Monday, June 30, 2008

Syrian Troops in Lebanon

Jane's Defense Weekly (via Middle East Times) reports on commercial satellite imagery it obtained showing a build-up of Syrian military deployments inside Lebanese territory ahead major Israeli military maneuvers in early 2008:
"Syria appears to continue to deploy troops on Lebanese soil in the remote and rugged hills north of the town of Rashaya al-Wadi, despite Damascus having ended its military occupation of Lebanon in April 2005

...in late 2005, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) sealed off the hills to the east of Kfar Qouk. An LAF checkpoint at the junction of the only road leading to Deir al-Ashayer bars all but local residents from reaching the village. The nearby village of Halwa is also sealed off by the army. Although there are no Syrian army bases in the vicinity of Halwa, there are several small outposts manned by pro-Damascus Palestinian groups such as Fatah Intifada and as-Saiqa. These outposts are linked to Syria by un-patrolled dirt tracks used by commercial smugglers as well as militants for resupplying equipment and personnel."
As part of an opinion piece put on Blacksmiths of Lebanon in October 2007, we showed a map detailing the Lebanese territory still under Syrian occupation in the east of the country. Territory totaling more than 3% of all Lebanese territory.

The map itself was taken from a NOWLebanon report, put out in May 2007, examining the conditions along the Lebanese-Syrian border.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Guest Post: Hizballah disarmed? Forget it!

Long-time reader, Lori, sends in this piece drawing out her views on how a [satirical] interview with a Hizballah politburo member would read.


Through the voice of MP Hassan Fadlallah, Hizballah announced that even if the problem of the Shebaa farms and the Kfar Shouba hills will be solved, that would be solely the result of the resistance actions. And by consequence, the party will not give up its weapons. The message is: Do you want to take our arms? Really? If you are certain, than good luck with that, as we are resourceful enough to find new reasons to keep them.

Assuming that Shebaa Farms and the hills are liberated in the near future.What about Samir Kuntar? Please, don't say that what Kuntar did was appalling! He only did his duty. A sacred one at that. The laws we humans made are not suitable for such extraordinary characters. We operate under a different code, dictated to us by the Faqih and given to us by God.

Nor do we abide by the borders drawn by man, for we are all one in our crusade to bring these lands under the administration of the Jurist. After Kuntar, there are the Palestinian brothers illegally kept in Israeli jails. Their only sin is to have fought for the cause. If that means killing children and innocents, then so be it. It is all in the name of the cause. I guess that we don't really have to be very creative. There is always Palestine and Al –Quds to be liberated. Let's make sure, that by Palestine, we mean all of it. Israel is an alien implant in the region, and it represents all that we profoundly hate: terrorism, imperialism, oppression and I have merely started.

Of course, our cause is the right one. You wonder, who told us that? Are you aware that our party's name in Arabic means the Party of God, and do you know that our slogan is a verse of the Holy Qu'ran? God promised that we'd be victorious. If we doubt God's word what else stands?

Did you know that we have a new President? What do you mean who he is?! What planet do you live on? Our President is General Michel Sleiman. We proposed him thinking that March 14 will never agree. We worked well with him, when our brothers, the Syrians, were in Lebanon.

Why do you ask if we are willing to give him a chance? In theory, we are, but just in case, we let Michel Aoun dispute the role Sleiman wants to play. It is actually hilarious to see how easy to manipulate ambitious men is.

We truly respect Michel Aoun. Years ago, before MoU, when he was in exile, in France, he said we are terrorists. We convinced him otherwise when he returned home. Aoun helped us a lot. We will not disregard his wishes regarding the government posts.

Truth be told, we avoided proposing and supporting his candidacy as President. You see, we trust our Christian allies, but you can never be too careful. What if he'd go back to his previous ideas? We could not afford the risk, therefore we helped him, but without going the extra mile.

