News Round Up (11 March 2008)



Berri: Lebanon Solution Linked to Restoration of Syrian-Saudi Ties (

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri stressed that a solution to the ongoing political crisis in Lebanon "has been and will always be" linked to normalization of ties between Syria and Saudi Arabia. "Normalizing ties between Syria and Saudi Arabia will reflect positively on Lebanon," Berri said in remarks published on Tuesday.

The speaker said he does not see any prospect for a settlement to the Lebanon crisis "unless Arab reconciliation is achieved." "If Arabs shake hands, we will quickly reconcile in Lebanon," Berri added.

Saudi Arabia to attend Arab summit in Damascus, (AP)

Saudi Arabia will attend this month's Arab summit in Damascus, Saudi's crown prince said Monday, a day after Syria delivered an invitation to the oil-rich Gulf nation.

But Crown Prince Sultan did not say who will represent the kingdom at the upcoming summit, a possible sign of tension between Damascus and Riyadh.

Crown Prince Sultan put an end to rumors of a boycott on Monday in remarks carried by Al-Jazeera television, saying "it's an Arab summit that we can't give up."

"The goals of the summit would depend on who will participate in it," he added. Syria fears that a poor showing at the annual summit, the first to be held in Damascus, will further isolate President Bashar Assad's regime.

The way to exit from Lebanon’s morass
By Paul Salem in The Daily Star
Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Clouds of war hover over Lebanon. The country is adrift without a president and with a contested government as well as a Parliament whose doors have been closed since late 2006… Is there a safe passage through this morass? …

The government must develop a “national defense strategy” that incorporates Hizbullah’s proven force and fighting capacity into the strengthened national army. This can come in the form of a border defense force or other such arrangements that exist in other countries. Ultimate war and peace decision-making, however, must be in the hands of the state, and ultimate command over military means must be in the hands of the army. The state and reconstructed army, however, must provide very credible answers to the recurring threat of Israeli attacks against the South and must include a realistic mechanism to finally control the Lebanese-Syrian border….

the new government’s most urgent task is to adopt an electoral law. The current Parliament’s term ends in June 2009 and the way things are going today we are likely to arrive at that date without having been able to hold elections, thus entering into a period of even more complete institutional bankruptcy than today. To hold the elections we must draft an electoral law by the fall of 2008 at the latest. The government should at long last open and read the proposed draft law prepared by the government-appointed National Election Commission in June 2006, which I participated in drafting. That should be the starting point for debating electoral reform, not backroom deals by political bosses.

That law proposes lowering the voting age, creating an independent electoral management body, enabling expatriate voting, strictly controlling the abuse of money in campaigns, strictly controlling the abuse of private television stations, preventing vote-rigging, introducing measures to protect voting secrecy and to combat vote buying, and boosting women’s representation. These measures would have a revolutionary effect on politics in Lebanon – measures that most political bosses from both camps today would probably not favor.

The law also introduces proportional representation, which would allow diverse groups and parties to enter Parliament so that each community is not represented merely by its communal bosses. Elections are the basis of any republic; and a truly reformed electoral law is the most important step to help rebuild our ruined political culture….

As for the Hariri tribunal, its creation should be advanced quickly. The institution has hung over Lebanon and Syria for three years, and it is time that the truth comes out, that justice be done, and that Syria and Lebanon deal with the serious political repercussions that might follow from its conclusions. Only after facing those truths and overcoming them can the two countries look forward to a post-tribunal relationship.

Khalilzad: Hariri Tribunal Ready to Launch Trials (

Contributions to finance the tribunal have reached more than $50 million, including $21,3 in pledges.

Khalilzad said a "management committee" had been established. The committee, which will among other tasks provide advice and policy direction on all non-judicial aspects of the operations of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and oversee expenditures, is composed of France, Germany, Holland, Britain, the United States and the United Nations, he added.

