Thursday, September 28, 2006 

Hizbollah denies thanking Saudi for their 'support' during the war on Lebanon

Saudi newspaper Al-Watan yesterday published an incredible article in which Hizbollah leader Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah thanked Saudi Arabia for their support during the Israel-Lebanon war.

That is an incredible claim because at the start of the war Saudi criticised Hizbollah for their 'adventurism'. And for that, Saudi Arabia earned the praise of Israel, leading to talks between Israel and Saudi.

So why would Hizbollah thank Saudi.

Well, today, Nasrallah has denied thanking them, and embarrasingly, denied being interviewed by Al-Watan. Another nail in the coffin for Arab journalism.


Has Michael Young gone mad?

It's not often that I criticise other journalists. But this claim can surely be based on nothing but insanity:

"Siniora's tears began a process of ridding the South of Israeli soldiers" - Michael Young, The Daily Star, Lebanon.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006 

Brammertz: no idea who killed Hariri

UN investigator Serge Brammertz has released his third report into the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Serge Brammertz.

He says it is still not clear who did it. But he is very close to having enough evidence for an international trial. He praised Syria for being "generally co-operative" with his work.

Look at the contrasts: the last time Brammertz released a report, he said exactly the same thing, Syria has been "generally co-operative". US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton said Syria needs to do more, they aren't doing enough, they have something to cover up.

This time, Bolton made no attempt to string Syria up - his comments were quite neutral, highlighting Brammertz's claim that a trial would follow soon. The absence of criticism of Syria is deafening. Is there something going on behind the scenes in the Bush administration? It comes on the same day that there are reports Israel and Syria secretly talked during the war on Lebanon.

Going back to this report - Brammertz says they've found new leads, and that existing assumptions of guilt (Syria?) may be unfounded: "The commission has identified a considerable number of new leads for investigation relating to the crime scene, its
vicinity and the immediate perpetration of the crime, and has begun investigative and analytical work on each one them."

In particular, they've found evidence a suicide bomber may have carried out the attack (Al Qaeda?). But he does claim that Hariri was watched for a number of days before the killing, suggesting a level of intelligence only available to a state.

Brammertz says his team submitted 11 formal requests to the Syrian government "seeking information and documentation about certain individuals and groups".


Iraq's President: I will support the Syrian opposition

In an astonishing outburst Iraq's President Jalal Talabani says he will start supporting the Syrian, Turkish and Iranian opposition unless those countries stop "interfering in Iraq's affairs".

"The Iraqi people will respond in the same way, we'll support the opposition of other countries, will try to make trouble for them as they are doing for us," he said.

It is a marked contrast to former Iraqi President Iyad Allawi, who has always been close to Syria. He and current Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki were based in Syria during their long years of exile from Saddam.

It's the third controversial statement Talabani has made in recent days. Earlier he asked for at least two permanent US bases in Iraq, and 10,000 US troops to be based there. And he called on Kurds in northern Iraq to pull down the Iraqi flag and replace it with the Kurdish flag on public buildings. Interesting statement from the President of the state. I wonder how Americans would respond if Bush told Texans to pull down the American flag.

Sunday, September 24, 2006 

Syria takes over the Arab World

Today the airwaves are filled with the Syrian dialect.

Syria is once again producing most of the Arab World's Ramadan television. A quick flick through the channels shows Syrian series on almost every channel. From the classical Arabic history dramas on Moroccan TV, to the comedies on Tunisian TV and the challenging socio-political dramas on TV stations in the Gulf.

Ramadan has begun across the world. It is the Muslim holy month of fasting. The evenings are lit up with food and musalsalaat - the TV series which run every day through the month.

30 episodes are produced, starting at the beginning of the month, and climaxing just before Eid. And they don't stray away from tough subjects.

Syria's 'Gazelles in the forest of Wolves' deals with poverty, abuse of women, and independence.

Damascus is one of the Arab World's most active TV production centres. More than 100 private companies operate here, it's considered something of a creative centre. And they are given relatively free reign to produce what they like.

The Heathens tackles terrorist attacks - with the action shifting from city to city.

Egypt, the traditional entertainment heavyweight, is producing 50 series - Syria has created 45. But look at the figures here: Syria has sold rights to all of its programmes, Egypt was struggling to sell half of them last week.

And looking at the quality of production, it is clear that much has improved over the last year in Syria. Egyptian production, while still one of the most important, is criticised for sloppy technical detail.

And Syria is entering new markets like Morocco, by producing dramas in classical Arabic, where the Syrian dialect is not widely understood.


Lebanese Forces militia rearming

Two helicopters landed yesterday in Lebanon carrying arms for the Lebanese Forces, an extremist right-wing Christian militia which carried out some of the worst atrocities of the Civil War.

