Sunday, July 31, 2005 

Lebanon bombs: evidence found

The bombs used to kill George Hawi and Samie Qasir were very similar to the bombs which killed members of Hizbollah two years ago, according to Al Balad.

Is there a connection? And does it suggest that the same people who assasinated members of Hizbollah are behind the current bombing campaign?

Two years ago jihad Jibrail and two of Hizbollah's military cadres were blown up in Beirut bombs.


Damascus welcomes...

Fouad Siniora and George Galloway.

The 'anti-Syrian' brings good news, and the 'pro-Syrian' brings trouble.

Fouad Siniora, Lebanon's Prime Minister and leader of the 'anti-Syrian opposition' has arrived in Damascus for talks with Bashar Al-Assad. In keeping with Lebanese tradition, the Prime Minister's first foreign journey is to Syria. They'll be trying to resolve the border dispute, which has seen trucks delayed while searches are carried out.

Siniora insisted Lebanon comes with the hand of friendship, and the two countries share nothing but good feelings. And the sun set with the music playing.

That's despite calls from right-wing extremists like Beirut's Jubran Tuwani who called on Siniora not to compromise, and not to feel shy about making demands.

Meanwhile anti-everything British MP George Galloway has arrived in Damascus. The British demagogue rallies against anything Western. And it seems his latest cause is Syria. Thanks George.

So will trouble follow? Are the western missionaries starting to take their positions?

Saturday, July 30, 2005 

Aoun's party seeks the return of the Israeli collaborators

Hundreds of Lebanese warlords of the 'South Lebanon Army', an Israeli proxy, could return to the country they terrorised for 20 years.

The SLA was made up of members of Aoun's party and Samir Jaja's party. Parliament recently granted an amnesty to Jaja, and now Aoun wants that to be extended to SLA fighters.

The SLA slaughtered its own people, under the orders of Israel which was occupying the south of Lebanon. They were responsible for the slaughter of thousands of innocent women and children in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla in Beirut. Guards closed the gates, while milita-men shot down anything that moved.

Not surprisingly, the SLA sought refuge in Israel after the end of the Israeli occupation in 2000. Many were given villas with pools by the Israeli regime.

Astonishingly Ibrahim Keenan, an MP for Aoun's FPM, said Lebanon had "abandoned" the SLA.

Right-wing extremist MP and editor of An-Nahar newspaper Jubran Tuweini - who represents Hariri's party - also called for the return of the collaborators. But his reasons were different. He was ashamed, he said, that Israel - an "enemy state" - was considering giving these exiles Israeli citizenship.

MP Walid Edo said that the exiles should be allowed to return. And should swiftly face prosecution in Lebanon for their crimes.

A heated row broke out in Parliament when he accused Hizbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah of calling for the slaughter of the Israeli collaborators, who helped keep Lebanon under occupation for two decades. A Hizbollah MP vehimently denied the accusation and asked for evidence. Keenan said that a guest on a Lebanese chat show said so!

Meanwhile, MP George Adwan, a member of Samir Jaja's outlawed Lebanon Forces, called for March 14th to be declared a national holiday.

Friday, July 29, 2005 

25,000 wedding guests

112 couples have tied the knot at a mass marriage in the Damascus suburb of Qaboon.

The Christian and Muslim couples were wedded by multi-faith leaders at a cost of $29,000. The money was donated by charities to help poor couples get married.

Weddings in Syria can often cost up to $20,000 each and so mass weddings have developed as a way to help out the poorest members of society.

The couples were offered electrical goods and household items as wedding gifts.


Lebanon's PM defends Hizbollah

Lebanon's new Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has been setting out his government's plans. He defended Hizbollah's role as a resistance force to the Israeli presence, and said he'd build strong ties with Syria and resolve the lingering border delays.

Explaining Hizbollah's role, he said: "The government considers the resistance a natural and honest expression of the Lebanese people’s national rights to liberate their land and defend their honour against Israeli aggression and threats”.


Syria donates food to Iraq

Syria has provided 1000 tonnes of wheat to Iraq. Iraq is stuggling to provide food to its citizens, so the World Food Program is distributing essential supplies.

