News Round Up (13 February 2007)

Twin bus bombings in Lebanon today are a bid by anti-government elements to destabilize the country and part of a general campaign to intimidate Lebanon's Christian population, Samy Gemayel, brother of assassinated Lebanese politician Pierre Gemayel told WND in an interview. Samy Gemayel

The bus bombings come on the eve of the second anniversary of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, whose death has been widely blamed on Syria.

The attacks, which killed at least three people and injured dozens, occurred as the two buses passed through the Christian town of Ein Alaq, the ancestral home of Samy Gemayel's father, former president Amin Gemayel, and his uncle Bashir, also a former president.

"Previous Lebanese institutions have failed. Our current institutions have failed. We need new institutions and a new political formula so everyone feels they are fairly represented," Gemayel said.

Leaders in the Lebanese government said they believed today's attacks were timed to deter people from attending protests to mark the anniversary of Hariri's murder. Pro-government groups had planned a mass memorial for Hariri in Beirut's Martyrs Square for tomorrow.

Walid Jumblatt, leader of Lebanon's Druze community and head of the Progressive Socialist Party, blamed today's bus bombings on Syria.

"This is an attempt by Syria to intimidate and to sabotage the formation of a tribunal to try the murderers of Hariri," Jumblatt told WND.

Jumblatt, largely considered the most prominent anti-Syrian Lebanese politician, said he hoped the attacks would prompt the people of Lebanon to unite.

Lebanon has failed the past few months to approve the formation of a tribunal to try suspects for Hariri's murder due to opposition from Hezbollah, which has threatened to derail the government unless the militia gains more control of the parliament.

Stratfor concludes of the dual bus bombing:

The politically motivated attack likely is connected to the Syrian intelligence apparatus, which aims to instigate violent clashes between Lebanon's heavily armed factions in order to justify a Syrian intervention. Most of the victims were Greek Orthodox.

there are a number of players in Lebanon that would like to see the situation spiral out of control, namely Syria. The buses that were attacked originated in the hometown of Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr, who on Feb. 8 seized a truckload of explosives belonging to Hezbollah and containing more than 120 mortars, Katyusha rockets and scores of mortar shell cases. Murr's refusal to return the weapons to Hezbollah, which was transporting them from the Bekaa Valley to stockpile in Beirut's Shiite-controlled southern suburb, was an embarrassment for Hezbollah's leadership.

The perpetrators of the bus bombings likely are attempting to draw a connection between the confiscation of Hezbollah's weapons and the attack in order to draw the group into a violent conflict. The Bteghrine area in the upper Metn is part of the domain of influence of the Syrian Nationalist and Socialist Party, which has direct links to Syrian intelligence. While Hezbollah is unlikely to have carried out this attack against civilian targets — since doing so would bring political repercussions while it is in the midst of a heated protest campaign — members of Syria's intelligence apparatus would have an interest in skyrocketing tensions in Lebanon and ensuring that the Feb. 14 anniversary is marred by violence. Doing so would give Syria the justification to intervene in the affairs of its western neighbor to restore order and reclaim its military position in the country, which was lost in the aftermath of the al-Hariri assassination.

The biggest problem with pinning the bombing on Syria is that many SSNP members (Syria Social Nationalist Party) were killed, who have been loyal backers of Syria and the Lebanese opposition. As Stratfor admits, "Most of the victims were Greek Orthodox." Ali Qansouh, the head of SSNP announced that many of the people hurt on the buses were members of his party. Coming on the eve of the second anniversary of the Hariri killing, the timing is clearly political and designed to inflame demonstrators. Who authored this crime is not yet clear, although the inflamed political environment in Lebanon will ensure that both sides blame the other.

Analysis: Gemayel vying for presidency? CLAUDE SALHANI of UPI wonders what Amine Gemayel, a former Lebanese president, was doing at the White House last week, meeting with President Bush. He askes, "Is his visit to the White House an indication that the Bush administration might want to see him become president once again?" Maybe the US likes him better than either Aoun or Geagea? Salhani is on to something.

Palestinian gratitude to Syria for Hamas, Fatah conciliation: This story confirms Alex's argument in a previous comment section that the Hamas-PLO deal announced in Mecca had largely been worked out in Damascus the previous week. It also lends support to Alex's conjecture that there is a Syrian-Saudi dialogue taking place beneath the meetings. Read Alex's analysis here

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday sent special envoy Rohi Fattoh to brief the leadership of Syria on 'new developments' on the Palestinian arena, Syria's official news agency SANA reported.

