Saturday, May 31, 2008

Suleiman's 1st Foreign Visit as President

Blacksmiths of Lebanon Polls are back! Our regular readers will recall that we stayed true to our pledge to keep a frozen poll of our reader's choice of President until obstructions to Presidential elections were removed and Lebanon's Presidency was restored. With the election of Suleiman we can now unfreeze our Blacksmith Polls and open them up to new questions and issues.

Readers will be able to access the latest poll (along with past polls) via a banner in the left sidebar (try it out!). This format is a bit different from the past but it will allow us to minimize the space used on the sidebar for the polls.

In any case, here is the first poll of the new series, I haven't decided how long the polls will be up for (say 2-3 weeks for starters) but hopefully they'll generate the same excitement the old ones used to (and more!)

Feel free to elaborate on your vote in the comments section and/or drop us some ideas for future polls ... alright, enough out of me, let the voting begin!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Commentator Captions 1

I've been thinking of starting this category of posts for a while now, and I couldn't think of any better picture to start it off with than this one of FPM leader and MP Michel Aoun handing newly appointed Prime Minister Fouad Siniora a gardenia flower following the end of their meeting today in Rabieh, and ahead of consultations regarding the formation of the new government.

The idea is simple, a picture is put up and commentators provide their thoughts about a suitable caption or perhaps giver their version of what dialogue in the picture would be. Remember to keep it fun and keep it polite...

...Good luck!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Fouad Siniora Prime Minister (Again)

"Based on his consultations with members of parliament ... the president has asked Fouad Siniora to form a new government," the presidency said in a statement.

2009 Electoral Districts

Before we start, I'd like to highlight an excellent two-page document put up by NOWLebanon which compares Beirut's electoral districts for 2009 to those from the 2000 law, the Boutros law and the 1960 law. Below is one of the graphics I pulled from the document, but read the whole thing, its well worth it:

(click on images to enlarge!)

Below is something I took off of a document I found laying around the FPM official website the other day and which gives the breakdown of the number of MPs (or Parliamentary seats) - by sect - up for election according to the electoral law agreed upon as part of the Doha agreement. The reader should note that the electoral law for 2009 hasn't been ratified yet, so somethings below might still change between now and then. In any case, here it is:

(click on images to enlarge!)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Breaking News: Clashes and Casualties in Aramoun

You can get the latest Blacksmiths of Lebanon Updates directly to your Facebook, MySpace or cell phone for free!! Click for details.

----

Update: Arrest of some gunmen involved in incident.

Update:
Voice of Lebanon radio reports (via NOWLebanon) that Lebanese soldier Hussein Janibi has died of wounds sustained in the Dohat Aramoun clashes.

Update: Future Movement denies involvement in Dohat Aramoun clashes.

NOWLebanon: A fight between Hezbollah and PSP supporters erupted a short while ago in Dohat Aramoun, and quickly escalated into armed clashes. The Lebanese army was deployed to control the situation, and sources say two soldiers were wounded in the crossfire and are in critical condition at the Kamal Jumblatt hospital.

Meanwhile Naharnet is reporting the death of one person as a result of the clashes, naming the pro-government party as the Future Movement.

Lebanonfiles reports the cause of this latest firefight as a dispute over right of way on a road in the area.

Earlier today, the Lebanese government banned motorbikes, partisan flags and provocative convoys in Beirut following assaults on civilians that took place the previous night in which 23 people were wounded.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Breaking News: Hizballah Gunmen Wound 16

You can get the latest Blacksmiths of Lebanon Updates directly to your Facebook, MySpace or cell phone for free!! Click for details.

----

Update:
Number of wounded revised to 18 - some in critical condition.

Update:
News services in Lebanon report that the Lebanese Army has assumed control of the affected neighborhoods in Beirut.

NOWLebanon reports: Amal and Hezbollah gunmen opened fire and hurled rocks in the direction of Tarik al-Jedideh and Corniche al-Mazraa earlier today [starting at approximately 8:30 pm], coinciding with Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s speech. RPGs were also fired at the Abed an-Nasser mosque. The Lebanese army has been deployed and has cut off the roads between Corniche al-Mazraa, Barbour and Tarik al-Jedideh. The wounded have been transferred to nearby hospitals.

Meanwhile reports are also coming in of clashes in the Beqaa town of Taalabay between Syrian-controlled militiamen belonging to the Baath party and gunmen loyal to the Future Movement.

Naharnet also reported statements by Beirut MP Ammar Houry calling on the President to intervene and protect the capital's civilians from attacks by Hizballah militiamen. The MP had complained yesterday of "a new wave of provocations" in Beirut following the President's election.

Presidential Inaugural Speech: Video

Celebrating a New Presidential Era

Downtown Beirut Celebrates
[images courtesy of Yahoo!News]

Presidential Election: LBC Video Report

Sunday, May 25, 2008

President Michel Suleiman

My initial skepticism and disappointment in the manner in which the election was carried out today was tempered by the new President, Michel Suleiman's, inaugural speech. The speech underscored, to a large extent the hopes and aspirations of the national populace that had brought about the Cedar Revolution more than three years ago.

Suleiman emphasized the need to activate and protect the country's constitutional institutions - implicitly recognizing the closure of Parliament explicitly denied by the man who swore him into office and who kept the institution's door shut for over 18 months.

Suleiman also called on the Lebanese to put the country's interests above their own individual ones, calling on all parties to recognize and abide by the results of democratic elections.

On Hizballah's weapons, Suleiman highlighted the need to build a national defense strategy which drew on the experiences of the country's resistance to Israeli occupation, and decried the use of Hizballah's weapons internally. His words echoed those of regular citizens and political leaders, alike, who have called on the group to integrate its weapons into the Army, and who have called on the state to exercise a monopoly over the use of arms and over national decisions of war and peace.