The WFP is a world body which provides food to needy people. But its project in Iraq is in desperate need of supplies.

One of the WFP's heads called Syria "one of the promising donor countries for the Program."

Thursday, July 28, 2005 

Bashar to go on holiday with Israelis

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad will spend his holiday in the Turkish resorts of Antalyia and Bodrum - two of the most popular places for Israelis to spend their time.

Israeli officials are so disgusted that their holidays might be polluted by the sight of Arab skin that they're demanding that Turkey block Assad's visit. But it's not that simple - the holiday's taking place after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan invited Assad and his pop-star-like wife Asma.

The holiday comes after a warming of the relationship between the two countries - just 7 years ago, the neighbours were preparing to go to war.

But the US has shown its true colours. Its anger with Syria has nothing to do with Iraq. It doesn't care about the demonstrators in Beirut. What it really wants is to 'do an Arafat' - isolate then die:

"Al-Asad should be isolated. You are the only country reaching out to the Syrian president, who supports terrorism. Anyone who damages al-Asad's isolation harms US interests," said a US official.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005 

The Price of Jaja?

It wasn't just warlord Jaja who walked free today, a few days ago Muslim militants with links to Al-Qaeda were also released.

It was part of Parliament's plan not to look biased towards Lebanon's far-right. Their convictions remain valid, they are all murderers, but they were let out on to the streets as part of Lebanon's dirty politics. The price of Jaja's release.

Much of Lebanon is already worried that Jaja will reform and strengthen his Lebanese Forces miltia. Now there's the added fear that the plague of Al-Qaeda that Iraq, Syria and Egypt are suffering from will spread back into Lebanon.

Jaja killed Muslims, Druze, Christians, and even members of his own party. And recently, his supporters have fought rivals on the streets of Beirut.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005 

Syria jails four Kurdish militants

A Syrian court has jailed four members of the Kurdish Workers' party, the PKK.

The PKK is listed as a terrorist organisation in the US and Europe, and is widely blamed for the bombing of a tourist bus in Turkey which killed five people a week ago.

The move will please the US, which has been calling on Syria to crack down on terrorists. The news will also be received warmly in Turkey, which nearly went to war with Syria in 1998 - blaming it for harbouring members of the PKK. At that time the PKK had offices in Syria.

Meanwhile an earthquake has hit the Hatay province of Turkey on the border with Syria. Hatay was part of Syria until it was annexed around the time of Syria's independence. Hatay is to the North West of Syria, along the coast - near to Lattaqia and Aleppo. There are no reported casualties.


Lebanese warlord Jaja walks out of prison

Samir Jaja, mass murderer and warlord walked out of prison for the first time in 11 years today. He immediately went to Beirut airport to fly to Europe for medical tests.

Parliament voted for his release last week. He is a rival of radical anti-Syrian Michel Aoun. But Aoun refused to join the government after he was denied the Justice Ministry - and was not allowed to join the mainsteam anti-Syrian coalition. Aoun won 21 seats in Parliament making him the strongest rival to the government. He's also the only Christian leader.

Some analysts wonder whether Parliament's decision to release Jaja was politically motivated - to bring a Christian leader under the control of the government and weaken the appeal of the unpredicatable Aoun.

Jaja's Lebanese Forces party is banned, but some of its members won seats in the recent elections.


Saad Al-Hariri: there are no Syrian intelligence officers in Lebanon

'Anti-Syrian' leader Saad Al-Hariri said today that all Syrian intelligence officers had left Lebanon. In the weeks after the Syrian troop withdrawal members of Saad's coalition - notably Druze leader Walid Jumblatt - repeatedly accused Syria of leaving behind some intelligence agents. But now it seems that has changed.

But Saad did add that "we still hear from here and there there is
a little bit of interference."

The US still believes that there ARE Syrian intelligence agents in Lebanon - I wonder how they know better than the Lebanese government - maybe US intelligence agents in Lebanon provided that information.


Saad Al-Hariri: leave Hizbollah alone

After his meeting with the US politicians, Saad Al-Hariri told the international community to leave Hizbollah alone. "We're a very fragile country and we need to resolve our problems within ourselves," he said.