Farouk al-Sharaa met Fattoh for discussions on the issue.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the Palestinian envoy expressed gratitude for the 'positive role' Syrian leadership played in achieving Palestinian conciliation. Syrian intervention had 'paved the way' for the Mecca accord, he told reporters.

Fattoh noted that leaders from the Palestinian factions would meet in Damascus at the end of the month as was agreed in the Cairo Declaration of March 2005.

Arab League Chief Amr Moussa has visited Damascus to persuade Syrian President Bashar Assad to take part in the next summit of the League, according to a very informed source. The next AL summit is scheduled to be held in Riyadh in March. Syria will demand a price of Saudi Arabia for Bashar's attendence. This story also suggests a Saudi-Syrian dialogue. As an unnamed Egyptian source told Michael Slackman of the NYT's recently, the AL meeting in Saudi during march will see an attempt to bring Syria back into Saudi Arabia's good graces. Egyptians are clearly hoping that Amr Moussa will be able to broker a Lebanon deal by then, which could be announced at the AL meeting. We will see. 

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday that Israel will have no choice but to part with the Golan Heights if it ever wants peace with neighboring Syria.

"The whole world knows that in any future negotiations, if they are renewed, we will have to give up on the entire Golan Heights," Ha'aretz quoted Olmert as telling the committee.

The remarks came as part of a heated argument with committee member and opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu.

Olmert charged that during his tenure as prime minister, Netanyahu had held negotiations with Syria based on the premise of ceding territory on the strategic plateau. Netanyahu denied that he had ever intended to comply with Syrian territorial demands.

At any rate, Olmert reiterated his opposition to renewing negotiations with Syria at this time, pointing out that Damascus is "interested in the industry of peace, rather than real peace."

Arabs try outreach to Israel, U.S. Jews, by Barbara Slavin in USA TODAY runs through the high-level meetings between Gulf figures and Israeli officials and American Jews, organized to cement relations between the new "moderate states" and allies of the US. Here are a few:

•Last month, Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's departing ambassador to the United States, attended a Washington reception sponsored by American Jewish organizations. The event honored a State Department diplomat appointed to combat anti-Semitism.

•Saudi national security adviser Bandar bin Sultan met privately with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jordan in September, said Daniel Ayalon, Israel's former ambassador to Washington. He said it was the highest-level Saudi-Israeli meeting he'd ever heard of.

•The United Arab Emirates has invited a delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. The conference, a 51-member umbrella group, is a strong supporter of Israel.

•Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres met the emir of Qatar in late January after taking part in a debate with Arab students there. It was the highest-level Israeli meeting with the Gulf nation since 1996, when Peres visited as prime minister.

Iraqi Refugees in Syria

The Syrian Embassy in Washington announced Monday that:

Contrary to what the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was told last Thursday, there has been no communication between any U.S. and Syrian officials regarding the Iraqi refugees’ situation in Syria.

Reuters reports: Iraq's government said on Tuesday it would close its borders with Syria and Iran and extend the hours of a night curfew in Baghdad under a U.S.- backed security plan to rein in violence in the capital. The measures were ordered by Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al- Maliki. Qanbar said the border with Iran and Syria would be closed for 72 hours. He did not say when the closures would take effect.

The Economist Intelligence Unit writes on 16 February 2007:

The exodus of Iraqis from the chaos and carnage in their country has had mixed effects on its neighbours

The Syrian government has said that its recent decision to impose restrictions on the entry of Iraqis was taken for both security and economic reasons. The statement suggested that the chief concern was the potentially damaging effects of the growing numbers of Iraqis in Syria on the country’s social harmony and economic well-being. The timing of the decision appears to reflect anxiety in Damascus about the impact of any worsening of the internal situation in Iraq, as the US prepares for its new security “surge” in Baghdad and the surrounding area, and in light of the looming storm over the question of Kirkuk.

