27 October 2010

* Saudis Push Lebanese PM Hariri to Quit

In a sudden about-face, the Saudis on Monday, Oct. 25, urged Lebanon's pro-Western Prime Minister Saad Hariri to step down without delay and make way for an administration dominated by pro-Syrian ministers and Hezbollah. King Abdullah, according to Middle East and Beirut sources, sees no other way of saving Lebanon from tipping over into civil strife over Hezbollah's demand to disband the international tribunal probing the 2005 murder of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

Last week, Hariri confided to US Deputy Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman he was close to resigning and giving way to the Saudi King, long a friend of the Hariri family, now siding with its antagonists. When Riyadh saw he was sticking to his guns, the Saudi mouthpiece Asharq al-Awsat published an article of a sort rarely seen in the Arab media telling the Lebanese prime minister in no uncertain terms that he had no choice in the matter.

Chief Editor Tariq Alhomayed warned Saad Hariri that he had run out of options and the only thing left for him was to follow his father's example and resign as prime minister as Rafiq Hariri did in late 2004. A few months later, Rafiq Hariri was assassinated in Beirut. "Afterwards," said Alhomayed, "you will become, wherever you may be, a sanctuary" because only then will the Lebanese public and Arab leaders appreciate the threat against them.

DEBKAfile's sources spell out this "threat" as the Iranian-Syrian-Hezbollah conspiracy to break up the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in time to pre-empt the indictments of nine senior Hezbollah security officials for involvement in the assassination due to be published before the end of the year.

Asharq al-Awsat acknowledged that no Lebanese leader stepping into Hariri's shoes would be able to invalidate the tribunal's legitimacy or dismantle it because this would condemn Lebanon to the anarchy of civil war. Nonetheless, the writer stood by the demand for Hariri to remove himself from office without delay as the only viable option left in the unfolding crisis.

Our sources note that a new Lebanese government under the thumb of Damascus and Hezbollah will waste no time in annulling the tribunal and so be free to parrot the Hezbollah charge that Israeli intelligence was behind the Hariri murder. When the tribunal asked Hezbollah for evidence of its charge earlier this year, it received no answer. Raising it again may well have the effect of precipitating a renewed Lebanese-Israeli clash of arms which a new government would not raise a finger to prevent.


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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.