16 January 2008

(#1) Karantina Explosion - Part 2

Lebanese forces tightened security in Beirut on Wednesday as a probe into the bombing that targeted a U.S. embassy vehicle got underway.
Local newspapers said the attack was a message to U.S. President George Bush during his visit to the region and was aimed at undermining efforts to end Lebanon's long-running presidential crisis.

Arab League chief Amr Moussa was due back in Beirut on Wednesday in a fresh bid to resolve the deadlock between pro- and anti-Syrian political factions that has left the country without a president for almost two months.

Tuesday's blast left three people dead and 26 injured, including the Lebanese driver of the U.S. embassy car and an American passer-by on a brief visit to Lebanon, security officials said.

Security was tight around Beirut with army checkpoints set up in many areas as Lebanese and U.S. investigators gathered evidence at the blast site in Karantina.

It was the first anti-American bombing in Lebanon since the 1980s, when U.S. military and diplomatic missions were hit and Islamic fundamentalists seized several American hostages at the height of the civil war.

"The bomb targeting a vehicle from the U.S. embassy was a message to Bush," said the Ad-Diyar newspaper, which is close to the opposition that is backed by Syria and Iran.

Other newspapers and politicians said it was clear that the 15-kilograms (33 pound) bomb, which had been planted on the side of the road, was aimed at torpedoing efforts by the Arab League to end Lebanon's political stalemate.

"The bombing targeted a vehicle from the US embassy or the convoy of the Arab solution?" the pro-opposition As-Safir questioned, referring to an Arab League plan to end the crisis pitting the Hizbullah-led opposition against the pro-government majority March 14 coalition.

Lebanon has been without a president since November 23, when pro-Syrian head of state Emile Lahoud stepped down with no elected successor.

Moussa was excepted to arrive in Beirut later Wednesday on his second visit this month to try and prod feuding politicians to agree to the Arab initiative that calls for the election of army chief General Michel Suleiman as president.

Moussa said on Tuesday the bomb attack was clear evidence of the urgency to end Lebanon's political crisis.

The plan also calls for the formation of a national unity government in which no one party has veto power and the adoption of a new electoral law.

Parliament is due to meet on January 21 for a presidential vote but 12 previous sessions have been cancelled.

Although the ruling coalition has given the plan its full backing, Hizbullah is insisting the opposition be granted a third of the seats in a new government so as to have a veto over key decisions.(AFP-Naharnet)

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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.