31 December 2007

30 December 2007

Year 2007 Coming To An End

This year was not a happy one at all for Lebanon, and I'm afraid to predict what the near future holds in the closet for us.

We pray for all lebanese to come to their sences and grow up beyond their greedy interests.

Happy New Year Lebanese Tag!

Call to boost small scale sector

MUSCAT — The 2007 His Majesty the Sultan’s Cup awards for the best five factories were given away yesterday with an underlying note to boost the small-scale industrial sector.

Dr Rajiha bint Abdulamir bin Ali, minister of tourism, gave away the HM’s Cup to three factories with investment of over RO3 million and two factories with investment of less than RO2 million at a grand function held at Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa.

The five HM’s Cup winners are Gulf Stone Company; Oman Chlorine; Oman Fiber Optic Co; Future Pipe Industries; and United Date Factory.

The shield of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry was awarded to Areej Vegetables Oils and Derivatives; Majan Glass Company; Al Intaj Sulphochemical Industries Co; Al Waqia Shoes; and Windows 2000.

The certificates for best achievement were given to Ali & Abdul Karim Trading Company; Sharq Sohar Steel Rolling Mills; and Al Anwar Ceramic Tiles Company.

A total of 34 participants had entered the competition for the prestigious His Majesty the Sultan’s Cup which is one of the initiatives taken by the government to encourage the industrial sector to improve the quality and quantity of their productions, providing job opportunities for job seekers and providing the required training for Omani human resources.

This year the competition was divided into two categories. The first included companies whose investment exceeded RO3 million and the second category included companies whose investment was less than RO3 million.

Maqbool bin Ali Sultan, minister of commerce and industry, and Khalil bin Abdullah Al Khonji, chairman of Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry spoke on the occasion of the prize-giving ceremony.

Two documentaries on the developments witnessed by the Omani industry and highlights on the distinguished 10 factories will be displayed. An exhibition of Omani companies and factories that have participated in this year’s competition was also organised.

The awards instituted in 1991 are given away to factories which meet the criteria set up by the technical committee of the competition and give the small, medium and large size enterprises an equal opportunity to participate.

The criteria include Omanisation, marketing, replacing imported items with local products, the size of sales at the local market, the financial performance, the value addition, the use of local materials, integration with other industries, production efficiency, the quality standards and HSE requirement.

Maqbool bin Ali Sultan, minister of commerce and industry expressed his satisfaction that all the companies did very well. “The industry as a whole this year has done well and we encourage them to do better and they have, in fact, shown a lot of interest. The private sector is playing a big part now in the industrialisation of the country and the privatisation of the industries has also helped,” noted Maqbool.

The minister said more changes will be made in the competition to make it better in the future. “We have also encouraged for the first time the smaller companies and industries by dividing the awards between the large and small companies keeping a benchmark of RO3 million,” Maqbool informed the Times of Oman.

Khalil bin Abdullah Al Khonji, chairman of Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in his comments said that as private sector, they have asked for more awards.

“Next year we hope to see the new industries, especially the small and medium industries being encouraged and getting the awards,” Khonji stated. In his speech at the ceremony, Khonji emphasised on formation of labour representative unions which helps in speedy redressal of disputes between employees and the management. “There are many companies which have helped their employees to create a labour union but some are still hesitant. The companies need not be afraid as it will help in negotiations,” Khonji added.

Khonji also said that even as industries are flourishing, care should be taken about pollution matters. “The industry should take maximum protection because we are building the tourism sector in a big way and we should be careful in selecting the right industries to prevent pollution and environmental damage,” pointed out Khonji.
-(Times of Oman)

29 December 2007

Sarkozy ends his vacation to start an official visit to Egypt



Beirut / Cairo - Nicolas Sarkozy's holiday with his new girlfriend Carla Bruni and a swarm of paparazzi ends Sunday as the French president makes his Middle Eastern diplomatic debut with an official visit to Egypt.

Having visited Pharaonic monuments in the ancient city of Luxor and spent moments of balmy isolation at a villa in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh with ex-supermodel turned singer Bruni, Sarkozy must now face the thorny politics of the region.

Sarkozy breakfasted with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Friday in Sharm. They were joined for the second half of the meeting by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and his Egyptian counterpart Ahmed Abul Gheit.

Before heading to Egypt on a private jet controversially loaned by a French tycoon, Sarkozy hailed Mubarak as someone "whose experience has made him one of the most enlightened observers in the region and on its developments," according to his spokesman.

Regional veteran Mubarak, 79, had a warm relationship with Sarkozy's predecessors Jacques Chirac and Francois Mitterand and his support for the French leader's Mediterranean Union project is essential.

The two men met twice this year already, shortly before and after Sarkozy's May election win, promising to continue their "excellent" relations. Now he will have to reassert French policy in the volatile region.

Since becoming president in May, Sarkozy has ruffled Arab feathers by showing friendship for Israel and rejecting anti-Americanism -- widely seen as a change of policy from his pro-Arab and pro-African predecessors.

Sections of the Egyptian press deride him as President George W. Bush's new poodle, replacing British ex-premier Tony Blair.

"It's important to answer this," a French diplomat said recently.

"Today, we have re-established a relation of trust with Israel, but that doesn't stop France, which now has the trust of its Western allies, speaking to Syria or Iran."

During talks with Mubarak, Sarkozy will push his proposed Mediterranean Union grouping countries of the Mediterranean rim that is to be set in motion at a Paris summit in July.

Presented as a bridge between Europe, Africa and the Middle East, the Mediterranean Union has also been seen as an alternative to Turkish membership of the European Union.

Mubarak said in August he thought it was "an excellent proposition, which needs to be studied."

In a sign of good faith, Sarkozy will also add France to the queue of nations offering Mubarak technology for his atomic energy programme, restarted in October after a 20-year freeze.

Iran, Russia and the United States have also offered Egypt nuclear cooperation, while France has already proposed its civilian nuclear know-how to Lebanon and Algeria.

The Elysee Palace said the two leaders would also exchange views on regional issues including the constitutional crisis in Lebanon, the Middle East peace process, the conflict in Sudan's Darfur and anti-terrorism.

The French president is due to return to Paris to see in the New Year on December 31, while Bush is expected in the region a few days later as part of a Middle East tour from January 8 to 18.


French mission to Lebanon is over

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said after meeting his Egyptian counterpart in Cairo that France's mission in Lebanon has been complete.

France "has completed everything it had sought to achieve regarding the Lebanese file related to the presidential election," Sarkozy said in an interview with Al Ahram newspaper.

According to reports circulating in Beirut, the French pulled back from Lebanon after the US became active again . Deputy Secretary of State David Welch showed up twice in Beirut after French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner left the Lebanese capital. President Bush also showed more interest in Lebanon when he told the parliament majority “ we support the French initiative , but if this fails you should go ahead and elect a new president based on half plus one quorum “.

PSP leader MP Walid Jumblatt criticized the French effort on Monday when he launched a veiled attack on France for seeking a settlement with Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime over Lebanon's political crisis.

"To some silly propagandists in the international community who ask for a settlement with the Syrian regime we say: The free Lebanese people would not have mercy on those who come in the name of democracy to prostrate to the Damascus tyrant," Jumblatt wrote in the PSP weekly mouthpiece, al-Anbaa.

"Regardless of changes in regional and international circumstances, Lebanon will not rest assured as long as this junta continues to rule Damascus," he added.

Picture: Sarkozy with new his new girlfriend ex-supermodel turned singer Carla Bruni

22 December 2007

Plastic Pipe Opportunities in the Middle East

The Middle East is experiencing rapid growth and there are excellent opportunities for suppliers to the construction industry in the region. There are major applications of pipe in the development of new housing, business areas and industry. Water is a critical resource for the region and plastics are being applied both in new projects and renewal of existing pipelines and sewers. Polyethylene, polypropylene and PVC are the predominant thermoplastic pipe materials in use, and there is extensive application of glass-reinforced plastic (GRP) pipe in industrial and large pipes.

AMI has organised a conference in Dubai from 2-4 June 2008 on Middle East Plastic Pipes. There will be extensive opportunities to look at the markets with papers from regional producers on polyolefin, PVC and GRP pipes. The pipe industry in Libya will be covered by local researchers.

The specific conditions of higher temperatures, wind and sand erosion put pressure on pipes – this has been studied by King Saud University, among others. Material suppliers will be talking about the developments in plastics to meet the demands for performance and ease of processing, including SABIC, Dow, Basell and Total.

Pipe producers with expertise in durability and applications in the Middle East are giving a range of papers on the latest pipe design and key application areas, including Amiantit, Misr El Hegaz, Georg Fischer, Agru Kunststoffttechnik, Subor Boru, Uponor, Farassan, Krah and ZamZam Plastic Industries. The latest in quality control and production will be described by KraussMaffei, Cincinnati Extrusion and SKZ.

Standards vary across the globe despite attempts at harmonisation. There will be an overview of the regional testing procedures as compared to international standards, and applied research in the region.

Middle East Plastic Pipes 2008 provides a unique forum for pipe producers and industry suppliers to network and examine the possibilities for the application of polymer piping solutions in the MENA region.

