrian government has gathered a team of lawyers to assess U.N. reports on the assassination of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri, a prominent Malaysian lawyer said Friday.
Shafee Abdullah said he was asked by Syria to head the legal team to make an independent assessment on U.N. reports into the murder, which include assessments implicating Syrian officials.

"I was hired about a year ago. I am heading a team of lawyers. My work is to do analysis and give opinion on the U.N. reports," Shafee told Agence France Presse.

Hariri was killed along with 22 others in a massive bomb blast on Beirut's seafront in February 2005.

Syria was widely suspected of links to the assassination and forced to end 29 years of hegemony following domestic and international protests.

Two reports last year by then chief U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis implicated senior Syrian officials and highlighted a lack of cooperation by Damascus in the inquiry.
However, Serge Brammertz who took over the probe from Mehlis in January said in his reports that Syria has cooperated in a "generally satisfactory" manner with the investigating commission but urged more cooperation.

Shafee said he had already submitted his first report to the Assad regime and was working on a second.

He declined to elaborate on his investigations except to say "for now, there is no evidence against Syria as a country or a government" in Hariri's murder.

Malaysian English language daily The New Straits Times said Friday that Shafee's first report criticized Mehlis' findings and said the United States and Israel stood to gain if Syria was blamed for Hariri's murder.

The daily cited diplomatic sources as saying Shafee's team had visited Damascus and Lebanon on several occasions and had met with top Syrian officials.

Shafee would not name the other lawyers, but the newspaper said the team also comprised a Queen's Counsel, a prominent London solicitor, a senior lawyer from India and a former senior Scotland Yard police officer.(AFP-Naharnet)
 
 
 

Beirut, 27 Oct 06, 11:18


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Foreign Ministry confirms Livni's visit to Qatar
Herb Keinon, THE JERUSALEM POST  Oct. 24, 2006


Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will attend a UN conference Sunday in Doha, Qatar, her adviser said Wednesday.

The trip it will be the highest-ranking visit by an Israeli official to the Gulf State since Shimon Peres opened up the Israeli trade office in Doha when he was prime minister in 1996.

The visit would come as Israeli leaders are speaking increasingly of heightened cooperation with moderate Arab regimes in the region as a brake on Shi'ite extremism.

Representatives of some 192 countries are expected to attend the conference, called the Sixth International Conference on New or Restored Democracies, from October 29 to November 1 in Doha.

According to the conference's Web site, participants will discuss issues related to democracy, political reform, effective governance, the role of democracy in development and combating poverty, as well as freedom of speech.

The invitation to Livni came from the UN, according to Israeli officials, and not from the Qataris. Nevertheless, if Livni did make the trip, she would likely meet with the Qatari leadership, as well as other regional players.

The last public trip by a foreign minister to an Arab country other than Egypt and Jordan, with which Israel has full diplomatic ties, was when Silvan Shalom attended a UN conference in Tunisia in 2005. Then, too, he used the UN invitation to hold high-level talks with the local leadership.

Livni has spoken by phone on a number of occasions with her Qatari counterpart, Sheikh Hamad Bin Jasem Bin Jaber al-Thani.

Although Israel and Qatar do not have formal diplomatic ties, Israel still maintains a small economic interest section in Doha that the Qataris kept open even during the height of Palestinian violence.

The Qataris also have good relations with both Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who lived there in the 1950s, and with Hamas head Khaled Mashaal, who went there after being kicked out of Jordan in 1999.

Qatar has been involved in trying to bring about the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit since he was abducted on June 25.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, on his way back from Russia Thursday night, told reporters that while the Qatari foreign minister's positions were quite distant from Israel's on the Middle East issues, even the Qataris have come to the conclusion after dealing with the Shalit issue that Hamas was a group of "liars" and "cheats."

Qatar currently has a strong standing in the Arab world by virtue of the fact that it is the only Arab member of the UN Security Council. They also have a long-standing political rivalry with the Saudis and often try to chart an independent political path from Saudi Arabia to assert their independence.

The last high-ranking Israeli official to visit Qatar was then-Deputy Education Minister Michael Melchior, who visited in February 2005 to tour educational institutions and participate in a public debate on the future of Middle East peace.

 

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400 Spaniards Arrive to Join U.N. Peacekeeping Mission in Lebanon
More than 400 Spanish soldiers have arrived in Lebanon to join the U.N. peacekeeping mission monitoring a cease-fire between Israel and Hizbullah.
The troops are replacing 560 Spanish marines who have been in Lebanon since September 15.

A detachment of 435 soldiers left Almeria in southern Spain Thursday morning on commercial flights to Beirut. A further 439 troops are due to follow.

The Spanish defense ministry said the troops would be based near the southern town of Marjayoun. The Spanish contingent in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was to increase to a total of about 1,100 in the coming weeks.

More than 500 marines arrived in Lebanon in mid-September in the first phase of a Spanish deployment. They are to return to Spain by November 9 on two military ships.(AFP-Naharnet)
 
 
 

Beirut, 27 Oct 06, 08:38


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U.N. Says 'Administrative Issues' Are delaying Israel's Pullout from Ghajar
The U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon has said "minor administrative issues" were delaying a pull-out of Israeli forces from the southeast Lebanon border village of 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 pull-out after two and a half months of occupation.

A statement from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon said on Thursday that the deputy UNIFIL commander met with senior Lebanese and Israeli officers to discuss the withdrawal.

"The situation around Ghajar was discussed with a view to ensuring a speedy withdrawal of IDF (Israel Defense Forces) from the area," the statement said.

"The meeting was productive and the main focus was to finalize arrangements for Ghajar after the IDF withdrawal," it quoted Brigadier General Jai Prakash Nehra as saying.

It said that "minor administrative issues with relation to Ghajar residents are still pending, and UNIFIL hopes they will be solved at the next meeting early next week."

One third of the village is in Lebanese territory and two thirds in the zone annexed by Israel. Ghajar is dissected by the "Blue Line" designating the Lebanon-Israel border that was drawn by the United Nations in 2000.

All of Ghajar was occupied by the Israeli military during its 34-day offensive in July and August on Lebanon.

The withdrawal of Israeli forces from Ghajar, and also from the disputed Shabaa Farms where the Lebanese, Syrian and Israeli borders meet, is one of the demands of the Beirut government.(AFP) (AFP photo shows the road leading to the southern village of Ghajar) 
 
 

Beirut, 27 Oct 06, 07:56


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Departure of Indonesian Peacekeepers Delayed for 4th time
The deployment of nearly 1,000 Indonesian peacekeepers to Lebanon has been delayed for a fourth time due to logistical difficulties faced by the United Nations, a military official said Friday.
An advance team of 129 personnel was supposed to leave Saturday, but armed forces deputy spokesman Ahmad Yani Basuki told Agence France Presse they would now depart on November 5.

"The main batch of our troops will now leave on November 24," Basuki said, adding that the delay was again due to logistical problems faced by the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

Indonesia had initially expected its main 851-strong contingent to be on the ground by early October, after Israel dropped an initial objection to the world's most populous Muslim nation participating in the expanded U.N. force.

The two nations do not have diplomatic relations.

The departure of the main team was then pushed back to the end of October, then November 3 or 4, and then November 9.

UNIFIL is enforcing a truce that ended fierce fighting between Israel and Hizbullah in July and August which left around 1,200 civilians in Lebanon and 162 Israelis dead.

As of a week ago, UNIFIL's strength was 7,340 men, or about half the 15,000 authorized by U.N. Resolution 1701 ending hostilities between Israel and Hizbullah on August 14.(AFP) 
 
 

Beirut, 27 Oct 06, 07:48


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Germany Denies Beirut Blocking Navy Patrols off Lebanese Coast
The German government has denied reports that its warships heading a U.N. mission off the Lebanese coast were hampered in their efforts to prevent arms smuggling to Hizbullah.
"This mission is proceeding properly. We have excellent cooperation from the Lebanese authorities," German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung told parliament.

The German press on Thursday said the naval force's mandate does not allow ships to come within 10 kilometers (six miles) of the Lebanese coast without permission from Beirut.

Defense ministry spokesman Thomas Raabe said however that German ships were entering all zones of the country's waters.

"The rules of engagement are the same in the six-mile and 12-mile zones," he told Agence France Presse.

Raabe said there was a "Lebanese officer stationed on the flagship" to facilitate communication with Beirut.

Another military source told AFP: "This is a way for Lebanon to save face, so that it does not look as if Germany is infringing on its sovereignty."

Opposition politicians have accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the defense ministry of misleading parliament and the public about the mandate of the mission.

In September, when she called on parliament to approve Germany's first military foray into the Middle East since World War II, Merkel said that Berlin had won a robust mandate for its forces.

She said it would be able to approach the Lebanese coast and to use force to stop and search suspect ships.

The force's mandate, which was the subject of weeks of wrangling between Beirut and Berlin, was finalized on October 12, according to a report tabled by Jung in parliament.

Germany's liberal Free Democrats on Wednesday argued that the text "opened the door far and wide for arms to flow to Hizbullah."

According to German military sources, the navy has not needed to confront any vessels since it took over command of the operation from Italian forces on October 18.

Meanwhile, Germany has said that Israeli planes on Tuesday fired shots while flying over one of its warships off the Lebanese coast.

Raabe said Jung and his Israeli counterpart Amir Peretz have discussed the incident.

Israel has been asked by the U.N. to stop flying over Lebanese territory but Peretz has remained defiant, saying it was a response to ongoing efforts to smuggle weapons to Hizbullah.(AFP) 
 
 

Beirut, 27 Oct 06, 08:22


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Israelis 'fired warning shots' near German ship
Vessel was outside lebanon's territorial waters

By Leila Hatoum
Daily Star staff
Friday, October 27, 2006

 

BEIRUT: The German warship that tangled with Israeli fighter-bombers on Tuesday morning was "outside Lebanon's territorial waters" at the time of the incident, a spokesperson for the German military in Berlin said on Thursday. "According to our information, at 10:11 a.m. Tuesday, six Israeli F-16s flew at a low level over the German warship," the German spokesperson said in a telephone interview with The Daily Star. "They fired several warning flares, the kind used [to defeat heat-seeking missiles], and one of the F-16s fired two shots from its gun [over the] top of the German ship, but it didn't hit the ship."

The spokesperson said that the warship "is part of the German contingent task force, which is currently dispatched in Lebanon," but it "was outside the Lebanese territorial waters," at the time of the incident.

"We don't give out the names or details of missions or coordinates of our ships," the spokesperson added.

A spokesperson from Germany's Naval Operations Command in Berlin told The Daily Star Thursday that the "incident is true, and we have sent investigators to check what happened on the ship."

A military source from the Lebanese Defense Ministry confirmed to The Daily Star Thursday that the German "warship was outside Lebanese territorial waters at the time of the incident."

The source added: "As long as the ship is outside our territorial waters, and it doesn't follow the marine force coordinating with the UNIFIL, then Lebanon is not concerned with the incident."

A security source close to UNIFIL in South Lebanon told The Daily Star Thursday that the German warship "was not flying the UN flag."

The source said the "Blue Helmets, [UNIFIL troops], didn't report any incident concerning them in this regard."

The German spokesperson said: "We are pretty sure and we strongly believe that the Israelis didn't have the intention to harm the ship. Our defense minister called the Israeli defense minister, who told him that the Israelis didn't fire on the German ship."

But that doesn't mean they didn't fire over the German ship, according to the spokesperson.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz told the German minister that the planes had to fire warning flares above the ship to determine the identity of the ship.

The German Defense Ministry on Thursday called for smooth cooperation between Israel and its ships patrolling the Lebanese coast after Tuesday's incident.

"The [defense] ministers have spoken to each other several times and discussed the incident," Defense Ministry spokesman Thomas Raabe told AFP.

"We hope that in the future everything will be smooth, that there will be good cooperation," he added.

Peretz had denied the reports and said that Israel wanted to increase its coordination with UNIFIL forces in preventative actions.

Germany assumed command of a UN naval force off Lebanon 12 days ago, and has sent eight ships and some 1,000 troops to join UNIFIL.

The naval force is charged with preventing the smuggling of weapons and helping maintain a cease-fire between Israel and Hizbullah.

Peretz said earlier Wednesday that Israel's warplanes would continue to patrol Lebanese skies in an effort to gather information and prevent terror groups from smuggling weapons from Syria into Lebanon.

This came as the deputy commander of UN peacekeepers in Lebanon said Thursday after meeting senior Lebanese and Israeli officers that administrative issues were delaying the completion of Israel's pullout from its Lebanese territories.

Israel completed its withdrawal from all but one village in Southern Lebanon by early October. Its forces remain in the divided village of Ghajar, which straddles the border between Lebanon and Syrian territories occupied by Israel in the 1967.

"The meeting was productive and the main focus was to finalize arrangements for Ghajar after the Israeli Army's withdrawal," Brigadier General L.P. Nehra said in a statement after the talks on the border.

"Minor administrative issues with relation to Ghajar residents are still pending, UNIFIL hopes they will be solved at the next meeting early next week," the statement said. - With agencies, additional reporting by Mohammed Zaatari


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Lebanon's political parties mull invitation from Berri

By Nada Bakri
Daily Star staff
Friday, October 27, 2006


BEIRUT: Lebanon's main politicians have yet to announce their decisions to participate in the roundtable talks called for by Speaker Nabih Berri. The March 14 Forces, the pro-Syrian coalition and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) said Thursday they are still meetings among their leaderships before reaching a final decision.

Berri had on Wednesday called for consultation meetings that start next Monday to discuss the formation of a national unity government to replace Premier Fouad Siniora's Cabinet and a new electoral law.

Both are key demands of Hizbullah and the FPM, following the recent war with Israel, which ended August 14.

"Consultations are still in progress. We are limited by two options: our commitment to the dialogue and to be positive toward Berri's initiative or accept the other parties' claim that the current Cabinet is behind the crisis," March 14 Forces MP Wael Bou Faour told The Daily Star.

"The crisis is the president, implementing Resolution 1701 and Siniora's seven-point plan and Hizbullah's weapons," Bou Faour added.

Berri said Hizbullah's leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, whom some Israeli officials said is still a target for assassination, will have the choice to send a representative to the consultations to be held at the Parliament building in Downtown Beirut Monday.

"Just like there is an Israeli targeting [of] Nasrallah, there is a Syrian regime targeting other leaders," said Bou Faour, who belongs to MP Walid Jumblatt's Democratic Gathering parliamentary bloc.

The Central News Agency quoted sources saying that if Nasrallah sends a representative this might prompt other leaders to do the same.

The anti-Syrian coalition accuses the Syrian regime of involvement in the killing of former Premier Rafik Hariri. They also claim Syria still threatens to assassinate their leaders.

A Hizbullah representative in Siniora's Cabinet, Energy and Water Minister Mohammad Fneish, told The Daily Star the party is still discussing its participation and who will represent it.

The FPM is also still holding discussions on the matter.

"It is not permissible that Lebanese parties refuse Berri's initiative because the current situation requires that everyone be responsible," FPM MP Ibrahim Kanaan said.

But analysts say Berri's proposed solution will likely go nowhere because of vast differences between Hizbullah and the anti-Syrian majority.

"This is just avoiding the problem, this initiative has no substance and falls well short of expectations and needs" to resolve the political crisis, Antoine Basbous, director of the Paris-based Arab Countries' Observatory, told Agence France Presse.

"It doesn't answer the urgency of the situation; it's like giving an aspirin to someone who's very ill.

"Berri wants to show the Arab leaders he's visited, including Saudi King Abdullah, that he's doing something to ease the country's tensions," said Basbous, adding Berri has little room to maneuver "because of the internal and regional situation."

Sources close to Hizbullah and the FPM were quoted by Al-Akhbar daily as saying that

Berri's proposal was "a new and last chance to resolve the crisis."

Berri himself warned Wednesday "the current tensions will lead to street confrontations" if the crisis is not resolved.

Hizbullah wants the inclusion of other political groups in government, particularly from Aoun's party.

But the anti-Syrian majority demands the departure of President Emile Lahoud, whose mandate was extended for another three years in 2004, in accordance with Damascus' wishes.

"This is a way of gaining time to prevent the crisis from erupting," MP Antoine Andraos, part of the anti-Syrian majority, said of Berri's initiative.

"The problems of the unity government and of the presidency are not ready to be resolved; the chasm between the different parties is vast."

The anti-Syrian majority has condemned Hizbullah's capture of two Israeli troops July 12 that sparked the war and also wants to see Hizbullah disarmed.

"The majority wants to resume the dialogue from where it left off without excluding subjects that upset Hizbullah," Basbous said, accusing the group of "dictating the agenda of the next round of talks."

Roundtable talks arranged by Berri in March were abandoned in June without achieving any concrete results over some of the countries most controversial and dividing issue: the fate of Lahoud, Hizbullah arsenal and the strained Syrian-Lebanese relations. - With agencies.


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400 Spaniards arrive to join UNIFIL


Compiled by Daily Star staff
Friday, October 27, 2006

 

More than 400 Spanish soldiers arrived in Lebanon on Thursday to join the UN-led peacekeeping mission monitoring a cease-fire between Israel and Hizbullah fighters.

The soldiers will replace 500 Spanish troops who deployed in September. A group of 180 Spanish soldiers departed the southern city of Almeria in the morning, and another 250 were expected to leave Thursday afternoon, the Defense Ministry said.

The ministry said the incoming troops would be based near the Christian town of Marjayoun. The Spanish contingent in the UN peacekeeping force, known as UNIFIL, was to increase to a total of about 1,100 in the coming weeks.

Some 500 marines arrived in Lebanon in mid-September in the first phase of a Spanish deployment. They are to return to Spain by November 9 on two military ships.

Meanwhile, Indonesia has had to delay sending troops to join UNIFIL because of transport problems, a military spokesman said on Thursday.

A 125-member advance team had been due to leave over the weekend, with a main body comprising 725 soldiers following in early November.

"Yes, it has been delayed. The advance team will now leave on November 5 and the main body will follow after two weeks, roughly around November 22," military spokesman Rear Admiral Mohammad Sunarto told reporters.

"The reason is completely technical, related to transportation matters," he said.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's army lieutenant son was to be part of the advance Indonesian force.

Yudhoyono himself is a retired army general who once led Indonesian military observers on a UN peacekeeping mission to Bosnia in the mid-1990s.

Israel had initially objected to peacekeepers coming from nations not recognizing the Jewish state, but later relaxed that stance. Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, has no diplomatic ties with Israel. - Agencies


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Mirza discusses planned case against Israel with magistrate


Daily Star staff
Friday, October 27, 2006


BEIRUT: A meeting was held Thursday between State Prosecutor Said Mirza and the head of the Justice Ministry's Disputes Committee, Magistrate Beshara Matta, to discuss evidence concerning Israel's alleged war crimes in Lebanon. According to a ministerial decision made on October 2, Lebanon is to file a complaint with international judicial bodies against Israel and some of its military and political officials for purportedly perpetrating war crimes and crimes against humanity during its summer offensive on the country.

The government has assigned the Justice Ministry to determine before which international court Lebanon would file the complaint.

A statement issued by the Justice Ministry following the meeting said the two magistrates discussed the outcome of cooperation between the different public institutions to gather evidence about Israel's aggressions and alleged war crimes.

The statement added that "a big number of public institutions have not yet submitted any documents in this matter, despite a request from the State Prosecution to do so."

Mirza has asked all state institutions, as well as military and security bodies, to gather all available evidence and data and present it to the State Prosecution.

A statement issued by Rizk said "any evidence would help in preparing the lawsuit and submitting it as soon as possible."

The statement added that the ministry was contacting several international law firms in order to "choose the adequate firm that would be assigned to deal with the case."

Separately, the human rights department at the Beirut Bar Association is organizing a conference scheduled for Tuesday about the role of the United Nations in Lebanon.

The conference will be held at the association's headquarters in Beirut at 3 pm, in cooperation with the UN.

The UN secretary general's representative, Geir Pedersen, and the representative of the UNIFIL commander are expected to attend the conference. - The Daily Star


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USAID envoy reviews projects in Lebanon


Daily Star staff
Friday, October 27, 2006


BEIRUT: Randall Tobias, director of US Foreign Assistance and administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), is currently visiting Lebanon to discuss US aid programs with the country's officials. Tobias and his team visited the coastal town of Jbeil on Thursday to monitor the clean-up of a fuel-oil spill caused by a July 15 Israeli strike on the power plant in Jiyyeh. The clean-up is funded by USAID.

USAID representative in Lebanon Raouf Youssef said that "Tobias had announced during the Stockholm conference for the relief and support of Lebanon held in August that USAID planned to eradicate the oil spill along Lebanese shores in only 90 days and at a cost of around $5 million."

Tobias also visited the Rene Mouawad Foundation in Zghorta, where he was briefed on the group's agricultural and social projects.

Juliet Wurr, cultural and media officer at the US Embassy in Lebanon, said that the objective of Tobias' visit to Lebanon was to inspect the nature of the assistance that could be provided by the US to four countries - Egypt, Thailand, South Africa and Lebanon - "that come as priorities on President George W. Bush's agenda."

Wurr added that in addition to the help provided on the ecological and agricultural levels, USAID would be lending a hand to special-needs centers and would be funding the new waste assortment project in the town of Zahle in the Bekaa.

The US Embassy organized a dinner in honor of Tobias, attended by a number of Lebanese officials and ambassadors to Lebanon. The meeting discussed assistance that could be made available in support of Lebanon's reconstruction. - The Daily Star


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Aoun touts shares in Orange TV


Daily Star staff
Friday, October 27, 2006

 

BEIRUT: The head of the Free Patriotic Movement offered the public ownership in his party's planned Orange Television station on Thursday. In a news conference held at Le Royal Hotel in Dbayyeh Thursday, MP Michel Aoun emphasized the importance of "telling the truth and reporting news objectively."

"We don't support the media that disregards the sense of critique and instigates emotional and biased reactions," the former army general said.

"Media should not be used for praising or insulting people; the media should only display facts, which the viewers would then be able to judge," he added.

Aoun said the media here was used as a "weapon in politics."

"We are suffering from rumors being spread by some media institutions," he added, criticizing late Premier Rafik Hariri's Future Television station and Al-Mustaqbal newspaper, without mentioning them by name. The Future Movement's media outlets and the FPM have been involved in a war of words.

"It is true we live in a democratic country; but we are still new at practicing democracy, Aoun said. "Until today, the Lebanese consider constitutional violations as part of our traditions. If we were living in a state of true democracy, the government would have resigned at the first constitutional violation."

He emphasized that OTV, expected to officially open before next summer, would be "committed to reporting the truth."

OTV shares will be sold to Lebanese as well as  to expatriates. The FPM press office said that each share would be sold at $10, with a minimum of 10 shares per shareholder.

The FPM has established a hotline for people seeking information on how to buy shares in the station. The number is: 04-727374. - The Daily Star


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Russian official to inaugurate bridges


Daily Star staff
Friday, October 27, 2006


BEIRUT: Russian Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Isakov arrived in Beirut on Thursday to inaugurate two bridges rebuilt by the Russian troops in South Lebanon and to meet with Lebanese officials. Isakov arrived on board a private jet, along with an official delegation, a press delegation and 44 Russian militants.

He is expected to inaugurate  on Friday two bridges in Damour and Ain Arabin Marjayoun whose reconstruction was funded by Russia.

Upon his arrival at Rafik Hariri International Airport, Isakov said his country would continue to support Lebanon after the recent war with Israel.

The Russian official was received by Brigadier Ali Jaber representing Army Commander General Michel Suleiman.  

Later in the day, Suleiman met with Isakov to discuss ways to promote cooperation between the Lebanese and Russian armies. The meeting also focused on the mission of the Russian soldiers in Lebanon.

Russia had taken in charge the reconstruction of six bridges destroyed by Israeli strikes in the South during the recent war with Israel.

In addition to the aforementioned bridges, Russian troops have kicked off the reconstruction of two other bridges over the Litani and Hasbani rivers. The remaining two bridges will be rebuilt by December.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the bridges can carry up to 60 tons and are expected to last for at least 20 years. - The Daily Star


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Fears resurface after bomb blast near residences of Saudi, UAE envoys

By Therese Sfeir
Daily Star staff
Thursday, October 26, 2006


BEIRUT: A bomb exploded on a Beirut street early Wednesday close to the residences of the Saudi and UAE ambassadors. The explosion did not cause any casualties but started a small fire, security forces said. The bomb was apparently thrown from a speeding car on the seafront boulevard in the Ramlet al-Baida area shortly after midnight Tuesday night, landing in an open area and setting fire to a bush and several trees, police said.

Security forces cordoned off the area and put out the fire.

A senior police officer said the bomb was thrown next to the residences of the Saudi and Emirati ambassadors, and that of Adi Hariri, one of the sons of the assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The officer did not know whether Hariri and the ambassadors were at home.

The explosion, which occurred on the second day of Eid al-Fitr, caused a wave of panic among residents and clients of nearby restaurants.

The officer said investigators were examining security surveillance footage from surrounding residences in hopes of identifying the perpetrators.

Investigators also took statements from several witnesses.

The head of the Internal Security Forces, Major General Ashraf Rifi, said on Wednesday that an investigation into the incident was under way.

Security sources said last week that 3,000 ISF troops would be deployed throughout Beirut in a boosted security measure for the holidays.

The sources added that 1,000 plainclothes officers from the Intelligence Department would be dispatched to mosques, churches and public institutions.

Asked if any security forces were on the scene when the attack occurred, Rifi said: "They were there, but not in this particular point," adding: "It is true that thousands of troops were deployed during Eid al-Fitr, but it is impossible to cover all Beirut areas."

Security forces had been concentrated in the downtown area, he said.

Three similar incidents have occurred in the past month, targeting two police stations and a commercial building in downtown Beirut.

The attacks prompted a governmental decision to install surveillance cameras throughout Beirut and the southern suburbs in a bid to tighten security. Closed-circuit TV cameras, linked to phone lines, will be extended to Beirut's southern suburbs after the area is rebuilt, Information Minister Ghazi Aridi told reporters following a Cabinet session last Thursday. - With agencies


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Israeli F-16s tangle with German warship off Lebanese coast

By Rym Ghazal
Daily Star staff
Thursday, October 26, 2006


BEIRUT: Two Israeli warplanes and a German Navy vessel clashed off the Lebanese coast, the Defense Ministry in Berlin said on Wednesday. Details on the incident were not available by the time The Daily Star went to press. The incident is the first reported clash between the Israeli Army and the international peacekeeping force in Lebanon.

German daily Der Tagesspiegel quoted a junior Defense Minister on Wednesday as telling a parliamentary committee that two Israeli F-16 fighter-bombers flew at a low altitude over the German ship and fired two shots.

It wasn't clear from the report what type of ammunition was used or where the shots were aimed.

The jets also released infra-red countermeasures to ward off any missile attack, the newspaper said.

The minister, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not say when the incident happened or what had caused it, it added.

"I can confirm that there was an incident," a German Defense Ministry spokesman told Reuters on Wednesday.

The official was unable to provide further information as an investigation was under way.

UNIFIL officials refrained from commenting on the incident, telling The Daily Star

they were also conducting their own investigation.

A spokesman for the German mission in Lebanon said it was investigating the reports, but was not itself aware of any such incident.

But according to the Naval Operations Command in Berlin, there was "an incident."

"We are still investigating the incident and will have the fuller picture by tomorrow," a spokesperson at naval command told The Daily Star.

Israel, however, has denied any such incident.

Germany assumed command of a UN naval force off the coast of Lebanon 10 days ago and has sent a force of eight ships and 1,000 service personnel to join the international peace operation in the region.

The naval force is charged with preventing weapons smuggling and helping maintain an August 14 cease-fire between Israel and Hizbullah.

Germany 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.

The incident also follows repeated warnings by France and the United Nations over the past two weeks that Israel was endangering the multinational peace mission in Lebanon by sending its fighter planes into Lebanese airspace. - With agencies


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US carrier makes 'thank you' visit to Cyprus

By Agence France Presse (AFP)

Thursday, October 26, 2006


LIMASSOL, Cyprus: The USS Eisenhower, one of the world's largest warships, anchored off Cyprus on Wednesday in what US officials described as a "thank you" visit for the Eastern Mediterranean country's help as an evacuation hub during the recent war in Lebanon.