The President also highlighted his support for all UN Resolutions and their enforcement on Lebanese land. Among those UN resolutions are 1559, 1701, and 1757 which call for the disarmament of all militant groups in the country, the withdrawal of all foreign troops from occupied Lebanese lands, the enforcement of the state's control over all Lebanese territories, and the country's abiding by the results of the International Tribunal to try those accused in the assassination of Rafic Hariri and other Lebanese politicians and personalities.

On Syria, Suleiman echoed calls by the sitting government for the building of relations based on mutual respect for each country's sovereignty [and not one country dominating the other]. On the issue of the Palestinian refugees, the President underlined Lebanon's role as a hosting nation awaiting, and continuously calling for, these refugees right of return, and rejecting their naturalization in Lebanon. Suleiman also rejected the presence of weapons in the Palestinian camps which could threaten Lebanese security.

His speech was reassuring, and reflected to a very large extent the political orientations of a Christian community which saw its top political seat assailed and undermined by a Syrian-enforced hijacking in 2004 and a Syrian-backed blockage from 2007 to the present.

For the Lebanese population as a whole, the President's speech brought back respect for the position of the presidency and underscored the undeniable path to sovereignty laid out by the events of the spring of 2005...

...now whats left is to turn those words into actions. Suleiman has brought hope back into the country - now lets hope it lasts.

Blacksmith Briefs on Facebook/MySpace!

You can now keep up with the latest from Lebanon (and its Blacksmiths) by adding Blacksmith Briefs to your Facebook! Users can stay up to date on the latest by adding me (BlacksmithJade) as a Twitter friend and following my feed. Install the Twitter application on your Facebook page and receive instant updates from me as well as your other Twitter friends (or interesting/public personalities, such as Hillary Clinton).

For instructions, visit the Twitter homepage, or go directly to Twitter's badges (for Facebook and/or MySpace) or devices (for IM or SMS services)

Users can also install the Twitter application on the My Space page, or use it to receive automatic updates on selected Instant Messaging services (like GTalk or LiveJournal).

As highlighted in my earlier updates post, Twitter users can also follow the BlacksmithJade feed and receive instant updates on their cell phones.

And for regular bloggers, nothing gets you out jail faster than Twitter (check this story for details). Business and IT buffs can read more about Twitter by checking out this BusinessWeek article on the micro-blogging tool or by visiting their blog.

Peacemaker

I don't think people have realized how much they're going to miss Fouad Siniora yet...

...under who's auspices the country was steered away from two wars - brought into our homes by the same hand, and the same arms...

...who never once turned to his countrymen with anything other than love, even while those he wept for repaid him with spite and venom.

A statesman to the end...

...no matter what you think of his style, strategy, or policies, you have to respect him as a human being put through the most trying of circumstances, never faltering.

I don't think people have realized how much they're going to miss Fouad Siniora yet...

...not with the coming regional developments, not with the coming alternative.

But they will

Friday, May 23, 2008

Nightime Party in Downtown Beirut

A stream of Lebanese in vehicles, some cheering and playing loud music from their car stereos, drive past the former opposition protest camp, with the Mohammed Al-Amin Mosque seen beyond, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, May 22, 2008. Beirut nightlife returned to the areas surrounding the former protest camp after protesters removed their tents and authorities took away barricades, razor wire, and concrete roadblocks from the downtown area of Beirut. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

[image and commentary courtesy of Yahoo!News]

Michel Suleiman: LBC Video Bio + CV

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Website Upgrades

As some of you might [or might not] have noticed, I've made a few changes and updates to the website I wanted to highlight.

The two updates I'm most excited about are the newly introduced Blacksmith Briefs and Analysis Alley sections of the blog.
  • Blacksmith Briefs [left sidebar, top] allows me to put up little quips, quotes, notes, rumors, and tidbits of news without having to write a whole new post every time. Its powered by Twitter so that means you can receive Blacksmith Briefs on your cell phone as sms without any charge (additional to your regular sms charge), if thats what you're into.
  • The Analysis Alley [left sidebar, middle, under the Blogosphere Feeds and Portals +Aggregators sections] allows the reader to browse analysis on the situation in Lebanon from a a variety of respected sources. The tool should be viewed as complimentary to the regular News and Blog feeds already on the site.
And speaking of News feeds, my regular Lebanon News Feeds section [right sidebar, top] received quite an update, now incorporating incoming news from the Dailystar, NOWLebanon, and Naharnet. The same goes for the Business News Feeds section [left sidebar, bottom, under Political Parties section].

Meanwhile, I've now combined Google News + Blog Feeds into one section [right sidebar, bottom, under Interesting Links section]. I've always found that the Google feeds allow for some variety and randomness in the material portrayed on the site and can therefore be quite useful, even though its not as used as the other feeds.

Remember, you can always find some of our older features readily accessible, such as Blacksmith of Lebanon RSS feed [rigt sidebar, bottom] and Blacksmith of Lebanon Google site search [both left sidebar, top], and you can contact us anytime at our email address:

blacksmithsoflebanon at gmail dot com

with questions, comments, or posts you would like to put up.

Oh, and I always forget to mention this, but if you're interested in going through analysis/opinion posts on this site sorted by subject category, or if you'd simply rather read the lenghty posts with a white background, then check out MY "Analysis Warehouse" blog Cedar Mountain.

Takhallof

...moving backward as the world moves forward...

Eulogize the dead, not the living

Following the announcement of the Doha Agreement, I’ve been struggling to write a post specifically about the reactions to it that I have read on my site, as on others. To that end, I thought I would draw on the words of fellow blogger Abu Kais who struck a tone I was struggling to project in my own drafts for this post. Below are some quotes:
This country, folks, cannot survive another civil war between its communities. Your commitment to an independent and free Lebanon cannot exist in vacuum. …

The battle for Lebanon is not over, but at least it's off the streets. … going to war was never an option. And if peace isn't achievable, then truce and "coexistence" is good enough, until those around us, friends and foes, figure out their place in this universe, and settle their scores outside our border. We are not alone, nor are we free. …
Calling this agreement a defeat misses the point, both ideologically [in terms of the drive for a sovereign, violence-free, democratic state – a civil war would have done away with the state for good], and politically [in terms of the regional nature of Hizballah’s weapons and the inability of any domestic party to deal with them as anything other than that]. Right now, there is nothing that can be achieved that is worth dying for – or more to the point, asking others to die for.