21 December 2007

Israel Releases Captive Tapes

Israel has released an interview with a Hizbullah operative it is holding, an official said Friday, in an apparent gesture to the Lebanesegroup to win the release of soldiers the group captured last year.
The tape of the Hizbullah prisoner was aired Thursday on the satellite channel MBC, Israel's Army Radio reported Friday.

An Israeli government spokesman, Mark Regev, confirmed that Israel had released the tape aired on MBC. But he would not say why.

The radio said the publication was apparently part of an Israeli goodwill gesture to get Hizbullah to release two Israeli soldiers it captured in July 2006 in an incident that sparked a 34-day war between the militant group and Israel.

Hizbuolah in Lebanon refused to comment and it is not known whether they are alive or dead.

Israel is thought to be holding seven Lebanese prisoners.

Talks of a new prisoner swap to bring home the two captured soldiers have not yielded any results so far.

But Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in October that there had been "positive progress" in negotiations.(AP/naharnet)

Liers

"If any question why we died, Tell them, because our fathers lied": Rudyard Kipling

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The greater the state, the more wrong and cruel its patriotism, and the greater is the sum of suffering upon which its power is founded. Leo Tolstoy

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There are bad people who would be less dangerous if they were quite devoid of goodness. Francois de La Rochefoucauld

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When rich people fight wars with one another, poor people are the ones to die. Jean Paul Sartre 1905-1980 French philosopher, writer, educator, anti-authority figure, regarded by scholars as one of the most important intellectuals of all time.

Lost Freedom in Lebanon


Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir said in his Christmas message on Friday that the Lebanese have destroyed their democratic system.
"We have destroyed our democratic system and the freedom that has been granted to us, (the freedom) that we cannot find in countries around us," Sfeir said.

"The presidency is lost and we have not been able to elect a head of state for the first time in the history of the republic, Parliament has been crippled for more than a year and the government is amputated with some (cabinet) ministers abstaining from carrying out their duties," he added.

"How did we reach this stage of power abuse and we are about to destroy the vitals of the nation," Sfeir asked.

"The nation is for all," he stressed. "Let's have mercy on it so it will have mercy on us and on our future generations."

20 December 2007

Israel Upgrading Radar System Following War with Hizbullah

Israel successfully test fired an improved Patriot missile as part of efforts to upgrade the country's radar system following last year's war against Hizbullah.
The test-firing was conducted on Tuesday in southern Israel as "part of series of improvements conducted in the missile's operational system towards a new radar system that allows a wider cover and detection ranges," the army said.

The experiment launched the missile at a target imitating an airplane flying on an operational mission.

In August, it was reported that the Israeli air force was to buy advanced Patriot PAC-3 missiles, made in the United States and capable of intercepting aircraft and long-range ballistic missiles, to upgrade the air defense system.

The Patriot PAC-3 was reportedly capable of intercepting missiles possessed by Syria, Israel's arch enemy to the north.

The missile, weighing 320 kilos (700 pounds), increases the firepower of the Patriot battery, as 16 of them fit on a launcher, compared with four PAC-2s.

Israel first deployed the Patriot system in 1991, when then Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein fired Scuds on the country during the first Gulf War.(AFP)

18 December 2007

15 December 2007

Lebanon War

Dubai's Debt Cloud

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Dubai is on a spending spree, and financial analysts are starting to wonder about the amount of debt the city-state is racking up.

Its oil production is dwindling, and its debt load is four times the average among other Persian Gulf states. Credit-rating companies are asking for more information to determine how sound the government really is.

"From published documents, it is difficult to get a picture of the complete financial situation," said Standard & Poor's analyst Farouk Soussa. "The transparency isn't good."

One of seven emirates making up the United Arab Emirates, Dubai, like other Middle East governments, has been on a deal-making binge. Companies owned or backed by the government have signed agreements or made plays for billions of dollars in assets this year, including stakes in American and European stock exchanges, a Las Vegas casino operator and, most recently, a chunk of Sony Corp. Part of Dubai's deal-making is financed by debt.

At the same time, other Dubai entities have launched expansion plans relying on public borrowing. Nakheel, a government-controlled company building a giant, palm-tree-shaped island development, placed $750 million in bonds this month to finance its plans. Government-owned Jebel Ali Free Zone recently listed 7.5 billion dirham ($2 billion) of bonds.

Demanding Dubai Data

Moody's Investors Service, Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor's Ratings Services are handing out credit ratings to many of these government-backed companies, and they are starting to ask for more disclosure from the emirate, which they assume will bail out the companies if they get into a jam.

"The rapid economic development of Dubai is certainly being accompanied by increased levels of leverage from companies that are closely associated with the government," said Tristan Cooper, a Moody's analyst in Dubai. "Without a clearer picture of the overall financial position of the central government and the broader public sector," investors could become more cautious.

The situation highlights a broader issue. Many of the world's governments and the companies they control are notoriously opaque, especially in the Middle East. But big regional investors like Qatar, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi (also part of the U.A.E.) have big hydrocarbon reserves to back up their deals. Production can be relatively easy to estimate from public figures. Dubai's reserves have been shrinking for years.

Dubai also has taken a more-complex approach to investing overseas. Most other deal-making countries have used massive investment authorities to pursue their deals. The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, for instance, bought a $7.5 billion stake in Citigroup Inc. last month. In contrast, Dubai's ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, has entrusted a cadre of lieutenants to run his own and his government's business interests. They often compete with one another and hunt for deals independently, but they all ultimately answer to Sheik Mohammed.

The government association has helped a handful of Dubai corporate entities get high credit ratings. The assumption is that Sheikh Mohammed or his government will come to the rescue in a pinch. And if Dubai gets overextended, analysts expect the emirate's much-richer cousins in Abu Dhabi will lend a hand. Abu Dhabi is the capital of the U.A.E., and its ruler is the country's president. Sheikh Mohammed is prime minister.

Moody's recently gave one of its highest corporate ratings, A1, to government-controlled DIFC Investments LLC. DIFC owns a stake in Borse Dubai, the holding company that recently agreed to acquire Nordic exchange OMX AB for some $4.9 billion. The complex deal aims to eventually give Dubai a stake of nearly 20% in Nasdaq Stock Market Inc. In a ratings note, Moody's said the rating reflects "the credit support the Government of Dubai is likely to provide in a distress situation."





This year, S&P rated Dubai Holding Commercial Operations Group LLC single-A-plus, citing "strong implicit support from the Emirate of Dubai." Sheikh Mohammed owns the entity's parent, Dubai Holding. A Dubai Holding subsidiary recently bought the Sony stake.

Mystery Investments?

The trouble with these corporate ratings is that without more disclosure, it is difficult to evaluate the financial soundness of these entities and the government backing them. As its oil supplies dwindle, Dubai has diversified its economy into financial services, tourism and real-estate development, among other pursuits. Those revenue streams and their underlying assets are difficult to pin down without access to government books.

In an emailed response to questions, a Dubai government spokesman said the emirate's debt load is "very moderate" by international standards, and the debt raised by Dubai entities "has all been in their capacity as leading international players that are successfully expanding in a number of profitable markets." He said Dubai is in the process of obtaining a rating on its sovereign, or government, debt. Such a rating gauges a government's ability to pay back its borrowing, and it is used to price publicly sold debt.

S&P credit analysts estimate Dubai's debt, relative to gross domestic product, is about 42%. Compared with the U.S., where gross debt stands at more than 60% of GDP, according to the International Monetary Fund, that isn't bad. But in Abu Dhabi, debt is equal to just 2.9% of GDP.

Analysts think Dubai's assets, including real estate, aviation and tourism interests and taxes, far outweigh its debt, but they would like to know more.

Of course, credit-rating companies have another motivation: In most cases, they are paid to rate the creditworthiness of firms and governments, and the big three firms are eager for clients like the government of Dubai.-(WSJ)

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119759841193228627.html

Last Chance

March 14 has discovered that Speaker Nabih Berri is unqualified for negotiations, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy is beginning to wonder whether he was wrong to have put faith in the Assad regime.

Friday ended with verbal warfare between Berri and Saad Hariri, and Sarkozy saying Monday is Lebanon's “last chance” to elect a president. And I think he threatened to cut off "those (who) would take the risk of killing off that chance". As if "those" care.

The day had begun with a funeral, and the news that Aoun is put in charge of “dialogue” with the parliament’s majority, which is the Assad regime’s way of plunging the country’s into vacuum. For it’s either Aoun’s folly, or Hizbullah's.

The sad thing is, all the talk of “action” by March 14 dissipated after the assassination. We are now left with useless statements and passive rejection.

If you’re wondering what the cat did with lone presidential candidate Suleiman’s tongue, join the club. We did hear him yesterday though, when he told slain Hajj’s family that there are hundreds like their son willing to fill in his shoes.

Suleiman’s improvised (and insensitive) speech is, of course, meaningless. The Lebanese army is not capable of even acknowledging the existence of the other enemy. Many like Hajj died in Nahr El Bared, and all they got from Suleiman was silence on the identity of their killers. Wasn’t it Hajj who sat there near Suleiman’s other generals covering up for the culprits?

