11 April 2008

-Israel Says it is Better Prepared for Hizbullah Missiles

Israel wound up its largest ever civil defense exercise on Thursday to guards against missile attacks from Syria, Lebanon's Hizbullah and Gaza militants.
The latest phase of the drills, a simulation of a chemical weapons attack on a hospital, was concluded successfully and the five days of drills worked well, according to Israeli officials.

In the final drill a hospital in the northern city of Afula was evacuated during a simulated chemical weapons strike, a military spokesman said.

The home front maneuver was aimed at preparing Israel for possible attacks involving conventional weapons as well as missiles equipped with chemical or bacteriological warheads.

The exercise, which began on Sunday "worked very well, everything worked according to what we planned. We thought we would have many more problems," said defense ministry spokesman Shlomo Dror.

The drills also aimed at preparing the country for possible concerted attacks by Syria, Hizbullah from the north, and the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas from the south.

The nationwide exercise raised tensions with Israel's northern neighbors Syria and Lebanon, but Israel insisted the drill was solely designed to test civilian defenses.

"The objective of the drill was to check all kinds of situations," Dror said. "We said earlier that if everything went well (during the 2006 Lebanon war) we wouldn't have to do a drill."

The commander of the home front northern command said Israel was today much better prepared for missile attacks than it was at the 2006 war against Hizbullah when over 4,000 rockets struck northern Israel.

"We are at a completely different place today. The level of our readiness is much higher and everyone understands what they have to do," Colonel Yossi Luchy told AFP.

An official inquiry harshly criticized Israel's leadership for failing to protect civilians during the 34-day conflict which killed more than 1,200 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and 160 Israelis, most of them soldiers.

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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.