28 July 2007

Lebanese army in final phase of fighting against militants

Beirut - The Lebanese army are in their final stage of fighting to defeat Islamist militants holed up in a Palestinian refugee camp in north Lebanon, an army source said Saturday. "We are now in our final stage of the fighting ... but this will require fierce fighting," a Lebanese army source said.

"They (militants) have refused to surrender ... so we have no choice, but to fight them and make them surrender," he said.

Hospital sources in northern Lebanon said that one Lebanese soldier was killed in the fighting Saturday, while two bodies were brought in to the morgue as a result of the fighting Friday.

According to Lebanese security sources, the Lebanese army stormed a tiny enclave held by Fatah al-Islam in the northern sector of the Nahr al-Bared camp Saturday, killing at least eight militants.

The state-run NNA said eight militants were killed in a sudden attack carried out by commando units of the Lebanese army against the Amqa sector, inside the ruined camp.

Lebanese army troops are now deep inside the camp fighting at close qaurters the al-Qaeda inspired militants of Fatah al-Islam, according to the security sources.

So far the army has lost some 121 soldiers since the battles started on May 20 in what was described as Lebanon's worst internal violence since the 1975-1990 civil war, erupted on May 20.

Unconfirmed Palestinian sources said that some 85 Fatah al-Islam fighters and 41 civilians have also been killed since the fighting broke out.

The army said in a statement Saturday it was doing everything possible to allow scores of civilians to leave the camp, but that militants were stopping their families from leaving.

"The army's leadership ... reiterates its call on the gunmen to allow their family members esepcially the women and children to leave and holds them responsible for what might happen to them if they refuse," it said.

Palestinian sources said the families of Fatah al-Islam, are estimated to be 20 women and 45 children.

Most of the camp's 40,000 residents, have been evacuated and are now living in schools in the nearby Bedawi camp and some 11 camps scattered across Lebanon.

Fatah al-Islam, surfaced in Lebanon last year. It has Lebanese, Palestinians and other Arabs in its ranks, including some who have fought in Iraq. It says it supports al Qaeda's ideas, but has no direct links with it.-(earthtimes)

France warns of violence if Lebanese crisis unsolved

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner warned on Saturday of the danger of violence if the eight-month standoff between Lebanon's political parties is not solved through negotiations.

"The Lebanon dialogue can continue, and I think today has seen some progress," he told reporters after meeting the pro-Syrian opposition speaker of parliament, Nabih Berri.

"But that does not mean everything has been settled. Far from it," Kouchner added. "If the Lebanese do not resume this necessary dialogue, unfortunately there will be more war."
"There are clans, struggles, sorts of poker games over power... but this is a deadly game in Lebanon," he said.

Kouchner met civil representatives before meeting Berri, a member of the Shiite-led opposition, and then lunched with Western-backed Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

He later met separately with rival Christian leaders Michel Aoun, a key member of the opposition and declared presidential candidate, and Samir Geagea who supports the government.

Rounding off his consultations, Kouchner also held talks with Hezbollah's former minister Mohammed Fneish and foreign relations chief Nawaf Mussawi.
"I know that deep down, everyone in Lebanon wants reconciliation... maybe not the politicians, maybe not those who seize power and want to keep it... but civil society has had enough of war," Kouchner said.
The resignation last November of six pro-Syrian ministers, five of them Shiite, sparked the current political standoff, the country's worst since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.
Hezbollah, the Shiite group backed by Syria and Iran, is pushing for the opposition to be better represented in government in order to give it veto power.
But the majority insists this can only happen if Hezbollah agrees to stop blocking parliamentary sessions in order to ensure the quorum needed for the presidential elections to replace pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud by a November 25 deadline.
If the parties fail to resolve their differences in the coming weeks that could spark a dangerous power vacuum or even the creation of two rival governments that would plunge the country into further chaos.
France has taken the lead in trying to resolve the crisis, gathering all the parties for a conference near Paris earlier this month and sending a top envoy to the region for consultations with all the key players.
Kouchner was due to meet later Saturday with the participants of the Saint-Cloud conference.
The talks near the French capital did not yield much in the way of results, but Kouchner stressed on Saturday that the process was ongoing.
"This is not a moment of despair, nor is it a moment of joy," he said. "We will continue, I am available, France is available."
But he also said that any solution had to come from within the country itself.
"We won't find a solution from outside... there are countries that weigh more than others on Lebanese decisions, but the only way to get away from these exterior positions and pressures is to have unity and reconciliation among the Lebanese," Kouchner said.
He is due in Egypt on Sunday to meet the foreign ministers of Egypt and Saudi Arabia and the Arab League secretary general to brief them on his Beirut mission. — AFP
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner warned on Saturday of the danger of violence if the eight-month standoff between Lebanon's political parties is not solved through negotiations.
"The Lebanon dialogue can continue, and I think today has seen some progress," he told reporters after meeting the pro-Syrian opposition speaker of parliament, Nabih Berri.
"But that does not mean everything has been settled. Far from it," Kouchner added. "If the Lebanese do not resume this necessary dialogue, unfortunately there will be more war."
"There are clans, struggles, sorts of poker games over power... but this is a deadly game in Lebanon," he said.

Kouchner met civil representatives before meeting Berri, a member of the Shiite-led opposition, and then lunched with Western-backed Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
He later met separately with rival Christian leaders Michel Aoun, a key member of the opposition and declared presidential candidate, and Samir Geagea who supports the government.
Rounding off his consultations, Kouchner also held talks with Hezbollah's former minister Mohammed Fneish and foreign relations chief Nawaf Mussawi.
"I know that deep down, everyone in Lebanon wants reconciliation... maybe not the politicians, maybe not those who seize power and want to keep it... but civil society has had enough of war," Kouchner said.

The resignation last November of six pro-Syrian ministers, five of them Shiite, sparked the current political standoff, the country's worst since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.

Hezbollah, the Shiite group backed by Syria and Iran, is pushing for the opposition to be better represented in government in order to give it veto power.
But the majority insists this can only happen if Hezbollah agrees to stop blocking parliamentary sessions in order to ensure the quorum needed for the presidential elections to replace pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud by a November 25 deadline.
If the parties fail to resolve their differences in the coming weeks that could spark a dangerous power vacuum or even the creation of two rival governments that would plunge the country into further chaos.
France has taken the lead in trying to resolve the crisis, gathering all the parties for a conference near Paris earlier this month and sending a top envoy to the region for consultations with all the key players.

Kouchner was due to meet later Saturday with the participants of the Saint-Cloud conference.

The talks near the French capital did not yield much in the way of results, but Kouchner stressed on Saturday that the process was ongoing.
"This is not a moment of despair, nor is it a moment of joy," he said. "We will continue, I am available, France is available."
But he also said that any solution had to come from within the country itself.
"We won't find a solution from outside... there are countries that weigh more than others on Lebanese decisions, but the only way to get away from these exterior positions and pressures is to have unity and reconciliation among the Lebanese," Kouchner said.
He is due in Egypt on Sunday to meet the foreign ministers of Egypt and Saudi Arabia and the Arab League secretary general to brief them on his Beirut mission.-todayonline/AFP

27 July 2007

Sipping Rosé in the Pool - Summer of 2007

There's a beach resort down in Jiyeh that serves Wine IN the Pool - in glass cups nonetheless!

The burger goes for 15 dollars; add a slice of cheese for another 2 dollars. (and it tastes like crap)

The service is lousy... they stole my shirt... then found it two days later... then claimed that it had disappeared once again (it was a fink ployd shirt!!).

And best of all, their dingy (which takes you to and from your yacht) is a health hazard - the driver/captain/whatever gave my friend the end of a naked electric wire (connected to a car battery submerged in a foot of water) to hold up high whilst we made our way to the shore!

Best of all, their motto is: "Luxury Redefined" (bloggingbeirut)



21 July 2007

The Inevitable: Cousseran Hits the Syrian Brick Wall

This report in al-Balad (page 2) about Cousseran's visit to Syria dovetails very well with the Naharnet report the other day, which a reliable French source with contacts in the Elysee informed me is true. It restates what I have said numerous times on this blog: for the international community, Lebanon is the litmus test for Syria; nothing else.

Al-Balad writes:

"Very knowledgeable western diplomatic sources in Beirut said: "the Syrian leadership told the French delegate Jean-Claude Cousseran: 'we hope that France would deal with Syria separately from its relations with Lebanon.' Cousseran answered: 'there will be no normal relations between France and Syria separate from solving the Lebanese crisis and [Syria's] attitude towards Lebanon.'

The paper adds: widely knowledgeable sources indicate that Cousseran came out after meeting the Syrians with the impression that the Syrian position is negative, and that the talk about Lebanon being the way forward for Syria's relationship with France did not reach Syrian ears. The sources added that the talk of French officials downplaying the importance of Cousseran's visit reflects Kouchner's disappointment. The sources emphasized that "Syria and Iran are playing the game of buying time while holding on to rigid positions."

Facing this negative impression, the French Foreign Ministry, on the eve of Kouchner's visit to Beirut, is leaning to declare a position that would put Syria before its responsibilities. The Syrian reaction to that anticipated position will determine, according to the sources, the results and outlook of Kouchner's visit amidst French fears that Syria is not at all willing to change its policy in Lebanon. This comes amidst increased talk about the American position which holds that Syria's performance will not change in Lebanon and the region. And amidst the French attempts at testing the Syrian position, Washington is moving strongly to form the international tribunal which will be met by strong French support."