Hajj’s assassination should have shown Suleiman the futility of pretending something didn’t exist. The big lie that he told about the Assad regime’s involvement in Nahr El Bared did not make the country safer, or bring him closer to the presidency.

Sadly, even March 14 did not see the end of the road they took. The other big lie they lived for over two years about Nabih Berri did not save the country or make it safer. For that same reason, their decision to back Suleiman was yet another exercise in delusion, and proof that, as Michael Young said, they lack imagination. Time has never been on their side, yet they let their opponents buy it all the time. Now that they’re out of it (time), I cannot but marvel at the continuation of their stupid decision to never take risks.-(bbeirut)

14 December 2007

Foreign Direct Investment: U.S. and Global Concerns

Foreign direct investment (FDI) has been an increasingly contentious issue
since congressional opposition in 2006 forced a halt to the Dubai Ports
World acquisition of several U.S. ports. More recently, new concerns have
been raised over the rising number of high-profile investments by
government-controlled sovereign wealth funds. Outside the United States,
there are some growing signs of resistance to foreign investment, sometimes
on narrow national security grounds but also on broader economic security
grounds. A number of countries are considering creating their own versions
of the U.S. CFIUS process, which could have implications for U.S.
investments abroad. Is there a danger of a broader backlash that could
significantly restrict FDI in the United States, or curb U.S. investment
abroad? What are the Bush administration strategies for trying to prevent
new restrictions on FDI and how successful are these likely to be? Join
Edward Alden as he discusses these issues and more.

Edward Alden is the Bernard L. Schwartz senior fellow at the Council on
Foreign Relations, specializing in U.S. competitiveness. His expertise
includes U.S. immigration and visa policies, U.S. trade policy, and the
impact of homeland security policy on U.S. economic competitiveness. Before
joining the Council, Mr. Alden was the Washington bureau chief for the
Financial Times, writing on U.S. economic issues, trade policy, and homeland
security. He was previously the Canadian bureau chief for the Financial
Times based in Toronto, a senior reporter with the Vancouver Sun
specializing in labor and employment issues, and was the managing editor of
the newsletter Inside US Trade, widely recognized as the leading source of
reporting on U.S. trade policies. He has won several national and
international awards for his reporting. Mr. Alden holds a Master's degree in
international relations from the University of California, Berkeley, and
pursued doctoral studies before returning to a journalism career.

12 December 2007

Lebanon's Existence is Targeted by el-Hajj's Assassination

Prime Minister Fouad Saniora said Wednesday's car bomb assassination of chief of military operations Brig. Gen. Francois el-Hajj aims at blocking the election of a new president for the nation.
"This is one of a series of crimes that targeted Lebanese institutions and leaders... and now is targeting the military and the army command in a bid to foil the presidential election," Saniora said.

El-Hajj, a key figure in the army's victory against Fatah al-Islam terrorists in a 15-week battle earlier this year, was tipped to replace army commander Gen. Michel Suleiman, who is the frontrunner to become Lebanon's next president.

He was killed a day after parliament postponed until December 17 a session to elect Suleiman, amid a tug-of-war between the ruling majority and an opposition allied with Syria and Iran.

Since 2005 Lebanon has been rocked by a series of assassinations targeting anti-Syrian figures. The ruling majority has blamed the attacks on Damascus that has rejected the accusations.

"The criminals wanted to terrorize and shake the morale of the institution (army) which has succeeded in carrying out great national missions," Saniora said, referring to the army's victory over the Fatah al-Islam militants earlier this year.
Saniora vowed that "the Lebanese people will not surrender, and the Lebanese army and security forces will not back down or be scared."

"The message was clear, and the response to it is more determination," he said. "The existence of Lebanon is targeted, but Lebanon is here to stay."-(AFP)

Car explosion kills General Hajj and 3 others

Beirut - A car bomb attack killed Brig. Gen. Francois Hajj and at least three others Wednesday, the military and state media said, putting even more pressure on the country's delicate political situation.

On Wednesday a car bomb killed him and several bodyguards. (Security sources said five people were killed and several wounded by the car bomb that exploded as Hajj’s convoy drove through Baddbda, a suburb that houses the presidential palace and several embassies



Hajj, one of Lebanon's top military generals and a top Maronite Catholic in the command, was considered a leading candidate to succeed the head of the military, Gen. Michel Suleiman, after Suleiman's is elected as the new president to replace Emile Lahoud , whose term expired on November 23.

Hajj, 55, was hailed as the hero of the military campaign against the terrorists of Fatah al-Islam in the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camp.




The slaying of Hajj and its timing amid the deadlock over the presidency raised immediate speculation over who was behind the bombing, which blasted Hajj's SUV as he drove through a busy street of Baabda district.

Anti-Syrian politicians blamed Damascus, as they have for a string of bombings over the past two years that killed eight prominent opponents of Syria. Damascus has denied any role in those killings.

Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh, speaking to Associated Press Television News, accused the "Syrian-Iranian axis" of hitting the military, "the only body in Lebanon who can balance the power of Hezbollah and other militias in the country."

But the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah, which has good relations with the army, denounced the assassination. It called Hajj's death a "great national loss" and praised the military's "great national role" in preserving security.

The main Christian opposition leader, Michel Aoun, an ally of Hezbollah, told reporters that he had supported Hajj to succeed Suleiman as army commander. Aoun, a former head of the military, praised Hajj and said it was "shameful" for political forces to take advantage of the crime, a reference to the anti-Syrian groups.

Suspicion also fell on al-Qaida-inspired Sunni Muslim militants, whom the army crushed at the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr el-Bared in northern Lebanon in an operation led by Hajj, a battle that cost hundreds of lives.






Hikmat Deeb, a leading member of Aoun's opposition Free Patriotic Movement, said Hajj ( pictured speaking ) was "a hero of Nahr el-Bared," suggesting the battle there was a factor in the assassination.

The military refrained from laying blame, saying in a statement that "the criminal hand" killed Hajj, along with "a number of soldiers, and wounded others." It said the military was investigating.

The blast went off at 7:10 a.m. (12:10 a.m. EST) on a busy street near the Baabda Municipality building as school buses and people were setting off for work. Hajj, who lives in the area, had left his home few minutes earlier, probably heading to the nearby Defense Ministry, security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity in accordance with military rules.

A BMW parked car packed with 77 pounds ( 35 Kg) of TNT exploded as his SUV passed, knocking a crater two yards wide and a yard deep into the pavement.

Two bodies were thrown about 15 yards by the force of the blast. Troops sealed off the area as firefighters tried to put out the flames in at least two cars. The road was blacked with the soot as black smoke covered the area.

The security officials said three people were confirmed dead, including the general, his driver and bodyguard. Emergency workers were searching in nearby bushes for a possible fourth body.

Saad Hariri, leader of the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority, said the attack came at a "pivotal time at which Lebanon's enemies are seeking to consecrate the vacuum in the presidency."

The failure to elect a president has embroiled Lebanon in its worst political crisis since the end of the 1975-90 civil war. The country has been without a president since Nov. 23 when Emile Lahoud left office and a deadlocked parliament failed to elect a successor.

Parliament is sharply divided between anti-Syrian supporters of the government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and the opposition, led by Hezbollah, an ally of Syria and Iran.



The two sides are locked in a dispute over how to elect the army commander, Suleiman, as compromise candidate to fill the vacant presidency. His election requires a constitutional amendment because currently a sitting army commander is barred from the post.

Lebanon has been rocked by a series of explosion since a massive truck bombing killed former Premier Rafik Hariri in central Beirut in 2005.

The last major explosion on Sept. 19 killed anti-Syrian lawmaker Antoine Ghanem on a Beirut street, an attack blamed by his supporters in the government coalition on Syria. Syria denied involvement.



French FM denounces the killing
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner denounced the killing as a "cowardly" attempt to destabilize the country.

"France condemns in the strongest terms the attack that claimed the life of a senior Lebanese army official, Francois El-Hajj, as well as several Lebanese citizens," the minister said in a statement.



"This cowardly act, committed against one of the chief figures of the Lebanese military... is part of an obvious attempt to destabilize" Lebanon.

Kouchner said the "only response" should be to "elect without delay a new president" and keep the country functioning to "ensure its security, liberty and sovereignty."

He urged the "entire international community to exercise the greatest possible influence" to help the country do so.

11 December 2007

As Dubai Heats Up, Is Israel Frozen Out?