Yesterday's shipments arrived from Jordan (Eastern Israel).

During the Israeli war on Lebanon last month, Israel destroyed the Lebanese Army's coastal radar system (killing dozens of Lebanese soldiers in the process, at an Army base in Tripoli). There was speculation that they did that to allow them to bring in arms for the Lebanese Forces, without the Lebanese Government seeing.

It certainly answers the question, why would Israel attack Tripoli. The northern Sunni city was not involved in the war, and a Lebanese Army seems like a strange target - they didn't fire a single shot against the Israelis. In fact, they were ordered not to.

The Lebanese Forces, we know according to BBC sources, had been stockpiling arms even during Syria's time in Lebanon. Their leader Samir Ja'ja was in prison for murder, but released by Hariri days after Syria left. His TV channel LBC airs some of the worst sectarian incitement, and employs no-one but Christians.

Our fear of Jumblatt may be greatest because of his sharp words, but this suggests that our fear of Ja'ja should be stronger.

Thursday, September 21, 2006 

Syria's Grand Mufti accepts Pope's apology

“The clarifications supplied by the Pope are more than sufficient, although I would ask for, if possible, more explanation,” he said.

Ahmad Badr El Din El Hassoun made the statement after a meeting with the Vatican's Ambassador to Syria.

There were no demonstrations in Syria against the Pope's intolerant words: he quoted a fourteenth century Byzantine Emperor who said that the Prophet Mohammed "brought nothing but evil and inhumanity to the world."

The previous Pope John Paul II was in favour of dialogue with the Muslim world, and did much to strengthen relations. He was the first Pope ever to visit a Mosque - it was the Ummayid Mosque in Damascus which he chose.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006 

The view from Italy

Italy has sent thousands of peacekeeping troops to Lebanon. Some say Italy's Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema is pushing Italy into a stronger role in world affairs - one of peacekeeping and conflict resolution.

Patrick has sent the following dispatch from Italy. Feel free to comment. Any other views from Italy - and indeed France - are very welcome.

Even if I agree with you that Mr Prodi (the current Italian Prime Minister) is a friend of Syria, I don't believe the previous government (lead by Mr Berlusconi) was an enemy of your country!! Moreover I think Berlusconi's government policy towards Syria was not as aggressive as Bush's.

The Italian parliament approved the mission in the south of Lebanon, although some political parties wanted the international coalition to disarm Hezbollah. Most of them infact (not only the right, but many on the left) see Hezbollah as a terrorist movement that started this tragic war.

Very few politicians (except the communist parties) defend Hezbollah's actions. When Oliviero Diliberto, the leader of one of the Italian communist parties, visited Hezbollah, some years ago, he was accused of supporting a terrorist movement and even few days ago when our current foreign secretary Massimo D'Alema visited Beirut, and was seen walking with a Hezbollah member of parliament, he received a lot of criticism.

Nevertheless the mission is supported by a huge part of Italian public opinion.

I'm one of the great supporters of this mission, even though I would like to see a calendar for the complete disarming of Hezbollah. I know the group is seen among Arabs as a resistance movement, but I don't think so. Anyway, good luck, italian soldiers! We support you!!


Syria and the US working together

"The regional security officer at the American embassy in Damascus is working closely with the Syrian officials that will facilitate the investigation". That's from tate Department spokeswoman Nancy Beck.

The US is sending a team of FBI agents to Damascus to investigate last week's attack on the US Embassy. And they have the full support of Syria - a Syrian team will work alongside the Americans.

Beck said she was satisfied with the Syrian co-operation in the investigation so far. Last week Condoleeza Rice thanked Syria for their help in thwarting the attack.

Is this the start of a blossoming friendship? There were many who feared Rice's warm words were a one-day wonder.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006 

Last Israeli troops to leave Lebanon by Friday

The final remaining Israeli troops will leave Lebanon by the end of this week.

Thousands of troops are still occupying villages in the South of the country.


Israel wants to prosecute MPs who visited Syria and Lebanon

Israel has launched investigations into the visits of Israeli politicians to Syria and Lebanon.

The three Palestinian members of the Israeli Parliament travelled with two former members.

Israel's International and Serious Crimes Unit is looking at prosecuting the men.

No freedom of movement, even for parliamentarians.

Saturday, September 16, 2006 

How to get Hizbollah to disarm, an easy guide

From an interview by an Italian newspaper, Il Sole-24 Ore.

If Israel withdraws from Shab'a, will your armed struggle end?

Mohammed Ra'd, Hizbollah Leader in the Lebanese Parliament: "We have never fought in occupied Palestine, our area of operations is Lebanon. When the Israelis leave, we will cease military activities."


