04 February 2009

* Iran calls for joint committee to probe fate of abducted citizens

A decades-old dispute over the fate of four abducted Iranian diplomats was revived on Tuesday after Iran called for the formation of an Iranian-Lebanese committee to investigate their disappearance. Then-charges d'affaires Sayyid Mohsen Mousavvi, military attaché Ahmad Motevaselian, embassy driver Taghi Rastegar-Moghadam and Islamic Republic News Agency journalist Kazem Akhavan disappeared in 1982 while Lebanon was under military occupation by Israel. It is widely believed the men were kidnapped by the Christian Lebanese Forces militia at a checkpoint in Barbara, northern Lebanon. Iran and Hizbullah say the Lebanese Forces, now headed by Samir Geagea, then handed the men over to Israel, where they remain imprisoned. But an Israeli report given to Hizbullah last year claimed the four Iranians were murdered by the Lebanese Forces and were never taken to the Jewish state.
"The Islamic Republic is calling for an Iranian-Lebanese committee to be created to look into the details and circumstances of this incident," Iranian Ambassador to Beirut Ali Reza Shebani told reporters after Tuesday's meeting with Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Sallukh.
Iranian frustration with the lack of progress made in tracking down the men was echoed by Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani on Monday, who said the Islamic Republic had "not yet received any proper response in that regard."
An official statement circulated on Saturday by the Iranian Embassy in Beirut held Israel responsible for the men's disappearance. "We in Iran do not accept the Zionist point of view, and we are not bothered by the Zionist entity's [Israel] denial of responsibility," Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said. "We still consider the Zionist entity responsible for the fate of the four Iranian diplomats currently inside Zionist prisons," Qashqavi said, citing Israel's "secret and open" relations with the men's Lebanese kidnappers.
"Only a few months ago Raid Mousavvi [son of Sayyid Mohsen Mousavvi] came to Lebanon to push for answers. But nothing has been achieved and the families are still waiting. We don't even know if the men are still alive."
Iran had spoken to every Lebanese government since 1982 regarding the men's fate, Hershi said, and although little had materialized, he was "optimistic" that the truth would be uncovered eventually.
Hizbullah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah last week said the Lebanese government was responsible for uncovering the men's whereabouts. The Lebanese Forces also had to give up any information they had, Nasrallah said. "If they turned them over to Israel, let them say that. If they killed them, let them deliver their bodies," he said.
Replying to Nasrallah on Tuesday, MP Walid Jumblatt said that Iran, rather than Lebanon, was responsible for uncovering the fate of the missing diplomats. In his weekly editorial in Al-Anbaa magazine, Jumblatt said that the investigation into the missing Iranian diplomats should proceed in "exactly" the same way as investigations into the whereabouts of Lebanese citizens missing in Syria.
Nasrallah's comments also attracted ire from Geagea, who asked last Friday, "Who can explain the pressing interest of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah in the four Iranian diplomats? Is this issue more important than Lebanese detainees in the Syrian prisons?"
The fate of the missing Iranians was primarily a humanitarian question, said Hershi, suggesting the issue was being manipulated for political purposes. "When Europeans were kidnapped in Lebanon in the 1970s, all political parties gave whatever information they had. So why are people not doing the same for the kidnapped Iranians?"
"We say to the Lebanese, if there is anyone out there with information about the whereabouts of the men, please tell us," Hershi urged.
Ambassador Shebani will meet with Lebanese Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar on Wednesday to discuss the men's whereabouts.


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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.