"We have called and asked for the international community to look at Lebanon and give it time to have a national dialogue in Lebanon to resolve all of these issues. We believe that Hizbollah and others are willing to discuss these issues," said Hariri.


Saad Al-Hariri hints at Lahoud's involvement in Rafiq's murder

Saad Al-Hariri, leader of the largest coalition in Parliament, and son of murdered Rafiq Al-Hariri, has hinted that President Emile lahoud was behind the murder of his father.

Het met a US delegation of Senators for the specific purpose of putting pressure on Lahoud to co-operate with the investigation. "I am not accusing anyone of killing my father but waiting for the outcome of the investigations," he said.

It comes just days after UN investigators blamed the head of Lahoud's Presidential guard. But Hariri protested that he hasn't made up his mind: "I think, like I said before, pointing a finger on somebody could be damaging. And, like you have in courts in the United States, you're innocent until proven guilty."

He also said that the border blocakade send the wrong message to the Lebanese (did the murder of Syrian citizens send the wrong message to the Syrians?).

Syria claims that they needed to tighten border security after pulling troops out of Lebanon. In recent weeks there have been a number of clashes between rebels and security forces - one at the border, one in Damascus and one in Homs.

Sunday, July 24, 2005 

Israel prosecutes Syrian hairdressers who want to visit Syria

Two Syrians living in the Israel-occupied Syrian Golan Heights have been prosecuted by an Israeli court.

35-year-old Abbas Salah Abu Awad of Bukata and 53-year-old Massoud Mamdouh Wated of the village of Beka el-Gerbiyya were organising a barbers conference in Syria.

They planned to seek the help of members of Israel's secret police who were sympathetic to their desire to return to their homeland - according to a court in Haifa.

The court said that people living in Israel and the territories it occupies are not allowed to visit Syria - even if they are Syrian!

"During the months of April and May, the accused organized a delegation of Israeli haircutters to a professional conference due to be held during May in Syria – an enemy country, into which entry is prohibited without special permission from the interior minister or prime minister,” the court said.

It's not clear what punishment they'll be given but Justice Ministry spokesman Yaakov Galanti said that: "Any visit to an enemy country without a written permit, as legally required, is a criminal offense, and the state intends to apply this law to the fullest."


Syria puts 7500 troops on the Iraqi border

After months of American complaints, Syria has finally bolstered its border patrol - probably helped by the 14,000 troops who recently returned from Lebanon.

But now that Syrian soldiers are guarding the dangerous frontier - 1400 foreign fighters have been caught here by Syria in recent months - Syria is asking America, why aren't you doing your bit. They say the Iraqi side is unprotected.

But the patrols are not just to prevent people entering Iraq. In recent weeks Syrian troops have battled with rebel fighters in Damascus, Homs, and near the Lebanese border - many of them are suspected to have come from lawless Iraq.

Syrian border posts are positioned every 500 metres along the 700 kilometre line. But the border consists of a Syrian built sand barrier - Syria wants to make that concrete.


Murr: 'Pressing need to rebuild security structures'

Lebanon's Defence Minister Elias Murr has highlighted the incapacity of Lebanon's security system, weeks after he was targetted in a Beirut car bomb.

The pro-Syrian Minister relied on Syrian forces for 15 years to protect his country. But after their hasty withdrawal in April this year, it seems like Lebanon's police and army aren't ready to take over the job themselves.

They were criticised for their weak and flawed investigations into the series of political assasinations this year. All of those assasinations - except the first - have taken place since the start of the pullout of Syrian troops.

Murr has blamed Palestinians in the Ain Al-Helwe refugee camp for his attempted assasination. The Lebanese Army and police have had no presence in the camps since the end of the war - Palestinian militia control the areas. But in the last couple of days, for the first time, state security forces have put checkpoints around the camp.

In a sign of confusing political solidarity, US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman has visited the pro-Syrian minister three times in his hospital bed.

Murr's bodyguard and a relative were seriously injured in the car bomb which targetted Murr.

Saturday, July 23, 2005 

Anyone understand Condaleeza Rice? Spot the difference...

