Monday, July 30, 2007 

Brammertz: Hariri's killer wasn't Syrian

Interesting how this one slipped under the radar.

The UN investigator who is looking into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Al-Hariri says the killer wasn't Lebanese.

Ok, we knew that. But his latest report claims the killer wasn't Syrian either. He uses the term a "hot district" to describe where the killer was from. Sami Mobayed speculates that place is Saudi Arabia.

Earlier this month, it was discovered that a large number of Fateh Al-Islam fighters were Saudi. The group is currently fighting the Lebanese Army in Nahr Al-Bared.

And the Hariri government has now started blaming the militant group for some of the recent political assassinations and bombings around Beirut, as well as the murder of a group of UN peacekeepers near the Israeli border.


Amin Gemayel plays the Israeli game, again

Amin Gemayel is desperately trying to get back into the Lebanese Parliament, 25 years after he signed a peace-treaty with Israel when he was President.

His self-proclaimed facist Phalange party has already called on the opposition not to put up a candidate in the August by-election (his Hariri-clan friends know all about one-party elections - the whole city of Beirut was uncontested two years ago).

And now he has described the vote as "a battle for Lebanon's existence".

Now, where have we heard that sentence before?



3000 Iraqi refugees in Damascus are celebrating.

Iraq has won the Asia Football Cup for the first time ever. And it was an even sweeter victory because they beat Saudi.

Sunday, July 29, 2007 


Thursday, July 26, 2007 

Syrian TV says the explosion wasn't terrorism. Authorities say extreme heat caused munitions to explode.




Witness: "The blast was huge. One hospital I went to was filled with injured personnel."






Tuesday, July 24, 2007 

Kiss and make up

"For the last few months, Israel and Syria have resembled two playground lovebirds, each secretly dreaming of kissing the other, but equally scared of their big, bad bully mates finding out. Every few days, one or other of the blushing children will turn to their mutual friend, Turkey, and ask them to find out if their playmate likes them. For a few days it looks like they might finally get together, but then the entire playground learns of their flirtation and the taunts start flying, "Israel and Syria, sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g." "

Friday, July 20, 2007 

Understanding Bashar

"Many believed that the most important line of the speech was when the president said that he understood that the wealth from this opening was reaching only a certain section or "shariha" of Syrian society and that it needed to be broadened to reach more people. For the average Syrian who does not taste the sweets of economic reform but only its bitterness, in the form or reduced subsidies and inflation, this was important. It demonstrated the he understands the main problem of the ordinary citizen. ...

The President's delivery was good. He was excited and a bit rushed during the first half of the speech. He used his hands a lot and on many occasions clipped the microphones that were placed too close to him. This style appeals to many in the younger generation. They like his youthful passion when talking about Syrian affairs and believe it reveals his honesty and sincerity. They liked his jokes, off the cuff remarks, and willingness to depart from the written text to explain things and elaborate. It gives the sense that he is in control and confident. It also allows him to be a bit folksy and direct."

Excellent, easy to read analysis of Bashar Al-Assad's speech here.

The full thing is here.


France says relations with Syria are improving

France's new Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner says talks between a top level diplomat and Syria's President in Damascus are a "sign on the road of conciliation".

Under former President Jacques Chirac, ties between the two countries were almost cut after the assassination of former Lebanese PM Rafiq Al-Hariri. Chirac is now living in one of the most expensive flats in Paris - owned by Rafiq's son. Chirac was today questioned by a judge over alleged corruption.

The UN investigation into the killing of Rafiq Al-Hariri initially pointed towards Syria, but recent reports have cast doubt on that claim.

Britain, America and the EU have sent high level representatives to Syria over the past few months, breaking two years of isolation.

Thursday, July 19, 2007 

The future of urban transport?

(Sorry for the non-Damascene nature of this post)

For €29 a year in Paris, you can ride one of these new public bikes for up to half an hour, and drop it off at another part of the city.

Other European cities have tried similar schemes, but on much smaller scales (there are thousands in Paris, and about 50 in London).

More here.


Iraqi resistance groups reject Al Qaeda

Incredibly revelatory lead article in the Guardian says the main resistance groups reject Al Qaeda, and say they're closer to Saudi (because they're anti-Shia) and Turkey (because they're anti-Kurd) than to Syria:

"The insurgent groups deny support from any foreign government, including Syria, but claim they have been offered funding and arms from Iran and rejected it because of suspicion of Iranian motives. They say they have been under pressure from Saudi Arabia and Turkey to unite and claimed to have had indirect contacts with France about creating the conditions for establishing a political presence outside Iraq. ...