"This routine port visit offers a shore leave opportunity for the more than 5,000 crew members and is a way for America to thank Cyprus for its support during the Lebanon crisis," a US Embassy statement said.

Some 13,500 American citizens were evacuated from Lebanon to Cyprus during the early days of the Israeli bombardment in July. More than 50,000 third-country nationals used Cyprus as a safe haven during the 34-day conflict.

The island later served as a transit point for supplying UN humanitarian aid to war-ravaged southern Lebanon.

The southern port of Limassol, where the US ship has docked, is being used as a logistics hub for the UN's maritime mandate for securing Lebanon's shores against arms smuggling.

The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower is participating in maritime security exercises and theater security cooperation in the region with the militaries of Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Bosnia, Greece, Croatia, Montenegro and Romania. - AFP


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Berri invites political elite for talks on unity government, new electoral law
Speaker warns that tension may 'lead to confrontations in the street'

By Nada Bakri
Daily Star staff
Thursday, October 26, 2006


BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri called on Lebanon's rival political leaders Wednesday to meet for "consultation meetings" to diffuse rising tensions threatening the country's stability.

Berri, who also heads the Amal movement, urged Lebanon's political elite to hold talks for a maximum period of 15 days, starting Monday, to discuss the formation of a national unity government and a new electoral law.

"I believe this tension and this escalation will lead to confrontations in the Lebanese street," the speaker told a news conference in Beirut.

"We know of the vertical and horizontal divisions in the country, and I don't want to say sectarian, so we're trying to keep the issue restricted among us [the leaders] and through dialogue," he said.

Hizbullah and its allies have demanded since the recent war with Israel ended on August 14 that a national unity government be formed including more of its allies, especially the Free Patriotic Movement headed by opposition MP Michel Aoun.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and the March 14 Forces, backed by the West, have rejected these calls, prompting Hizbullah and its allies to threaten to take to the streets to force a change.

Many anti-Syrian politicians in Lebanon blamed Hizbullah for the war, which cost some 1,200 Lebanese civilians their lives and inflicted physical damage worth $3.5 billion.

Disputes have also increased between those who want to avoid future military entanglements with Israel and demand Hizbullah lay down its arms, and those who support the group's role as a legitimate resistance.

Fears are also rising that sectarian splits are deepening in Lebanon, especially between Shiites, who overwhelmingly support Hizbullah, and Sunnis, who helped lead the campaign for Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon after last year's assas-sination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Hizbullah's leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, issued his latest call for a national unity government on Friday in what was seen as a bid to turn the popular acclaim his fighters won during the war with Israel into greater national political power.

Aoun said earlier this month that Siniora's government was "corrupted and is squandering the money of the state and the people. It lacks representation."

Berri said that Nasrallah, whom some Israeli officials have said is still a target for assassination, will have the choice to send a representative to the consultations to be held in the Parliament building in Downtown Beirut on Monday.

The speaker said he had not contacted any leader in advance about his proposal.

While Siniora was the first to endorse Berri's initiative, affirming his participation, the anti-Syrian and the pro-Syrian forces said they needed to hold consultations among their leaderships before deciding.

"I would like to express my appreciation and support for Speaker Berri's initiative, for I believe any calm dialogue will contribute in national peace and national prosperity," Siniora said in a statement.

The premier said the talks should also tackle decisions reached during the national dialogue sessions that were held in March - and were also sponsored by Berri - and the means to implement them.

The national dialogue sessions were abandoned in June without achieving any concrete results over some of the most dividing and controversial topics facing Lebanon, including the fate of embattled pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, Hizbullah's arsenal and strained Lebanese-Syrian relations.

The prime minister also said his seven-point plan - which helped shape the UN Security Council resolution that ended the war - should be the base for these consultations.

"It is my duty to hold consultations with my allies, the March 14 Forces, and we will try to come up with a decision as soon as possible," Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt said following a meeting with Berri on Wednesday.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said the agenda for the talks was "incomplete," adding he would also announce his decision after consultations with the March 14 Forces.

"After all that happened in the country, consultations should start with the July war ... We should start working on how to prevent the repetition of such events and how to spare Lebanon a new Israeli aggression," Geagea added.

March 14 MP Boutros Harb welcomed Berri's plan.

"I support this initiative ... We should respond to it positively because it is an invitation for consultations and dialogue among Lebanese," Harb told reporters following a meeting with Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir.

A Hizbullah spokesperson said the party "responds positively to all consultations and dialogue initiatives," but added that the final decision of whether or not to attend would be made on Thursday.

FPM MP Ibrahim Kanaan said the talks aimed to tackle "two dividing issues which require consultations with the opposite parties."

However, he added that the Reform and Change bloc would announce whether it will participate later this week. - Agencies


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Thursday October 26, 2006

U.S. Official: Syria Plans Campaign to Topple Saniora Through Aoun, Allies
A well-known U.S. official said Thursday that Syria was preparing an "intimidating political campaign" to overthrow Premier Fouad Saniora's government through Gen. Michel Aoun and his allies.
The official also said that Syria was planning to spread chaos and disorder by means of using its Lebanese political allies.

"The Syrians, which are seeking to ascertain their influence over Lebanon because they are very well aware of the extent of their regional weakness," the official said, "have begun preparations for an intimidating political campaign against the Saniora government, ultimately aimed at eliminating it."

"Syria's ambition now is to use its political allies in Lebanon to spread chaos and disorder in the country in an effort to drag Saniora's government into a bitter crisis," the official said, citing "reliable information from Washington."

Asked about the identity of the Syrian allies, the official told An-Nahar: "Aoun's (Free Patriotic) Movement and its allies, including key Sunni and Maronite figures north of the country."

"Aoun's allies" was a clear reference to Hizbullah, the movement's close political supporter. Both Aoun and Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah have been calling for the toppling of Saniora's government and the formation of a national unity cabinet.

His comments came as U.S. President George Bush urged Syria and Iran not to undermine Saniora's government and to stop backing Hizbullah.

An-Nahar said that other American executives have agreed with the official that any dialogue with Syria over the situation in Lebanon and in Iraq was "not possible now."

The official said that the U.S. administration has turned down all requests for "talks with the Syrian government" made by non-governmental Syrian personalities as well as Lebanese and Americans "because we had held discussions with President Bashar Assad and his aides in the past but have reached a dead-end."

He stated that the lack of trust in the Syrian regime "would make any dialogue in the near future useless."
 
 
 

Beirut, 26 Oct 06, 11:56


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Bush to Iran and Syria: Stop Undermining Saniora's Government
U.S. President George Bush has urged Syria and Iran not to undermine premier Fouad Saniora's government and to stop backing Hizbullah.
"Our message to Syria is consistent: Do not undermine the Saniora government in Lebanon," Bush said at a press conference he held in Washington on Wednesday.

Anti-Damascus politicians in Lebanon accuse Syria of trying to meddle in internal Lebanese affairs despite its withdrawal from the country.

Syrian troops pulled out of Lebanon under local and international pressure in April 2005 after more than 29 years of hegemony.

"Help us (Syria) get back the -- help Israel get back the prisoner that was captured by Hamas; don't allow Hamas and Hizbullah to plot attacks against democracies in the Middle East; help inside of Iraq," Bush said in his second press conference in two weeks.

He was referring to the Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip late June.

The U.S. labels Hizbullah, which is backed by Syria and Iran, as a terrorist organization. It also accuses the party of undermining Lebanon's democratic government.

"Let me talk about the Iranian issue… whether or not they will help the Lebanese democracy succeed."

He reiterated that Saniora's cabinet was a main concern of the Bush administration.

"The Saniora government, which is -- a priority of this (U.S.) government is to help that Saniora government," he said.

"And we will continue to work to make it clear to the Iranian government that … the sponsor of terrorists will cause more isolation."

Bush also insisted that the U.S was "winning" in Iraq, as he defended his war strategy two weeks before elections that may see his Republican party lose control of both chambers of Congress.

Iraq is dominating the political discussion as opposition Democrats seek to gain control of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate in the November 7 vote.
 
 
 

Beirut, 26 Oct 06, 12:10
 


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Berri's Fresh Initiative Draws Reservations
Speaker Nabih's Berri's initiative to resume fresh national talks in a bid to salvage Lebanon from a crippling political divide has drawn reservations from the country's roundtable leaders.
While Premier Fouad Saniora was quick to welcome Berri's proposal, he voiced concern about the talks' agenda, suggesting additional items to be tackled during the discussions.

Berri on Wednesday invited rival political chiefs for a consultation session to be held October 30 with only two items on its agenda: a national unity government and new electoral law.

Among the items Saniora recommended to include were the issue of the recent Israeli offensive on Lebanon, the seven-point plan and the current government crisis.

The seven-point plan, which was approved by Saniora's cabinet to put an end to the month-long Israel-Hizbullah hostilities, calls for a mutual release of prisoners held by Israel and Hizbullah and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon. It foresees the Lebanese government taking control of southern Lebanon with the help of an international force.

Sources close to the March 14 Forces told An-Nahar Thursday that the anti-Syrian majority leaders would only give a "unanimous stand" following thorough consultations.

Sources also told Naharnet on Wednesday that the March 14 Forces were willing to accept Berri's initiative on condition that the talks would also deal with the issue of the presidency.

Pro-Damascus President Emile Lahoud's extended three-year term expires next fall.

Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and his ally Gen. Michel Aoun have also withheld comment.

Nasrallah and Aoun have been repeatedly calling for toppling Saniora's government and the formation of a national unity cabinet.

But parliament's majority leader Saad Hariri, son of slain former Prime Minister Rafik hariri, has rejected any change in the makeup of Saniora's cabinet.

Meanwhile, Lebanese Forces commander Samir Geagea said talk "should start from the critical events (that broke out) in July," in reference to the Israeli war on Lebanon, which was sparked by the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border Hizbullah attack July 12.

Berri told a news conference on Wednesday that the first session of "a maximum" 15-day consultation period will commence in parliament on Monday, October 30.

He said that Nasrallah would be represented at the talks but would not himself attend given Israeli threats to assassinate the man who prevented the Jewish state from achieving its stated objectives during its assault on Lebanon.

Hizbullah's secretary-general and Aoun were among the top leaders who took part in the reconciliation talks, launched early March.

The dialogue was last scheduled for July 25. But the outbreak of the Israel-Hizbullah war July 12 has prevented the resumption of the talks. The hostilities ended August 14 under a U.N.-brokered ceasefire.

The thorny issue aimed at resolving Hizbullah's right to keep its weapons was last tackled by the rival leaders before the discussions were adjourned. Hizbullah had proposed a defense strategy for Lebanon in the face of a potential threat from Israel.

Members of the March 14 Forces, maintain that any defense strategy should keep decisions to "protect Lebanon" in the hands of the state and regular army.

But pro-Syrian groups, led by Hizbullah, have so far rejected U.N. Security Council demands to disarm and calls from within Lebanon to merge their fighters with the regular army. 
 
 

Beirut, 26 Oct 06, 09:35

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U.N. Moves from Emergency Relief Phase to Recovery in Lebanon
U.N. humanitarian agencies have wrapped up their emergency relief operations in Lebanon following the devastating Israeli offensive and are moving on to the recovery and reconstruction phase, according to a press release by the U.N. news center in New York.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs closed its office in Lebanon on Wednesday and the new phase, already underway, is being led by the U.N. Development Program.

During the emergency relief stage, the agencies helped repair broken water systems and damaged schools as well as trucking in medicines, food, water, temporary shelter and other essential supplies to southern Lebanon, that has borne the brunt of the 34-day war.

The U.N. Children's Fund distributed to hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren notebooks and other supplies before classes resumed earlier this month.

The U.N. Mine Action Coordination Center has also identified hundreds of sites where cluster bombs lie unexploded on the ground. Its operations are still underway to remove the war's leftovers.

After the August 14 ceasefire, unexploded cluster bombs littered homes, gardens and highways across south Lebanon. By the end of September, U.N. demining teams had identified 516 cluster bomb strike locations and cleared 17,000 bomblets.

U.N. demining officials are concerned that the problem of 1 million pieces of unexploded ordnance in the south could worsen as rain embeds the munitions deeper into the ground. UNICEF has warned that children face "a terrible situation" from the munitions as they walk into fields on their way to school.
 
 
 

Beirut, 26 Oct 06, 11:36

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Israeli Fighter Jets in 'Incident' with German Warship off Lebanon
Two Israeli warplanes have been involved in an armed incident with a German warship patrolling the Lebanon coast as part of the U.N. peacekeeping force.
A spokesman for the command of the German mission in Lebanon said Wednesday it was investigating the incident that took place on Monday.

According to Thursday's edition of the German Tagesspiegel newspaper, two Israeli F-16 warplanes fired shots as well as anti-missile defense flares while flying low over the vessel.

The newspaper said the incident had been reported to the German parliament on Wednesday by a state secretary in the defense ministry, Christian Schmidt.

A German defense ministry spokesman did not identify the vessel.

In Israel, Defense Minister Amir Peretz denied his country's planes had opened fire on the ship, in a telephone call with German counterpart Franz Josef Jung.

"No Israeli plane opened fire at a German ship and Israel has no intention of attacking the German forces," Peretz said, according to his spokesman.

The defense minister also proposed closer cooperation between the Israeli military and the German naval force to Jung, whom he is due to meet in Israel next week.

An Israeli army spokesman, meanwhile, said two planes had intercepted a helicopter as it entered the Lebanon-Israel border zone off Rosh Hanikra.

"The Israeli planes approached the helicopter which had not identified itself according to the set procedure," he said. But the planes did not open fire and the helicopter turned back and landed on a German ship.

France and the U.N. this week warned Israel that it was endangering the multinational peace mission in Lebanon by sending its fighter jets into Lebanese airspace.

Police in Lebanon have said that there were more Israeli flights over the country on Monday than on any other day since the end of the Jewish state's 34-day offensive.

Peretz said at the weekend that the flights through Lebanese airspace would continue because of alleged arms smuggling to Hizbullah since the end of the war on August 14.

Germany is heading the naval component of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon but has refused to contribute ground troops in a bid to avoid clashes with Israeli forces because of lingering sensitivities over the Holocaust.

The German press also reported on Thursday that the German navy has been told that their mandate does not allow them to come within 10 kilometers of the Lebanese coast unless asked to do so by Beirut authorities.

Die Welt and the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspapers said this was decided by Beirut and the U.N. on October 12, citing a document tabled in the German parliament by the defense ministry on Wednesday.

The Agence France Presse said the issue had been the subject of protracted wrangling between Beirut and Berlin before eight German vessels set sail for Lebanon on September 21 with some 1,000 soldiers on board.

The German government said at the time that it had won assurances that its ships would be allowed to search Lebanese waters and to use force if necessary to intercept weapons being smuggled to Hizbullah.

Beirut has argued that German vessels be required to seek for permission from Lebanese authorities before approaching the coast.

Under the mandate agreed to by the U.N. and Lebanon, the Germans would now have to do so, said the Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

It said the U.N. mandate also stipulated that German soldiers may only set foot on suspect ships or seize material if they were accompanied by Lebanese soldiers.(AFP-Naharnet) 
 
 

Beirut, 26 Oct 06, 07:06
 
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Argentine Prosecutors Seek Arrest of Rafsanjani, ex-Hizbullah Chief in Jewish Center Blast
Argentine prosecutors asked a federal judge to order the arrest of former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani and seven others for the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center that killed scores of people.
The decision to attack the center "was undertaken in 1993 by the highest authorities of the then-government of Iran," prosecutor Alberto Nisman said at a news conference Wednesday.

He said the actual attack was entrusted to Hizbullah.

The worst terrorist attack ever on Argentine soil, the bombing of the Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires killed 85 people and injured more than 200 when an explosive-laden vehicle detonated near the building.

Iran's government has vehemently denied any involvement in the attack following repeated accusations by Jewish community and other leaders here.

Prosecutors urged the judge to seek international and national arrest orders for Rafsanjani, who was Iran's president between 1989 and 1997 and is now the head of the Expediency Council, which mediates between parliament and the clerics who rule the country.

They also asked the judge to detain several other former Iranian officials, including a former intelligence chief, Ali Fallahijan, and former Foreign Minister Ali Ar Velayati.

They also urged the arrest of two former commanders of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, two former Iranian diplomats and a former Hizbullah security chief for external affairs.

Nisman and fellow prosecutor Marcelo Martinez Burgos said they suspected that Hizbullah undertook activities outside Lebanon only "under orders directly emanating from the regime in Tehran."

The two prosecutors head a special investigative unit probing the attack, which flattened the former Jewish center, since rebuilt into a heavily guarded fortress-like compound.

Nisman announced in November 2005 that investigators believed a suspected 21-year-old Hizbullah fighter had been identified as the suicide bomber.

The attack on the seven-story Jewish center, a symbol of Argentina's more than 200,000-strong Jewish population, was the second of two attacks targeting Jews in Argentina during the 1990s.

A March 1992 blast destroyed the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 people in a case that has also been blamed on Hizbullah.

Some speculated the bombing was inspired by Argentina's support for the U.S.-led coalition that expelled Iraq from Kuwait during the Gulf War in the early 1990s. Others said Argentina's Jewish community, one of the largest in Latin America, represented an obvious target for Israel's opponents.

In 2004, about a dozen former police officers and an accused trafficker in stolen vehicles were acquitted of charges that they had formed a "local connection" in the bombing.(AP) (AFP photo shows members of the Argentine Jewish community participating in the rescue efforts shortly after the blast that destroyed the Jewish center in Buenos Aires)
 
 
 

Beirut, 26 Oct 06, 07:19


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Wednesday October 25, 2006

Berri Invites National Dialogue Leaders for Consultation Session Oct. 30
Speaker Nabih Berri invited Wednesday rival political leaders for a consultation session to be held October 30 aimed at resolving demands for the formation of a national unity government.

He said Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has the right to be represented by any delegate he chooses for "security considerations."

"I call on all national dialogue sides to come back to the roundtable in parliament to consult around the table, and not go down the streets," Berri told a news conference at his Ein el-Tineh mansion.

He said the first session of "a maximum" 15-day consultation period will commence in parliament on Monday, October 30 for discussions on "the national unity government and a new electoral law."

"Any issue to be agreed upon (in the meeting) will be subject to implementation," said Berri, organizer of the national dialogue.

Sources told Naharnet that leaders of the March 14 Forces were willing to accept Berri's initiative on condition that the consultations would also deal with the issue of the presidency.

Pro-Damascus President Emile Lahoud's extended three-year term expires next fall.

Nasrallah and General Michel Aoun have been repeatedly calling for toppling Premier Fouad Saniora's government and the formation of a national unity cabinet.

Hizbullah's secretary-general and Aoun were among the top leaders who took part in the reconciliation talks, launched early March.

The dialogue was last scheduled for July 25. But the outbreak of the Israel-Hizbullah war July 12 has prevented the resumption of the talks. The hostilities ended August 14 under a U.N.-brokered ceasefire.

The thorny issue aimed at resolving Hizbullah's right to keep its weapons was last tackled by the rival leaders before the discussions were adjourned. Hizbullah had proposed a defense strategy for Lebanon in the face of a potential threat from Israel.

Members of the March 14 Forces, maintain that any defense strategy should keep decisions to "protect Lebanon" in the hands of the state and regular army.

But pro-Syrian groups, led by Hizbullah, have so far rejected U.N. Security Council demands to disarm and calls from within Lebanon to merge their fighters with the regular army. 
 
 

Beirut, 25 Oct 06, 12:48


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Small Bomb Sets Fire in Beirut, No Casualties
A small bomb exploded on a Beirut street early Wednesday, causing no casualties but starting a small fire, police said.

They said the bomb was apparently tossed from a speeding car on the seafront boulevard in the Ramlet el-Baida area shortly after midnight Tuesday night, landing in an open area and setting fire to a bush and several trees.

The small blaze was extinguished, police said.

During the past month, three similar incidents have occurred, targeting two police stations and Riad al-Solh square in downtown Beirut where U.N. offices, the Grand Serail and dance clubs are located.

The attacks prompted the government earlier this month to decide to install security cameras in public areas of Beirut and the suburbs.

Last year, a bombing campaign shook the capital and outlying areas, targeting businesses and anti-Syrian politicians.(AP-Naharnet)(AP photo shows soldiers securing the site where a bomb was tossed)
 
 
 

Beirut, 25 Oct 06, 07:48
 


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UNIFIL's Success Linked to Hizbullah Actions
U.N. Undersecretary for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guehenno has linked the success of the U.N. mission in Lebanon to Hizbullah actions.

"It depends whether Hizbullah is able to rebuild itself and humiliate the mission," said Guehenno during a speech on Tuesday at the Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C.

SAIS, a leading graduate school of international affairs, has been a division of the Johns Hopkins University since 1950.

Guehenno, also a French diplomat, said the success of the "robust posture" of the U.N. mission in south Lebanon ultimately will hinge on the disarmament of Hizbullah, which must take place through a political process, as well as the reconstruction of Lebanon.

The Israel-Hizbullah war on Lebanon which ended August 14 under a U.N.-brokered ceasefire calls for the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon to ensure the southern border area with Israel is "free of any armed personnel and weapons other than those of the Lebanese armed forces and UNIFIL."

Since the ceasefire, Hizbullah fighters have kept out of uniform, with their weapons out of sight.

UNIFIL is required to eventually beef-up its forces on the ground in south Lebanon to 15,000 soldiers.

Guehenno said that Hizbullah has been the most effective organization in south Lebanon in providing immediate services to the population after the war ended, and the U.N. mission in Lebanon may not succeed if U.N. forces are unable to help the Lebanese government increase its presence and contacts in the south.

He said that a Lebanese national dialogue among the disputed political leaders needs to take root beyond Lebanon to the wider region, adding that politics "must move in the right direction."

Guehenno said he believed the coordinated political direction Lebanon and the region will take are of "fundamental importance."

He dubbed as "critical" the political engagement of Middle East countries, saying that the United States has a vital role to play in the region.

Guehenno said that in six months UNIFIL's presence in Lebanon will be a "model that is neither U.N. nor NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)," and this "compromise approach represents an important change that the Lebanon operation is bringing to U.N. peacekeeping."(AFP photo shows Turkish soldiers inspecting their weapons at their base in the south)
 
 
 

Beirut, 25 Oct 06, 11:01


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May Chidiac, 2 Other Female Journalists Receive Courage Awards
LBCI anchorwoman May Chidiac, an American reporter kidnapped in Iraq and a Chinese journalist twice jailed for her economic and political reporting received Courage in Journalism Awards from the International Women's Media Foundation.

More than 600 people attended the awards luncheon in New York on Tuesday honoring Chidiac who lost her left arm and left leg in a car bomb explosion in September 2005, Jill Carroll who was released on March 30 after 82 days as a hostage, and Gao Yu who spent more than six years in prison and continues to fight against Chinese censorship.

American television journalist Judy Woodruff, the chair of the awards, paid tribute to all journalists working in danger zones from Iraq to Afghanistan -- and those who lost their lives trying to report the truth.

She asked everyone to observe a moment of silence in memory of one of the 2002 courage award winners -- Russia's crusading investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya who was killed on Oct. 7. She asked every guest to sign a postcard to Russian President Vladimir Putin asking him to fully investigate her murder.

"We want the world to know that Anna did not stand alone and her murder will not be forgotten," Woodruff said.

Since the war in Iraq began in 2003, more than 100 journalists and media employees have been killed, and many more have been injured, Woodruff said. "The war in Iraq is now the deadliest war on record for newspeople," she said.

The first Courage in Journalism Award honored one of the survivors -- 28-year-old Carroll, a fluent Arabic speaker who had spent three years reporting from Iraq before she was kidnapped in January while freelancing for the Christian Science Monitor. Carroll was in the audience and stood to loud applause, but she is still recovering from the ordeal and asked Monitor Editor Richard Bergenheim to accept the award.

"She wants the world to know of her total heartfelt commitment and support for all those who are out reporting today," he said. "Few journalists actually think about courage while reporting. But they're responding with drive to get to the truth... Like all of us, they believe that understanding trumps ignorance."

Chidiac, 43, believes a bomb was planted under her car last year as a result of her criticism of Syria's involvement in Lebanon-- and she told the audience at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel that it was meant to eliminate her.

"But I survived, and it is not a secret any more that my survival was a miracle," she said. "Moreover, I believe I gave my country a hand to fight with, and a leg to kick all the enemies with, and they are not few."

She has undergone 26 operations and was loudly applauded when she walked onstage using a cane.

Clearly referring to Syria which withdrew its troops from Lebanon in April 2005 after a 29-year occupation, she said, "regimes are trying even after their visible withdrawal from Lebanon, to prevent me, and others, from telling the world the truth about what is happening in my country and to my fellow Lebanese."

Since she returned to work on July 19, Chidiac said "I am still threatened but I kept on doing my job with no fear, ready for any danger I might face."

Gao, 62, won a Courage in Journalism award in 1995 but was unable to receive it because she was sentenced in 1993 to six years in prison for "leaking state secrets" through a pro-Chinese newspaper in Hong Kong. During the 1980s, she became known for her investigative reporting and her writings were instrumental in the 1989 pro-democracy movement.

Gao told the audience after accepting the 2006 courage award that she didn't hear the gunfire in Tiananmen Square on June 3, 1989 because she was arrested that morning.

"A few days later, my report on the surging democratic movement was published in one of Hong Kong's most influential magazines," she said. "As a journalist, I became a `hostage card' that the Chinese authorities played to show their tough stand to the West."

The foundation presented its lifetime achievement award to renowned Mexican author and journalist Elena Poniatowska, 74, who is best known for "La Noche de Tlatelco," which chronicles the lives and deaths of students protesting police repression prior to the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

Since I became a journalist, I have always listened to voices," she said. "While conditions of oppression, misery and social exclusion exist in Latin America, listening to voices will be the only way in which we can become aware of unsuspected and different ways of living."(AP-Naharnet) (Naharnet file photo is of May Chidiac)
 
 
 

Beirut, 25 Oct 06, 09:13


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Saniora Discusses with UAE's President Lebanon's Reconstruction
Premier Fouad Saniora and UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan on Tuesday discussed the reconstruction of Lebanon, Emirates News Agency WAM reported.

Saniora, in Abu Dhabi for a short visit, briefed Khalifa on ongoing efforts by Arabs and the international community to help rebuild Lebanon following Israel's devastating July-August offensive, WAM said.

It said that Saniora expressed his people's "gratitude and appreciation" for the role played by the UAE in helping Lebanon overcome the impact of the war.

The UAE pledged in August to rebuild a number of schools and hospitals in south Lebanon after earlier earmarking 20 million dollars in relief aid.

The oil-rich country is also involved in clearing mines and unexploded bombs in south Lebanon, the lethal debris of the month-long war between Hizbullah and Israel.(AFP) 
 
 

Beirut, 24 Oct 06, 17:06
 


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Tuesday October 24, 2006

Hizbullah Warns UNIFIL against Biasing, Possibility of Imposing Arms Embargo
Hizbullah has warned the U.N. peacekeeping force in south Lebanon against biasing as the Security Council was reportedly considering imposing an arms embargo on Lebanon.

Hizbullah chief in south Lebanon Sheikh Nabil Qaouk strongly criticized what he called an "international umbrella," in reference to a French announcement two weeks ago that the U.N. Security Council was underway to organize the rules of the Lebanese airspace.
Qaouk said that "increased talks about an international umbrella and that it could include intelligence information about the resistance in favor of the Israelis, if true, would be a shift in UNIFIL's neutrality."

He also held Premier Fouad Saniora's government and the anti-Syrian March 14 Forces responsible for any consequences.

Qaouk's comments were published in Al-Hayat daily on Tuesday.

France leads the 7,200-strong U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), including a contingent of 1,500 Germans that is part of the taskforce designated to protect Lebanon's maritime boundary.

Israel continues to violate the Lebanese airspace, contending its overflights do not contradict U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which included the cease-fire that brought an end to 34 days of Israel-Hizbullah fighting on Aug. 14. The resolution calls for both sides to respect the border drawn by the U.N. after Israel ended its 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz vowed Sunday that the flights would continue because of alleged arms smuggling to Hizbullah since Aug. 14.

"Increasing intelligence indicates a growing effort to pass weapons into Lebanon," Peretz said, accusing the Lebanese government of failing to prevent arms smuggling as required by Resolution 1701.

In the meantime, well-informed French sources in Paris told Al-Hayat that the International body was studying a mechanism to monitor arms embargo on Hizbullah.