"Good neighbours dont close their borders to their neighbours" - is that the Syrian-Lebanese border or the Syrian-Iraqi border you mean? Which one are we not allowed to close?

"Syria is trying to strangle Lebanon economically" - but your sanctions against Syria aren't designed to strangle Syria, Ms Rice?

Thank you for visiting Lebanon - please come back soon.

Friday, July 22, 2005 

Syria faces risk from Al-Qaida coming from Iraq, US troops fire at Syrian border guards

Is this the first hostility between US and Syrian troops, the sign of something to come, the precedent that has been broken? More on that later...

Many Salafis have declared that they are on their way from Iraq to Syria to carry out terrorist attacks, according to the government.

Syria says it faces problems on its border from "infiltrators, smugglers" and "the Iraqi and American forces". It is the first time Syria has claimed what many living near the border have known - that Syrian troops are routinely killed, either by mistake or deliberately by the Occupying forces. Moving along the unmarked border and with the same colour faces as terrorists, its easy mistake for an 18-year-old from Virginia to make.

The report says there were 100 clashes, where US troops fired from behind the huge sand ramp. Syria dug a sand ramp to hinder the path of terrorists across the border. The Pentagon said it would check with their troops in Iraq.

Syria says it wants a stable Iraq to emerge quickly because it will mean the end of the US Occupation. They said that there were almost no illegal crossings in the daytime. Syria has again complained that the US and UK has not provided the night-vision goggles it needs to prevent illegal crossings at night.

"The problem of infiltrations still persists to a certain extent during the night because of the lack of necessary technical equipment to monitor the border," it said.

Thursday, July 21, 2005 

Aoun calls for good relations with Syria

Turncoat/Hypocrit/War-mongerer/Mass-murderer/Opportunist Michel Aoun has called for "normal and balanced" relations with his arch-foe Syria.

It comes just two days after he was rejected from joining the government of national unity, which includes opponents and supporters of Syria, right-wing Christians, and Hizbollah.

Because of his beliggerance and expansionist thoughts, he was rejected by the mainstream Future opposition led by Saad Hariri, so he teamed up with allies of Syria in a bid to grab power. And that's after he returned from a 15 year exile: he fled to paris after a 'war' with Syria.

And now it seems he wants to play.

In a demonstration of the good-old Aoun bitterness, he predicted that the government would fall, and that none of its reforms would succeed. In an ominous sign, he said he would keep an eye out for the government's corruption: Saad's father Rafiq Al-Hariri led the country to an unprecidented national debt of $33 billion - the highest rate in the world.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005 

Hariri murder: suspect named

An ally of Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, Mustafa Hamdan, is suspected of the murder of Rafiq Al-Hariri.

Hamdan is the head of the presidential guard, and was named by the head of the UN investigation into the murder.

In other news, the composition of the new Lebanese government has become clear. 13 of the 24 member cabinet are pro-Syria, an indication that opposition-leader, Siniora is seeking a close relationship with neighbouring Syria.

It's a positive step following weeks of petty arguments between the two neighbours. Lebanese truck drivers blame Syria for excessive delays. And today Syria discovered weapons at the border. Syria is also seeking compensation for the Syrian civilians murdered in Beirut in the days after Hariri's murder.


Omar Karami: I will not forgive Jaja

Lebanon's former Syrian puppet Prime Minister Omar Karami has denounced the release of Lebanese Forces warlord Samir Jaja.

Omar's father Rashid Karami - also a former Prime Minister - was killed by Jaja during the Civil War. He said that Jaja's release "will not change this fact."

He criticised his former ally Nabih Berri - speaker of the Parliament - for supporting the release, saying: "it is not the first time Berri has betrayed us and we will not forgive him."

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 

1 person dies as Lebanese Forces take to the streets

One man has died in Beirut and several others have been injured as supporters of the Lebanese Forces took to the streets of Beirut to celebrate the release of their leader Samir Jaja. He had been serving 4 life sentences for a series of high-profile political murders.

Some armed men were arrested when the army came out to quell the violence.

The Martyrs' Square protest officially ended today when LF supporters took down the last tents. They remained in the square - months after everyone else left - because they wanted Jaja to be released. Everyone else was campaigning for Syrian troops to leave.

