23 September 2007

Israel claim seize of North Korean nuclear material from Syria

Elite Israeli forces seized North Korean nuclear material during a raid on a secret military site in Syria before Israeli warplanes bombed it September 6, a newspaper reported Sunday.

The Sunday Times quoted well-placed sources as saying the commandos seized the material from a compound near Dayr az-Zwar in northern Syria and that tests of it in Israel showed it was of North Korean origin.

Israel had been surveying the site for months, according to Washington and Israeli sources quoted by the newspaper which gave no date for the commando raid or details about the material seized.

An unidentified senior American source quoted by The Sunday Times added that the US government sought proof of nuclear-related activities before allowing the air strike by F-151 ( right) warplanes to go ahead.

The raid by the elite Sayeret Matkal was personally directed by Ehud Barak, Israel's defense minister who once commanded the unit, the newspaper said.

It said he had been preoccupied with the site since assuming his post on June 18.

The White House insisted Friday that it was "clear-eyed" about North Korea as it stonewalled questions about an Israeli strike allegedly sparked by nuclear cooperation between Pyongyang and Syria.

If true, transfers of atomic technology from the Stalinist state would cast a dark cloud over US policy towards North Korea, which US President George W. Bush, weighed down by the unpopular war in Iraq, has hailed as a success story.

North Korea has angrily denied sharing atomic know-how with Damascus, and some news reports have suggested that Israel's target was actually tied to missile exports from the cash-strapped regime to Syria.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino flatly refused to confirm or deny media reports that Israel struck a nuclear site but sharply rejected suggestions that the incident showed Washington had been naive about Pyongyang's intentions.

Initial reports by foreign media said the Israeli target on September 6 was either the arms meant for Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon or a joint Syrian-North Korean nuclear project. Syria has denied both but announced an incursion, but Israel has refused to comment.

Israel considers Syria one of its greatest enemies and accuses Damascus of backing the militant organizations Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon . Despite the recent tensions, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert last week called for the reopening of peace talks, without conditions, between the two adversaries.

Past negotiations broke down over Syria's demand for the return of the Golan, a strategic plateau Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

Israel offered to go back to the international border, but Syria insisted on also controlling another small strip of territory — the east bank of the Sea of Galilee, which Israel captured during the 1948-49 war that accompanied its creation.

Talks also faltered over the extent of peaceful relations Syria would offer.-(STimes, AP,YL,BDC)

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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.