The UN High Commission for Refugees estimates that 1.8m Iraqis have sought refuge in the region, with the largest concentrations in Syria and Jordan. In both countries, the influx of Iraqis has brought some benefits, as many of the refugees have come from relatively wealthy strata of Iraqi society, and their presence has acted as an economic stimulus and an important source of foreign exchange inflows. Syria, for example has recently revised upwards its real GDP growth figures for 2004 and 2005 (to 8.6% and 4.5% respectively) and has altered its current-account figures for those two years to show a surplus rather than a deficit through adding some US$2bn in to its export figures in both years. These exports are mainly from the non-oil private sector, and turn up in the accounts as originating from “other countries”. The possibility that these funds relate to transfers into Syria from Iraq cannot be ruled out.

However, the influx has also bred social tensions in both Syria and Jordan, as the Iraqis are widely blamed for stoking inflation, particularly in the housing market, and services such as education and health have been placed under increasing strain.

Syria’s response has been to impose a visa requirement on Iraqis entering Syria and on those already present in the country. The visas are valid for only 15 days, and may only be renewed once on presentation of documents including a valid rental contract. Otherwise, Iraqis must return home for 30 days before re-applying. For wealthier Iraqis already present in Syria, this should not be a serious impediment. However, the new system should help the Syrian authorities to put a cap on any further major influx of refugees, particularly in the event of an Arab-Kurdish flare-up in Kirkuk.

Turkish ructions

The Kurdish question is also of critical importance for Turkey, both for its own domestic political reasons and for trade. Turkey and Iraq have recently resumed border trade after a dispute arose in January over the issuing of permits for Turkish companies exporting petroleum products. The dispute concerned letters mailed to Turkish petroleum transportation companies by Iraq’s oil ministry instructing them to apply to officials in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north of the country for licences to continue exporting fuel into Iraq.

The matter was subsequently taken up by the Turkish foreign ministry, which sent letters to the Iraqi oil ministry and to Iraq’s State Oil Marketing Organisation (SOMO) warning them that Turkey did not recognise any authorities other than the administration in Baghdad.

The confrontation saw Turkey halt exports of petroleum products to Iraq, and the authorities on the Iraqi side responded by refusing to allow trucks carrying meat and poultry products to cross the border, and queues of up to 40 km built up towards the Habur border crossing between the two countries. The situation was only resolved following the receipt by Turkey’s Department of Foreign trade of a letter from SOMO, confirming that Turkish companies would not be obliged to obtain permits from officials of the semi-autonomous Kurdish controlled region in northern Iraq and could continue to export petroleum products under the existing system. However, even before the dispute, the number of Turkish tankers supplying Iraq had been in decline. SOMO has preferred to place orders with companies in Iran, Jordan and Syria, and even with Azeri companies shipping products via Turkey.

The tensions on the Turkish border are likely to be exacerbated if Iraq’s Kurds step up their efforts to incorporate Kirkuk into their region, as Turkey has made clear its strong objections to any such move.

The Oxford Business Group has this to say about the Syrian economy:

Syria: Balancing Act: Feb 12, 2007

Syria is looking to build on last year's achievements in shifting the country's economy away from centralised control toward a more open, market-based model, as the talk of senior officials is matched by new moves toward liberalisation.

In 2006, Syria took a number of significant steps toward opening up the economy, implementing measures designed to strengthen the role of the private sector, attract foreign investment and reduce the state's presence of the state in the day to day running of business.

These included sanctioning the opening of private insurance firms, liberalising banking laws to allow for the full entry of foreign banks into the market and forming partnerships with existing Syrian financial institutions. They also allowed for laying the groundwork for the opening of the Damascus Stock Exchange, due to start trading in mid-2007.

Syria has maintained this momentum into this year. At the end of January, President Bashar al-Assad signed two decrees replacing 16-year-old legislation governing foreign investment. The new regulations allow domestic and overseas investors to own or lease land for their activities.

The decrees also create provisions for the repatriation of profits, dividends and invested capital, as long as all tax liabilities have been fulfilled, and for foreign workers to remit up to 50% of their earnings. Another incentive for investors is the waiving of Customs duties on equipment imported for use in their businesses.

Having been criticised in the past for the slow pace at which officials approve applications to establish projects in Syria, the new regulations enact an assessment regime designed to streamline the process. Under the new decree, any project application is deemed to have been granted a licence to operate unless the newly created Syrian Investment Authority raises an objection within 15 days.

Another step was the managed float of the Syrian pound, On January 13, the central bank governor, Adib al-Mayaleh, announced a shift from the currency being pegged to the US dollar to a mixed basket weighted at 44% euros, 34% US dollars and 11% each for pounds sterling and the yen.