Analyze This: In a cold war with Iran, can Syria become Israel's 'China card'? By CALEV BEN-DAVID , J_Post

Playing the "Damascus card" against Teheran, though, would carry a heavy political price – the return of the Golan Heights, possibly even up to the shores of Kinneret – and it is difficult to imagine that any but the strongest Israeli government would be in a position to make that deal.

The Olmert-led coalition clearly isn't that government. Yet if the intelligence assessment is correct that Iran will reach a "point of no return" in its nuclear program in the latter half of 2009, and neither Israel nor the United States are successful in halting that development, then we will truly find ourselves locked into a cold war-type military stalemate with Teheran – a prospect that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's apocalyptic outlook makes far more frightening than the Kremlin's former belief in the historical inevitability of Marxist triumph.

In that case, even all of the Golan may come to seem a reasonable sacrifice in breaking Syria's alliance with Iran – even if it is no easy task finding an Israeli Nixon to go to that particular China.

"Obama and the Bigots," by NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF (March 9, 2008)

the most monstrous bigotry in this election isn’t about either race or sex. It’s about religion…. The whispering campaigns allege that Mr. Obama is a secret Muslim planning to impose Islamic law on the country. Incredibly, he is even accused — in earnest! — of being the Antichrist….

A 2007 Gallup poll found that 94 percent of Americans said they would vote for a black candidate for president and 88 percent for a woman. In contrast, a Los Angeles Times poll in 2006 found that only 34 percent of respondents said they could vote for a Muslim for president.

To his credit, Mr. Obama has spoken respectfully of Islam (he told me last year, on the record, that the Muslim call to prayer is “one of the prettiest sounds on earth at sunset”). If he were to go further — “and so what if I were Muslim?” — many Americans would see that as confirmation that he is a Sunni terrorist agent of Al Qaeda who is part of a 9/11 backup plan: If you can’t reach the White House with a hijacked plane, then storm the Oval Office through the ballot box….

When Mrs. Clinton was asked in a television interview a week ago whether Mr. Obama is a Muslim, she denied it firmly — but then added, most unfortunately, “as far as I know.” To his credit, Mr. McCain scolded a radio host who repeatedly referred to “Barack Hussein Obama” and later called him a Manchurian candidate. …

Kuwaiti firm interested in buying Syriatel in defiance of American ban on doing business with Rami Makhlouf, a majority owner.

Kuwait's Mobile Telecommunications Co (Zain) said it is interested in buying Syria's largest mobile phone provider and does not expect any significant increase in net profit this year. The company is owned by Rami Makhlouf, a cousin of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Makhlouf is also the target of U.S. financial sanctions for his links to the Syrian regime. Turkey's largest mobile phone operator, Turkcell , said last month it will bid for control of Syriatel.

may Chidiac’s response to the question “How do you view Hezbollah’s role in Lebanese politics?” (Thanks to the Moor Next Door)

They pretend to speak for Lebanon’s Shiites, but in fact they are crushing them. Hezbollah calls itself “the Islamic resistance in Lebanon” — they don’t consider themselves Arabs but Iranians. Hezbollah has received an estimated $20bn (€13.6bn) from Iran in the past 20 years. With that, they are buying up land and arms. No one dares oppose them. We are too afraid of a conflict between Shiites and Sunnis. The Shiites are helped by Iran; the Sunnis are helped by Saudi Arabia; and the Christians? All they get are prayers from the Vatican and that’s not enough. I don’t want my country to become an Islamic republic.

To Embrace or Not to Embrace By: Henry A. Kissinger | International Herald Tribune

The elections in Pakistan, far from calming the political crisis, have opened a new phase of it. The world has a huge stake in the outcome.

Comments (69)

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51. Alex said:


Pre Arab summit two weeks is also asking two much : )

just like Pre Arab summit in the KSA last year

and Pre Asnnapolis earlier this year …

Too much needs to go in hte last few weeks to make these summits “a success” …

and they are never a success.

