Tuesday, October 31, 2006 

Israeli jets attack Lebanon

Israeli jets have carried out raids on Beirut and across southern Lebanon. No weapons were fired, but the jets flew low over buildings and released a sonic boom.

Eight planes were involved. It is the most serious violation of the ceasefire which came into place at the start of August.

Last week French UN peacekeepers threatened to attack Israeli planes if they continued to invade Lebanon.

Israel has flown over Lebanese airspace for decades, its last flight was just days ago.

Monday, October 23, 2006 

New charges against Michel Kilo

Reform campaigner Michel Kilo has had new charges filed against him, according to his wife.

Sources said he was going to be released on Friday night. Bail was paid, and the documents were submitted.

Now, this shock has set the whole process back. It obviously shows a bitter fight at the heart of Government.

Kilo was one of a dozen activists arrested in May when they called for the Syrian Government to give more respect to the March 14 Hariri movement in the Lebanese government.

They also called for more reform in Syria.

All of the other people (apart from one) have now been released.


Syria announces Eid on Tuesday

Syria will be celebrating the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Fitr on Tuesday.

It means the last day of fasting in Ramadan will be Monday.

Egypt, Iran and Lebanon have also failed to see the cresent moon tonight, and so Eid will be on Tuesday there too. Iraq, and many other countries celebrate on Monday.

Thursday, October 19, 2006 

Michel Kilo released

Campaigner Michel Kilo is due to be released from prison tonight.

It comes four months after he was arrested for a protest letter published in racist newspaper An-Nahar. Kilo's opponents say the campaign was backed by the Lebanese government.

10 were arrested back in May, only one remains in custody: human rights leader Anwar Al-Bunni.

Several hundred political prisoners remain in jails in Syria, one of the lowest numbers in the Arab world.


Human Rights Watch accuses Hizbollah of using cluster bombs

HRW says Hizbollah used cluster bombs during the Israeli attacks on Lebanon.

It is the first time anyone has made such an incredible claim. First of all, cluster bombs are difficult, if not impossible to deliver without using aircraft. Secondly, all of the 'evidence' has come to HRW second hand - Israeli police and some residents have told HRW about the 'cluster bombs'.

Is this the pot calling the kettle black? Cluster munitions are illegal in msot parts of the world. They are flying landmines, and are designed to kill civilians: a claim denied by Israel. 20 Lebanese civilians have died because of the weapons since the ceasefire. Farmers are scared to harvest their crops because the bombs lie unexploded across the whole of the south.

Israel knew exactly what it was doing. In the last couple of hours before the ceasefire came into efffect, their air force dropped one thousand cluster bombs onto southern Lebanon.

Those bombs have been independently verified by the UN. The claims of bombs in Israel have been verified by no-one except the mechanisms of the Israeli state.

While it is important for HRW to investigate cluster bombs in Israel, simply parroting wild claims of the Israeli state does no-one any good.


Bush's top adviser: talk to Syria

President Bush's father was also President of the United States of America. He had a Secretary of State called James Baker. The current President George W Bush sent him to Iraq to find a way out of this mess.

Baker's reply: you have got to talk to Syria. This is not some fuzzy liberal or anti-war campaigner. This is a man picked by Bush, a man trusted by Bush.

The plan is set to be revealed after the November mid-term elections in the US. We can only hope - and expect - that Bush takes his advice.

Is Syria coming in from the cold?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006 

France says it will attack Israeli planes in Lebanon

The French commanders of the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon say they will open fire on Israeli jets if they continue their illegal overflights.

Israel has breached the ceasefire more than one thousand times since it came into force in August (Hizbollah has breached it twice). Most of their breaches refer to their flights into Lebanon. They fly low over the cities breaking the sound barrier (it sounds like a bomb, and is intended to scare civilians).

France says this is a clear breach, and they will open fire if it continues, according to Israel's Defence Minister Amir Peretz.

Israel says it will continue to illegally enter Lebanese airspace. They say arms transfers are continuing, and they may start bombing.

