31 July 2008

* Lebanese man caught trying to scam Millions out of Florida

A scheme to defraud state taxpayers out of millions of dollars was thwarted by some alert Regions Bank employees and one of the state's biggest road contractors — but not before some of the money was transferred to Beirut, Lebanon.
FBI agents caught Ali Hassan Hammoud, 35, minutes before he was to board an Air France flight to Lebanon, but they were too late to stop the transfer to Lebanon of some of the $5.7-million stolen from the state treasury.
The money was transferred in four installments after state officials received bogus paperwork directing them to ship the money to an account Hammoud controlled instead of sending it to Anderson Columbia, a Lake City construction company.
Details of the scheme were disclosed Tuesday after documents filed late last week were unsealed in federal court in Tallahassee.
Florida's chief financial officer, Alex Sink, said FBI agents are interviewing her employees to determine whether any state workers were involved in the thefts.
"We don't know that yet,'' Sink said. "The first thing any business that's subject to fraud has to determine is: Was there inside information? Or is anybody inside your organization complicit?''
The state also doesn't know how much money is missing. Sink said Regions Bank has returned "several million,'' including some from foreign banks, but there are still some outstanding transfers and checks that could get cashed.
She praised the quick action of Anderson Columbia officials in helping crack the case and said she is reviewing the way the department handles wire transfers to see what she can do to prevent future problems.
Hammoud, a native of Lebanon who lives in Miramar, was arrested Friday at Miami International Airport.
Law enforcement records indicate Hammoud has arrests dating to 1996 for possession of counterfeit designer clothing, operating a chop shop, vehicle theft, selling vehicles with altered numbers and fraud.
In an affidavit accompanying the wire fraud charges filed against Hammoud, FBI Agent Zachary Coates said the state began depositing money in Hammoud's bank account on July 21, after receiving a form asking that money due Anderson Columbia be paid to an account at Regions Bank in Miami instead of the true account at Wachovia in North Florida. The form was signed by "Rick Ward,'' who was identified as an accountant with Anderson Columbia.
Ward is actually a service manager for the company's Marianna branch, and his name appeared on Anderson Columbia's Web site. Ward had not signed the form and had no knowledge of it, the FBI said. No one at Anderson Columbia was aware of the change in bank accounts until they started questioning officials in Sink's office.
Records at Regions Bank indicate Hammoud's account was opened May 16. A second account was opened June 19 in the name of Zamaiss Import Export Inc., a Florida corporation listing Hammoud as its president, treasurer and secretary. Miami Lakes resident Joseph Shomar is listed as the person who created the corporation. Shomar did not return telephone calls Tuesday.
The scam unraveled after an employee at the Overtown branch of Regions Bank in Miami noticed that a multimillion-dollar deposit had been electronically transferred into Hammoud's account. The employee, whom officials did not name, had known Hammoud as a prior customer and called Wachovia to confirm that the transfer was legitimate and could be released to Hammoud.
On July 21 and 22, more than $3.8-million was withdrawn from Hammoud's account, some of it sent to Lebanon in international wire transfers. By July 23 there was a $1,405 deficit balance in the account.
Anderson Columbia officials began calling the state on July 22 to determine why they had not been paid. Brian Schreiber, comptroller for the construction company, said they initially had trouble convincing Sink's department that the company had not changed bank accounts.
"It took a while to convince them to forward us the documents,'' Schreiber said.
Schreiber said he was troubled when he learned the state would change bank accounts without contacting the company that was supposed to receive the money.
"I imagine they are looking at ways to correct it. We are making our own suggestions,'' Schreiber added. "Every vendor the state has gets paid this way. I hope someone is checking to see if they got any other bank changes like this.''
On July 23, the Overtown bank employee who initially questioned the transactions spoke to an employee at Regions' Edison branch and learned that Hammoud was in the bank requesting additional international wire transfers. The Edison branch employee made note of Hammoud's vehicle and tag number, information that was relayed to the FBI.
The FBI then learned that Hammoud had purchased a ticket on an Air France flight scheduled to leave for Lebanon late Friday. He was arrested by FBI agents moments before he boarded the flight. He remained in custody pending a hearing in federal court Monday.


