Wednesday, November 29, 2006 

Terror attack at Syrian border

A terrorist has been killed at the Syrian-Lebanese border.

Officials say 28 year old Omar Abdullah, a member of Tawhid and Jihad, blew himself up at the Jdeidet Yabous crossing.

He was being questioned after suspicions over his identity papers. He shot the border guards, ran away and then blew himself up when cornered, injuring two border staff.

It backs up claims from Lebanon about terrorists and weapons flowing across the Syrian border. And will raise suspicions about the number of Al Qaeda operatives inside Lebanon. Recent research has shown that the small country is one of the Arab World's Al Qaeda hotspots, because of Lebanon's weak government.

Tawhid and Jihad is the name of former Al Qaeda leader in Iraq Abu Musab Al Zarqawi's group. They have staged a number of brasen attacks in Syria - including an attempted attack on the US Embassy in Damascus.

Saturday, November 25, 2006 

Will there ba another civil war in Lebanon?

Hizbollah responds to the Lebanese partial-cabinet's decision to support the UN Hariri tribunal.

"Those who can make a civil war don't want it. Those who want it, can't make it." - Ibrahim Mousawi, Hizbollah/Al Manar TV.


SNAP: Lebanese cabinet approves UN Hariri tribunal

The Lebanese government has unanimously backed the UN Hariri tribunal.

But Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri has called the meeting 'unconstitutional'. When Hizbollah ministers resigned, they called the government unconstitutional - Berri disagreed. But he says this meeting wasn't legal.

The Lebanese government has backed the tribunal, now a bill will be presented to parliament. Berri has the right to reject that bill. He will. And a constitutional crisis will follow.

The government said their backing of the tribunal was not meant to be a provocation - it is for the "security of Lebanon", they said.

The Syria News Wire beat the BBC by 4 minutes on this story.

Thursday, November 23, 2006 

Suspicions grow in Beirut that Samir Jaja killed Pierre Gemayel

United in opposition to Syria, but rivals in every other way, there are growing fears Samir Jaja was behind the assassination of Pierre Gemayel.

Jaja became leader of the far-right Lebanese Forces in 1986 after overthrowing Elie Hobeika. Jaja became known as a fearless leader, targeting Christian rivals as much as his other enemies in Lebanon. He was jailed in 1994 for murdering Lebanese Prime Minister Rashid Karameh.

Gemayel's Phalange party is one of Jaja's main rivals today (along with Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement). And since the murder of Hariri, Gemayel and Jaja have worked together in the March 14 camp. But it doesn't hide their rivalry.

Just days ago Jaja warned that he was certain a minister was about to be assassinated. The Syrians would obviously be blamed, but does that offer a blanket cover for anyone else who wants to take out any anti-Syrian politician?

And today, during the funeral, he made a play to gain the support of Phalange party members, now that organisation has been decapitated.

All circumstantial evidence, and yes, I have convicted Jaja by a 'crime of intentions'. But that's no different to the March 14th's explanation for how Syria can be responsible is it?


Most Israelis want peace talks with Syria

A staggering 57% of Israelis are calling for peace talks with Syria - but most are opposed to the return of the Occupied Syrian Golan Heights. President Bashar Al-Assad has repeatedly offered to go to the negotiating table without conditions.

Even the hawkish Israeli government ministers of Defence and Foreign Affairs have demanded talks.

What part of that don't you understand Mr Olmert?


AUB Professor: Whoever pulled the trigger, Syria's allies are the losers

"The assassination of Pierre Gemayel could not therefore have come at a more opportune moment for the March 14 alliance." - Charles Harb, American University of Beirut professor.


Syria and Hariri's latest battle

In the past, it has been easy to blame Syria for assassinating its enemies in Lebanon. But this time, is it so simple?

The day before the murder Syria and Iraq agreed to restore diplomatic relations for the first time in 24 years. Bashar is due to meet Iraqi President Jalal Talabani this weekend.

Top officials from the British, Spanish and German governments have been visiting Damascus.

Tony Blair is pushing America to start talks with Syria.

Bush's Baker committee is expected to recommend engaging Damascus.

And Bush's neo-cons advocating isolation have been seriously weakened by this month's US mid-term elections.

And in Lebanon, Hizbollah called massive demonstrations for tomorrow. Six ministers resigned, putting the government on the brink of resignation and damaging its credibility domestically. And the government had been left high and dry by its ally America during Israel's war this summer - it lost its international credibility.

