27 October 2008

* U.S. Stages Raid Inside Syria?

The Syrian press is claiming U.S. forces launched a helicopter raid inside Syrian territory today... SANA, the country's state-run news agency, said four US military helicopters 'violated Syrian airspace' at 4:45 p.m. local time. The report further claims that eight Syrian citizens were 'martyred' in the attack, allegedly launched from across the border in Iraq.

DAMASCUS, (SANA)-An official source on Sunday announced that four US helicopters coming from Iraq violated the Syrian airspaces over Abu Kamal area (al-Sukkariah Farm) targeting a civilian building, killing eight citizens.
The source identified the civilians killed in the aggression as Daoud Mohammad al-Abdullah and his four sons, in addition to Ahmad Khalifa, Ali Abbas Al-Hassan and his wife. Another citizen was also wounded, the source added. Later, the US helicopters flew back to the Iraqi airspace.
Syria, while condemning this act of aggression, holds the US forces responsible for this aggression and all of its repercussions, calls on the Iraqi government to shoulder its responsibilities and open an immediate investigation into this dangerous violation and prevent using the Iraqi territories for launching aggression on Syria.
The Deputy Foreign Minister summoned the Charge d 'Affairs at the US Embassy in Damascus, informing her of Syria's protest and condemnation of this dangerous aggression, holding the US administration full responsibility for it. The Iraqi Charge d'affaires has also been summoned to the Foreign Ministry for the same purpose.
Earlier, a media source said that four US military helicopters had violated the Syrian airspaces eight km over al-Sukkariah Farm, in Abu Kamal area at 4.45 P.M Sunday.
The US helicopters launched an aggression on a civilian building under construction and opened fire at the workers inside the building, killing eight civilians, including the wife of the building guard, and wounding another. The helicopters then left towards the Iraqi territories.

The Los Angeles Times reports a non-denial from the Pentagon:

Details were sketchy. In Washington, several military representatives asked about the operation did not deny that a raid had taken place. Although they would not confirm the attack, they used language typically employed after raids conducted by secretive Special Operations forces.

We contacted the duty officer at U.S. Central Command public affairs; he said he had "no information" on the incident. The latest update from SANA says that Syria's deputy foreign minister summoned the chargĂ© d’affaires of the US Embassy in Damascus to protest the incident.

If the Syrian allegations are in fact true, the incident sounds very similar to some of the hot pursuit raids we've seen inside Pakistan in recent months. A helicopter-borne assault by U.S. and Afghan special operations inside Pakistan last month provoked a storm of protest from Islamabad, with Pakistan's Foreign Ministry complaining of a "gross violation of Pakistan's territory" and "a grave provocation." But beyond the rhetoric, there seemed to have been very little diplomatic fallout.

Lest we forget, there was also that Israeli air raid last September against a Syrian site that was supposed linked to clandestine nuclear activity. The site of this latest attack, according to the Los Angeles Times, is in the same vicinity as that strike.

All victims were civilians," the Dunya report said.
Witnesses told media that two helicopters landed and eight U.S. soldiers disembarked. Syrian state television said they stormed a building.
The attack, if confirmed, would appear to mark the first time during the 5-year-old Iraq war that U.S. troops have launched an attack inside Syria.
U.S. officials have often accused Syria of allowing Sunni Arab insurgents to cross the porous frontier into Iraq and wreak havoc. But such allegations have subsided in recent months as violence in Iraq has decreased and Damascus and Washington have begun taking steps toward rapprochement.
Syrian foreign minister Walid Moallem met briefly with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last month.


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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.