29 July 2008

* (#7) Bomb Explosion in Ain el-Hilweh

A Bomb exploded in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain el-Hilweh injuring a low-ranking official in the mainstream Fatah faction.
Commander of the Palestinian armed struggle command Mounir al Makdah denied media reports that the Fatah member, who was identified by his first name of Talal, was killed.

"Talal, who is a low-ranking official at Fatah, suffers minor injuries and is resting at his home," Makdah told Naharnet by telephone.

The bomb was planted near a Lebanese army checkpoint south of Ain el-Hilweh camp, the Fatah official said. 

* Suzanne Tamim reported death in Dubai Marina.

"Lebanese singer Suzan Tamim has been found murdered in an apartment in Dubai Marina late on Monday, police sources said.

Some Arabic websites said the singer was found stabbed and disfigured.

The singer was living in Dubai for the past eight months, according to the websites.

Suzan Tamim shot to fame in 1996 after she participated in the popular ‘Studio Al Fan’ television show and won the top award.

Tamim has released two albums in her career and has married twice."
Some say that she was killed in jumeirah Beach residence Rimal 1 21st floor
Lebanese singing sensation Suzan Tamim has been murdered in Dubai, police said.
Dubai police Chief Lieutenant General Chief Dahi Khalfan Tamim confirmed to XPRESS that the Lebanese superstar was found murdered.
“I have received the report but I am currently out of the country and do not have any details,” Khalfan told XPRESS.
A police spokesman said she was found murdered late Monday night in an apartment in Dubai Marina area. He declined to give further details saying that police were investigating the incident.
But www.elaph.com, an Arabic celebrity website, said the Lebanese superstar was stabbed and disfigured by a knife. 

As reported by Jaras, she was found with her party costume on, meaning she was preparing to go out. Investigations are hot and in progress. Her body will be transported to lebanon soon.

28 July 2008

* Obama's Wall Note

The Israeli paper Maariv obtains the note Obama left at the Western Wall in Jerusalem and puts a photograph of it on its front page.
The handwriting, beneath the letterhead of the King David Hotel, does appear to be Obama's. Visitors traditionally stick notes of prayer into the wall.
The note says:
Protect my family and me. Forgive me my sins and help me guard against pride and despair.
Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just.
And make me an instrument of your will.
The paper reports that the note was taken by a yeshiva student who was at the wall at the time — a mark of how virtually nothing remains private.


* Finally Some Intervention!

24 July 2008

* Israel Withdraw Activities Noticed!!

كشف قطب لبناني سياسي رفيع المستوى لوكالة الأنباء الألمانية "د.ب.أ" اليوم أن ترتيبات الانسحاب الإسرائيلي من قرية الغجر في جزئها اللبناني قد أنجزت بالكامل، متوقعا أن يتم الانسحاب فعليا في غضون الأيام القليلة المقبلة، ومؤكدا أن هذه الخطوة ستسبق لقاء القمة اللبنانية-السورية بين الرئيسين اللبناني ميشال سليمان والسوري بشار الأسد.
وفي السياق، قال المسؤول الذي فضل الكشف عن اسمه أن زيارة سليمان إلى دمشق ستكون في أوائل آب المقبل.
وأشار الى أن جدول أعمال سليمان خلال الزيارة سيتضمن الى جانب موضوع ترسيم الحدود مناقشة، مستقبل العلاقات بين البلدين في مرحلة ما بعد ترسيم الحدود لاسيما فيما يتعلق بالملفات العالقة بينهما على خلفيات سياسية وأمنية تنظيمية متعلقة بمناطق الجوار المتداخل على غرار قرية الغجر المقسمة جغرافيا وإداريا بين لبنان وسورية.
ويضيف المسؤول إن مزارع شبعا بكامل ملفاتها "وضعت على نار الأمم المتحدة الحامية" غير أن العقبات المتمثلة في القوانين الإدارية لكل من جبل الشيخ والجولان ومزارع شبعا من شأنها أن تدفع بالأمور إلى مفاوضات ثلاثية بين لبنان وسوريا وإسرائيل عبر الأمانة العامة للأمم المتحدة.