There are many factors pointing to Dubai's emergence as a new Middle Eastern economic hub, but one particularly revealing item is the number of foreign visitors patronizing the city's hotels.
Since 2001, the number of Americans staying at this Persian Gulf port city's hotels has nearly quadrupled, while Iranian visitors have doubled and Sudanese travelers tripled. Indeed, these days the guest logs at Dubai's hotels list a panoply of nations, with one conspicuous exception: Israel, against which the United Arab Emirates government has a legally enshrined boycott.
As a result mainly of the skyrocketing price of oil, the UAE's twin metropolises of Dubai and Abu Dhabi have entered the big leagues of the world's economic capitals. A handful of analysts are beginning to ask what it might mean for Israel - the region's most vibrant economy over the past few decades - to be legally barred from what is fast becoming the Middle East's new financial hub.
Israelis have been unable to attend international conferences recently held in Dubai, and a private equity firm has been questioned for its decision to set up a new fund that will target every country in the region except Israel. At the same time, however, the UAE's growth appears to be prodding the government to open up a bit toward Israel; just this year, two delegations of Jewish organizations traveled to the UAE for the first time. Insiders say that amid all the growth, it is too soon to know what will happen with the murky relationship to Israel.
"If Dubai becomes a genuine place for capital - and Israel couldn't share in that - then there would be consequences for Israel," said Stanley Gold, who is president and CEO of Shamrock Holdings, an American private equity firm that invests in Israel.
Gold added, "This is something to keep your eye on."
Economic antipathy toward the Jewish state is nothing new. In 1948, the Arab League first declared its boycott, with member countries adopting legislation barring local companies from any direct financial dealings with Israel - or even with companies that use Israeli parts or that do business with Israel. In 1979, the United States government passed legislation barring American companies from complying with the boycott in any way. Since then, the secondary elements of the boycott have been dropped by most countries, including the UAE, and it is widely known that many Israelis work around it by using non-Israeli passports.
Just this week, an Israeli real estate magnate announced a deal with a Dubai company to build a development in Singapore.
But the ban is still in effect. Statistics collected by the U.S. Department of Commerce show that companies from the UAE led the way in asking American companies to comply with the embargo. In 2006, American companies reported receiving 486 requests to comply with the boycott from companies in the UAE. That was more than three times the number of requests received from any other Arab League country. These figures have not gone unnoticed by Israelis.
"For a country that wants to be a leader - and an international financial center - it really behooves them to put this behind them," Ron Dermer, head of Israel's economic mission in Washington, told the Forward. "You're either going to be in the 21st century or the seventh century. You've got a choice."
Now that Dubai is not simply a source of capital but also a thoroughfare for commerce in the region, the boycott could take on even greater significance. This new status was apparent when Dubai's government-owned stock exchange purchased a 20% stake in the Nasdaq - a move that is seen as a step toward developing Borse Dubai into a major international exchange.
Perhaps the clearest sign of the UAE's arrival was the decision of The Carlyle Group - one of the most prominent private equity firms - to set up an office in Dubai and an investment fund for the region. Carlyle has drawn attention in the past for its ties to the Middle East, particularly when it emerged, after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, that Osama bin Laden's family had investments in the company. More recently, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority purchased a 7.5% stake in Carlyle.
The new Middle East fund, which will raise $250 million for leveraged buyouts, has attracted scrutiny because of the announcement that it would be targeting investments in all the countries surrounding Israel - but not in Israel itself. Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he had received a number of calls about the fund and had made inquiries at Carlyle as to why the fund was not targeting Israel.
"We reached out to find out what the situation is," Foxman said. "We have not come to a conclusion."
Chris Ullman, a spokesman for Carlyle, said the fund is not investing in Israel because it is focusing on countries that are "less economically established than Israel." He said that the Middle East fund, like all other funds, will not be barred from investing in Israel. Ullman also noted that, in the past, Carlyle had made $50 million worth of investments in Israel, and that it is currently looking to set up a fund to invest in Israel.
The head of Carlyle, David Rubenstein, worked in the White House office that helped establish America's anti-boycott legislation in 1979. Stuart Eizenstat, who was Rubenstein's boss at that time in the Carter administration, told the Forward that he has had conversations with Rubenstein about Carlyle's Middle East fund and was convinced that the intention was not to isolate Israel.
"I think the fact that he is interested in creating a separate Israeli fund should mitigate any concern," Eizenstat said.
For Laura Goldman, a former Merrill Lynch investor and a financial columnist in Israel, the bigger concern is what will happen when Carlyle begins purchasing companies in the region that are legally obliged to boycott Israel.
"Are they going to be investing in hotels that attract conventions that exclude Israelis?" Goldman asked.
Ullman said that Carlyle has not made any investments yet but will not do anything that violates American anti-boycott legislation.
Much of Dubai's growth has been in the real estate, hotel and convention business. Last October, the annual meeting of the International Association for Freight Forwarders Associations was held in Dubai for the first time. The Israeli affiliate was initially told that it would be able to attend - with delegates even going so far as to book hotel rooms - but the visas never came through.
"It is sad that a political decision has damaged promising business relations, but that is life in this region," said Barry Pintow, director general of the Israeli Federation of Forwarders and Customs Clearing Agents.
Israelis are not the only ones afffected by the barriers to business. Jane Kinninmont, an editor with the Economist Intelligence Unit, said that when she travels to the UAE, she frequently hears businessmen bemoaning the fact that they can't do business in Israel. She added that while within Dubai there is little pressure to strengthen the boycott, there is a great deal of subtle pressure in the other direction from businessmen who want Israeli technology relating to water development and electricity.
"I think we've seen a clear trend over the last few years of the boycott becoming less extensive and there being more cracks in it," Kinninmont said.
One sign of this thaw came when delegations from both the ADL and the American Jewish Committee journeyed to the UAE earlier this year. Foxman said that while there don't seem to be open business deals between Arab and Israeli businessmen, he did hear that the two sides were finding creative, more covert ways to interact.
"They are making efforts to establish better contacts, and we are prodding them," Foxman said. "That's probably the best one can expect right now."
Goldman is not so sanguine. "In the long term, Dubai is going to be what Switzerland was 10 years ago," she said. "When that happens, Israel is going to be left out in the cold."-(NPopper)

08 December 2007

La. Economic Chief to Join Pipe Maker

Louisiana's outgoing head of economic development plans to go to work for an international fiberglass pipe systems company.

Michael Olivier, who leaves his post as economic development secretary with the change of administrations, will be regional president of the Americas for Future Pipe USA, part of Dubai-based Future Pipe Industries.

His hiring, effective after he leaves office, was announced Thursday by the company. Future Pipe has domestic manufacturing operations in Houston and Gulfport, Miss. and has 3,500 people employed globally.

Olivier, who has been economic development secretary since 2004 under Gov. Kathleen Blanco, had said he wanted to stay in the post under the administration of Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal, who takes office Jan. 14.

On Wednesday, Jindal instead chose Stephen Moret, who has been head of the nine-parish Baton Rouge Area Chamber of Commerce since 2004.

03 December 2007

The game is not over

Did a US-Syrian deal make Suleiman the candidate of choice? Did March 14 capitulate? Wrong questions and conclusions for two reasons:

First, this isn't about the United States, and what it can do for Lebanon. This has always been about what the Lebanese can do for themselves. Sadly, after two years of patchwork politics, it turned out the Lebanese, March 14 included, are not capable of much. Last month, those in March 14 banking or counting on American and European support in their defensive fight against Syrian aggression, realized that at the end of the day, as Kouchner repeatedly reminded them, they were on their own. The best they could get was a president elected through a majority vote, enjoying international support but ruling over something that resembles Somalia. It was Jumblatt, now grudgingly promoting the "Better Suleiman than Chaos" solution, who said Lebanese democracy cannot survive with a regime like Assad's acting with impunity. We, Lebanese, who placed hope in March 14 leaders, even as we berated them every time we felt they strayed from the right path, knew all along that the battle against the Assad regime was not a battle between equals. The coalition that was born after the Hariri assassination had the odds stacked against it from the start. This isn't Middle Earth. This is the Middle East.

Second, the real battle was never about the presidency. Note that even after March 14 accepted Suleiman as a lone candidate, the other camp is still demanding "guarantees". The real issues have always been Hizbullah's weapons, the Hariri tribunal and the latter's implications on the Assad regime. A Suleiman presidency may comfort the Assad regime, but it will not change the parliament's majority. If anything, it might reinvigorate parliament, unless March 14 is stupid enough to offer more concessions. In other words, the Assad regime has not won. Not yet.

March 14's greatest mistake was to let its opponents neutralize their weapons: the parliament's majority, and the cabinet. Both institutions were made ineffective, thanks to Nabih Berri and March 14's own mistakes. The climax was made to be the presidential election, but March 14 found itself close to a rushed and costly resolution.

It is not over yet. We have not reached the end, and the battle has not been lost. You and I may not have faith in those leading the fight. But this is Lebanon, folks. And as someone once said, your glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time you fall.

That said, it is time for some of us to stop equating "March 14" with our vision for Lebanon. Our country never had the revolution that Bush said we had, and that we believed we had. If it did happen, it only lasted a day. Suleiman cannot end what has not started. The onus is on those who on March 14th, 2005 believed they walked for independence, to generate a true revolution.
-(bbeltway)

01 December 2007

2008 Lebanon New Year Countdown Starts

You may have noticed the decrease in posts in the recent days... just hated to repeat the events over and over and over. People are just fed-up from hearing about elections being postponed once, twice, third time, fourth time, fifth time etc... Now  it is set till December 7! I thought I had to put that in perspective adding to it one year memory of the tents in down-town Beirut. Some are celebrating.... I don't know why!But it sure doesn't look smart as no one sees any achievement in that.