First, the last graph seems to bolster Michael Young's recent argument:

"What can Kouchner do to avoid being hoodwinked? Playing on Syrian and Iranian differences won't work. The two countries have perfected a good cop-bad cop routine. But France can perhaps position itself in such a way where it has the final word among the Europe countries on Syrian and Iranian intentions in Lebanon. In other words, it can agree to stand or fall by its efforts to determine the seriousness of Damascus and Tehran when it comes to finding a solution acceptable to all the Lebanese parties; with clear recognition in Brussels, particularly from the European Union's chief foreign policy official, Javier Solana, that France's judgment will be authoritative. For this to work, Kouchner should set benchmarks for success and a specific timeframe to try achieving a more detailed common agreement over principles. If nothing gives, then he should publicly declare who prevented a resolution to the crisis.
...
Lebanon is heading for a perilous vacuum on the presidency, and Kouchner and the EU should not fear blaming the guilty for this and going back to the Security Council, evidence in hand."

Second, the al-Balad story pretty much confirms the Naharnet report, especially the parts about the coordination between Syria and Iran, which Ahmadinejad's visit to Damascus was designed to bolster more publicly (and these very public visits serve, and have served in the past, the purpose -- among several others -- of dispelling any notion of a potential break in the alliance. For more on the history of this, read Goodarzi's Syria and Iran as well as Hinnebusch and Ehteshami's Syria and Iran: Middle Powers in a Penetrated Regional System).

It doesn't take a genius to realize that Syria's and Iran's strategic interests in Lebanon converge over Hezbollah and its role, and therefore against the UNSC resolutions and the Lebanese government that adopts them. Michael Young put it well: "there are no signs that the two countries have anything but common objectives today: to defend Hizbullah and its weapons; to put the international community on the defensive by eroding UN Security Council resolutions, particularly Resolutions 1559 and 1701; and to guarantee that the next Lebanese president is someone they can trust and who will help them achieve the first two objectives."

As such, this part from the Naharnet report hardly comes as a surprise: "The sources said the Iranian leadership has expressed solidarity with the Syrian regime regarding rejecting the formation of any Lebanon government that opposes Syria."

It was also rather clear from recent statements by Hezbollah officials (esp. Muhammad Fneish) to French and French-language Lebanese outlets, that Hezbollah is intent on torpedoing the tribunal by asking for the revoking of all decisions taken by the Seniora cabinet after the resignation of the Shiite ministers.

And in a statement that confirms the quote above from Naharnet, Fneish ominously said: "It is evident that if Damascus considers that the Lebanese political system allied with its enemies constitutes a danger to its security and interests, it will not sit by without reacting."

Aside from confirming Syria's responsibility for the terrorism in Lebanon, Fneish also confirmed that in order for Syria not to view the Lebanese political system as "allied with its enemies" (see Mashnouq's remarks in my post below), then the current government, its decisions ("allied with its enemies") and the resolutions it adopted, most prominently the tribunal, have to be eliminated. In other words, as the Naharnet report put it, "the Iranian leadership has expressed solidarity with the Syrian regime regarding rejecting the formation of any Lebanon government that opposes Syria." The whole idiotic (and diplomatically dangerous) notion of "prying Syria away from Iran" has to be put to rest.

However, this part from the Naharnet report was the most ominous: "Cousseran said Iran neither desires a political vacuum in Lebanon nor the crisis to continue, but at the same time Tehran would not consider the two issues as redline."

This may be a carefully formulated position, designed as a very dangerous bluff. Let me explain:

We had all heard in recent weeks how the Syrians were pushing Lahoud to form a second parallel government to split the country politically and administratively, but also to prevent parliament from electing a president and to prevent Seniora's government from assuming all executive powers in case of a presidential vacuum. That idea is now dead, as it was always destined to be, signaling once again Syria's utter political bankruptcy in Lebanon.

It was dead because none of the serious political players (Aoun, Berri, and reportedly Nasrallah), who have an independent base of their own and are not totally reliant on Bashar (like Wahhab, Arslan, and the counter-elite that Bashar cultivated since assuming control over Lebanon in 1998) have all rejected it. In fact, even Sunni figures like Salim Hoss and Najib Miqati (people Syria may have banked would lead this government) rejected it outright. Hell, even Sunni pitbulls like the Islamist Fathi Yakan rejected it (especially after the Fateh al-Islam plot he supported in the north, and which may have been a crucial, Sunni, preamble, was totally decimated).

The US blacklist also played a role in putting it to rest. One Sunni figure who may have contemplated leading such a government, Fouad Makhzoumi, had to think twice given his financial interests in the US (the same applied to Berri).

But it was the Iranian ambassador to Paris (wink, wink) who officially buried the idea when he declared that Iran was against it.

If so, then what does that quote above mean that Tehran doesn't consider the vacuum and the continuation of the crisis as a redline? One analyst told me Iran "will escalate until the last minute, and then brake hard." This was perhaps echoed by Walid Jumblat who recently said that while the Iranians don't give a damn about Lebanon, they do still care for Nasrallah's image, and a Sunni-Shiite conflict in Lebanon would kill it, assuming anything of it still remains. For a second, parallel government to see the light, it would need Hezbollah's muscle, turning it effectively into a Shiite-government. It's little surprise Berri was opposed to it (and this is perhaps one reason he may have been summoned to Damascus for some harsh words).

But is that enough? It seems unlikely that Hezbollah, let alone the murderous madmen in Syria, will simply sit tight and let the Seniora government assume all executive powers in the case of a presidential vacuum, or, worse still, allow the election of a president by the current parliamentary majority.

This is why we're hearing about multiple new potential scenarios, all of them ridiculous and dead-ends (which is not to say that a desperate and bankrupt Syria won't push for anyway). One has it that Lahoud will form a "transitional government" that would dissolve parliament and call for early parliamentary elections (with the hope that March 14 would lose its majority). There was even talk of Lahoud delegating all powers to an emergency military cabinet. Then there's Hezbollah's supposed proposal (via Michel Murr apparently) to have a transitional, two-year president (allegedly Michel Suleiman) after which new parliamentary elections would be held, and then a new president would ostensibly be elected.

This pathetic option was shot down not just by all the Christian forces, but even by Aoun himself, who is loath to seeing Suleiman come to office.

There are other concoctions (by Berri of course) of engineering a supposed "centrist" bloc in parliament, which effectively would be a pro-March 8 bloc made up of March 8 MPs and would-be defectors from March 14, to elect a "centrist" consensual president (which would actually mean a pro-March 8 president).

All of this is maneuvering in the bottleneck. Nevertheless, the danger of a presidential vacuum is real, and unless Hezbollah and Aoun agree to meet March 14 half way and agree to a consensual candidate to the presidency in return for a national unity government, the stalemate will persist, and may even degenerate into dangerous confrontation. Hopefully, Aoun and Hezbollah will realize that their putschist attempt in January failed, and almost led to war. Neither they nor the country can afford another such failed adventure. Only Syria can, as Cousseran found out.

Addendum: A telling statement that also fits well with the al-Balad report: "[French Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Pascale] Andreani also said that Cousseran stressed to MP Saad Hariri during talks in the Saudi capital Riyadh Thursday 'Paris' full support to the government of Premier Fouad Saniora.'"

Addendum 2: The Syrians apparently threatened Cousseran (original report in as-Safir here), as they did with Ban Ki-Moon:

"According to As Safir, French sources revealed that the Syrians had informed Cousseran that what is threatening Lebanon and its stability at this time was the spread of al-Qaida across Lebanese territories."

I.e., they directly threatened the French. They will never change, as the French learned... yet again.

How pathetically transparent. They still don't realize that this jig is up. They have nothing else. That's what the regime is. Syria's foreign policy assets are limited and well-known. It's a matter of bending the entire international community to its will through intransigence and terrorism. They tried it with UNSCR 1559 and with Hariri's murder. The Syrian "demand" for a "clear recognition of Syria's influence and interests in Lebanon" and the "natural and distinguished relations linking Lebanon with Syria" is nothing short of a "demand" to terminate UNSCR 1559 and 1701, as Michael Young noted above.(beirut2bayside)

20 July 2007

Syria Still Wants To Blow Up Lebanon



Sidon: A Syrian ship has been held in detention since Tuesday in Sidon’s harbor after it was suspected of smuggling explosive materials. The Syrian ship, Lady Azza, which docked in Sidon two days ago, was supposed to transport scrap metal from Sidon to an unknown destination in Syria.
However, employees at Sidon’ s harbor said boxescontaining engines and thermal mercury pressure meters were beingsmuggled outside of the ship using one of the trucks carrying scrapinto Lady Azza.

Nuclear Aftershocks from Japan's Earthquake

The implications of the disruption of the world's largest nuclear power plant by an earthquake in Japan on July 16 spread far beyond the archipelago. The safety questions surrounding the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)'s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant will affect the growing public policy debates in Western countries such as Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, which increasingly are considering using more nuclear energy technology. The nuclear energy enthusiasm spurred in these countries during the last six months by a variety of reasons, including energy security and greenhouse gas emission concerns, has hit a snag. Although the Japan incident is unlikely to derail these discussions, it could create significant obstacles to nuclear power expansion plans in these countries. Beyond the West, however, the issue is unlikely to affect nuclear expansion in countries such as China, whose special political and economic situations likely will trump any fears about the technology.

The fire, release of radioactive water and 50 other reported malfunctions at the TEPCO plant after a 6.8-magnitude earthquake hit Japan's Niigata Prefecture are the latest in a string of safety issues within Japan's nuclear industry during the past decade. These issues include the deaths of seven workers at various plants because of alleged lax safety standards and a complete shutdown of all 17 nuclear reactors operated by TEPCO in 2002 after the company admitted to falsifying safety data. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has taken a hard stance against TEPCO during this latest incident, saying the utility's officials did not warn people about possible health and safety issues -- including the leak of 315 gallons of radioactive water -- early enough. Abe went so far as to call on TEPCO officials to "repent" their actions.

