11 July 2007

Saniora-Zikra Tammooz

Beirut - Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Seniora appealed for Lebanese people to unite and end the political deadlock in the country on Wednesday, the eve of the first anniversary of the 33-day Lebanon war. "As we stood together to confront the aggression ... I take this opportunity to extend my hand again to all our brothers," he said in a speech to mark the anniversary of the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict which broke out on July 12, 2006.

"Let us build on what brings us together ... and return to dialogue and reconciliation," said Seniora.

Seniora stressed that unity was essential to overcome tough challenges ahead, especially post-war reconstruction and the extension of state authority over the whole of Lebanon.

He called on all Lebanese political figures to find a successor to pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud. He stressed that the presidential elections should be held on time, and that after the election there will be a national unity government as demanded by the Hezbollah-led opposition.

Some opposition figures are threatening to create a second government unless agreement is reached on a parliamentary vote to elect a successor to Lahoud.

Seniora also called for the army to be strengthened to put a "final end" to the Fatah al-Islam "criminal gang" fighting Lebanese troops in the north of the country. The fighting in northern Lebanon started on May 20 and it is still ongoing.

At least 174 people, including 86 soldiers and more than 60 Fatah al-Islam fighters, have been killed in the battles around the besieged Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared.

The 2006 Lebanon war was sparked by the capturing of two Israeli soldiers in southern Lebanon by Hezbollah guerrillas. The violence killed more than 1,200 people in Lebanon and caused massive destruction across much of the country.

Since then, Lebanon has been paralysed due to a political dispute between pro- and anti-Syrian camps, after six pro-Syrian ministers stepped down last November in protest at the government's approval of a UN tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri.

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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.