Jaja supported the Israeli occupation of his country, and fought fellow Christians. He is alleged to have killed the son of former Christian President Suleiman Franjieh. He fought a bloody battle with Christian rival Michel Aoun in 1990 to take control of the Christian areas. He even waged war against his colleague Ellie Hobeika to take control of his Lebanese Forces militia.

But he did agree to the Taef Accord which ended the Civil War - Michel Aoun was the only politician in Lebanon's confusing patchwork to reject it.


Lebanon finally has a government

After three weeks of wrangling, Parliamentarians have finally agreed who should govern Lebanon.

The 24 member cabinet is made of politicians and non-political specialists, and includes one member of Hizbollah for the first time, but Michel Aoun is not taking part.

Rejectionist Aoun refused to join the cabinet after he was denied the Justice Ministry. Hizbollah take their seat as Energy Minister - a weak but symbolic post.

The controversial decision over who to send to the Foreign Ministry - traditionally held by Hizbollah-ally Amal - was settled by giving the post to an independent Shia. He was supported by both Hizbollah and Amal. Hizbollah had been lobbying for the post, which is seen as important in the face of international pressure on their militia in the south.

Elias Murr, the victim of an attempted assasination last week, returns to the government.


Explosion in Palestinian camp

An ammunition dump has exploded near the Syria-Lebanon border.

The explosion happened in a PFLP-GC base 30 miles east of Beirut, near the village of Qosaya.

The PFLP-GC is a leftist Palestinian refugee group. In May a PFLP-GC member fired a gun to warn off UN inspectors. No-one was hurt, and Lebanese officials apologised later, saying it was a misunderstanding.

Earlier this week Lebanon shot at smugglers near the Syrian border, and in the past month Syria shot smugglers on the Syrian side of the border.

Monday, July 18, 2005 

Lebanese Forces warlord to be released

Samir Jaja, leader of the Lebanese Forces is to be released from prison. Parliament today voted in favour of granting him amnesty. Hizbollah supported the move, by choosing not to vote against his release.

He'll walk out of jail in a few days, as soon as the Parliamentary bill becomes law, when it is signed by the President.

The murderer is serving four life sentences: one for the assasination of a Prime Minister, two for the murder of his political rivals, and one for the attempted murder of a Minister.

He led battles against other Christian militia, notably Michel Aoun's forces. Jaja was cleared of an attack on a Church which left 11 dead.

Tensions are growing in Lebanon with both pro and anti-Syrian figures being targetted. Releasing Jaja just 6 weeks after the return of his arch-foe Michel Aoun is sure to add fuel to that fire. Aoun recently visited him in prison in an attempt to form a political union.

His wife Strida was recently elected to Parliament.

Jaja has only served 11 years of his jail term - which was reduced from the death sentence a few years ago.


Syria's new Grand Mufti condemns the Iraqi Resistance

Syria has a new Grand Mufti, Sheikh Ahmad Badreddin Hassun. In his first statement he has strongly criticised the kidnappings and suicide bombings in Iraq.

He said he is working with all Muslim sects to prevent the growth of fundamentalism.

"I am in contact with the Sunni and Shiite associations of Ulama (Muslim scholars) in Iraq to ask them to avoid kidnappings, because (it) is a crime that distorts Islam," he said.

His words come days after British Prime Minister Tony Blair called on British Muslim leaders to block the path to fundamentalism, in the wake of the London bombings.

The Sheikh was appointed after the death of his predecessor Sheikh Ahmad Kaftaro - a Kurd. Hassun studied at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo, and has been Aleppo's Mufti since President Bashar Al-Assad came to power in 2000.

Saturday, July 16, 2005 

Lebanese PM searches for unity, but Jumblatt wants Lahoud to quit, Hariri wants his party in government, and there's no space for Aoun

Shifting sands in Beirut as Fouad Siniora tries to form his fourth government since being elected less than a month ago.

He tried to form a government made up of non-politicians - a radical idea, but one which would get the difficult job done in Lebanon without playing political games. But his power-master Saad Al-Hariri slapped his wrists for that, even though an overwhelming majority (78%) of Parliamentarians supported him.