As investigations into the incident unfold, questions are being raised not only among the Japanese public over the utility's actions, but also in other key countries on the safety risks associated with nuclear power plants. China, the United States and Europe have been warming to nuclear energy in the past six months for reasons specific to their own circumstances. Each region, therefore, has had different reactions to the Japan incident.

Chinese state media have downplayed the safety issues of the Japanese plant and has instead generally focused on the earthquake. For the Chinese, nuclear technology is a necessity for the country's stability and economic growth. China needs all the help it can get in providing reliable electricity to as much of its country as possible. Its current dependence on outdated coal-fired power plant technologies is not meeting demand requirements and is contributing to health and environmental concerns in the country, which is serving to kick up social unrest -- something the Chinese government cannot afford. The need for reliable power coupled with the need to improve air and water quality essentially ensures that China will increasingly turn toward nuclear power. China has worked several major deals with U.S. companies, including Westinghouse, in recent months, and its June national greenhouse gas plan states that nuclear energy will become an important part of its energy mix. Public perception among the Chinese about nuclear reactors is almost inconsequential (and nearly nonexistent, since the public's pollution concerns about coal power far outweigh any radiological concerns about nuclear power).

For Western countries, however, nuclear energy is one of those issues in which hard facts and figures do not necessarily dictate the direction of policy formation; public perception of the issue is far more influential. In the West, the nuclear industry must overcome the public's visions of dramatic accidents, fears of radioactivity and generally precautionary attitude about the technology. These visions and fears are playing out in Western media outlets' coverage of the Japanese incident.

British media have had mixed reactions, although most major news outlets chose to focus on the idea of safety regulations failing (implying that stronger regulations can be developed) instead of nuclear energy being a problem itself. Despite a strong anti-nuclear movement and years without new plant construction, the United Kingdom is moving toward developing more nuclear power plants to address its greenhouse gas emissions commitment and its dwindling oil and natural gas reserves. On former Prime Minister Tony Blair's way out, his team released an Energy White Paper that says the energy team's "preliminary view" is to support the building of more nuclear plants. In spring 2007, then-Industry Secretary and current Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling urged Parliament to make a decision on nuclear power by the end of the year since many outdated nuclear and coal-fired power plants are slated to close over the next 20 years.

German media have also focused on the regulatory implications of the nuclear industry -- what safety measures need to be in place to reduce the number of nuclear accidents. The nuclear safety issue received more attention among the German public because of the coincidental resignation of the head of Swedish nuclear utility firm Vattenfall on July 18 due to public backlash stemming from two safety incidences at Vattenfall-owned nuclear facilities in Germany at the end of June. German officials have threatened to take away Vattenfall's license to operate in Germany after shutdowns at two plants near Hamburg stemming from electrical defects.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose support for nuclear power is constrained by a coalition contract between the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, took the Vattenfall opportunity to say that her "pity for the industry is limited." She added that she will not use the Vattenfall incident to "generalize the industry" but that "it must not happen again." Although the German government in 2000 called for a nuclear energy phase-out by 2020 (largely due to public concerns and the Green Party's power at the time within the government), Merkel reportedly is becoming more open to nuclear energy and wants to feature the nuclear energy issue as part of the political debates for the 2009 federal elections. As Germany increasingly concentrates on gaining more domestic control over its energy supply and works to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, the country becomes more likely to use nuclear energy as a larger part of its energy mix.

The U.S. media have been the most outwardly critical of the Japanese incident, with dramatic emphasis on the safety and future of nuclear energy generally. This is particularly important, since the U.S. public perception of nuclear technology arguably has been among the most negative and has prevented the construction of new nuclear power plants since 1977 (the year when construction began on the last U.S. nuclear facility built). The permitting process has begun on several new nuclear reactors in the United States, but none of the permits is close to receiving final approval. Congressional debate on the use of nuclear technology rose in recent months because of political emphasis on reducing dependence on foreign oil and, secondarily, greenhouse gas emissions. It appeared that some type of nuclear energy subsidy would be granted under whatever the U.S. national climate policy becomes.

Globally, investors' reactions to the Japanese nuclear incident confirm the public's general jitteriness. Uranium spot prices had been on a steady rise since 2005 in anticipation of increased demand (and supply concerns) caused by the expected construction of new reactors. During the last few weeks, the spot market tapered off, likely because of a natural correction and summer doldrums. But since July 16, uranium prices have dropped significantly; uranium opened $8 lower on July 17 at $132 a pound in New York. Although in the whole scheme of uranium-trading this is not a huge blow, investors are showing that they, too, are unsure how the Japanese incident will play out.

Even though the Japanese nuclear incident was not catastrophic -- some even say the nuclear plant did exactly what it was supposed to do under the circumstances -- the media attention has shown that much of the public worldwide is still wary of the use of nuclear power. The Japanese incident will not bring the nuclear industry to a halt, but many countries interested in the technology likely will increase their scrutiny of proposed nuclear projects and safety regulations.

China's push ahead on nuclear energy is not likely to be affected by the incident because of Beijing's domestic constraints and policy goals. In the United Kingdom and Germany, it appears that the issue will continue to be debated but likely in a way that focuses on the development of more safety regulations -- something the nuclear industry views as favorable, since it gives the industry license to operate. Nuclear energy expansion plans likely will continue in these countries. In the United States, it looks like the nuclear industry must face a new round of public relations challenges. If the nuclear industry can steer the debate toward the regulatory realm and emphasize the U.S. safety record and advancements in technology, the industry likely will regain its momentum.(GMB)

19 July 2007

US: arms smuggling to Lebanon proven

By MARJORIE OLSTER, Associated Press Writer Wed Jul 18, 10:40 PM ET

UNITED NATIONS - The United States said Wednesday there was clear evidence of arms smuggling across the Syrian border to terrorist groups in Lebanon, and accused Iran and Syria of playing a negative role in the country.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad made the accusation after a closed Security Council meeting to discuss progress on a U.N. resolution that ended last summer's war between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas backed by Syria and Iran. That resolution banned weapon transfers to Hezbollah.

Khalilzad said the United States had sent a clear message in the meeting on "the negative role that Syria and Iran are playing and called on them to cease and desist from their negative activities" in Lebanon.

He added that there was clear evidence of "arms transfers to terrorist groups" inside Lebanon, including Hezbollah, the Palestinian extremist group PFLP-GC and Fatah Islam, the al-Qaida-inspired militant group that has been fighting the Lebanese army for the past two months.

Khalilzad was referring to a report by a U.N.-appointed team that assessed the border late last month and concluded that security was too lax to prevent arms smuggling.

Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari dismissed allegations that arms were being smuggled across his country's border with Lebanon.

"We denied it many times and we are still denying it," he told reporters after the meeting.

Ja'afari claimed the information about arms smuggling provided to the Security Council came only from Israeli intelligence and none of it was from Lebanese authorities.

However, U.N. Mideast envoy Michael Williams said "virtually all" of the arms smuggling documented in the secretary-general's report to the Security Council last month came from the Lebanese government or Lebanese security agencies.

"I think the situation is very serious," he told reporters.

In the report last month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Syria and Iran to do more to prevent arms smuggling into Lebanon, citing Lebanese and Israeli government allegations of violations of the arms embargo.

Ban said Lebanon informed him that on June 6, four trucks were seen by Lebanese armed forces traveling from Syria to Lebanon. Each truck carried two vehicles mounted with 40-barrel rocket launchers, he said.

Syria dominated Lebanon for nearly three decades. But in 2005, it was forced to withdraw tens of thousands of troops from its neighbor amid an uproar over allegations that Damascus played a role in the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri. Syria denied it.(Yahoo/AP)

18 July 2007

Amioun Robbery Cam





Travelers to Lebanon Reconsider Plans

JEDDAH, 18 July 2007 — Political turmoil in Lebanon has caused many Saudis to reconsider their annual summer plans. In fact, many are even reconsidering whether to own dream homes in the war-torn country.

In terms of tourism, Lebanon has suffered dramatically on account of the Israeli bombardment last summer, which resulted in many tourists cutting short their holidays and fleeing by land.(arabnews)

UAE watchdog warns 'du' over deadline



The UAE's telecommunications watchdog issued a warning to new telecom operator du today for missing a licence deadline to provide fixed line telephone services to customers.

The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) said the telco had fallen short of meeting its licence obligations and undermined competition in the industry.

du failed to meet the July 12 deadline date set by the licence to provide landline services from homes and offices in the UAE.

The telecoms authority has agreed to postpone the deadline date but did not reveal the new date.

"We can't reveal when du's new deadline to provide the landline service is, but it will be very soon," a TRA spokesperson told ArabianBusiness.com.

According to du, the company was given a limited number of lines on July 2 to test before the July 12 launch. However during that time du identified defects which kept the service from running smoothly.

The issues were raised with etisalat but failed to be resolved within the given time-frame, a du spokesperson told ArabianBusiness.com.

The telco is currently waiting for etisalat's confirmation that its fixed line service has successfully passed tests before it can be launched nationwide.

"du will launch this capability after completing extensive testing and when fully satisfied with the quality offered to its customers through the capability. We expect this to happen in a few weeks time," du CEO Osman Sultan said in a statement.

The TRA spokesperson stated that if the new deadline is once again missed ‘proper measures' will be taken against the telco.(ITP)

It's no secret: Facebook's allure is its privacy



The secret of Facebook's success, and its future viability, hinges on how the social network site protects privacy, taming the anything-goes intrusiveness of what might as well be known as the World Wild Web.

Chris Kelly, Facebook's chief privacy officer, said users want greater control over who sees their personal information, rather than expecting total privacy, or anonymity, the concept underlying much of the legal thinking on privacy for more than a century.