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March 12th, 2008, 5:03 pm


52. Qifa Nabki said:


I failed my exams. Thanks for jinxing me.


By the way, is anybody going to comment on the Statfor piece? This is not as-Siyaasa, you know.

And here are two news items, off the wires:

Ahmadinejad: No President, No Government in Lebanon before End of Bush’s Term
Diplomatic sources close to Tehran on Wednesday quoted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as telling a high-ranking Arab official that Lebanon will not have a new President or a new government before the end of U.S. President George Bush’s term Jan. 20, 2009.
Meanwhile, a French diplomatic source familiar with Iran’s policy, said Tehran was “waiting for a change in the U.S. administration before it decides whether it wants negotiations on the nuclear issue.”

The source said Iran’s priority “is to negotiate with Washington, not with Europeans.”

“If Tehran decides to negotiate with a new U.S. Administration, then it would want comprehensive talks including its role in Iraq in return for the nuclear issue, just as Syria wants to negotiate its role in Iraq in exchange for Lebanon,” the French source said.

Murr: Aoun’s Bloc Blocks Presidential Elections
MP Michel Murr on Wednesday accused Gen. Michel Aoun’s Change and reform Bloc of blocking presidential elections, targeting specifically Maronite MPs of the group.
“Our bloc includes politicians who have become disgusting to the people. It is blocking the presidency. I say the block is blocking, not Gen. Aoun. Certain MPs within the bloc are more responsible than Gen. Aoun for blocking the presidency,” Murr told reporters.

“Gen. Aoun heads the bloc, and I’m not saying he is to be held responsible, but the bloc is. Where are the Maronite MPs? Why do they accept to keep the presidency vacant?” he asked.

Murr made the remarks after receiving Russian Ambassador to Lebanon Sergei Pukin.

Murr said an agreement on a general election law could be “reached in 15 minutes if we approached the issue with a spirit of national responsibility.”

“If we proceed with conditions and counter-conditions there would be no elections, neither today nor in 2009.”

Murr said any pan-Arab rapprochement “would help in overcoming the crisis, but domestic consensus is the base to any settlement.”

Pukin, in answering a question as to whether Russia would play a role to narrow the gap separating the feuding factions, said: “I have no information on this issue.”

However, he explained that “The foreign minister of Russia could visit the region. If he does, it would be in line with Russian efforts to settle the conflict in the region, be it at the Lebanese level or at the level of the security deterioration in Palestine.”

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March 12th, 2008, 5:08 pm


53. Alex said:

Qifa, ask your dad to speak to the teacher. He might be able to convince him to count your school project instead of the final. You did well on the science project, you told me.

You posted two news items that cancel each other… one seems to say that Ahmadinejad does not want to see a Lebanese president before next year, the other one says that it is rather a few from Aoun’ block who are to blame, and not Ahmadinejad.

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March 12th, 2008, 5:43 pm


54. Shai said:


Annapolis? What’s that?…

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March 12th, 2008, 5:52 pm


55. Alex said:

It’s “a photo opportunity” Shai.

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March 12th, 2008, 6:18 pm


56. Shai said:

Ah… funny, though, I can’t even remember the photos, can you? What a ridiculous waste of taxpayers’ money. And an insult to our intelligence. Thinking they can actually convince us that peace between Israel and the Palestinians is going to happen during 2008. Yeah, the year 2008 in the Muslim calendar, maybe… (if Dubya was still in power).

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March 12th, 2008, 6:28 pm


57. Alex said:

Oh, I can explain that part.

It was supposed to be a photo opportunity. But at the last minute they realized that they they HAD TO invite the Syrians to the show. Syrians are not very photogenic as you know, and they do not blend very harmoniously with the other “Arab Moderates” … so, the photos were spoiled.

Besides being a photo opportunity, Annapolis was GWB’s way of not rejecting the Baker report and its recommendations. There were easy recommendations (solve the Palestinian problem) and there were impossible recommendations (talk to Syria and Iran).