Now, Hizbollah's demonstration is cancelled, people are rallying round the government, and Bush has phoned to promise his support (why is Siniora even picking up the phone to Bush after what he did to him this summer - does the man have no shame?).

One of the biggest fears of the March 14th (Hariri) movement over the past few weeks has been that Bush would kiss and make up with Bashar. That's one worry Sa'ad can cross off the list.

Just like Sa'ad Al-Hariri profitted from his father's death, he is rising from the ashes of Pierre Gemayel's body.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006 

SNAP: Warlord Pierre Gemayel assassinated

The son of the head of the Phalange party, Pierre Gemayel has been shot dead in Beirut.

Protests have broken out in eastern Lebanon following the assasination of the far-right leader.

His supporters have shouted slogans against rival Christian leader Michel Aoun.

But members of the murdered minister's party have called for calm.

It was Gemayel who massacred 2000 innocent women and children in the Sabra and Chatilla camps in 1982. He was working for Israeli Defence Minister Ariel Sharon.

Sa'ad Hariri was told the news while he was talking in a press conference. He immediately blamed Syria before talking to anyone. That is what passes for an investigation in Lebanon.

Monday, November 20, 2006 

EXCLUSIVE: Is Hariri being investigated in a major international corruption scandal

The Swiss government says a "prominent Lebanese politician and a wealthy Syrian businessman" (possibly Khaddam) with close links to the Saudi regime are being investigated by the Swiss and British authorities.

Hariri (or someone close to him) and the Syrian are alleged to have acted as middlemen between Britain's biggest arms company BAE Systems and the Saudis. It involves a $200 million deal to buy warplanes for Saudi. The deal over the past three years is thought to have been riddled with bribes.

Access to the two men's Swiss bank accounts is being sought by Britain's Serious Fraud Office and their money is likely to be frozen. The two men have already launched an appeal. Two days ago, Saudi Arabia threatened to break diplomatic ties with Britain unless the investigation is dropped.

It comes at an embarrasing time for the March 14 movement and their Saudi backers. Their government is on the brink of collapse, and the opposition called massive public demonstrations yesterday.


Syrian Foreign Minister in Baghdad

In a sign of Syria's new spirit of co-operation with the outside world, Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Mouallim is in Baghdad.

He met Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who showed the Iraqi government isn't as hostile to Syria as some would like to believe.

He's been talking about ties between the two countries, long delayed plans to open an embassy there, and the violence in Iraq. He condemned terrorism in the country, and urged Iraqis to "cling to their unity".

Mouallim wants a timetable for a US withdrawal.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006 

Did the BBC get it wrong on Syria and Iran?

The BBC's interpretation of the Blair speech is that Blair is cool on talks with Iran/Syria - that Blair doesn't want talks at any cost.

But most other news organisations took from the speech that Blair is pushing for talks. (CNN/Al Jazeera/Al Arabiyah/Al Alam/The Guardian/The Independent).

So who is right?

Well, both. It is certainly true that Blair is pushing for talks, and taking advantage of the new situation in the US.

But the threats flowed thick and fast. Hizbollah was labelled as a terror organisation (stop supporting terrorism in Lebanon was the phrase, in a warning to Iran). It's not an offer of talks, but a demand for action on Iraq/Lebanon - face the consequences of isolation if you don't, was Blair's alternative.

'Blair pushing for talks' is the headline we knew we could use for this speech. 'Blair cool on talks' is the headline you might choose if you actually listen to the speech.


Another first for the Syria News Wire

The Syria News Wire beats the BBC on Blair's Syria speech by 25 minutes, and Al Jazeera by 38 minutes. Your fastest source of information about Syria.

Syria News Wire: "Blair speech on Syria", published Monday, 13 November 2006, 21:19 GMT

BBC: "Bush cool on Iraq role for Iran", published Monday, 13 November 2006, 21:44 GMT

Al Jazeera: "Blair: US should work with Iran and Syria", published Monday, 13 November 2006, 21:57 GMT

Monday, November 13, 2006 

Blair speech on Syria ... COMMENT

Well, we were expecting a lot from Blair's final Guildhall speech. It is his annual foreign policy talk, and this year will be his last one as Prime Minister. Considering he set himself a goal for these final twelve months to find solutions to the problems in the Middle East, we had been expecting more on Syria.

In all there were just a couple of lines. But important ones nevertheless.