"Privacy is beginning to transform from the classic 'right to be left alone' to this notion that 'I want control over my information,'" Kelly said in an interview on the sidelines of a Fortune Magazine technology conference held here last week.

Started in 2004 by then-undergraduate Mark Zuckerberg as a social site for fellow Harvard University students, Facebook has been opened up over the last year to users of all ages, who have a degree of control over who sees what personal details.

These privacy controls paradoxically encourage users to reveal more about themselves within their approved circle of friends than they would do on the wide-open Web. As a result, many post mobile phone numbers, reveal political loyalties or even show changes in their dating status for friends to see.

Facebook has seen membership spike 25 percent to more than 30 million since May, when it turned the site into a big tent for outsiders to build software inside it. This lets users engage in online activities while limiting exposure to security pitfalls.

"We have tried to take a very control-based approach for our users, so Facebook information doesn't leak out on the Web in general," Kelly said. "Privacy, as anonymity, is declining, but privacy, as control, is on the rise."

As a company, Facebook's livelihood hinges on how it balances the trade-offs between privacy and openness.

The free, advertising-supported site runs a limited number of conventional Web banner ads. But it also is looking at how to offer ads that match people's expressed interests without frightening users that their data will be abused by marketers.

"In a trusted environment you share more," Kelly said of the business logic of insuring privacy. "There is an opportunity to target advertising, as long as you keep that trusted environment."

Facebook board member and financial backer Jim Breyer, a partner at venture capital firm Accel Partners, said the company would do well over $100 million in revenue in 2007, be profitable, and have significant positive cash flow this year.

Breyer also sought to knock down rumors the company may be for sale -- the latest speculation last week was that Microsoft Corp. should consider paying $6 billion for Facebook.

"We continue to focus on building the best stand-alone company we can be and, simply said, are not for sale," Breyer said via e-mail on Saturday.

Facebook is no privacy nirvana, nor does it mean to be.

Indeed, its core function is to enable a kind of virtual voyeurism that makes it easy for members to post comments, photos and videos about their own lives while keeping tabs on what their network of online friends are up to.

It does this by offering an automated news feed of what friends are doing on their own Facebook profile pages -- a kind of gossip column among friends.

Highlighting the tension over privacy at the core of the site, when the feature was introduced last September, members temporarily revolted until the company introduced greater controls over what information their friends could see.

In another example of how privacy protections play out on Facebook, photos are often shared among users, but individuals retain the right to delete their names from photo labels, providing a degree of insulation from personal embarrassment.

While large and growing, Facebook functions like an endless series of online private clubs. The average Facebook user has access to only one in 200 of its members, Kelly said.

Among diehard Facebook users, many of whom have hundreds of connections to friends, a more subtle privacy complaint arises. As it now stands, Facebook software treats friends pretty much equally, a byproduct of its college-campus roots.

But as more users add different types of contacts -- bosses, family members, colleagues, business acquaintances -- demand grows for more refined privacy controls to distinguish between various types of real-world relationships.

Kelly said the company was working to address the issue. "Stay tuned: We are all about user control," he said. (ITP)

16 July 2007

Lebanon and the Region, where to?

So much for dead activity since almost one year! Where are we heading to?
From the Iraq war days till today we can deduce the following:

The introduction of Divide Strategy in Iraq has worked against the US expectations, however it has introduced a dangerous element and ignited the fuse of nation global rearrangment possibilities!

The way Saddam was hanged itself was a glimpse of what's coming! The way they shouted during his hanging and praized *whoever Sadr...is itself a self-igniting bomb. Sunnis could not take it anymore, and Shiites fell into the trap of civil war.

Irradication is in progress!

Where? In Iraq, in KSA, in Bahrain, in UAE, and soon in Lebanon & Syria!

The final straw would be in Lebanon, as it's the only place where they have a link to Iran as decision maker, now that Syira is out of the equation.

People in the Middle-east soon will have to be forced to decide where they stand and to which side they belong to; Are they Arabs, Persians, Africans, etc...?

With the downfall of Iraq, Iran has strengthened like ever. Don't get mistakened, arms has nothing to do with that, as we are talking only about political winning cards! and they hold theirs after Syria got expelled from Lebanon.
Recently Iran had quarrels and reminders with Bahrain! These are only vibrations of what's coming. However, let no one think that he possesses enough arms and power to make war... no one has anything! All these fighter-planes purchased by the wealthy, are simply the "no-good-low-grade-Class C" not fit for stopping an attacking enemy fighter plane! They are good for showcase to put fear in the brains of all surrounding neighbours! It's fake power.
Let's be honest here, enough stupidity and blindness, there's only one superpower in the region, who has enough fire-power, attck and defense to ravage the region!

We all praize the Lebanese army in their efforts in the North standing against the terrorists.... but come'on, Gazelle Heli's???? these things swing enough to hit variations with mistakes of like 60 degres angles.... there's no way you can hit a building without being so dangerously close to it!!! And we paid money for those!
I pity....
While Appachies, lazer guided, heavily powered with latest technologies are even not bought as such by the Arabs in the region....even those were not offered to the army!

How to avoid civil war in Lebanon?
Well, Saint-Cloud meeting are a way to force the politicians and make them understand the real situation at stake: either make-up or bear the consequences of multitude of wars!
Lebanon is counting on Lahhoud's out to start new elections... everything will change from there: If further resistance to election in its normal way... then civil war will erupt!
The other side of it, is Iran pressure card if requested from US to be exerted in Lebanon, or again in opposing direction, thi scan be a destroying card yet to create further chaos.... neighbours will benefit from such a position as they proove to be the only Peace restaurers again!

It's around two to three month... election will proove fate of the Lebanese people.
In anyway, prepare yourself... leave, or stay and stay armed with faith or other and be prepared! (BigDogg)

14 July 2007

Another iPod Listener Struck By Lightning

It's happened again: Aaron points us to a story about an iPod listener in Canada who was struck by lightning, suffering major injuries in the process. This isn't the first time someone has been listening to an iPod before getting struck, although it bears repeating that there's nothing about an iPod (or a mobile phone for that matter) that would actually attract lightning (unless you think that God doesn't like iPod listeners, though that can't be demonstrated through science). In this case, the iPod listener happened to be sitting underneath a tree, which probably had a little more to do with it. Doctors think that perhaps the headphones may have caused the electricity to move towards the head, exacerbating the injuries, although the slim chances of this happening to someone probably doesn't justify the cost of getting bluetooth headphones.(techdirt).

13 July 2007

Islamists fire Katyushas in Lebanon camp

NAHR AL-BARED, Lebanon (Reuters) - Islamist militants fired Katyusha rockets at Lebanese villages on Friday in a further escalation of their 8-week-old battle with the army at a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon.
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Security sources said al Qaeda-inspired Fatah al-Islam fighters fired about a dozen of the 107 mm rockets on several areas around Nahr al-Bared camp in north Lebanon, causing some material damage but no casualties.

Fighting between the army and Islamist militants has killed 214 people since May 20, making it the country's worst internal violence since the 1975-1990 civil war.

A soldier wounded in ferocious fighting on Thursday died of his wounds, bringing the military's death toll for that day to seven.

The military, concerned about being sucked into a war of attrition, has stepped up pressure on the coastal camp to force the militants to surrender.

But the well-trained and well-armed militants, some of whom fought in Iraq or trained to go to fight there, have so far rejected all calls to lay down their arms.

Witnesses said the army was bombarding the largely destroyed camp with artillery and tanks. Militants were responding with sniper and rocket fire. At least three soldiers were wounded.

Black and grey smoke billowed from the camp's battered buildings, most of which have been reduced to rubble.

Thursday's fighting was the most ferocious since the Lebanese defense minister declared on June 21 that all major combat operations had ceased at Nahr al-Bared.

A 1969 Arab agreement banned Lebanese security forces from entering Palestinian camps. The agreement was annulled by the Lebanese parliament in the mid-1980s but the accord effectively stayed in place.

The violence has further undermined stability in Lebanon, where a paralyzing 8-month political crisis has been compounded by bombings in and around Beirut. The country has yet to recover from last year's war between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas.(Yahoo)