So, president Bush went for the easy Palestinian part.

And I am not joking … that was the main reason for Annapolis, having to acknowledge at least any part of the Baker report.

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March 12th, 2008, 6:53 pm


58. Shai said:

I can see Dubya on his Daddy’s farm, saying: “Uncle Baker, I ‘preciate your cuncern ‘n all, but it’s ma prezi-dency, and I wanna run it ma way, k? No hard feelins though, right?” And Uncle Baker just holds his head with both hands (while little George runs to get him some Aspirin)… Oh well, if the Reps win again, let’s hope McCain will be smarter, though I’m hearing that all the Bush neocons are rushing to get under his wing…

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March 12th, 2008, 7:00 pm


59. Qifa Nabki said:


No, I failed my science project too.

Who said that Ahmadinejad is blocking the election? He is merely expressing his opinion. Don’t jump to conclusions!


But I noticed you didn’t answer my question about Assef Shawkat.

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March 12th, 2008, 8:24 pm


60. Alex said:

You failed the science project too?! … Tayeb dabber rasak.

What question about Asef did I miss?

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March 12th, 2008, 8:50 pm


61. Enlightened said:

Offended: ( I didnt think I was that funny)

Email Alex to send it to you if he hasn’t deleted it, if he has get my email adress off him and send me a message, il send it on to you!

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March 12th, 2008, 9:16 pm


62. Alex said:

I did not delete it : )

Offended, please send me an email to creativesyria and I will forward.

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March 12th, 2008, 10:11 pm


63. Qifa Nabki said:


The question was about the Stratfor article that Habib posted.

Any comment?

By the way, if you recall, immediately after Mughniyyeh was assassinated, somebody (I believe it was Ford Prefect) had some inside information about a lot of hostility between Hizbullah and Damascus…

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March 13th, 2008, 2:07 am


64. Enlightened said:


My take on the whole Stratfor article, trawl the internet and you will find a lot of these stories, the most famous one about a rebellion in Damascus a few years ago. Its very hard to comment on speculation when hard facts are missing or not present.

Logically however:

1. If true then Assef is in big trouble (Bashar might let loose Maher on him)

2. The investigation preliminary report was due weeks ago? Why the delay, I think that the Syrian services have been penetrated, and they are busy finding the leaks and the perpetrators

3. The report will be made public during or after the Damascus summit for impact.

The only way to verify the Stratfor report, find out if Bushra is still in Syria with the children (although I dont know how you will be able to do this).

However my gut feeling tells me this is another attempt at putting pressure on the regime, I cannot see it any other way.

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March 13th, 2008, 3:18 am


65. norman said:

Hi Zenobia ,
I hope you read this,

I hear a lot about the American nation , but that might be because i watch Fox News ,

( Although your definition sounds very nice and respectful….it already contains deep meaning and historical reference in it that privileges Arabness within the entire area that you are referring to. However, all the people who don’t consider themselves arabs would probably object to being within an area called the ‘Arab Nation’. This is a problem )
I agree with you that many in the Arab nation might object but for God sake many in the US like the Mexican and other Hispanics and others object to be called American ,but they are still American because they live in the United states of America,

. ( Another problem is that the term Arab nation was suffused with Islam to the point where non-muslims feel hesitant to align themselves with a great Arab nation…
it is all ridiculous to my mind. We should just have the mind to be inclusive, as you are attempting to be. But language is significant. Can you imagine the Israelis saying… we are part of the ‘Arab nation’ !.. and those persians? Armenians? what about them?)