I was waiting for your question on our dearest brother, Imad Mugnyeh. Mugnyeh was among the best we have had. He was almost from the very beginning with a foot in Hizballah and the other in Iranian military. His genius was renowned worldwide, but you know that. I am not in the position to talk of Syrian involvement, but we know that those who killed him, prepared with weeks in advance the car, waiting for Mugnyeh to come. You know, there was a time when Syria preferred Amal and hunted us like we were fugitives or something, but praise be God that is behind us now. In any case, we have conducted our own investigation and our Iranian brothers helped us a lot with it. The truth will be revealed, and the perpetrators punished. Would we take it as an excuse to attack Israeli interests in the world? We don't need excuses. We base our actions on facts and truth, and the truth is that Israel's hands have to be cut, sooner rather than later.

My opinion of Fuad Siniora? In 2006, he and all the other leaders, be they Christians, Sunni, or Druze, all supported the resistance. Then it was issued the cabinet statement – bayan wizari in our support. We never quite understood the schizophrenic nature of some. We even talked among ourselves about it. Not to gossip, no, but this double speak can be a sign of a poor medical condition. That worries us.

On one hand, they hugged, kissed us and wished us all, on the other hand they said they support the UN 1559, UN 1701 that presumably ask our disarmament. I say presumably, because we don't consider ourselves to be a militia, and as such, the resolutions can't possibly talk about the resistance, although those that call themselves March 14 refer to us, as to a militia, when they talk with US.

Why do you ask if they are afraid of us? They have no reason to fear us, and we have shown friendship, toleration and restraint. You have to address them this question. The events that took place recently, the peaceful, and democratic sit in, and the fact that we have decided to put our men on the streets of Beirut, were all acts done for the best of the country. You know that we disarmed certain militias and handed the weapons over to the army. Why did not we hand ours too? You have a fine sense of humour, indeed.

We have the constitutional right to say our opinion, and that is why we have organized the sit in. Some accused us of closing downtown, but that is not the case. Maybe some shop owners, café and restaurants patrons closed down their businesses, but we did not order them to do so. I don't want to discuss this subject anymore, but good has come out of it. The Shias showed their faith in us, we respected the laws of the country, and the rules of the democratic game, and, if in the process some had to close their businesses selling alcohol and thus encouraging immorality, praise be God, we have done more than it was asked of us.

We respect the army and we want to see it as strong and capable of providing for the Resistance the support and room to maneuver it needs to fulfill its divine mission. So long as everyone understands this, we will not have any trouble.

I know you have always wondered why we can negotiate with Israel, while Lebanon, through Michel Sleiman and Fuad Siniora clearly reject it. You think we bullied them into it? Such a strong language, and no, we did not. Let them take decisions that are capable to back up.

In this world everything comes down to principles, loyalty towards a cause, faith in God, and compassion towards the others. My message? My message is one of peace, and in the same time, one of power. We will never again be ignored, and we will continue our struggle. To what end? That is for God to decide, and for us to follow.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Friday, June 27, 2008

More on Blogging (Two Posts in One)

The Economist magazine follows up on a subject I recently posted about and which continues to gather growing global attention:

In November 2007 Tunisia blocked access to the popular video-sharing sites YouTube and DailyMotion, which both carried material about Tunisian political prisoners. It was not for the first time, and many other countries have blocked access to such sites, either to protect public morals, or to spare politicians’ blushes. What was unusual this time was the response. Tunisian activists and their allies organised a “digital sit-in”, linking dozens of videos about civil liberties to the image of the presidential palace in Google Earth. That turned a low-key human-rights story into a fashionable global campaign.

...

Such authoritarian countries are increasingly co-operating: Chinese software for finding keywords and spotting dangerous sites is among the best in the world. But international co-operation cuts both ways. If Egypt, for example, buys Chinese web-censorship technology, the Egyptian bloggers may learn ways to bypass it from their Chinese colleagues before the technology arrives.

Read more...
Those Tunisians might have been onto something ... just imagine linking the pictures of those killed in the assassinations of the past 3 years to the Presidential Palace in Damascus; or perhaps the names and pictures of the Lebanese soldiers felled by Fatah al Islam, the Islamist terror group with clandestine links to the Syrian intelligence apparatus; or even the stories and images of Lebanese prisoners in Syrian jails.

