27 April 2008

-Gun Prices Shoot Up in Lebanon after Fears of War

The Washington post said in an article that gun prices have shot up in Lebanon after fears of war.
It said Abu Omar, a money changer and father of 11 who lives in Beirut, has bought at least 10 firearms since the beginning of last year.

"Everything I can put my hands on and I can afford, I buy. I never sell," he said. "Now is a time for buying arms."

Many Lebanese, increasingly worried about the country's political paralysis devolving into violence, are preparing themselves in the same way, the newspaper said.

It said one measure of their anxiety is the price of small arms: An AK-47 that went for $75 to $100 a year ago now costs somewhere between $600 and $1,000.

Even larger, outdated arms are gaining value, including rocket-propelled grenade launchers that were once considered the "garbage of weapons," said Ghassan Qarhani, a former fighter familiar with the arms market. Today, RPG launchers cost $500, up from $50, he said, noting that they are useful for street warfare.

Lebanon is facing its worst political crisis since the end of its 1975-1990 civil war, with the feuding factions unable to agree on a compromise to elect a replacement to pro-Syrian former president Emile Lahoud, who stepped down in November at the end of his mandate.

Despite disarmament accords, many of Lebanon's militia members have retained their weapons, The Washington Post wrote.

It said supporters of newer groups, such as the predominantly Sunni Future Movement, and those loyal to Christian opposition leader Gen. Michel Aoun, appear to be buying weapons now.

Qarhani, who lives in the northern city of Tripoli, estimated that half of the residents in the city's low-income Sunni neighborhoods now have weapons. A couple of years ago, "very, very few were armed," he said.

The Washington Post said that according to dealers and buyers most of the weapons on the market date from the civil war and had been stored away. Now they are changing hands.

"There are more arms dealers in this country than there is hair on my head," said Abu Omar, who has long white hair.

"I buy from three different sources: a Syrian, a Palestinian and a Shiite from the southern suburb. I call them and tell them what I want, and they bring the pieces to me; sometimes, they call me when they have a special piece," he said.

Most dealers are part-timers who start as aficionados and then transition into trading until they are known for what they do, the Washington Post wrote.

"The government knows everything. They know who is buying and they know who is selling, and right now, the policy is to allow people to own guns, as long as they shoot only in the air and not at each other," Qarhani said.

The Lebanese government has not removed weapons from Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon or disarmed Hizbullah.

Events in January 2007 drove many Lebanese to invest in personal protection, dealers and others told the Washington Post.

A strike called by the opposition was followed two days later by clashes between Shiites and Sunnis in the university neighborhood of Tarik Jadideh, leaving four people dead. The violence brought Beirut to closer to civil war, with snipers on rooftops and tanks on the ground. Concerns about sectarian warfare compelled Lebanese leaders to restrain their supporters, but tensions persist between Sunnis and Shiites.

"Tarik Jadideh was a slap on our face," said Assad al-Sabaa, who belonged to a Sunni militia during the civil war. He was referring to clashes between Shiites and Sunnis at the Beirut Arab University in January 2007.

"It was the first warning; they burned our cars and threw stones at our houses. We realized that we have to depend on ourselves to protect our neighborhoods and our families and our properties."

"Beirut has its people, and we will not let them occupy it," Sabaa said of a long-standing Hizbullah tent city in downtown Beirut. "Should I wait until they occupy my house?"

The need to buy guns is felt by rich and poor. Nada, a resident of the upscale Clemenceau neighborhood, told The Washington Post that she was surprised when her father first gave her a gun and asked her to keep it in the house. Now, she's used to it. She declined to give her full name.

"This is history repeating itself. When people feel unprotected and they fear the other, they seek self-protection, they buy guns, and from that moment on, the road is very slippery," said Assad Shaftari, a former leader in a militia that fought during the civil war.

Shaftari said he remembers very well buying his first gun, from a Palestinian. "He was my enemy, and we both knew it, but business was business," he said.

"It was an amazing feeling, carrying a gun," he said. "It makes a person feel more manly, more protected, but once you own a gun, you start treating it like a baby, you clean it, you take care of it, and wait for the time to use it, you want to see how it works.

"And then you use it, and it uses you, you find yourself in a war, just like that.

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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.