The army chief is now an added runner to the presidential elections.

As many prominent Lebanese politicians and leaders we are no more optimistic about the current situation in Lebanon. Many have left, some have been out since four month as they expect escalations around the clock. Luckily no recent assassination in the area which might put you at ease or even might stress the unsolved dilemma situation. These are still holding to their down-side opinion and expect the worse to come! Politics is a dirty m***f***...you cannot trust!

No one knows anymore what 14 wants or 8! Suddenly, Aoun might turn the table upside down, or even Sayyid can turn the whole area upside-down... while poor Hariri is roaming from US to France to KSA to etc... not knowing what he wants just asking for support. What kind of support is exactly needed here? for the Hariri family or the Sunnis or for Lebanon?

Well,
-If it was for the Sunnis, we would have seen a proper alliance between all Sunnis in Lebanon, as Hariri do not represent all the Sunnis in Lebanon, even if he claims to. Collecting votes with all kind of means might get you the chair, but soon you'll loose face. It is an eccentric strange fact of alliance between Hariri and GeaGea!!! the latter being a former prisoner of war, where he committed crimes and assassinations against Muslims and Christians!
Hariri was not in Lebanon at times, so he totally do not understand and feel it, as he was probably at school in France! If 14 cannot see that, all others can!

-If it was for Lebanon, the Prime Minister would have held a Lebanese stand with all Lebanese people. You cannot just support the resistance at one stage and reject it after six months! This makes the government look stupid and incredible. If you cannot run it from the inside, you can not even dream of running it from the outside... so I suggest to come back to senses and stay put in Lebanon near the locals who are suffering day and night from slumping economy to cost of living hikes. You cannot enforce peace... I think many lessons should have been learnt since 27 years of suffering.

-The third option; it is for Hariri, yes unfortunately the poor Lebanese do not care anymore, they want to hold to any thread of life just to get out of this mud... for them a new person with no history in politics, no experience at all!!!!!!! might be better than any existing personality! This can turn to be a disaster by itself. Bush, Fahed etc... can exert pressure enough.... but must be careful as the other parties have also their connections, and you might force them (if not done already) to resort too to external support from Iran, Russia, Syria etc... However, don't say that Oh! we don't want interferences and the Lebanese must solve their problems themselves!

You need skills to play the game of the Giants! otherwise you might get squashed by mistake!
Seriously now, do you think that Bush cares about Lebanon? Come on now.... do you really think that he has any kind of agenda for Lebanon... you're dreaming your brains out!

The fact of the matter is that: NO ONE CARES ABOUT LEBANON, NO ONE CARES ABOUT US!

Sorry to break it to all of you folks!

So we better start caring about each other as Lebanese, not as Sunnis, Chiite, Christians, or Druze!

Now,
It is worthy to ask oneself, what was the situation before the President elections come to surface? one year ago? Nothing..... the Lebanese people were just again occupied with protesting against each other and opposing MP's in parliaments issuing statements and freezing economy.

It's not that Orange or anything... but let's face it where were all these "balls" when the General was fighting Syrians alone in 89? Everyone was against him, just because of no-balls for saying no!
He chose freedom for Lebanon.... still no one was ready for it.
Today..... every one found their paper-balls and chose to stand against Syria... so be it, we just finished from this issue as Syria is out of Lebanon, so let's get back to life again, get over it, have a life!

We cannot drive everyone we stand against out of Lebanon; It would not be Lebanon otherwise!

If you choose to drive your neighbours out, then they will also do that....

It's civil war again!

You know it, but it seems after 27 years you forgot!!! You need to be reminded? You need to go through it again?

Get ready to pay the price again.

One Year Passed in Down Town Protests





29 November 2007

Romania pushes Saudi investment in country

Saudi investors have made total investments of $2.2 billion in Romania up to date, the country's ambassador to Saudi Arabia Ion Dobreci told the press on Wednesday in Riyadh.

Dobreci said his country is all set to boost ties in different sectors with the kingdom and other Gulf states following its entry into the EU. Romania became a member of the EU at the beginning of this year.

The ambassador highlighted the success of the recent acquisition of a 63% stake in Romania's Electroputere Craiova by the Saudi Al-Arrab Contracting Company (ACC).

ACC, part of Mada Group, an industrial and commercial investment vehicle of the wealthy Al-Rajhi family, bought the controlling stake in the Romanian manufacturer of train engines, generators and electrical transformers in June for $174 million.

Mada intends to invest $1 billion through ACC to modernise the existing facilities of Electroputere Craiova and to turn it into a profitable company by 2009.

Mada is one of the four qualified consortiums working on the $4 billion cargo railway project in Saudi Arabia, and it is also working on the $5 billion high speed passenger railway project between Mecca and Medina, the two holly Muslim cities of Saudi Arabia.

Dobreci said the move to buy a majority stake in Electroputere was significant because Saudi Arabia intends to develop its railway infrastructure and the company's engines will help in achieving this.

Doberci said that $64 million debts Electroputere carries forced it to look for investors outside of Romania like ACC to bail it out.

There are many poor-performing state-owned companies like Electroputere in Romania that have been sold to foreign investors and seen their fortunes turn around.

Five years ago an Austrian-based bank bought Casa Agricola, a struggling state-owned Romanian bank, for $45 million and invested about $250 million in its modernisation. Today analysts estimate the bank could be sold for $2.5 billion.

Dobreci also said that the Saudi Zamil Group and Amiantit are also working to invest in Romania’s steel and pipe projects. He said a major housing project of 25,000 units in Romania is being developed by a Saudi-Romanian joint venture.

The economic growth and reforms made by Romania in the last two years have been praised by the World Bank.

The World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) ranked Romania 55th out of the 178 economies in its Doing Business 2007 Index, mainly due to the significant changes Romania made to its taxation system.

The IMF, the World Bank’s sister institution, however, warned that Romania is becoming too attractive to the extent that its economy might overheat.

Foreign investors have piled into Romania, attracted by its market of 20 million, Eastern Europe’s second largest after Poland, and opportunities to establish low-cost export bases.

The privatisation of state-owned enterprises helped in attracting foreign direct investment last year that exceeded 10 billion euros, the region’s highest.

The ambassador said Saudi businessmen can benefits from a flat tax rate with greater incentives offered by Romania.

Dobreci said that Romania’s large market, cheap labour and cheap utilities, as well as economic and political stability, were good reasons why Saudis should increase their investments in the country.

According to the embassy figures, the bilateral trade between Saudi and Romania stands at about $200 million annually.-(arabianbusiness)

25 November 2007

A plan to attack Iran swiftly and from above

Massive, devastating air strikes, a full dose of "shock and awe" with hundreds of bunker-busting bombs slicing through concrete at more than a dozen nuclear sites across Iran is no longer just the idle musing of military planners and uber-hawks.

Although air strikes don't seem imminent as the U.S.-Iranian drama unfolds, planning for a bombing campaign and preparing for the geopolitical blowback has preoccupied military and political councils for months.

No one is predicting a full-blown ground war with Iran. The likeliest scenario, a blistering air war that could last as little as one night or as long as two weeks, would be designed to avoid the quagmire of invasion and regime change that now characterizes Iraq. But skepticism remains about whether any amount of bombing can substantially delay Iran's entry into the nuclear-weapons club.

Attacking Iran has gone far beyond the twilight musings of a lame-duck president. Almost all of those jockeying to succeed U.S. President George W. Bush are similarly bellicose. Both front-runners, Democrat Senator Hillary Clinton and Republican Rudy Giuliani, have said that Iran's ruling mullahs can't be allowed to go nuclear. "Iran would be very sure if I were president of the United States that I would not allow them to become nuclear," said Mr. Giuliani. Ms. Clinton is equally hard-line.

Nor does the threat come just from the United States. As hopes fade that sanctions and common sense might avert a military confrontation with Tehran - as they appear to have done with North Korea - other Western leaders are openly warning that bombing may be needed.

Unless Tehran scraps its clandestine and suspicious nuclear program and its quest for weapons-grade uranium (it already has the missiles capable of delivering an atomic warhead), the world will be "faced with an alternative that I call catastrophic: an Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran," French President Nicolas Sarkozy has warned.

Bombing Iran would be relatively easy. Its antiquated air force and Russian air-defence missiles would be easy pickings for the U.S. warplanes.

But effectively destroying Iran's widely scattered and deeply buried nuclear facilities would be far harder, although achievable, according to air-power experts. But the fallout, especially the anger sown across much of the Muslim world by another U.S.-led attack in the Middle East, would be impossible to calculate.

Israel has twice launched pre-emptive air strikes ostensibly to cripple nuclear programs. In both instances, against Iraq in 1981 and Syria two months ago, the targeted regimes howled but did nothing.

The single-strike Israeli attacks would seem like pinpricks, compared with the rain of destruction U.S. warplanes would need to kneecap Iran's far larger nuclear network.

"American air strikes on Iran would vastly exceed the scope of the 1981 Israeli attack on the Osirak nuclear centre in Iraq, and would more resemble the opening days of the 2003 air campaign against Iraq," said John Pike, director at Globalsecurity.org, a leading defence and security group.