I’m not overly happy with this Agreement (nor am I overly sad) so I won’t stand here and defend it point for point [Hizballah’s newly-gained veto power – which it had hoped to use to block progress on the International Tribunal – will go to naught as the Tribunal's pace of progress will ensure that there will be nothing to veto before the elections of 2009]. But what I do know is that it will pull the country’s everyday citizens away from a [regional] front we have no business being on [and which Hizballah’s weapons, exclusively, place us on], and it will draw the country’s Shiite community back into the institutional fold which their ‘leaders’ sought to carve them out from.

To be sure, both of these results are for the moment temporary, but as things stand today, temporary is all we can afford.

Al Jazeera English Video: Doha Agreement

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Downtown Stranglehold Released

Lebanese release white balloons at the Martyrs Square in downtown Beirut after an 18-month Hezbollah-led opposition sit-in was lifted (top - REUTERS/Steve Crisp; left - AFP/Joseph Barrak). Opposition supporters dismantle the tent encampment across from the government building which has been going on for over a year in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, May 21, 2008 (right -AP Photo/Hussein Malla).

Doha Agreement + Electoral Districts

Doha Agreement:
  1. Call for the election of General Michel Sleiman as President of the Republic within 24 hours.

  2. Following the constitutional dissolution of the government due to the election of a President, a cabinet will be formed including 16 seats for the parliamentary majority, 11 for the minority and 3 for the president. This government will also commit itself not to resign [before the next Parliamentary election].

  3. The agreement also calls for the adoption of the 1960 electoral law and the division of Beirut into three electoral districts.
National Electoral Divisions:
  1. Akkar [District]
  2. Tripoli [City] + Mina [Municipality] + Qalamoun [Town]
  3. Minya Donieh [Caza]
  4. Bsharreh [Caza]
  5. Zogharta [Caza]
  6. Koura [Caza]
  7. Batroun [Caza]
  8. Chouf [Caza]
  9. Aley [Caza]
  10. Baabda [Caza]
  11. Metn [Caza]
  12. Kesrouan [Caza]
  13. Jbeil [Caza]
  14. Saida [City]
  15. Zahrani [villages surrounding Saida Zahrani]
  16. Sur [Caza]
  17. Jezzine [Caza]
  18. Nabatieh [Caza]
  19. Marjayoun and Hazbayya [Caza]
  20. Bint Jbeil [Caza]
  21. Western Beqaa and Rashayya [Caza]
  22. Zahleh [Caza]
  23. Baalbek [Caza] and Hermel [Caza]
Beirut Electoral Districts
  1. Ashrafieh + Rmeil + Saifi
    5 seats: 2 Christian Armenians; 1 Christian Maronite; 1 Christian Orthodox; 1 Christian Catholic

  2. Bashoura + Mdawar + Marfa
    4 seats: 1 Muslim Sunni; 1 Muslim Shiite; 2 Christian Armenian

  3. Mazraa + Moseitbeh + Ras Beirut + Mina el Hosn + Zaqa el Blatt + Ein Mreisseh
    10 seats: 5 Muslim Sunni; 1 Muslim Shiite; 1 Muslim Druze; 1 Christian Orthodox; 1 Christian Evangelical; 1 Christian Minorities
Sectarian Parliamentary Seat Allocations [set by Taef Accords]
  • Christian Maronites: 34 seats
  • Christian Greek Orthodox: 14 seats
  • Christian Greek Catholic: 8 seats
  • Armenian Orthodox: 5 seats
  • Armenian Catholic: 1 seat
  • Christian Protestant (Evangelical): 1 seat
  • Christian Minorities: 1 seat
  • Muslim Sunni: 27 seats
  • Muslim Shiite: 27 seats
  • Muslim Druze: 8 seats
  • Muslim Alawites: 2 seats

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

...Bared...

Hizballah-Style Democracy II: The Media

While Syria and Iran's allies and proxies in Lebanon continue to push for a total takeover of the country's executive branch in Doha [while already controlling the legislative branch, while already having conducted a violent veto on the military branch, and while already having secured a favorable candidate for the Presidency], I thought I would highlight another joke of a show those proxies' proxies orchestrated in Beirut over the weekend.

Menassat, a Dutch-funded media advocacy outfit for the MENA area, writes:
On Saturday, Abdel Hadi Mahfouz, director of the National Council of Audio-Visual Media invited media directors from a wide range of television and radio outlets to have a dialogue on curbing the "media distortion" that has exacerbated sectarian tensions in the last few months.

But Future TV and the other major Lebanese TV network, the pro-government LBC, failed to send any representatives to Saturday's dialogue despite earlier promises.

Future TV's news department told MENASSAT that it did not attend the dialogue because the National Council of Audio-Visual Media "failed to condemn what Hezbollah did when they closed down Future's media operations during the fighting. They only issued a statement after five or six days by which point Future employees had already returned to work."

"The National Council of Audio-Visual Media is not an organization that I find truly representative of free media, and although all the main sects are represented in the council, it is seen as reflecting partisan concerns," she said.

Media analyst Magda Abu Fadil, head of the Journalism Training Program at the American University of Beirut (AUB), told MENASSAT she was not surprised that Future and LBC decided to boycott the dialogue.

Abu Fadil said, "Clearly, [Future TV and LBC] did not show up because the head of the council is considered a partisan of parliamentary speaker of Nabih Berri, or at least that's what he's accused of being."
So to restate, after a week of violence in which media offices - ranging from TV, to print, to radio - were violently [and deliberately!!] attacked, robbed, vandalized, and burned. What does this Amal-controlled (and therefore Syrian-controlled) media council for the do? It completely ignores the attacks, refuses to condemn them, and instead calls on the media to get together and agree not to say anything mean about the thugs that started a bloody sectarian war resulting in the deaths of 62 people, the wounding of 200, and slaughtering of the nation's social cohesion.

