Thursday, May 29, 2008 

Syrian farmers in the Occupied Golan sell cherries to Syria

Syrian farmers living under Israeli occupation have asked Israel to allow them to sell their cherries inside Syria.

Living under occupation means they can not travel to Syria or visit their families, and they certainly can't send shipments of their produce into Syria. They are trapped under Israeli military rule and most of their land has been confiscated by illegal Israeli settler colonies.

But this year, they have produced an unusally large number of cherries. Selling them inside Israel, like normal, would flood the market and make prices lower for Jewish farmers.

So the Israeli government is allowing them (telling them?) to sell them in Syria.

But it's not as easy as it sounds. They need permission from Israel's Agriculture Ministry, Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry, and Finance Ministry first.

If it gets the go-ahead it will be co-ordinated with the UN, which will supervise the opening of the normally-closed Golan border crossing. Something similar has happened with Golani apple farmers for the past three years.

Sunday, May 25, 2008 

Under the Bombs

This is a concept film. It's experimental.

The experiment grates, and gets in the way every time it rears its head. But surprisingly, that doesn't stop this being a memorable film, with a simple, well told story.

Under the Bombs (تحت القصف) is set in the aftermath July war between Lebanon and Israel in 2006. We start at the Beirut Port, where Zeina has just arrived on the day of the ceasefire. She walks into Charles Helou bus station and searches for a taxi driver who will take her south. No-one is willing to take the risk, until Tony reluctantly agrees, for a handful of dollars.

The reason she needs to go south is to find her son, who is spending the summer away from his home in the Gulf, to visit the homeland.

So, it's a simple war-story. But what makes this film different is that it's unscripted, and like Caramel - it uses non-actors throughout (except for Zeina, Tony and two others). But it takes the concept one stage further. Almost all of the people we meet in the film are in their natural setting.

Tony is a true southerner. He takes Zeina from village to village, where she walks around asking for information from real-life locals. Tony waits for her, and sometimes, goes off to meet old friends - and, yes, they're Real People too. Some of these old friends have had their houses destroyed - "I used to live in that bedroom", one woman says, pointing up at a skeleton of a building. These side-trips feel out of place, they don't fit with the story, and they are - literally - documentary scenes slotted into a fiction film. It's weird, and it doesn't work.

Putting fiction so crudely into a very real tragedy seems like an odd concept. I didn't expect to be able to sympathise with Zeina's plight. But I did.

Perversely, Tony's character is developed better than Zeina's. A sub-story develops beautifully through the film. And it was one which kept me hanging on every word he said.

Tony's brother was a fighter in the South Lebanon Army - a Christian militia, and an Israeli proxy. The brother, and his children, fled to Israel when the Israeli Occupation ended eight years ago. And that has caused all manner of problems for Tony, who has been left behind.

So although the Real Life bits make this film look like a crude 'Israel is bad' film - it ends up being far more multi-layered.

Saturday, May 24, 2008 


The countdown is on. In 23 hours, Lebanon will have a new president.

Thursday, May 22, 2008 

The Lebanese deal

Here are the details of the agreement:

A new thirty member unity-cabinet: 16 chosen by March 14, 11 chosen by the Opposition and 3 chosen by the president.

The use of weapons is banned in internal conflicts (but no decision on the future of Hizbollah's weapons).

Opposition camps in Downtown Beirut will be dismantled (this happened yesterday).

New electoral law (the "1960 law"), which divides the country into smaller districts - but Beirut is exempt. This is to give Christians a stronger presence.

A new president will be elected this Sunday.


Israel warns Syria

'Moderate' Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni says if Syria wants a peace deal, it must cut its ties with Iran, Hizbollah and Hamas.


Israel agrees to withdraw to 1967 armistice line

Syria claims that Israel has agreed to withdraw to the 1967 armistice line and hand back the Golan Heights.

This would equal what Ehud Barak offered in 2000. But it would mean a tiny part of the Golan captured in 1948 remains in Israeli hands. That is the key sticking point, because that 10 metre strip of land allows access to Lake Tiberias - an essential source of water.

Israel isn't commenting on the claim - but says these talks are being carried out with the failure of past negotiations in mind - that suggests they know what Syria wants: Lake Tiberias.

The US, EU and Palestinian president have welcomed the talks. And Israel's Prime Minister has warned his country to be ready for "painful concessions".

Wednesday, May 21, 2008 

Happy Levant

No-one knows which way to look.

