Thursday, June 30, 2005 

Lebanon angry at Syrian border delays

Lebanon is to complain to Syria about delays entering Syria along the Beirut-Damascus highway. The delay has been caused by Syrian officials, who are being more thorough in their border checks.

Until the military withdrawal, the Syrian side of the border had been the easiest to negotiate - a quick wave of the hand and you're through. But since the withdrawal, Syria has become more jittery about who is in Lebanon, and who might try to get into Syria.

Until the withdrawal, it was the Lebanese officials who were notoriously slow - but things have changed.

In other news, Israel continued its bombardment of Southern Lebanon, and dropped leaflets warning the Lebanese that they will be held responsible for any border violence.

Also, the US has frozen the assets of Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan and the former head Military Intelligence for Lebanon, Rustum Ghazali - the two men responsible for Syria's Lebanon policy until the withdrawal. Syria left Lebanon, so now lets take revenge for all those years.


Lebanon's new Prime Minister: Fuad Siniora

Fuad Siniora, a former finance minister under Rafiq Al-Hariri, is expected to be announced as the country's new Prime Minister soon. He received the support of Saad Al-Hariri's Future coalition, which have a majority in Parliament.

Today's news confirms expectations that inexperienced Saad will not run for PM just yet. But it also raises fears that the Hariri empire's first concern is the cash: Fuad was Finance Minister under Rafiq Al-Hariri - the Prime Minister who was claimed to be Lebanon's most corrupt ever. He raised over $30 billion debt, and served the rich while starving the poor. Given that much of Future's support came from the Gucci marchers, will anything change now?

In other news, a Hizbollah fighter was killed this morning by Israel, in a tit-for-tat murder. Yesterday Israeli troops allegedly made incursions into Lebanon, provoking Hizbollah to fire on the Occupied Sheba Farms, killing an Israeli fighter.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005 

Lebanon: we'll treat Palestinians a bit more humanely

Lebanon has removed some of the draconian restrictions on Palestinians in the country, allowing them to work for the first time.

But it'll only apply to Palestinians born in Lebanon, only if they're under 57, and only in some manual labour and clerical jobs in the private-sector. They still wont be allowed to go anywhere near government jobs like medicine, law and engineering. And they still wont be allowed to build a house.

The announcement came from the Shia Labour Minister Trad Hamadeh, a friend of Hizbollah.

They were not allowed to work, or gain citizenship in case they upset the country's delicate sectarian balance. They were only allowed to seek work within their refugee camps.

But there are whiffs of self-serving motivations here. Many Syrians were doing private-sector menial jobs in Lebanon, but tens of thousands fled after the threats and attacks in the wake of Rafiq Al-Hariri's murder. Construction sites virtually ground to a halt soon after. So are Palestinians are the new Syrians?


Israel claims Syrian troops shot at them

Israel has claimed that Syrian troops fired on Israeli soldiers in the illegally occupied Syrian Golan Heights.

The UN's 1000 strong force along the dividing line could not confirm the Israeli account.

More inexplicably, the gung-ho Occupation soldiers chose not to return fire. They claimed they were reparing a fence on the border of the occupied land. If that was the case, UNDOF peacekeepers would have needed to be present.

If the Israeli claims are true, it would be the first time in thirty years that the ceasefire has been breached (apart from the Israeli air-bombing of Damascus in 2003, and the Israeli car-bombing of Damascus in 2004).

Last year a Syrian was caught in the Occupied Syrian Golan by Israeli soldiers who claimed he was 'tresspassing' in their land.

Israel has lodged a complaint with the UN forces, but as the Lebanese will tell you, that wont achieve anything: Lebanon lodges complaints every time Israeli warplanes break the sound barrier over Beirut, Tripoli and other cities - it's a noise which sounds like a bomb but only smashes windows.

Saturday, June 25, 2005 

The Cost of the Demonstrations

During the massive protests in the wake of the murder of Rafiq Al-Hariri, the Lebanese economy was incredibly stable. The Lira barely felt the shock of the political turmoil. But new reports suggest the Lebanese government spent two billion dollars holding the Lira up.

That's two billion pounds to add to the current debt of $33.49 bullion. So let's put this in context - the demonstrations cost nearly 10% of the amount it cost to rebuild Lebanon after the end of the 25 year Civil War.

That's an expensive demonstration.

But it's not just the debt which got worse. The country's main income provider - tourism - is suffering badly. Lebanon was enjoying its highest number of tourists since the war in February - but that all ended with the political turmoil.

The Syrian workers who rebuilt Lebanon and lived in appaling conditions have all but left - who will carry out the cheap manual labour now?

And of course, the political shakiness is likely to scare off foreign investors. Lebanon was already struggling to recreate its pre-war image as the banking centre of the Arab World - the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 2004 rated Lebanon as 97th out of 146 countries. That's lower than Syria, Iran and even Saudi Arabia!

The poor haven't seen much of the benefits of the expensive reconstruction of central Beirut (below) - which they, in their slums, are still paying for.

