Posted by Joshua on Thursday, November 1st, 2007
Lebanon's militant Hezbollah forging new ties
Shiite group recruits from other sects to help build strength
Hugh Macleod, San Fran Chronicle, November 1, 2007
Ain Al-Hilweh, Lebanon —
Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite militant group, is expanding its military power by recruiting Sunnis, Christians and Druze in preparation for another conflict with Israel, according to sources close to Hezbollah.
In addition to its yearlong political campaign to bring down Lebanon's pro-Western government, Hezbollah has ignored U.N. and Lebanese government calls for disarmament and remains focused on bolstering its military strength by recruiting non-Shiites. The Islamic organization wants to allay fears that it is strictly a sectarian militia, these same sources say.
Former Lebanese Brig. Gen. Amin Hotait, an expert on Hezbollah, says the nonsectarian strategy began after Hezbollah declared a "divine victory" over Israel in a monthlong war in July 2006. Since then, its fighters have increased by several thousand, the analysts say.
"After the July war, the numbers of Shiites joining Hezbollah as fighters doubled, but the group has also expanded by appealing to other sects under the banner of the political opposition," said Hotait. "They are preparing for a future role in conflict against Israel."
In recent months, Hezbollah and its political allies have led a protest to topple the government coalition of Sunnis, Christians and Druze known as March 14. The crisis ensued last year after Prime Minister Fuad Saniora called a Cabinet meeting to discuss disarming Hezbollah. In response, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah accused Saniora of being a traitor and working for the United States and Israel. Last November, all five Shiite ministers and a Christian ally resigned from the government.
"Before the July war, Hezbollah had called for a national unity government," said Amal Saad Ghorayeb, an expert on Hezbollah at the Carnegie Endowment's Middle East Center in Beirut. "But after the war, they became much more vocal and hard-line because they saw that there was a clear U.S. policy to utilize March 14 to disarm Hezbollah and weaken Iran and Syria in the process."
Intelligence experts widely believe Hezbollah – defined as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department – receives most of its weapons from Iran. The arms are then smuggled across the Syrian border with the approval of Damascus.
Although exact figures are impossible to come by, experts estimate that Hezbollah had several thousand professional fighters and about 10,000 second-rank troops before the war with Israel.
Hotait says Hezbollah has since re-established the Lebanese Brigades for Resisting Occupation, which had been scrapped in 1999 and whose ranks included Shiite and Sunni Muslims, Druze and Christians.
Hezbollah is also courting Sunni religious scholars known as sheikhs to shore up its military support, according to Patrick Haenni, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group.
"Hezbollah is in desperate need of the Sunni sheikhs and went to meet as many as they could," said Haenni. "They are eager not to make the resistance against Israel a Shiite cause."
Moreover, Hezbollah is arming and training a Sunni militia group inside the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp near the southern port of Sidon, ostensibly to counter al Qaeda fighters. It is the largest of a dozen Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, with an estimated 75,000 residents.
Sheikh Abu Ayoub, the commander of some 300 Sunni Palestinian fighters of Ansar Allah (Followers of God), acknowledges his group's affiliation with Hezbollah.
"Everything comes from Hezbollah – financial support, weapons and training," said Abu Ayoub, inside the run-down camp. "Palestine is an Islamic issue. Hezbollah are Islamic. We are Islamic."
Ansar Allah members say they will monitor and expel foreign fighters to prevent a repeat of the devastating summer conflict between the Sunni al Qaeda-inspired militants of Fatah Islam – many of whom were Saudi extremists – and the Lebanese army in the northern Nahr al-Bared refugee camp. The three-month-long conflict was the worst internal violence since the end of Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war. The fighting destroyed much of the camp and killed 168 soldiers, more than 200 militants and 47 civilians.
"Hezbollah has an interest in preventing the rise of al Qaeda when you see what has happened in Iraq," said Abu Ayoub.
Hezbollah's media office ignored several requests to comment for this story. However, in an earlier interview, the group's foreign affairs spokesman, Nawaf Mousawi, blamed the rise of Sunni extremism in Lebanon on Washington and the government coalition, which sees such groups as a bulwark against Hezbollah. Washington and Beirut adamantly deny the allegation.
In a March article in the New Yorker magazine, reporter Seymour Hersh quoted a former British intelligence officer saying the Sunni extremist group Fatah Islam was "offered weapons and money by people presenting themselves as representatives of the Lebanese government's interests – presumably to take on Hezbollah."
After the end of the civil war in 1990, Hezbollah became the only militia allowed to retain its weapons to resist Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. In 2000, Israeli troops withdrew after a 22-year occupation and a war of attrition with Hezbollah fighters.
Although the Lebanese government confirmed Hezbollah's right to liberate an Israeli-occupied border area called the Shebaa Farms in 2005, international attention on the militant organization has been mounting since 2004, when the U.S.-French sponsored Security Council resolution 1559 called for disarming all Lebanese militias.
Few observers here dispute that Hezbollah is preparing for another confrontation with Israel after last summer's war ended in a stalemate and U.N. peacekeepers and Lebanese army replaced Hezbollah fighters in the south.
Hezbollah leaders say that they are setting up hidden military zones north of the Litani River, the waterway that marks the boundary of U.N-patrolled territory. Government officials say Hezbollah is also fortifying positions in the Bekaa Valley near the border with Syria.
But these same analysts say Hezbollah is unlikely to provoke another war as it did last July, when a cross-border raid killed two Israeli soldiers and captured two more, who were taken to Lebanon and remain captive.
"Hezbollah knows that in the case of Round 2 with Israel, they will not only lose the support of their Christian allies, but also the support of many Shiites, who know that if they have to flee the south again they will have nowhere to go in Lebanon," said Haenni of the International Crisis Group. "Hezbollah knows they have lost the southern border with Israel and it will be closed to them for a very long time, but that is not because Hezbollah can't make operations in the south through U.N. and Lebanese army lines – those will always be possible."
This article appeared on page A – 11 of the San Francisco Chronicle
Rumsfeld Flees France, Fearing Arrest
Oct. 29, 2007 By IPS News
Former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld fled France today fearing arrest over charges of "ordering and authorizing" torture of detainees at both the American-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the U.S. military's detainment facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, unconfirmed reports coming from Paris suggest.U.S. embassy officials whisked Rumsfeld away yesterday from a breakfast meeting in Paris organized by the Foreign Policy magazine after human rights groups filed a criminal complaint against the man who spearheaded President George W. Bush's "war on terror" for six years.Under international law, authorities in France are obliged to open an investigation when a complaint is made while the alleged torturer is on French soil.According to activists in France, who greeted Rumsfeld, shouting "murderer" and "war criminal" at the breakfast meeting venue, U.S. embassy officials remained tight-lipped about the former defense secretary's whereabouts citing "security reasons".Anti-torture protesters in France believe that the defense secretary fled over the open border to Germany, where a war crimes case against Rumsfeld was dismissed by a federal court. But activists point out that under the Schengen agreement that ended border checkpoints across a large part of the European Union, French law enforcement agents are allowed to cross the border into Germany in pursuit of a fleeing fugitive."Rumsfeld must be feeling how Saddam Hussein felt when U.S. forces were hunting him down," activist Tanguy Richard said. "He may never end up being hanged like his old friend, but he must learn that in the civilized world, war crime doesn't pay."
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) along with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), and the French League for Human Rights (LDH) filed the complaint on Thursday after learning that Rumsfeld was scheduled to visit Paris.