This, of course, after another Syrian-controlled council moved to dismiss a vocal critic of Hizballah and the devastation it has brought to the Shiite community, after he had his home and offices violently attacked and occupied.

Monday, May 19, 2008

LBC Video Report: Qatar Talks



HRW on Atrocities During Hizballah Assault

A Lebanese girl is seen behind a national flag as she attends a protest against killings during recent clashes in central Beirut May 18, 2008. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj - LEBANON)

Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international non-governmental organisation (NGO) dedicated to the protection of human rights, released a statement on Sunday calling on Lebanese politicians, gathered in Doha this week, to address the human rights abuses perpetrated throughout a week of fighting in the country precipitated by a Hizballah takeover of the capital, Beirut, and its attack on towns and villages in Mount Lebanon.

The group's statement, highlighted a number of human rights abuses investigated by the NGO:
Members of the opposition groups – Hezbollah, Amal, and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) – used small arms and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs, often referred to as B7s) in densely populated areas of Beirut. These attacks killed and wounded numerous civilians. Amal Baydoun, 59, and her son Haytham Tabbarah, 35, died on May 8 while trying to flee their Ras al-Naba` neighborhood when opposition gunmen fired an RPG in the direction of their car. Tabbarah’s two brothers were injured later that day when opposition gunmen shot at their car while they were trying to join their family in the hospital.

Opposition gunmen also detained suspected members of pro-government groups. In most cases, opposition forces transferred those they detained to the Lebanese army a few hours later, but a number of individuals were held for days in incommunicado detention. In the town of Chouweifat, Hezbollah detained four individuals suspected of being members of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) for three days; in a subsequent television interview, those released indicated that they were treated well. However, two individuals detained in Beirut by opposition gunmen told Human Rights Watch that they were beaten and insulted: “I was detained for two hours in one of Amal’s offices in Beirut. We were approximately 18 in the room. I was beaten with the butt of a Kalashnikov. I saw others being beaten too.”

Supporters of the pro-government groups – the Future Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party – also resorted to violence against civilians and offices associated with opposition groups in areas under their control in northern Lebanon, the Beka` and the Chouf. Many of these attacks violated international humanitarian law. Hezbollah reported that PSP fighters detained two of its followers and executed them. Human Rights Watch examined photos of the two Hezbollah members showing that at least one had been shot in the head at very close range while the other appears to have had part of the skin of his forearm removed. Videos posted online of the fighting in the northern town of Halba between armed men supporting the government and members of the opposition SSNP show wounded men, apparently belonging to the SSNP, lying on the ground being beaten and ill-treated by gunmen.

...

For more information, please contact:
In Beirut, Nadim Houry: + 961-3-639244
In Washington, DC, Joe Stork: +1-202-612-4327
Meanwhile, reports of abductions, tortures, and other abuses continue to emerge. Writing in the NYTimes, Robert Worth and Nada Bakri recount the story of Hussein al-Haj Obaid who:
For two and a half days ... lay on the floor of a darkened warehouse in west Beirut, blindfolded and terrified. Militiamen loyal to Hezbollah had kidnapped him at a checkpoint after killing his nephew right in front of him.
Mustpaha links to the piece with quotes and more.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Map: Hizballah Communications Network

French website geopolitique.com has revealed an exclusive map it alleges details the Hizballah communications network over which took the group took the country to war last week when the Lebanese government decreed it to be illegal.

According to the site, Lebanese intelligence services had traced the landlines which were installed by companies with strong links to the Iranian-backed group. Based on information relayed by Arab journalists based in Beirut, the map was then constructed with help from information provided by provided the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) headed by Walid Jumblatt, and of which Lebanon's Minister of Telecommunications, Marwan Hamadeh, is a part.

The presence of the communications network was revealed by Hamadeh in August of 2007. It accompanied allegations, raised by Jumblatt, that Hizballah was engaged in a significant land-grab aimed at linking a number of its power-bases throughout the country.

Hizballah-Style Democracy

NOWLebanon writes:
Mount Amel and Sur Shia Mufti Sayyed Ali Al-Amin called on the Lebanese army to drive the [Hizballah-allied] Amal gunmen out of his offices, house and private properties in Sur [Tyre].
Al Amin has been a vocal critic of Hizballah, denouncing its 2006 July War and other policies of the group with regards to the country's Shiite community. Speaking ahead of the launch of Hizballah's attack on Beirut and Mount Lebanon, the Mufti called on the Lebanese state to impose its control on all Lebanese territory.

Fellow blogger Abu Kais is following the Mufti's case closely, and writes:
...Hizbullah continues to muzzle its critics within the Shia community. The anti-Hizbullah Tyre Mufti Ali al-Amin, whose headquarters were vandalized and occupied by Amal gunmen, was removed from his post by the Amal- dominated Shia council, even though the council has no authority to do so. Muftis are appointed by the state following a recommendation from the council, which has been paralyzed since the death of Mohammad Mahdi Shamseddine many years ago.

...

The militia started a war after the government dismissed a Shia employee suspected of spying for Hizbullah.
Of course, Hizballah's online cheerleaders (not worth linking to) have not shied away from slandering the Sheikh. To them, apparently, there are only two types of Lebanese of the Shiite faith: those who unquestioningly accept Hizballah's stranglehold on the community; and those who don't and are therefore "on the Hariri pay-roll".

The image above shows Shiite Mufti Al Amine (left) with Sunni Mufti Rachid Qabani (right) on May 8th, 2008, following the outbreak of Sunni-Shiite fighting amid Hizballah's takeover of the capital.