Come to think of it, it would be uncouth of us to not mention the man for whom many of these Lebanese gave their lives fighting the Syrians and who has now conveniently forgotten about them.

And why leave out his finger-waving allies, the daily howls of whom continue to lay bare the hollowness of their rhetoric and their "promise", even while their barbaric attacks exposed them to those who wouldn't see.

And finally, any rant wouldn't be complete without our neighbors to those South, who saw fit to leave [another] legacy of death behind by dropping over 100,000 cluster bombs in the last 72 hours of a conflict already brought to an end.

Yeah, those Tunisians were onto something alright ... but it may be their European neighbors to the north that we should watch out for!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Three Good Reads

With the end to my Analysis-rut nowhere near being in sight (work overload ... to put it mildly) I thought I would highlight a few informative pieces I enjoyed reading at one of the few places websites I'm visiting for news on the old country. Here they are:

PS - For a critical look at the backdrop to the recent clashes in Tripoli, be sure to check the following story ... and this story too!

PPS - Check our Analysis Corner (left sidebar, mid-level) for more excellent off-site reads.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

On the State of Popular Political Thinking

Here's an apt quote I came across in my readings recently:
Under the name of rhetoric, is taught the art of speaking before teaching the art of thinking; and that of good expression before the students have any ideas to express.

Denis Diderot (1713-1784)
The quote itself is directed at the state of education in pre-Enlightenment Europe during the 18th century and it reminded me of political education and expression plaguing Lebanon today (well not just today, but today is what we're interested in).

The quote came up while I was pondering on the question: Can a reasoned/logical argument be made by those who claim to support a Lebanese state (secular or otherwise) and Hizballah in its current state (especially after the attacks it inflicted in May)?

Maybe I'll make the question the subject of the next poll, but for the moment my own answer to that question is a resounding NO!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Baabda Spiritual Summit

I'm Not Laughing...

"Other dishes include the Kalashnikov, Dragunov, Viper, B52, while realistic-looking weapons and ammunition decorate the counters, and camouflage netting hangs from the ceiling...

...My goal was to make people laugh before they ask me why weapons. The important thing is that they laugh"

We keep moving backward as the world moves forward

Monday, June 23, 2008

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Hazardous Hobby

"Since 2003, 64 people have been arrested for publishing their views on a blog, says the University of Washington annual report.

In 2007 three times as many people were arrested for blogging about political issues than in 2006, it revealed.

More than half of all the arrests since 2003 have been made in China, Egypt and Iran, said the report."

Source
Not to mention the growing number of Syrian bloggers being arrested every year by that country's regime. A regime that once occupied Lebanon and tried to smother our own free media by shutting television stations during that occupation; murdering journalists in the aftermath of its forced withdrawal from [most of] our territory; and raiding, ransacking, and burning down television stations and other media outlets [through its proxies] in its attempt to return to dominance in Lebanon.

But back to blogging (for now). An excellent resource for bloggers is the website for the Committee for the Protection of Bloggers (CPB) which includes "Safer Blogging" tools and guides. Here is their story on Tarek Baiasi, another arrested Syrian blogger, and here is the Reporters Without Borders version.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Monday, June 09, 2008

When Even Football Offers No Reprieve

"The Saudi vs. Lebanon match held at the King Fahd International Stadium here on Saturday had an unusual start after officials mistakenly played the wrong national anthem. Fans were left shocked and Lebanese players were visibly angry when the Syrian national anthem began blaring from the stadium’s speakers ...

... Saudi Arabia went on to win the World Cup qualifying match 2-1".
Source

Monday, June 02, 2008

Being Arab ... by Samir Kassir

Browsing through a local 'mega'-bookstore recently, I stumbled upon the first English-translated book by an author who's writings inspired thousands and proved so dangerous [to the dictators in Damascus] that three years ago today, they killed him.

Below is the introduction to the English edition of his book Being Arab - it is a reprint of a June 3rd, 2005 article written by Robert Fisk, and it is still an irreplaceable read.