Blair seems to be emotionally differentiating between Syria and Iran. They don't share the same interests, he says, they aren't the same, and they require different solutions.

His words come in the week that he will tell Bush to open talks with Syria.

But a note of caution - he made it clear that Palestine, not Syria, is his priority. And talks between Israel-Palestine will come before dialogue with Syria, or a push for Israel-Syria talks.


LIVE: Blair speech on Syria ... continued

Iran (no mention of Syria) is using Hizbollah to paint the West as evil


LIVE: Blair speech on Syria

Blair: 'Syria and Iran do not share the same interests'

'But [Syria] is not where we start - we must focus on Israel-Palestine'


Sixth Lebanese minister resigns - government close to collapse

A sixth minister has resigned, Environment Minister Yacoub Sarraf.

"I don't see myself belonging to any constitutional authority in which an entire sect is absent," he said.

If eight leave, the government automatically collapses. Only two more are needed now.

All five Shia members resigned on Saturday. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora can choose to operate with a half-government, or he can choose to appoint puppet Shia to fill the five Shia seats.

Hizbollah is demanding a greater role in government for itself and its allies Amal and Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement.

Hizbollah feels it needs a greater role since it single-handedly defended Lebanon during Israel's war in the summer. Siniora ordered the Lebanese national army not to fire on the Israeli invaders.


Syria News Wire - better than the BBC for Syria and Lebanon news

Twice in the past few days, the Syria News Wire has beat the BBC by an astonishing twelve hours.

First, it was the story that five ministers had resigned from the Lebanese government. The BBC eventually put that as their top story.

Yesterday we were one of the first news sites to break the news that the US is keen to open talks with Syria - this morning the BBC is leading with that story.

Sunday, November 12, 2006 

Bush considers talks with Syria

"Nothing is off the table. All the options will be considered." That's the White House's Chief of Staff, Josh Bolten, a close aide to President Bush.

It comes as James Baker (a close friend of the Bush family, and the man he sent to Iraq to find a way out of the mess) prepares to tell Bush to talk to Syria. This week UK Prime Minister Tony Blair will tell Bush to open talks with Syria - his top diplomat has just returned from Damascus, where he visited Bashar to find out whether he was serious about peace - Blair's actions suggest he got an answer.

It also comes as the European Parliament recommends the EU ratify the EU-Syria Association Agrrement, a vital tool to open up trade between the two areas - it would create a free trade area, and would really help Syria liberalise its economy.

The past few weeks have seen a flurry of flights into Damascus carrying European Foreign Ministers.

Welcome back Syria.


President orders government to resign

Lebanese President Emile Lahoud says the government should resign now that it has lost its legitimacy.

It comes a day after five cabinet members resigned. If three more left, the government would automatically collapse.

It is an interesting comment coming from Lahoud, who has often been accused of lacking legitimacy. Great, now there's a lame duck government and a lame duck President.

Saturday, November 11, 2006 

Sinora rejects ministers' resignations

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has developed a new way to stop his government from collapsing: reject the resignations of the five Hizbollah and Amal ministers.

He says he won't accept the move "even if he receives the formal written resignations".

His next tactic is to cry.


Lebanese government about to fall?

Crisis talks have ended without resolution in Lebanon.

The talks were to discuss a greater role for Hizbollah in government - currently they only have 2 positions, they are asking for more, given that they act as the country's de facto army.

Now that the Hariri bloc bothered to turn up to the talks (they inexplicably ignored the first round of discussions), the talks have collapsed.

5 Shia members of the government (Hizbollah and Amal) have resigned, and their positions will have to be filled by puppet Shia.

That leaves the government as a lame duck administration. They will either have to give Hizbollah what they want or rule from a very weak position.

Hizbollah have threatened to call a massive demonstration unless the impasse is solved. Well, it worked for the Hariri bloc on March 14 last year, didn't it.

Thursday, November 09, 2006 

Tuesday, November 07, 2006 

New York Times: Where the Boys Are, at Least for Now, the Girls Pounce

Excellent piece on Beirut's catwalk culture, its causes and aims. Enjoy.

(Photo: At a Halloween party at the C-Lounge in Beirut, women tried to attract scarce visiting men with a “Who’s the Sexiest?” contest.)

(Kate Brooks/Polaris, for The New York Times)

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Nov. 1 — This is a city of nightclubs, but the nightlife is something else these days, and not just because of the feverish edge sharpened by the war last summer.