US: Syria is doing a good job on the Lebanese border

US Assistant Secretary of State David Welch says weapons smuggling across the Syria-Lebanon border has stopped.

Lebanon backed up his statement, saying there had been no evidence of new imports of arms for Hizbollah.


Evidence that a Syrian opposition party is working on behalf of the Bush government

The Syrian Reform Party is asking Alawites to leave their homes in the north west of the country. In a statement, they "asked the Alawites to leave their regions".

They deny it is a call for ethnic cleansing, or that they are trying to forment civil war. And they said their call has the backing of the US Government.

Other opposition groups in the UK and Europe accuse Farid Ghadry's SRP of working on behalf of the Bush Government. But they deny that: "We did not speak on behalf of the US Administration and we do not have the right to do so".

The National Salvation Front:"Democratic change in Syria is a pure national project. We reject any foreign intervention in Syria's national affairs."

Farid Ghadry has previously been accused of hiding his links to pro-Israeli groups. He calls for a complete and immediate peace with Israel - even if that means giving up the Golan Heights.

Friday, September 15, 2006 

Germany: give Syria a bigger role in international affairs, as Syria asks for help to patrol the Lebanon border

Syria has offered to send troops to patrol the Lebanon-Syria border, after talks with Germany, Greece, Spain and Italy.

Germany's Foreign Minister, fast proving to be Syria's closest ally in Europe, says Syria needs to be given a bigger role, and peace talks on Israel should be re-opened. (Germany is a close ally of Israel).

Last week, Italy said Syria had signalled its willingness to have EU troops on the Lebanese side of the border. Syria says it is willing to let the EU train its border police.

Syria had previously rejected allowing UN troops on its borders. But it is much closer to the EU which runs many development and cultural projects inside Syria.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006 

Al Jazeera: Siniora is 'Lebanonese'

Al Jazeera call Fouad Siniora the 'Lebanonese' Prime Minister. A mistake? Maybe not.

(Lebanonese is a political thinking which sees Lebanese people as non-Arabs, they are Phonecians, and they should strengthen ties with France and cut ties with the savage Arab world ... it is a polar opposite to Arabism).


US thanks Syria for its help foiling the terrorist attack on its Embassy

The US has thanked Syria for its help foiling the terrorist attack on its embassy in Damascus this morning.

They are the first kind words from Washington to Damascus for more than two years.

Condoleeza Rice, US Secretary of State: "I do think that the Syrians reacted to this attack in a way that helped to secure our people and we very much appreciate that. ... [Syria had helped to] secure our people".

"I think it's very early to try and speculate why this may have happened," she said.

White House spokesman Tony Snow: "[the US is] grateful for the assistance the Syrians provided in going after the attackers".

"We are hoping they will become an ally and make the choice of fighting against terrorists".


US Embassy attack - more images, evidence of two attacks on the building

Two vehicles were driven into the Embassy - one on each side of the building.

The bombed out car on the South side, opposite the Iraqi Embassy:

A van was also driven into the walls of the Embassy, on the North side, opposite the Italian Embassy.


US Embassy attack - latest images

The bombed out car:

Syrian authorities outside the Embassy removing the evidence:

Guards at the entrance of the Embassy in Maliki:


US Embassy attack - US and Syrian responses

US State Department: Attack happened this morning, some dead, all US staff safe

Syrian Interior Minister: It was a terror attack

More statements expected from Syria and the US soon


US Embassy attack - casualties

10 people wounded in car bomb outside US Embassy.


US Embassy attack - US casualties

Syrian official: all US Embassy staff safe


US Embassy attack - deaths

Syrian official: 4 killed in the attack


US Embassy attack - background

The US Embassy is the second biggest embassy in Damascus (only the Russian is bigger).

It is one of the most highly protected buildings in the capital (probably only the Presidential Palace has more guards outside it). The Syrian authorities are extemely worried about attacks on the US Embassy.

Some Syrians broke into the building during the 1991 Gulf War (which Syria sent troops to support America) and set fire to the US flag. That was a major embarrasment for the Syrian Government.

One the first day of the Iraq War in 2003, Syrian Riot Police formed a shoulder-to-shoulder blockade of the area up to the Embassy.


US Embassy attack - update

1115: Gunfire continuing.

Blood in the road outside the Embassy, thick black smoke over the building, the area is still sealed off.

Suspicion the attackers are Islamist terrorists who travelled from Lebanon.


US Embassy attack - update

It is claimed US Embassy staff also fired on the attackers.

No US Embassy staff hurt.