Sunday, October 15, 2006 

Six hurt in grenade attack in Beirut

Six people have been hurt in a grenade attack on a residential building near the UN headquarters.

It is the third attack on a non-political target in recent days. Until now, all violence has been aimed at politicians and journalists. Now, it's spreading. For the first time, civilians are being targeted by rival gangs.

Interior Minister Ahmed Fatfat, who has failed to bring security to Lebanon says "It is clear that there is an attempt to ignite security strife in the country."

Wednesday, October 11, 2006 

Lebanon bans Aoun's websites

I'm being told that Michel Aoun's opposition websites and forums are being blocked in Government-run institutions like the Beirut International Airport.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006 

BBC interview with Bashar Al-Assad

Click here to watch John Simpson's interview with Syria's President in Damascus.

Two things struck me - how good Bashar's English is. And how gentle he is. This is no brutal dictator - there's almost a comical moment when Simpson asks "are you a dictator?". Watch and make up your own mind.

Two printed stories from the BBC too:

Syria: US lacks Mid-East vision

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said the United States does not have "the will or vision" to pursue peace in the Middle East.

In a BBC interview, President Assad said Syria was prepared to hold talks with Israel but he said there needed to be "an impartial arbiter".

He said there was no sign the Americans were prepared to play this role.

President Assad acknowledged Syria and Israel could live side-by-side in peace accepting each other's existence.

The current US administration has said Syria is a member of what it has called an axis of evil.

President Assad suggested President Bush could not be an impartial umpire and said no direct dialogue had taken place between the two nations.

"How can you talk about peace and at the same time isolation? How can you talk about peace and you adopt the doctrine of pre-emptive war?" he asked.

The implementation of UN resolutions by all parties - Syria, Israel, America, the UN and EU - was the only way to achieve peace, Mr Assad said.

Pointing the finger

In the wide-ranging interview, the Syrian president said the West was too ready to blame Syria for problems in the Middle East.

He said the reality and the perception of his country were two different things but that it suited the outside world to point the finger at Syria.

Following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, Mr Assad said the West had accused Syria of supporting terrorism to make it "a scapegoat" and to "absolve themselves from any responsibility".

Washington has also accused Syria of backing Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon, organisations it views as a terrorist groups. However, President Assad said public support for such groups had to be taken into account.

"As long as they [Hezbollah] are effective on the ground among the people you have to deal with them.

"When they have the support of the people you cannot label them as terrorists because this way you label the people as terrorists," he said.

As far as Iraq is concerned, he insisted that Syria did not support any insurgent attacks, but added that "as a concept" resistance was the right of the people.

Syria has also been accused of allowing insurgents to pass across the border with Iraq, but President Assad said the accusations were untrue.

Syrian president's patient wait for peace
By John Simpson
World affairs editor, BBC News

Mr Assad does not have to worry about troublesome elections

For a man who has just been pointedly ignored by Condoleezza Rice on her latest Middle East tour, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria seems remarkably relaxed.

From his point of view, the dangers are a great deal less nowadays.

Because Israel failed to destroy Hezbollah during its attacks on Lebanon this summer, Hezbollah's backer Syria no longer fears an Israeli attack.

And there seems no chance that the United States, weakened by its own failures in Iraq, and distracted by its confrontations with Iran and North Korea, will do anything against Syria.

President Assad has another major advantage: he can play the long game. His father, whom he succeeded in 2000, was effectively president-for-life. He himself does not have to worry too much about troublesome elections.

So when I went to the immense presidential complex on the edge of Damascus to interview him, I found him relaxed, thoughtful and willing to wait a long time for the right moment to make peace with Israel.


He clearly feels the present Israeli government has been too weakened to be able to make a lasting peace agreement.

But anyway he knows nothing can happen without Washington; and he is scathing about what he regards as President Bush's inability to forge a Middle East peace.

"So far", he said, "the United States doesn't have the will to play this role, and it doesn't have the vision towards peace. Of course," he went on, "it doesn't have vision towards Iraq, it doesn't have vision towards terrorism and many other issues."

