29 February 2008

USS Cole in Lebanon Coasts

Beirut- Signaling impatience with Syria, the United States has sent its USS Cole warship off the coast of Lebanon in a "show of support" for regional stability, U.S. officials said on Thursday.

A senior Bush administration official told Reuters the United States was very concerned about the political deadlock in Lebanon, which Washington blames on Syrian meddling, and the U.S. military gesture underlined that worry.

"The United States believes a show of support is important for regional stability. We are very concerned about the situation in Lebanon. It has dragged on very long," said the senior official, who spoke on condition he was not named.

Lebanon's western-backed governing coalition and its Syrian- and Iranian-backed opposition have failed to reach a deal to end the country's political conflict.

"Our sense is that there is increased nervousness, with Hezbollah people making threats and a general sense that this is not going to get resolved," said the senior official.

The United States has increased pressure on Syria in recent weeks, targeting more individuals with sanctions.

"It is part of a drumbeat of action by us and by other members of the international community to show our concern about the behavior of the Syrians," the U.S. official said.

The presidential election in Lebanon was postponed again this week to March 11 from February 26, the 15th such delay, after rival leaders failed to reach a deal.

The deadlock has threatened to degenerate into sectarian violence and continues to poison inter-Arab relations in the run-up to an Arab summit in Syria next month.

A U.S. defense official said the Cole left Malta on Tuesday and was headed toward Lebanon, adding it would not be within visible range of Lebanon but "well over the horizon."

"The point would be to encourage stability during a potentially critical period," the official said.

The defense official indicated the Cole could be replaced by the USS Nassau, an amphibious assault ship. The Nassau is in the Atlantic and en route to the Mediterranean, the official said.

President George W. Bush ordered the move earlier this week as a sign of concern over Lebanon and told close U.S. allies about it.

"The president is concerned about the situation in Lebanon and discusses the issue regularly with his national security team," said National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe, when asked to comment on the latest military move.

Picture: USS Cole. On October 12, 2000, while at Aden harbor for a routine fuel stop, al Qaeda suicide bombers attacked the ship killing seventeen sailors and wounding 39 others. The explosion put 35 -36 foot gash in the ship's port side. The warship underwent a $250 million repair and returned to its home port on April 26 2002

Deeply concerned about Lebanon's political strife, the United States has sent its USS Cole warship off the country's coast in a "show of support for regional stability," a top U.S. official said Thursday.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the deployment of the guided-missile destroyer but declined to say that the show of force was meant for Syria or Iran, which Washington considers foes of Lebanese democracy.

It is "a show of support for regional stability" because of "concern about the situation in Lebanon," the official said.

Asked whether U.S. President George Bush had given the order, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said: "The president is concerned about the situation in Lebanon and discusses the issue regularly with his national security team."

Lebanon's presidential vacuum has entered its fourth month with no resolution in sight, fueling fears that a deepening sectarian rift could stoke civil strife.

Arab leaders have stepped up efforts to bridge the divide between the Western-backed ruling coalition and the opposition supported by Syria and Iran but analysts said they do not hold out much hope of a deal ahead of an Arab summit next month.

Recent street clashes between supporters of rival factions have further raised tensions and prompted several Gulf nations and Western states to advise their citizens against traveling to Lebanon.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saoud al-Faisal even warned earlier this month that the country was "on the verge of civil war."

Lebanon has been without a president since November 24 when Damascus protégé Emile Lahoud stepped down in the midst of the worst political crisis since the country's 1975-1990 civil war.

Syria is widely blamed for the February 2005 killing of Hariri in a massive Beirut car bombing but Damascus has denied any involvement.

But two months after the murder, Syria pulled out its troops from Lebanon under domestic and international pressure, ending a 29-year military domination of its small neighbor.

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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.