They said that "considerations are underway to resort to the Security Council's Sanctions Committee" in order to monitor alleged Hizbullah arms smuggling.

The sources also said that French president Jacques Chirac was expected to discuss during his visit to China on Wednesday the issue of the arms embargo on Lebanon.

Al-Hayat said the French sources asserted that the "idea to monitor the embargo is not hostile against Hizbullah."

The sources also said that "no progress" has been made regarding the release of two kidnapped Israeli soldiers in exchange for Lebanese prisoners.

They were referring to the two Israeli service members kidnapped in a cross-border Hizbullah attack on July 12, which sparked Israel's war on Lebanon.

Al-Hayat quoted another international diplomatic source as saying that the envoy dispatched by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to follow up the prisoners' swap deal has visited Lebanon "several times."

"But the impression is that Hizbullah does not want to resolve this problem, when Israel regards it as a precondition to move ahead in the implementation of Resolution 1701," according to the diplomatic source. 
 
 

Beirut, 24 Oct 06, 09:38


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Saniora: New International Tribunal Draft 'Blessed' by Lebanese Legal Experts
Prime Minister Fouad Saniora asserted Tuesday that the new draft of the international tribunal to look into the assassination of ex-premier Rafik Hariri was "blessed" by Lebanese legal experts.

Saniora, in an interview published Tuesday by Asharq al Awsat newspaper, also confirmed media reports that article three of the governing principles of the tribunal, which deals with 'Crimes against Humanity,' has been nullified.

He said the draft, in its new form, would soon be handed over to the cabinet for approval.
An-Nahar daily said Monday that article three has been abolished in response to a request by China and Russia.

As-Safir has quoted U.N. representative to south Lebanon Gere Pederson as saying that the draft on the formation of the international tribunal was expected to be finalized by the Security Council on Monday and handed over to the cabinet on Tuesday.

According to An-Nahar, U.N. Undersecretary General for Legal Affairs Nicolas Michel would hand over the final draft to Lebanon to be discussed during a cabinet session Oct. 30 for endorsement.
 
 
 

Beirut, 24 Oct 06, 11:18


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Russian FM: Syria is Cooperating with U.N. Hariri Probe, Doesn't Deserve Sanctions
Syria has done nothing to deserve international sanctions as it has cooperated with the U.N. probe into ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's assassination, Russia's foreign minister said in an interview published Tuesday.

"Frankly, I do not see what Syria could have done to deserve facing sanctions," Sergei Lavrov told the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat.

"We believe that Syria is actively cooperating with the U.N. investigation in the assassination of Lebanon's former PM Rafik Hariri. International investigators visit Syria frequently, meet Syrian officials and present their reports to the U.N. Security Council," he said.

"I have not heard any accusation of default against Syria," in this regard, he told the London-based Arabic daily.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said late September the United States was hoping to convince its allies to back new sanctions against Syria in response to its purported role in destabilizing Lebanon and Iraq and supporting the radical Palestinian movement Hamas.

Lavrov also praised the Assad regime for avoiding turning the July-August war between Syrian and Iranian-backed Hizbullah and Israel into a regional conflict.

"Thank God that war did not turn into an all-out regional war ... That did not happen because the Syrian leadership took a very responsible stand and avoided all that could have dragged Syria into the furnace of the military conflict," the minister said.(AFP-Naharnet) 
 
 

Beirut, 24 Oct 06, 10:40


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Legacy of War Casts Shadow on Eid al-Fitr Holiday
Women in south Lebanon wept at the graves of loved ones killed in the Israeli offensive on the country, many Iraqis stayed home and security was tightened elsewhere Monday at the start of Eid al-Fitr.

The three-day holiday that marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan is customarily celebrated with family gatherings, presents and lunchtime feasts, but the legacy of conflict has cast a shadow this year across much of the Middle East. Cemetery visits are also common during the occasion, but are generally less mournful, focusing instead on commemorating the departed.

In the bombed out villages of southern Lebanon, the mood was somber and festivities muted.

"There is no Eid. There is only sadness and desperation and fear for the future," said Salma Salameh, a 43-year-old school teacher in the predominantly Shiite southern village of Blatt.

As if to underline the tensions, Lebanese security officials said Israeli warplanes on Monday flew low over south Lebanon villages including Blatt. They reached the southern and eastern suburbs of Beirut -- a rare occurrence since a U.N.-brokered cease-fire on Aug. 14 halted 34-days of fighting between the Jewish State and Hizbulalh.

Many Lebanese, meanwhile, gathered in cemeteries to pay their respects to the more than 1,200 Lebanese who were killed during the war, most of them civilians.

In the southern village of Qana, where an Israeli airstrike on July 30 killed 29 Lebanese, women dressed in black wept over the graves. In Aitaroun, which lost 41 villagers to the war, families laid flowers and read Qoranic verses at the graves.

Celebrations in the southern village of Halta were replaced with the funeral of a boy who was killed Sunday by an Israeli cluster bomb as he picked olives in his family's grove with his younger brother. The bomb was one of the 1 million cluster munitions U.N. demining experts say failed to explode immediately when Israel dropped them in Lebanon during the war and continue to threaten civilians.

The start of Eid al-Fitr, which means the festival of breaking the fast or the dawn-to-dusk ritual that observant Muslims respect during the month of Ramadan, is determined by clerics based on the sighting of the new moon. While the holiday began in most Arab countries on Monday, it will start in Egypt, Syria and Jordan on Tuesday. Some Shiites in Lebanon and Iraq also will begin the holiday Tuesday.

Ramadan's end was a festive affair in the Gulf States of Kuwait and Bahrain where children dressed up in their new holiday clothes and received sweets, cakes and money from neighbors and relatives.

But violence plagued other parts of the Arab world. In the Gaza Strip, Israeli troops shot and killed seven Palestinians and 14 others were wounded in one of the deadliest days of fighting there in four months.

In wartorn Iraq, many Sunni Muslims stayed inside out of fear that they would fall victim to car bombs or gunfire from Shiite militiamen in Baghdad.

Jordanian officials stepped up security Monday in preparation for Tuesday's holiday.

Security also was tight in Beirut, where many Lebanese left the mosques after morning prayers and went to the downtown grave of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed in a February 2005 assassination that continues to haunt the country as U.N. investigators pursue the perpetrators.

Shiite and Muslim clergyman said they would not be receiving greetings for Eid al-Fitr this year because of the recent war and the violence in Iraq and the Palestinian territories.

Lebanon's senior most Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, warned worshippers in his sermon Monday of the perils facing the Arab world as a result of the "rising international campaign against Islam."

The spiritual leader of Lebanon's Sunnis, Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Kabbani, said Lebanon had defeated Israel in the war on both the "military and diplomatic levels," but he urged national unity and an end to the sharp divisions that have plagued Lebanon since the end of the war.(AP-Naharnet) (AFP photo shows a man reading from the Qoran over the grave of his two daughters and wife who were killed during the war)
 
 
 

Beirut, 24 Oct 06, 09:01


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Albania Offers Peacekeeping Troops for Lebanon
Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha has said his government was ready to contribute peacekeeping troops in Lebanon and also to increase its presence in Afghanistan.

"Albania is determined to consider its increase of presence in Afghanistan and we are discussing with partner countries for our presence in Lebanon," Berisha told a conference organized by the parliament on NATO membership on Monday.

Albania hopes to join NATO by 2008 and, along with Croatia and Macedonia, has signed the Adriatic 3 Charter, a U.S.-backed initiative outlining a common military strategy and promoting regional cooperation.

All three countries have troops in Afghanistan, and Macedonia and Albania also has sent soldiers to Iraq.

Albania's executive was determined "to undertake any reform, to pay any price that together at the Washington summit we deserve the invitation for full membership of our countries into the Atlantic Alliance as the surest and most excellent future for our countries and the region," according to Berisha.

Albania has a 22-member peacekeeping unit in Afghanistan serving under Turkish command and is also part of a small medical unit to assist NATO's military personnel and residents of Kabul.

Albania, a small, predominantly Muslim country on the Adriatic Sea, has 70 troops in Bosnia and 120 troops in Iraq.

Turkey, another Muslim country, has already sent U.N. peacekeepers to Lebanon.(AP-Naharnet)
 
 
 

Beirut, 24 Oct 06, 08:27


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German Navy off Lebanon Rescues Crew of Burning Syrian Ship
A German navy ship patrolling Lebanese waters under the United Nations maritime mandate rescued 12 crew members Monday from a Syrian-owned cargo vessel after it caught fire, Cypriot authorities said.

Two members of the mainly Syrian and Egyptian crew from the Saint Vincent-flagged "Silina" were flown by German navy helicopter to the south coast port of Limassol in Cyprus where they were treated in hospital for first and second degree burns, police said.

The remaining crew were ferried to Limassol aboard the supply ship "Frankfurt am Main."

Doctors described the two hospitalized sailors as being in a "satisfactory" condition.

A distress call was sent out at 05.30 local time (0230 GMT) after fire broke out in the engine room while the Silina was sailing from the Syrian port of Tartous to Limassol.

It was located 64 nautical miles off the Larnaca coast in southeast Cyprus, and was not carrying any cargo at the time.

The "Frankfurt am Main" is part of the multinational U.N. maritime force established under Security Council Resolution 1701, which brought an end to the 34-day war in July and August between Israel and Hizbullah.

Led by the Germans, the maritime force is tasked with securing Lebanon's coastline and preventing the illegal shipment of arms to Hizbullah.

The Silina was being towed back to Syria on Monday, the authorities in Cyprus said.(AFP-Naharnet) 
 
 

Beirut, 23 Oct 06, 20:07


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Defying Israeli Jets Carry out 'Most Intensive Overflights' of Lebanon
Israeli warplanes Monday carried out their "most intensive overflights" of Lebanon since the end of the Jewish state's offensive on the country, police said, despite a French warning to halt such missions.

Two Israeli fighter jets mounted buzzed Beirut, police said, and four warplanes mounted similar low altitude supersonic runs over southern Lebanon, causing a sonic boom over the port city of Tyre, as Muslims celebrated the end of Ramadan.

"These are the most intensive overflights since August 14 ... and it looks like another defiance of 1701 and of French appeals," a police source said, referring to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 that ended the 34-day war.

The territorial violations came days after France, which currently leads the U.N. peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, said it might open fire on the intruding aircraft.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz vowed Sunday that the flights would continue because of alleged arms smuggling to Hizbullah since the August 14 end of the war.

"Increasing intelligence indicates a growing effort to pass weapons into Lebanon," Peretz said, accusing the Lebanese government of failing to prevent arms smuggling as required by Resolution 1701.

"As long as these attempts continue, the legitimacy of our flights over Lebanon increases," Peretz said. "As long as Resolution 1701 is not carried out, we have no intention of stopping the flights over Lebanon."

The flights have been increasingly criticized by the international community, with France warning on Friday against the violations.

"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," French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said.(AFP-Naharnet) 
 
 

Beirut, 23 Oct 06, 15:42


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Monday October 23, 2006

Breaking News - Former Syrian Vice President Khaddam Addresses the Nation of Syria through Future TV on the Eid-Al-Fitr - Telling the Syrian People that Assad's Repressive Regime will soon be replaced with a democratic civil Government

 

This Website Reported in yesterday's news of significant reports that Khaddam has met with Saudi King Abdullah and that the Saudi King will meet with exiled Uncle of Bashar Assad - Rifaat Assad.

 

 

 

Exiled former Syrian vice president says Assad regime is on the brink of collapse
The Associated Press

Published: Sunday Night October 22, 2006

BEIRUT, Lebanon An exiled former Syrian vice president said Sunday that President Bashar Assad's regime is on the brink of collapse and called on Syrians to prepare for the day when he will be overthrown.
 
Abdul-Halim Khaddam, who is wanted in Syria on treason charges, said in address to the Syrian people that Assad's "oppressive" regime will soon be replaced with a democratic civil government, but he did not elaborate.
 
His address was on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr, the Islamic feast marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, and was broadcast on Lebanon's Future TV, an anti-Syrian station owned by the family of slain former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
 
"Ask yourselves, my brothers, after six years of his taking over the administration of the country, what has Bashar Assad done except spread corruption, increase suffering and (take) wrong decisions that have led to weakening national unity and subjecting Syria to Arab and international isolation," Khaddam said.
 
"I assure you that the corrupt and tyrannical regime is on the brink of collapse and in the near future, the ruler will see the opportunists and hypocrites that rallied around him fleeing. He and his corrupt family and entourage will find themselves in the hands of justice," he added.

full story here in our [ News ] section 
Khaddam's message was likely to have been seen by many Syrian families with access to satellite television dishes, which are widely used in Syria.
 
The fact that it was broadcast by a Lebanese station could increase tension between the two countries, whose relations have deteriorated since Hariri's assassination and the ensuing withdrawal of the Syrian army from the country.
 
The current Lebanese government, dominated by anti-Syrians, has regularly accused Damascus of interfering in Lebanon's internal affairs.
 
Khaddam's address was aired several days after Arab newspapers reported that the former vice president met with Saudi officials, including King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan.
 
An Arab diplomat said the meetings took place in Saudi Arabia last week and were significant because they send a message to Syria that the kingdom is upset at Syria's policies and may be exploring other options to deal with the Damascus regime.
 
The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
 
Saudi-Syrian relations soured after Assad, in a speech following this summer's Israel-Hezbollah war, described leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan as "half men" because they did not rally to Lebanon's defense.
 
The Saudis feel that Assad has broken away from these Arab countries to align himself with Iran.
 
Syria has been under intense international pressure since last year's assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syria has widely been blamed for the murder, but it has denied any link.
 
A top member of Syria's ruling elite for nearly 30 years, Khaddam has lived with his family in France since he retired as vice president last summer.
 
He provoked an outcry last December when he told a pan-Arab satellite channel that Assad had threatened Hariri months before he was assassinated last year. Assad has denied the allegation.
 
Syrian state media promptly denounced Khaddam, and Syrian legislators called for him to be prosecuted for treason. A Syrian military court has charged Khaddam with plotting to take power and, in an apparent reference to the U.S., inciting a foreign attack against Syria.

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U.N. to Finalize Hariri International Tribunal Monday
In the SpotlightThe U.N. Security Council was expected to finalize on Monday a draft on the formation of an international tribunal into the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri after the nullification of an article in the court's structure has cleared the way for its onset.

U.N. representative to south Lebanon Gere Pederson told As-Safir that the draft, to be finalized by the Security Council on Monday, would be handed over to the Lebanese government on Tuesday.
The leading An-Nahar daily said Monday that Premier Fouad Saniora and Justice Minister Charles Rizk have obtained an "unofficial copy of the modified draft," adding that "the official copy will be handed over to the government" after the Security Council's approval.

An-Nahar also said that article three of the governing principles of the tribunal about 'Crimes against Humanity' has been abolished in response to a request by China and Russia.

It said that amendments were then introduced to article two which tackles the Lebanese criminal law.

"The new thing about this amendment is that any similar crime to be committed following the approval of the tribunal system will be subjected to the same laws," An-Nahar said.

U.N. Undersecretary General for Legal Affairs Nicolas Michel would hand over the final draft, which would be discussed during a cabinet session to be held Oct. 30 for endorsement, according to An-Nahar.

It quoted government sources as saying that they expect the cabinet to approve the final draft on the formation of an international tribunal to try the suspects in Hariri's murder.

As-Safir said that magistrates Ralf Riachi and Choukri Sader will have their own comments on the final draft after examining it.

Riachi and Sader traveled back and forth to the U.N.'s headquarters in New York to hold meetings on the formation of the court.

The Syrian state newspaper Tishrin has accused the United States, France and Lebanon of conspiring to frame Syria in Hariri's assassination, indicating increasing panic in Damascus as the international tribunal began to take shape.

"There is a French, American and Lebanese plot aiming at intimidating Syria and framing it in the assassinating of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri," An-Nahar on Sunday quoted Tishrin as saying.

Hariri was killed along with 22 others in a massive explosion in downtown Beirut Feb.14, 2005. The assassination led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops from the country in April 2005 after 29 years of military presence.

The Syrian allegations are based on a French book recently published which pointed to a French, American and Lebanese contrive to frame Syria in Hariri's killing, intimidate it and abort the resistance methodology in the region.(Naharnet file photo shows the site of Hariri's murder)
 
 
 

Beirut, 23 Oct 06, 09:40

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Berri to Announce Fresh Initiative to Revive National Dialogue
Speaker  Nabih Berri's promised Eid al-Fitr "gift" was apparently an announcement he was going to make at a news conference to be held on Wednesday of a fresh initiative to revive the stalled national dialogue, a signifying breakthrough in the dispute among the country's political leaders.

As the Lebanese celebrated Eid al-Fitr, the leading An-Nahar daily reported Monday that Berri's decision to hold a press conference Oct. 25 asserts his "seriousness in declaring a stand on the outcome of the conflict" between the anti-Syrian March 14 Forces and the opposition.

An-Nahar said the announcement of the news conference, to be held at 11 a.m. on Wednesday at Berri's Ein el-Tineh mansion in Beirut, came as a result of a marathon meeting Tuesday between Berri and Premier Fouad Saniora "away from the media."

The paper quoted sources close to Saniora as saying that the talks focused on "everything that would support and consolidate the Lebanese unity."

Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and General Michel Aoun have been repeatedly calling for the toppling of Saniora's cabinet and the formation of a national unity government.

Last week, Berri said an agreement to reinstate national unity had been reached and would be announced during the Fitr holiday.

Berri hinted earlier this month that there would be what he called a "feast's gift."

Since then there has been speculation in the Lebanese media about the "gift" and what could it be.

The feast's gift is given toward the beginning of the Fitr holiday which began Monday to celebrate the end of Islam's holy fasting month of Ramadan. 
 
 

Beirut, 23 Oct 06, 10:52


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Khaddam on Future TV: Assad Regime is on Brink of Collapse
Former Syrian vice president Abdul-Halim Khaddam has said that President Bashar Assad's regime is on the brink of collapse and called on Syrians to prepare for the day when he will be overthrown.

Khaddam, who is wanted in Syria on treason charges, said in an address to the Syrian people that Assad's "oppressive" regime will soon be replaced with a democratic civil government, but he did not elaborate.

His address was on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr, the Islamic feast marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, and was broadcast on Future TV.

"Ask yourselves, my brothers, after six years of his taking over the administration of the country, what has Bashar Assad done except spread corruption, increase suffering and (take) wrong decisions that have led to weakening national unity and subjecting Syria to Arab and international isolation," Khaddam said from his exile in Paris.

"I assure you that the corrupt and tyrannical regime is on the brink of collapse and in the near future, the ruler will see the opportunists and hypocrites that rallied around him fleeing. He and his corrupt family and entourage will find themselves in the hands of justice," he added.

Khaddam's message was likely to have been seen by many Syrian families with access to satellite television dishes, which are widely used in Syria.

The fact that it was broadcast by a Lebanese station could increase tension between the two countries, whose relations have deteriorated since ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's assassination and the ensuing withdrawal of Syrian troops from the country.

Khaddam's address was aired several days after Arab newspapers reported that the former vice president met with Saudi officials, including King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan.

An Arab diplomat said the meetings took place in Saudi Arabia last week and were significant because they send a message to Syria that the kingdom is upset at Syria's policies and may be exploring other options to deal with the Damascus regime.

Saudi-Syrian relations soured after Assad, in a speech following this summer's Israel-Hizbullah war, described leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan as "half men" because they did not rally to Lebanon's defense.

The Saudis feel that Assad has broken away from these Arab countries to align himself with Iran.

Syria has been under intense international pressure since Hariri's assassination in February 2005. Syria has widely been blamed for the murder, but it has denied any link.

A top member of Syria's ruling elite for nearly 30 years, Khaddam has lived with his family in France since he retired as vice president last summer.

He provoked an outcry last December when he told Al-Arabiya satellite network that Assad had threatened Hariri months before he was assassinated. Assad has denied the allegation.

Syrian state media promptly denounced Khaddam, and Syrian legislators called for him to be prosecuted for treason. A Syrian military court has charged Khaddam with plotting to take power and, in an apparent reference to the U.S., inciting a foreign attack against Syria.(AP-Naharnet)
 
 
 

Beirut, 23 Oct 06, 08:48


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Lebanese Army Dismantles Earth Mounds in Khiam
The Lebanese army began on Monday eliminating Israeli violations in the border town of Khiam, the National News Agency said.
It said the military dismantled earth mounds set up by Israeli troops during their July-Aug war on Lebanon.

The NNA said that army troops erected a barbed wire fence to prevent further incursions.

The army also isolated vast areas of Lebanese territory from the fence that separates south Lebanon from northern Israel, according to the NNA.

It said the move was made as Israeli soldiers went on alert inside the settlement of Metula.
Last week, the army dismantled drainage pipes installed by the Israeli military between the southern towns of Kfar Kila and Adeisseh.

Lebanese troops removed the pipes and put up sand barricades on the Lebanese side of the "Blue Line" amid heavy Israeli patrols along the border fence.
 
 
 

Beirut, 23 Oct 06, 12:01


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Israel admits using deadly incendiary during summer war
Army 'made use of phosphorous shells'

By Rym Ghazal
Daily Star staff
Monday, October 23, 2006


BEIRUT: Israel acknowledged on Sunday that it had used the white phosphorous bombs in South Lebanon during the summer war, partially confirming Lebanese allegations for the first time. The Jewish state also said its almost daily violations of Lebanon's airspace would continue in order to monitor what it claimed was ongoing weapons smuggling to Hizbullah.

"The [Israeli military] made use of phosphorous shells during the war against Hizbullah in attacks against military targets in open ground," Minister for Government and Parliamentary Relations Yakov Edery told lawmakers last week, the Haaretz daily said Sunday.

Media reports on Israel's use of phosphorous bombs during the 34-day war in Lebanon continue to emerge, as cases of severely burned victims pile up at hospitals across the South.

As the war was raging, the Lebanese government accused Israel of dropping phosphorous bombs and until the announcement by Edery, who was speaking on behalf of Defense Minister Amir Peretz, there were no confirmed reports.

"The Israeli Army holds phosphorous munitions in different forms," Haaretz quoted Edery as saying. However, he did not specify where or against what types of targets the phosphorous bombs were used.

Edery said international law does not ban the use of such weapons. However, many international human rights groups, including the Red Cross, have pushed for them to be outlawed.

"Under international law, the use of white phosphorous (WP) as an incendiary would fall under Protocol III of the Convention on Conventional Weapons, which prohibits use of incendiaries to attack civilians or military targets in civilian areas," Human Rights Watch (HRW) representative in Lebanon Nadim Houry told The Daily Star.

Houry added that it is generally acceptable to use WP not as an offensive weapon, but to provide illumination or to produce smoke for concealment.

Houry added that although Israel is "not party" to the protocol, many of the rules in Protocol III are accepted international standards.

"I would say this is a case where international law may be lagging behind international public opinion," he said.

White phosphorous is a translucent wax-like substance with a pungent smell that, once ignited, creates intense heat and smoke.

"White phosphorous ammunition can have a devastating effect if it is used in the anti-personnel role," said Houry.

In addition to the toxicity of the smoke, burning fragments can stick to the skin and clothing to cause severe burns, and fragments of phosphorous can become buried in wounds.

"The fact that white phosphorous was used is certainly worrisome to Human Rights Watch, and it is incumbent upon Israel to give more information on when, where, why and how it was used, rather than just saying it was used against military targets in open areas. This is not sufficient to assess whether it has indeed spared civilians harm," said Houry.

There have been numerous accusations of Israeli forces using phosphorous against civilians. This was especially true during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the 1993 shelling of villages in the South.

Also on Sunday, Peretz said  Israel would continue its controversial overflights. He said they were necessary because Hizbullah was still receiving smuggled arms.

"The Lebanese government is falling short of carrying out its commitment under UN Security Council Resolution 1701," the Defense Ministry quoted Peretz as telling the weekly Cabinet meeting. "Increasing intelligence indicates a growing effort to pass weapons into Lebanon.

"As long as these attempts continue, the legitimacy of our flights over Lebanon increases," Peretz added. "As long as Resolution 1701 is not carried out,

we have no intention of stopping the flights over Lebanon."

Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh said Lebanon is "committed to 1701" and all the violations have been by Israel.

"Israel continues to violate, defy the international community and cause tension in the area but accuses Lebanon of violations," he said.

Israel continued to carry out flights over Lebanese territory on Sunday, with reports of "heavy" activity over the towns of Nabatieh, Marjayoun and Khiam.

The flights have been increasingly criticized by the international community, with France, which currently heads the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, warning last Friday that it might use force the violations. - With agencies


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Hizbullah rejects Egyptian minister's accusation as 'not worthy of a response'


Daily Star staff
Monday, October 23, 2006


BEIRUT: Hizbullah refused to comment Sunday on Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abou al-Gheit's remarks that the resistance group may have initiated the July-August war with Israel to escape the looming issue of disarmament. A Hizbullah official, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Daily Star on Sunday that "Abou al-Gheit and his comments are not worthy of a response or a comment."

A spokesperson from Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's office told The Daily Star that the premier had no comment on the issue, as he had yet to view Abou al-Gheit's remarks.

The source added that Siniora would be traveling to Saudi Arabia within 24 hours.

In an interview with Egyptian public television late Saturday, Abou al-Gheit said Hizbullah's secretary general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, may have sought conflict to justify Hizbullah's continued military existence.

He claimed that sparking the war with Israel was a bid to foil plans by the Lebanese government to implement an accord providing for the disarmament of the Shiite group.

"There had been an agreement, through roundtable [national dialogue] discussions  in Lebanon to implement the Taif Accord, which calls for the disarming of all militias in the country," the Egyptian government's official Middle East News Agency quoted Abou al-Gheit as saying.

"Perhaps through the operation Nasrallah wanted to find a way out of the situation."

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah II condemned Hizbullah's capture of two Israeli soldiers on July 12, which sparked the conflict, and Saudi Arabia's 

King Abdullah called the resistance's capture of the soldiers "an adventure" - something that has caused relations between the kingdom and the resistance group to deteriorate.

By early July of this year, Lebanon's top party leaders and politicians had agreed during the national dialogue on the need to implement the provisions of the Taif Accord. Leaders were in the process of discussing what to do with Hizbullah's weapons when the war broke out.

Before the dialogue was suspended due to the 34-day conflict, participants were preparing blueprints for a national defense strategy that would disarm Hizbullah and perhaps integrate its weapons and fighters into the Lebanese Army.

Abou al-Gheit said: "The operation launched by Nasrallah was not very well calculated and it exposed Lebanon and the Lebanese people and society to great losses, even if some feel pride or victory."

Hizbullah's capture of the soldiers along the UN-demarcated border on July 12 resulted in a ferocious Israeli offensive on Lebanon that killed over 1,200 Lebanese, wounded 4,000 others and destroyed much of the country's infrastructure.

Nasrallah had said in a televised interview with local satellite television station New TV in August that if he had known or anticipated that the Israeli response would be so devastating, Hizbullah would not have carried out the capture operation. - The Daily Star, with agencies


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French minister tours South, pledges help for recovery


Daily Star staff
Monday, October 23, 2006


BEIRUT: French Minister-Delegate for Regional Development Christian Estrosi emphasized his country's commitment to support the Lebanese in restoring stability and rebuilding the country on Sunday. Estrosi, who is on an official visit to Lebanon, toured Southern towns on Sunday in order to inspect the damage caused during the war with Israel in July and August.

He was accompanied by a diplomatic delegation that included French Ambassador Bernard Emie.

The minister stopped at the Antonine College in Nabatieh to offer a grant worth 50,000 euros ($63,000 ) to the school, which was badly damaged during the summer war.

In remarks during the ceremony, he stressed the "strong ties between France and Lebanon," adding that his country was "very concerned by the crises facing the Lebanese people."

"France will always support Lebanon and we will work on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which would establish peace and democracy in the region," he said.

The French delegation also visited the Southern town of Khiam and Hammoud Hospital in Sidon, where he checked on the health of an ailing French soldier serving with the UNIFIL.

Earlier in the day, Estrosi attended a parade at the police department in Dbayyeh.

Among the attendees was the director general of the Internal Security Forces, Major General Ashraf Rifi (ISF).

In a speech, the French minister highlighted France's technical support for the ISF.