"Using the full force of operational B-2 stealth bombers, staging from Diego Garcia or flying direct from the United States," along with warplanes from land bases in the region and carriers at sea, at least two-dozen suspected nuclear sites would be targeted, he said.

Although U.S. ground forces are stretched thin with nearly 200,000 fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the firepower of the U.S. air force and the warplanes aboard aircraft carriers could easily overwhelm Iran's defences, leaving U.S. warplanes in complete command of the skies and free to pound targets at will.

With air bases close by in neighbouring Iraq and Afghanistan, including Kandahar, and naval-carrier battle groups in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean, hundreds of U.S. warplanes serviced by scores of airborne refuellers could deliver a near constant hail of high explosives.

Fighter-bombers and radar-jammers would spearhead any attack. B-2 bombers, each capable of delivering 20 four-tonne bunker-busting bombs, along with smaller stealth bombers and streams of F-18s from the carriers could maintain an open-ended bombing campaign.

"They could keep it up until the end of time, which might be hastened by the bombing," Mr. Pike said. "They could make the rubble jump; there's plenty of stuff to bomb," he added, a reference to the now famous line from former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld that Afghanistan was a "target-poor" country.

Mr. Pike believes it could all be over in a single night. Others predict days, or even weeks, of sustained bombing.

Unidentified Pentagon planners have been cited talking of "1,500 aim points." What is clear is that a score or more known nuclear sites would be destroyed. Some, in remote deserts, would present little risk of "collateral damage," military jargon for unintended civilian causalities. Others, like laboratories at the University of Tehran, in the heart of a teeming capital city, would be hard to destroy without killing innocent Iranians.

What would likely unfold would be weeks of escalating tension, following a breakdown of diplomatic efforts.

The next crisis point may come later this month if the UN Security Council becomes deadlocked over further sanctions.

"China and Russia are more concerned about the prospect of the U.S. bombing Iran than of Iran getting a nuclear bomb," says Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Tehran remains defiant. Our enemies "must know that Iran will not give the slightest concession ... to any power," Iran's fiery President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said yesterday. For his part, Mr. Bush has pointedly refused to rule out resorting to war. Last month, another U.S. naval battle group - including the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman with 100 warplanes on board and the Canadian frigate HMCS Charlottetown as one of its screen of smaller warships - left for the Persian Gulf. At least one, and often two, carrier battle groups are always in the region.

Whether even weeks of bombing would cripple Iran's nuclear program cannot be known. Mr. Pike believes it would set back, by a decade or more, the time Tehran needs to develop a nuclear warhead. But Iran's clandestine program - international inspectors were completely clueless as to the existence of several major sites until exiles ratted out the mullahs - may be so extensive that even the longest target list will miss some.

"It's not a question of whether we can do a strike or not and whether the strike could be effective," retired Marine general Anthony Zinni told Time magazine. "It certainly would be, to some degree. But are you prepared for all that follows?"

Attacked and humiliated, Iran might be tempted, as Mr. Ahmadinejad has suggested, to strike back, although Iran has limited military options.

At least some Sunni governments in the region, not least Saudi Arabia, would be secretly delighted to see the Shia mullahs in Tehran bloodied. But the grave risk of any military action spiralling into a regional war, especially if Mr. Ahmadinejad tried to make good on his threat to attack Israel, remains.

"Arab leaders would like to see Iran taken down a notch," said Steven Cook, an analyst specializing in the Arab world at the Council on Foreign Relations, "but their citizens will see this as what they perceive to be America's ongoing war on Islam."

***

Building tension

The confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program has been simmering for more than five years. These are some of the key flashpoints.

August, 2002: Iranian exiles say that Tehran has built a vast uranium enrichment plant at Natanz and a heavy water plant at Arak without informing the United Nations.

December, 2002: The existence of the sites is confirmed by satellite photographs shown on U.S. television. The United States accuses Tehran of "across-the-board pursuit of weapons of mass destruction." Iran agrees to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

June, 2003: IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei accuses Iran of not revealing the extent of its nuclear work and urges leaders to sign up for more intrusive inspections.

October, 2003: After meeting French, German and British foreign ministers, Tehran agrees to stop producing enriched uranium and formally decides to sign the Additional Protocol, a measure that extends the IAEA's ability to detect undeclared nuclear activities. No evidence is produced to confirm the end of enrichment.

November, 2003: Mr. ElBaradei says there is "no evidence" that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. The United States disagrees.

February, 2004: An IAEA report says Iran experimented with polonium-210, which can be used to trigger the chain reaction in a nuclear bomb. Iran did not explain the experiments. Iran again agrees to suspend enrichment, but again does not do so.

March, 2004: Iran is urged to reveal its entire nuclear program to the IAEA by June 1, 2004.

September, 2004: The IAEA orders Iran to stop preparations for large-scale uranium enrichment. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell labels Iran a growing danger and calls for the UN Security Council to impose sanctions.

August, 2005: Hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is installed as Iranian President as Tehran pledges an "irreversible" resumption of enrichment.

Jan. 10, 2006: Iran removes UN seals at the Natanz enrichment plant and resumes nuclear fuel research.

February, 2006: The IAEA votes to report Iran to the UN Security Council. Iran ends snap UN nuclear inspections the next day.

July 31, 2006: The UN Security Council demands that Iran suspend its nuclear activities by Aug. 31.

Aug. 31, 2006: The UN Security Council deadline for Iran to halt its work on nuclear fuel passes. IAEA says Tehran has failed to suspend the program.

Dec. 23, 2006: The 15-member UN Security Council unanimously adopts a binding resolution that imposes some sanctions and calls on Iran to suspend its uranium-enrichment activities and to comply with its IAEA obligations.

March 24, 2007: The Security Council unanimously approves a resolution broadening UN sanctions against Iran for its continuing failure to halt uranium enrichment. Iranian officials call the new measures "unnecessary and unjustified."

April 10, 2007: Iran's Minister of Foreign Affairs says Iran will not accept any suspension of its uranium-enrichment activities and urges world powers to accept the "new reality" of the Islamic republic's nuclear program.

May 23, 2007: The IAEA says in a new report, issued to coincide with the expiration of a Security Council deadline for Tehran, that Iran continues to defy UN Security Council demands to halt uranium enrichment and has expanded such work. The report adds that the UN nuclear agency's ability to monitor nuclear activities in Iran has declined due to lack of access to sites.

Oct. 24, 2007: The United States imposes new sanctions on Iran and accuses the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps of spreading weapons of mass destruction.

Sources: BBC, Reuters, Financial Times, Radio Free Europe

***

Target: Iran

Despite continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has ample air and naval power to strike Iran. In addition to nuclear installations, other likely targets include ballistic missile sites, Revolutionary Guard bases, and naval assets.

***

Syria: Earlier this year, Israel bombed a site in Syria's Deir ez-Zor region that it suspected was part of a nascent nuclear program.

Osirak: Israel in 1981 had its aircraft bomb Iraq's nuclear reactor before it became operational.

Natanz: Believed to be Iran's primary uranium-enrichment site and a key target of any attack.

***

B1: A supersonic, intercontinental bomber, capable of penetrating deep into defended airspace and dropping more than 50-tonnes of conventional bombs on a single mission.

B2: America's biggest stealthy long-range bomber, capable of flying half-way around the globe to deliver up to 23 tonnes of bombs on multiple targets.

F-117: The original stealth fighter, almost invisible on radar, was used to drop the first bombs in both Iraq invasions.

F-18: Carrier-borne fighter-bomber capable of many roles from air combat to bombing missions.

EGBU-28: The newest of the U.S. "bunker busters," it uses a GPS guidance system and can penetrate six metres of concrete to deliver four tonnes of high explosives.-(ICH)

War Costs

The War in Iraq Costs
$471,107,546,959

Political Chaos in Lebanon

Beirut - At the stroke of midnight last night, pro-Syrian Lebanese
President Emil Lahoud, his extended term finally at an end, walked out
of the hilltop Baabda Republican Palace and waved goodbye to the
assembled photographers and journalists.


What he left behind was political chaos that threatens to engulf the country in civil war.

That’s because the majority government forces in parliament led by
Said Hariri, son of the beloved ex-prime minister Rafiq Hariri who was
murdered in 2005 and the opposition led by the terrorist group
Hezbollah have been unable to reach agreement on a consensus candidate
to replace him:


Lebanon woke up Saturday a state without a president, a government
termed “illegitimate” by the Hezbollah-led opposition and an army
guarding social order with consent of the feuding parties.

Foreign powers called for calm and speed up of efforts to elect a
new head of state, while Iran cautioned that Lebanon is “so close to
civil war.”

Former Syrian-backed President Emile Lahoud left the hilltop Baabda
Republican Palace at midnight Friday, ending a controversial term of
nine years in office after Parliament failed to elect a successor
hurling the nation into power vacuum.

