05 November 2007

Hezbollah guerrillas stage military exercises in southern Lebanon

Hundreds of unarmed Hezbollah guerrillas staged military-style exercises in southern Lebanon at the weekend which the media said on Monday were to prepare for any new war with Israel.
Hezbollah sources told AFP that the Shiite militia group staged "manoeuvres" on Saturday and Sunday along the border with Israel -- which itself conducted war games on the other side of the frontier about a week ago.

They said the fighters -- banned from carrying weapons under the terms of a UN ceasefire -- carried out the exercises away from inhabited areas while Israeli warplanes and reconnaissance drones flew above the region.

Hezbollah's exercises, which involved all military, security and logistic units, were held in remote areas patrolled by the Lebanese army and the United Nations Interim Force in southern Lebanon (UNIFIL), the sources, who did not wish to be identified, said. Both the army and UNIFIL declined comment.

But Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora denied that Hezbollah had staged military exercises.

"We received information from the army command, the Internal Security Forces and the UNIFIL command that there were no manoeuvres or unusual movements by civilian or military elements on the ground," he said.

"From what we gathered, there was a simulation on paper, indoors. What happened was just an indoors simulation which was not implemented on the ground," he told a news conference.

Siniora reiterated that "the army, backed by the internal security forces and the UN forces present to support the Lebanese army, is the one entrusted to protect Lebanon and confront Israel."

Al-Akhbar, a newspaper close to the Hezbollah-led opposition, said the exercises were the "largest scale manoeuvres in the history of Hezbollah" and added that the group's leader Hassan Nasrallah personally supervised them.

The paper said the manoeuvres were "a defensive operation in case of an all-out Israeli war on Lebanon... or an Israeli aggression on Syria" and quoted Nasrallah as saying they were ready to confront "any kind of Israeli threats."

On October 28, the Israeli army staged large-scale war games in the northern Galilee region in a bid to learn lessons from last year's 34-day war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, which followed the capture of two Israeli soldiers.

The war ended under the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 calling for the disarming of Hezbollah and the Palestinian factions.

Since then, Hezbollah guerrillas have ceased to appear with their weapons in southern Lebanon where the regular army and a boosted UN force are deployed.-(lebanon-today)

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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.