23 July 2008

* (#6) Tripoli Car Explosion

Fadi Eid's car exploded near Der Ammar in Tripoli...as reported by LBC.

16 July 2008

* Operation Redwan (update2)

Lebanon's Hezbollah fighters take part in a military parade as the bodies of two Israeli soldiers are handed over to the Red Cross to be exchanged for Lebanese prisoners held by Israel at the Naqoura border point with Israel.

Israeli soldiers and police officers stand guard as a truck belonging to the International Committee of the Red Cross drives into the Rosh Hanikra border crossing with Lebanon, in northern Israel July 16, 2008. Hezbollah handed over the bodies of two Israeli soldiers to the Red Cross on Wednesday to be exchanged for Lebanese prisoners held by Israel.  

Released Lebanese prisoner, Samir Qantar, is greeted by well wishers as he crosses into Lebanon, July 16, 2008. Israel handed over five Lebanese prisoners to Hezbollah via the Red Cross on Wednesday after the Shi'ite guerrilla group returned the bodies of two Israeli soldiers seized in a cross-border raid in 2006.

* Operation Redwan today

Lebanon observes total shutdown on Wednesday to welcome Lebanese prisoners slated to be freed by Israel.
A statement issued by Prime Minister Fouad Saniora said the shutdown includes government offices, shops, businesses, banks as well as municipalities and educational institutions.

Hizbullah and Israel were to carry out a prisoner exchange on Wednesday, two years after a devastating war sparked by the capture of two soldiers who could return home in coffins.

While the mood in Israel was somber, with a tense wait to discover the fate of its soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, included in the swap, Hizbullah has prepared a hero's welcome for its fighters.

Celebratory banners and flags have been hoisted the length of the main coastal highway from the border with Israel at Naqoura to Lebanon's southern port city of Sidon.

Among those being exchanged is Samir Qantar, a Lebanese Druze who with five life terms for murder became the longest-serving Arab prisoner in Israel.

Four Hizbullah fighters captured in the July-August 2006 war which killed more than 1,200 people in Lebanon and 160 in Israel -- Khaled Zidan, Maher Kurani, Mohammed Srour and Hussein Suleiman -- were also to walk free.

The exchange was to take place at the Naqoura-Rosh Hanikra crossing at around 0600 GMT after DNA tests are carried out to confirm the identities of the two soldiers before the swap goes ahead.

In return for its two soldiers, the Jewish state was also to transfer to Lebanon the remains of 199 Palestinian and Hizbullah fighters, exhumed over the past week.

On Tuesday, Hizbullah's commander in south Lebanon, Sheik Nabil Kaouk, called the swap an "official admission of defeat" for Israel.
Hizbullah supporters have set up a makeshift stage in Naqoura, where a brief ceremony will be held. An official ceremony will follow at Beirut Airport and will be attended by President Michel Suleiman, Prime Minister Fouad Saniora and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

The U.N.-brokered swap is the eighth between Israel and Hizbullah since 1991.

Israel's Jerusalem Post newspaper has billed the festivities in Lebanon, where the released men were to be flown to Beirut to be greeted by Suleiman and Saniora, as "a celebration of evil."

The International Red Cross -- using trucks ferried in from Jordan -- was organizing the exchange, after an accord sealed by a U.N.-appointed German mediator, Gerhard Konrad, following months of tough negotiations.