Al-Mayaleh also announced that the government was drafting laws to allow for the issuing of treasury bills and other financial instruments and the opening up of private currency exchange bureaux.

On February 1, Amir Hosni Lutfi, Syria's minister of economy and trade, said the state and the private sector had to work together to raise productivity and improve quality to be able to compete in Arab and international markets.

The government is working to put in place the required rules to move into the social market economy, he told the Annual Conference of the Banking and Insurance Workers Union.

However, while Syria appears committed to developing a market economy, Lutfi said the government had no intention of completely taking its hands off the levers. He said the state would maintain balances on the prices of commodities and basic materials to ensure that the shift does not negatively affect low-income earners.

Prime Minister Mohammad Naji Ottri reinforced this message of cautious progress on January 28 during a meeting with Syrian business leaders in Damascus.

We have adopted a social market economy program and we believe we are on the right road, he said. Some say go for a savage market economy. We won't but there will be no retreat either. The incremental approach is aimed at avoiding a backlash.

At the same meeting, the finance minister, Mohammad al-Hussein, said the economy had reached a new level through clear and transparent dialogue between the government and the private sector.

However, that dialogue also included criticism of the government by private sector representatives over the slow pace of reforms in some areas, failures to provide infrastructure in industrial zones, and the lack of recognised arbitration mechanisms.

Even this could be seen as an indicator of the growing strength of the private sector, with criticism of the state previously being restricted.

The government still has to balance the interests of the public sector and its own desire to open up the economy with political forces within the country and the need to protect low- income earners. Caught in the middle of conflicting interests, the government appears committed to moving forward, at its own pace.

Comments (89)


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51. Gibran said:

Norman,

You still didn’t answer my main questions:

Don’t you think the Lebanese themselves should decide their own fate? Or do you think they need your advise before doing so? So what is in it to you …etc?

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February 14th, 2007, 3:48 pm

 

52. Innocent_Criminal said:

Gibran,

Allow me to answer that question by saying GET REAL!!! you are so righteous when it comes to asking the people you disagree with to butt off your country. I have no problem with you’re reasoning but I also fully understand why the Syrian’s and Iranians will continue their attempt to empower their allies in Lebanon when their regional/international foes are doing the same. I dont hear you whining about american, french and saudi interference. I wonder why that might be? wait let me guess because they want lebanon to prosper and its people live happily. excuse me while I puke. I respect that you prefer western support instead of Arabic and Iranian one, it’s a choice people should be able to make. But you should also respect that other’s have opposite interests. You just cant make the cake and eat it.

And the day the lebanese PUBLIC are able to make up their own mind without being brainwashed by advertisement campaigns from either side of the camp the day I will support your cause 100%. My problem with you is that you are taking sides in a fight that doesn’t have a good or a bad side.

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February 14th, 2007, 4:08 pm

 

53. Gibran said:

Innocent_Criminal,
Yes I am Lebanese and I am 100% pro Lebanese. I also want the Syrians and the Iranians out of my country once and for all and that’s the will of the vast majority of the people of Lebanon. And I will not hide that.
You are also right. I will not whine about the other countries (US, France, SA, etc…) you mentioned. Because, these countries, unlike Syria and Iran, are not involved in acts of subversion against my country.
So, I will continue to tell any one who is not Lebanese to butt out of my country when he oversteps his limits such as proposing solutions to internal Lebanese political issues etc… such as in Norman’s case.
Do you have a problem with that?

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February 14th, 2007, 4:31 pm

 

54. Innocent_Criminal said:

do i have a problem with you being delusional? not if you’re fine with it. and do you mean the americans and saudis never practiced subversion in lebanon? or even worst wont do it if they feel its necessary?

as for Norman’s case this is a discussion forum and he can say whatever he feels like as long as he is not insulting you personally. Cause there are plenty of blogs that support your point of view and I can guide them to you if your lost. Do you have a problem with that?

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February 14th, 2007, 4:39 pm

 

55. Gibran said:

Innocent_Criminal,
I did not insult Norman personally either. And I have the right to say whatever I want.
Do you have a problem with that?