And it seems the same is happening again. The so-called Gucci revolution has landed another pile of debt on people who care more about where tomorrow's wage is coming from, than they do about Saad Al-Hariri.

Not for the first time will a Hariri preside over a massive increase in Lebanon's national debt.


Lebanese election roundup

The US has criticised the fairness of Lebanon's election, because a handful of the new MPs are pro-Syria. Meanwhile, European and UN monitors praised the election as being free, fair and peaceful, although they said that the constituency sizes need to be reviewed.

Saad Al-Hariri's Future coalition won 72 out of 128 seats, making it the largest group. It is unclear whether he'll run for Prime Minister, given his lack of political experience. If he chooses not to, his group will be able to select the PM (Parliament votes for the new PM).

Here's how the election went:

Saad Al-Hariri won all 19 seats after most rivals dropped out. Many voters boycotted the election at the lack of choice - including the city's large Armenian population. Turnout was pathetic at just 30% - far less than under Syrian influence.

Hezbollah and its ally Amal won all 23 seats, making this election one of the most predicatable since the end of the war. Hezbollah called for a high turnout, to reinforce the party's legitimacy in international eyes (the party is widely respected inside Lebanon, even among rivals, for its role in ending the Israeli occupation of the South, and for the services it provides). And it got the turnout it wanted - 45%, a big increase on Beirut, and previous years.

There was a similar controversy here, as there was in Beirut, where rivals dropped out in the face of a clear Hezbollah/Amal victory.

In a candidate swap, Saad Al-Hariri's mother stood under the Hezbollah umbrella, while a Hezbollah candidate stood in Beirut.

According to Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a professor at the Lebanese American University:
"This is the first time that [Hezbollah leader] Nasrallah played the role of statesman; we have never seen him as a Lebanese leader".

The biggest shock of the election came here. Newly returned warlord Michel Aoun stole 21 out of 58 seats here from Saad Al-Hariri. He wanted to join the Future coalition, but his mix of war-like speak, and the antagonism he provokes scared Hariri - he's still considered a maverick. Instead Aoun picked allies which included pro-Syrian politicians (Aoun fled the country after a failed battle with the Syrian army 15 years ago, who were trying to end the war).

Aoun won 15 out of 16 seats in the Christian heartland north-east of Beirut.

In an interview with Reuters, Aoun said that he would now seek the Presidency.

One of the most pro-Syrian areas of Lebanon (expect for the South), this is the region of former PM and Syrian puppet Omar Karami. He decided not to stand, but pro-Syrian former minister Suleiman Franjieh - who stood under Aoun's coalition- lost his seat. Saad Al-Hariri took every seat in this region.

SO THREE OF THE REGIONS produced unanimous results. But last time it was very different. Rafiq Al-Hariri won 43 MPs, Walid Jumblatt won 14 (he's now in the Saad coalition), with 71 going to pro-Syrian politicians.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005 

Syrian workers arrested in Beirut

A number of Syrian workers have been arrested in connection with this morning's killing of George Hawi.

Maybe this shows that the Lebanese Police are doing their job well for once. They were criticised for their abject failures in the aftermath of the Hariri bomb - they damaged and lost evidence, and came up with no clear conclusion. In following attacks they issued incorrect statements about the number of dead.

After the murder of Rafiq Al-Hariri many Syrians were attacked and beaten according to Amnesty International. Others fled back to Syria.

In the minutes following the bomb this morning American investigators were suspiciously spotted on scene.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005 

Former Comunist Party leader killed in Beirut

George Hawi, former leader of Lebanon's Communist Party, has been killed by a car bomb in Wata Musaitbi at 10 o'clock this morning.

He is the third person to be targetted in Beirut in recent months, following the killings of Rafiq Al-Hariri and Samir Qassir.

Expect Syria to be blamed. But isn't that far too obvious? It doesn't make sense to 'secretly' kill someone when everyone knows it's you - while simultaneously straining to placate the US!

It's also unclear why they'd target a former politician (and a former ally), when there are many new and more significant opponents, following yesterday's victory. It is also strange that all of the targets - and target areas - have been Christians. This killing smells of an outside hand attempting to implicate Syria.

Monday, June 20, 2005 

'Opposition' claims victory in Lebanon

After the fourth and final round of voting in Lebanon, Saad Al-Hariri's Future Bloc has claimed victory. His party claims to have secured an absolute majority in parliament.

But what's not so clear is how the bloc can be labelled the 'opposition'. He is aligned with mecurial Walid Jumblatt as well as Hezbollah and right-wing Christian parties.

On the other hand, in the most improbable u-turn, warlord Michel Aoun teamed up with pro-Syrian candidates after it became clear he had no chance of winning seats on his own. But Aoun's ally, the former minister Suleiman Franjieh - a friend of Damascus - has conceeded defeat.

The first two rounds were shoo-in's: in Beirut Hariri won the entire city, in the second round in the South, Hezbollah/Amal won the region. But the predictability ended there. Round three was Mount Lebanon, where Aoun's pro/anti Syrian alliance snatched seats from Hariri. There's been a similar battle in the North in today's final round - Aoun is the only man able to prevent Hariri winning an absolute majority. If that happens, Hariri will have to widen his coalition yet further.