To the west - where Lebanon's rival factions have agreed an all-encompassing deal to end the 18 month political crisis. The Opposition tents are being taken down, Lebanon will have a president by the weekend, and the government will finally represent the whole country. None of that would have been possible without Qatar as a genuine independent party.

Or to the east - where Syria and Israel have publicly confirmed they are in peace talks for the first time since 2000. None of that would have been possible without Turkey as a genuine independent party.

Today is a tribute to Qatar and Turkey - and shame on Lebanon, Syria, Israel, the US, Saudi and Egypt, which can't see beyond their own narrow interests.

Today has got to be the most optimistic day in the Levant since before the Iraq war. That was five years ago this March. On the fifth anniversary we looked at the prospects for Lebanon and for Syria and sighed.

Yes, it's true, the fragile agreement in Lebanon could collapse. And the Israel-Syria peace talks will probably yield nothing. But that doesn't stop the sun shining today.

Happy Peace-in-the-Levant Day.




Lebanon presidential vote will be on Sunday






SNAP SNAP SNAP: Israel and Syria in peace talks

Turkey is mediating. Israeli Prime Minister's office confirms it. The sticking point up until now was that the Israelis had wanted to keep it secret, but Syria didn't.

Can today get any better?


The end

Nabih Berry's just announced the Opposition protest camp in Downtown Beirut is being taken down.

It's over.

Downtown reopens.

Photos soon.


Lebanon government and opposition agree a deal

Lebanon will have a new President tomorrow or Friday.

The two sides have agreed to a Qatar mediated plan - as their deadline passed. Qatar played a dangerous game. Initially it said the talks would be open-ended. But earlier this week it said, here are two ideas, you've got twenty four hours to make up your mind.

The gamble paid off.

It's not clear what will happen with the other issues at stake: the electoral law, and the unity cabinet.

Sunday, May 18, 2008 

The Opposition and March 14's dirty little secrets

Some accounts of attacks against individuals during the clashes in Lebanon (from the sometimes unreliable Human Rights Watch). Despite the best propaganda attempts of March 14, no-one is clean. NO-ONE.

Opposition gunmen killed two unarmed civilians in Ras An Naba: 59 year old Amal Baydoun and 35 year old Haytham Tabbarah. They also detained a number of March 14 fighters - although most were transferred to the Army as soon as they were captured. Four Junblatt fighters were kept by Hezbollah - when they were released they said they had been treated well. Two others said they were insulted and punched.

Hariri fighters and Junblatt militants, on the other hand, are accused of committing war crimes. Junblatt fighters captured two Hizbollah supporters and summarily executed them: one had been shot in the head at very close range while the other had part of the skin of his forearm removed (Human Rights Watch claims to have photos). In another incident, pro-government fighters beat and kicked SSNP (Opposition) fighters who were already lying on the ground, injured.

Saturday, May 17, 2008 

Massive Ummayad Square development announced

A Kuwaiti company is going to build a quarter of a billion dollar tourism and leisure centre on the Ummayad Square.

At the centre will be Syria's first InterContinental Hotel. There will also be a shopping centre, cinemas, offices plus a health club and spa.

Kuwaiti company Kharafi Group has won the right to build the 50,000 square metre Kiwan project. It should be complete within two years.

The Ummayad Square is one of the most important centres in the new city. An underpass to ease traffic congestion took years to build. Around the square are the Opera House, the National Library, the National TV Centre, part of the University and the wonderful Tishreen Park. One of the roads leads into the heart of Damascus, another to Beirut, and a third goes up to Mount Qassioun. It's not clear which side the Kiwan project will be on.

It's the latest stage in Syria's push for tourism, which seems to be working - there have already been 23% extra visitors this year.


Happy families

Three war criminals and a thief.

What a beautiful sight. Hold on to that image, they'll be killing eachother soon, when the one-trick pony March 14 alliance crumbles.

Left to right: Sa'ad Hariri, son of Rafiq Hariri. Amin Gemayal, son of Pierre Gemayal. Walid Junblatt, son of Kamal Junblatt. Samir Jaja, son of a bitch.

Thursday, May 15, 2008 

Hariri media undermines Lebanese Army

The Lebanese Army. The one neutral institution in Lebanon. Yes, they deserve a lot of criticism, but taking sides is not one of them.

So no wonder the Hariri gang is upset that they didn't come running when they lost their mini-civil war.

There's no doubt that Michel Sleiman is not partisan. He has the backing of the Opposition, March 14, the US and even - possibly - Israel. But the fact that the army didn't act as Hariri's private armed forces upset him. Quite a lot.

Future TV has launched scathing attacks - accusing the army of working for Hizbollah, by walking in to Future News with Amal gunmen to cut the cables.