300 KSA Fundy in Leb


300
أصـــــولي سعـــــودي في لبـــــنان

13 تموز 2007

حسن المصطفى - العدد ثلاثمئة هو عدد السعوديين المطلوبين أمنياً في لبنان، ﻻنتمائهم إلى تنظيمات إسلامية أصولية تتبع لـ«القاعدة» و«فتح اﻹسلام». وهو رقم يفوق التقديرات اﻷولية التي تناقلتها وسائل اﻹعلام، وأعلنتها الحكومة اللبنانية.
لكن هذا الرقم الذي كشف عنه الصحافي السعودي فارس بن حزام، المتابع لشؤون اﻹرهاب والقاعدة، رقم غير مبالغ فيه برأيه، وأتى بعد تتبّع لملف القاعدة والمجنّدين السعوديين، معتقداً أن ما لم يكشف عنه ربما يفوق هذا العدد، وخصوصاً أن التحقيقات لم تنتهِ بعد، وهناك عدد كبير من المطلوبين متوارون عن اﻷنظار في أماكن غير معروفة، مضيفاً أن «العدد اﻷكبر من السعوديين موجود خارج مخيم نهر البارد، في بيروت وباقي المدن اللبنانية»، متوقعاً «حدوث مواجهات بين هذه العناصر وقوى اﻷمن في مناطق مختلفة تمتد حتى نهاية العام الجاري». وعن اﻷماكن التي يتحصّن فيها هؤﻻء، يرى بن حزام «أن عدداً منهم يتوزع في شقق سكنية في بيروت، وعدداً آخر في حقول زراعية، وهناك من يختفي في القرى اللبنانية المختلفة لكونها بعيدة عن الرقابة وأكثر أمناً».
هذا العدد الكبير من السعوديين بدأ بالتوافد على لبنان منذ نهاية صيف 2006، وذلك عبر طريقين: إما مباشرة عبر مطار رفيق الحريري الدولي قادمين من السعودية، أو عبر سوريا قادمين من العراق. ويضيف «الذين أتوا مباشرة من السعودية لم تكن في نيتهم القتال في لبنان. ضُلّلوا واستُدرجوا. قيل لهم إن الذهاب إلى العراق من السعودية عبر سوريا يعرّض صاحبه إلى الشبهة، وأن الأسلم الذهاب إلى لبنان ومنها يُنقلون إلى العراق بطرق مختلفة. وفي لبنان أُدخل هؤﻻء إلى معسكر «فتح الإسلام» للتدرّب والتهيّؤ، فأُلزموا بالبقاء، استجابة وطاعة لقائد خليّتهم.
والفئة الثانية نُقلت من العراق عبر سوريا، وهي في أغلبها لم تنضوِ تحت لواء شاكر العبسي، بل طُلب منها تأليف خلايا لتنظيم «القاعدة»، ويشاركهم في هذه الخلايا عناصر من جنسيات متعددة».
هل لتنظيم «القاعدة» وجود في لبنان؟ يجيب بن حزام باﻹيجاب، مردفاً «تنظيم القاعدة لم يتشكل بصورة متكاملة في لبنان إﻻ أخيراً، من أفراد أتوا من العراق، وآخرين موجودين في المخيمات. إﻻ أنه أخذ في النمو والتغلغل في مناطق مختلفة».
الدعم المالي هو عينه والمرجعية الفقهية واحدة لهذه الخلايا اﻷصولية ولتنظيم «فتح اﻹسلام»، لكنها قد ﻻ تنعقد تنظيمياً ضمن تراتبية هرمية واحدة. وتتبع في عملها أسلوب الخلايا العنقودية. وهذا ما قد يمنع انكشاف بعضها.
عوائل سعودية كثيرة أبلغت السلطات اﻷمنية في الرياض بفقدان أبنائها وتغيّبهم، أو سفرهم وعدم عودتهم، ليتبين لهم بعدها أنهم في لبنان ضمن تشكيلات «القاعدة»، ويؤكد الصحافي فارس بن حزام أن لدى السلطات السعودية أسماءً لعناصر مطلوبة أمنياً كانت في العراق، ثم انتقلت ﻻحقاً إلى لبنان. والملاحقات اﻷمنية الحالية أتت نتيجة جهود سعودية ومتابعات دقيقة قُدّمت إلى اﻷمن اللبناني.
توجّه السعوديين إلى لبنان أتى بعد تحريض غير مرئي، على عكس ما حدث في العراق من تحريض واضح وظاهر للعيان. إﻻ أن الصعوبات اﻷمنية التي واجهها كثير من الشبان السعوديون بعد تضييق السطات اﻷمنية في الرياض الخناق على تنظيم «القاعدة»، والمراقبة اﻷكثر صرامة للحدود العراقية، دفعتهم للتوجه إلى لبنان، والبعض غادر بغداد إلى بيروت بوثائق مزوّرة، بعدما وُضعت أسماؤهم على القوائم اﻷمنية.
ما يحدث اﻵن يرى فيه بن حزام «لعبة استخبارية ضخمة تجنّد هؤﻻء الشبان المتحمّسين لخدمة أجندتها الخاصة، وهذه اﻷجهزة وفرت لهم الدعم المالي واللوجستي وسهّلت تنقّلاتهم، لتحقق في النهاية أهدافها، وليكونوا هم مجرد أدوات تنفيذية ﻻ أكثر».
غالبية السعوديين الثلاثمئة هي دون عمر 23 عاماً. هذه هي النتيجة التي توصّل إليها بن حزام بعد تتبّعه ملف القضية، وهم بحسبه «من جيل اﻹنترنت الذين حُرّضوا وجُنّدوا إلكترونياً. فهؤﻻء ﻻ خبرة لديهم في القتال، ولم يشاركوا في أفغانستان أو الشيشان، ولذا لن يُسلّموا إمرة الخلايا، وسيكونون مجرد مقاتلين ضمن مجموعات يرأسها آخرون أكثر خبرة وصلابة»، معتبراً أن ما يُتناقَل عن زعامة سعودية لمجموعات متقدمة كلام غير دقيق، وما يدل على ذلك هو السقوط السريع لسعوديين في مواجهات «أبو سمرا»، وانكشاف خلايا البقاع التي فخّخت عدداً من السيارات ﻻستخدامها في أغراض أمنية.





(Al Akhbar)

5 Katioshaz

This just in.
According to LBC, 5 Katiosha rockets have hit areas in Akkar, north Lebanon. These come one day after the Brammertz report warned of an upcoming political instability that could hinder the work of the investigation.

Katioshas are the weapons of choice of Hezbollah against Israel. It is likely that those who fired them either want to further complicate the Sunni Shiaa relationship, or are Hezbollah themselves for unknown reasons.

Most soldiers dying while fighting fateh al Islam are from Akkar.

A Zionist spy in Beirut?


I waited to write about my trip to Beirut because I found out a few days after returning to Tel Aviv that Channel 10 news wanted to send me back to do a report for them. Figuring I should try to keep a low profile until after it was broadcast, I left a few loyal readers hanging, without explanation, as I maintained radio silence - so to speak.

And so I went back to Beirut for a whirlwind 36 hours (Monday and Tuesday of this week), recorded a couple of interviews and some footage of various street scenes, flew back to Amman, spent the night at the airport before boarding the 6 a.m. flight, drove straight from the airport to the Channel 10 studio to drop off the raw footage, went home, showered, and returned to the studio to help edit the piece. And then voila, it was broadcast - two minutes after we finished editing.
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To view, copy and paste the following URL into your browser: http://switch3.castup.net/cunet/gm.asp?ClipMediaID=1015892 (Thank you, Andrey!)

For non-Hebrew speakers, I will try to put in English subtitles and upload to YouTube in the next few days.

Anyway, one hour after my report was broadcast on Channel 10, Al Manar, the Hezbollah television station in Lebanon, broadcast its own interpretation of my trip to Beirut on its 9 p.m. news broadcast. And man, were they angry. Apparently, a Zionist agent penetrated security at Rafic Hariri Airport! God knows what I really did in Beirut, because there's no way I just went to do an innocent human-interest story about the mood on the streets of Beirut, one year after the war. Imagine! A possible Mossad agent walked around Beirut with a camera in her hands and no-one stopped her! (for heaven's sake).

I wrote a rather rushed report about my second trip for Pajamas Media, called Beirut, a year later. I'm going to write a series of more in-depth pieces that will be published over the coming days.

Meanwhile, the Sandmonkey summarized for Pajamas Media the outraged reactions amongst readers of Al Manar website and Tayyar, another news site that is allied with the Hezbollah against the current government.

For more anti-Lisa reactions (with a few tempering voices of reason) on a Lebanese message board in English, click here.

And just to counter all that paranoia and hate, I'd like to add the following:
a) Today I received several supportive and encouraging emails from Lebanese who read about or watched my report and liked it.
b) One of those emails came from a guy who thought I was still in Lebanon, and offered to help me leave the country.
c) Never forget that the extremists always have the loudest voice.

Oh, and for readers in Israel: I will be interviewed on London and Kirshenbaum tonight, at 7 o'clock on Channel 10. (On The Face)

Details Of A Disaster

"This victory is too big to be comprehended by us. The next weeks, months, and years will confirm this." - Hassan Nasrallah, "Divine Victory" Speech, September 22, 2006

"There is no longer a state within a state. There is no longer sponsorship for a terror organization by a state. And no longer is a terror organization allowed to operate within Lebanon, as the long arm of the axis of evil..." -Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Knesset Speech, August 14, 2006

What is there to say about the anniversary of the July War? Lebanon lost much of what it had to lose: its national cohesion, its economic growth, its citizens' lives. Approximately 1,200 civilians were killed, 118,000 housing units were destroyed, $2.4 billion of Lebanese economic infrastructure was destroyed, 12,000 tons of oil were spilled -- the facts go on. Politically, external actors have found it even easier to infringe on Lebanese weakened sovereignty. In the past year, Israel drones have repeatedly violated Lebanese airspace, Palestinian militants have battled the Lebanese army for almost two months around Tripoli, and Syria invaded 3 kilometers into Lebanon in the Bekaa.

And what political gains justify this destruction? The war even failed to produce a decisive victor -- it will be refought soon, with even more destruction. Olmert's statements ring as false as Nasrallah's. A year later, this is still the legacy of the July War: declarations devoid of substance, and deaths devoid of meaning.(D.Kenner)

Details Of A Disaster

"This victory is too big to be comprehended by us. The next weeks, months, and years will confirm this." - Hassan Nasrallah, "Divine Victory" Speech, September 22, 2006

"There is no longer a state within a state. There is no longer sponsorship for a terror organization by a state. And no longer is a terror organization allowed to operate within Lebanon, as the long arm of the axis of evil..." -Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Knesset Speech, August 14, 2006

What is there to say about the anniversary of the July War? Lebanon lost much of what it had to lose: its national cohesion, its economic growth, its citizens' lives. Approximately 1,200 civilians were killed, 118,000 housing units were destroyed, $2.4 billion of Lebanese economic infrastructure was destroyed, 12,000 tons of oil were spilled -- the facts go on. Politically, external actors have found it even easier to infringe on Lebanese weakened sovereignty. In the past year, Israel drones have repeatedly violated Lebanese airspace, Palestinian militants have battled the Lebanese army for almost two months around Tripoli, and Syria invaded 3 kilometers into Lebanon in the Bekaa.