Druze leader - and Hariri ally - Walid Jumblatt spoke out most strongly against the plan. He doesn't see the need for a broad coalition government. He wants the Hariri bloc to press ahead and form its own government, even if the President rejects it. "If Lahoud rejects it, we will know what to do," he said, signalling that Lahoud would be forced to step down.

Meanwhile there's no space in the new government for warlord and turncoat Michel Aoun, after he demanded that he be made Justice Minister. The last time he was in government he was interim Prime Minister during the Civil War - but he refused to step down when Lebanon elected a new Prime Minister. Maybe Siniora's scared Aoun will never let go of the Justice Ministry either.

He's the man who extended the Civil War by a year by launching a war against Syria - then fled the country for fifteen years, and came back to form a political bloc with staunch allies of Damascus.

Siniora has now proposed a government of politicians and non-politicians, which has won the support of his own bloc, as well as Hizbollah/Amal, which will be given a seat in government. Outsider Aoun is still unhappy, as are Lebanese newspapers which as as extreme as he is:

"The formula was still-born and it's back to the drawing board for an alternative," said An-Nahar - who's head Tuwani, was appointed as one of Beirut's MPs.


Syria blogs itself

A raft of new Syrian blogs have appeared. Josh Landis reports that there were only 5 Syrian blogs at the start of the year. But 2005 wouldn't be just any old year in the history of Syria - this is how Ayman marked the turn of the year. In the following months, 60 new blogs would spring up (including this one, in February).

This week sees more new blogs. Every Syrian school child learns about the eight gates of Damascus. But what about the hidden gates? This blog discusses Syria's underground religions. Earlier in the year I had a huge response to my post about Syria's Jews.

Ihsan discovers his country, in pictures and history. It's shaping up to be a Syrian version of Ayman's Damascene Blog.

The following months are sure to see many more.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005 

Assasination attempt on pro-Syrian Minister in Beirut

A car bomb has exploded in Beirut, narrowly missing Defence Minister Elias Al-Murr. It is the first bomb to target an openly pro-Syrian politician.

Until now, all of the assasinations had been targetted against people who worked against Syrian involvement in Lebanon. But Elias Al-Murr is a staunch ally of Damascus.

The Defence Minister is married to President Emile Lahoud's daughter, and is one of the country's leading businessmen.

This attack leads to one of two conclusions: either Lebanon is spiraling towards attack and retaliation, or outside forces are involved, intent on destabalisation at the expense of Lebanon - and Syria. Eyes will surely turn southwards tonight - towards Israel.

Monday, July 11, 2005 

Syria deports 1300 'terrorists'

Syria has removed 1300 terrorists from the country. All of them are of Arab origin - from the Gulf, Tunisia and Algeria.

Last week Syria battled militants in Damascus and Homs in which a number of Syrian soldiers were killed. Some of the militants were arrested and are wanted in Jordan on charges of terrorism. The raids earned rare praise from the leader of the 'invade Syria' camp, US Secretary of state Condoleeza Rice. She called Syria's actions "a good thing".

Just over a week ago Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Hamed Al-Bayati said that Syria had stopped 70,000 fighters crossing the border. Former President Iyad Alawi also heaped praise on Damascus, saying that it was doing all that it could.

Syria has complained that the US is making demands that they protect the border, but has not delivered the assistance - training and equipment - that it promised.

Friday, July 08, 2005 

Bashar talks to Blair

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has sent his condolences to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the British people after yesterday's multiple attacks on London.

"On behalf of the Syrian people and myself, we denounce these awful actions that we condemn and strongly refuse," he said yesterday.

The attacks went to the heart of London's Lebanese community. One of the four bombs went off on a train at Edgware Road Underground station, in the heart of London's Arab community - Edgware Road is lined with Lebanese restuarants and cafes. 37 people are confirmed dead. More reporting here.

Meanwhile, Tony Blair says the bombers "acted in the name of Islam" - that dangerous statement may bring trouble in the direction of Britain's large Muslim community - some from Syria and many from Lebanon. There isn't even any evidence pointing to possible purpetrators yet.