“Lahoud’s term end to a republic without a president,” the daily
an-Nahar headlined its front page. “Political and security guarantees
govern the transition era,” it added in the eight-column double
headline. “Lahoud walked out,” shouted al-Moustaqbal daily, which is
affiliated with MP Saad Hariri, leader of the largest parliamentary
bloc that opposed Lahoud.

“A republic without head .. protected by organized vacuum,” outlined as-Safir in its front-page banner.

That “organized vacuum” protecting the “republic without a head” is
the Lebanese army. Just prior to his vacating office, President Lahoud
transferred the responsibility for security to the army. And while
Prime Minister Siniora has rejected this move as unconstitutional, both
sides for the time being seem content with the idea that neither
controls the troops in the streets:

lebanon celebrates - lahoud out 10.jpgAn
air of organized vacuum was evident in the streets of Beirut late
Friday evening where partisans of Hariri’s al-Moustaqbal Movement
celebrated the end of Lahoud’s term with fire crackers and chants of
“Lahoud out, out” in Tarik Jedideh district while supporters of
Hezbollah and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s AMAL movement maintained
calm in the adjacent district of Barbour.

An army captain in charge of checkpoints along the Kourniche Mazraa
thoroughfare, which separates the two neighborhoods, told reporters:

“Things are under control. Both sides know that we are here and we will not tolerate disturbances.”

Businesses and public institutions were open for normal services
Saturday as calm prevailed over Lebanon, amidst calls by the United
States, The European Union and the United Nations to maintain calm and
speed up efforts to elect a new head of state.

The only difference observed, however, was that Lahoud’s pictures
have been removed from offices of some government institutions in areas
traditionally hostile to the ex-president and the pro-Syrian
opposition.

It is just one manifestation of a highly volatile and dangerous situation. Who controls the army?

At issue is the presidency who by law is elected by a 2/3 majority
in parliament. Failing to achieve that super majority, parliament by
law can then elect the president by simple majority. However, the March
14th forces who control parliament have been reluctant to take that
latter step because the opposition has made it known that they would
view any president elected by simple majority as illegitimate. Hence,
the strenuous efforts to find a consensus candidate who would enjoy the
support of both sides.

However, as the weeks and months dragged on, it became apparent that
Hezbollah was not interested in consensus but rather chaos. They have
rejected every plan, every formula, every candidate offered by the
majority as well as those offered by respected, non partisans like the
Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir. Hezbollah will have it all or
nothing when it comes to the choice for president.

What next? More negotiations, more of the same. Eventually, most
observers believe that the March 14th forces are simply going to have
to bite the bullet and elect a president by simply majority. At that
point, Hezbollah may very well name their own president who would, in
turn, name a prime minister and cabinet.

Two governments backed by two factions - a recipe for civil war.

The future is dark and unknowable in Lebanon at the moment. The
people are on edge - hugely disappointed in their politicians who they
blame for the impasse. But perhaps their anger should be directed
toward Damascus where President Assad sits, spinning his webs of
intriuge and confusion, all designed to maximize Syrian influence in
that tiny, divided nation.

24 November 2007

Lahoud Packs

Emile Lahoud packed the sack and evacuated the hilltop Baabda Republican Palace at midnight Friday, leaving behind a record of two Syrian-sponsored constitutional amendments that placed him in office … and kept him there for nine years.

A cheerful crowd took to the streets of Beirut's Tarik Jedideh district to celebrate the end of Lahoud's term in office chanting "Lahoud out."

Lahoud, 71, also has a long list of leftovers: Four military aides behind bars, 12 unsettled political crimes, a split nation struggling to avoid renewed civil strife and a vacant presidential office waiting for the election of a new head of state who can patch up a people that cannot agree even on one answer to a simple question: Who is the enemy?

In 1998, Syrian President Hafez Assad sponsored a constitutional amendment that allowed Army Commander Lahoud to run for Lebanon's top post.

The Syrian-controlled parliament responded, not only by adopting the Assad-inspired constitutional amendment, but also by unanimously electing his chosen candidate to Lebanon's top post.

Blessed by "the father", Lahoud enjoyed another constitutional amendment inspired by the late Syrian President's son-heir Bashar Assad in 2004 that kept him in office for three years more.

Shortly after Lahoud received the second Assad Blessing, Communications Minister Marwan Hamadeh survived a car-bomb attack on Oct. 1, 2004 and the list of serial killings rolled:

Ex-Premier Rafik Hariri, Minister of Economy Basel Fleihan, columnist Samir Qassir, former leader of the Communist Party George Hawi, TV journalist May Chidiac, Defense Minister Elias Murr, MP Jibran Tueni, Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, MP Walid Eido and MP Antoine Ghanem.

The Assassination of ex-MP Elias Hobeika in 2002 also remains a mystery.

No coincidence, all the victims were prominent opponents Lahoud, or both Lahoud and Syria's dominance over Lebanon.

"We want vengeance from Lahoud and Bashar," the angry crowds chanted in the mass Hariri Funeral in February 2005. Syrian troops rolled out of Lebanon two months later, leaving Lahoud guarded by Hizbullah … to the last minute of his term.

Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah has labeled Lahoud "Zalami", colloquial for man, and Hizullah-sponsored billboards in the suburbs of south Beirut describe him as "God's Grace."

The head of Hizbullah's parliamentary Bloc, Mohammed Raad, visited Lahoud on Thursday and declared in advance that whatever decision taken by the president before his term runs out would be "legitimate," thus approving, in advance, any procedure that the Syrian-backed head of state might adopt to guard against possible attempts by the March 14 majority alliance to elect a head of state who is not controlled by either Assad or Nasrallah.

Lahoud evacuates the Baabda Palace while his four generals-aides remain jailed for alleged links to the Hariri murder.

Former directors of the General security and Internal Security Force, Jamil al-Sayyed and Ali Hajj, as well as former commander of the Republican Guards Brig. Gen. Mustafa Hamdan and former Director of Military Intelligence Brig. Gen. Raymond Azar have been described by Nasrallah as "political prisoners" who should be set free.

"You come from the people's agony" goes a song by which Lebanon's famous composer-entertainer Milhem Barakat greeted Lahoud's election nine years ago.

Disappointed by Lahoud's performance, Barakat later apologized to the nation for the song.

Nine years later, Lahoud evacuates the Baabda Palace leaving a people in agony after predicting risks of an emergency state that does not exist.-(naharnet)

23 November 2007

Scenarios for Lebanon as president leaves office

Beirut - Dr. Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces has declared that if a president is not elected by midnight then article 74 of the constitution stipulates that the parliament should immediately meet .

Similarly Deputy Parlaiment Speaker Farid Makari told the parliament that since the new president will not be elected before Lahoud 's term expires then the parliament members have an open invitation to come to the parliament and should meet after midnight . "The parliament no longer needs to wait for Berri to call for a session. Each and every member should assume his/her responsibility in protecting the Lebanese constitution.

Lebanon steps into the political unknown on Friday when pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud leaves office at midnight as the presidential spokesman has said earlier confirmed with no agreement among divided leaders on who will replace him.

French-led mediation effort led by their Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner failed to reach a deal between pro- and anti-Syrian leaders on Lahoud's successor.

Parliament was due to convene on Friday to elect the new head of state but the opposition boycotted the session, denying the 128-seat chamber a two-thirds quorum. The vote has been postponed for the fifth time and the new date is set for November 30.

Here are some scenarios on how the political crisis could unfold.


Rivals continue to seek consensus president

The Hezbollah-led opposition and the Western-backed governing coalition choose to contain the crisis by holding more talks aimed at agreeing on a new president. This would leave the post of president vacant until a deal. The opposition would hold off taking any action while the rivals seek a president acceptable to both sides.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a leading opposition figure, called for a new session on November 30, showing not all bridges had been burnt between both camps. Discussion would likely focus on new names for the presidency, which is reserved for a Maronite Christian according to Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing system.

The governing coalition says Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's cabinet should assume presidential powers in the absence of a new head of state. That view is supported by Western and Arab states. But the opposition has disputed the legitimacy of the Siniora government since all of its Shi'ite Muslim ministers quit a year ago. The opposition rejects Siniora's right to assume Lahoud's powers. Government will remain paralyzed.

Maronite leaders will protest against leaving the post vacant, arguing that it undermines Lebanon's Christians.

Governing coalition moves to elect president unilaterally

Some members of the governing coalition say the majority has the right to elect a new president without two-thirds of the legislators in attendance. On this basis, the governing coalition could call its politicians to gather to elect a president. The coalition has an absolute majority of three.

The election would have to be convened outside parliament because only Berri has the authority to call sessions in the chamber. The opposition has said such a move would be tantamount to a coup. It would respond, but has yet to declare what it would do. Opposition sources say such a move could lead to large-scale confrontations on the streets.

Lahoud takes action before leaving office

Lahoud, who also disputes Siniora's legitimacy, has said he will take action before leaving office unless there is a deal. He has yet to say what he would do. He may entrust some responsibilities to the army in a symbolic gesture designed to avoid escalation.

Alternatively, he previously floated the idea of appointing army chief General Michel Suleiman to head a new cabinet. The governing coalition has said such a move would be unconstitutional. Such a move would deepen the crisis. Lebanon would have one administration recognized by the West and another backed by Syria and Iran, mirroring the landscape of Palestinian politics.