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February 14th, 2007, 4:44 pm

 

56. 3antar said:

Israel and US aren’t not involved in acts of subversion? I think you might be mistaken on this point Gibran. who bombed lebanon last summer man? what about arming and the phalangist (kata2eb) during the 80s?
the thing is, everyone knows Lebanese modern history only too well which makes it ever more frustrating for you. Fact is, Lebanese politics has been a battle ground for many govts let alone the sects within Lebanon.
I appreciate your over-protection but Syrians (all that i know and have come across in forums) want less to do with Lebanon these days more than ever before. Many want the border to be closed off as they’ve come to realize that lebanese public (or the ones that are hostile) can’t focus their criticism on the Syrian regime and find it easier to take it out on regular Syrians. specifically, manual workers in lebanon. Im sure you know all about that.

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February 14th, 2007, 4:55 pm

 

57. 3antar said:

erm.. if i understand correctly, Innocent Criminal is able to ban people from posting on here. so if he does have a problem with someone, then that someone has a problem. 😉

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February 14th, 2007, 4:58 pm

 

58. norman said:

Gibran , I was in Syria in 1976 during the civel war ,Gemayel was calling 14 to 16 year olds to arms ,the Lebanese were killing each other just because of their religous affiliation ,I don’t want Lebanon to get the same fate again just so some politecian could become presidents or prime minstes ,look again at what s Gemayel said ,more representive insitutions ,my cousins had to leave Lebanon at that time to avoid th war,please learn from histery and do not be pushed into a war only Lebanon’s enemies will benifit from.and that is not Syria.

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February 14th, 2007, 5:02 pm

 

59. Gibran said:

Norman,
Thanks for your concerns. But we, the Lebanese, do not need your input to solve our problems. So allow me once again to ask you to butt out.

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February 14th, 2007, 5:06 pm

 

60. Innocent_Criminal said:

Gibran,

I never accused you of insulting anyone. but you said “So, I will continue to tell any one who is not Lebanese to butt out of my country when he oversteps his limits such as proposing solutions to internal Lebanese political issues etc… such as in Norman’s case.” and what I said is he should feel free to say/propose anything he likes just like you can disagree and try to prove him wrong.

3antar/Saladin/SSNP,
That is absolutely not the case. People argue and disagree all the time but G had called Alex names multiple of times and that was the problem. Even though I am a moderator, I have never deleted a message just cause I disagreed with it. otherwise this forum would have been a lot emptier 😉

anyways back to the topic did anyone here what Junblatt said about the Syrian president? the man has lost it, i am not sure what made him go nuts like that but read it here. http://www.albawaba.com/ar/countries/Lebanon/260177

and here is the first Syrian response. http://www.champress.net/?page=show_det&id=14823

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February 14th, 2007, 5:22 pm

 

61. Gibran said:

Very good Innocent_Criminal
The Lebanese are the ones most concerned about their problems. Any one who feels free to propose solutions to them must understand that the Lebanese have to feel very very free with an absolute right to tell him/her to butt out.
I wouldn’t have a problem with a Syrian telling me to butt out if I start proposing solutions to Syrian problems.
Is there a problem with that?

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February 14th, 2007, 5:31 pm

 

62. Innocent_Criminal said:

ok i dont want to have this discussion for too long. But to put it very plainly, anyone can propose whatever the hell they like about anything else and thats it. feel free to say whatever you want about Syrian problems cause i am sure the opposite will happen.

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February 14th, 2007, 5:41 pm

 

63. EHSANI2 said:

Gibran,

Your dream of an independent Lebanon from Syrian influence is understandable. I would imagine that you also want your country to be independent from others including Israel, Iran, Saudi, France and the U.S.

Since Syria has been the most dominant of the above players over the past four decades, your particular concern about this relationship is logical.

However, countries do not usually gain national security and independence by asking its neighbors to “buzz off”.

Lebanon is a beautiful country but a sadly weak one.

Unless its government and citizens can find the resources to strengthen its central authority and offer a credible national security to its citizens, outsiders will find it hard to resist the temptation to get involved in its internal and external policies.

I suspect that such efforts will prove unsuccessful over time. Instead, what Lebanon will end up doing is to outsource its national security to one of the more powerful players above. What we have seen recently is that Syria lost this outsourcing contract to the U.S/France/KSA camp. You clearly seem rather pleased with this changing of the guard.

It could well be the case that the new players will prove a better partner for Lebanon.

However, the U.S/France and KSA live far. At least two players of this team are governed democratically which means that their leaders will experience high turnover. At the present time, I think that the Lebanese citizens who want to be free of Syria are in good shape.