New train line for Damascus

A new train line will link Damascus Airport with the city. The $54 million project will be carried out by a Lebanese company. In recent weeks, it was feared that the economic relationship between the two countires had been harmed by the military pullout - Lebanese trucks were forced to wait at the border for days.

For years the only train out of Damascus has been a tourist route up into the mountains of Zabadani. But the new line will be an active artery. The only public transport from the airport is a slow bus, or expensive taxis costing $10 (an average journey within the city costs 50 US Cents).


Terrorism returns to Syria

After 20 terrorist-free years (apart from a few isolated incidents), has terrorism come home?

Earlier this week, there were a number of clashes between foreign terrorists connected with Iraq, and Syrian security services. One on Homs, and others in Damascus.

Jordan has asked for Syria to deport two men arrested in Damascus on Monday after a gun-fight. Jordan's Foriegn Minister Aouni Yerfas said that they are wanted in connection with terrorist activities. Others are said to be former bodyguards of Saddam Hussein.

And today two more terrorist suspects have been arrested in Damascus - one of them Jordanian. They were both involved in Monday's gun-fight.

So is Syria finally doing something about terrorism within its borders, just as the US has been demanding?

In other news Bashar has met Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority. It marks a thaw in relations between the late Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement and the Syrian government. For years Syria broke contact with the PA accusing it of selling out. Syria supported rejectionist groups like Hamas and Jihad. But in the past year these groups have been forced out of Syria, under American pressure. So is this the natural development - support for the US-sponsored Palestinian Authority. Has Syria changed sides?

Monday, July 04, 2005 

Gunfight on Jebl Qassioun with Saddam's former bodyguards

A Syrian security officer has died during a gun-battle with former bodyguards of Saddam Hussein. This fight happened early on Monday morning on Jebl Qassioun, the Mountain in Northern Damascus.

Two members of the group of bodyguards were hurt, as were four Syrian policemen. Two militants have been arrested: a Jordanian - Ayed Al-Semadi - and his wife's brother, who was on the run.

The group of militants - which includes former bodyguards of Saddam - were wanted for "terrorist crimes" according to Syrian officials. It's not clear whether those crimes were in Syria or Iraq. The official said that the group had been under surveillance for some time.

Yesterday the Syrian News Wire revealed that two soldiers and a foreign militant were killed in Homs, and last month a raid on a house resulted in the deaths of militants who were planning to bomb Damascus. Syrian officials have kept quiet on whether the three events are linked.

The US has accused Syria of not controlling miltants within its borders, but last week the Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister, Hamed Al-Bayati, said that Syria had stopped 70,000 fighters crossing into Iraq. Today's news of a battle between Syrian forces and men linked with the Iraqi insurgency is likely to be well received by American forces, who have condemned Syria for turning a blind eye to insurgents travelling to Iraq from Syria.

UPDATE 1.41am:

A Jordanian expert on Muslim radical groups, Fouad Hussein, has confirmed that the Al-Semadi brothers were close to Jund Ash-Sham - that group was responsible for:
- planning a bomb attack in Damascus and killing a member of the Syrian security service in June 2005,
- a bomb attack on hotels in Sinai, Egypt, which killed 34 people in October 2004,
- a bomb attack in Qatar which killed a British person in March 2005.

Jund Ash-Sham planned to wage holy war on Syria for its secular government, and was planning to attack 'Christian Lebanon'.

Sunday, July 03, 2005 

Militant killed, 2 soldiers die - Damascus bomb threat foiled

A militant attempting to cross into Lebanon has been killed in Homs. At least two soldiers were also killed in the gunfight. It comes just days after Lebanon revealed that Syria's border was becoming more difficult to cross.

At least 34 other non-Syrians have been arrested - sources claim they were from Lebanon and Algeria.

Lebanese security sources claim the dead man was Algerian, while sources in Damascus say he was Tunisian - Majdi bin Mohammed bin Said al-Zreibi. It's claimed that he lead a radical group.

Last month a raid on a house in the Daff al-Shouk suburb of Damascus found documents saying that a previously unknown group (Jund al-Sham for Jihad and Tawhid) was planning to destabalise Damascus. It wanted to fight a holy war against secular Syria, and 'Christian Lebanon' according to documents.