According to analysts, Lahoud will abide by what Syria tells him to do ...he is Bashar el Assad's man after all ...If Syria intends to continue to destabilize Lebanon, then he could be told to take an action that could aggravate the situation, otherwise he could be told to leave peacefully.

Prospects of violence

The rival sides have accused each other of arming and training followers and the United Nations has expressed concern that they have been preparing themselves in case of a constitutional vacuum. Many Lebanese fear a further escalation in the tension would quickly spill into the streets. The army has warned against violence and deployed to guarantee security.-(yalibnan)

20 November 2007

Lebanese parliament likely to delay vote

BEIRUT, Lebanon—Lebanon's parliament appeared likely Tuesday to postpone a key session to elect a president until later this week because the deeply divided factions have failed to find a compromise candidate.

Meanwhile, army and police reinforcements were sent to Beirut, fearing a volatile power vacuum.

Arab League chief Amr Moussa, in Lebanon to mediate between the rival parties, was downbeat, saying talk of postponement of the session "so far is true."

"It is not right to despair," Moussa said after meeting with President Emile Lahoud, whose term ends Friday night. "There is still hope, although there are still difficulties."

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri's office denied a decision had been made to postpone the session. "This is not true. ... If there is a change, it will be announced."

The new security measures came as Moussa and France's foreign minister continued their mediation, meeting separately with leaders of the U.S.-backed government and Syrian- and Iranian-supported opposition.

The two sides have been deadlocked for weeks over choosing Lahoud's successor.

They seem entrenched in their positions, despite guarded optimism in recent days that a consensus candidate could be chosen. Several politicians and newspapers also predicted the session would be postponed until Friday.

Failure to elect a successor to Lahoud could worsen Lebanon's year-old political crisis and bring about a power vacuum. This could lead to the formation of two rival administrations and increase the risk of street violence.

The uncertainty has worried the Lebanese, with many reportedly stocking up on food and putting daily life on hold to await the outcome of the mediation.

Education Minister Khaled Kabbani, who was mulling whether to suspend schools and universities as a precaution, said they would open as usual Wednesday. But he summed up the mood of the country.

"The Lebanese are confused about what's happening," he told Voice of Lebanon radio. "What should we tell them if there is no presidential election?"

In Beirut, random police and army checkpoints were set up Monday night, with troops searching cars and inspecting travelers' documents on major intersections and the suburbs.

About half of Lebanon's 4 million people live in the greater Beirut area.

Security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with standing government regulations, said the military and police were put on alert and leaves were canceled.

A total of 20,000 members of the security forces were covered by the security measures, 6,000 of them in Beirut itself, the official said.

Also, security at government buildings was reinforced and troops were also to be sent to Central Bank offices and other institutions.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he hoped Lebanon will overcome the political deadlock. He spoke after talks Tuesday in the Russian capital with visiting Saad Hariri, head of Lebanon's parliamentary majority.

In New York on Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern, saying he is "more cautiously optimistic" than when he visited Beirut last week.

If there is no election, Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's government would take executive powers under the constitution.

But Lahoud has said he would not hand over executive powers to the Cabinet, because he does not recognize the Saniora's government after the resignation last year of all five Shiite Cabinet ministers.

The militant Hezbollah opposition has called on Lahoud to take unspecified measures to prevent Saniora from taking power.

Possible scenarios reported in the media include Lahoud handing over power to the military chiefs or even declaring a state of emergency.

The army commander, Gen. Michel Suleiman, echoed the sense of urgency as he spoke to the troops ahead of Lebanon's Independence Day on Thursday and called on them to ignore the politics and "and listen to the call of duty."

"Any breach of security is national treason, and every weapon turned on the (Lebanese) ... is a treacherous one," he said. "The nation is at stake and you are its defenders. Do not be lenient and do not be inactive."-(elpasotimes)

Recent Amiantit orders from Kingdom, Spain and Poland top €34.5m

With a network of 33 manufacturing facilities strategically spread around the world, the Amiantit Group is reaping rich rewards from the ever increasing global demand for pipe systems for both municipal and industrial infrastructure projects, with recent orders from three countries alone adding up to more than €34.5m.

The two biggest orders are for projects in Saudi Arabia exceeding €18m. Both projects are using GRP pipes for seawater cooling systems produced by AFIL which is the largest fibreglass pipes and tanks manufacturer in the Middle East. The largest project has been awarded to Amiantit Fiberglass Industries Limited (AFIL) by Al Marafiq project in Jubail with a price tag of €11m. The second largest, valued at €7.4m, has been also awarded to (AFIL) for GRP (Glass Reinforced Plastic) pipes and fittings for the seawater cooling system at Desalination Plant located at Ras Al Zawr, north of Jubail.

The third contract award has gone to Amiantit Polyolefin Piping Systems Company (APPSCo) and is for High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) pipes for Al-Jazea Establisment projects in Jizan and Qassim. Worth €5.6m the order is the biggest in the history of APPSCo.

"Globalization is resulting in increased prosperity in regions as far apart as Asia and Latin America, while the huge spike in the price of oil is fuelling a new boom in the producing countries," said Eng, Fareed Al-Khalawi, President & CEO of the Amiantit Group.

"Everywhere, nations have money to spend and are investing it in massive municipal and industrial development projects that invariably call for pipe systems for applications ranging from domestic drinking water supply and sewage disposal to industrial seawater cooling systems and agricultural irrigation. Amiantit's global expansion in recent years was to enable the Group's manufacturing facilities and sales offices to win orders on the basis of their local presence and we are now seeing the highly successful results of our strategic forward planning."

Amiantit Group manufacturing facilities in Spain and Turkey are doing especially well, and while figures for the biggest Turkish orders cannot be revealed due to contract confidentiality clauses, Amitech Spain has announced three recent contract awards totalling €8 million. The two biggest of these are for GRP pipes for irrigation projects in Leon and Catalunya and both orders were won on the basis of the project owners' satisfaction with previous contracts fulfilled by Amitech Spain. The third order is for GRP pipes for a brine sewer line that crosses the Llobregat River, which crosses the Barcelona metropolitan area.

Amitech Poland Is another of the Amiantit Group's GRP manufacturing facilities that is benefitting from municipal investment in public services and has recently commenced deliveries of GRP pipes for the extension of a new wastewater treatment plant in Gdansk. The total value of the order is €2.5mn.-(ameinfo)

19 November 2007

Elections in Lebanon vs. World Intervention



Amiantit orders from three countries top €34.5M

DAMMAM, -- With a network of 33 manufacturing facilities strategically spread around the world, the Amiantit Group is reaping rich rewards from the ever increasing global demand for pipe systems for both municipal and industrial infrastructure projects, with recent orders from three countries alone adding up to more than €34.5 million.

The two biggest orders are for projects in Saudi Arabia exceeding €18 million. Both projects are using GRP pipes for seawater cooling systems produced by AFIL which is the largest fiberglass pipes and tanks manufacturer in the Middle East. The largest project has been awarded to Amiantit Fiberglass Industries Limited (AFIL) by Al Marafiq project in Jubail with a price tag of €11 million. The second largest, valued at €7.4 million, has been also awarded to (AFIL) for GRP (Glass Reinforced Plastic) pipes and fittings for the seawater cooling system at Desalination Plant located at Ras Al Zawr, north of Jubail.

The third contract award has gone to Amiantit Polyolefin Piping Systems Company (APPSCo) and is for High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) pipes for Al-Jazea Establishment projects in Jizan and Qassim. Worth €5.6 million the order is the biggest in the history of APPSCo.

"Globalization is resulting in increased prosperity in regions as far apart as Asia and Latin America, while the huge spike in the price of oil is fuelling a new boom in the producing countries," said Eng, Fareed Al-Khalawi, President & CEO of the Amiantit Group. "Everywhere, nations have money to spend and are investing it in massive municipal and industrial development projects that invariably call for pipe systems for applications ranging from domestic drinking water supply and sewage disposal to industrial seawater cooling systems and agricultural irrigation. Amiantit's global expansion in recent years was to enable the Group's manufacturing facilities and sales offices to win orders on the basis of their local presence and we are now seeing the highly successful results of our strategic forward planning."

Amiantit Group manufacturing facilities in Spain and Turkey are doing especially well, and while figures for the biggest Turkish orders cannot be revealed due to contract confidentiality clauses, Amitech Spain has announced three recent contract awards totalling €8 million. The two biggest of these are for GRP pipes for irrigation projects in Leon and Catalunya and both orders were won on the basis of the project owners' satisfaction with previous contracts fulfilled by Amitech Spain. The third order is for GRP pipes for a brine sewer line that crosses the Llobregat River, which crosses the Barcelona metropolitan area.

Amitech Poland Is another of the Amiantit Group's GRP manufacturing facilities that is benefiting from municipal investment in public services and has recently commenced deliveries of GRP pipes for the extension of a new wastewater treatment plant in Gdansk. The total value of the order is €2.5 million.-(waterworld)

Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.