Hizbullah, which is backed by Tehran and Damascus, has never disclosed the fate of Goldwasser and Regev, although Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said they are dead.

The families of Goldwasser and Regev will not be present at the border post of Rosh Hanikra on the Israeli side when the swap takes place.

Instead, army officials will inform the families on the soldiers' fate, as the army prepares for military funerals on Thursday in their home villages if their deaths are confirmed.

The daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to Hizbullah, said one of the two Israelis was definitely killed during his capture in a cross-border raid on July 12, 2006 but the condition of his comrade was uncertain.

Israel's cabinet gave the final go-ahead on Tuesday for the prisoner swap.

President Shimon Peres later the same day pardoned the five Lebanese, saying it was "not a happy day for having to free such murderers but we have a moral responsibility to bring our soldiers home."

The cabinet first approved the swap deal in June, but was asked to endorse it again after Israel received a Hizbullah report on missing airman Ron Arad.

Arad has been missing since his plane was shot down over Lebanon in 1986 during that country's civil war, and although the report said he was probably dead, Israel has rejected its findings.

Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah was to give a speech in Beirut's Shiite southern suburbs later on Wednesday to hail his group's success in emptying Israeli jails of Lebanese prisoners.


13 July 2008

* Lebanon Electricity Scandal

نبيل نقولا رد عبر "النشرة" على جهاد أزعور: فضيحة كهربائيّة المعالم وماليّة الأساس بالصور والوثائق

12 تموز 2008
ردّ المكتب الاعلامي للنائب نبيل نقولا على وزير المالية الأسبق جهاد أزعور "الّذي حاول ذرّ الرماد في عيون اللبنانيين عبر تحويل الأنظار عن المشكلة الأساسيّة للكهرباء من خلال تعطيله فتح الاعتمادات اللازمة في الوقت المناسب لبواخر الفيول، بحجّة ان "الارباك الذي يحصل بين الحين والآخر في موضوع الاعتمادات لشراء المحروقات سببه عدم وجود برمجة واضحة ومنسجمة مع ما تستورده مؤسسة كهرباء لبنان فعليا. وأن الوزارة صادقت منذ بداية سنة 2008 على اعتمادات بقيمة مليار و200 مليون دولار، وأن الخزينة حوّلت في السنوات الثلاث الأخيرة نحو 3 مليارات دولار الى مؤسسة كهرباء لبنان لتغطية عجزها".
واعتبر المكتب الاعلامي للنائب نقولا أن محاولة أزعور تعمية الرأي العام اللبناني عبر تجيير مشكلته الى مؤسّسة كهرباء لبنان والتي سبّبها تأخيره بفتح الاعتمادات للضغط باتّجاه فرض نفسه كوزير في الحكومة الجديدة باءت بالفشل، وجعلت الخزينة اللبنانية المرهقة والمثقلة بالديون ترزح تحت أعباء إضافية حاول الوزير المذكور التنصّل منها.
وإذا كان الوزير أزعور هَدَف الى تبييض صفحته الماليّة في نهاية فترة حكمه لوزارة الماليّة فإنّنا نضع هذه الوثائق المنشورة أدناه بمتناول الرأي العام ليكون هو الحكم على من حاول أن يعتّم على لبنان ليتحوّل اللبنانيون الى المولّدات الكهربائيّة التي ترهق جيوبهم والتي لم تكن الدولة أو معالي الوزير ليهتم بهم من قريب أو بعيد الا لسبب ما او لغاية في نفس يعقوب، علّ هذه الفضيحة الكهربائيّة المعالم وماليّة الأساس تضيء الجانب المظلم بالصور والوثائق.


12 July 2008

* Michael DeBakey, Lebanese/US pioneer of heart procedures, dead at 99

Dr. Michael DeBakey, the world-famous cardiovascular surgeon who pioneered such now-common procedures as bypass surgery and invented a host of devices to help heart patients, died Friday night at The Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas, officials announced. He was 99.