He also praised the security forces' efforts to maintain security in the country, saying: "You represent the Lebanese people's determination to restore stability." - The Daily Star


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Officials confront Lahoud over judicial appointments


Daily Star staff
Monday, October 23, 2006


BEIRUT: A former parliamentary speaker on Sunday challenged President Emile Lahoud's reported reasons for withholding approval for a long-awaited list of judicial appointments. On Friday, Lahoud was quoted as saying: "The judicial appointments are unfair to some Lebanese sects, and it falls within my duties as president to preserve the rights of any battered party."

Former Speaker Hussein Husseini told An-Nahar newspaper in an interview published Sunday that Lahoud's reported reservations are "unfounded."

Husseini said: "appointments to the country's institutions fall under Article 59 of the Lebanese Constitution, which has obliterated sectarianism in public functions."

The president also reportedly said that "any appointments to the country's institutions should be based on the candidate's competence, experience and integrity."

Husseini, who had called on Lahoud Thursday to approve the frozen judicial appointments, added he "felt sorry for the president of Lebanon adopting what is contrary to the laws of the constitution."

The Judicial Council approved some 470 judicial appointments in the last couple of weeks. The appointment of magistrates is a yearly occurrence in which judges are shuffled and repositioned in the courts of the country. Justice Minister Charles Rizk and Premier Fouad Siniora have already signed the decree.

Husseini said: "According to the National Accord, the Higher Judicial Council is the only authority entrusted with approving the appointments. Thus, there is no reason to ask for the signature of anyone to endorse those appointments."

Also in an interview with An-Nahar Sunday, legal expert and former minister and MP Hassan Rifai criticized Lahoud's failure to ratify the judicial appointments, calling the step unconstitutional.

"Lahoud has breached the Constitution, and therefore should stand before the Supreme Council for trying presidents, premiers, speakers, and ministers, according to Article 60 of the Lebanese Constitution," Rifai said.

Article 60 of the Constitution states: "The President of the Republic may not be held responsible except when he violates the constitution or in the case of high treason. For such crimes, the President is to be tried by the Supreme Council."

Rifai added that Article 5 from the legislative decree number 83/150 states that judicial appointments become effective only after the approval of the justice minister, however, if any disparities emerge, the Judicial Council and the justice minister are to meet to try to resolve discrepancies.

If disagreement remains, the Judicial Council is to hold a vote and the outcome becomes final and binding.

Rifai said that decree 83/150 serves to reinforce the independence of the judiciary with regard to the appointments.

"Had it not been to the legislative decree 83/150, then judicial appointments would have been the responsibility of the executive power," he said.

Rifai said that since the judicial appointments are by now "final and binding" according to legislative decree 83/150, "Lahoud abstaining from signing the decree is a clear violation of the Constitution." - The Daily Star


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UNIFIL sees imminent Israeli pullout from Ghajar
Situation in south 'remains stable' despite airspace violations

By Rym Ghazal
Daily Star staff
Monday, October 23, 2006

 

Interview


UNIFIL sees imminent Israeli pullout from Ghajar

NAQOURA: "The issue of Ghajar has been settled," confirmed UNIFIL's spokesperson Alexander Ivanko, with an Israeli withdrawal from the already divided town expected within days. As the Lebanese side "sticks to Resolution 1701," according to Ivanko, and Israel "continues to violate it with its flights" over Lebanon, "the situation remains stable."

In an interview with The Daily Star, Ivanko said the latest reports of land violations by Israel, including the construction of drainage pipes near Kfar Kila to divert rainwater into Lebanon and the pumping of water from the Wazzani River, were untrue.

"We checked these claims three or four times about the Wazzani, and there is no water pumping by Israel as it had been widely reported," the spokesman said.

"As for the pipe construction, Israel was changing pipes already in place, and there is engineering work going on in Ghajar, where they are building a platform and fences," Ivanko said. He couldn't comment on what the platform may be for.

"The most serious Israeli violations have been the overflights, and we have not been able to deduce any patterns," he said, adding that since UNIFIL monitors the violations south of the Litani River up to the Blue Line, there "might be discrepancies between what is reported by us and the Lebanese Army."

"Our mandate does not cover north of the Litani, and so we can not include air violations that occur there," he said.

At one point, the Israeli air violations were as high as 18 violations in one day, with regular overflights of jets or drones over the South.

"We are protesting and reporting all the air violations to the UN headquarters, where political pressure is being used to force Israel to stop these violations," said Ivanko, adding that the use of force to stop the flights was a "last resort."

At the same time, French officials have been warning Israel that the overflights might be considered "hostile acts" by the French-led UN peacekeepers and they may fire in "self-defense," according to French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie in the latest statement, made Friday, on this issue.

Meanwhile, there have been "no violations" from the Lebanese side of the Blue Line, Ivanko said, except for what he called the "traditional violations of a shepherd and his goats crossing the Blue Line."

When asked about Hizbullah and its presence in the South, Ivanko said: "We don't deal with Hizbullah; we deal with the Lebanese Army."

When probed further on whether Hizbullah fighters remain in their Southern milieu, Ivanko replied: "They are here and there."

For Ghajar, for the time being Israel has still not officially withdrawn from the already divided village, a part of which falls in Syria territory.

"This does not necessarily mean there are troops there, just that legally they are not out of the area," said Ivanko.

Last week, the Israeli and Lebanese armies agreed on a proposal drafted by UNIFIL and it is expected that the Israeli Army will withdraw this week.

As for the Shebaa Farms issue, "it was kicked up to the UN secretary general," said Ivanko.

Besides monitoring the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, UNIFIL teams are also involved in the clearing of the unexploded ordnance and cluster sub-munitions used by the Israeli military during the 34-day war.

"The South is saturated with cluster bombs," said Ivanko, "with the majority of them dropped in the last three days of the war."

Ivanko, who was previously based in Bosnia and other locations, believes the UNIFIL mission in Lebanon is one of the "most successful and efficient ones."

"The task beefed up pretty fast, from 2,000 to 7,000 within two months, and the Lebanese Army is deployed in the South for the first time in decades, freedom of movement by UNIFIL and the Lebanese Army, and there haven't been any states of alert so far," said Ivanko.

"While in Bosnia, for example [UN peacekeepers] didn't have a clear mandate, not enough forces, no freedom of movement, and didn't have a clear support of the population. In Lebanon, we have all that," he said.


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Premier 'has received' final draft on Hariri tribunal


Daily Star staff
Monday, October 23, 2006


BEIRUT: The Cabinet is expected to discuss by early November a finalized draft on the formation of an international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri. Local Arabic daily An-Nahar reported over the weekend that a final draft on the nature and governing principles of the tribunal has been delivered to Premier Fouad Siniora and to the Justice Ministry.

An-Nahar reported Saturday that the finalized draft for the tribunal "will be discussed by the Cabinet after Eid al-Fitr."

Justice Minister Charles Rizk, currently in Paris, will arrive in Beirut in three days to study the draft, he told The Daily Star on Sunday.

A judicial source told The Daily Star that magistrates Ralf Riachi and Choukri Sader are currently examining the final draft and will have their own comments on it.

Riachi and Sader traveled back and forth to the UN's headquarters in New York to hold meetings on the formation of the court.

This came as Syrian newspaper Tishrin reported Saturday that there "is a French-US-Lebanese deal aiming at accusing Syria of Hariri's assassination." The newspaper quoted a recent book written by a French writer Richard Lavier which claimed that the French-American deal "aims at hitting Syria's resisting history."

Labor Minister Trad Hamadeh told The Daily Star late Sunday: "During our last Cabinet session last Thursday, we didn't discuss the issue of the tribunal, and no one informed us as ministers that we might be discussing it in the coming ministerial session.

"Either way, the indications for this week is that we will not be having a Cabinet session this Thursday. I believe our first cabinet session will be the next Thursday [November 2]."

None of the concerned officials was available for comment as The Daily Star went to press, but Rizk had said in early September that the tribunal's draft would not be made public until the Cabinet had discussed it.

"The draft remains a draft and when the Cabinet endorses it we will make it public," Rizk said.

UN Undersecretary General for Legal Affairs Nicolas Michel, who arrived in Beirut on September 7 to discuss the draft, had held a marathon two-and-a-half-hour meeting with Rizk and top Lebanese and UN legal officials to discuss the plan, before saying: "A lot has been achieved so far ... It is a cooperative project between the UN and the Lebanese government, so everything debatable will be discussed and discussed again until we reach a final solution."

The establishment of an international tribunal "is noted in UN Security Council Resolution 1644, which was based on the request of the Lebanese government which later adopted it ... I don't see any difficulties arising from the draft and hopefully we will reach a solution," Michel said.

The draft was finalized after several meetings and it underlines the procedures and principles imposed on us by the UN, and which are also endorsed by the international law, yet it must still be approved by the government and Parliament.

Once the Cabinet approves the draft, it will be forwarded to Parliament. - The Daily Star


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Speaker returns to Beirut as tensions continue between Hizbullah, March 14
Politicians expect berri's 'gift' to be new national dialogue

By Therese Sfeir
Daily Star staff
Monday, October 23, 2006

 

BEIRUT: Political bickering between Hizbullah and the March 14 Forces continued over the weekend, with attention focused a new initiative by Speaker Nabih Berri expected to be announced on Wednesday. A statement issued by the National News Agency Sunday said Berri is to hold a news conference Wednesday at 11 a.m. at his residence in Ain al-Tineh.

The speaker, who returned to Beirut Saturday, is expected to reveal his long-awaited "gift" he had promised to offer to the Lebanese following Eid al-Fitr.

Many politicians said Berri would launch a new version of the national dialogue that would start with a meeting between Hizbullah's secretary general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, and the head of Parliament's largest bloc, MP Saad Hariri.

Sources close to Berri were quoted Sunday by An-Nahar newspaper as saying the speaker would "take advantage of Eid al-Fitr to ease tensions and ask different political parties to act calmly in order to facilitate the resumption of talks." They added that Berri had already started contacting several parties to discuss this matter.

Berri returned to Beirut amid a tense political atmosphere between Hizbullah and members of the March 14 Forces.

Democratic Gathering bloc MP Akram Chehayeb lashed out at Hizbullah's number two, Sheikh Naim Qassem, for "stressing his adherence to the Syrian-Iranian alliance."

Chehayeb asked Qassem to stop attacking Premier Fouad Siniora's government, reiterating that Hizbullah's capture of the two Israeli soldiers on July 12 "has led to the death and emigration of thousands of people."

Hizbullah MP Mohammad Raad slammed Siniora as a US protege, while the group's second-in-command stressed the need to face up to "American attempts to capitalize" on Israel's defeat in this summer's war.

"The Americans have [President] Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan, and Fouad Siniora in Lebanon," Raad said on Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV channel Friday.

"The more the American stand is supportive of Siniora's government, the more the gap between us [Hizbullah and Siniora's Cabinet] is broadened," Raad warned, despite Hizbullah's representation in Siniora's Cabinet by two ministers.

Karzai is the first post-Taliban president in Afghanistan who came to power in 2002 with US backing.

Mocking Siniora, Raad said Hizbullah "will wait and see the diplomatic tears [shed] on friendly states to acquire the Shebaa Farms ... and how Siniora's tears will be cashed in exchange for the vast [financial] aid."

Siniora broke down in tears as he appealed to Arab foreign ministers not to allow Lebanon to remain a conflict zone for Israel just a few days before the end of Israel's offensive on Lebanon on August 14.

On Friday, Qassem reiterated his call for the formation of a national unity Cabinet, saying: "A national unity government is the only solution for Lebanon and stalling its formation will prolong the crisis."

During a ceremony commemorating international Jerusalem Day held in Beirut, Qassem said Hizbullah wants "real, not imaginary, representation" in the government.

Raad emphasized that the "country cannot be ruled but through unity and consensus."

Amal MP Hassan Khalil echoed Raad's remarks. He said in a statement on Saturday that Berri's initiative was aimed at promoting dialogue and unity.

In remarks Saturday to Voice of Lebanon radio, Labor Minister Trad Hamadeh accused Parliament's majority of "monopolizing the power and rejecting dialogue over crucial issues."

Meanwhile, the head of the Free Patriotic Movement, MP Michel Aoun, reiterated calls to avoid foreign interference in Lebanon's affairs, saying that the Lebanese should coexist and defend their country together.

"No one can teach us how to coexist and forgive because those traits are part of our daily life," he said hinting at Arab efforts, especially by Saudi Arabia, to narrow differences between Lebanon's political leaders.

Aoun's remarks came during a ceremony held in Rabieh on Saturday to commemorate the passing of 16 years since the assassination of former National Liberal Party (NLP) president Dany Chamoun and his family.

The NLP commemorated Chamoun's assassination in a Mass held in Beirut.

Meanwhile, NLP president Dory Chamoun urged the Lebanese to support the government and "give it a chance to rebuild the country following a 30-year Syrian tutelage."

The president of the Democratic Renewal Movement, former MP Nassib Lahoud, said the atmosphere "prevailing over the political arena is not adequate for the creation of a unity Cabinet."

Lahoud said the government's priorities were "implementing UN Resolution 1701, launching economic reforms, preparing for the Paris donor conference and creating an international tribunal to try former Premier Rafik Hariri's assassins." - With Naharnet


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Israel hates Lebanon because of what it stands for: coexistence

 

Monday, October 23, 2006


Reader's Opinion


Geographically, Lebanon is not really at an advantage. The problem is not posed here in terms of size, but in terms of the harmful and even destructive relations imposed on the Lebanese people by their southern neighbor, Israel. One can't help but wonder why Israel does not hesitate to wage countless wars against a peace-seeking country with no other ambitions than to develop its economy and offer a better life to its people.

For decades, Israeli leaders have always manipulated the political reality of the region by presenting their country as the victim of "terrorist activities" in Palestine and Lebanon and this flawed complaint has been accepted by most Americans and Europeans as an indisputable fact. However, more and more citizens in Europe and America are now not only questioning Israeli policy, but are less and less inclined to take for granted Israeli propaganda presenting the Palestinian and Lebanese issues as a matter of "war against terrorism." These campaigns cynically ignore the main and even the unique factor of violence in the region, the occupation by Israel of Arab lands.

The breathtaking resistance by Hizbullah against the Israeli Army during 34 days last summer destroyed the idea that was patiently instilled in the American and European minds by Israeli propaganda that South Lebanon is "infested with terrorists." Hizbullah can demonstrate to those who doubt that it is not a group of terrorists, but a strong and well-structured resistance movement aimed at liberating what remains occupied of the Lebanese land.

During the last war, the world could witness the scandalous behavior of the Israeli Air Force concentrating its bombardments on Lebanese infrastructure, freshly reconstructed after the disastrous 1975-1990 Civil War. The question that everyone has in mind is why the Israelis never miss an opportunity to send their fighter planes to launch thousands of tons of bombs to destroy, within days, what the Lebanese built in decades.

Many explain this by saying Israel views Lebanon as a harsh economic competitor, able to attract investors and tourists and, consequently, it is in Israel's interest to have a continuously crippled Lebanese economy.

Of course this explanation has some relevance, but the economic aspect is not what prevents Israel from sleeping.

What truly and deeply bothers Israel is the multi-confessional Lebanese social system and the peaceful coexistence of a population more united by the Lebanese flag than divided by the various confessions that characterize the country.

Of course there was a terrible civil war that lasted 15 years, but this war was triggered by external factors (the massive and bloody expulsion of the Palestinians from Jordan in 1970, most of whom fled to Lebanon; the aggravation of the situation in the Middle East after the 1973 war; and aggressive Israeli policy toward Lebanon among other reasons) and not by the social structure of Lebanese society.

During decades, Israel relentlessly pursued the same objective, to make coexistence impossible between Lebanese confessions, but failed. So why is Israel so bothered and so embarrassed by Lebanon's multi-confessional social system? Because Lebanon stands as a constant and disturbing denial of the false Israeli claim that a multi-confessional system is not viable.

This claim is used by Israeli politicians as the main argument to exclude from power a fifth of its population, the Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, and to dismiss as "absurd" the idea of a unique state in historical Palestine with a democratically elected government ruling both peoples.

This is the very reason that explains the deep hatred and the aggressive hostility of Israel toward Lebanon. The fact that, after 15 years of harsh civil war, the Lebanese settled their disputes, elected a government, reconstructed their country and resumed their peaceful coexistence highly enraged Israel. That's why this country couldn't help missing any opportunity to try to trigger another civil war, by destroying the vital infrastructure of the country. Last summer, Israel destroyed much of this country's infrastructure, but could not destroy the shining proof that bothers it so much: the perfect viability of the Lebanese multi-confessional system.  


Hmida Ben Romdhane is editor in chief of Tunisia's La Presse newspaper


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Sunday October 22, 2006 

Syria Panics as Tribunal for Hariri's Assassins Takes Shape
In the SpotlightSyria has accused the United States, France and Lebanon of conspiring to frame it in Rafik Hariri's assassination, indicating increasing panic in Damascus as an international tribunal to look into the crime began to take shape.

The Syrian state newspaper Tishrin said "there is a French, American and Lebanese plot aiming at intimidating Syria and framing it in the assassinating of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri," An Nahar daily reported Sunday.

Hariri was killed along with 22 others in a massive explosion in downtown Beirut Feb.14, 2005. The assassinated led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops from the country in April 2005 after 29 years of military presence.

Tishrin's outburst coincided with the handing over in Beirut to Prime Minister Fouad Saniora of a draft outline for the creation of an international tribunal to try the slain ex-Prime Minister suspected assassins. The official copy is expected to be delivered by mid-week.

The Syrian allegations are based on a French book recently published which pointed to a French, American and Lebanese contrive to frame Syria in Hariri's killing, intimidate it and abort the resistance methodology in the region.

The Syrian newspaper added that the French-American plot was concluded. "As a result, France has substituted the 40-year diplomacy of General Charles DeGaul with a new policy to please U.S. President George Bush, the neo-conservatives and Israel to brush aside the truth and take revenge against Syria and the resistance methodology," An Nahar quoted Tishrin as saying.

The Cheap conspiracy has been weaved to be the onset of a "grand transformation" of another kind that paves the way for the return of western colonization in the region after they left in the aftermath of the second world war," An Nahar said.

The Syrian daily stated that "Syria does not favor conspiracy theory but what has been going on and what is occurring is the biggest conspiracy that the Arabs are being subjected to."

"Perhaps this French book confirms that all what has been occurring is larger than a multi-party multi-aim conspiracy."(Photo shows Hariri blast scene) 
 
 

Beirut, 22 Oct 06, 08:32

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Israeli Defense Minister Says Overflights to Persist
Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Sunday that Israel would continue its controversial flights over Lebanon, saying they were needed to stem alleged arms smuggling to Hizbullah.

"The Lebanese government is falling short of carrying out its commitment under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701," that ended the 34-day war between the Jewish state and Hizbullah, the defense ministry quoted Peretz as telling the weekly cabinet meeting.

"Increasing intelligence indicates a growing effort to pass weapons into Lebanon," he said.

"As long as these attempts continue, the legitimacy of our flights over Lebanon increases," Peretz said. "As long as (U.N.) Resolution 1701 is not carried out, we have no intention of stopping the flights over Lebanon."

Israel has continued to carry out flights over Lebanese territory despite a U.N.-brokered ceasefire on August 14.

The flights have been increasingly criticized by the international community, with France -- which currently heads the U.N. peacekeepers in Lebanon -- warning last Friday against the violations.

"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," French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie told reporters at United Nations headquarters.

U.N. Resolution 1701 called for the disarming of all militias in Lebanon, the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the south of the country, and the deployment of a beefed-up U.N. peacekeeping force.

Peretz said Sunday that the purpose of U.N. troops, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), was to act against Hizbullah and not the Jewish state.

"UNIFIL is meant to act against Hizbullah and not against Israel," he said. "Israel's security is the most important objective."

Israel launched its war on Hizbullah on July 12, after the group seized two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others in cross-border raid. The fighting ended with a U.N.-brokered truce August 14.

The war killed more than 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and more than 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.(AFP photo shows Israeli soldiers sitting on their tank in the southern town of Marwahin) 
 
 

Beirut, 22 Oct 06, 15:25


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10-Year Old Boy Killed, his Brother Injured by Israeli Cluster Bomb
A 10-year-old boy was killed and his brother seriously wounded Sunday when an Israeli cluster bomb blew up as they harvested olives in southern Lebanon, medics said.

The family was working in their olive grove in the village of Helta, near the border with Israel, when the device exploded. The young boy died on his way to hospital and his brother was in a serious condition, medics said.

At least 22 people, including several children, have been killed by unexploded Israeli bombs in southern Lebanon since the Israeli war on Hizbullah ended with a U.N.-brokered ceasefire on August 14.

Explosions of Israeli cluster munitions in southern Lebanon -- mainly bomblets as small as a torch battery -- have also maimed more than 120 civilians, according to an AFP count based on U.N. figures.

The Lebanese army says that there are "possibly around one million" unexploded Israeli bomblets scattered around the south.(AFP photo shows a boy carrying an unexploded bomb during a NGO-organized gathering of children in the southern town of Dibeen) 
 
 

Beirut, 22 Oct 06, 14:29


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Egypt Accuses Hizbullah of Sparking War to Avoid Disarming
Egypt  accused Hizbullah of sparking the war with Israel in a bid to foil plans by the Lebanese government to implement an accord providing for the disarmament of the group.
Israel launched a military offensive on Lebanon sparked by Hizbullah's capture of two Israeli soldiers in a deadly cross-border raid that killed eight others. The fighting ended with a U.N.-brokered truce August 14.

The month long war killed more than 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mainly soldiers.

In an interview to Egyptian public television late Saturday, Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit alleged Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah may have sought conflict to justify his group's continued existence.

"There had been an agreement, through roundtable discussions in Lebanon to implement the 1989 Taef Accord which calls for the disarming of the militias in the country," the state news agency MENA quoted Abul Gheit as saying.

Hizbullah's disarmament was one of several thorny issues conferred at the national dialogue launched March 2 among the top Lebanese rival leaders from across the political spectrum.

Hizbullah rejected U.N. Security Council demands to disarm and calls from within Lebanon to merge their fighters with the regular army.

"Perhaps through the operation Nasrallah wanted to find a way out of the situation," Abul Gheit said.

"The operation launched by Nasrallah was not very calculated and it exposed Lebanon and the Lebanese people and society to great losses, even if some feel pride or victory," he said.

"Any military operation must have a political goal. This operation did not achieve anything," he said.

"What was the political goal of (Hizbullah's) actions? The Shabaa farms are still under Israeli occupation," the foreign minister added.

The Shabaa Farms area 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 the area 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.(AFP-Naharnet)(AFP photo shows Lebanese children waving Hizbullah flags as they attend a concert of Hizbullah's music group Al-Wilaya to mark "Al-Quds International Day" in Beirut) 
 
 

Beirut, 22 Oct 06, 13:57


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Israel Acknowledges for 1st Time that it Used Phosphorus Bombs During War
Israel has admitted for the first time that it used phosphorus bombs during its 34-day offensive on Lebanon but said they were only used against Hizbullah targets, the liberal Haaretz daily reported on Sunday.

The newspaper said such an announcement was made by Minister Jacob Edery who is in charge of government-Knesset relations.

"The IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) holds phosphorus munitions in different forms," Edery was quoted as saying by the daily. "The IDF made use of phosphorous shells during the war against Hizbullah in attacks against military targets in open ground."

Edery also said that international law does not forbid the use of phosphorus and that the Israeli military "used this type of munitions according to the rules of international law."

At the height of the war that was sparked on July 12 by a deadly Hizbullah cross-border raid, President Emile Lahoud accused Israel of firing phosphorus incendiary bombs against Lebanese civilians, a blatant violation of international law.

He called on the United Nations to help deter Israel from using destructive weapons which violate human rights and the United Nations charter.

On Sunday, Haaretz said during the war TV footage showed that civilians "carried injuries characteristic of attacks with phosphorus, a substance that burns when it comes to contact with air."

It reported that a doctor in Dar al-Amal hospital in the eastern city of Baalbeck, revealed that he had received three corpses "entirely shriveled with black-green skin," a phenomenon characteristic of phosphorus injuries.

Military sources had told Agence France Presse at the time that Israel used phosphorus incendiary bombs and implosion bombs, which suck up the air and collapse buildings.

Haaretz said that in recent decades there has been a tendency to ban the use of phosphorus bombs against civilian as well as military targets because of the severity of injuries caused by the substance.

"Some experts believe that phosphorus munitions should be termed Chemical Weapons (CW) because of the way the weapons burn and attack the respiratory system. As a CW, phosphorus would become a clearly illegal weapon," the newspaper added.(AP photo shows two elderly Lebanese men sitting in front of a house, pockmarked by shrapnel and bullet impacts, damaged during the 34-day long Hizbullah-Israel war, in the southern village of Markaba) 
 
 

Beirut, 22 Oct 06, 11:39


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German Secret Service Officer Mediating Hizbullah-Israel Prisoners' Swap
The German weekly Der Spiegel magazine reported that the mediator appointed by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to mediate a prisoners' swap between Israel and Hizbullah, is a German intelligence officer, the AFP reported Sunday.

In an article to be released in its issue Monday, the magazine said that the German intelligence officer has been involved in a confidential mission since September with the Israeli authorities and Hizbullah to win the release of two Israeli Soldiers captured by Hizbullah July 12, sparking a 34-day war.

The newspaper did not cite its sources for the report.

The soldiers were held captive by Hizbullah in a deadly cross border raid that sparked a 34-day war, bringing destruction onto Lebanon. The fighting was brought to an end with a U.N.-brokered truce August 14.

This officer who was a mediator in former prisoners exchange operations between Hizbullah and Israel, knows perfectly the Lebanese group and personally its Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Der Spiegel said in a statement published Saturday, the AFP stated.

The German officer had met Annan beginning of September in Madrid before he was assigned to this mission.

Annan announced back then that a U.N. mediator will head to the Middle East to go into negotiations over the two Israeli soldiers, without giving further clarifications.(AFP photo shows a young Lebanese man recovering metal from the rubble of his southern village of Siddiqin) 
 
 

Beirut, 22 Oct 06, 10:07


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Syria Claims Saniora has Open Invitation to Mend Ties
The Syrian minister for Emigrant Affairs Bouthaina Shaaban said that Prime Minister Fouad Saniora has an open invitation to visit Damascus to improve relations between the two countries after the deterioration that followed Rafik Hariri's murder on Feb.14 2005.

In an interview with Al-Jazeera satellite channel Shaaban said that "Saniora has an open invitation to visit Syria to improve relations between the two countries and to defeat the powers that are trying to build barriers between the two nations," An Nahar daily reported Sunday.

Shaaban said that "what Syria has always strived in its relations with Lebanon or any other Arab country is to preserve Arab rights, close ranks and warn against those who are sowing the seeds of civil war in the Arab world," the daily said. This has become even more pronounced "after they were able to occupy Iraq and starve the Palestinian people," according to Shaaban.

The Syrian minister denied any discord between Syria and Saniora over alleged Damascus insistence that an agenda be finalized before the Lebanese Prime Minister visits Syria.

The "true majority in Lebanon and Syria want special relations and open borders between the two countries," the daily quoted Shaaban as saying.

Tension has been mounting between Lebanon and Syria since Damascus was forced to withdraw its troops from Lebanon in April 2005, amid accusations its leadership had concocted Rafik Hariri's assassination. 
 
 

Beirut, 22 Oct 06, 09:28


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Somber Mood as South Lebanon Gears Up for Eid al-Fitr
A broken bucket at his feet, Mustapha waits for the scrap metal merchant to come so he can sell him his crop of shell fragments recovered from the rubble of his southern village.

The nine-year-old from Siddiqin, southeast of the port of Tyre and formerly home to 6,200 people, is determined to celebrate the Eid al-Fitr feast expected to start Monday that marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Israel's bombardment of the village during its July-August war with Hizbullah completely destroyed more than 400 homes and severely damaged 700 others, says Mayor Ahmed Azzam.

This year the village that usually lives from tobacco and olive cultivation does not feel much like celebrating, living instead hand-to-mouth from aid donations.

Neither Mustapha nor his three brothers and sisters have gone back to school, and their mother, Iman Daher, can't begin to think of Eid as she sweeps the veranda.

"Mummy doesn't have any money to organize a party, so I've decided to find some," says Mustapha, barely managing to lift his booty but refusing to give up on Eid that is usually accompanied by a feast, new clothes and presents.