Regrettably for you and them however, Syria is closer and its leadership is close to permanent in nature. This does not bode well for your Lebanon in the long run.

I am afraid calls for Syria to buzz off will not do the trick. It takes more than that to defend a nation.

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February 14th, 2007, 6:09 pm

 

64. Alex said:

Gibran Habibi,

Please accept it that in this blog, Syrians and non Syrians will continue to discuss and propose solutions to Lebanese, Saudi, American, and Somali problems. I hope we can manage without the “butt out” because it serves no practical purpose and it is bad language.

One can not force his rules and regulations on the majority here … democracy no?

If we were to follow your logic then we would be asking your favorite newspapers such as Hariri’s Al-Mustaqbal to “butt out” of discussing Syrian affairs … did you ever notice the the Saudi Asharq Al-Awsat refuses to crticize any Arab leader, but when it comes to Syria you can be sure they will have more thatn one editorial per week criticizing the Syrians for their internal plus their regional policies, and giving them advice on how to reform and to change everything …

So please don’t take too much of your time and everyone’s time.

Thanks IC … I have an idea: instead of deleting G’s comments like “Alex you are so stupid” edit them to “Bashar el-Assad is my hero” … and “I love Syria”.

That might work.

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February 14th, 2007, 6:10 pm

 

65. majedkhaldoun said:

I grew up in Lebanon and moved to syria in the 50s,we always felt that lebanon is part of syria,and that france divided us,against our will,to create christian country(lebanon),Mr. Eddeh said that when Kalimaso was drawing the border, he wanted to include damascus as part of Lebanon, that is when Eddeh interfered and said please do not, Damascus has many musslems,I still have many cousins in Lebanon,and have properties in lebanon,Gibran you represent part of Lebanon,but there are 3 million lebanese who feel different from you,they do not want peace with Isreal who keep on attacking lebanon,unlike you who want peace with Isreal as you said it,they want to have good,excellent relation with Syria, while you want to be very hostile to syria,I think you must agree that many lebanese feel different from you, and that you only speak for 35% of lebanese

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February 14th, 2007, 6:17 pm

 

66. 3antar said:

Innocent_Criminal,
im glad you follow such policy, as this is what keeps the forum as colourful as it is.;)

As for Gibran my friend, you do propose solutions to Syrian problems… perhaps you don’t realize it. no one bothers to tell you to butt out as this is the whole point of blogs such as this. you’re free to say what you want when you want within the limits.

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February 14th, 2007, 6:17 pm

 

67. Alex said:

I forgot if I already posted this excellent post by Rime Allaf. Forgive me if I did.

Beggars on Iraq, choosers with Syria

Monday, February 12, 2007, 19:42
When the invasion of Iraq was being spin doctored in American and British media (remember WMDs?) and some commentators warned of a humanitarian and refugee catastrophe, they were ridiculed by the warmongers already on a high from the adrenalin of the imminent attack, labeling any sane person pointing to the folly of the enterprise “Saddam supporter.” Why were these anti-war kill-joys preventing Iraqis from liberation, wondered the neocon clan (which came to include the British Labour Party, to the frustration of the Tories who were robbed of the extreme right-wing position by Blair and who couldn’t possibly turn the opposite way)? The whole doom domino concept (war-chaos-refugees-etc.) was nonsense, we were told; Iraq would be liberated, WMDs would be found, democracy would be installed, and the only domino theory would be the one spreading happiness and justice for all. That was before the “birth pangs” theory of course.

Fast forward four years; the refugee catastrophe has exploded, and the exodus of some 2 million people (according to the UN) was most certainly not an “unforeseen” by-product of the invasion, as some media agencies with short memories would have us think. After the US and Britain embarked on this illegal, immoral and inhumane war against the country and the people of Iraq, the hope remaining in Pandora’s box has not been sufficient for many Iraqis who have fled in despair to neighboring countries.

There are around 1 million such refugees alone in Syria, facing the inevitable hardship of all refugees and a difficult period of readjustment. Unintentionally, they are simultaneously making life difficult for a good number of Syrians as well, who have suddenly seen property prices sky rocket (for rentals and sales), general inflation increase rapidly, and a new height of overcrowding in the big cities. Jaramana alone, a suburb of Damascus, has practically become an Iraqi quarter where house prices are similar to those in Damascus. According to most accounts, Syrian authorities have behaved in an exemplary manner with the refugees, treating them with compassion and affording them the same social services (including health and education) to which Syrians have access.