But most dangerously, they claimed yesterday that around 40 Sunni Commanders resigned over the way the conflict was handled. (It was quoted elsewhere, but the quotes originate from Lebanese Forces newspaper An-Nahar).

Sleiman has now totally denied this black propaganda.

Creating a perception that the army is pro-Opposition is the one thing that CAN split the army - and the country.

Future TV fans were crying over the loss of their 'free speech' - and this is what they are doing with it. Shame on them.

Monday, May 12, 2008 

Why did Hariri surrender so quickly?

Interesting claims here that Hariri was using human shields from outside Beirut:

"All the offices of the government-backed Future Movement in West Beirut have surrendered and many of the pro-government "fighters," many who were invited to come from northern Lebanon, often without even knowing that they were going to fight, have surrendered to the opposition and the opposition has handed these people and offices over to the Lebanese army. ...

Also it is critical to note that many pro-government forces who fought against the opposition in recent days, were people traveled from extremely impoverished areas like Akkar in northern Lebanon, led by the Future Movement to Beirut which was offering money to impoverished people to fight against opposition forces in Beirut. In certain cases people coming from Akkar weren't even aware prior to arriving in Beirut that they were coming to the capital to fight, thinking that they were coming to Beirut to fill labor positions; these are people who were manipulated by the Future Movement.

Many people from Akkar, in this context, quickly surrendered to opposition forces in West Beirut, declaring on local TV and radio that they weren't aware that they were being led by pro-government forces, mainly the Future Movement, to Beirut to fight the opposition. Also some youths who fought for the opposition forces were led to fight with money, however this is a minority. It's important to recognize that the terrible economic situation in Lebanon is leading people to fight in multiple cases."

Sunday, May 11, 2008 


There's not much I can add. It's a mess, and as usual, it's a mess of Lebanon's creating.

Hizbollah is to blame for starting this civil violence. March 14 is to blame for letting this political crisis fester for 18 months.

The Hariri militia has lost on two counts. First - it was comprehensively defeated, with incredible efficiency (as Qunfuz noted - a only handful of people died in what is being called a coup d'etat - where else in the world would a coup be nearly bloodless?). And second - Hariri's claims that his people had no militia were comprehensively disproven.

Some other things I've learned: Hariri thugs use the Future TV buildings in the heart of Beirut as weapons stores.

Hariri thugs aren't taking their defeat too well. In Tripoli, they have managed to breach their own truce, by starting a new war against SSNP and Baath supporters.

The Army has told the government to shut up - it will not dismantle Hizbollah's telecom network. This crisis began when the rump government threatened to dismantle the network.

And soon after, Hizbollah's biggest enemy, Walid Junblatt, conceded that the Hizbollah telecom network IS necessary for the resistance.

Siniora says the government will never attack Hizbollah - but also says Hizbollah needs to be disarmed (how can that happen if the government won't attack - maybe Siniora wants Israel to do the job).

In Beirut, it's clear Hizbollah don't want to be seen as occupiers - and don't want a Gaza situation (of being left in power when they don't want it). As soon as they defeat Hariri's gangs - in an area, or even a Hariri building - they hand it over to the army.

And what an interesting dynamic within the opposition. Aoun has largely kept his words and guns out of the argument - there has been no intra-Christian fighting, with east Beirut largely silent. This is all about the Shia and Sunni. Aoun has the most to gain from all of this. Keep your eye on him.

Saturday, May 10, 2008 

Explaining Lebanon

Very good explainer on the parties and militia of Lebanon.

Friday, May 09, 2008 

Hariri militia surrenders completely

The Hariri militia has surrendered in the last area under its control - Tareek al-Jadeedi. It's a Hariri stronghold.

It means the Opposition now controls the whole area of Beirut which has seen feirce fighting in the past three days.

It's a major blow to Hariri's Future Movement. Earlier this morning, his TV station was forced off air.


Hariri militia surrenders

Hariri gunmen are in talks to surrender to the Opposition.

The Opposition now controls all of West Beirut - except for Tarek al-Jadeedi. where Hariri fighters are trying to negotiate their escape, according to the Army.

Earlier this morning, Hariri TV station, Future TV was forced off air.

It is leading to hopes the violence - which has been described as war - will soon be over.

Many of the roads and airport are still closed.

Sunday, May 04, 2008 

The London post

Dashed hopes, tears and the death of left-wing politics.

