Posted by Joshua on Thursday, February 15th, 2007
Government forces in Lebanon turned up the rhetoric today, the anniversary of the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri. Downtown Beirut was filled with demonstrators, who were regaled by a sting of government figures.
Jumblat described Syrian President Bashar Assad as "a snake, the missing link, the despot of Damascus, a beast, an Israeli product, a liar, a criminal," and a number of other colorful epithets. "This year will witness the creation of the international tribunal, justice will be served and the punishment will be a death sentence," Jumblat pledged.
Geagea warned of "dire consequences for those standing in the way of the international tribunal." In his opinion column, Michael Young claims the international community, including Russia, is preparing to break the Lebanese logjam moving decisively and unanimously against Syria. He insists a new chapter in Syria's misfortunes is about to be opened: "Syrian intransigence may be leading toward an unintended consequence: passage of the tribunal under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter."
The governing alliance, in a statement after an emergency meeting, urged the Arab League, the U.N. Security Council and the international community to "shoulder your responsibilities in lifting the Syrian regime's aggression off Lebanon."
The statement called for imposing sanctions on Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime and for dispatching U.N. peacekeepers to "control the Lebanese-Syrian borders that would halt the flow of weapons to tools of this (Syrian) regime."
U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman has vowed to dedicate himself to ensuring that "international partnerships" benefit Lebanon and propel it toward independence and democracy.
In the US, Zvika Krieger writing in the New Republic says that Hezbollah is calming some of the bloodiest Shia rituals, but not for the better. "The Shia holiday of Ashura," she writes, "generates an endless supply of gruesome images: thousands of enraged young men slicing their foreheads with swords, beating themselves with chains, and screaming their allegiance to Allah in the streets of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan, and across the Muslim world–scenes that perfectly encapsulate Western fears of militant Islam…."
Former Jordanian information minister Saleh Al-Qallab, currently a columnist for the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, writes that "the cooling in Iran-Syria relations may lead to the end of their partnership and even to intense hostility between the two countries."
Gulfsands Petroleum and Emerald Energy tanked as poor test drilling results from a joint venture in Syria proved inconclusive.
Supporters of the Opposition are striking back, however.
Ibrahime Al-Amine, chairman of the board of directors of Al Akhbar insists that America and French officials are pushing the "Lebanese military to suppress the opposition no matter the price and to tighten the siege on the resistance." They do not want a mediation of the conflict.
Hizbullah authorities echo this by claiming the government's onslaught is "aimed at scuttling the Saudi-Iranian and Arab initiatives."
Nabih Berri the Shiite leader and President of the Parliament also insists that the true aim of the government in accusing Syria of the bombings and asking for sanctions to be imposed on Damascus, is their fear of "breakthroughs, solutions and a positive outlook." He suggests the Arab League attempts to broker a deal are bearing fruit.
Dardari forecasts higher GDP growth: Syria’s Gross Domestic Product is expected to grow by 5.6 percent in 2007 according to Abdallah Dardari, Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs. Dardari also recently readjusted growth estimates upward for the Syrian economy during the past two years because of the positive impact of trade with and currency inflows from Iraq.
The US will accept 7,000 Iraqi refugees by the end of the year. Some will come from Syria.
Here are bits from some of the stories refered to above:
Opposition accuses Geagea and Jumblatt of using speeches to poison mediation efforts, by Hani M. Bathish, 15 February 2007, Daily Star
Beirut — BEIRUT: Hizbullah accused the March 14 Forces on Wednesday of trying to "scuttle" initiatives aimed at breaking the political deadlock in Lebanon through "inflammatory speeches" made during the rally to mark the assassination two years ago of former Premier Rafik Hariri.
Hizbullah MP Hussein Hajj Hassan said the speeches made in Martyrs' Square by Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt were "aimed at scuttling the Saudi-Iranian and Arab initiatives."
In a statement issued a few hours after the speeches, Hassan said Geagea and Jumblatt had been given orders by "Washington and Paris to destroy the initiatives, just at a point when the possibility for a compromise seemed at hand."
The speeches were aimed at the Syrian regime, and followed hot on the heels of a March 14 statement issued Tuesday blaming Damascus for the twin bus bombings in Ain Alaq that killed three and calling for sanctions to be imposed on the regime.
Jumblatt described Syrian President Bashar Assad as "a snake, the missing link and the despot of Damascus," among other colorful appellations. Geagea warned of "dire consequences for those standing in the way of the international tribunal."
Hajj Hassan said Jumblatt's words were "not worthy of a man of his stature," but saw Future Movement leader MP Saad Hariri's words as "moderate."
Hajj Hassan said he "has proof that Jumblatt wants the international tribunal to pass based on a US design."
"Four weeks ago, Jumblatt said he does not accept altering a single word in the draft agreement for the tribunal," he added. "But we have serious observations on the draft that need to be taken into consideration."
"The case of Premier Rafik Hariri's assassination has been manipulated politically, as have all other assassinations even before the draft of the tribunal was approved," Hajj Hassan said.
Responding to Jumblatt's call for all weapons to be in the government's hands, Hajj Hassan said he wondered "whether the martyr Adnan Shamas was killed on January 25 by government or PSP weapons."