The bloody hand has reached out to Lebanon once more, striking down one of its most prominent journalists and one of the most vociferous and bravest critics of the Syrian regime.

Samir Kassir was the best known columnist on An Nahar, a valued member of the opposition, newly married and - like so many of us in Beirut - living on the happy assumption that with Syria's troops and intelligence officers withdrawn from Lebanon, he had nothing to fear.

So who murdered Samir Kassir?

"He always left home at 10.30am and I saw him walking across the street," a female neighbour told me yesterday. "He always left home at the same time. He opened the door of his car, sat inside and started the engine. Then the car blew up."

Close inspection of Mr Kassir's Alfa-Romeo, registration number 165670, showed clearly the blast came from beneath the driver's seat. It tore open the roof, blasted out the driver's door, smashed the steering column and hurled Mr Kassir on to the passenger seat. The ignition seems to have detonated the bomb.

This was a shock that no one in Beirut expected - except, of course, the assassins. Germany's top detective, Detlev Mehlis, is already here with his team to investigate the murder of the former prime minister Rafik Hariri in February. We all thought that Lebanon's assassins were in their rabbit holes, fearful of arrest.

But no, they are still on operational duty, still in killing mode. Nassib Lahoud, the opposition MP and friend of Kassir - he may be the next Lebanese president - was in tears when I spoke to him beside Mr Kassir's wrecked car. He talked about "criminal hands", about the "intelligence apparatus" who he blamed for the assassination. The only word he didn't use was "Syria".

So who murdered Samir Kassir?

Just before he resigned this year, the pro-Syrian head of Lebanon's General Security Service, Jamil Sayed, hysterically offered to arrest himself if he was blamed for Hariri's murder. Mr Kassir had written a brutal article the next day, pointing out that it was good to see those who had threatened journalists and who had censored journalists now showing their own fear of justice. Rustum Ghazaleh, who was head of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon, screamed abuse at the journalist.

So who murdered Samir Kassir?

In 2001, after a series of articles excoriating the Syrians and pro-Syrian Lebanese intelligence operatives, airport security confiscated his passport on his return from Amman, claiming they wanted to "verify the conditions upon which it was obtained".

Mr Kassir was of Palestinian origin but had travelled on his legally-issued Lebanese passport on 14 recent occasions. In 2001, he complained he was under surveillance and his neighbours claimed they were interrogated by intelligence officers.

So who murdered Samir Kassir?

Nassib Lahoud, who was last night attending a meeting of opposition leaders in Beirut - among them was the Druze leader, Walid Jumblatt, who was a close friend of Mr Kassir - had no doubts about the reasons for the murder. "Criminal hands did not target Samir because he was a brilliant journalist," he said. "They did not target Samir because he was a brilliant intellectual. They have targeted Samir for being one of the leaders of Lebanon's spring, because he was part and parcel of the opposition. So the battle with the intelligence apparatus is not over. This assassination is meant to tell us that Lebanon's march towards democracy should not be an easy ride."

Mr Kassir, who had two children from a previous marriage, had only recently married Giselle Khoury, a journalist on the Arabiya satellite channel. "Why don't they leave us alone now?" one of their young neighbours asked me yesterday. "Why must they go on using this methodology of murder? We have to stop this. Are they trying to drive all the young people out of Lebanon?"

This week, An Nahar picked up a story that had been running in its rival paper, Mr Hariri's daily Al-Mustaqbal, and named three prominent Syrian intelligence officers who it claimed had - in defiance of UN Security Council resolution 1559 - returned to Lebanon to interfere in elections.

Identifying Syria's spooks is not a healthy thing to do. Their names were given as: Brigadier General Mohamed Khallouf - who was the senior Syrian intelligence officer in Beirut until last April - Nabil Hishmeh and Khalil Zogheib, who used to run Syria's secret services in Tripoli. Syria denied the men were here. Mr Kassir's last column - on Friday last week - was an attack on the Syrian Baath party, headlined "Mistake after mistake".

So who murdered Samir Kassir?
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