"Resistance isn't just about killing Americans without any aims or goals. Our people have come to hate al-Qaida, which gives the impression to the outside world that the resistance in Iraq are terrorists. We are against indiscriminate killing, fighting should be concentrated only on the enemy," he said.

He added: "A great gap has opened up between Sunni and Shia under the occupation and al-Qaida has contributed to that.""

Read more.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007 

American Rights Watch

"The Iranian government should cancel the scheduled July 18 broadcast of the "confessions" of two detained Iranian-Americans."

Ahhhhhh. But it's ok for Iraqi TV to air the "confessions" of Syrians in Iraq.

Sunday, July 15, 2007 

Israel to allow Damascus-based Palestinian leader into the West Bank

It's all part of Israel's cosying up to Mahmoud Abbas. Israel wants to allow DFLP leader Nawef Hawatmeh in to Palestine.

Hawatmeh wants to attend a PLO meeting, led by Abbas.

He hasn't been allowed into Palestine since 1967. Although on face value it seems a strange decision by Olmert. The DFLP is considered to be a hardline member of the PLO. It exists on the extreme left of the PLO, and has very little support, inside or outside of Palestine.

Although, its politics are diameticrically opposed to those of Hamas.

So could this be Israel's attempt at creating a counterweight to Hamas, regardless of the consequences? Remember what happened when Israel wanted to created a counterweight to the PLO? It funded Hamas.

Saturday, July 14, 2007 

Blowback in Lebanon

"The Islamists at the centre of the fighting were built up by pro-government forces for sectarian reasons."


16 people killed in another car crash

16 people have been killed in another car crash in the Raqqa province.

Doctors say it happened this morning when a truck went round a corner too fast. It collided with two cars coming the other way.

Three women and three children all from one family are among the dead.



UN accepts Shebaa Farms IS Lebanese

The UN has overturned a major Israeli claim. It says the Occupied Shebaa Farms is Lebanese.

America and Israel say the land is Syrian. Lebanon and Syria have always insisted it is Lebanese.

Why does this matter? Because it is about the future of Hizbollah.

If the Shebaa Farms is in Syria, then Israel is not occupying any of Lebanon. And that is important because Hizbollah says it will continue its armed struggle until all of Lebanon is liberated.

So is Lebanon occupied or not?

The UN position has always been 'no' - Shebaa is Syrian. But the UN left the door open by saying Syria could put it in writing that the Shebaa is Lebanese, and transfer the territory. At the heart of the problem is that the Lebanese-Syrian border is poorly demarcated.

Now, UN cartographers have looked at the maps and decreed that the Shebaa IS Lebanese, and so Israel DOES still occupy Lebanon.

Monday, July 09, 2007 

Saudi Fatah Al Islam members found in Lebanon - claims of Hariri link to the group grow

23 Saudi members of Fatah Al Islam members have been killed in Lebanon, as more evidence points to the Hariri link with the extremist group.

Hariri openly backed militant Sunni groups like Fatah Al Islam after last summer's war on Lebanon. Hariri was worried Hezbollah would come out of the war stronger, and he wanted a Sunni counterbalance to the Shia group.

Fatah Al Islam say they are "protecting the Sunnis", and it is thought they were one of the groups which received Hariri funding. Today's evidence of a large Saudi membership will do nothing to dampen these claims (Saudi Arabia is Hariri's biggest financial backer).

The group was formed last November, when they split from Syrian funded Fatah Al Intifada.


Lebanese TV advert - salute our heroes

Advert made by the Hariri clan in support of the Lebanese Army heroes.

The advert makers claim none of the people who feature in the ad are actors - they all spontaneously stopped to salute the soldier. (Of course, their spontaneity had nothing to do with the TV camera being paraded through the streets of Beirut.)

It is not just the disgusting behaviour of the Beirutis which angers me in this video, even the music is inappropriate.

What about the Palestinian civilian heroes who have been killed, and not counted by these murderers.


'New' Seven Wonders competition sparks global controversy

So, the new seven wonders have been unveiled. Two are in the Arab world. But as Wassim points out, none of them were built by Arabs. They just happen to be on the land we live on.