And what political gains justify this destruction? The war even failed to produce a decisive victor -- it will be refought soon, with even more destruction. Olmert's statements ring as false as Nasrallah's. A year later, this is still the legacy of the July War: declarations devoid of substance, and deaths devoid of meaning.(D.Kenner)

Lebanon's Bloody Summer

(Beirut)

The car bomb that shook Beirut's waterfront on the evening of June 13 was the sixth explosion in Lebanon in less than a month. But unlike the other bombings, which were intended more to instill fear than to cause serious damage, this one had a political target: Walid Eido, a member of the US-backed parliamentary majority. With the killing of one more legislator--the fifth in two years--Lebanon is hurtling toward yet another crisis.

The bomb, which was planted in a parked car, ripped through Eido's black Mercedes as his motorcade left a swimming club where he played cards with friends almost every afternoon. The explosion resonated throughout Beirut, shattering windows 100 yards away and throwing body parts onto a nearby soccer field. It killed Eido, his son and eight other people. Within minutes, ambulances filled the Corniche, a palm-tree-lined boulevard that overlooks the Mediterranean and is often packed with people out for an evening stroll.

As soon as the bomb went off, dozens of young men rushed to the scene, and soldiers had to push them back from the burning cars. They gathered around two fire trucks, picking through twisted wreckage. Naim Chebbo, a 33-year-old waiter, ran for a half-mile from his restaurant, following the cloud of black smoke. Drenched in sweat and hyperventilating, he screamed, "Look at what the Syrians are doing to us! Don't ask me why this bombing happened. Ask the Syrians!" He pointed up a hill, toward the headquarters of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party. "I'm going to get the SSNP. I'm going to fuck them up!" he shrieked. "They're just sitting up there laughing." His friends restrained him from marching up the hill.

When Chebbo began insulting Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah--leader of Hezbollah, the Shiite political party and militia allied with Syria--calling him a "terrorist" and a "criminal," a bystander told Chebbo to keep quiet. The two began shoving each other, and a dozen soldiers toting M-16s moved between them, at one point cocking their guns to shoot into the air. Soldiers finally managed to wrestle Chebbo away, and he walked off, still cursing.

This is the state of Lebanon today: deep sectarian anger that could boil over at any moment. In mixed Beirut neighborhoods, tensions rise between Sunnis and Shiites after each bombing. Tempers flare, small fights get out of hand, people start calling their friends and relatives to come in from other areas to help them and eventually the police have to step in. (A Shiite friend who lives in a mainly Sunni neighborhood told me that for several days after Eido's killing, he found a broken egg each morning on his car.) And there's no shortage of bombings to stoke tensions: On June 24 a car bomb exploded near a convoy of United Nations peacekeepers in southern Lebanon, killing six troops under Spanish command. It was the first attack on the UN force since it was expanded to 13,000 soldiers after last summer's war between Israel and Hezbollah. Some Lebanese politicians quickly blamed Syria for the bombing, but there is also evidence that Sunni militants tied to Al Qaeda have been plotting for months to attack UN peacekeepers in the south.

Throughout Lebanon's fifteen-year civil war, foreign powers battled for control of the tiny country, either directly or through proxies. But a great deal of the day-to-day fighting involved well-armed rival neighborhood gangs. In a city on edge, angry young men like Chebbo can easily get out of control. Perhaps at the next bombing, they won't be held back.

"The elements for a new civil war are here. They are ready. But there are some red lines that prevent it from happening. We saw an example in January, when sectarian violence broke out but the national leaders quickly asked everyone to calm down," says Elias Hanna, a retired Lebanese army general who is now an independent military analyst. "You need an incident or catalyst that can ignite the situation. It's not yet here. But people's hearts are full of hatred."

'Everything Is Blowing Up'

Lebanon's current round of assassinations began in February 2005, when a powerful truck bomb killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri as his motorcade drove along the Corniche. Hariri's murder cast a harsh light on Syria's domination over its smaller neighbor. Faced with international pressure and mass protests, the Syrian-backed prime minister resigned, and Damascus pulled thousands of troops out of Lebanon. But the killings continued, mainly targeting politicians from the anti-Syrian bloc led by Rafik's son Saad Hariri.

Today Lebanon is bracing for a showdown over the presidency. It could be a bloody summer, as the presidential election looms in late September. The president is appointed by a majority vote in Parliament. After the last parliamentary election, in June 2005, Hariri's Future Movement and its allies won seventy-two seats in the 128-member legislature. But with several defections, Eido's killing and that of another legislator last November whose seat remains unfilled, the parliamentary majority is down to sixty-eight. If the majority loses another four members--either by death or defection--it will no longer be able to determine the next president. "Eido was assassinated to reduce the parliamentary majority in order to bring the government down," Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces, a right-wing Christian group that is part of the ruling coalition, said after the bombing. "It seems that we're the opposition because we're the ones being targeted by assassinations."

There's another danger: Without a majority, it's conceivable that Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government could fall in a parliamentary no-confidence vote. Siniora's twenty-four-member Cabinet has been in danger of collapsing since November, when six ministers representing Hezbollah and its allies resigned after talks to form a national unity government failed. (Siniora's ruling coalition of Sunni, Christian and Druse parties accuses Hezbollah of walking out of the government to block a UN investigation into Hariri's murder, which has been widely blamed on Syria.)

Hariri was Lebanon's most prominent Sunni leader, and his killing changed the dynamic within the Sunni community. During Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war, Sunnis and Shiites were largely allied under the banner of pan-Arabism and support for the Palestinian cause. But the current conflict has fractured them, with most Shiites supporting Hezbollah and most Sunnis backing the younger Hariri. Christians are divided between the two factions. Hezbollah is currently allied with Michel Aoun, a former army commander and prominent Maronite Christian politician.

Syria is likely the biggest beneficiary of these political killings. But the coming showdown over the presidency could prove catastrophic for all sides. And there doesn't appear to be any way out. All of Lebanon's crises have become intertwined--and they're all converging on the battle over the presidency. Ironically, the latest series of crises began in September 2004, when the Syrian regime forced the Lebanese Parliament to extend the presidential term of Emile Lahoud, a former army commander and Syrian ally, for three years.

Lebanon's problems are rooted in a sixty-four-year-old power-sharing agreement among the country's rival religious groups. The system was designed to keep a balance among eighteen sects, dictating that power must be shared between a Maronite president, a Sunni prime minister and a Shiite speaker of Parliament. But this confessional system has barely changed since it was put in place in the early 1940s, when Lebanon won its independence from French colonial rule. After decades of intermittent crises precipitated by the unworkable confessional balancing act, the structure again risks creating a failed state.

The Lebanese predicament is also an extension of the ongoing proxy war in Iraq--pitting Iran and Syria (which support Hezbollah) against the United States, Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab regimes (which support Hariri's alliance). As soon as Siniora's government took office, the Bush Administration began pressuring it to disarm Hezbollah.

The crises are interconnected in a Gordian knot: the Hezbollah-led Shiite walkout from Siniora's Cabinet, which throws the government's legitimacy into question because the Lebanese Constitution dictates that every major sect must be represented in the Cabinet; the creation of a new government; the pressure on Hezbollah to give up its weapons; and the disarming of various factions in twelve Palestinian refugee camps scattered across Lebanon. The issue of Palestinian weapons boiled over in late May, when a group of Sunni militants attacked the Lebanese Army, which then besieged the Nahr El-Bared camp near the northern city of Tripoli.

Siniora's government claims that Syrian intelligence created the militant group Fatah Al Islam and is using it to destabilize Lebanon. But as with the attempt to hold Syria responsible for the bombing against UN peacekeepers, the ruling coalition has provided little evidence to back up its claims about Fatah Al Islam. Some reports in the Lebanese press tied the group's leaders to Al Qaeda and to militant networks that are recruiting young Sunni men from northern Lebanon to fight in Iraq. It's unclear if Fatah Al Islam played a role in the attack on UN troops in the south, but the group is part of a growing militant Sunni movement in Lebanon, which is drawing inspiration--if not logistical help--from Al Qaeda. (In several messages over the past year, Al Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, urged Muslims to open a new front on Israel's border with Lebanon and to attack "Crusader forces" in the south--meaning UN troops.)

"All the problems that were suppressed for thirty years are popping up, and they're all popping up at the same time," says a Lebanese NGO worker who could not be quoted by name. "The Hezbollah weapons, the Palestinian weapons, the presidency; I mean everything, everything is now blowing up. It's thirty years of bullshit. The Pandora's box has opened up."

'The Blood of Sunnis Is Boiling'

When Hezbollah and its allies began an open-ended protest in downtown Beirut on December 1, setting up hundreds of tents outside the main government palace, relations between Sunnis and Shiites deteriorated quickly. On January 23 the opposition organized a nationwide strike as part of its campaign to topple Siniora's government. Two days later, rioting erupted around a university, killing four people, injuring dozens and forcing the army to impose a curfew in Beirut for the first time in ten years. Lebanon teetered on the edge of another civil war.

In the following months, sectarian tensions eased slightly--until Eido's assassination, which further inflamed the hatred between Sunnis and Shiites. The funeral procession on June 14 for Eido and his son passed through the Sunni neighborhood of Tarik Al-Jadideh, the scene of January's bloody street battles. Overnight, billboards throughout Beirut were plastered with pictures of the two men, calling them "the martyrs of justice." Hundreds of supporters carried the blue flags of the Future Movement and white flags with a stencil of a roaring tiger--the logo of the Ras Beirut Tigers, the movement's pseudo-militia, which has become more active in Sunni neighborhoods in recent months. At this point, the Tigers lack an organized military structure and weapons; instead, they're focused on showing their strength at rallies and on the streets of Muslim-dominated West Beirut.