By way of example, “moderate” and major US ally Saudi Arabia, in contrast, is building a fence to keep out undesirable Iraqis, and other “moderate” and major US ally Jordan has been treating Iraqi refugees quite badly, denying them healthcare and education, and letting live the exploited life of illegal aliens. With its generosity applauded by the head of UNHCR, Syria finds itself in the other, the “right” extreme here. But after a long period of laissez-faire, continuing to treat all Arab nationals equally, and not as foreigners needing visas, Syrian authorities have begun to apply visa restrictions to try to manage a situation that is spiralling out of control. Authorities have seemingly promised that Iraqis would not be deported or turned back, as they are in Jordan, but clearly the open-arms, no questions asked treatment is going to be regulated.

There is no doubt that the blame for this catastrophe lays squarely at the feet of the US and Britain, which is why it has actually become funny (even for regime critics) to hear officials from these two countries describe Syria as a negative force in the region, given that anything the Syrian regime actually does – or even anything it is allegedly doing – really can’t compare with the unprecedented devastation brought to us courtesy of the Anglo-American enterprise. Really, look who’s talking.

Be that as it may, whether Syria is negative, positive or neutral, the Bush administration nevertheless seems to have no choice but to liaise with this force, apparently, for lo and behold, the American Secretary of State has now declared that she has authorized talks with Syria about the refugee crisis. Authorized. In other words, Syria is allowed to help America solve its mess, and permitted to talk to its chargé d’affaires in Damascus towards that end. What an honor. Let the appreciation ceremony begin.

Washington’s infuriatingly condescending attitude is doing nothing to endear it to Syrians, and should technically endear it equally little to the Syrian regime being approached for help. Unfortunately, the likelihood of the latter hurriedly grabbing the opportunity to make proper contact on an official level is high, regardless of the official rhetoric. However, even while recognizing the reality of a unipolar world where most issues are dictated by the agenda of the superpower (who, in addition, currently happens to be our next-door neighbor), it is intolerable to imagine that Syrian citizens who have been affected directly by the war on Iraq should be grateful to America for granting them the privilege of simply talking – talking to help that same America try to manoeuver out of the refugee problem it has created.

It should be made absolutely clear, officially that is, that Syria is helping Iraqi refugees regardless of – and not because of – America’s “authorization,” and that the US had better start taking responsibility for its actions, which are having a huge impact on the life of Syrians (let alone Iraqis). Like it or not, Faruq Shara’a was right when he claimed that the influx of refugees had “imposed heavy economic, social and security burdens on Syria.” The financial costs for the refugee crisis must be borne by the invaders and the occupiers alone, as they have caused this mess in the first place.

Regrettably, even when saying some of the right things, some media (this one being just an example) can’t help but being patronizing about Syria even as they praise its actions with refugees. I don’t know about my fellow Syrians, but frankly, I find this is all getting a bit tiring, this old record of pro-terrorism, radical, negative, etc. Especially when it comes from those who used to sing the praises of the regime (yes, it’s a digression, but I mean the Lebanese political leaders, who treat their own refugees like dirt) while Syrian civil society activists were being harassed. Unlike others, Syrians didn’t wait for involvement or influence from anyone outside Syria to speak whenever they could, at their own risk. So when Syrians (yes, even the regime) do something good, like the regime has actually proved with the Iraqi refugees, to whom it even allowed the luxury of voting freely and choosing from dozens of candidates (I leave you to absord the irony which we’ve already covered in this blog), or when the Syrian people fling open their homes, their wallets and their hearts to the tens of thousands of Lebanese refugees escaping the Israeli war machine, let’s give credit where credit is due without the “but” part. It wouldn’t hurt to be treated like the other problem makers in the area – even the “moderate” ones – every now and then.

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February 14th, 2007, 6:18 pm

 

68. 3antar said:

وليد جنبلاط حمار المختارة وكلب فيلتمان إن حكى – بقلم .عمار مغني
that was hilarious…. that article was rather creatively composed.

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February 14th, 2007, 6:52 pm

 

69. norman said:

Thanks for your support ,it just hurts me to see Lebanon going down the road of a civel war just so some people keep their hold on powe ,we should all recognize that improving the lives of the people is what is important.