Hajj Hassan reiterated that Hizbullah's arms would "not be used internally."
"Why the campaign by ruling team, France, & U.S on army & its commander?"
Berri said the statement, accusing Syria of the bombings and asking for sanctions to be imposed on Damascus, "shows that some among the pro-government forces are beginning to fear breakthroughs, solutions and a positive outlook."
He wondered why "some insist on spreading negativity and closing doors in the face of resolutions to the crisis."
Speaking of Arab League chief Amr Moussa's recent trip to Damascus, the speaker said it had not passed without "results," adding that Moussa said he wanted to complete what he started and needed to take further necessary but difficult steps.
Berri added that the March 14 coalition's statement had placed "some of the responsibly for the bombing on the shoulders of the opposition," which "cannot possibly target an area, the North Metn, considered to be supportive of the opposition."
"The bombing was a dangerous precedent, as it targets innocent civilians," he added.
Meanwhile, President Emile Lahoud, in response to Geagea's speech Wednesday, said in a statement that "the Lebanese have not forgotten that the man speaking to them about a free, sovereign and capable state today was himself among those who crippled the state, struck at its institutions and usurped its resources and presented federalism as a model for a formula."
Al-Amine added: "The recent incidents resulted in the results contrary to what was hoped. The eye of the ruling team is now on the army!…In those guys' opinion, the army should have suppressed the opposition during their strike on Tuesday two weeks ago, and should have participated in shooting at the people on black Thursday. It should not break into any house to arrest any of the suspects in the shootings on civilians and soldiers. It should have also rooted out the protestors from downtown Beirut and should have cleared the Ozza'i area from the protests of the families of the victims of the gangs of the ruling team…" – Al Akhbar Lebanon, Lebanon
"French sources reveal to Al Hayat background for resolution 1559"
The newspaper added: "Three European countries, France, Germany, and England, suggested that they negotiate with Iran to help it avoid being accused of violating the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The sources announced that France, Germany, and Russia on the other hand decided to direct a strong message to Syria to push it to implement an initiative that expresses its desire to return to its natural position in the international community. The French presidential advisor Maurice Gordo Mauntanieh went to Damascus carrying the directives of the presidents of the three countries and suggested to President Bashar Al-Assad that he implement an initiative because the situation is extremely dangerous and Syria must do something to help itself in the regional and international context. He also clarified to Al-Assad that the three countries do not want to impose a specific initiative on Syria because of their respect for its sovereignty."
The newspaper continued: "The sources clarified that the French and Russian presidents and the German chancellor were thinking along the lines of Syria closing down the offices of the terrorist organizations in Damascus and resuming the peace track started by Denis Ross or performing some initiative on the Golan Heights. The sources announced that their ideas also included Lebanon but the French envoy intentionally kept this hidden. The Syrian president's answer was that all that he was being offered were part of an American plan. But the French envoy announced that it is not an American plan[;he] then left Syria and went to Lebanon where he informed Al-Hariri of his negotiations then [he] went to Saudi Arabia where he also informed the Saudi king of them then returned to France where he informed his Russian and German counterparts of the results of his negotiations."
The newspaper added: "The sources added that this was not followed by any Syrian response which caused the dialogue to be ended between the two factions. The sources announced that the French envoy had been in constant communication with his American counterpart back then, Condoleezza Rice, to whom he always stressed the necessity of expending efforts to help Lebanon gain its independence and sovereignty and the importance of working with Syria to reach these goals…" – Al Hayat, United Kingdom
Syria: Upcoming Elections: the Arab Reform Bulletin of the Carnagie Foundation for Peace summs up the new laws governing Syria's elections.
In light of the parliamentary elections scheduled for April, on January 3 Syrian President Bashar Al Assad approved an amendment (Arabic text) to the 1973 electoral law that includes strict regulations on campaign financing. The new law prohibits candidates from providing “services and financial assistance” prior to elections, limits campaign spending to 3 million Syrian pounds (US$57,466), and obligates candidates to use an accountant to supervise expenditures during the election campaigns. The legislative elections are also expected to operate under a new political parties law which has not yet been passed. The draft law requires that new parties be “allied to, created by, or friends of the Baath” and that party founders be over 35 years old, have no criminal record, and be proven supporters of the Baathist March 8 Revolution. Political parties cannot be based on religious, sectarian, or tribal identities and cannot have operated before 1963 (only the Baath Party, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, and the Communist Party are exempted from the last restriction). According to the draft law, the decision to grant a new party a license will be made by a committee that includes the head of the Shura Council, the ministers of justice and interior, the minister of state for people's assembly affairs, and three independent judges.
The presidential referendum whereby all eligible Syrian voters will be called upon to give their confidence to Assad for a second seven-year term is scheduled to take place at the end of May.
Municipal elections—the first under the new local administration law introduced in September 2005— will be held in August. The new law abolishes the “closed lists” system in existence since 1971 under which Syrians voted for candidates for provincial councils from a list set by the National Progressive Front, the ruling coalition of parties overwhelmingly dominated by the Baath Party. The law, however, continues to allow the cabinet, headed by the president, to appoint provincial governors by decree.