27 October 2008

* U.S. Stages Raid Inside Syria? (update 1)

The primary target of the U.S. raid into Syria was a "senior leader" of Al Qaeda in Iraq's "extensive network that funnels foreign fighters, weapons, and cash" into the country, according to the Long War Journal.

U.S. special operations hunter-killer teams entered Syria in an attempt to capture Abu Ghadiya… who has been in charge of the Syrian network since 2005….

The raid to capture Ghadiya occurred in the town of Sukkariya…just five miles from the Iraqi border. Four U.S. helicopters crossed the border and two of the helicopters landed to drop off special operations forces…

Nine people were reported killed and 14 were wounded. Syrian officials claimed innocent construction workers and women and children were killed in the raid.

U.S. officials contacted by The Long War Journal would not comment if Ghadiya was killed or captured.

As Allen Thomson notes, this region has been a problem for U.S. operations in Iraq for years. So why hit it now? Juan Cole sees the attack as a way to "mak[e] sure that what the administration calls 'al-Qaeda in Iraq' did not have the means to mount a spectacular bombing or assassination campaign" that might impact the American election. I'm not sure I'm that cynical.
Meanwhile, the L.A. Times' Babylon & Beyond blog has its own theory: The raid might have been a kind of brushback pitch -- a way to keep Syria away from a key border base that's now been turned over to Iraqi forces.
... bull***!!

The U.S. military has been using killer drones to take out enemies for years. But those strikes have ordinarily targeted small groups, or lone individuals. Last night, an American pilotless plane reportedly killed 20 people during an attack on a militant compound in Pakistan. It could well be the deadliest drone strike ever.


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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.