A Man of Paticular Perspectives

Reading the Qatari PM's statements during the press conference in which the Doha talks were proposed, I couldn't help but notice something (emphasis mine):
The Qatari premier acknowledged that politically divergent Lebanese leaders held “many opinions,” and noted that Free Patriotic Movement leader General Michel Aoun, a major Christian Hezbollah ally, had a “particular perspective” on the presidency and government, but ultimately responded to the committee.
For those of you not yet familiar with the General's "particular perspective", let me enlighten you: Michel Aoun thinks he [and no one else] should be the next President. Specifically the General objected to Army Commander Michel Suleiman being explicitly named the consensus presidential candidate in the Arabs' proposal.

To tell you the truth, there is a lot that can be said about this man and his particular perspective but none of it is good. His gamble on Hizballah's success in overthrowing the country's parliamentary majority and sweeping him to the Presidency is now in its last throes, having caused his country and his community devastating damage. There was never a chance that, in the give and take that defines any negotiation, Hizballah would sacrifice an ever important cabinet seat [that could garner it a blocking third] in order to put Aoun on the presidential seat. In Doha, after the defeats suffered in the course of their assault, they will end up with neither.

On the anniversary of his return to Lebanon - which now coincides with the anniversary of the launch of Hizballah's failed coup - NOWLebanon has came out with an informative and entertaining graphical representation depicting the drastic decline of this man of particular perspectives' popularity and political presence in the wake of his blunders since the 2005 parliamentary elections. It's a shame it can't be updated to reflect the utter disdain for the man on the Christian street following last week's event, but its a good read anyway.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Progress Without Principle

I’ll start by saying the following: I am [mildly] optimistic. And I am undeterred by the incredible let down I first felt when reading the Arab proposal. An extended examination of the proposal, especially within the context of the events of the past week, has mustered in me a semblance of contentment with it and the reality it could create on the ground.

For one, it bears echoing the disgruntlement of my readers, my fellow bloggers, and my friends within that movement which seeks to establish for this tiny country on the Eastern Mediterranean a peace and normality to which all free Lebanese aspire. This deal stinks. On the most important of issues, it dodges the very principles on which we, the members of that movement, defined our stances.

On the Parliamentary elections, it is wrong. And perhaps out of all the issues presented here, it is the most wrong, and that because it follows down the erroneous path of talks, or political negotiations, outside the constitutional institution through which these negotiations are meant to take place – Parliament – and which has been effectively shut down by a major party [not only] to the violent assault launched against the state over the past week [but also to the assault on every institution of the state that has taken place over the past 3 years]. This path was first paved when the government agreed to National Dialogue talks [in January of 2006] the futility of which is still visible in the scars left by the July War started to abort them. It is this path that, to me, poses the greatest level of worry for the future of our state’s institutions and for the precedence that it sets.

And a worrying precedent too, is being set in the manner in which the so-called unity government is to be formed [according to the proposal] in the absence of a President and the input that that President is entitled to. In a word, the Presidential vacuum that has gripped the country over the past six months is constitutionally abnormal, unacceptable, and seemingly – to all those actually interested in pursuing a solution to this abnormality – easily fixable! After all, everyone has already supposedly agreed to who the next President should be. And for those of you [of the slower variety] who continue to cling to the resignation of this government as the sole act of salvation for this country, bear in mind that according to the constitution, the government is automatically considered resigned following the election of a President – who’s first duty it is to convene with the Parliamentary majority and all the represented parties of the country in order to form the next governing executive body (i.e. Cabinet).

Of course, we all know that what has been really happening in the country has not been the occurrence of two sides coming together to find a solution to a problem, but the occurrence of one side actively blocking the implementation of democratic norms and [instead] pursuing a policy aimed at reversing the gains garnered through the Cedar Revolution. Indeed, despite much whining about the comfort enjoyed by a Sunni PM who does not have to find compromise with a Christian President (or the ministers which answer to him in a cabinet), it is important to correctly identify which group stands to gain the most from the complete paralysis and dismantling of the institutions that define our state.

And therein lays the silver lining I have attributed to the proposal. The formation of a national unity government (assuming it to be of the non-blocking-third variety), the re-drafting of the electoral law, and the election of a President have never been M8 goals to begin with. In fact, it has been the blocking of all these that have been the goal. When Saad al Hariri, or any other M14 leader announces their objection to ‘dialogue’, it is not because they are not interested pursuing any of the above, but because they are uninterested in getting bogged down in the M8 maze of circuitous demands and two-handed dialogue aimed at impeding a solution rather than pursuing it.

By moving the talks to Doha, the capital of the most active agitator of the Iranian agenda within the Arab fold – next to Syria, that is – the Arabs and the Lebanese have in fact put the major backers of the blockages within the Lebanese system at the forefront, preventing them from hiding behind their tools in Lebanon, and exposing them to the full brunt of the failed talks. And quite a brunt there is to bear, as the international community and the petrodollar powerhouses of Gulf prepare to extract due penance for the brazen power-move by Iran in Lebanon.

If anything, the speed with which the Qatar-led Arab delegation managed to push through the blockages, on paper at least, seems indicative of the failure of that power-move and the true measure of political, economic, and military balances on the ground it has yielded. Not lightly does one declare the election of a President “within days”.

With the international tribunal due to come online within the next several weeks; with the arrival of Parliamentary elections in approximately one year and Hizballah’s complete loss of any support outside (and even, to some extent, within) its sectarian base [due to the past week’s events]; and with the group’s use of its weapons against fellow Lebanese unequivocally turning it into a militia in the eyes of an ever important [and potentially strengthened, whether directly or through UNSC 1701] UNSC 1559 – even though any mention of those weapons was left out by the Arabs’ statement – Hizballah will certainly need the time afforded by such a temporary settlement to regroup and refocus its efforts (let alone process all the intelligence gathered from the raiding of FM offices throughout Beirut).