By 8 p.m., women in their 20s and early 30s are prowling in packs of five and six, casting meaningful glances at any and all passing men. In the bars the women dance for hours — often on top of the bar — and legs, midriffs, bare shoulders and barely covered bosoms are offered for public admiration.

Samir Khalaf, a professor of sociology at the American University of Beirut, said the scene astonished his American colleagues. “They are just shocked,” he said. “ ‘This is Lebanon, the Middle East?’ they say. They can’t stop talking about all the belly buttons, about all these highly eroticized bodies. You see it everywhere here, this combination of consumerism and postmodernism and female competition.”

For a few weeks twice a year, after Ramadan and before Christmas, thousands of Lebanon’s young men return from jobs abroad — and run smack into one of the world’s most aggressive cultures of female display. Young women of means have spent weeks primping and planning how to sift through as many men as possible in the short time available. The austere month of Ramadan ended a week ago.

The country’s high rate of unemployment pushes the young men to seek work elsewhere, sometimes in Western countries like France and Canada, but mainly in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and the other oil states on the Persian Gulf. The women, inhibited by family pressures, are generally left behind.

“The demographic reality is truly alarming,” Professor Khalaf said. “There are no jobs for university graduates, and with the boys leaving, the sex ratios are simply out of control. It is now almost five to one: five young girls for every young man. When men my sons’ age come back to Lebanon, they can’t keep the girls from leaping at them.”

For the men, who return with deep pockets and high spirits, the holiday welcome is gratifying.

“In Doha it is completely impossible, because you can’t talk to women in the gulf,” said Wisam Hamdan, 35, back from Qatar, where he manages hairdressing salons. “But Lebanese girls are very friendly. I am hoping to meet lots of girls, and then I will pick one.”

The other night Roula Hallak, 27, was wandering the bars of Gemmayzeh, an eastern Beirut neighborhood, with a troupe of six meticulously dressed and made-up girlfriends.

“I’m not looking, but she is, and so is she,” Ms. Hallak said, poking two of them, who giggled and declined to give their names. “It’s so hard to meet the perfect guy this way, but there are so many out in Beirut at this time of year. You go out and you look and you’re always hoping.”

According to Professor Khalaf, Lebanese Christians have been migrating for economic reasons since Ottoman times. But as the nation’s economic crisis has deepened, the exodus has come to include young men from all religious groups and across the socio-economic spectrum, as well as a tiny but growing number of young women.

Over the last two decades, the Persian Gulf has become the economic pole, and its pull has only grown stronger since the monthlong war this summer between Israel and the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon. With the political situation here still so uncertain, investment and work opportunities are growing even scarcer, and the gender imbalance worsens.

For young women here, dressing fashionably is a competitive game; stare-down contests between young women in restaurants and malls are common, particularly, say the girls, when one of the women is accompanied by an attractive Lebanese man.

Kareen Yazbek, a Beirut psychologist, says that the lack of available men is a constant theme in her discussions with young women recovering from depression and drug addiction.

“Throughout my practice, the main issue that comes up with many young women is that they can’t find anyone to be with or to marry,” Ms. Yazbek said. “Among college-age girls it’s not such a problem, but after graduation there’s a big change as the men start seeking work outside of Lebanon.”

“The social pressures on young women are just huge,” Ms. Yazbek continued. “The focus is more and more on being beautiful, on pleasing other people. The competition is intense, conformity is a big thing, and everyone, rich and poor, gets plastic surgery. You can go to parts of Beirut where almost every young woman has the same little nose.”

And the big prize, all seem to agree, is the attention of one of the visiting native sons.

“The guys that remain in Lebanon are the stupid ones!” exclaimed Nayiri Kalayjian, 19, who was hitting the bars on Monot Street, in central Beirut, with three girlfriends.

“We’re too good for them,” she said. “The ones who remain in Lebanon are the ones with closed mentalities, the ones who just want a virgin girl. You start to feel that the men who stay in Lebanon are the ones with no ambition in their work, and so you wonder, why are they still here?”


Independent Syrian newspaper launches

Following in the footsteps of Ad-Domari, an independent Syrian newspaper has been launched in Damascus.

Al-Watan claims it will take a 'moderate' political stance. The 16 page broadsheet was unveiled yesterday and will be published daily.

