27 June 2009

* Israeli Army amasses troops and military hardware on Lebanese border

The Israeli Army stepped up its presence along the border with Lebanon deploying armored tanks and setting up fortifications as it intensified airspace violations in the area, Lebanon's state-run National News Agency reported Thursday. In "unusual military activity," the Israeli Army deployed Merkava tanks and soldier carriers, among other armored vehicles, along the barb-wired fence separating Shebaa Farms from liberated Lebanese territories, the NNA said.

Israeli tanks were also amassing along a 5-kilometer area, stretching from Tallat Sobaih army post to Jabal al-Sheikh observatory. Sporadic gunfire was also heard throughout the day, the NNA report said.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Air Force carried out several flights over the regions of the Shebaa Farms, Al-Arqoub villages, Hasbaya, Marjayoun, Western Bekaa and Iqlim al-Tuffah. Israeli helicopters were also spotted over the Shebaa Farms between 6 a.m. and 8:30 a.m.

On the outskirts of the southern village of Abassiya, the Israeli Army set up fortifications and barricades as part of a military workshop around Al-Dohaira post, off the town of Al-Ghajar. Heavy machinery was being used including bulldozers, drills and large cranes. A similar workshop was taking place at Jabal al-Sheikh's observatory with soldiers setting up military equipment.

In other news, an Israeli Army delegation suggested taking Lebanese-Israeli military talks under the auspices of the UN peacekeepers' command to the next stage, As-Safir newspaper reported on Thursday.

The newspaper said that the proposal came during a meeting held between the two sides on the implementation of UN Resolution 1701 in the presence of commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) Major General Claudio Graziano in the border town of Naqoura on Wednesday.

Lebanese government sources told As-Safir that the Israeli side proposed to Lebanese Army representatives to move the talks which solely focus on the implementation of the resolution, which put an end to the summer 2006 war, "to the bilateral political level between the governments of Lebanon and Israel."

"If you accept our invitation, all [problems] would be subject to a solution at one time," the head of the Israeli delegation had reportedly told the Lebanese side.

But the Lebanese Army representatives bluntly replied that government instructions limit the tripartite meeting's agenda to issues related to the implementation of Resolution 1701, according to As-Safir.

The delegation "categorically" rejected the Israeli proposal, the daily reported.

The army delegation later informed Prime Minister Fouad Siniora about the results of the tripartite meeting that lasted three hours.

Meanwhile, As-Safir said the UNIFIL command informed Lebanon that the Israeli violation of the Blue Line was removed after the Israeli Army had taken down its flag at an observation post that it erected last week in a restricted area on the outskirts of Kfar Shouba Hills.

However, An-Nahar daily said that the outpost was intact and all that Israel did was to take down the flag.

Kfar Shouba's Mayor Izzat al-Qadri, who inspected the area on Wednesday, told the newspaper that the Israeli violation was ongoing.

"I urge the Lebanese premier, the army command and the UNIFIL leadership to make every effort to end this violation," he said.


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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.