For the Lebanese too, the implementation of this latest proposal will provide a temporary relief – time needed to organize immigration papers, explore investments abroad, and secure oneself within a sectarianly-cohesive area of the country ahead of the next wave of assaults. And that is a reality Hizballah has ensured no [realistic] proposal can reverse.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Arab Delegation Announces Agreed Proposal

The Arab Delegation dispatched to Lebanon following a takeover of Beirut by the militant group Hizballah has announced the following proposal agreed to by the country's various political parties:
"...[in conjunction with the Arab initiative, and] based on the Lebanese constitution and Taif Accord, we agreed on:
  1. Things must return to what they were before May 5, 2008: the government must respond to the Army Command statement and hand the two decisions over to the army; All arms must be withdrawn from the streets and all roads, the Rafik Hariri International Airport and the Beirut Seaport reopened; and the Lebanese army must take charge of national security and civil peace.

  2. There must be agreement on returning to dialogue on the national-unity government and electoral law. This agreement must be crowned by the end of the sit-in the eve Army Commander General Michel Sleiman is announced as a consensus candidate for presidency.

  3. The (Lebanese) dialogue will begin as soon as the clause 1 is implemented, on Friday May 16, 2008 in Doha.

  4. All parties must promise to refrain from returning to arms or violence to achieve political ends.

  5. The dialogue is to reinforce the rule of the Lebanese government on all Lebanese lands … for the security of the state and its citizens.

  6. Political leaders will end their use of political and sectarian incitement and accusations of treachery at once."
Concluding the press conference through which the proposal was announced, Sheikh Hamad Bin Jasem al-Thani, the head of the delegation and the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Qatar, added:
"We expect the election of a president within days"

Video Roundup of Hizballah's Failed Coup

Map of Mountain Clashes

For comprehensive coverage of the clashes in Mountain Lebanon and other parts of the country, readers can refer to:
For additional coverage focusing on the mountain clashes, readers can refer to:

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Garden in the Jungle


A Pyrrhic Defeat

For Hizballah, the prospect of exiting this most severe of crises with anything resembling a positive [let alone a victory], seems dauntingly distant. As the dust settles, Lebanon’s besieged (literally!) government remains in place, its fortitude continuously reinforced by the common disgust felt across the nation at the fact that the Iranian-backed group turned its weapons on the capital and the mountain.

In its domestic political confrontations, Hizballah’s aggressions have left it completely bankrupt. Reminding us of the obscure reason for which the country was made to pay such a heavy toll this week, a NOWLebanon editorial writes:
Even if it achieved its initial demands – that the government rescind the phone network investigation and revoke the Shqeir sacking – it would look foolish; such gains would never justify the level of violence and trauma inflicted in the last week.
Indeed. Not only do the most recent of the group’s political demands/rejections pale in comparison to the devastation wrought by its assault, but as do the feigned calls for greater government participation, a new electoral law, and a veto on the choice of the next president over which it, and its allies, paralyzed the country for over 18 months. Twice now the group has taken the country to war, and twice at times when the country’s parliamentary majority has sought to engage it over its weapons - whether through dialogue [as in the national dialogues pre-empted by the launch of the July War] or by decree [as was the case with this war].

Fully eroded are the moral dictations of the group’s humming propaganda machine in light of the gravity of the violence it has precipitated. Reports of atrocities, as a result [whether direct or indirect] of the assault, have given fuel to a deep-seated desire in the country’s populace to see their country transformed into one in which militant groups and militias have no part. And fully ridiculous have been the propaganda machine’s indictments of the weapons of resisting neighborhoods, villages, and towns in light of the falling rockets, mortars, and artillery shells launched by Hizballah against them.

If you really want to laugh, consider that the noisiest indictments of the broad presence of weapons in the country have come from those parties and groups which enjoyed the most favour throughout the country’s fifteen year Syrian occupation. An occupation in which militia, paramilitary, and terrorist groups where actively maintained in order to foment the strife and discord [if it was ever needed] that could justify the presence of 40,000 Syrian occupation troops on Lebanese soil.

Indeed, many in Lebanon today believe that the pattern of violence in the country over the past three summers is part of a continuation of the Syrian strategy to incite violence and open an internationally-sanctioned path allowing a return of Syrian domination to the country – undoubtedly to restore order to the chaos started by Syria’s local co-conspirators.

Now a week into the assault, occupation, and [partial, if not superficial] delivery of its capital city back to those who should have guarded it in the first place, Lebanon is slowly reawakening to the damage inflicted on it and its institutions by an ordeal who’s end seems nowhere in sight. What remains clear, for now, however, is that Hizballah and its masters have suffered a critical defeat.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

LBCI Video Report: Battle of Barouk

Video: Future TV Comes Back

...like an old man into a hot bath

Lebanese soldiers in armoured personnel carriers are deployed in Tripoli May 13, 2008. Lebanon's army stepped up patrols on Tuesday as part of a drive to restore order after a week of fighting between Hezbollah fighters and pro-government gunmen. REUTERS/Omar Ibrahim (LEBANON)

Iranian Fighters in Lebanon

Allegations of Hizballah's use of Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRG) in its assault on Lebanon's mountain districts over the weekend have surfaced. The presence of the IRG among the Iranian-backed group's ranks could explain discrepancies in the numbers of militants it reports dead and those reported killed by its foes.

Citing "exclusive sources" in Lebanese Intelligence, Debbi Schlussel - a U.S. based political commentator/columnist - writes [H/T YaLibnan] :
"My exclusive Lebanese Intelligence sources tell me that a number of Hezbollah terrorist fighters have been caught, over the weekend, and they cannot speak Arabic, only Farsi. They are Iranian and have identified themselves or been identified by third parties as members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard."
The story comes on the heals of the arrest of three Iranians (and their Lebanese driver) on charges of monitoring the residence of a leading Christian anti-Syrian politician. That arrest, came less than a week before Hizballah's takeover of the capital Beirut, and its assault on Lebanon's anti-Syrian majority - both in the capital city and out.

It is not the first time the group has been accused of stocking its ranks with Iranian fighters as it is rumored to have employed them throughout the July War conflict with Israel in the summer of 2006.