Bashar Al-Assad releaxed media laws five years ago, but it is still difficult to get a licence. Satirical publication Ad-Domari mocked government officials, and was highly popular, until it lost its licence on a technicality.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006 

COMMENT: "Playing second fiddle in Syria"

This is a new feature for the Syria News Wire. As well as regular fresh, original news updates, we will be republishing the best comment/op-ed pieces on Syria. This is from The Guardian (UK).

Playing second fiddle in Syria

Britain's secret overture to Damascus is unlikely to be music to Washington's ears, writes Simon Tisdall

Wednesday November 1, 2006
Guardian Unlimited

It seems an odd time to go knocking on Bashar al-Assad's front door - or in the case of Sir Nigel Sheinwald, Tony Blair's secret envoy to Damascus, slipping in round the back for a quiet chat. Only a year ago, the conventional wisdom in Washington and European capitals was that the Syrian president was on the skids. Now it seems he is calling the shots.
Mr Assad's humiliating troop withdrawal from Lebanon, beefed-up US sanctions, supposed dissent within his regime, and the UN's inquiry into Syrian involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri were all key elements in Mr Assad's anticipated downfall.

And when Ghazi Kanaan, Syria's interior minister and former intelligence chief in Lebanon, died in mysterious circumstances in October last year, it did indeed seem that Mr Assad was losing his grip. Mr Kanaan supposedly committed suicide by shooting himself in the mouth. Marketplace rumours darkly suggested he was bumped off for secretly collaborating with the UN inquiry, the US, or both.

But like his famously resilient father Hafez, the so-called Lion of Damascus, Mr Assad rode the storm and events began to turn in his favour. The promise of Lebanon's much-hyped "cedar revolution" was lost in renewed political infighting. Hamas, the militant faction backed by Damascus, won power in Palestinian elections. The threat posed by the Hariri inquiry gradually faded.

Spiralling sectarian and insurgent violence in Iraq, close ally Iran's ever more confident rejection of western pressure, and finally, Hizbullah's self-proclaimed summer "victory" over Israeli forces in Lebanon have all served to fortify Mr Assad politically while affording him new tactical options.

So when Sir Nigel unexpectedly turned up on the doorstep on Monday, the UK envoy was hardly in a position to set the agenda, let alone dictate terms. Britain, in its now familiar capacity of sleeves-rolled up proxy for a more fastidious Washington, had little option but to listen politely and make nice, as Downing Street's highly respectful tone today indicates.

"We all know that Syria is part of the reality on the ground in the Middle East and therefore it can play either a constructive or destructive role," Mr Blair's spokesman said. "We obviously would hope that it will play a constructive role. But in the end, the Syrian government will decide what it believes is in Syria's best interests."

Mr Blair's off-the-cuff opening to Damascus raises more questions than it answers. One is whether Syria will really collaborate in practical ways on Lebanon and the Palestinian situation. Another is whether the US is fully on board. At present, the prime minister risks becoming the filling in an unpalatable sandwich.

Former US secretary of state James Baker is expected to recommend high-level engagement with Syria - and Iran - as part of an Iraq strategy review. Many senior Republicans as well as Democrats believe that if Iraq is to fend for itself after a withdrawal of foreign forces, Syria's collaboration is essential. No coincidence perhaps that officials said the Syrian foreign minister may soon visit Baghdad for the first time since Saddam fell.

But even though improved relations could also help isolate Iran and increase pressure on Hamas to moderate its views, Washington hardliners will oppose a Syrian rapprochement. The Dick Cheney wing of the Republican party and assorted neo-conservatives would portray it as a base betrayal of the Bush "freedom doctrine" of promoting democracy in the Middle East.

For Mr Blair the timing has much to do with his own impending departure and his hopes, after so much war-making, of a peace-making legacy. But few share his sense of urgency - and his is a walk-on part. As usual in the Middle East, the main protagonists are playing a longer game.


Al Hurra claims Michel Kilo was being paid by Hariri

US-funded TV station Al Hurra is reporting that Marwan Hamadeh (a Hariri government minister in Lebanon) has paid Michel Kilo millions of dollars.

He was being funded to work against the Syrian government.

He was due to be released from prison in Syria last Friday. But mysteriously, new charges appeared at the last minute.

Kilo has always tried to distance himself from the US. These claims will undoubtedly damage his standing with other reformists, and with the government.

Al Hurra isn't known for its journalistic strength. And it seems very strange to hear these words on the US propaganda station.

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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