I disagree with you ,
Being an Arab does not mean being a muslim as not all Arabs are Muslims , I am one of these , and not all Muslims are Arabs like the Persians and Turks and the Pakistanis and all the others ,

I consider the ares that i mentioned previously as the Arab nation because It was inhabited by the semitic people that left Arabia during episodes of drought , They left Arabia and inhabited Syria , Iraq and north Africa , and yes I consider the Hebrews as Arabs as Abraham led them from Arabia through Orr to northern Syria then to Palestine , actually the only reason that they do not speak Arabic and are not a normal part of that of the world is because the Roman evicted them from Palestine into the Diaspora , otherwise they would have been the Same as the Ara-means who were the residents of Syria ,
I just want to remind you that Islam came to Syria in the Seventh century not the Arabs , The Arabs were there long time before.
I look at Syria and Lebanon as i look at Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Just look at the US and try to have the same in the Arab Nation,

My preferred name for the new country is

Syria would be New England , Iraq ( Wadi al Rafedane ) is the Delaware valley , KSA is the Bible belt , Al Magreb al Arabi is California and the western cost , and Egypt is the Heartland .

( No, i think there should be a better term. How about the Union of Middle Eastern States. That’s good. States. The middle east is not really one nation. they fight fight fight….)

YES they fight but nobody killed more American than the American themselves during the civil war .

One more thing , Being an Arab is not a genetic association , It is a land association in my humble opinion.

Any comments , Aussamaa, What do you think,

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March 13th, 2008, 3:45 am


66. Alex said:

Qifa Nabki,

Everything is possible …except … Stratfor’s ability to acquire all those sizzling rumors from Damascus.


It sounds too familiar.

Do you know how many journalists told me the past couple of years that they heard some amazing rumors about Bashar and Asef and Bushra going after each other?

Do you know how it works? … some “reliable” source form Syrian Opposition or M14, or American administration … or Al-Syassa talks to some European journalist visiting Beirut or Riyadh … he tells him about all these rumors …

Do you know how tempting it is to exclusively publish these stories? … do you know hoe reliable these journalists think that M14’s freedom fighters are? … or even Farid Ghadry! …. do you remember your super expert (Bernard Lewis) who claimed in Israel that Farid Ghadri is the leader of the largest Syrian opposition party! … and he quoted him as if he is some authority.

if Bernard thinks Farido is reliable, then … what do you expect of lesser journalists trying to rate the reliability of rumors on the inner secrets of the relations between Bashar and his brother in law?

But again .. I am not saying that there is no small chance that some of what was in that article was true … but it would be by pure chance if it was true.

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March 13th, 2008, 4:58 am


67. Alex said:


I would like to tell you about a new blog by Tamara Al-Om, a smart Syrian who is doing her Ph.D. in England

Here is a sample post:

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March 13th, 2008, 5:39 am


68. Qifa Nabki said:

Alex said:

Do you know how it works? … some “reliable” source form Syrian Opposition or M14, or American administration … or Al-Syassa talks to some European journalist visiting Beirut or Riyadh … he tells him about all these rumors …

Hmmm, sounds quite a bit like Seymour Hersh’s “scoop”.


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March 13th, 2008, 12:58 pm


69. thayer said:

this article appeared on
Tailored Syria military sources report that the status of the Cyprus-based Intacom Telecom in Syria is being investigated. Our sources indicate that the GPS service provider company had already finished working on a project near the suspected site of a secret Syrian nuclear reactor in Deir Ezzour before it was targeted by an Israeli air raid last year. The sources also cited the finding of a high-tech vehicle in the Aleppo Icarda farms. The unmanned vehicle, which could repair itself if need be, was found near Almsalamiyah military base which suffered a huge explosion last year. On both occasions, GPS technologies which could be controlled by sattelites , are seen as linked to a security breach in Syria.
Our sources report that Intacom Telecom could be working in collaboration with Mossad. Relationship between Syria and Cyprus has deteriorated over the past few years due to a number of reasons and climaxed to a crisis last year when Syria decided to operate a ferry service between the ports of Lattakia and Farmagusta. It is worth mentioning that the attempt to implicate the Turkish army in the Israeli raid which occurred last year could have been intended to serve the interests of both Israelis and Cypriots.
A main figure in Intracom Telecom is said to be an Israeli with a Cypriot passport

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April 1st, 2008, 10:55 pm


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