He can sell his 10 kilos (22 pounds) of twisted metal -- about half his own weight -- to the scrap merchant for 3,000 Lebanese pounds (two dollars).

Wearing long johns and flipflops, Mustapha sifts through the debris of concrete and shattered household objects under which unexploded bomblets still lie concealed.

Only the immediate surroundings of his house have been given the all-clear by the Lebanese army, says Iman, trying in vain to prevent her children scurrying off into the dangerous ruins.

"I told him not to go off like that," says his father, Ali. "Yesterday I gave him a clout because he brought back a mine as big as my fist." This time they were lucky and the explosive failed to go off.

The family fled on July 14 after the start of fighting, all six piled onto Ali's scooter.

On their return, they found their subsistence crop of tobacco destroyed and now hardly dare harvest their olives because of the risk of unexploded bombs.

"No one has any work here," says mayor Azzam, who has set himself up in the grocer's backroom -- complete with municipal ink stamps -- since the townhall was destroyed.

"In order to get rid of the mines and go back to work in the fields, some people have taken to shooting at the bombs to make them go off," he says.

In this village alone, a Lebanese soldier and two young men have been wounded by the devices. Some 21 people have been killed and over 100 wounded by the bomblets.

While cities elsewhere in Lebanon gear up for the feast with children throwing bangers and women going to the market to do their shopping, villagers in the south have other things on their mind.

The first rains have already arrived, burying some of the bomblets, and the cold weather is not far behind. Now their main concern is to fix the gaping holes in walls and roofs half destroyed by the fighting.(AFP photo shows workers installing prefabricated housing units in the southern village of Aitarun) 
 
 

Beirut, 22 Oct 06, 10:32


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Hizbullah Finds More Bodies of its Fighters Under Rubble in South Lebanon
Hizbullah on Saturday buried another of its fighters whose body was found in south Lebanon a full two months after the end of the war with Israel, relatives said.

A convoy of cars draped in black and Hizbullah's yellow flag accompanied by mourners on foot and the ambulance with the body of Ali Samih, 22, made its way through Debaal, 15 kilometers east of the port city of Tyre.

Women threw rice and rose petals at the mourners carrying the coffin.

Relatives and friends said the young man was killed at an unknown date near Maroun al-Ras, a hotspot of the July-August war, and his body was recovered "about a week ago."

The body was found buried, they said, after he was probably killed by Israeli bombardment as he took shelter in one of the underground tunnels used by Hizbullah fighters.

The body of another fighter from the Wehbe family was also found a week ago in the Maharuna area, closer to Tyre, a Hizbullah member told Agence France Presse, adding that DNA tests were needed in both cases to identify the decomposed bodies.

Hizbullah says it has found many of its "martyrs" on isolated hillsides or buried underground in tunnels.

The party says that it lost some 60 fighters in the war, despite other estimates which put the death toll higher.

More than 1,200 civilians were also killed in Lebanon, while the death toll in Israel topped 160, mostly soldiers.(AFP-Naharnet) 
 
 

Beirut, 21 Oct 06, 18:33


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First Sate Reconstruction Aid Handed Out in Southern Lebanon
Lebanon began distributing the first state aid for rebuilding the south of the country on Saturday, more than two months after the end of the Israeli offensive.

An official handed villagers the first 40 cheques totaling 400 million Lebanese pounds (270,000 dollars), with a total of around 600 million dollars thought to be needed to rebuild homes in the devastated south.

"This is the first reconstruction aid handed out in southern Lebanon," said regional council chief Kabalan Kabalan at a press conference in the southern town of Jenata.

Owners of entirely destroyed houses receive 40,000 dollars, with compensation for lesser damage awarded according to an official assessment.

Kabalan said assessment teams counted more than 12,000 homes entirely destroyed, 1,255 partially destroyed and 73,000 damaged.

After a U.N.-brokered truce halted the Israel-Hizbullah fighting on August 14, official efforts to rebuild the country were quickly overtaken by a Hizbullah reconstruction drive and private or foreign initiatives.

Jihad al-Bina, the group's humanitarian arm, pledged up to 12,000 dollars per destroyed home and rapidly began to distribute aid based on the level of damage.

Damage throughout the country is thought to amount to more than 3.5 billion dollars.(AFP-Naharnet) (AFP photo shows workers installing prefabricated housing units in the southern village of Aitaroun) 
 
 

Beirut, 21 Oct 06, 17:45
 


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Saturday October 21, 2006

Iran President: Israel Will Soon Disappear
Ahmadinejad's Remarks Come As Israel Says Tehran Will Have 'A Price to Pay' for Nuclear Ambitions
(CBS/AP) Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Friday that Israel no longer had any reason to exist and would soon disappear.

"This regime, thanks to God, has lost the reason for its existence," Ahmadinejad told a crowd of thousands gathered at a rally in support of the Palestinians in the capital Tehran.

"Efforts to stabilize this fake (Israeli) regime, by the grace of God, have completely failed... You should believe that this regime is disappearing," he said.

Ahmadinejad also called Israeli leaders a "group of terrorists" and threatened any country that supports the Jewish state, as millions of Iranians took to the streets for anti-Israel protests.

"You imposed a group of terrorists ... on the region," Ahmadinejad said, addressing the U.S. and its allies. "It is in your own interest to distance yourself from these criminals... This is an ultimatum. Don't complain tomorrow."

"Nations will take revenge," he told hundreds of thousands of supporters at a pro-Palestinian rally in the capital Tehran.

Ahmadinejad also called the U.N. Security Council "illegitimate," ahead of diplomats' planned circulation of a draft resolution on Iran next week.

Millions of Iranians took part in rallies held in every major city across Iran for "Al-Quds Day," the Arabic name for Jerusalem. Many became anti-American protests as well, criticizing U.S. support for Israel.

In 1981, the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini declared the last Friday of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan as "Al-Quds Day," a day of protest to show the importance of Jerusalem to Muslims. Jerusalem is the third holiest site in Islam after the Saudi Arabian cities of Mecca and Medina.

A banner in Tehran carried a quote from the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini: "Quds is part of Islam's body."

Protests were also planned in Egypt and Lebanon.

The frequent saber rattling by the Iranian president has raised growing concerns in Israel about Iran's nuclear program, reports CBS News correspondent Robert Berger. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said this week that Iran would have to pay a price, hinting broadly that Israel might launch a pre-emptive strike against the nuclear facilities. Some analysts say the only way Israel could launch a successful strike against Iran's well-fortified facilities, is to use its own tactical nuclear weapons.

Iranians "have to be afraid" of the consequences of their intransigence," Olmert told reporters on his way home from Moscow. "They have to understand that if they object to every compromise, there will be a price to pay."

A draft U.N. resolution on Iran is expected to be introduced in the Security Council early next week, and diplomats have said they would seek limited sanctions on Tehran for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment — a key process that can produce either fuel for a nuclear reactor or the material for a warhead.

On Friday, Ahmadinejad called the U.N. Security Council and its decisions "illegitimate" as long as it was dominated by the U.S. and Britain.

"What sort of Security Council is this? The whole world knows that the U.S. and Britain are enemies of the Iranian nation," he said.

The United States and Britain — along with France, Russia and China — have power to veto any Security Council measures.

"The time is over for such logic. Under such circumstances, the Security Council is illegitimate and its decisions are illegitimate," Ahmadinejad said, drawing chants of "Death to America" from the crowd.

Ahmadinejad has said the Nazis' slaughter of 6 million Jews during World War II was a myth, and that Israel should be wiped off the map or moved to Germany or the United States.

He warned Friday that the U.S. and other supporters of Israel were accomplices in Israeli attacks against Palestinians.

"Any crime committed (by Israel) today, any house demolished ... it will be the direct responsibility of the supporters of this (Israeli) regime ... This regime has nothing for you but loss," he said.

©MMVI CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Story Created: Oct 20, 2006 at 7:23 AM MST

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Raad Slams Saniora as U.S. Protégé, Qassem Warns of U.S. Attempts to Capitalize on Israel's Defeat
Hizbullahdeputy Mohammed Raad slammed Premier Fouad Saniora as a U.S. protégé, while the group's second-in-command stressed the need to face up to "American attempts to capitalize" on Israel's defeat in this summer's war.

"The Americans have (President) Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan, and Fouad Saniora in Lebanon," Raad said in an interview with Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV channel late Friday.

"The more the American stand was supportive of Saniora's government, the more the gap between us (Hizbullah-Saniora's cabinet) is broadened," Raad warned.

Karzai is the first post-Taliban president in Afghanistan who came to power in 2002 with U.S. backing.


Mocking Saniora, Raad said that Hizbullah "will wait and see the diplomatic tears (shed) on friendly states in order to acquire Shabaa Farms … and how will Saniora's tears be cashed in exchange for the vast (financial) aid."

Saniora broke down in tears as he appealed to Arab foreign ministers not to allow Lebanon to remain a conflict zone and a "punch bag" for Israel just a few days before the Aug. 14 war between Hizbullah and the Jewish state ended.

When Israel withdrew its troops from southern Lebanon in 2000, ending an 18-year occupation, the U.N.-drawn international line did not put the Shabaa Farms area in Lebanese territory, but in the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967, and later annexed.


The Lebanese have disputed this ruling, and Israel and Hizbullah have clashed in the territory since the pullout. Under the August 14 ceasefire, the U.N. agreed to review the line.


Meanwhile, Hizbullah's deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem emphasized the need to protect Lebanon from what has been known as the new Middle East, a policy generated by U.S. President George Bush's administration during this summer's Israeli-Hizbullah war to promote peace, democracy and human rights in the region.


"We should face American attempts to capitalize on (Israel's) ugly defeat," Qassem told Hizbullah supporters gathering to mark "Jerusalem Day" at UNESCO Palace in Beirut on Friday.


"We must protect Lebanon from their (U.S.) new Middle East."

Qassem reiterated his call for the formation of a national unity cabinet, adding that it is a "serious option it's useless to try to avoid."

Qassem said that Hizbullah wants "real, not imaginary, representation" in the government. "We are partners, and that must be acknowledged in a legal manner."

Hizbullah, with two ministers in the cabinet of the ruling anti-Syrian parliamentary majority, wants the inclusion of other political groups in government, particularly that of its Christian ally General Michel Aoun -- a move opposed by the majority.

Parliamentary majority chief Saad Hariri last month rejected any change in the makeup of the cabinet following a similar call by Hizbullah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah for a government of national unity.

Nasrallah's statement was seen as an apparent bid to turn the popular acclaim his fighters won in their 34-day summer conflict with Israel into greater political power at the national level.(Naharnet-AFP) (Outside AP photo shows Hizbullah supporters carrying placards that read 'Coming' 'Resisting' Steadfast' at a rally to mark 'Al-Quds Day,' and inside An Nahar photo shows Sheikh Naim Kassem giving a speech on the occasion of Jerusalem Day)
 
 
 

Beirut, 21 Oct 06, 09:13

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Fatfat Says he has Put in Writing Threats Aimed at him, Saniora
Acting Interior Minister Ahmad Fatfat said Saturday that he has put in handwriting "something" related to threats he had received aimed at him as well as at Premier Fouad Saniora.

In an interview with the Kuwaiti Al-Rai Al-Aam newspaper published Saturday, Fatfat said that "I wrote something" related to threats he has received that were not only aimed at him, but also at Saniora.

Fatfat said that he had placed the document "somewhere for when the need arises," adding that he takes these threats "seriously."

He said that the latest attack on a building in downtown Beirut was a "huge political message" because the targeted building is surrounded by the United Nations, the Grand Serail and parliament headquarters.

He said the perpetrators of such attacks belong to a "colossal security body, state bodies."

Six civilians were wounded when rockets smashed into the Assayleh building in downtown Beirut Oct.15.

There were no casualties in two other assaults on police stations in Beirut earlier this month. 
 
 

Beirut, 21 Oct 06, 11:01


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French Defense Minister: Israeli Overflights in Lebanon 'Extremely Dangerous'
Israeli overflights of Lebanese air space are "extremely dangerous" because French-led U.N. peacekeepers on the ground could see them as hostile acts and fire in self-defense, France's defense minister said Friday.

French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie told a news conference in New York Friday after meeting with U.N. Kofi Annan that the violations of Lebanese air space could give others an excuse not to obey a cease-fire imposed by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701.

"I remind that the violations of the airspace are extremely dangerous," Alliot-Marie said. "They are dangerous first because they may be felt as hostile by forces of the coalition that could be brought to retaliate in cases of self defense and it would be a very serious incident."

Israel contends its overflights do not contradict Resolution 1701, which included the cease-fire that brought an end to 34 days of fighting between Israel and Hizbullah on Aug. 14. The resolution calls for both sides to respect the U.N. drawn Blue Line.

On Monday, Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz told a parliamentary committee that French peacekeepers in Lebanon have warned Israel that their jets may not remain immune if they continue to violate Lebanese airspace.

Alliot-Marie was explicit that the overflights were violations that must stop. She said they are not in Israel's interest because they "could be used as pretexts for some people so that these people themselves don't enforce the resolution."

The defense minister spoke a day after French Maj. Gen. Alain Pellegrini, who leads the U.N. peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, said the overflights are a major concern and a clear violation of the resolution.

France has deployed anti-aircraft missiles in the south and at the moment they can only be used for self-defense for French soldiers serving in the U.N. force.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev retorted Friday that his country had fulfilled its key obligations under Resolution 1701.

"Three weeks ago our forces pulled out of Lebanon, and we have implemented our most important obligations under U.N. resolution 1701," he said. "But every objective person should recognize that is far from the case concerning the Lebanese and their obligations."

"Contrary to resolution 1701, two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hizbullah haven't been freed, Hizbullah's military infrastructure south of the Litani river has not been dismantled, and Hizbullah's rearming continues," he said.

"Apparently it is simpler to make new demands on Israel, and we deplore that," Regev told Agence France Presse.(AP-AFP-Naharnet)
 
 
 

Beirut, 21 Oct 06, 08:27


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Chirac Urges End to Israeli Overflights
French President Jacques Chirac has called on Israel to halt violations of Lebanese air space for defying a U.N. Security Council resolution that ended hostilities between the Jewish State and Hizbullah.

"I note that we strongly would like resolution 1701 to be applied in the letter and the spirit and that Israeli air force flights over Lebanon (are) against the spirit and the letter of 1701," Chirac said on Friday.

Speaking on the sidelines of a European Union summit in Lahti southern Finland, the French leader added that "one way or another, this resolution has to be applied."

Resolution 1701 ended the month-long war between Israel and Hizbullah fighters in southern Lebanon on August 14.

Chirac declined to comment on remarks by French General Alain Pellegrini, who heads the U.N. peacekeeping mission in south Lebanon, suggesting that the U.N. could consider changing the force's rules of engagement to allow it to prevent Israeli violations.

Pellegrini told a news briefing at the U.N. headquarters in New York on Thursday that if diplomacy failed the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) might have to explore "other ways" to halt the incursions, referring to the possible use of anti-aircraft missiles equipping French forces in Lebanon.(AFP-Naharnet) 
 
 

Beirut, 21 Oct 06, 08:43


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Lebanon Fish Not Contaminated, Official Says
The Center for Scientific Research (CSR) has said that Lebanon fish was not contaminated.

CSR director George Tohme told a news conference Friday that the Lebanese should no longer be afraid to eat fish from the sea.

Tohme said analysis of samples taken following the oil spill from the Jiyyeh power station has not shown any noteworthy contamination.

Israeli warplanes bombed Jiyyeh, 25 kilometer south of Beirut, on July 14, spilling an estimated 30,000 tons of fuel oil into the Mediterranean sea.

The spill has moved at least 120 kilometers to the north and reached the Syrian coast.

Environmental groups have called the spill the largest environmental disaster in the country's history.

Premier Fouad Saniora has commissioned the CSR to prepare a detailed proposal for possible solutions at the end of the Israeli-Hizbullah war Aug. 14.

CSR would continue to examine Lebanese seawaters with a team of workers from the ministries of environment and agriculture as well as the United Nations for a minimum of one year, according to Tohme.
 
 
 

Beirut, 21 Oct 06, 12:12


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Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Egypt and North Korea Shun Chemical Weapons Ban
Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Egypt and North Korea are "unfairly" refusing to join the convention banning chemical weapons, which has been signed by 180 countries, the head of the body monitoring the treaty said in New York Friday.

"It is very unfair to other countries if a few countries retain for themselves the privilege of producing chemical weapons when all the others are transparent in this field," said Rogelio Pfirter of Argentina, director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The convention, signed in 1993, entered into force in 1997 and mandated the OPCW to eliminate chemical weapons, including deadly nerve gases, forever and to verify the destruction of the declared chemical weapons stockpiles within stipulated deadlines.

Pfirter, who briefed the General Assembly, bemoaned the fact that North Korea has spurned calls to join the treaty, despite "allegations of the potential existence of stockpiles."

Last week, the U.N. Security Council unanimously agreed to slap sanctions on North Korea over its first-ever atom-bomb test and demanded that Pyongyang scrap all its weapons of mass destruction.

Pfirter also took Israel, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria to task for refusing to join the chemical weapons ban treaty.

He said "there could be no moral, strategic or legal excuse to remain outside" the convention, which given the number of signatories, is considered international law.

"Having even a single state outside the convention provided a major loophole that allowed the manufacture of very deadly weapons at the expense of humanity," he noted.

Each OPCW member state is mandated to declare if it is in possession of chemical weapons. If so, it must undertake a commitment to destroy all stockpiles by a particular deadline, initially 2007, with an ultimate deadline of 2012.

Pfirter told a press conference that while his organization, based in The Hague, was totally independent and technically not a part of the United Nations, it was guided by the same aspiration for peace and security.(AFP) 
 
 

Beirut, 21 Oct 06, 09:06


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Russian Minister: Russia, Israel Settled Differences Over Hizbullah Arms
Moscow believes it has settled its differences with Israel over concerns that Hizbullah used Russian missiles during the recent fighting in southern Lebanon, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Friday, and hinted that the fighters favored U.S.- and Israeli-made weapons.

Israel's claims that Hizbullah fighters used Russian missiles during their 34-day war this summer have clouded improving relations between Israel and Russia, and were discussed by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during his visit to Moscow this week.

"In my view, this subject in general is closed," Ivanov said in televised comments. He said that he could not reveal details, but that "exhaustive answers were given to the Israeli side," the Interfax news agency reported.

He also suggested that Russia believes Hizbullah used more U.S.- and Israeli-made weapons than Russian ones, saying a report Thursday in the Russian daily Kommersant asserted that Russia gave Israel documents proving that claim was "in many ways close to the truth."

Israel does not accuse Russia of directly supplying Hizbullah, but maintains Russian arms were sold to Syria and Iran, which sent them on to Hizbullah.

Olmert would not say after the talks whether Russian officials confirmed Israel's claims, but he said he was "satisfied" that they would "do all in their power to take steps so we don't have to worry in the future."

Ivanov had said in August that Israel had provided no evidence that Hizbullah had Russian-designed missiles. But Kommersant, citing an unidentified Russian official involved in the talks, reported that Russia acknowledged that Hizbullah could have acquired Russian missiles from Syrian officers as they withdrew from Lebanon last year.(AP) (AFP photo shows Ivanov speaking with Olmert)
 
 
 

Beirut, 20 Oct 06, 19:42


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Resistance: Only unity Cabinet can end crisis in Beirut

By Nada Bakri
Daily Star staff
Saturday, October 21, 2006

Resistance: Only unity Cabinet can end crisis in Beirut

BEIRUT: Hizbullah's deputy leader said Friday that delaying the formation of a national unity government to replace Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's Cabinet will only make Lebanon's internal crisis worse. During a ceremony commemorating international Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day held at UNESCO Palace in the capital, Naim Qassem said a unity government is the best way to increasing political tension.

"A national unity government is the only solution for Lebanon, and stalling its formation will prolong the crisis," Qassem told a large audience attending the ceremony.

"This government will reflect an accurate representation of the Lebanese people and not an illusionary one like the current Cabinet," he added.

Hizbullah's second in command said that Siniora's government has failed to implement the Taif Accord and is "violating the Lebanese Constitution, which calls for the formation of a unity Cabinet."

"I have a solution for all those who fear they will lose their positions and are desperately trying to fly east, west, north and south looking for international support to protect it ... They should just  admit they are weak," he said. Addressing the parliamentary majority, Qassem said: "It is a sin to drag Lebanon behind you ... Lebanon is for all the Lebanese."

Siniora has faced pressure since the war with Israel ended on Aug. 14 to reshuffle the Cabinet to include Hizbullah's allies in the government.

Hizbullah has claimed victory in the war, which cost the lives of more than 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 157 Israelis, mostly soldiers, but tensions with Siniora's government have intensified in its aftermath.

The war, which broke out after Hizbullah captured two Israeli soldiers on July 12, increased disputes between politicians who want to avoid further military entanglements with Israel and demand that Hizbullah lay down its weapons.

Fears are also rising that sectarian divides are deepening in Lebanon, especially between Shiites, who overwhelmingly support Hizbullah, and Sunnis who helped lead the campaign for Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon after last year's assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Siniora, a Sunni and close aide of the late Hariri, vowed to remain in office for as long as his Cabinet enjoys the confidence of Parliament.

Qassem said that the US and Israel are trying to achieve through politics what they failed to gain during the 34-day bombardment that devastated the country, causing more than $3.6 billion in material damage.

"We have to resist the US-Israeli attempts to turn their military defeat into political gains," he said. "Those who think that the war ended with our victory should know that the challenge now is to protect this victory ... and that is why we are calling for a national unity government," he added.

An initiative started by Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini, Al-Quds Day is held annually on the last Friday of the fasting month of Ramadan and calls for Jerusalem to be returned to the Palestinians.

Jerusalem is the third holiest site in Islam after the Saudi cities of Mecca and Medina.

Qassem explain that Khomeini's initiative had four dimensions: religious, political, unity and military.

The religious dimension stems from the fact that it falls during the last 10 days of Ramadan, when Muslims seek and observe the Night of Power or Leylat al-Qadr.

The unity dimension, he said, comes from the holding of the event on Friday, when Muslims stand side by side during Friday prayers.

The political dimension, he added, is designed to attribute special importance to Jerusalem and to highlight its "glory and significance."

The military dimension, he said, is because this is "a day to carry our weapons, fight and liberate with power."

Among the speakers were former Premier Salim Hoss who leads the Third Force party; Osama Hamdan, Hamas representative in Lebanon; and Fathi Yakan, head of the Islamic Front.

The day was also marked by demonstrations in Nabatieh and Baalbek organized by Hizbullah and others  in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria. Similar demonstrations were held in Tehran, the Gaza Strip, and Iraq. Protesters held banners saying "Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Palestine! Resistance is our slogan! No to denying the right of return!" and "We will go in our millions to Jerusalem as martyrs."

They also carried posters of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Iranian President Mahmood Ahmadinejad and Hizbullah's leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

Effigies of US President George W. Bush and former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon were burned during the demonstration. - With agencies, additional reporting by Mohammad Zaatari


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Research center says fish caught off coast is safe to eat despite oil spill


Daily Star staff
Saturday, October 21, 2006


BEIRUT: The director of the Center for Scientific Research (CSR)  said Friday that Lebanese should no longer be afraid to eat fish from the sea. In a news conference at CSR headquarters in Bir Hassan, Georges Tomeh said analysis of samples taken following the oil spill from the stricken Jiyyeh power station has not shown any significant contamination.

Environmental groups have called the spill the largest environmental disaster in the country's history. After the cease-fire on August 14, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora commissioned the CSR to prepare a detailed proposal for possible solutions. 

Tohme said that the center, in collaboration with the environment and agriculture ministries, as well as the United Nations, would continue to examine Lebanese coastal areas for an another year at least.

The gathered samples will then be sent to specialized laboratories in both Lebanon and Switzerland  for analysis .

The center is expected to produce a complete report on the physiological and chemical characteristics of Lebanese marine life in order to detect any sudden changes in biodiversity off the coast. The center is also expected to extract fish samples from along the shores on a regular basis to examine the rates of contamination from toxic materials.

As for air pollution, the center is working with a team of specialists from Saint Joseph University and the American University of Beirut, and in collaboration with the Haret Hreik Municipality to measure pollutants in the atmosphere of Beirut's southern suburbs. The results of the study will be made available within a period of two months.

The center will also present a study on safety measures that should be adopted when building new bridges and homes, taking into consideration the center's research on the tectonic and seismic activity in Lebanon. - The Daily Star


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European Commission grants Lebanon $38 million in relief aid


Compiled by Daily Star staff
Saturday, October 21, 2006

European Commission grants Lebanon $38 million in relief aid

The European Commission granted 30 million euros ($38 million) in humanitarian aid to Lebanon on Friday to help victims of the latest war with Israel return home and "rebuild their lives," the new head of the EC delegation in Lebanon said. Speaking to reporters during a news conference, Patrick Laurent said: "The European Commission is ready to accompany the Lebanese while return-

ing to their hometowns and help them resolve their daily life problems."

The coordinator of the commission's Humanitarian Aid Department (ECHO) in the Middle East, Julia Koch, said the objective of the funding was to cover "emergency activities."

"The money will be used to provide war-stricken families with clean drinking water, food and household goods, financial assistance and health care," Koch said, adding that ECHO would also work on ensuring shelters, repairing "slightly-damaged" homes, rehabilitating hospitals and schools and clearing up mines.

According to Koch, ECHO would monitor the execution of the "humanitarian activities" by working closely with its partners, including non-governmental organizations, UN committees as well as the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

"It brings to 50 million euros the amount the European Commission has donated to Lebanon since the Israeli offensive was launched on July 12," she said adding that work would be done by summer 2007.

Established in 1992, ECHO is a humanitarian institution which plays a key role in the EU's external action.

Through ECHO funding, 18 million people are helped each year in over 60 countries through 200 partners (NGOs, ICRC, and UN agencies).

Highlighting the EU interest in Lebanon's affairs, Laurent said EU Commissioner Louis Michel's initiative to ask Israeli authorities to respect International Humanitarian Law, had contributed to the reopening of Beirut Port after it was closed due to the Israeli maritime siege.

Laurent said the commission had dispatched a delegation to Lebanon last September to assess the damage incurred by the Lebanese after the month-long war, as part of the EU's "intention" to help the country.

"Since 2004, ECHO has been working with more than 200 Lebanese municipalities ... the Lebanese are high-minded and dynamic," he said. - Agencies


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Council of Catholic Patriarchs calls on Lebanese to 'unify ranks and work together in rebuilding'


Daily Star staff
Saturday, October 21, 2006


BEIRUT: The Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the Orient has urged the Lebanese people to promote unity and cooperate in rebuilding their war-stricken country. The council closed its 16th conference on Friday with a statement that tackled problem areas including Iraq and the Occupied Territories.

The conference kicked off in the Kesrouan town of Bzoummar on Monday.

Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir was on hand for the meeting.

"We hope that the Lebanese will unify ranks and work together in rebuilding what has been destroyed in order to regain their normal life," the statement said.

The Council also urged the "Palestinian and Israeli peoples to deploy all efforts to reach a fair and lasting peace."

Emphasizing the need to promote unity among Christians in the region and promote dialogue among religions,the patriarchs' council "expressed its solidarity with the Islamic world in its efforts to consolidate peace and eradicate violence." - The Daily Star


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American envoy praises government's role in securing 'outpouring of support'


Daily Star staff
Saturday, October 21, 2006

American envoy praises government's role in securing 'outpouring of support'

BEIRUT: The US deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs said on Friday that Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government has helped Lebanon rally major international support. Following a meeting with Siniora on Friday, Robert Danin reiterated "the United States' commitment to support the Lebanese people."

He added that the Lebanese government's actions "have resulted in an outpouring of support from the international community, which pledged more than $900 million in aid during the Stockholm conference."

Danin praised Siniora and his government for their efforts to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1701 and rebuild the country.

He also emphasized the importance of deploying the Lebanese Army to the South, a step that he said would guarantee peace in the southern area.

"We commend the prime minister and his government for their efforts to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 and to rebuild Lebanon," Danin told a news conference. "The deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces to the South for the first time in 40 years is, we believe, an important step towards ensuring that the Lebanese people will never again have to experience the tragedy of war on their territory."

Danin also met Friday with Finance Minister Jihad Azour.