I mentioned a couple of days ago how Egypt's President-King Hosni Mubarak fought a campaign to get the Pyramids on to the list without a vote. They said that their place on the original seven wonders list gave them a right to be part of the new list. "Let people vote, but we want a guaranteed win," - we've heard that call coming from Mubarak before haven't we.

And then there is the voting method: you can vote online and by phone - as many times as you want. Monuments in India and China won - no surprise that they have the highest number of internet users in the world.

And if you pay US$32, you get a second chance to vote. Why?

The Vatican was also apparently worried that the poll was anti-Christian, for some reason.

And in the UK - according to the LA Times: "Apathy and disdain apparently doomed Stonehenge, Britain's prehistoric collection of circularly arranged megaliths. "The polling arrangements" in the contest "are so flawed that they make even Eurovision Song Contest judges look objective," sniffed London's Independent newspaper.

And in Rome, the campaign never caught fire. Calls last week to both the city government and the Culture Ministry could find no one who had even heard of the competition."


Iraq-Syria border: Al Jazeera

Sami Zeidan visits the At-Tanf border post, and meets refugees starting a new life in Syria - and the Syrian and Iraqi truck drivers bringing prosperity to both countries.

"Muslims - Sunni and Shia - Christians, all are welcome. This is the only country to accept all Arabs, regardless of religion or sect."

Sunday, July 08, 2007 

Right-wing Lebanese website blames Fateh Al Islam for Gemayel assassination

Ya Libnan says the police think Fateh Al Islam killed Hariri-cabinet member Pierre Gemayel.

It comes after a report in another right-wing paper - An-Nahar.

The Police/Ya Libnan/An-Nahar claims are a dramatic u-turn. Within hours of the assassination, Sa'ad Al-Hariri, and Walid Junblatt were parading themselves on TV to explictly blame Syria.


Petra is new wonder of the world

The New Seven Wonders of the World have been revealed. Petra, in Jordan, was voted on to the list. The Pyramids in Giza, Egypt, retain their place, without the need for a vote (it wouldn't be Arab to do it any other way, would it).

So, there are now two Arab monuments on the new Seven Wonders (which are actually eight wonders). But this isn't a moment for joy - the historical Seven Wonders contained three Arab sites: the pyramids, the Alexandria lighthouse, and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

But for now, let's just listen to the euphoria in Amman. This is Black Iris's breathy description of last night's celebrations across Jordan. Congratulations.

Saturday, July 07, 2007 

Hamas versus Al Qaeda/Fateh - the Alan Johnston rescue mission

More background - this time on the rivalry between Hamas and the kidnappers of a BBC journalist in Gaza:

"All the while, though, we knew Hamas was eager to bring his kidnapping to an early end. Hamas wanted to resolve the Johnston kidnapping not wholly out of altruistic motivations. Much has been said and written about Hamas' desire to project an image of law and order. But they also consider the pro-Fatah Daghmoush clan, out of which the Army of Islam was formed, the single biggest obstacle to complete control of Gaza.

My contacts there say sooner or later Hamas will move against the Daghmoush. Furthermore, Hamas leaders are worried the Army of Islam represents the thin end of al Qaeda's wedge, and are determined to eradicate it, not because they've suddenly signed on to President George W. Bush's so-called global War on Terror, but rather out of a Machiavellian desire not to be outflanked politically."


How did the violence in Lebanon begin

A lot of people have been asking how the violence in Lebanon started. I have explained a few times. But if you need a reminder, this is a good backgrounder (even if it is from the New York Times):

"Minutes before Islamic militants and government troops began killing each other in northern Lebanon six weeks ago, a flurry of cellphone calls set the tone for the contagion of violence."


Al Jazeera Golan documentary

People and Power, tx date 7 July 07. Al Jazeera looks at the difficulties for Syrians living in the Golan Heights - in the Occupied Golan, and in the liberated Golan.

And part 2:

Friday, July 06, 2007 

The New Seven Wonders of the World

There are just hours to go until the new seven wonders are revealed.

There's still time to vote online - and there are only two places in the Arab World up for nomination: Petra, in Jordan, and the Pyramids of Giza, in Egypt.

The New Seven Wonders is one big numbers game. The project has been running for seven years, the result is being announced on 07/07/07. There are 21 entrants on the shortlist (3x7)

The whole contest has stumbled along from one controversy to another.