Day 6: CNN Video Roundup

Monday, May 12, 2008

Hizballah Returns Lebanon to the Age of Atrocities

Blood stains covers a bullet riddled wall where Druze supporters of Walid Jumblatt were [unconfirmed] executed in cold blood by Hezbollah militiamen in Choueifat - YaLibnan.

While analogies between the violence witnessed in our capital [and its surroundings] over the past six days and the country’s fifteen-year civil war have become commonplace in the consciousness of the Lebanese and the media reports that have accompanied the fighting, it is with a dark realization that the Lebanese are slowly turning to face the true meaning of Hizballah's precipitation of sectarian violence. This, as rumours and reports of sectarian-based massacres begin to permeate the country:

Saturday May 10th – Day 4: A local Shiite shop owner opens fire on a Sunni funeral procession in the mixed [Sunni-Shiite] Tareeq Jdeedeh neighbourhood of Beirut. Two people are reported killed, and six wounded.

Saturday May 10th – Day 4: Following news of the Tareeq Jdeedeh massacre, gun battles erupt between Sunni militants and gunmen loyal to the Hizballah-allied SSNP party in the pre-dominantly Sunni rural district of Akkar. In the town of Halba, an SSNP office is raided resulting in the murder of ten SSNP partisans. Rumours of attempts by Sunni gunmen to enter a hospital [in search of wounded SSNP gunmen] in the district circulate.

Saturday May 10th – Day 4: Following an attempted raid on the pre-dominantly Druze mountain town of Aley by Hizballah militiamen the night before, rumours circulate of the dismemberment of the bodies of at least one Hizballah militant killed in the fighting.

Monday May 12th – Day 6: After a day of intense clashes throughout the Chouf and Aley mountains [including the use of mortar and artillery fire by attacking Hizballah-led militants] rumors emerge of summary executions by the group in the town of Choueifat.

Speaking in a news conference today Hussein Khalil, political assistant to Hizballah chief Hassan Nasrallah, attempted to elicit sympathy for his group and its actions; portraying his militia’s takeover of the capital, bombardment of the mountain, and inciting of an inter-sectarian war between the country’s Sunnis and Shiites as a ‘just’ reaction to the Lebanese government’s shifting of a General from a post and its ordering of an investigation into a communications network.

His words were disgusting. Hizballah’s violent attack on Lebanon, and the humiliating murders, massacres, kidnappings and atrocities that attack has precipitated across all its sects, will be a stain of blood on the group forever. As of today, May 12th 2008, Hizballah’s attack on Lebanon has left at least 200 wounded and over 60 dead ... God rest their souls.

Five Day Index

To help with the overflow of posts over the past several days, here is a mini-index that should help you find what you're looking for:

Days 1 & 2: Click here

Updates:
Images:
Video:
Commentary & Analysis:

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Day 5: Hizballah Bombards the Mountain

Update 1:40 am: Calm returns to Choueifat.

Update 12:30 am:
LebanonFiles reports that clashes have resumed in the town of Choueifat as a result of exchanges of sniping fire between Hizballah militiamen and gunmen belonging to the PSP. The home of the town's mayor [Haytham al Jurdi], a PSP partisan, was reportedly burned. The website reports that Lebanese Red Cross units have, as yet, been unable to evacuate all the dead and wounded, which it estimates at 5 dead and more than 13 wounded.

Update 11:20 pm:
Heavy clashes have erupted in the mountainous Barouk area of the Chouf district, between Hizballah militiamen and partisans loyal to the predominantly Druze PSP.

Click here for images from Hizballah's mountain assault, and here for video.

Update 8:30 pm:
The Lebanese Army is deploying in the mountain village of Aaytat, which witnessed heavy fighting earlier in the day.

Click here for images from Hizballah's bombardment of the Aley district and its villages/towns.

Update 8:10 pm:
The Lebanese Army is reportedly moving units (possibly special forces) into the town of Chouifat while clashes with light machine guns and sniper fire continue.

Update 7:00 pm:
Al-Arabiya (via NOWLebanon) reports that Hizballah gunmen prevented their crew from filming clashes in the mountain districts.

Update 6:45 pm:
Clashes persist in the Aley/Chouf mountain districts and PSP leader Walid Jumblatt declares that "Hizballah wants to dominate Mount Lebanon, that is why the ceasefire hasn't been applied."

Heavy fighting was reported today in the Chouiefat foothills area, just south of Beirut, and in the mountain district of Aley. Machine gun, RPG, and sniping fire was reported throughout the day, and casualties are being reported.

According to the [anti-Syrian] Kataeb (Phalangist) website, Hizballah launched a massive attack on villages in the Aley and Chouf districts, deploying heavily between the villages of Keyfoun and Qomatieh, and making their way through the town of Souk el Gharb.

An intense firefight broke out in the village of Aaytat (Aley district) in which heavy machine guns and 23 mm mortars were used. Hizballah is also reported to have engaged in 60 mm and 82 mm artillery bombardment of the area.

In Beysour, a heavy artillery barrage led to the complete destruction of Information Minister Ghazi Aridi's house, according to unconfirmed reports on the Kataeb site.

Following numerous calls by both pro-Syrian and anti-Syrian Druze leaders for a cessation of hostilities, a stop of Hizballah's bombardment, and a deployment of the Army in the mountain districts, a ceasefire took effect at 6:00 pm.

Fellow blogger Abu Kais, who's parents live in one of the affected areas, is following the situation closely.

In Beirut, meanwhile, Amal and Hizballah militiamen remain in control of large swathes of the city, despite a heavier deployment of Lebanese Army units (including special forces units) in mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods of the capital.