Talks during the meeting focused on "the economic measures taken by the ministry to face the repercussions of Israel's summer war on Lebanon," according to a statement from the ministry.

Danin arrived late Tuesday for a series of meetings. He has met with Foreign Affairs Minister Fawzi Salloukh, Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh, and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, Economy Minister Sami Haddad and former Minister Suleiman Franjieh. - The Daily Star


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Nasrallah, Fadlallah warn against US efforts to instigate strife among Muslims


Daily Star staff
Saturday, October 21, 2006


BEIRUT: Hizbullah's leader and Lebanon's senior Shiite cleric have stressed the importance of "paying attention to the smallest developments amid the United States' continued interference in Lebanon's affairs." A statement issued after a two-hour meeting between Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah Friday, said there are attempts to sow strife among Muslims in more than one region of the Islamic world."

The two clerics urged Muslims to be aware of the dangers of such strife, conveying their "respect" to all efforts aimed at preserving "Islamic unity."

The two leaders discussed the latest developments in Lebanon and the region following the resistance's "victory over the latest Israeli offensive."

In his weekly sermon in the Haret Hreik mosque prior to the meeting, Fadlallah said Lebanon was being put under "direct international tutelage."

He expressed his concerns that the country was being transformed into "what is called an international protectorate."

"I am afraid of the presence of a hidden plan to marginalize Lebanon, reassure Israel and complicate relations in the Islamic and Arab world," the cleric said.

Fadlallah slammed Israel's "continued violations of Lebanon's land and airspace, while international peacekeeping troops simply stand aside."

"The UN did nothing to stop the Israeli violations ... nor did the Lebanese government take a firm position [regarding the issue]]," he said.

Meanwhile, the vice president of the Higher Shiite Council called on the Lebanese people to preserve the country "through their unity."

"We have asked for enlarging the government to include other forces not for toppling it ... this issue is up to the country's Parliament and Cabinet," Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan said in his Friday sermon.

The sheikh hailed Speaker Nabih Berri's "humanitarian and national" role, urging the Lebanese to support him in resolving the situation in Leba-non. - The Daily Star


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Hariri asks Chirac for help in ending Israeli air incursions
UNIFIL commander says use of force is possible

By Therese Sfeir and Nafez Qawas
Daily Star staff
Saturday, October 21, 2006

 

Hariri asks Chirac for help in ending Israeli air incursions

BEIRUT: The head of Parliament's majority bloc urged President Jacques Chirac on Thursday to help stop Israel's violations of Lebanon's airspace and thanked the French president for his initiative in launching the Paris donor conference scheduled for January 15. Speaking to reporters following a long meeting with Chirac, MP Saad Hariri said that he had asked the French leader to "intervene with the Israelis" to call for an end to the daily overflights.

Hariri said UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which implemented the cease-fire that brought an end to 34 days of Israeli war on Lebanon, "is very clear" on the matter of the overflights.

Hariri left Paris Friday and headed to Riyadh for a private visit, the National News Agency reported.

On Thursday, the UNIFIL commander in Lebanon, Major General Alain Pellegrini, said "the overflights violate the UN resolution" and added that if current diplomatic efforts fail to stop the incursions, force might be considered.

Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh announced on Friday that a meeting would be held soon between Hariri and Hizbullah's secretary general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

The two officials have not met since the start of the Israeli war on Lebanon.

Hamadeh said Speaker Nabih Berri "is playing an important role to organize the meeting between Nasrallah and Hariri."

He added that he believed Berri would launch a new form of national dialogue that would promote communication between different political parties.

In an interview with Voice of Lebanon radio, the minister said he was optimistic about joint efforts of UNIFIL and the government to halt Israel's continuous violations of the Lebanese airspace.

"It seems that good news will come from the South," the minister said, referring to Pellegrini's Thursday statement.

He said UNIFIL's threat to use force against Israeli forces would increase international pressure on the Jewish state.

Asked about claims that preparations were under way to extend the Cabinet and transform it into a dialogue gathering, Hamadeh said: "I don't think that the first phase of dialogue would be held within the Cabinet."

"Relations between Hizbullah's ministers and us are very good and there is continuous dialogue between all Cabinet members," he said.

Meanwhile, the head of the Progressive Socialist Party, MP Walid Jumblatt, left Berlin for Paris on Friday to meet with officials there.

Sources quoted by the National News Agency said Jumblatt would be meeting with Berri, who also went to Paris following a visit to Switzerland.

The sources said the two officials would discuss hot issues in the local arena, including the creation of an international tribunal to try suspects in former premier Rafik Hariri's assassination, the implementation of UN Resolution 1701 and the Paris donor conference.

But Amal MP Abdel-Latif Zein said during a radio interview on Friday that Berri's visit to France was personal, adding that the speaker would return to Beirut on Saturday.

The head of the Democratic Renewal Movement (DRM), former MP Nassib Lahoud, said Friday that "holding an international donor conference to support Lebanon reflects once again the international community's commitment to help the country overcome the crises facing it and establish stability."

Following a weekly meeting, Lahoud said the Lebanese should take advantage of this international support by "promoting unity and launching the necessary reforms."

The DRM president also addressed the question of pending judicial appointments, saying that President Emile Lahoud should sign the relevant decree "as soon as possible in order to pave the way for building an independent judicial authority."

The president received the list of judicial appointments last Saturday and is currently studying it. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Justice Minister Charles Rizk have already signed the decree.

But on Friday, Lahoud was quoted by his visitors as saying: "Any appointment to the country's institutions should be based on the candidate's competence and integrity."

He also reportedly said: "Each time there are public appointments, a certain party attempts to politicize the issue in a bid to guarantee the appointment of its supporters at the expense of the country's interests."

Lahoud's statements were seen by observers as an early excuse for not signing the decree. - With agencies


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Annan renews call for Hizbullah's disarmament


Daily Star staff
Saturday, October 21, 2006


BEIRUT: UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has once more called for the disarmament of Hizbullah and the resistance group's transformation into a purely political party. The outgoing UN chief's comments came in his fourth semi-annual report to the UN Security Council on the implementation of Resolution 1559, handed in late Thursday night.

"The eventual disarmament of Hizbullah, in the sense of the completion of its transformation into a solely political party ... is a key element in ensuring a permanent end of the hostilities and a critical provision to be realized in the implementation of Resolution 1701 and in the full restoration of Lebanon's sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence," Annan wrote.

However, Annan reiterated that such measures should be done through dialogue.

"I continue to believe that disarmament must take place through a political process that will lead to the full restoration of the authority of the government of Lebanon," he said.

A Hizbullah official contacted by The Daily Star said the party had no comment on the report at this time.

The secretary general, whose term is set to expire in December, said Hizbullah continues to "limit the authority" of the government, "especially in areas close to the [UN-demarcated] Blue Line."

Annan added that his dialogue with several states to secure the disarmament of Hizbullah and other non-Lebanese militia in Lebanon was ongoing.

"I expect to continue my dialogue with such parties, in particular with the governments of Syria and of Iran, which maintain close relations with Hizbullah," he said.

"Against this background, I wish to reiterate my call on all parties with the ability to influence Hizbullah to support its transformation into a solely political party," he added.

Annan said he had "taken note" of recent comments by Hizbullah's secretary general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, that the resistance would not hold onto its weapons indefinitely.

Also noted was the fact that an agreement reached during Lebanon's national dialogue concerning the need to disarm Palestinian militias outside of the country's officially designated refugee camps "has not been implemented within the six-month deadline, which ended on August 26."

"I continue to believe that the imposition of an arms embargo, which is fully consistent with the Lebanese Cabinet's decision of July 27 that there shall be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese state, is a necessary measure given the history of arms traffic bound for Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias," Annan said.

"I also emphasized the need for Syria, in particular, to help enforce the provisions of Resolution 1701, given that it shares the sole land border with Lebanon generally open to traffic," he added.

Without naming names, Annan said that some countries are continuing to ship weapons into Lebanon.

"It is important that all neighboring states abide by the arms embargo as called for in Resolution 1701," he said, highlighting repeated reports of intercepted weapons shipments since the implementation of the August 14 cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hizbullah.

Annan further called on Syria to establish diplomatic ties with Lebanon, which he said "would significantly contribute to the stability of the region."

Annan said he had received "assurances" from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of Damascus' desire for a reconciliation process between the two countries "based on an agreed action agenda, which would eventually lead to the establishment of full diplomatic relations."

But in a sign that relations remained strained, Annan said: "The government of Lebanon has informed me that Syrian border police maintained sand barriers and positions inside Lebanese territory in several locations during the last six months ... The apparent uncertainty over the border in the areas concerned highlights, once again, the need for a comprehensive border delineation agreement between Lebanon and Syria, in the best interest of both countries."

Turning his attention to Lebanon's other contested border, Annan called for an end to Israel's "provocative" behavior.

"Persistent and provocative Israeli air incursions, occasionally reaching deep into Lebanese airspace and generating sonic booms over populated areas, continued to be a matter of serious concern," he said.

"Israeli overflights have also continued since the cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hizbullah," Annan said.

"I expect that such air incursions and violations of Lebanese sovereignty, which stand in contradiction to resolutions 425 (1978) and 1559, as well as Resolution 1701 itself, will cease fully." - The Daily Star


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Russia closes book on claim that Hizbullah used its missiles


Compiled by Daily Star staff
Saturday, October 21, 2006


Moscow believes it has settled its differences with Israel over concerns that Hizbullah fighters used Russian missiles during the recent war with the Jewish state, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Friday, hinting that the group favored US- and Israeli-made weapons.

Israel's claims that Hizbullah fighters used Russian missiles during the war this summer have clouded improving relations between Israel and Russia, and were discussed by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during his visit to Moscow this week.

"In my view, this subject in general is closed," Ivanov said in televised comments. He said that he could not reveal details, but that "exhaustive answers were given" to Israel, the Interfax news agency reported.

He also suggested that Russia believes Hizbullah fighters used more US- and Israeli-made weapons than Russian ones, saying a report Thursday in the Russian daily Kommersant asserted that Russia gave Israel documents proving that claim was "in many ways close to the truth."

Israel does not accuse Russia of directly supplying Hizbullah, but maintains that Russian arms were sold to Syria and Iran, which sent them on to their Hizbullah proxies.

Olmert would not say after the talks whether Russian officials confirmed Israel's claims, but he said he was "satisfied" that they would "do all in their power to take steps so we don't have to worry in the future."

Ivanov had said in August that Israel had provided no evidence that Hizbullah had Russian-designed missiles. But Kommersant, citing an unidentified Russian official involved in the talks, reported that Russia acknowledged that Hizbullah could have acquired Russian missiles from Syrian officers as they withdrew from Lebanon last year.

This came as Israel argued that its air force was compelled to fly over Lebanon despite a UN cease-fire resolution, because Hizbullah is still deployed in the south of the country and, Israel claims, continues to receive weapons shipments in violation of the truce.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev did not contend that the Israeli flights were in accordance with Security Council Resolution 1701, which included the cease-fire that brought an end to the fighting on Aug.14, but said they were forced upon Israel in the interest of its own security.

"Israel conducts overflights because there are continuous violations by the Lebanese side, which are forcing us to act," Regev said Friday. "The international arms embargo, which is an integral element of Resolution 1701, is not being applied and illicit arms are being supplied to Hizbullah and so our action is a response to their violation."

Regev also said that Israel has fulfilled most of its obligations under the resolution, while Lebanon had not and Israeli soldiers taken captive have not been freed.

"Three weeks ago our forces pulled out of Lebanon, and we have implemented our most important obligations under UN Resolution 1701," said Regev.

Israeli forces have yet to leave the divided and occupied village of Ghajar along the border. They also remain in the disputed Shebaa Farms area and the Kfar Shuba Hills.

Regev's statement came in response to Major General Alain Pellegrini, commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, who told a news briefing on Thursday that if diplomacy failed it might have explore "other ways" to halt the incursions, referring to the possible use of anti-aircraft missiles.

But Pellegrini made it clear that such a move would require "new rules of engagement drafted and decided here [and at UN headquarters]."

Meanwhile, a report leaked Friday said that Israel's air force lacked adequate ammunition and smart bombs during the war.

"There was a shortage of ammunition already at the beginning of the war," the report, conducted by the air force, was quoted as saying by Israel's leading Yediot Ahronot newspaper. "The shortages in ammunition affected the air force's activity and dictated significant limitations."

A shortage of smart bombs  was particularly serious with regard to the risk of an escalation with Syria and the possibility of a new front, the daily wrote.

Defense firms tried to make up for the shortages by stepping up production. Yediot cited foreign reports as saying the United States organized an airlift to supply Israel with  variety of high-tech bombs.

The air force says that it attacked some 7,000 targets in about 15,500 sorties over Lebanese territory during the 34-day war. - Agencies


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Turkish peacekeepers arrive for mission in South
Deployment comes despite vocal opposition from armenian community


Compiled by Daily Star staff
Saturday, October 21, 2006

Turkish peacekeepers arrive for mission in South

Around 260 Turkish soldiers arrived in Lebanon on Friday, the first Muslim land forces to join UN peacekeepers monitoring a cease-fire between Israel and Lebanon. Two ships carrying 95 personnel and 46 vehicles docked at Beirut Port, officials said. Some 160 more troops flew to Beirut's airport a short time later.

The first Turkish deployment in Lebanon since the Ottomans left in 1918, shortly before their empire collapsed at the end of World War I, the troops will be stationed in the village of Shaatit, 7.5 kilometers from the Southern port of Tyre.

But their arrival comes despite vocal opposition from Lebanon's Armenian community, which accuses the Turks' Ottoman ancestors of genocide.

Turkey, a key regional ally of Israel, is the first Muslim country to contribute troops to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) that will eventually number 15,000 men.

Muslim nations Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia and Qatar have also pledged soldiers to the planned 15,000-strong force, but they have yet to arrive.

A small advance team of engineers, who are due to work mostly on the reconstruction of roads and bridges as well as de-mining, arrived on October 10 but Turkey is not expected to contribute any more ground troops to the UN force.

The Turkish government has said it will contribute a total of 681 troops.

A Turkish frigate is already serving in the German-led naval task force patrolling the Lebanese coast to prevent arms being smuggled to Hizbullah, and the navy has said it will also send two corvettes.

Members of Lebanon's 140,000-strong Armenian community have staged several demonstrations in protest at the troop deployment because Turkey refuses to recognize the 1915-17 massacres of Armenians by the Ottomans as genocide.

But the Armenians are not expected to mount further protests, despite accusations Turkey is seeking to establish a "new Ottoman empire."

"Their return is for economic reasons and to revive their dream of a new Ottoman empire in the Middle East," said Armenian-Lebanese MP Hagop Pakradounian. "We don't understand why the government is enthusiastic for the Turks to come."

But a fellow Armenian-Lebanese MP, Hagop Kassarjian, said the community had to accept the facts on the ground.

"Even though we're Armenian and we've protested, we're Lebanese after all. We did what we have to do but the Lebanese government has taken a decision and so has the international community," he said. - Agencies


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Friday October 20, 2006

Annan Urges Lebanon Speedy 'Timeline' for Hizbullah's Disarmament
In the SpotlightU.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has urged Lebanon to set a speedy "timeline" for the disarmament of Hizbullah and said that the group's transformation into a "solely political party" is the key to permanent peace in Lebanon and to full restoration of the country's sovereignty.

Annan's report, sent to the Security Council's 15 members, was assessing the implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, which called for Syria to withdraw all military forces from Lebanon and sought the disbanding of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias in the country. It also called for Lebanon to take full control over its territory.

"I expect that the government of Lebanon … will further define a political process and a clear timeline for the full disarmament of Hizbullah in the sense of the completion of its transformation into a solely political party," Annan said in the report released by the U.N. on Thursday.

"I call for the disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias to be settled as early as possible," he added.

"Hizbullah's transformation into a solely political party ... is a key element in ensuring a permanent end of hostilities and in the full restoration of Lebanon's sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence," Annan said.

The report stressed 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."

A month-long conflict between Israel and Hizbullah fighters in Lebanon ended with a U.N.-brokered truce on Aug. 14 under Security Council Resolution 1701.

Annan said that Lebanon should seize the opportunity resulting from the end of this summer's war by establishing diplomatic relations with Syria and resolving the dispute over Shabaa Farms.

He said that while the first of those demands had been fulfilled, the others had not.

The U.N. chief said that since the summer war Lebanon has suffered a "severe setback." The Israeli offensive was sparked by a cross-border Hizbullah raid and the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers on July 12.

"Instead of making further strides toward completing its political transformation and reaping the economic rewards of political progress, Lebanon confronts challenges of a magnitude unseen since the end of the civil war" of 1975-90, Annan said.

He wrote that the U.N. is committed to supporting Lebanon, and that one way to promote peace in the region would be to establish full diplomatic relations with Syria. It should also resolve the dispute over the Shabaa Farms area, which was captured by Israel when its forces seized Syria's Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East war.

The U.N. determined that the area is Syrian, and that Syria and Israel should negotiate its fate. But Lebanon claims Shabaa Farms -- a claim backed by Syria -- and Hizbullah continues to fight over the disputed land, arguing that Israel's occupation justifies its "resistance."

"It is my deep hope that the opportunities borne from the conflict will be seized upon and that Lebanon may once again rise from the ashes of destruction and war," Annan wrote.

The U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1559 in September 2004, and has struggled since to get Syria, Lebanon and Hizbullah to implement its main provisions.

The withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanese territory occurred only after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.(AP-AFP-Naharnet)
 
 
 

Beirut, 20 Oct 06, 08:36


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EU Grants $38 Million Aid to Lebanon to Help War Victims
The European Commission granted 30 million euros (38 million dollars) in humanitarian aid to Lebanon Friday to help victims of the fighting return home and rebuild their lives.

The money will be used to provide clean water, shelter, food and household goods, as well as financial assistance, health care and help to clear up explosive devices like mines.

It brings to 50 million euros the amount the EU's executive body has donated to Lebanon after the 34-day Israeli offensive sparked by a Hizbullah cross-border raid on July 12.

More than 1,200 people died in Lebanon, mostly civilians.(AFP-Naharnet) (AFP photo shows a man walking over the debris of his home as bulldozers (unseen) clean the damages caused by Israeli airstrikes in the southern village of Aita al-Shaab) 
 
 

Beirut, 20 Oct 06, 16:31


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Hizbullah Women Rally on Israeli Border to Mark Jerusalem Day
Around 1,000 Lebanese women supporters of Hizbullah demonstrated Friday on the Israeli border to mark international Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day, an AFP correspondent reported.

The black chador-wearing women gathered close to barbed wire at the Fatima Gate crossing on the U.N. Blue Line that demarcates the border, waving Palestinian, Lebanese and Hizbullah flags.

"We are coming, O Jerusalem, Hizbullah is advancing toward Jerusalem," said one banner. Some demonstrators held high a giant portrait of Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah with Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque -- Islam's third holiest site -- as a backdrop.

The Lebanese army, which deployed along the sensitive border for the first time in decades after the summer war between Israel and Hizbullah, prevented the crowd from heading for the crossing, while Israeli troops observed the demonstration through binoculars.

An initiative started by Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Quds Day is held annually on the last Friday of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and calls for Jerusalem to be returned to the Palestinians.

Similar demonstrations are being held in Tehran and in the Gaza Strip, under the auspices of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. There have also been rallies in Baghdad and Iraq's second city, Basra.

Israel and Hizbullah fought a fierce 34-day war in July and August sparked by the group's capture of two Israeli troops in a cross-border raid in the hope of exchanging them for hundreds of Lebanese prisoners held in Israeli jails. The fighting ended with a U.N.-brokered truce August 14.(AFP-Naharnet)(AFP photo shows Lebanese army soldier standing guard on a stretch of road close to traffic around the Lebanese-Israeli border on the ever of Hizbullah demonstration commemoration of Yom el Qods (Jerusalem Day)) 
 
 

Beirut, 20 Oct 06, 12:36


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Amal Says 'Israel is Enemy' After Olmert Hailed Berri's 'Readiness' For Peace Talks
Amal movement said Friday that Israel is "the enemy of Lebanon" after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert described as "interesting" a reported readiness for peace talks by its leader, Speaker Nabih Berri.

"With the aim of sowing divisions within Lebanese ranks, Olmert is trying to destroy the clear positions of the Amal movement and its leader Nabih Berri, who has not stopped denouncing Israel's crimes," said a statement released by the movement.

It came after Olmert hailed comments attributed to Berri that he was ready for peace talks after fighting Israel during the 34-day war this summer.

"I would be happy to meet with (Prime Minister Fouad) Saniora or any other Lebanese government official who is authorized to talk peace with Israel," he said Thursday during a visit to Moscow. "Anytime an Arab leader speaks in terms of peace Israel is happy to respond."

Berri, a close Hizbullah ally, has called on Arabs to revive an initiative that calls for peace with Israel, a shy move that nevertheless drew a quick welcome from Olmert.

He said that Arabs should band together behind their own 4-year-old land-for-peace initiative because the time "could be very appropriate" to restart peace talks.

His comments were made in an interview with the pan-Arab Al-Arabiya satellite TV station in Europe and were published Thursday by the Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat.

Berri was referring to the Arab peace initiative, which was agreed to at an Arab League summit in Beirut in 2002.

"The Arabs have agreed to the Arab peace initiative," Berri was quoted as saying. But he added the Israelis "and those behind them" -- an allusion to the United States -- have rejected that.

"The time now could be very appropriate to return to the peace negotiations," said Berri. "But could this happen and the Arabs are torn apart this way? I believe the only compensation for this is for Arabs to band together and take advantage of this."

He said he had spoken to Saudi leaders during a visit to the kingdom earlier this month. "I hope I will hear from the rest (of the Arabs) and that the Arabs agree on this (issue)."

Since the end of the fighting, there were hopes that out of the tragedy a desire for peace could emerge. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice traveled to the region early October to meet with allies and moderate leaders to test the waters for possible new moves toward peace.

Also commenting on Berri's readiness for peace talks, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has said "If the result of the war is a real diplomatic process between Israel and Lebanon, then this will be achieving a real strategic objective on behalf of Israel.

"With all the criticism in Israel about the war, there is no doubt that it fundamentally changed the rules of the game in Lebanon. This declaration by the speaker of the Lebanese parliament is the best proof that today new voices are being heard in Lebanon," Livni said.

Olmert on Monday rejected Syrian calls to resume negotiations, saying Damascus must first end its support for Hizbullah and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. He dismissed the offer as a "tactic to divert world opinion" from Syria's harboring of extremist groups.

Berri's position is in line with Lebanon's, which is to support the Arab peace initiative. The initiative calls for collective peace and recognition by Arabs of Israel in return for Israeli troop withdrawal from Arab territories occupied in the 1967 Mideast war -- Gaza, the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem and Syria's Golan Heights. The proposal also calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital and a solution to the issue of the Palestinian refugees.

Israel rejected the Arab peace plan in the past, but Olmert has indicated he might be more open than his predecessor, Ariel Sharon.

But Saniora has rejected repeated calls by Olmert to talk peace since the war, the last of which came on Monday. "Lebanon will be the last Arab country to sign peace with Israel," Saniora has said.(AP) 
 
 

Beirut, 20 Oct 06, 10:02


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Israel Slams U.N. For Possible Use of 'Force' to Stop Air Violations
Israel slammed on Friday suggestions by the U.N. peacekeeping chief in Lebanon that "force" might be considered in the future if Israeli overflights of Lebanon fail to stop.

Israel has fulfilled most of its obligations under the U.N. resolution that ended Israel's month-long offensive on Lebanon, while Lebanon had not, and Israeli soldiers taken captive have not been freed, an Israeli official said.

He was referring to the two Israeli soldiers kidnapped in a cross-border Hizbullah attack on July 12, which sparked Israel's war on Lebanon.

"Apparently it is simpler to make new demands on Israel, and we deplore that," Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev told Agence France Presse.

Regev also told The Associated Press that the Israeli air force is compelled to overfly Lebanon because Hizbullah fighters remain deployed in the south and continue to receive weapons shipments.
"Israel conducts overflights because there are continuous violations by the Lebanese side which are forcing us to act," Regev told the AP.

"The international arms embargo, which is an integral element of resolution 1701 is not being applied and illicit arms are being supplied to Hizbullah and so our action is a response to their violation."

The U.N. peacekeeping commander in Lebanon has said Israeli overflights of Lebanon are a violation of the U.N. cease-fire resolution, and warned that "force" might be considered in the future if diplomatic efforts fail to stop the incursions.

Maj. Gen. Alain Pellegrini said Thursday that France has deployed anti-aircraft missiles to southern Lebanon, but at the moment the missiles can only be used for self-defense to protect French soldiers serving in the U.N. force.

The U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has 7,200 soldiers on the ground, including a contingent of 1,500 Germans that is part of the taskforce designated to protect Lebanon's maritime boundary.

Briefing reporters at U.N. Headquarters in New York, Pellegrini said new rules of engagement would be needed to use force to prevent Israeli overflights, which have sparked a disagreement between the Jewish state and Lebanon.

Israel contends its overflights do not contradict U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which included the cease-fire that brought an end to 34 days of Israel-Hizbullah fighting on Aug. 14. The resolution calls for both sides to respect the border drawn by the U.N. after Israel ended its 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000.

Pelligrini, who is a French national, disagreed with the Israelis.

He said that the overflights were considered a violation under Res. 1701 because the peacekeepers have "formal tasks of monitoring the Blue Line and a foreign jet crossing the Blue Line is a violation."

"At the moment, we have not other means to prevent this kind of violation than dialogue and diplomatic ways," he said. "If the diplomatic means should not be enough, maybe it could be considered other ways, we never know."

Did that mean that in the future the U.N. force might consider preventing the overflights by force? "It could be considered, and it will depend on new rules of engagement drafted and decided here" at U.N. headquarters in New York, Pelligrini replied.

The Security Council authorized up to 15,000 troops for UNIFIL, but Pelligrini said UNIFIL was considering lessening the number to 10,000. "We'll see, according to the situation and the need."

Israeli troops withdrew from south Lebanon on Oct. 1, but they held onto a small piece of land in the divided border village of Ghajar.

Pelligrini said the residents are Syrians who have Israeli citizenship.

Pelligrini said talks are underway to have a UNIFIL representative or unit based in the northern part of the village, which is now Lebanese, to enable Lebanese authorities or troops to enter and affirm their authority.

Parliament's majority leader Saad Hariri has urged French President Jacques Chirac to help stop Israeli overflights of Lebanon.

Hariri told reporters after his meeting with Chirac in Paris Thursday that he asked the French president to intervene with the Israelis "to call for an end to the overflights," adding that Res. 1701 "is very clear on the matter of the overflights.(AFP-AP-Naharnet)(Photo courtesy of U.N. is of Maj. Gen. Alain Pelligrini)
 
 
 

Beirut, 20 Oct 06, 09:56
 


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Bush Tells Mubarak Syria Still Interfering in Lebanese Politics
U.S. President George Bush has told Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that Syria is interfering in Lebanon and hurting Mideast peace prospects by backing the radical Palestinian group Hamas, the White House said Thursday.

The two leaders, speaking by telephone for 15 minutes on Wednesday, also agreed on the importance of ending violence in Sudan's Darfur province, Bush spokesman Tony Snow told reporters.

Bush "made clear his view that Syria is continuing to interfere in Lebanese politics and is also standing in the way of progress in Israeli-Palestinian affairs through its support of Hamas," said the spokesman.

"They also discussed how to make progress in stopping violence in Darfur. President Mubarak explained his recent conversations" with Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir, said Snow.

"President Bush noted that his special envoy, Andrew Natsios, will be visiting Egypt within the next few days. And the president thanked President Mubarak for his continued leadership on these issues," said the spokesman.(AFP) 
 
 

Beirut, 19 Oct 06, 18:58
 


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Human Rights Watch: Hizbullah Fired Cluster Munitions into Northern Israel During the 34-Day Offensive
Hizbullah fired cluster munitions into northern Israel during this summer's 34-day war with the Jewish state, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Thursday.

"This is the first time that Hizbullah's use of these controversial weapons has been confirmed," the group said in a press release.

"We are disturbed to discover that not only Israel but also Hizbullah used cluster munitions in their recent conflict," the release quoted Steve Goose, director of HRW's arms division, as saying.

"Use of cluster munitions is never justified in civilian-populated areas because they are inaccurate and unreliable," HRW added.