The Giza Pyramids is the only one of the original seven wonders which still exists - the list was compiled more than 2000 years ago. So authorities in Egypt protested that they had to compete for a place in the new seven wonders. Now, they've been guaranteed a place in the new seven wonders. Except that there will be EIGHT new wonders, because the seven others are still being voted for.

And then there is the fairness of the contest. You can only vote once (but you cheekily register with another email address and clear the cookies on your computer) - unless you pay US$32.

And the Vatican says there is an anti-Christian bias in the choice of nominations - for reasons I don't quite understand.

Anyway, here's my entirely subjective, and completely superficial seven wonders:

1 - The Old City, Damascus, Syria
2 - Maalula, Syria
3 - Petra, Jordan
4 - Jeita Grotto, Lebanon
5 - The Pantheon, Rome, Italy
6 - The London Skyline, UK
7 - Giza Pyramids, Egypt


Lebanon cancels summer festivals

Lebanon has cancelled the Beitedeen and Baalbek festivals for a second year, because of the threat of attack from Israel, and the continuing violence from alleged Hariri-linked Al-Qaeda militants.

The organisers made the announcement just a day after 10,000 people flocked to an Enrique Igelsias concert in Damascus. The government was insisting there was no threat to Lebanon, and the events would go ahead.

Shakira was due to perform at Beitedeen. The Lebanese music festivals are the most renowned in the Arab world - many even went ahead during parts of the Civil War.

Thursday, July 05, 2007 

10,000 people at Enrique Iglesias concert in Damascus

US Latin singer Enrique Iglesias has performed a charity concert* near the Damascus Old City to 10,000 people. It is the first western pop concert in Syria for 30 years.

It happened at the old fairground.

Tickets cost from $30 but huge TV screens were put up outside, where many more people watched for free.

There was some doubt about whether Iglesias would come to Syria. But after his team visited the country, and said that it wasn't a terrorist haven, he went ahead with the concert. He is now extending his stay in Syria to do some sightseeing.

(*Thanks to Shady and Ammar for the corrections: Enrique took almost US$1 million, with the proceeds going to charity.)



Syria pressured Hamas to find kidnapped British journalist

Syria put pressure on Hamas to step up efforts to find BBC journalist Alan Johnston.

Johnston was freed by a militant group in Gaza yesterday, after more than four months in captivity.

When Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip they said one of their first priorities would be to find Johnston.

And now the far-right Jerusalem Post is reporting that the British government asked Syria to put pressure on Hamas to deal with the situation.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007 


"And even when I was in the car, I thought at first 'They are moving me again', and I thought maybe they're handing me on to new kidnappers, but then as we got deeper and deeper into Gaza City, I really began at last to believe that maybe we were finishing it.

When they let me out of the car, there were gunmen around and so on and I thought, 'No, no these are more kidnappers', but then I saw [BBC reporter] Fayed Abu Shammala who I'd worked with for three years and the most fantastic moment, and I really only then, only then believed it was over."

Tuesday, July 03, 2007 

Geography lesson from the BBC

The 'Fertile Cresent' apparently starts in Iraq, crosses through Lebanon and Syria and goes straight into Israel, dancing round but somehow not entering Palestine.


Syria opening up to its Kurdish minority

"The Arab state seems to be opening up to its biggest minority, said Derky, one of Syria's most prominent Kurdish writers. 'There is a clear and noticeable change.'"


Israel follows Lebanon's example

"Lebanon is a small country of 3.5 million people with a sensitive demographic composition. The Lebanese people are unanimous in categorically rejecting the permanent settlement of the 500,000 Palestinian refugees on their soil because they will cause a demographic imbalance in the very delicate mosaic of the Lebanese population.

Israel has so far refused to grant the refugees the Right of Return because, following the example of Lebanon , it too fears a demographic imbalance."

Monday, July 02, 2007 

London bomb suspects are Arab

It's reported two of them are doctors who trained in Jordan and Iraq.

Maybe Britain should bomb Iraq.


America claims Hizbollah is operating in Iraq

A man captured by Americans in Iraq has apparently "confessed" to being a member of Hizbollah.

He says he was sent by Iranian forces to support Iraqi Shia groups kill American soldiers.

The release of information seems to be aimed at fingering Iranian involvement in Iraq, rather than Lebanese or Syrian.

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  • 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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