"The blood of Sunnis is boiling!" a crowd of young men shouted as they marched behind the coffins. "Terrorist, terrorist, Hezbollah is a terrorist group!" Koranic verses warbled from the minarets of every mosque along the route, mixing with the loudspeakers mounted atop minibuses that blared out, "Today is the funeral for a new martyr killed at the hands of Bashar Assad"--the Syrian president. Other mourners insulted Hezbollah's revered leader, chanting, "Nasrallah is the enemy of God!"

After Saad Hariri spoke at the funeral, his supporters pumped their fists in the air and bellowed, "Labayk ya Saad-Eddine!" (We obey you, oh Saad-Eddine). It's the same rhythmic chant--freighted with religious overtones--that Nasrallah's followers intone whenever he speaks in public.

At Eido's funeral, the next Lebanese political crisis began to emerge. Within hours of his assassination, members of the Future Movement started calling for a special election to replace Eido, and another to fill the seat of Pierre Gemayel, a Maronite member of Parliament and minister allied with the Hariri bloc who was assassinated last November. Two days after Eido was buried, Siniora's Cabinet approved a plan to hold elections on August 5. But special elections also need the president's consent, and Lahoud has vowed not to sign any directive issued by Siniora's government because he "and half of the Lebanese people" consider it unconstitutional.

Even if the elections are held, it's unclear if the two new legislators would be allowed to take their seats in Parliament. Speaker Nabih Berri, leader of the Shiite Amal Party and a Hezbollah ally, has refused to convene Parliament ever since the Shiite ministers resigned in November. For months, Berri blocked the legislature from approving a UN Security Council plan to establish an international tribunal that will try Hariri's killers. In late May the council created the tribunal anyway--without Lebanese approval. (With the vote for president looming, the Future Movement and its allies have threatened to convene a parliamentary session without Berri; opposition legislators would likely boycott such a meeting.)

On June 17 Lahoud met with the octogenarian Maronite Patriarch Butros Nasrallah Sfeir, the most powerful Christian leader in Lebanon. Lahoud told the cleric that he's not being obstinate for his own sake but rather is trying to protect the powers of the presidency. Lahoud's argument is meant to appeal to the Patriarch and to Lebanese Maronites in general, who are worried about the waning power of the presidency--the last vestige of Christian influence. "Siniora and his government are trying to usurp the authority of the president, and that is a dangerous precedent that I cannot allow," Lahoud told Sfeir, according to the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar. "These powers do not belong to me personally. They belong to the presidency."

Impasse

In the short term, Siniora's government began losing Shiite support after Washington backed Israel during its war last summer against Hezbollah. Fresh off its perceived military victory against a far superior Israeli Army, Hezbollah accused Siniora's government of being a US puppet and demanded more power. After months of on-and-off negotiations, Hezbollah and the Siniora-Hariri bloc now stand at an impasse.

But even if the two sides reach a compromise, another political crisis is sure to emerge, unless they address the root causes of Lebanon's instability--like the fact that the country's largest sect, Shiites, do not have power equal to their proportion of the population. Eventually, the Lebanese will have to tackle the question of what kind of country they want.

That question has dominated Lebanon since it gained independence in 1943. When the French left, they created the confessional system and handed the lion's share of political power to the Francophone Maronite elite. The system was enshrined under the National Pact, an unwritten agreement among Lebanese leaders. Seats in Parliament were divided on a 6-to-5 ratio of Christians to Muslims, with parliamentary seats and executive offices divided among the major sects, and that partitioning was extended to most government jobs.

The division was based on a 1932 census, which showed Maronites as the majority in Lebanon. Since then, the government has refused to hold a new census. By the 1960s, when Muslims began to outnumber Christians, Muslims began to clamor for a change in the balance of power. A recent State Department report estimated that Lebanon's population of 4 million is more than two-thirds Sunni and Shiite. Some Lebanese researchers estimate that Shiites make up 40 percent of the population, although others put the number slightly lower.

When civil war broke out in 1975, the political imbalance was one of the driving forces that prompted each sect to form its own militia. Because of the confessional system, Lebanese political institutions never got a chance to develop; the country remained dependent on the powerful clans and feudal landlords that held sway in much of Lebanon. The zaeem, or confessional leader who usually inherited rule from his father, became paramount during the war. With most people loyal to their sectarian leaders, few Lebanese were invested in developing the constitutional institutions of the state.

As the war waned in 1989, Lebanon's political class convened in the Saudi city of Taif to salvage the sectarian system. Brokered by Saudi Arabia and Syria, the resulting Taif Accord restructured the National Pact by taking some power away from the Maronites. Parliament was expanded to 128 members, divided equally between Christians and Muslims. Taif also called for all militias to disarm--except for Hezbollah, whose military branch was labeled a "national resistance" against the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, which ended in 2000. All factions in Lebanon constantly affirm that they will abide by Taif, elevating the document to the status of a Magna Carta. Yet few acknowledge that the agreement also called for eventually abolishing the sectarian system, although it gave no time frame for doing so.

Confessionalism leads to a weak state. It encourages horse-trading and alliances with powerful patrons. And it's easily exploited by outside powers (Syria, Iran, the United States and Saudi Arabia being the latest examples). But most of the current players are too invested in this system to really change it. And foreign patrons don't want change, because that could reduce their influence.

"Whenever you talk about a new Taif, people freak out.... Lebanese are always afraid of changing any social contract," says Khalil Gebara, co-director of the Lebanese Transparency Association, an anticorruption watchdog group. "Because the problem is that, in Lebanon, social contracts are changed only in times of violence."

What if the battle over the presidency continues past September, and the country is further paralyzed? There's a real fear that the Lebanese government could once again split into two dueling administrations, as happened in 1988, when outgoing President Amin Gemayel appointed Aoun as a caretaker prime minister because Parliament could not agree on a new president. He created a largely Christian government, while the sitting Sunni prime minister refused to leave and led a rival Muslim administration. The crisis ended in October 1990, when Syrian warplanes bombed the presidential palace, driving Aoun into exile in France. It's remarkable how many Lebanese are talking openly today about the possibility of another government breakup; some are even resigned to it.

Splitting the country into two administrations in 1988 was a logical endpoint of the confessional system. Lebanese leaders are going down the same path once again: They're trying to run the country under a system that's no longer viable and that continues to create a perpetual crisis. Until the Lebanese can agree on a stronger and more egalitarian way to share authority, they will be cursed with instability, their future dictated by foreign powers. (The Nation.)

UN Probe Hariri Assassination

UNITED NATIONS: A U.N. inquiry has identified people who may have been involved in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and is investigating new information about the buyers of a van used in the bombing, the chief investigator said Thursday.

Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz said a consolidation of information on Hariri's assassination and 17 other murders or attempted murders has helped identify "important aspects and individuals of common interest across several areas of the investigation."

Investigators have also "significantly narrowed down" their probe into possible motives for the assassination to Hariri's political and personal relationships with political leaders and officials in Lebanon, Syria and other countries, he said.

Brammertz said the investigators' working hypothesis is that events surrounding the U.N. Security Council's adoption of a resolution in September 2004 aimed at preventing Lebanon's pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud from having a second term "played an important role in shaping the environment in which the motives to assassinate Rafik Hariri emerged."

Lebanon's Parliament ignored the council and voted hours after the resolution was adopted to amend the constitution so Lahoud could keep his job.
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The first U.N. chief investigator, Germany's Detlev Mehlis, said the killing's complexity suggested the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services played a role in Hariri's assassination. Four Lebanese generals, top pro-Syrian security chiefs, have been under arrest for 20 months, accused of involvement in Hariri's murder.

Brammertz has not echoed Mehlis' suggestion, and did not provide any clues to those who may have been involved. He said Syria and other state have continued to provide "mostly positive responses" to requests for assistance.

In his eighth report to the U.N. Security Council, Brammertz signaled for the first time that the U.N. International Independent Investigation Commission would be wrapping up its work and transferring its files and findings to the international tribunal, which the council unilaterally established on May 30 to prosecute suspects in the killings.

He said the consolidated reports totaling more than 2,400 pages — including a 2,000-page report covering all areas of the Hariri investigation — were prepared to help ensure "a smooth handover at the appropriate time in the near future" to the new tribunal's prosecutor.

The Security Council is scheduled to discuss the report on July 19, U.N. deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe said.

In the process of consolidating the commission's work between March and June, Brammertz said, investigators had obtained "an up-to-date bird's eye view of the different strands of the investigations" which enabled them to draw up new work plans, totaling 150 pages, with key objectives.

"The consolidation effort ... has helped identify a number of persons of particular interest who may have been involved in some aspect of the preparation and execution of the attack on Rafik Hariri or the other cases under investigation or could have had prior knowledge that plans to carry out these attacks were underway," Brammertz said.

"The commission will pursue this line of inquiry as a priority in the coming months," he said.

The U.N. investigation has confirmed that a single blast from a Mitsubishi Canter van packed with 1,800 kilograms (3,960 pounds) of high explosives — a mix of RDX, PETN and TNT — was detonated at 12:55:05 p.m. on Feb. 14, 2005 "most likely" by a male suicide bomber, Brammertz said.

"Ongoing efforts to determine the precise origin of the explosives and to ascertain possible forensic links with other cases will be pursued as priorities in the next reporting period," he said.

As for the van, it left a Mitsubishi factory in Japan in February 2002 and was reported stolen in the city of Kanagawa, Japan, in October 2004, Brammertz said. It was then shipped to the United Arab Emirates and transported to a showroom close to Tripoli in northern Lebanon in December 2004 where it was sold.