There was no immediate reaction from the group.

Israel has been roundly criticized for its use of cluster bombs during the war with Hizbullah that began on July 12 and ended with a U.N.-brokered ceasefire on August 14.

According to Israel's liberal Haaretz newspaper, the Jewish state's military dropped more than 1.2 million cluster bomblets into Lebanon during the month-long conflict.

United Nations chief Kofi Annan has condemned Israel's use of cluster munitions, and the world body estimates that as many as 40 percent of the apple-sized bomblets fired into Lebanon failed to explode on impact.

The weapons have killed at least 21 people and wounded more than 100 others across southern Lebanon following the ceasefire.

Cluster munitions spread bomblets over a wide area from a single container. The bomblets often do not explode on impact, but can do so later at the slightest touch, making them similar to anti-personnel landmines.

HRW said that Hizbullah -- which launched nearly 4,000 rockets into Israel during the war -- had used Chinese-made Type-81 122 millimeter rockets, "the first confirmed use of this particular model of cluster munition anywhere in the world"(AFP photo shows Lina walking over rubble inside her house that was partly destroyed by Israeli strikes during the Israeli 34-day offensive on Lebanon, in the southern village of Marun Al-Ras) 
 
 

Beirut, 19 Oct 06, 18:50


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Turkish Peacekeepers Arrive in Lebanon
Turkish army engineers arrived by boat in Beirut on Friday to join the enlarged U.N. peacekeeping operation policing a ceasefire between Israel and Hizbullah, an AFP correspondent reported.

The 95 soldiers, the first batch of 261 Turkish military engineers, arrived on two warships, with the remaining 165 members of the team due to fly into the Lebanese capital.

Turkey is the first Muslim country to contribute troops to the beefed-up U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) that will eventually number 15,000 men. Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia and Qatar have also pledged soldiers.

The Turkish contingent, which includes 237 soldiers and 24 civilians, will be stationed at a small village, lying seven-and-a-half kilometers (nearly five miles) to the southeast of the port city of Tyre in southern Lebanon.

They are expected to work mostly on the reconstruction of roads and bridges.

Turkey is not expected to contribute any more ground troops for the U.N. force.

A Turkish frigate is already serving in the German-led naval task force patrolling the Lebanese coast to prevent arms being smuggled to Hizbullah, and the navy has said it will also send two corvettes to the war-torn country.

The Turkish government has said it will contribute a total of 681 troops to UNIFIL, including those on board the ships.

The Turkish parliament authorized the deployment of troops to Lebanon last month despite objections and street protests.(AFP-AP photo shows a Lebanese Armenian demonstrator holding a banner during a protest against Turkey's planned participation in a peacekeeping force in Lebanon, in the Martyrs' Square, in downtown Beirut) 
 
 

Beirut, 19 Oct 06, 18:14


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Surveillance Cameras to be Set Up in Beirut and its Suburbs
The Lebanese government decided on Thursday to set up surveillance cameras in Beirut and its suburbs as a security measure following a two-year deadly bombing campaign.

"The objective is to use all means in order to control the security situation," Information Minister Ghazi Aridi told reporters after the weekly cabinet meeting.

Hizbullah, which has two representatives in the government, had expressed concerns about the country's security if the cameras were linked to satellite transmission.

"The decision was taken unanimously at the Council of Ministers. All ministers agreed... and the cameras are all linked to (land) telephone lines across Beirut," he said.

Aridi, who did not specify when the cameras will be installed, said "all regions of the Greater Beirut area will be covered by this".

"These (land) lines are being rehabilitated in the southern suburbs which suffered from the Israeli aggression, the Israeli war. When these works are completed, the area will be part of the (security camera) plan," he said.

Beirut's southern suburbs -- a main Hizbullah stronghold -- were particularly targeted during the July-August Israeli offensive that destroyed buildings, roads, bridges and communications installations across Lebanon.

The decision to set up surveillance cameras in Beirut and its suburbs comes two years after a spate of bombing attacks that targeted mostly figures who opposed Syria's domination of Lebanon.

Among those targeted was popular prime minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed by a massive car bomb in the capital in February 2005.

On Sunday, six civilians were slightly wounded when rockets hit a building next to the U.N. office and Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's offices in downtown Beirut.

It was the third security breach in Beirut in the past 10 days, after two hand-grenades were thrown at police stations without causing casualties.(AFP photo shows a Lebanese employee sitting outside his shop waiting for customers in downtown Beirut) 
 
 

Beirut, 19 Oct 06, 17:24


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Berri Rules Out Toppling of Government, Hizbullah Insists on Formation of National Unity Cabinet
Speaker Nabih Berri has ruled out the overthrow of Premier Fouad Saniora's cabinet unless "consensus" was reached, while Hizbullah held on to its precondition that there would be no dialogue before the formation of a national unity government.

Berri said that while the formation of a national unity government would grant Lebanon "further immunity, however, I insist it should be preceded by consensus."

"I have strong reservations against toppling the government before reaching a consensus on the next cabinet in order to avoid a political vacuum," Berri was quoted by An-Nahar daily on Thursday.

Berri said an agreement to reinstate national unity had been reached and would be announced during the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

Meanwhile, high-ranking Hizbullah sources told the newspaper that the party still holds on to its demand that calls for the formation of a national unity government "prior to entering any dialogue."

"The party insists on entering the dialogue along with its allies to reach a comprehensive national settlement," one source told An-Nahar on Thursday.

"A national unity government is the dialogue's real mechanism," the source added.

Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and General Michel Aoun, whose Free Patriotic Movement is not represented in the cabinet, have been repeatedly calling for the formation of a national unity government.

"Hizbullah clings to the mutual national demands with that of the Free Patriotic Movement because they are the only demands that would salvage the country," the source told An-Nahar.

Hizbullah MP Mohammed Raad also said that his parliamentary bloc was only "an opposition" within the government, adding that its presence was "temporary."

"When our withdrawal (from the cabinet) becomes a doorway for the formation of a national unity government, we will (pull out)," Raad said in an interview with the Kuwaiti Al Rai Al Aam newspaper published on Thursday.

"We were tolerant when this (present) government was formed … but there is no chance for tolerance from now on," Raad warned.

Hizbullah's chief in south Lebanon Sheikh Nabil Qaouk has agreed with Raad, saying: "We won't feel that the (Hizbullah) resistance is protected unless a national unity government was formed."

"We are living in a government that enjoys America's trust, and not the trust of the resistance," the Al-Mustaqbal daily quoted Qaouk as saying on Thursday.

Hizbullah has claimed victory in the July-Aug. war, which cost the lives of more than 1,200 Lebanese.
 
 
 

Beirut, 19 Oct 06, 09:12


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Cabinet agrees to set up cameras across capital
 
 
By Nafez Qawas
Daily Star correspondent
 
 
 
BEIRUT: The Lebanese Cabinet agreed Thursday to install surveillance cameras throughout the capital - including the southern suburbs - in a bid to tighten security across the country.

The government agreed "unanimously to use all necessary means to control the security situation in Lebanon," Information Minister Ghazi Aridi told reporters after the Cabinet's weekly session.

Closed-circuit TV cameras, "which will be linked to telephone lines, will be extended to Beirut's southern suburbs after the area is rebuilt," he added.

A ministerial source said Acting Interior Minister Ahmad Fataf had objected during the session to the cameras excluding regions outside the capital, while Energy and Water Minister Mohammad Fneish expressed concern for Lebanon's national security should the cameras be linked to satellites.

"Linking cameras to satellites could allow Israel to violate our security," the source quoted the Hizbullah minister as having said.

However, the information minister said the matter was settled during the session.

"All ministers agreed on the decision ... The cameras will all be linked to telephone landlines," Aridi said.

Meanwhile, a security source told The Daily Star Thursday that the security measure would cost $12 million.

"Police stations in Beirut will be provided with monitors set to detect any suspicious movement 24 hours a day," the source said.

"A central control room will be set up in the Helou police barracks in Corniche al-Mazraa, to be informed of any suspicious activity," the source added.

Aridi also said Sultan Qaboos of Oman has given Lebanon $50 million to help with recovery efforts after the war.

He said the grant came after Qaboos pledged to establish a Lebanese-Omani arts center in Beirut, a promise made before the Israeli offensive was launched on July 13.

In related developments, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora will travel in the near future to the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar, Japan and Russia to rally support for an international donor conference for Lebanon scheduled to be held on January 15 in Paris, Aridi said.

Siniora announced the date of the conference, which had been in the works for the past two years, on Monday.

Several Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, have made sizeable donations to Lebanon since a UN-brokered cease-fire was reached on August 14 to help relieve material damages estimated at $3.5 billion.

Thursday's Cabinet session was chaired by President Emile Lahoud and held at the government's temporary headquarters in Downtown Beirut.

Defense Minister Elias Murr, Justice Minister Charles Rizk and Environment Minister Yacoub Sarraf were absent.

In comments to reporters before the session, Lahoud called for the complete implementation of UN Resolution 1701 and reiterated his opposition to satellite-linked surveillance. - With agencies
 


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Roed-Larsen to submit new report on Resolution 1559


Daily Star staff
Friday, October 20, 2006


BEIRUT: The third report from Terje Roed-Larsen on the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559 is expected to be submitted to Secretary General Kofi Annan by Friday. A high-ranking UN source told The Daily Star late on Thursday that the envoy "is going to present a standard report to the UN chief either by the end of the day or tomorrow."

The source said Annan would then submit the report to the various members of the Security Council for discussion.

The council is scheduled to discuss on October 30 Roed-Larsen's third report since the passing of the resolution on September 2, 2004. A diplomat at the UN told The Daily Star that Roed-Larsen's report "is expected to include the results of his discussions with Lebanese officials and UNIFIL experts on the situation along the Blue Line and the issue of the Shebaa Farms and their nationality."

Lebanon has complained repeatedly to the Security Council of Israeli breaches of the UN-demarcated Blue Line, including attempts by Israel to alter the de facto border and swallow hundreds of meters of Lebanese territory last month.

The Shebaa Farms and Kfar Shouba Hills constitute a thin swath of farmland along

Lebanon's southern border occupied by Israel in varying stages between 1967 and 1982.

Lebanon has presented documentation to the UN demonstrating that the territories are Lebanese and demanded that Israel withdraw from the area, while Israel claims the land is in fact Syrian territory occupied at the same time as the Golan Heights during the 1967 war.

Syria's comments on the issue have been contradictory. Foreign Minister Walid Moallem has often said the territory is Lebanese, but Damascus has yet to present formal documentation to that effect.

According to sources quoted on Thursday in Lebanese daily An-Nahar, "there is a possibility that the report might include new information on the nationality of the farms that might reinforce the Lebanese evidence and documents regarding the Lebanese nationality of the Shebaa Farms." - The Daily Star


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First Turkish troops set sail to join UNIFIL

By Agence France Presse (AFP)

Friday, October 20, 2006


ANKARA: The first batch of 261 Turkish military engineers set sail for Lebanon Thursday to join the enlarged UN peacekeeping operation policing a cease-fire between Israel and Hizbullah, the general staff said. NATO-member Turkey is the first Muslim country to contribute troops to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia and Qatar also have pledged soldiers.

A total of 95 personnel, who boarded a navy ship from the southern port city of Mersin, are set to dock in Beirut on Friday, military officials said. The remaining members of the team will fly to Beirut on Friday, Anatolia news agency reported.

The Turkish contingent, which includes 237 soldiers and 24 civilians, will be stationed at a small village, lying 7 kilometers to the southeast of the port city of Tyre in southern Lebanon.

They are expected to work mostly on the reconstruction of roads and bridges.

Turkey is not expected to contribute any more ground troops for the UN force.

A Turkish frigate is already serving in the German-led naval task force patrolling the Lebanese coast to prevent arms from allegedly being smuggled to Hizbullah, and the navy has said that it will also send two corvettes - small, fast escort ships - to the war-torn country.

The Turkish government has said it will contribute a total of 681 troops to UNIFIL, including those on board the ships.

The Turkish Parliament authorized the deployment of troops to Lebanon last month despite objections and large street protests.

Lebanon's Armenian community held massive demonstrations earlier this month protesting Turkey's involvement, citing the massacre in 1915 in which millions of Armenians were slaughtered by Ottoman Turks. - AFP


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Geagea says any non-March 14 president will be 'tasteless'
LF leader rules out his candidacy for top post


Daily Star staff
Friday, October 20, 2006

 

Geagea says any non-March 14 president will be 'tasteless'

BEIRUT

: One of the leading members of the March 14 Forces has rejected the idea that a new president for Lebanon be appointed from outside the coalition group. In an interview with new local daily Al-Akhbar, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said the March 14 Forces refuse to "negotiate on having a president" who is outside their circle.

When asked whether he would run as a candidate, Geagea said: "No, I will not run as a presidential candidate for my own personal reasons."

The LF leader has repeatedly stated that he would not run for the post, citing his past in prison as a reason.

On the possible new president, Geagea said that any president from outside the March 14 Forces would be "tasteless and colorless and would bring void to the presidency again."

He ruled out the possibility of Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader MP Michel Aoun as president, saying that Aoun has placed himself politically in a position that "will not make him reach the presidency."

Geagea added that based on information he and his allies had gathered, those who are seeking to topple the government and replace it with a national unity Cabinet "are preparing for street riots ... but the March 14 Forces will not allow this."

Hizbullah and the FPM have called for the formation of a national unity government.

On Thursday, Hizbullah MP Hussein Hajj Hassan said that demanding a national unity government "doesn't mean toppling the current Cabinet or marginalizing the Future Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party from political life in Lebanon."

He asked: "Why are the March 14 Forces disturbed by the idea of having a national unity government?"

Meanwhile, March 14 Forces leader and Chouf MP Walid Jumblatt said after meeting with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier late Wednesday that the mission of the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon "is not only to maintain Lebanon's sovereignty over its territories, but also to implement the Taif Accord."

The Taif stipulates that all parties in Lebanon disarm.

But Hizbullah's Shura Council member Sheikh Naim Qassem said late Wednesday during an iftar that the UNIFIL troops "are welcome as long as they don't exceed the limit of their mission."

This came as Lebanese politicians tried to predict what Berri's "promised gift to the Lebanese" would be.

Berri said earlier last week he would bring the Lebanese people a gift for Eid al-Fitr.

Pro-Hizbullah Labor Minister Trad Hamadeh said Thursday that the Lebanese are "patiently awaiting Berri's gift and expecting it to ensure calmness, and bring positive outcomes to Lebanon."

In an article published by pan-Arab daily newspaper Al-Hayat, Jumblatt said he expected Berri's "promised gift for the Eid to be some sort of a formula to resume the national dialogue."

Jumblatt said that there are "neither direct, nor indirect contacts" with Hizbullah's Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, adding that "there are official contacts" between them through their governmental and parliamentary representatives.

"However, I prefer to have Speaker Berri as our middle contact," said Jumblatt, adding that he sets "a wager on Speaker Berri's role in supporting the current government."

Berri will arrive in Lebanon within "the next 48 hours," from Europe after attending the inter-parliamentary union's 115th convention, a parliamentary source told The Daily Star Thursday. - The Daily Star


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Husseini presses Lahoud to ratify judicial postings


Daily Star staff
Friday, October 20, 2006


BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Hussein Husseini called on President Emile Lahoud Thursday to approve hundreds of judicial appointments frozen since last week. "There is no reason to ask for the signature of the justice minister, prime minister and president in order to endorse judicial appointments," Husseini said.

"According to the National Consensus Document, the Higher Judicial Council is the only authority entrusted with approving judicial appointments," he added.

Lahoud received a list of judicial appointments Saturday and was in the process of studying it Sunday, sources close to Baabda Palace said earlier this week.

Justice Minister Charles Rizk and Premier Fouad Siniora have already signed the decree.

The council made a unanimous decision to approve some 470 judicial appointments last week after lengthy debate over the issue.

The appointment of magistrates is a yearly occurrence in which judges are moved from one court to another throughout the country.

In a direct attack on the president Thursday, Future Movement MP Walid Eido said Lahoud was "hampering the establishment of the Lebanese state."

"Lahoud's only task today is to undermine any attempt to create an independent, sovereign and strong state ... This is his mission after the end of the [Syrian] tutelage regime, of which he constitutes the only remaining presence," Eido said.

MP Boutros Harb told LBC Thursday that the Judiciary would be "paralyzed as long as there is a merger between politics and justice." - The Daily Star


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Siniora readies reform plan to present in Paris

By Nada Bakri
Daily Star staff
Friday, October 20, 2006


BEIRUT: Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's Cabinet initiated on Thursday preparations for the draft economic plan Beirut will present at the upcoming international and Arab donor conference in Paris. The Paris donor conference, which will be held January 15, aims to raise long-term financial assistance to help the country recover from Israel's 34-day bombardment and revive the ailing Lebanese economy.

The new economic plan will be based mainly on the blueprint for reforms that Cabinet prepared last year to be presented during the Beirut 1 international aid conference, which was put on hold when war broke out in mid-July.

In addition to the draft plan, Cabinet will lead a series of meetings and talks with the international community to prompt them to participate in the conference and contribute to the reconstruction process.

As part of his efforts to generate support for the conference, Siniora will head in mid-December to Japan.

Tokyo is believed to be a major potential donors and will have an influential role during the Paris conference.

Siniora also participated on Thursday in a meeting attended by Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh; Abdel-Monem Youssef, chairman of Ogero Telecommunications Company, the government-owned operator that manages Lebanon's landline telephones; and the chairman of the Higher Privatization Council, Ziad Hayek.

Hamadeh said this meeting was the first in a series that will focus on all privatization plans, which were proposed before the war. He added that in the coming eight months the first phase of privatizing the telecommunications sector should be over.

During the summer war, Israel battered villages and infrastructure and threw the economy into recession, causing over $3.5 billion in material damage.

The cost of the Israeli offensive on public finances was estimated at about $1.5 billion for 2006, which will raise public debt to $41 billion at the end of the year, according to Finance Minister Jihad Azour.

Azour says that Lebanon's growth rate, which had been forecast to reach 6 percent this year, would be negative because of the war, but that the situation should improve in 2007.

Donor nations already pledged, during a Stockholm conference held in August, $940 million in emergency aid to help with Lebanon's emergency post-war needs. - Additional reporting by Nafez Qawas


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Comprehensive meeting on Taamir violence slated for next week in Sidon

By Mohammed Zaatari
Daily Star staff
Friday, October 20, 2006

Comprehensive meeting on Taamir violence slated for next week in Sidon

SIDON

: A range of political groups is expected to take part in a meeting after the Eid al-Fitr holidays to discuss growing violence in the Taamir neighborhood outside Sidon. The meeting follows a discussion on the topic last week at parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri's Ain al-Tineh residence.

Representatives from Amal, Hizbullah, the Future Movement, the Popular Nasserite Movement, the Palestine Liberation Organization, Hamas and other Palestinian factions are expected to attend the upcoming meeting.

A number of Sidon officials such as Mayor Abdel-Rahman al-Bizri and Sheikh Maher Hammoud are also expected to be present for the discussion.

Separately, the PLO representative in Lebanon, Abbas Zaki, and Fatah's secretary in Lebanon, Sultan Abu al-Aynayn, met with Sidon MP Bahia Hariri Thursday to discuss the issue of Taamir in addition to the recent developments in Palestine. Following the meeting, Zaki said that the PLO "insists on having the Lebanese government exercise control over Taamir."

When asked about the reports of the government spreading its control over Taamir by deploying the Lebanese Army in the neighborhood, and whether the faction he represented would agree to that, Zaki said that the PLO supported the sovereignty of Lebanon, along with the Lebanese Army's authority. "We welcome any sort of collaboration between Lebanon and us," he said.

Zaki said that he and Hariri had agreed on the necessity of "finding common grounds for dialogue and interaction," so as to have all the Palestinian factions united. Zaki said that it was essential for the Palestinians "to be supportive of their adoptive country instead of being a burden."

Taamir residents and politicians in Sidon have demanded that the government exercise control over the area in the wake of a recent escalation in violence. Taamir is known to house several fundamentalist groups including Osbat al-Ansar and Jund al-Sham.

Over the last three years, dozens of Lebanese and Palestinians have been killed or wounded in violent clashes between Jund al-Sham and Taamir residents.

In the last couple of weeks, efforts were under way to have the Lebanese Army deploy in the area and restore security. While various Palestinian factions are expected to cooperate with the army, officials fear that if the army deploys in the neighborhood of Taamir, it could find itself forced into a conflict with Osbat al-Ansar and Jund al-Sham.


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Omani sultan grants $50 million in aid to Lebanon

By Agence France Presse (AFP)

Friday, October 20, 2006


BEIRUT: Oman's Sultan Qaboos has granted $50 million to help Lebanon recover from the devastation inflicted by the Israeli offensive on the country, Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said on Thursday. "Sultan Qaboos has granted $50 million to help Lebanon overcome the damage inflicted by the war," Aridi told reporters after a weekly Cabinet meeting.

Aridi said the grant came after a pledge by Sultan Qaboos to establish a Lebanese-Omani arts center in Beirut, a promise made before the July-August offensive on Lebanon.

The $50 million is in addition to the money for the arts center, the amount of which has not been disclosed.

Aridi said the center will be established in the downtown area of the capital which has been the focus of constant rebuilding since the 1975-90 Civil War.

Solidere, the firm entrusted with rebuilding the area, has "pledged to grant a piece of land for this civilized project in the heart of Beirut," Aridi said.

A number of Arab Gulf states, mainly Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, have made generous donations to Lebanon which suffered material damage estimated at about $3.5 billion during Israel's 34-day offensive in July and August. - AFP


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Hizbullah rhythms make a killing on commercial front

By Agence France Presse (AFP)

Friday, October 20, 2006


Charles Onians and

Rana Moussaoui

Agence France Presse


BEIRUT: While Lebanese pop stars capitalize on a wave of patriotism in the wake of Hizbullah's summer war with Israel, the biggest musical sensation is absent from Beirut's torrid nightclubs and has a distinctly Islamic rhythm. Hizbullah and its followers have produced revolutionary anthems since the group's official creation in 1985, but the "victory" in the latest war with Israel has brought unprecedented sales and thrust its previously unknown performers onto the international circuit.

"We're selling 50 percent more Hizbullah music since the end of the war" on August 14, says studio owner and distributor Hassan Abu Jaafar from his base in Beirut's southern suburbs.

"We've put out 10 new titles since then, compared to only five from January to July."

Within days of the end of fighting, new CDs complete with images of Hizbullah's claimed victory and the destruction wrought by Israeli bombs were piling up in the shops.

Abu Jaafar says he sells almost half-a-million Hizbullah-themed CDs and cassettes a year but refers questions about his profits to the Finance Ministry where his taxes go, grumbling that demand is so great much of his music is pirated.

Described by its performers as Hizbullah's other weapon, the stirring marshal rhythms feature baritone male voices chanting about resistance, Hizbullah and Islam against

a background of drum rolls, synthesizer crescendos and the occasional bagpipe solo.

One CD - "Kept Promise" - is named after Hizbullah's July 12 cross-border capture of two Israeli troops that sparked the 34-day war, with song titles such as "Lebanon Will Survive," "America is a Bloodsucker" and "Music of the Martyr."

The Al-Wilaya group of singers says it is "the official Hizbullah troupe," with the modern-day troubadours' spokesman Ali Kazan saying proudly that "the resistance is not just about weapons, but about words and chants. We have a message to bring through art."

Since the end of the war, the troupe has toured abroad in Kuwait and Bahrain - a first for the men who have performed together since 1988.

"The people didn't look at us as only a Hizbullah troupe. In their eyes we were the incarnation of [Hizbullah leader Hassan] Nasrallah," says Kazan. "We are proud to represent the name of the resistance."

Describing their music as chanting rather than singing, Kazan says that Hizbullah fighters returning from the front told him that they used to fire off their lyrics at hidden Israeli troops.

"These chants are a means of spiritual motivation for the fighters, it's a different kind of weapon," says the jovial-looking Kazan, adding that while Arab pop music is about love between a man and a woman, his chants are about "a dialogue between God and man."

"We use drums, synthesizers, trumpets, clarinets, but not tambourines or derbakehs [a small underarm drum] because they evoke belly dancing. We don't want people to think about dancing, so if it looks like they might, we'll slow the music down.

"Of course I want our chants to be known but not everywhere or at any cost. For instance, I don't think they should be played in nightclubs," says Kazan.

Most of the performers are classically trained at the Beirut Conservatory, and manager Hassan Ghamlush says many songs are inspired by classical composers such as Russia's Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

Ghamlush says he has no objection to pop stars releasing their own patriotic songs, such as the latest offering by Julia Boutros - a Christian - complete with a video of her walking through the ruins of South Lebanon as Hizbullah fighters emerge triumphantly from the woods.

"We don't compare ourselves to them, but we don't mind competition if it's for the same cause. A part of the population might not like what we do and prefer what Julia is doing," Ghamlush says.

Wearing a stylishly trimmed beard, he accuses Western media of distorting the reality of Hizbullah.

"They think we are ignorant and backward but we are cultured. We love life, music and art. We don't just live for martyrdom and death. But we do want to live with dignity and pride," he explains.


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Thursday October 19, 2006

French Defense Chief Discusses 'Fragile' Lebanon Situation with U.S. Officials
French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie arrived in Washington Wednesday for a four-day visit to discuss Lebanon, NATO and the North Korea nuclear crisis with U.S. officials.

The first woman to hold France's top defense post immediately went to the White House for an hour-long meeting with President George Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley.

"We talked about Lebanon, Afghanistan, and preparations for the (November) NATO summit in Riga," Alliot-Marie told reporters at the end of the interview.

Lebanon, where France is playing a key peacekeeping role, was high on the agenda in the meeting, Alliot-Marie said.

On a military level "the situation (in Lebanon) is calm but fragile," Alliot-Marie told Hadley. She added that it was "important to avoid anything that may seem to revive the violence" such as Israeli air force flights over Lebanese air space.

Alliot-Marie said that U.S. officials were seeking alternatives to overflights that would guarantee to the Israelis that there are no weapons smuggling.

The French defense minister was in Lebanon three weeks ago. There are some 1,600 French soldiers -- soon to be increased to 2,000 -- deployed in southern Lebanon.

On Friday Alliot-Marie heads to New York to hold talks with U.N. chief Kofi Annan.(AFP) 
 
 

Beirut, 19 Oct 06, 09:12

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Roed-Larsen's 'New Report' Reportedly to Include Details on 'Blue Line'
The new report to be presented on Thursday by U.N. special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen concerning U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 will include details about the U.N.-drawn "Blue Line" border demarcation with Israel, An-Nahar reported Thursday.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will obtain a copy of the report that will also be distributed to members of the Security Council for study at their meeting scheduled for October 30, according to the newspaper's Washington-based correspondent.

He quoted well-informed sources as saying that there was a possibility that the report contained "new information" which could back up "Lebanese evidence concerning the Shabaa Farms area."

An-Nahar said that should such "new information or documents on the Shabaa Farms prove genuine" there is a possibility to lay the area under U.N. mandate until "a legal situation could be finalized."

Roed-Larsen's mission is to oversee the execution of Resolution 1559, which calls for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Lebanon, the disarming of all militias, the extension of government authority throughout the country and free and fair presidential elections.
When Israel withdrew from Lebanon in May 2000, the U.N. drew a demarcation line between the two countries known as the Blue Line.

The Jewish state pulled out from most of southern Lebanon except for the Shabaa Farms. Lebanon and Syria say the area is Lebanese but the U.N. says it belongs to Syria and its fate is linked to Resolution 242 that calls on Israel to pull out from the Golan Heights.

Lebanese political leaders meeting at national dialogue talks in Beirut last March have agreed that Shabaa is inside Lebanese territory. They said Beirut should get a clear commitment from Damascus that backs their decision. Then Lebanon can take up the issue with the U.N. to change the area's official status.


The Lebanese army, backed by a beefed-up U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, has taken up positions along the Blue Line for the first time in decades after Israel pulled out its troops from south Lebanon, ending a month-long aggression on the country Aug. 14.

The Jewish state continues to hold the Lebanese part of the border village of Ghajar. The U.N. said Tuesday a "few minor technical issues" are due to be settled soon to pave the way for Israel's withdrawal from there.
 
