06 July 2007

Moussa, Assad to discuss Lebanese crisis

BEIRUT: Lebanese politicians prepared on Thursday to travel to Paris next week for a meeting aimed at rebuilding trust between feuding factions, as media reported that the head of the Arab League chief Amr Moussa will soon head to Syria. The Pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat on Thursday quoted sources close to Moussa as saying that the head of the Arab League will travel to Damascus Sunday for a two-day visit to meet with President Bashar Assad and Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa.
The paper reported that Syria will greet Moussa with "openness to hear what conclusions he made during his last visit to Lebanon and based on that the Syrian officials will take a stance."
Moussa was in Lebanon last month to hold rounds of meetings with rival factions in the country carrying with him an Arab initiative to break the impasse. But mediatory effort to end the nine-month old political deadlock was not successful.
The rival factions have agreed to send delegates to attend an ice-breaking meeting in Paris scheduled for July 14-16.
Lebanon has been struggling with political deadlock since last November, when six opposition ministers quit the Cabinet.
The meeting in Paris has been carefully presented as a "meeting not competing with the Arab initiative," French envoy Jean-Claude Cousseran said at the end of his visit to Lebanon before returning to Paris on Thursday.
The French mediating initiative is backed by the United States and Iran, as well as Arab nations, and will be attended by second-tier Lebanese politicians - two representatives from each of Lebanon's 14 political parties - in the presence of French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.
Various Lebanese politicians issued statements on Thursday praising the French initiative, with opposition forces expressing "optimism" that the Paris meeting might bear fruit.



"We believe that this meeting will help bring about better conditions and a positive atmosphere to move Lebanon forward," Hizbullah MP Mohammad Raad told reporters on Thursday after meeting with President Emile Lahoud.
"We welcome this initiative and confirm that we will definitely attend," said Raad.
At the same time, MP Walid Jumblatt, who has been one of Hizbullah's most outspoken critics vowed that the Lebanese people will be "victorious" after his faction also agreed to send delegates to the meeting.
"The Lebanese people, the army and Lebanon's economy are all paying a high cost with each passing day," he said after a meeting with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on Thursday.
"In the end we will persevere and come out victorious," Jumblatt said.
Speaker Nabih Berri met with US ambassador Jeffery Feltman on Thursday for an hour, but neither official made a statement to the press.

Fouad Makhzoumi, the head of the National Dialogue Party issued a statement warning the ruling coalition against "hindering yet another initiative" to end the political deadlock.
But MP Nabil Defreij, the delegate who will represent Future Movement leader MP Saad Hariri at the talks in the French capital, confirmed that the teams heading to Paris "intend to break the ice."

"We are heading there as an affirmation of our stance, nothing gets resolved in Lebanon without dialogue," Defreij told the Voice of Lebanon Thursday.



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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.