Two militants and a member of the Syrian security service was killed in that raid.


Six die in truck crash

Six people have died after their truck veered out of control in Ain Al-Baida, near Lattaqia.

Five died at the scene, while the sixth died in a Lattaqia hospital later.

Saturday, July 02, 2005 

Lebanon's cabinet: politicians show their true colours

The opposition which united to win a majority in Parliament has started to fracture as politicians position themselves to grab the 30 government posts.

Michel Aoun, who wasn't allowed to join Hariri's Future coalition has demanded 5 cabinet positions, despite winning just 15 seats in the 128 seat Parliament. He did join the coalition last week in the selection of the Parliament's Speaker (the third most important post in the country) - they re-elected Amal's Nabih Berri, a man who Aoun has shown little sympathy towards before.

Hizbollah have traditionally been the largest party in Parliament but have never held a government post. They have now demanded 2 seats after making huge gains in the election - they increased their number of seats from 8 to 23.

Their demand for government posts may be to balance the unpredictable - and potentially anti-Syrian - majority in government. But more importantly, they want to show the world what Lebanon has known for 15 years. That Hizbollah are a legimate poltical force.

New Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has defended Hizbollah, telling foreign powers to lay-off the Lebanese Resistance Movement - he said that issues regarding Hizbollah are domestic Lebanese issues.

Friday, July 01, 2005 

Explosion south of Beirut

A car bomb has exploded near the beach resort of Khaldeh.

A woman was injured as she opened the door of the car. No reports of any other injuries or deaths.


Golan border opens

The border between Syria and the Occupied Syrian Golan Heights has been opened. But only to let 129 students cross back into the Occupied Territory and join their families.

The Druze students had been studying in Damascus for free for the past year, and they've gone home for the summer holiday.

The students, which included 35 women, walked 100 meters between the Syrian and Israeli border checkpoints. More students are due to cross between Sunday and Tuesday. There are 440 Golan students studying in Syria.

The students were given free tuition, accomodation and even living allowances.


UN: Lebanon can have the Shebaa Farms if they want it

The UN has said that Lebanon and Syria are free to decide which side of the border the Shebaa Farms lie on.

After the Israeli withdrawal from Occupied Southern Lebanon in 2000, the UN said that Shebaa was on the Syrian side - meaning that Israel no longer occupied any Lebanese land. But Syria has maintained that Shebaa is Lebanese land.

Why doesn't Syria want Shebaa? Because of Hizbollah. If Shebaa is Syrian, no Lebanese land is occupied, and the Lebanese Resistance Movement (Hizbollah) has no reason to keep its arms - the resistance is over. But if - as Syria and Lebanon claim - Shebaa is in Lebanon, the resistance is justified.

But for the first time, the UN has said that although Shebaa is in Syria, the two countries are free to make a bilateral agreement and move the border.

Israel has made a complaint to Kofi Annan and the Security Council.


British company to modernise Syria

White Young Green, a British company based in Leeds, has won a $14 million EU contract to moderise Syria's local administration.

That means it will design and carry out an 'integrated development plan' for the Old City in Damascus, and five other cities. They'll try to do what Syrian authorities have failed at: modernising - but not ruining - the Old City, while integrating the ways that the buildings, transport, infrastructure and town planning work together.


Iraqi Government: Syria stopping fighters crossing, Embassy could open within a week

Syria has stopped 70,000 fighters crossing into Iraq, according to Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Hamed Al-Bayati.

He said that progress is being made: Iraq, and the US Occupation authorities have repeatedly blamed Syria for not doing enough to halt the flow of fighters across the border. Until recently Syria denied there was a problem.

The Iraqi government have supported Syria's wish to open an embassy in Baghdad, saying that the only problem was finding a secure site. Once that problem is overcome, an embassy could be open within a week, according to Al-Bayati.

How about in the Green Zone? (Saddam Hussein's Iraqi Embassy in Damascus was opposite the US Embassy in Damascus - a source of much amusement for the Syrian police protecting the American Embassy ... peacekeepers?)

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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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