 
 

Beirut, 19 Oct 06, 10:27

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Berri Rules Out Toppling of Government, Hizbullah Insists on Formation of National Unity Cabinet
Speaker Nabih Berri has ruled out the overthrow of Premier Fouad Saniora's cabinet unless "consensus" was reached, while Hizbullah held on to its precondition that there would be no dialogue before the formation of a national unity government.

Berri said that while the formation of a national unity government would grant Lebanon "further immunity, however, I insist it should be preceded by consensus."

"I have strong reservations against toppling the government before reaching a consensus on the next cabinet in order to avoid a political vacuum," Berri was quoted by An-Nahar daily on Thursday.

Berri said an agreement to reinstate national unity had been reached and would be announced during the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

Meanwhile, high-ranking Hizbullah sources told the newspaper that the party still holds on to its demand that calls for the formation of a national unity government "prior to entering any dialogue."

"The party insists on entering the dialogue along with its allies to reach a comprehensive national settlement," one source told An-Nahar on Thursday.

"A national unity government is the dialogue's real mechanism," the source added.

Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and General Michel Aoun, whose Free Patriotic Movement is not represented in the cabinet, have been repeatedly calling for the formation of a national unity government.

"Hizbullah clings to the mutual national demands with that of the Free Patriotic Movement because they are the only demands that would salvage the country," the source told An-Nahar.

Hizbullah MP Mohammed Raad also said that his parliamentary bloc was only "an opposition" within the government, adding that its presence was "temporary."

"When our withdrawal (from the cabinet) becomes a doorway for the formation of a national unity government, we will (pull out)," Raad said in an interview with the Kuwaiti Al Rai Al Aam newspaper published on Thursday.

"We were tolerant when this (present) government was formed … but there is no chance for tolerance from now on," Raad warned.

Hizbullah's chief in south Lebanon Sheikh Nabil Qaouk has agreed with Raad, saying: "We won't feel that the (Hizbullah) resistance is protected unless a national unity government was formed."

"We are living in a government that enjoys America's trust, and not the trust of the resistance," the Al-Mustaqbal daily quoted Qaouk as saying on Thursday.

Hizbullah has claimed victory in the July-Aug. war, which cost the lives of more than 1,200 Lebanese.
 
 
 

Beirut, 19 Oct 06, 09:12

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Fadlallah: Monday First Day of Eid al-Fitr
Lebanon's senior-most Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, said Thursday that Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, would begin Monday.

A statement from Fadlallah's office said the date was chosen on the basis of astrological calculations in accordance with Islamic scientific rules.

According to tradition, the Eid al-Fitr celebration begins with the first new moon of Ramadan, and marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar month of Shawwal.

For the past few years, Fadlallah has announced the start and end of Ramadan in advance.

In the past, the date was decided only with an actual sighting of the new moon - a practice still followed by the Sunni community.(AFP-Naharnet) 
 
 

Beirut, 19 Oct 06, 12:47


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Lebanese Army Dismantles Recently Installed Drainage Pipes by Israel
The Lebanese army has dismantled drainage pipes installed by the Israeli military between the southern towns of Kfar Kila and Adeisseh under the gaze of Israeli soldiers on the other side of the border, An Nahar reported Thursday.

The newspaper said that the Lebanese troops removed the pipes, which were fitted on Tuesday, and put up sand barricades on the Lebanese side of the "Blue Line" amid heavy Israeli patrols along the border fence.

An-Nahar said Lebanese troops arrived at the scene as Israeli workers were continuing to upgrade the pipes, adding more cement to strengthen them.

It said Spanish UNIFIL troops also took up positions in the area to monitor the dismantling process and prevent any clash between the two sides "as they went on a state of alert," according to the paper's Marjayoun reporter.

The Lebanese army released a statement on Wednesday saying "a tall sand barrier was built as a shield in response to the violation in order to prevent the diversion of rainwater into Lebanon and causing damages to the properties of Lebanese citizens."

An-Nahar regarded the Israeli move as a violation of the U.N.-drawn Blue Line border demarcation with Israel.

However, The Daily Star quoted on Thursday UNIFIL spokesman Alexander Ivanko as saying that the U.N. "does not consider what Israel did as a violation."
 
 
 

Beirut, 19 Oct 06, 11:27


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U.S. Official Commends Lebanon for its Efforts on U.N. Truce Resolution
The United States has commended Lebanon for its implementation of U.N. resolution 1701 which brought an end to the 34-day war between Israel and Hizbullah.

"I commended the minister for the government of Lebanon's efforts to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 and for the historic deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces to the south," Robert M. Danin, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, said Wednesday after meeting Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh at Boustros Palace.

"I noted that these actions have resulted in an outpouring of support from the international community, reflected in the more than 900 million dollars pledged for Lebanon's reconstruction in Stockholm," Danin added, saying he was in Beirut "to reiterate the strong commitment of the United States to Lebanon."

Resolution 1701 of August 14 brought an end to a devastating Israeli military offensive against Lebanon, launched after Hizbullah captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.

The resolution calls on Beirut to deploy 15,000 soldiers in south Lebanon.

Danin also held talks with Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh and said his country was looking forward for the Paris-3 conference on financial aid for the reconstruction of war-ravaged Lebanon January 15, 2007.(AFP-Naharnet) (An Nahar photo shows Danin and Hamadeh) 
 
 

Beirut, 19 Oct 06, 08:48


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Israeli Ambassador to Spain: Hizbullah Still Armed Thanks to Syria
Hizbullah is still armed because Syria is providing the group with weapons after the recent war in Lebanon, Israel's ambassador to Spain said Wednesday.

"We have evidence that Hizbullah has received more weapons from Syria," Victor Harel said in a breakfast meeting with political analysts and journalists in Madrid.

He said that since an Aug. 14 cease-fire went into effect, apart from supporting Hizbullah, Syria had continued to meddle in Lebanese affairs and tried to undermine the country's pro-Western prime minister.

"We don't trust Hizbullah. They continue to be armed in order to achieve their dream, which is the disappearance of the Zionist identity," Harel added.

"Syria continues to work against the Lebanese government of (Fouad) Saniora to weaken him or even replace him," Harel said.

Harel said Syria is sending mixed signals, projecting itself to the international community as wanting peace while also harboring terrorists.

"Syria is not part of the solution. It is part of the problem," he said.

Harel said that Israel made significant gains in its battle against Hizbullah, although acknowledged that they committed mistakes during the 34-day war.

He said the Israeli offensive in Lebanon failed to achieve the goals stated by the government of Ehud Olmert -- decimating Hizbullah and winning return of the two abducted Israeli soldiers. Instead, Hizbullah battered Israel with almost 4,000 rockets during the fighting.

"Under no circumstances did we lose the war," Harel said. "We were in war against terrorists not the government or people of Lebanon. That caused us to limit the use of our forces."

"The results of the war were mediocre," he said.

Harel also said that ultimately the greatest threat to Israel comes from Iran, and he was concerned about the precedent set by the nuclear test claimed by North Korea.

"Today it's North Korea, tomorrow it will be Iran," he said.

"Israel cannot allow an existential threat to the security of Israel in the region. Our threats as a country do not come from Hizbullah, Hamas or Syria, it comes from Iran as a possible nuclear power," Harel said.(AP photo shows an elderly woman passing a bullet-riddled building and a poster of Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah in the southern city of Aita Al-Shaab) 
 
 

Beirut, 18 Oct 06, 16:08


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Olmert Discusses with Putin Implementation of Arms Embargo on Countries that Transfer Arms to Hizbullah
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert took a soft-tone approach Wednesday, after meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin, when alluding to Israel's concerns that Hizbullah used Russian missiles in their 34-day war with Israel.

"We discussed the importance of implementing the arms embargo on countries that transfer weapons to Hizbullah," Olmert said at a joint news conference following his talks with Putin in the Kremlin.

Olmert, who arrived Tuesday night for a three-day visit, was also scheduled for meetings with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Israel does not accuse Russia of directly supplying Hizbullah, but maintains the arms were sold to Syria and Iran, which sent them on to Hizbullah.

Russia denies its missiles reached Hizbullah, but Israeli media reported that Russia has issued directives to tighten arms export controls. The Russians have reported no tightening of controls.

Despite deep disagreements with Russia over how to confront the Iranian nuclear threat, Olmert said that he was confident Russian President Vladimir Putin understands Israel's grave concerns.

Olmert said Iran was Israel's top concern and that he was "sure that after our talks, President Putin even more deeply than before understands all the aspects of our attitude to this problem and everything linked to that." Putin himself said nothing about Iran at the news conference.

"We don't have the luxury to allow such a state as Iran to possess unconventional weapons. Israel can never accept this. If the leader of such a country as Iran openly states that he wants to destroy our country, we have no choice but to prepare for a response. We must prevent this," Olmert told reporters after the meeting.

Israel rejects Tehran's claims that its nuclear program is intended to develop energy, not arms. But Russia, which is building Iran's first, U.S. $800 million nuclear plant, has impeded international attempts to impose sanctions on Iran for refusing to downscale its nuclear ambitions. Moscow also has rejected international pressure to halt its construction of the plant, which Israel and the West fear could be used to divert nuclear fuel for use in producing bombs.

Israel for years has been sounding the alarm to Russia over Iran's potential to become a nuclear state, but political experts say only the United States and, to a lesser extent, Europe are capable of persuading Moscow to harden its position against Tehran.

The Iranian threat has become the centerpiece of Olmert's political agenda since the war in southern Lebanon robbed him of his main political initiative, an ambitious plan to follow Israel's 2005 Gaza Strip withdrawal with a large-scale pullback in the West Bank.

The Lebanon war rekindled international efforts to get peacemaking back on track and avert further conflicts, but so far, even the slightest progress has been elusive.

At the news conference, Putin said Russia would push for a revival of the Mideast peace process. Russia is a member of the so-called Quartet of international Mideast mediators, which proposed the "road map" peace plan that foundered shortly after it was introduced in June 2003.

"The only way to get out of the vicious circle of violence is to stop making mutual accusations, free hostages and resume peaceful dialogue. Russia, as a member of the Middle East Quartet, intends to assist in a rapid stabilization of the situation and a resumption of the negotiating process," he said.

Olmert's trip is his first abroad since Israel's month-long offensive on Lebanon.(AP-Naharnet)(AFP photo shows Olmert visiting the 'Tomb of the unknown soldier' in Moscow) 
 
 

Beirut, 18 Oct 06, 10:33


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Berri says consensus necessary for unity government 
By Nada Bakri
Daily Star staff
 

Berri says consensus necessary for unity government

BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri says that while a national unity government would grant Lebanon "immunity" from further conflict, such a decision would have to be reached through consensus before the sitting government could resign. Speaking during an interview with Al-Arabiyya satellite channel late Tuesday from Geneva, where he is participating in the 115th session of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Berri said an agreement to reinstate national unity had been reached and would be announced during the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

"I have strong reservations against toppling [Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's] Cabinet before reaching a consensus on the next Cabinet in order to avoid a political vacuum. Therefore, we need consensus and then we will form a Cabinet which will give Lebanon real immunity," the speaker added.

During a visit to Saudi Arabia last weeked, Berri said the Eid al-Fitr holiday would bring good news for the Lebanese. The speaker added that the surprise involved "efforts to reinstate national unity and solidarity among the Lebanese and support for the resistance."

Siniora has faced mounting pressure since the 34-day war with Israel ended on August 14 to reshuffle Cabinet to include more allies of Hizbullah and the Free Patriotic Movement headed by MP Michel Aoun.

Hizbullah has claimed victory in the war, which cost the lives of more than 1,200 Lebanese, most of them civilians,  and 157 Israelis, mostly soldiers, but tensions with Siniora's Western-backed government have intensified in its aftermath.

Fears are also rising that sectarian rifts are deepening in Lebanon, especially between Shiites, who overwhelmingly support Hizbullah, and Sunnis who helped lead the campaign for Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon after last year's killing of former Premier Rafik Hariri.

Berri said his visit to Saudi Arabia focused on protecting Muslim unity in Lebanon, coninuing Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace and territory, and strained relations between Riyadh and Damascus.

The speaker said he was leading efforts to arrange a meeting between Hizbullah's leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, and Progressive Socialist Party chief MP Walid Jumblatt, who have frequently been at odds.

Jumblatt is currently in Germany, where he met Wednesday with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Economic Cooperation and Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul and officials from the Democratic Socialist Party and Frederich Ebert Stiftung (FES).

Berri also told Al-Arabiyya that he believed Arab-Israeli peace negotiations should be revived following the Israeli offensive on Lebanon.

"Lebanon can liberate its remaining occupied land through the resistance, as it did in the past, but it can achieve that through peace ... if it is a comprehensive peace that includes the whole region," he said.

While tensions have lessened among Lebanon's rival politicians this week, Hizbullah and its allies reiterated Wednesday their intension to push forward attempts to form a national unity government.

"We are leading serious and strong efforts to form a national unity government ... We want to participate in rebuilding the country and straightening the political speech," Hizbullah MP Kamil Rifai said during an iftar.

FPM MP Ibrahim Kanaan said a national unity government "should not be a problem if there is a consensus" among Lebanese parties. "Siniora's policies did not render any positive effects because there is no vision," he added, accusing the government of violating the Taif Accord.

In response, the March 14 Forces said it would be impossible to topple the Cabinet, as it was supported by the majority of the Lebanese.

"The March 14 Forces will not let anyone topple the government ... They should not forget that we have a bigger popular base," Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said Wednesday
 


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Lebanese Army dismantles Israeli pipes 
By Rym Ghazal
Daily Star staff

Lebanese Army dismantles Israeli pipes

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army on Wednesday dismantled drainage pipes installed by the Israeli Army near Kfar Kila to divert rainwater into Lebanon, as UNIFIL said that Israel had not violated Lebanese territory in the process. Troops from the Lebanese Army, in the presence of French and Spanish peacekeepers, removed the pipes and filled in ditches dug on Tuesday by Israeli troops after crossing the UN Blue Line in Adaisseh, near the Israeli-Lebanese border.

The Lebanese Army Command released a statement on Wednesday outlining the operation. "A tall sand wall was built as a shield in response to the [Israeli] violation in order to prevent the diversion of rainwater into Lebanon and causing damages to the properties of Leb-anese citizens," it said.

As Lebanese troops worked in the area, the Israeli Army reinforced its presence on the other side of the fence, leading to a "state of alert" between the two armies, the National News Agency said. The situation was later defused.

However, UNIFIL spokesperson Alexander Ivanko insisted that "there was no state of alert."

"UNIFIL has it own definitions of what it considers an alert, and so far there hasn't been any state of alert," he said.

Ivanko added that UNIFIL "does not consider what Israel did on Tuesday as a violation."

"All the engineering work was on their side of the Blue Line," he added, explaining that UNIFIL troops had used GPS devices to verify their claim.

Meanwhile, an Italian admiral with the UNIFIL forces in the South, Claudio Confessore, said on Wednesday that his forces were "upset over the repeated violations by Israel" of Lebanese territory.

Confessore called on both sides to respect UN Security Council Resolution 1701 in order for peace and stability to prevail. "All the violations are being reported to the UNIFIL headquarters in Naqoura and the Lebanese Army," he said.

In Italy, meanwhile, the upper house of Parliament approved the country's peacekeeping commitment to Lebanon late Tuesday - the last parliamentary hurdle before the president signs the decree.

Italy is contributing the largest contingent - 2,500 troops - to the United Nations' expanded peacekeeping force in Southern Lebanon, assembled after an August 14 cessation of hostilities came into effect.

The mission was approved by a large margin, 272-15, with two abstentions.

Meanwhile, Israeli air violations continued on Wednesday with overflights along Lebanon's shores and over the Southern areas of Al-Bayada, Rmeish, Aalma al-Shaab and Naqoura.

The Jewish state repeated Wednesday that it will continue to monitor Lebanese airspace for as long as Hizbullah continues to receive arms from Syria.

"We have evidence that Hizbullah has received more

weapons from Syria," Israel's ambassador to Spain, Victor Harel, said in a breakfast meeting with political analysts and journalists in Madrid.

"Syria continues to work against the Lebanese government of [Prime Minister Fouad] Siniora to weaken him or even replace him," the envoy added.

However, Harel said that ultimately the greatest threat to Israel was from Iran, and therefore, "Israel cannot allow an existential threat to the security of Israel in the region."

In other developments, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told London-based Al-Hayat newspaper in an interview published on Wednesday that his country's peacekeeping forces in Southern Lebanon would not be used to disarm Hizbullah.

"We are there to add stability and support Lebanon and we, along with all the different players, will abide by ... 1701," he said. - With agencies
 


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Rain, wind lend urgency to ordnance cleanup
Bombs can sink in mud or fall from trees, un warns

By Rym Ghazal and Mohammed Zaatari
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT/TYRE: With winter fast approaching, the United Nations and the Lebanese Army are racing to clear unexploded munitions left over from this summer's war with Israel before they sink even deeper into rain-soaked soil or are dislodged from their precarious nests in trees by storm winds.

"We are working at our full capacity to finish as much of the clearance as possible before the weather gets really bad," said Dalya Farran, media and post-clearance officer for the UN Mine Action Coordination Center (UNMACC) in the South.

The UN estimates that 1 million deadly, tiny "bomblets" from cluster bombs spread by Israeli warplanes and artillery guns near the end of the July-August conflict litter the trees, gardens, homes and roads of South Lebanon.

UN and army officials know the upcoming winter storms will only complicate their efforts and make the deadly munitions even harder to detect.

"The main obstacle for the clearance operations is that we lack good reference information from the Israeli government on the locations they hit with clusters and the quantities," said Farran.

As of Monday, she said, some 778 cluster-bomb "strike locations" had been identified by various teams working on the ground.

"In heavy winter months like December and January the clearance operations will be reduced due to the bad weather," Farran said.

The UN mine unit estimates that 45,000 bomblets have been cleared to date.

According to Farran, 150 Lebanese have been wounded by the bomblets and other items of unexploded ordinance (UXO) since the August 14 cease-fire. Twenty-one of the 150 have died from their wounds. Thirteen of the wounded were female and the rest male, the UN said, with 50 victims aged 18 or younger and 26 under the age of 12.

The latest casualties were two youths, one 16 and the other 18, outside the southern village of Halousiyeh, near Tyre. The 18-year-old later died from his wounds.

A report released last week by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that nearly 1,000 personnel were to be involved in clearance operations by the end of October.

In the report, Colonel Mohammed Fehmi, director of the National De-mining Office, said that he hoped 95 percent of the "contaminated areas" in the South would be cleared of UXOs by 2008.

Meanwhile, Italian troops on Wednesday defused five unexploded munitions uncovered near Tyre. The unexploded ordnance was gathered while the troops were inspecting the regions of Srifa, Qalawiyeh, Ghandourieh and Froun.

An Italian officer told The Daily Star that the munitions were safely detonated in valleys located between Qalawieh and Ghandourieh.

The US-made bombs were of various calibers and weights, he said, with one of them weighing 1,000 kilograms. Another officer said the bombs were buried in holes 4 meters deep, "away from residential areas" before they were destroyed.
 
 


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Senior jurist boycotts interview for post on Constitutional Council 
Daily Star staff
 
BEIRUT: A senior judge has refused to be interviewed by a parliamentary subcommittee tasked with vetting candidates for the Constitutional Council, arguing that the process was an insult to him and his peers. The first president of the Honorary Court of Cassation, Magistrate Nasri Jamil Lahoud, outlined his objections in a letter to Speaker Nabih Berri that Lahoud provided to The Daily Star on Wednesday.

The letter criticized the fact that "magistrates with 40 years of experience" are being interviewed by a subcommittee, "especially as some of its members have perpetrated violations and they might be working through this committee to back their own candidates."

Lahoud, a highly respected jurist who is also President Emile Lahoud's brother, wrote in the letter that he was "against the election or appointment of a judge who would take advantage of his judicial post to guarantee his appointment to the council."

"Such a judge would also be bound to his superiors in the hopes of ameliorating his post after the end of his mandate at the council," he added.

Lahoud emphasized the need to separate judicial and legislative powers, adding that the law stipulating the creation of a new council had been challenged earlier this year.

"In line with my conviction of the need to separate the Constitutional Council from any pressure and personal interests of powerful authorities, I apologize for not appearing before the committee for the interview," he said.

The subcommittee, formed in early July, includes seven MPs from various political blocs and officials from Berri's office.

After studying their credential, the subcommittee will prepare a dossier on each candidate, which will then be passed on to Parliament and Cabinet, which will each appoint five members to the 10-seat council.

The subcommittee interviewed 69 candidates for the council on Monday. Lahoud did not show up. - The Daily Star
 
 


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Sfeir discusses appointments with judge 
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: The head of the Higher Judicial Council made a surprise visit to Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir on Wednesday to discuss recent judicial appointments that have become mired in political bickering. Sfeir left a session of the 16th Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the Orient in Bzummar after having received the request for an emergency meeting from Magistrate Antoine Kheir.

Sources close to Kheir said the meeting was "excellent," and that the judge had informed the patriarch of "the atmosphere that prevailed over the appointment process."

Sfeir "stressed his trust in Justice Minister Charles Rizk, the council's president and members and praised their efforts to preserve the independence of the judiciary," the sources said.

The patriarch was further quoted as having said that "no one can politicize the rights of the Maronite sect."

President Emile Lahoud received the list of judicial appointments Saturday and was is in the process of reviewing it on Sunday, sources close to Baabda Palace said earlier this week.

Justice Minister Charles Rizk and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora had signed the decree late last week.

Kheir said he hoped that the decree would be signed "as soon as possible," adding that "failing to sign the decree would harm judicial institutions."

The Judicial Council made a unanimous decision to approve some 470 judicial appointment last week after lengthy debate on the issue.

The appointment of magistrates is a yearly occurrence in which judges are moved from one court to another throughout the country. - The Daily Star
 


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Tohme reassures displaced that troubles are almost over 
By Maher Zeineddine
Daily Star staff

Tohme reassures displaced that troubles are almost over

BEIRUT: Minister for the Displaced Neameh Tohme reiterated Wednesday that the government would resolve and close the file of the displaced by the end of 2007. Addressing mayors from more than 200 villages in the Chouf, Tohme said: "The government managed to secure the LL550 million needed for paying compensation for the owners of 3,000 destroyed homes, 50,000 partly renovated homes and 15,000 partly damaged homes. The government also intends to pay the allocations for villages where reconciliations have not yet happened."

After a meeting with the follow-up committee for the displaced, Tohme told The Daily Star that after a dispute on Monday during the Cabinet session over the issue of the displaced, he "suggested to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora that he appeal for $200 million in donations for the displaced in the Chouf during his visit to Saudi Arabia."

"This would probably solve the issue," he added.

Concerning the village of Brih, where a dispute over a house built by a Druze family on Christian property has delayed the return of the displaced, he said that the building in question had been intended to be the communal gathering place of most Druze villages, known as the "general residence."

The minister said the government was considering purchasing another plot of land on which the general residence would be built, so that the plot in question could be returned to its Christian owners.

Tohme added that a second solution would be to buy the Christian party a piece of land in Brih to replace the old one, "so as not to build any reconciliation over rubble."

Responding to criticisms leveled at his ministry, Tohme said that "although the demand for the unification of compensations for the displaced in the Chouf and the displaced in the South and Dahiyeh is reasonable, a merger of the two cases would require the insurance of independent funds."

The government's budget, in addition to loans, was the main source of funding for the compensation allocated to the displaced in the Chouf, he said, while international donations were being spent on compensation in the South.

Several ministers and mayors in the Chouf have demanded that those forced from their land during the Civil War should also benefit from donations given to Lebanon this summer.

They say the LL30 million designated for each family displaced in the Chouf is inadequate compared to the LL80 million devoted to those displaced during the July-August war.
 


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Scuffle breaks out between students from rival political factions 
By Therese Sfeir
Daily Star staff
 
BEIRUT: Efforts to calm tensions among the country's leading politicians seem to have done little to pacify the streets, with the latest violent altercation between supporters of political groups taking place at La Sagesse University on Tuesday.

The fight, between student partisans of the Free Patriotic Movement and Progressive Socialist Party, was allegedly sparked by a statement issued Tuesday by the latter.

While the FPM said none of its members were involved in the scuffle, Zafer Nasser, the PSP official responsible for youth committees, said the FPM started it.

Nasser said the fight broke out over a PSP statement, issued in response to an FPM statement last week, which among other things accused MP Michel Aoun of having returned to Lebanon through Syrian support.

"One of Aoun's supporters attacked one of the PSP's and started to beat him," he said.

The university said it has formed a committee to look into the fight.

An FPM spokesperson told The Daily Star on Wednesday that the movement had "nothing to do with the fight."

The northern area of Chekka has witnessed its own fair share of violent disputes this month between supporters of the March 14 Forces and the FPM.

A statement issued by the March 14 Forces Tuesday condemned the "misleading statements issued by the FPM about fights that occurred over the past weeks in Chekka."

"Instead of heading to the location of the FPM's rally in Dora on Sunday, FPM and Marada partisans held celebrations in Chekka," it added. "Those acts fall within attempts to hamper the building of a democratic state and do not differ from the security attacks targeting different Lebanese areas."

However, a near-immediate response from the FPM committee in Chekka accused the March 14 Forces of "exploiting the blood of the martyrs, whom we honor and respect, in particular Bashir Gemayel."

It added that the March 14 Forces "is formed of militiamen, whose past is full of great crimes against the country."
 
 


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US envoy pledges 'strong commitment' 
By Therese Sfeir
Daily Star staff
 

US envoy pledges 'strong commitment'

BEIRUT: A newly appointed US State Department official said on Wednesday that Lebanon's efforts to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1701 and the deployment of the Lebanese Army in the South have increased the international community's support for the war-stricken country.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Robert Danin arrived in Beirut late Tuesday for a series of meetings with Lebanese officials.

"First and foremost, I am here to reiterate the strong commitment of the United States to Lebanon," Danin said Wednesday after a meeting with Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh.

"I commended the minister on Lebanon's efforts to implement Resolution 1701 and for the historic deployment of the Lebanese armed forces to the South," said Danin. "I noted that these actions have resulted in an outpouring of support from the international community, reflected in more than $900 million pledged to Lebanon's reconstruction in Stockholm."

The US official said he would be meeting with Lebanese politicians, both inside and outside the government, "to better understand the challenges facing Lebanon and how the US can best support Lebanese efforts to promote a stable, prosperous and democratic Lebanon."

His visit to Beirut will also be an opportunity to discuss with officials at the US embassy "the wide range of US-funded activities aimed to address the humanitarian and reconstruction needs that resulted from the recent hostilities," said Danin.

"I look forward to a fruitful and informative visit, which I hope will serve to strengthen even further the strong ties between Lebanon and the United States," he said.

Following a separate meeting with Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh, Danin praised the government for its reconstruction and reform efforts.

Discussions during the meeting also tackled an international donor conference to be held in Paris in January.

"The United States is looking forward to the success" of the event, Danin said.
 


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Senior Hezbollah ally: Now is the time for peace talks with Israel
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz Correspondent 
 
Senior Hezbollah ally Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri called for renewed peace talks between Israel and the Arab states on Thursday.

"Now is the time to raise the issue to returning to peace negotiations. It is possible that now is a very appropriate time for peace talks," Berri told al-Arabiya newspaper while visiting in Paris.

Berri's comments were also published Thursday morning in the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat daily.
 
This is the first time that Berri has issued public calls for peace talks with Israel.

The move is particularly surprising given his close ties with Hezbollah. Berri leads the Amal movement, which competes with Hezbollah for the support of Lebanon's Shi'ite population.

Over the past several years, Berri has cultivated an alliance with Hezbollah Secretary General Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. Their ties were strengthened during the course of the recent war in Lebanon.

Because his organization was not involved in combat against Israel and he faced no restrictions on his freedom of movement, Berri has evolved into a mediator between Hezbollah and outside parties.

He visited Saudi Arabia some two weeks ago where he met with King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz.

Berri said peace talks with Israel should be based on the Saudi peace plan initiated by King Abdullah in 2002. The plan calls for an Israeli withdrawal to June 4, 1967 lines, the creation of a Palestinian state and a solution to the refugee problem.

In exchange, all the Arab states would recognize and establish normalized relations with Israel.

According to Berri, he told King Abdullah two weeks ago that the Arab world must unite in order to hold peace talks with Israel.

Senior cabinet minister Meir Sheetrit on Wednesday also expressed his support for Israel-Arab peace talks based on the Saudi plan.
 


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