DeBakey died from "natural causes," according to a written statement issued early Saturday by spokesmen for Baylor College of Medicine and The Methodist Hospital.

DeBakey underwent surgery in February 2006 for a damaged aorta -- a procedure he had developed.

DeBakey counted world leaders among his patients and helped turn Baylor College of Medicine in Houston from a provincial school into one of the nation's great medical institutions.

"Dr. DeBakey's reputation brought many people into this institution, and he treated them all: heads of state, entertainers, businessmen and presidents, as well as people with no titles and no means," said Ron Girotto, president of The Methodist Hospital System.

Girotto said the surgeon "has improved the human condition and touched the lives of generations to come."

While still in medical school in 1932, he invented the roller pump, which became the major component of the heart-lung machine, beginning the era of open-heart surgery. The machine takes over the function of the heart and lungs during surgery.

It was only a start of a lifetime of innovation. The surgical procedures that DeBakey developed once were the wonders of the medical world. Today, they are commonplace procedures in most hospitals.

He also was a pioneer in the effort to develop artificial hearts and heart pumps to assist patients waiting for transplants, and helped create more than 70 surgical instruments.

In a rare interview published in December 2006, DeBakey gave The New York Times details of the operation on his damaged aorta earlier that year, when he was 97.

"It is a miracle," DeBakey said. "I really should not be here." He said he at first gambled that his aorta would heal on its own and refused to be admitted to a hospital, and was unresponsive and near death when his doctors and his wife decided to proceed, despite his age. He then spent several months in the hospital.

As he recovered, DeBakey told his doctors he was glad they had operated, despite his earlier refusals.

"If they hadn't done it, I'd be dead," he said.

Dr. William T. Butler, a colleague of DeBakey's at Baylor, said in March 2006 that DeBakey established himself with his surgical firsts as the "maestro of cardiovascular surgery."

"Dr. DeBakey was never afraid to challenge the status quo, often going against the tide," Butler said. "Some times his colleagues did not really accept his visionary ideas, particularly as he propelled beyond the boundaries of existing scientific dogma."

In a 1985 Associated Press interview, DeBakey said, "I'm accused of being a perfectionist and, in the way it's usually defined, I guess I am. In medicine, and certainly in surgery, you have to be as perfect as possible. There's no room for mistakes."

DeBakey was the first to perform replacement of arterial aneurysms and obstructive lesions in the mid-1950s. He later developed bypass pumps and connections to replace excised segments of diseased arteries.

A tireless worker and a stern taskmaster, DeBakey literally had scores of patients under his care at any one time, helping to establish his name as a leading cardiovascular surgeon. By 1992, he had performed more than 50,000 surgeries.

"Man was born to work hard," he said.

His patients ranged from penniless peasants from the Third World to such famous figures as the Duke of Windsor, the Shah of Iran, King Hussein of Jordan, Turkish President Turgut Ozal, Nicaraguan Leader Violetta Chamorro and Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon.

But he said celebrities don't get special treatment on the operating table: "Once you incise the skin, you find that they are all very similar."

He made headlines again in 1996 when he flew to Moscow to help examine ailing Russian President Boris Yeltsin and served as a consultant when he underwent surgery.

DeBakey served as chairman of the President's Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer and Stroke during Johnson's administration and helped establish the National Library of Medicine. He was author of more than 1,000 medical reports, papers, chapters and books on surgery, medicine and related topics.

DeBakey also trained hundreds of cardiovascular surgeons who now are practicing throughout the world. Among them was famed heart surgeon Dr. Denton Cooley, who later became DeBakey's chief rival in the Texas Medical Center.

"I like my work, very much. I like it so much that I don't want to do anything else," DeBakey said.

Baylor University College of Medicine was a fledgling medical school when DeBakey joined it in 1948, five years after it moved from Dallas to Houston.