US Embassy attack - what happened

Witness report: 2 gunmen approached the Embassy in a Lebanese car, started shooting at the Embassy and then exploded the car.

Reports that 2 gunmen have been killed.

US and Syrian officials not speaking yet.


US Embassy attack

Reports it was a car bomb - one Syrian policeman guarding the Embassy has been killed.


Explosions at US Embassy in Damascus

In the past few minutes thnere have been explosions and continuous gunfire at the US Embassy in Maliki.

The area has been sealed off.

More soon.

Monday, September 11, 2006 

EU and Syrian troops to work together on the Syrian border?

Despite the confusion, it seems like Italian troops could work with Syria troops to secure the Lebanese-Syrian border.

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi annouced that Bashar Al-Assad agreed to support the deployment of unarmed Italian troops on the Lebanese side. Syria would send 600 troops to its side of the border.

But then Syria denied the message, and Italy agreed there had been a mistake. Its likely the negotiations were still underway, and were supposed to be kept secret.

Earlier Bashar said any UN peacekeepers on the Syrian border would be seen as a 'hostile act'. But Syria has a lot to gain from peacekeepers on both sides: first, it would demonstrate that Syria isn't allowing the border to be used to send arms to Hizbollah.

And it would also prevent weapons coming into Syria to supply anti-government Islamist terrorists (there have been numerous battles on both sides of the border with gun-runners taking weapons into Syria, and the Lebanese Government has admitted Al Qaeda may now be active in Lebanon).

Friday, September 08, 2006 

Lebanon's real leaders

In a poll for anti-Syrian newspaper the Daily Star, Hizbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah was the country's most popular leader - supported by almost 80% of the country.

71% back Shia parliament speaker Nabih Berri (leader of Amal, a Hizbollah ally).

Christian leader Michel Aoun got the support of 52% (he is another ally of Hizbollah, and a fierce opponent of the Government - he is widely expected to become the next President).

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has the support of less than half of the country: 49%.

But this should make the whole country nervous - one in seven Lebanese are planning to leave the country forever. And another 21% are waiting to see how well the ceasefire holds. So in total, more than one third of the country might emigrate.

Thursday, September 07, 2006 

Lebanon post-war body count

Just because the war is over, it doesn't mean people in Lebanon aren't dying. Israel has blood on its hands, and it can't wash it off with the fig leaf of a ceasefire.

13 civilians have died in Lebanon since fighting ended - they were killed by cluster bombs. Israel dropped almost a million of the flying land-mines in civilian areas in the miniutes before the ceasefire came into force. Israel knew what it was doing - it was sewing the seeds for the continued death and maiming after the ceasefire started.

Israel's practice of dropping cluster bombs in civilian areas is illegal under international law and has been condemned by the UN as "completely immoral".

UN peacekeepers have ALREADY found 100,000 of the deadly devices in Southern Lebanon. 2 soldiers died trying to remove them.

How many more people of peace will Israel kill in Lebanon?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006 

Car bomb in southern Lebanon targets senior Officer

A senior Lebanese intelligence officer has been injured in a car bomb in Sidon.

Colonel Samir Shehadeh is seriously wounded, two others are dead - a soldier and a civilian.

Sidon is a city in the Israeli-occupied south of Lebanon. Israel attacked a senior Islamic Jihad figure with a car bomb in the city last year. Anyone who thinks the string of car bombs in Lebanon over the past year is Syria's fault now needs to think again. (Syria must be quite talented to carry out an attack inside the Israeli occupied area).


Qatar stands up for Lebanon - part 2

And of course Qatar's leader was the first Arab head of state to visit Lebanon since the end of the war. (Although Syria's Bashar Al-Assad did hold talks with Lebanese leaders DURING the war in Tripoli).

Monday, September 04, 2006 

Qatar stands up for Lebanon

Qatar is the first country in the world to breach Israel's blockade of Lebanon.

They sent a civilian flight into Beirut International Airport without seeking Israeli permission. Just two days ago Lebanon asked all Arab countries to send their ships and planes to Lebanon to break the Israeli bloackade. So far, only Qatar has replied.

Qatar is proving to be something of a close friend of Lebanon. It was sending in aid teams to the south of Lebanon on the first day of the ceasefire, before the Lebanese Government had even managed to get there.

And today it has announced it will be the only Arab country to send troops to join the UN peacekeeping force - 300 soldiers will join the team.

The country is of course the home to Arabist channel Al Jazeera. But depite all this Qatar is the only Arab country to have low level ties with Israel (apart from Jordan and Egypt of course), and the tiny country is littered with US military bases.

Is Qatar the future of Arabism - standing up for Arab rights while forging close links with the West.

Where is the rest of the Arab world?

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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