"The commission has recently acquired information regarding the sale of the van to individuals who could be involved in the final preparation of the van for the attack on Rafik Hariri," he said. "This line of inquiry is being pursued as a priority."

In previous reports, Brammertz said the suspected suicide bomber did not spend his youth in Lebanon but spent his last two or three months in the country. To determine the man's origins, the commission collected 112 soil and water samples from 28 locations in Syria and Lebanon, and 26 samples from locations in other countries which were not identified.

Based on preliminary results, Brammertz said, the commission's experts believe the man was probably between 20 and 25 years old, with short dark hair, and lived in an urban environment for the first 10 years of his life and in a rural environment during the last 10 years of his life.

Read rest of post here.

12 July 2007

Mr. Fouad Makhzoumi visits Lahoud



The negative impact of the recent war can only be moved aside with the resolution of the governmental crisis.-(alhiwar)
رئيس حزب الحوار الوطني المهندس فؤاد مخزومي يزور لحود:
إزالة آثار العدوان تتطلب إنهاء الأزمة الحكومية المتمادية

زار رئيس حزب الحوار الوطني المهندس فؤاد مخزومي رئيس الجمهورية العماد إميل لحود في قصر بعبدا، حيث تداول مع فخامته في آر التطورات، مذكراً بأن الذكرى الأولى للعدوان الإسرائيلي على لبنان والصمود البطولي الذي أبداه الشعب اللبناني المؤزر بجيشه الباسل ومقاومته البطلة يستحق منا كل رعاية واهتمام في هذه الظروف العصيبة على كافة المستويات.

وأوضح مخزومي ان إزالة آار العدوان تتطلب من كافة المسؤولين الاهتمام العاجل وذلك بالعمل الحثيث والصادق على إنهاء الأزمة الحكومية المتمادية، لأن تداعيات هذه الأزمة باتت خطيرة، مؤكداً ان الفرص متوافرة سواء أكان في لقاء سان كلو أم في الاتصالات العربية ـ العربية.

من جهة أخرى، حذر مخزومي الحكومة ومن ورائها قوى السلطة من التمادي في تجاهل الدستور في كافة الملفات المطروحة وخصوصاً مع اقتراب الاستحقاق الرئاسي، مؤكداً ان سبيل الإنقاذ الوحيد هو التوافق وإلاّ فإن المآق التي أوقعتنا فيها سياسات الاستئثار والاعتماد الحصري على الدعم الخارجي وتجاهل الداخل ستجعل من لبنان "عراقاً" آخر

Michael Young reflects on last years July War

'It says something that one year after the summer 2006 war, we're not sure whether to celebrate Hizbullah's "divine victory" or bemoan Israel's destruction of our country and its economy. That disconnect reflects the larger disconnect between Hizbullah and the rest of Lebanese society. But then the war was such a fount of falsehoods that its conflicting interpretations are not surprising. Two of the more enduring myths from last year merit revisiting, as well as a more recent addition.

The first myth was that of Lebanese unanimity in the face of Israel. Soon after the war began, a spectacular bit of disinformation surfaced when the Beirut Center for Research published a poll that allegedly showed overwhelming support for "the Resistance" - shorthand for Hizbullah. The head of the center is Abdo Saad, and his daughter, Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, summarized the poll's results in an interview with the American radio and television program Democracy Now:

"Basically, 87 percent of all Lebanese support Hezbollah's resistance against Israel today. And that includes 80 percent of all Christian respondents, 80 percent of all Druze respondents, and 89 percent of all Sunnis. And this, of course, is non-Shiite groups, so those which have supported the March 14 pro-American - the March 14, sorry, alliance, which is seen as being pro-American, pro-French, anti-Syrian."'

Middle East sees dispersion of wealth

INTERNATIONAL. The Middle East was the only region to see a dispersion, rather than consolidation of wealth, according to the 11th annual World Wealth Report released recently by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini.

The global demand for oil in 2006 helped increase the number of HNWIs (High Net Worth Individuals) by 11.9%, but a correction in an overvalued stock market pulled down market capitalisation rates, slowing total wealth accumulation measured in US Dollars.

"Total HNWI wealth in the Middle East increased last year by 11.7%, however the overall HNWI population in the Middle East grew by 11.9%, which points to a greater dispersion of wealth," explains Amir Sadr, head of Middle East offshore, Merrill Lynch Global Private Client Group.

He added: "The strength of oil revenues signify that public finances in the region should remain robust and it will also generate funds for capital investment, strengthening the Middle Eastern economy in the longer-term."

Driven by a strong global economy, the wealth of the world's high net worth individuals (HNWIs ) increased 11.4% to US$37.2 trillion in 2006, according to the report. The number of HNWIs in the world increased 8.3% in 2006 to 9.5 million and the number of ultra high net worth individuals (Ultra-HNWIs ) grew by 11.3% to 94,970.

Emerging economies proved resilient, with continued growth in their HNWI populations and solid investor cash flow to riskier corners of the market. The largest growth of the HNWI population occurred in Singapore and India, where the increases over 2005 was 21.2% and 20.5%, respectively.

The BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) continued to play increasingly important roles in the global economy in 2006. China and Russia were among the top ten countries with the fastest growing HNWI populations. China's HNWI population grew by 7.8% and Russia's increased by 15.5%. Brazil and India also showed continued strength based on domestic private consumption and competitive service and manufacturing sectors.

Latin America saw real GDP growth of 4.8% in 2006, and lured substantial foreign direct investment. The region's HNWI population jumped by 10.2% in 2006 as it continued to outperform the global average of 8.3%.

Real GDP and market capitalization growth rates - the two primary drivers of wealth generation - accelerated through 2006, which helped to increase the total number of HNWIs around the world as well as the amount of wealth they control. The realisation of economic gains on par with those of 2003 and 2004 was led by emerging markets that continued to outperform the rest of the world. China and India, for example, sustained real GDP growth rates of 10.5% and 8.8% respectively, in 2006.

Market capitalisations grew rapidly in Europe, Asia-Pacific and Latin America, driven by strong corporate profits, IPO activity and ongoing foreign investment. Although performance varied across the world, almost all indices posted gains. For example, the Dow Jones World Index grew by 16.4% in 2006.

"This year's Report found that the number of wealthy people, and the amount of wealth that they control, continued to increase in 2006, with extraordinary wealth creation in Singapore and India," said Amir Sadr.

"The level of wealth creation around the world provides a tremendous opportunity for wealth management firms, and success will go to the firms that offer a service model that meets the ever-changing needs of today's sophisticated clients."

"The globaliSation of wealth creation has accelerated," said Bertrand Lavayssière, Group Director, Capgemini Financial Services. "if 2005 was characteriSed by a flow of investment to international funds from HNWIs, 2006 ushered in a new era whereby emerging economies leaped ahead with direct foreign investment, strong domestic demand, and hefty stock market gains."

In 2006, HNWIs shifted more money into real estate investments, at times liquidating some of their alternative investments to fund these real estate opportunities. Global direct real estate transaction volumes reached US$682 billion in 2006, up 38% from 2005. Real estate investment funds, or REITs, performed strongly to create an overall preferred investment channel. While alternative investments remained a key component of HNWI portfolios, overall HNWI allocations to those investments dipped in 2006.

In the report's first breakout of philanthropic giving, it found that HNWIs, led by the ultra-wealthy, gave an estimated US$285 billion to philanthropic causes in 2006.

Finally, the report found that the global perspective of HNWIs continued to increase in 2006, driven by an expanded awareness of international developments, better international fund performance and risk mitigation.

Looking ahead, mature markets like the United States are expected to act as an anchor on the world economy as moderate growth rates settle in. With many central banks tightening monetary policy, the period of high liquidity that has so stimulated recent growth may soon come to an end. Finally, the growth rates of Asia and Latin America are expected to ease back as global demand slows. (Source: BI-ME)

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.

10 July 2007

10 Saudi Islamists killed in Lebanon unrest

BEIRUT (AFP) - Lebanese authorities have identified the bodies of 10 Saudis among Fatah al-Islam militants killed in fighting with the army in northern Lebanon, a senior security official said on Monday.

"We have identified the bodies of 10 Saudis among the 27 bodies taken by police" since clashes first erupted between the Islamists and Lebanese armed forces on May 20, he told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The official said 17 bodies of Fatah al-Islam combattants were found in the main northern port city of Tripoli and 10 others nearby.

"Police have not taken away the body of any combattant from inside Nahr al-Bared," he said, referring to the impoverished camp near Tripoli where clashes are continuing.

He said the body of Fatah al-Islam spokesman Abu Salim Taha, who has been reportedly killed in the clashes, was not among the 27 bodies recovered by police.

"I don't think that Abu Salim is Saudi. He is probably a Palestinian national," he said.

The Saudi newspaper Al-Watan said on Sunday that six Saudi militants had been killed in the clashes, including Abu Salim Taha whose real name is Al-Hamadi Abdullah al-Dussari, 23.

"We are running DNA tests in order to identify the combattants, most of whom were carrying false passports or false identity cards," the Lebanese security official said.

On July 2, Sultan Abul Aynayn, the Lebanon chief of the mainstream Fatah faction, told AFP that 42 Saudis figured among the Fatah al-Islam militiamen fighting the army.

He said 20 had been killed, one has surrendered, and another 21 were still holed up inside Nahr al-Bared, three of them wounded.

The Al-Qaeda-inspired group is also made up of Lebanese, Palestinian, Iraqi and Syrian fighters, according to the army, which has been battling Fatah al-Islam in the bloodiest internal violence since the 1975-1990 civil war.

According to a count compiled from official figures, the conflict has claimed at least 173 lives, including 85 soldiers. Many bodies are believed to have abandoned amid the ruins of Nahr al-Bared.

Lebanon Time-Line

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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.