The Waco-based university later cut its ties to the school, but DeBakey, as the medical school's president and later chancellor, had helped to establish its own identity.

In 1953, DeBakey performed the first Dacron graft to replace part of an occluded artery. In the 1960s, he began coronary arterial bypasses.

In 1962, DeBakey received a $2.5 million grant to work on an artificial heart that could be implanted without being linked to an exterior console. In 1966, he was the first to successfully use a partial artificial heart -- a left ventricular bypass pump.

It was the first implantation of a complete artificial heart by Cooley in 1969 that led to the famous feud between the two surgeons that lasted until the two publicly made amends in 2007. The patient, Haskell Karp, 47, lived on the artificial heart for nearly five days, then received a heart transplant, but died 36 hours later.

Cooley was censured by the medical school and the National Heart Institute for using the experimental device, and he and DeBakey traded accusations about their research. Cooley, who contended Karp was so ill he had no choice but to operate, left Baylor and established the Texas Heart Institute at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital in the Texas Medical Center.

Meanwhile, the effort to save lives through heart transplants was stalled. Dr. Christiaan Bernard in South Africa had performed the first human heart transplant in history in late 1967. In the United States, DeBakey and Cooley were among those who began performing the transplants, but death rates were high because the recipients' bodies rejected the new organs.

The advent of a new anti-rejection drug, cyclosporine, gave new impetus to organ transplants in the 1980s. In 1984, DeBakey performed his first heart transplant in 14 years.

His work as an inventor continued. In the late 1990s, DeBakey brought out a ventricular assist device touted as one-tenth the size of current heart pumps that helped ease suffering for patients waiting for heart transplants.

In the late 1990s, he took an active role in creating the Michael E. DeBakey Heart Institute at Hays Medical Center in Hays, Kan.

DeBakey was born Sept. 7, 1908, in Lake Charles, La., the son of Lebanese immigrants. He got interested in medicine while listening to physicians chat at his father's pharmacy.

"I always knew I wanted to be a doctor. I just didn't know what kind," DeBakey once said.

He received his bachelor's and medical degrees from Tulane University in New Orleans.

He recalled in 1999 that the time he finished medical school in 1932, "there was virtually nothing you could do for heart disease. If a patient came in with a heart attack, it was up to God."

Early in his career, DeBakey invented a new blood transfusion needle, a new suture scissors and a new colostomy clamp. He began teaching at Tulane in 1937.

During World War II, DeBakey worked in Europe as director of the surgeon general's surgical consultants division, helping develop mobile army surgical hospitals (MASH units) and specialized treatment centers for returning veterans.

He returned to Tulane after the war and joined Baylor University College of Medicine in Houston in 1948.

DeBakey's first wife, Diana Cooper DeBakey, died of a heart attack in 1972. Three years later, DeBakey married a German film actress, Katrin Fehlhaber.


* Miss Lebanon 2008

Rosarita Tawil smiles as she wins the Miss Lebanon 2008 beauty pageant held at the studios of Lebanese television company LBC, north of Beirut.

* The President's Daughter Wedding

11 July 2008

* Justice Ruled By "Inmates"!

Few questions were asked on Paltak today:
-Who killed PM Rashid Karameh?
-Who was jailed 10 years for repeated murder convictions?
-Who was responsible for Karantina Massacres?
-Who was responsible for the bomb that exploded in the Church of Sayyidet Al Najet and killed ten worshippers?
-Who killed the leader Dany Chamoun and his family?
-Who killed the former LF member Elias Al Zayek?
-Who was also accused of attempting to kill Minister Michel Murr?
-And finally and eventually, ...
Who is from today on top of the Justice Department?

* Lebanon Cabinet In Real Words!

Hezbollah’s arms will remain the main problem after the formation of the cabinet.