Implicitly, therefore, he rules out any chance of a comprehensive peace agreement until President Bush has left office and his successor has had time to settle in. So from the Syrian perspective we could be talking about 2009 or even later.

President Assad says he has put out peace-feelers to Israel already. Ehud Olmert, Israel's embattled prime minister, has rejected them; but other leading Israeli politicians think it might be necessary to talk to Syria.

I suggested to President Assad that Israel would be more likely to respond favourably if Syria cut its ties with movements and regimes which sought Israel's destruction. He defended his links with Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran, but insisted he did not want to see Israel wiped off the map.

When I asked him if Syria and Israel would one day be able to live side-by-side in peace, each accepting the other's existence, he answered promptly. "Yes, the answer is yes."

New approach

I pressed him about the charges that he had supplied weapons and help to Hezbollah, but he insisted that he gave political support, and nothing more. People who wanted to resist would always find weapons, he added.

He has also been accused of helping the insurgents in Iraq. Was he, I asked, prepared to help the people who killed British and American soldiers?

He replied that people had a right to resist any occupying forces, and Syria supported that right. But he insisted that he did not help the Iraqi insurgents. In fact, he said, Syria had stopped many would-be insurgents crossing the border.

President Assad is a quiet, intellectually precise man, who looks much more like the ophthalmologist he once was than the leader of a country accused of giving support to terrorism.

He is clearly trying to introduce a new approach to the exercise of power in a traditionally fierce autocracy, persuading people that they should not see their president as super-human and all-powerful.

But was he really the one in charge here, I asked, or did someone else tell him what to do? His father would probably have ordered me out of the country if I had asked him that - and of course I would not have needed to.

Bashar al-Assad merely smiled and said yes, he was certainly in charge. "But for me," he went on, "the biggest mistake is to flout the public will".

The so-called Damascus Spring which he introduced has long since faded, but he insisted he still wanted to open Syria up. Then he added: "Reform does not mean losing control."

For all his quiet calmness, you can still see occasional signs of his father's steeliness.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006 

Has Israel really left Lebanon? The UN says no

See this important update to an early story.


Former world leaders call for Israel-Syria peace talks

135 of the world's elder statesmen, including Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet president, Jimmy Carter, the former US president, and Desmond Tutu, the South Africa's Archbishop have called for a broad dialogue in the Arab World.

They want the Quartet (the US, UN, EU and Russia) to bring about talks between Israel and Syria, something Israel has been avoiding, despite growing calls inside Israel for a new approach.

The 135 signatories include many former presidents and prime ministers and seven Nobel laureates.

Syria has repeatedly offered to restart peace talks with Israel since negotations broke down in 2000. Israel has flatly rejected every single approach.

Sunday, October 01, 2006 

Last Israeli troops leave Lebanon

The final 200 Israeli occupation troops have left Lebanon. Apart from the occupied Sheba Farms, Lebanon has now been liberated.

The last soldiers left Lebanon just after midnight - without telling anyone, and under cover of darkness, scared that they would be attacked. They have been replaced by Lebanese soldiers and UN peacekeepers. Israel promised it would finish the pullout two weeks ago, but failed to live up to that commitment. Lebanon complained in recent days that the withdrawal was too slow.

5000 of the 15,000 promised UN peacekeepers are in place, led by France. Italy will take over leadership early next year. 10,000 Lebanese troops are also in the south.

Yesterday, Israel's Interior Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer called for the assasination of Hizbollah leader Sayyyid Hasan Nasrallah: promising peace but talking war.

UN peacekeepers later condemned Israel for remaining in the village of Ghajar, on the border. They are accused of moving the Blue Line (the border) to steal more of the village. Ghajar is a divided village, sitting right on the border, part in Israel, part in Lebanon. Now, it seems, Israel wants it all for itself.

About me

  • Written by sasa
  • From Damascus, Syria
  • From Damascus to London via Beirut. Based in and out of the central Damascene hamlet of Saroujah. News and feelings from the streets every day. I'm talking rubbish? Leave a comment. Welcome to the information democracy. See below for info about this site.
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