Hezbollah is likely to remain the largest single party in parliament.

European observers have been monitoring the election, while American 'observers' (the Ambassador) tried to influence the result.

Saturday, June 18, 2005 

UN troops for Syria-Iraq border zone

Syria and Iraq are discussing a UN presence along the contentious border. They want to create a buffer zone policed by UN troops.

The move comes after Syria and the US severed all intelligence co-operation. Iyad Alawi - Iraq's former PM, and unoffical Iraqi envoy to Damascus - says Bashar has made positive sounds in response to the idea.

The US has been pressuring Syria for months about not policing the border effectively. But it raises the question - why isn't the US policing their side of the Iraq-Syria border? Maybe because it's such an expensive business - the US and EU recently agreed to provide funding for Syria to set up an effectively border police force - but Syria has complained that not a single dollar has yet been given.

Friday, June 17, 2005 

Welcome Back

After a week and a half, the Syrian News Wire is ready to go!

I've been embedded with the US/UK Navy, making some enemies with the reports I was filing. Unfortuantely I wasn't able to file to the Syrian News Wire - I sent some by mobile phone (that explains the typo's and 'Yahoo Mail' blurb), but phone use was restricted.

That means the Syrian News Wire is due an update on the Conference - what does it mean, what are its implications.

And a digest of events over the past fortnight. Exciting times.

That'll be up soon. In the meantime, thank you for your comments. And yes, I do feel sea-sick.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005 

Syrian vice president resigns

Syrias vice president Khaddam has quit on the first
day of the ruling Baath Partys conference. He was one
of the governments old guard and was an architect of
the countrys Lebanon policy. Many will see his
departure as a step closer to reform, in a conference
which has promised change but which has left most
Syrians expecting very little. It is not clear yet
whether the rest of the conference will deliver what
it promises: the long awaited reform.

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Monday, June 06, 2005 

Hezbollah wins, surprise surprise!

Shia group Hezbollah have won all of South Lebanons
seats in the second stage of the countrys
parliamentary elections. They formed a joint list with
their former rivals Amal. The win was widely expected:
6 of the candidates won by default when all their
rivals pulled out. This is proving to be an even more
predictable election than when Lebanon was under
Syrian influence. Bashar Al Assad no longer owns
Lebanon: its now in Hariris wallet. Next week Walid
Jumblat will win the whole of the Chouf/Mount Lebanon
region despite a non challenge from former warlord
Michel Aoun.

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Kurdish demonstration

Kurds in the north eastern city of Qamishli have been
demonstrating against the death of a religious cleric
last week. His family have blamed intelligence
services for his death but this hasnt been
independently confirmed. They say he was tortured but
he preached reconciliation between the government and
the kurdish minority. Last year tens of people were
killed when rioting broke out between rival groups in
that city. So far the only death has been a policeman
but its unclear how he died.

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Saturday, June 04, 2005 

US Officials: Zarqawi wasn't in Syria

US Officials have taken back a previous statement that Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi visited Syria to plan attacks and to receive medical treatment.

The original statement was made by a Military official living in Baghdad's Green Zone. But now intelligence say that there's no suspicion that Zarqawi ever visited Syria.

On condition of anonymity, a US Official said that the original story was based on a single source who has now changed his story significantly. That's the danger of single source stories (see the middle of the page).

Thursday, June 02, 2005 

An-Nahar journalist murdered in Beirut

A massive car-bomb has just hit Ashrafiyeh - the trendy East Beirut area. It killed far-right columnist Samir Qasir outside his home.

He has written angry articles about the Lebanese puppet regime, but in recent times he has made more enemies than friends.

He made no secret of his support for far-right Solange Gemayal, the wife of the man installed as puppet President of Lebanon by Israel. She won her seat with almost no competition after rival candidates mysteriously withdrew.

Prominent opposition leader Walid Jumblatt has already blamed puppet President Emile Lahoud. Jumblatt is after Lahoud, and this will hasten calls for the President to step down. Jumblatt earlier called for Lahoud to stay, so that the election could take place as scheduled, but with the election now in process, those shakles are off.

Welcome to Lebanese democracy.


Strange Alliances

Hizbollah the anti-Israeli resistance group... allied with...

Walid Jumblatt's Socialist Progressive Party...

...who is allied with...

Samir Jaja's Lebanese Forces, they collaborated with the Israeli occupation.

Jumblatt: "This alliance was formed to protect the resistance movement I have stressed the necessity of inter-Lebanese talks in order to solve all problems and protect the resistance."

Meanwhile Saad Al-Hariri has...

a Hizbollah member on his Beirut list...

and Solange Gemayal, widow of Bashir Gemayal - the murdered Israeli puppet President of Lebanon who signed a peace deal with Israel during the occupation.

So who's going to be friends with Michel Aoun?

Is that why you're working with pro-Syrian Druze politician Talal Arslan?

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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