After a week of will-they-or-won’t-they signals from both camps on the formation of a new cabinet, new obstacles have surfaced: The issue of the Christian representation in the government – defused Thursday with Democratic Gathering leader Walid Jumblatt giving up his nomination of bloc member Nehme Tohmeh, and Mustaqbal Movement leader Saad Hariri withdrawing the nomination of Ghattas Khoury – Speaker Berri’s bizarre persistence on insisting Ali Qanso, former head of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), be given a portfolio; and the ongoing problems of who “gets” the ministries of Justice and Public Works. The level of horse-trading and bickering means that if and when a government is eventually formed, it will, in all probability, be shot through with compromise. In such a scenario, would Lebanon really be out of the woods?

A new government will not be the quick fix many expect. One of the first challenges facing the new cabinet will be to reach an agreement on the content of its policy statement. Speaking to NOW Lebanon, Nassir al-Asaad, a columnist with Al-Mustaqbal daily, who has identified the ministerial statements as the next battle among the majority and opposition camps, predicts that Hezbollah will once again do all in its power to maintain its military edge. “Hezbollah has not, and will not, deal positively with Doha’s political content; therefore it does not consider it the basis of any political governance in Lebanon,” he stressed, adding that Hezbollah’s main concern is preserving its arms at any expense.

Hezbollah knows what it is doing. After the Doha conference, it said that it was ready for any national dialogue on one condition: That it starts after the drafting of the ministerial statement, knowing that, with any delicate issues already resolved in the ministerial statement, the national dialogue’s scope would be limited.
The party has already stated that its demand to keep its arms is legitimate, as the struggle is far from over. It does not consider the proposed solution of putting the Shebaa Farms under United Nations control a genuine option as long as Israel continues to pose a threat to the Lebanese, and it has even, in some circles, called the initiative treasonable. And while the party leadership has expressed willingness to discuss a defense strategy, according to Asaad, this is a concession that flies in the face of both the Doha Agreement and the president’s inaugural speech, which stress that the state has sole authority over the formulation of any defense strategy.
Earlier this month, when Nasrallah held a press conference in which he revealed details of the prisoner swap, he also stressed Hezbollah’s understanding of a defense strategy: “We are always ready to discuss the defense strategy. We are not afraid of discussion. Anyone afraid of discussion is weak and has done something wrong. We are unafraid. We have a comprehensive defense strategy, and are ready for discussion at all times.”

Asaad is not convinced. “Hezbollah wants the new [ministerial] statement to be similar to the last one, which stressed that the Resistance was a true expression of the national right of the Lebanese to liberate their land and face Israeli aggressions and threats, even though it also acknowledged the UN resolutions calling for Hezbollah’s disarmament, with the caveat that it should be preceded by national unity,” said Asaad.

However, more than three years have passed since the last cabinet was formed, during which Lebanon has experienced enormous upheaval: the 2006 war, the passing of UNSCR 1701 and the May fighting, which many saw as an attempted coup d’état by Hezbollah. The image of the Resistance has morphed from that of a party filled with stout freedom fighters taking on an occupying Zionist entity, to an autocratic militaristic entity that can impose its will on the nation within a matter of hours.

It is Hezbollah’s talent for the latter that could threaten the freedom and fairness of next year’s general elections. “We cannot go to the 2009 parliamentary elections as long as weapons are still [present on] the streets. Otherwise, there is another option: Hezbollah goes for a military coup, after which it guarantees winning the elections,” said Asaad. “The rest of the issues – such as the military and security appointments, privatization, and even Lebanese-Syrian relations – become side issues.”

Then there is the vote of confidence the parliament usually gives to any new cabinet before it becomes a functional entity. Any falling-out over the policy statement could be a dagger in the heart of the new administration. Charles Ghostine, a lawyer and former senior figure in the National Liberal Party, told NOW Lebanon that, although the cabinet gets the vote of confidence based on the ministerial statement, he does not believe there will be a conflict, because “Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was very positive during his last speech, and I think the majority would not stress the arms issue; otherwise, the government would never be formed in the first place.”