My love for London is paralleled only by my love for Damascus. I've never campaigned for any politician - mainly because most don't deserve my energy. But I've spent the past week on the streets of London, knocking on people's doors, plastering stickers all over London's trains (photo, below) and handing out leaflets outside tube stations, shouting the same two words at anyone within ear-shot: Vote Ken.

Ken is London. This is his city. In the past eight years he has built a capital for the people. But his influence goes back much further than this decade.


A left-wing activist, he started out on the rebellious councils of north London in the 1970s. That's where he got his name of Red Ken. He moved on to the GLC - which ran London. His Labour Party was in turmoil, but he was a massively popular figure at the height of Thatcherism.

He led regeneration projects, redeveloped parts of London that hadn't seen government money since the end of the Second World War, and made transport cheap enough for everyone to afford.

And even during his years in power, he could still be seen on the picket lines at factories, supporting striking workers.

But in 1986, his time was up. Margaret Thatcher hated him and everything he stood for, and she abolished the GLC.

He sat quietly in Parliament and saw Tony Blair come into power. Blair had promised to restore self-rule for London, and in 2000, London voted for its first Mayor.

Ken was no friend of Blair's New Labour. Socialist 'Red Ken' was very very Old Labour. And he hadn't shaken off that maverick, independent, radical, free-wheeling reputation he gained in the 80s.


Blair wanted his Health Minister to become Mayor - Ken was furious, everyone saw the position of Mayor as made for him. So, he stood as an independent. Blair kicked him out of the Labour Party - boosting his popularity even further.

Ken won by a massive majority, despite the entire media and political establishment battling against him - and he forced Labour into a humiliating fourth place. Ken inflicted Tony Blair's first bloody nose, and he later boasted that was his biggest achievement. (Photo: City Hall - the Mayor's office, next to Tower Bridge.)

But he also saw it as a belated victory against Thatcher. His first words as Mayor:

“As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted 14 years ago."


During his eight years in power, he won the 2012 Olympics for London, which is already forcing billions of pounds into London's poorest eastern areas.

He imposed a controversial Congestion Charge on cars coming into the city - it's now universally accepted to have been a fantastic idea, cutting pollution and traffic. Leaders of other cities are trying to copy it. And he won admiration for the way he dealt with the aftermath of the terror attacks on London's transport network:

"Those who came here to kill last Thursday had many goals but one was that we should turn on each others like animals trapped in a cage and they failed. They failed totally and utterly. There may have been places where that would have happened but not here."


And why did the bombers fail? Because of the tolerance and diversity of this city. Nowhere in the world can compete with London's open-mindedness. And Ken - defender of minorities and the poor - has protected that.

He lives in a poor area of north London and travels by tube. Wherever he goes, he's mobbed by fans as if he is a pop-star or actor. It was the highlight of my month when he sat in front of me on the train, and talked to me.

Ken has made housing affordable again in one of the world's most expensive cities, and made travel free for anyone under-18 and over-60.

But he also stood up to America. He was vocally anti-war, when everyone else was silent. He called the US Ambassador to London a "chiseling little crook" when he refused to pay the Congestion Charge.

And he made friends with Hugo Chavez, signing a deal to get cheap oil, in return for advise on how to develop Venezuela.


Along comes 2008. There's never any doubt Ken would win his third election. Until Boris Johnson came on the scene - a comedian and journalist, and very-right wing Conservative politician. He has said black people have smaller brains, and called Nelson Mandela a tyrant. He is still a supporter of the Iraq war (when no-one else is), loves George Bush, and cried when Margaret Thatcher was kicked out.

He is everything Ken is not.

So how could he win? He came from nowhere. He targeted the richer white suburbs, which don't even feel part of London. It was always going to be close. Ken won the inner city, Boris took the edges. The result: Boris - 53%, Ken 47%.


I love Ken because I love this city. Ken is such a passionate Londoner. He's a visionary, an independent man of the people. We've lost all of that, and gained a politician to run our city.

Ken is still my Mayor for another five hours. Shed a tear with me at midnight.

I never used to be proud of London - during the last eight years, I've become a Londoner. I've become part of Ken's city.

(Thanks to you-know-who for the Facebook status graphic.)

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.
My profile

Syria News Wire discussion

Syria News Wire - the most comprehensive source of Syrian news on the web

  • The Syria News Wire now provides news for Cafe-Syria. To find out how to get exclusive Syrian news for your site, click here.

Get Syria News Wire EMAIL UPDATES

  • the important stuff: you can cancel any time, your email address wont be used for anything except Syria News Wire updates - this is an ad-free site
  • Enter your email address below to subscribe to The Syria News Wire...