Writing from Beirut, a friend had this to say about the situation on the ground:
In Karakol el Druz , I had a car (black BMW) under my house around which there were 4 guys with rifles and rocket launchers, this morning the same guys are in the same position but the guns are in the back of the car!
In Tripoli, where heavy fighting was reported all of yesterday, reports continue to come in of sporadic clashes, despite the Army's deployment throughout the city's main thoroughfares. According to NOWLebanon a 12-year-old girl was killed by sniper-fire on Al-Ghuraba street in Bab al-Tebbeneh, Tripoli.

Images: Hizballah's Mountain Assault

Shiite gunmen fire during clashes between pro-government supporters of Druse leader Walid Jumblatt and Shiite gunmen and their allies in Chouweifat south of Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, May 11, 2008. Heavy fighting broke out between pro- and anti-government supporters in Lebanon's central mountains overlooking the capital Sunday sending echoes of gunfire and explosions rolling across Beirut, security officials said. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

The first two images are of Aley while the remaining were taken in Choueifat.

[images courtesy of Yahoo!News]

Video: Al Arabiya Report on Mountain Fighting

Assaulting the Airwaves

Following the burning down of a major anti-Syrian media outlet, fellow blogger Charles Malik writes about Hizballah and Iran's distorted reporting on the situation in Lebanon, here is a quote, but read the whole thing (its short), its well worth it:
Hezbollah's propaganda and the accompanying propaganda from Iran's English language Press TV is utterly preposterous. They are telling blatant lies about the Beirut population being happy about Hezbollah's takeover. They claim that everything in Beirut is back to normal and that no one supported the government's moment of silence. They also like to repeatedly claim that Prime Minister Fouad Siniora resigned, even though images on other channels show him in the Grand Serail.
Meanwhile Mustapha blogs about another targeted anti-Syrian media outlet.

Images from the Bombardment

The first two images show smoke rising from the mountain town of Aley while the bottom three images are of buildings hit with rocket and mortar fire in the town of Chouifat. Hizballah launched a violent attack on predominantly Druze villages in mountain districts, on Sunday. The attack consisted of a ground assault by Hizballah-led militiamen backed with a barrage of rocket, artillery, and mortar fire.

[images courtesy of Yahoo!News]

Beirut Will Not Die

From Beginning to End

Given the hectic events of the past several days, it has been hard to keep up with all the material and analysis [some of it excellent] being presented on the present crisis. In this post I highlight two posts, one – by Michael Young [DailyStar] – from the first day of Hizballah’s attack, and another – by fellow blogger Abu Kais [From Beirut to the Beltway] – from the day the group began withdrawing its militia from the streets of Beirut. Both are excellent and I encourage readers to carefully read each one on its own.

We start with Michael Young:
Long ago we learned that Hizbullah could not, in any real sense, allow the emergence of a Lebanese state free from Syrian control. Soon after the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the party tried to suffocate the 2005 "independence intifada" in the egg, realizing that Hizbullah had no future as an autonomous armed group in a state that would seek to reimpose its writ after decades of subservience to Damascus. That effort failed on March 14, 2005 - mostly useful as an event in showing that a majority of people would not be intimidated by Hizbullah's rally of March 8.



Post-Syria Lebanon has posed existential problems for the party, problems that began when Israel withdrew from most of South Lebanon in 2000. The irony of this situation - that Hizbullah was always most comfortable when both Syria and Israel were present in Lebanon - the latter to fight against, the former to safeguard that fight - says a lot about the party's future options.



In picking a fight with Hizbullah over its cameras next to the airport, Walid Jumblatt did something different than what the public imagined. The reality is that Hizbullah doesn't need cameras to know what is going on at the facility. Through its authority over the General Security directorate, the airport's security unit, and sympathetic employees, Hizbullah has all the information it needs on air traffic. Rather, what Jumblatt did was provoke a confrontation and, to dig up the old Soviet jargon, heighten the contradictions between Lebanese society and Hizbullah. Now the party's true intentions are out there for everyone to see. Hizbullah can no longer hide behind its "resistance," a fictitious "national opposition" or imaginary social protests. It is confirming on a daily basis that its minimal goal is to keep alive a Hizbullah state within the state and to force most Lebanese to accept this, even as the party infiltrates the government bureaucracy and has free rein in the airport and ports.



The Lebanese state cannot live side by side with a Hizbullah state. This theorem is becoming more evident by the day, as the party's actions in the past three years have been, by definition, directed against the state, the government, the army and the security forces, institutions of national representation, the economy, and more fundamentally the rules of the Lebanese communal game. We've reached the point where Hizbullah, and more importantly the Shiite community, must choose. Will it persist in favoring a Hizbullah-led parallel state that will surely continue to clash with the recognized state? Or will Shiites try to find a new arrangement with their countrymen that forces Hizbullah to surrender its weapons?
Following announcements made by the Army and Government [and perhaps more importantly, the leak of a letter from the Army to the Government by Lebanese media outlet, LBC] Abu Kais writes of the anger and disappointment felt by many:
I know many of you are angry at March 14 and Siniora. You have every right. I am too. They have blown many chances in the past. But in this past episode, something must be said about the decision to not fight back. Hizbullah feeds on violence … and if this country is to continue being a nation for all its sects, March 14, a peaceful movement, cannot turn into Hizbullah.

Let’s direct our anger at the right people. Hizbullah today, and Amal, stand responsible for stirring an unprecedented amount of hatred towards the Shia community, and widening the sectarian rift. And Michel Suleiman, who watched the masked criminals shoot people and sabotage the media, also stands responsible.

It doesn’t matter if this was a March 14 trap or not. It doesn't seem like one anymore … Hizbullah has made it extremely difficult for the country and for the Shia community to co-exist. This is the tragic consequence of their irresponsible and criminal behavior of the past 4 days. This might not be the end of it.

Terror Accomplished

A Hezbollah gunmen puts his rifle into his car in Beirut May 10, 2008. Hezbollah on Saturday began withdrawing gunmen from Beirut and handed control of the streets to the Lebanese army, after days of gunbattles with supporters of the U.S.-backed government. (Jamal Saidi/Reuters)

[image and commentary courtesy of Yahoo!News]
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