Others are not so upbeat. Speaking to NOW Lebanon, former MP Fares Soueid said that after the May incidents, the issue of Hezbollah’s arms cannot be avoided anymore. “The Taif, the Doha Accord and the UN resolutions, namely 1701, all blocked the use of Hezbollah’s arms; therefore, the ministerial statement should target the relationship between the state and armed groups,” he said.

According to Fares, the ministerial statement will not ignore the issue, but it can find verbal solutions to deal with it. “The real battle is the political equation between the state and the arms: Keeping the arms would hinder the building of a strong republic, while disarming Hezbollah would threaten civil peace. This is the real obstacle, and we should not forget that this equation is related to regional balances and calculations,” Fares concluded.

Regional signs
Analysts believe that the reason for the cabinet delay may be because it is calibrated to a regional timeframe for change. There has certainly been increased diplomatic activity: A third round of the Syrian-Israeli peace negotiations, a truce between Hamas and Israel, dialogue between the US and Iran, and Syria’s recent call for the “normalization” of diplomatic relations with Lebanon, all of which the opposition feels might give it extra leverage.

But according to Asaad, these regional signs, although positive in many ways, are not decisive. “There are signs and countersigns, and no one can predict whether the region will go to war or to settlement. Bashar al-Assad is going to Paris for the Mediterranean Union Summit and will be meeting Sleiman, but let’s not forget that we also have the issue of Ali Qanso. The truce in Gaza is fragile, and Iran and the US still haven’t resolved their issues.”

Asaad also considers the new European openness to the Syrian regime questionable. “It is still not clear what they are expecting from Assad and what he wants from them.”
In that conundrum, may lie Lebanon’s destiny.


* Lebanese Unity Cabinet Announced (in Arabic)


* Lebanon Unity Cabinet Announced

Minister Ministry
Fouad Siniora Prime Minister
Issam Abou Jamra Deputy Prime Minister
Mohammad Chatah Finance
Ibrahim Najjar Justice
Mario Aoun Social Affairs
Ghazi Zoayter Industry
Elie Marouni Tourism
Tammam Salam Culture
Antoine Karam Environment
Elias al-Murr Defense
Raymond Audi Displaced
Ibrahim Shamseddine Administrative Reforms
Mohammad Safadi Economy and trade
Ziad Baroud Interior
Talal Arslan Youth and Sports
Bahia Hariri Education
Ghazi Aridi Transport and Public Works
Fawzi Salloukh Foreign Affairs
Alain Tabourian Energy and Water
Mohammad Fneish Labor
Mohammad Jawad Khalifa Health
Gebran Bassil Telecommunications
Tarek Mitri Information
Elias Skaff Agriculture
Wael Abou Faour State
Ali Qanso State
Khaled Qabbani State
Jean Ogassapian State
Nassib Lahoud State
Youssef Taqla State

From a different view the cabinet, headed by premier Fouad Saniora, groups 30 ministers from the seven major sects in a nation made up of 18 religious communities:

Maronite Ministers: Ziad Baroud, Nassib Lahoud, Tony Karam, Gebran Bassil and Mario Aoun.

Greek Orthodox ministers: Issam Abu Jamra, Elias Murr, Ibrahim Najjar and Tareq Mitri, Raymond Audi.

Catholic ministers: Elie Skaff, and Youssef Takla.

Druze: Talal Arslan, Ghazi Aridi and Wael Abu Faour.

Sunnis: Fouad Saniora, Bahia Hariri, Mohammed Safadi, Tammam Salam and Mohammad Shatah and Khaled Qabbani

Shiites: Mohammed Fneish, Ali Qanso, Ibrahim Shamseddine, Mohammed Jawad Khalifa, Fawzi Salloukh and Ghazi Zoayter.

Armenians: Jean Ogassapian and Alain Taborian.

* Tripoli

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.