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February 14th, 2007, 7:10 pm

 

70. norman said:

this should make every Syrian proud,

http://syria-news.com/readnews.php?sy_seq=48252

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February 14th, 2007, 7:46 pm

 

71. Alex said:

interesting part from that crazy champress Junblat article

تلك الغرفة التي تفبرك الأخبار عن طريق فريق مروان حمادة وفارس خشان وهاني حمود ثم تنشرها في ” السياسة ” الكويتية والرأي العام الكويتية عبر عميلهم المأجور ” علي الرز ” ثم يعيد إعلام السعودية ترديد تلك الأكاذيب والفبركات بوصفها حقائق دامغة .

The owner of champress Ali Jamalo used to write a column in the Saudi Al-sharq alawsat but they seem to have asked him to not do that anymore. Yet, they still publish the column by Dr. Buthaina Shabaan although she is not mentioning Syria for the past year in her columns … she writes about Palestine and Iraq … no Syria.

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February 14th, 2007, 7:50 pm

 

72. Gibran said:

From among all the responses that followed my exchange with Innocent_Criminal, I find EHSANI’s to be the most logical. Sorry Alex, you keep regurgitating, mostly illogical and nonsensical. Majed, I’m also sorry it’s been some 100 hundred years since that history of Klimanso and it is time to move on. You and your fellow Syrians should start getting used to the reality that we have evolved into two different nations in two independent states. Once again Norman thanks for your deep concerns but your proposal will not have many takers among us Lebanese.

Going back to EHSANI, there is one hole in your presentation that I must plug. Lebanon is not in the business of tendering its security to be sub-contracted to any other power – regional or otherwise. We welcome the support of major western powers, currently taking place, particularly in the area of equipping our national army. For the size of our country, we have an ample size army (80,000 men), plus well trained security forces (20000 men) to take care of our own security issues. That is 10 soldiers per Sq. Km compared to Syria’s 2.77 soldiers per Sq. Km. If need be, we have enough men to expand the national army and security forces; but I don’t foresee a need at the moment.

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February 14th, 2007, 8:21 pm

 

73. 3antar said:

marginally off topic, and am not doubting here, but only question i have (since there are such experts in lebanese military statistics), is where were these 100,000 men last summer? how come their presence was never mentioned or even felt? I’m sure they were there somewhere.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lebanese_Armed_Forces

i was just wondering about this fact last summer during the israeli bombardment. isn’t there any defence procedures or attempt to repel an attack of that nature? i’m genuinely curious.

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February 14th, 2007, 9:03 pm

 

74. EHSANI2 said:

Gibran,

Surely, you must agree that what changed the facts on the grounds recently was not the size of the Lebanese army. Niether was it the bravery of the citizens. Instead, it was the fact that America had decided to get more explicitly involved recently. You may not call it an outsourcing of national security but it de facto is just that. May be we can call it “virtual outsourcing”?

The Syrian army decided to pull out because it got the message from Washington that it was a sensible thing to do. In the previous 30 years, and prior to the new U.S. involvement, no amount of bravery or army size worked to diminish Syria’s heavy-handed influence.

I stick to my point that Lebanon cannot survive without outsourcing its security to one of the players that I listed (virtual or official)

Were the U.S. and France to send a hint that they are no longer interested in Lebanon any longer, the facts on the ground will change overnight.

For one thing, I can guarantee you that Jumblat’s next speech cannot possibly match the one he offered today.

Lebanon is part of this complicated and brutal chess game in the Middle East. As much as it would be nice to do in theory, it cannot possible live as an island and an oasis immune from the chaos around it.

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February 14th, 2007, 9:13 pm

 

75. Gibran said:

3antar, you know as well as any one else that what triggered Israel’s attack on Lebanon last summer was a virtual unilateral declaration of war by Hezbollah on Israel. You also know that Syrian and Iranian agendas were behind Hezbollah’s action. There was no interest for Lebanon in that war whatsoever.
Yet, the government of Lebanon used its resources effectively to achieve a ceasefire through the UN which created a Hezbollah free zone in the south. If you recall the circumstances, it was the Lebanese government’s decision to send the Lebanese army to the south which eventually forced the hand of the UN Security Council to vote and approve a ceasefire.
EHSANI, I disagree with what you said. The Syrian army did not leave Lebanon voluntarily nor was Syria convinced by the US that it is the sensible thing to do. It was first the tremendous pressure of the people of Lebanon who finally stood up and decided it is enough. If you may recall in 2005 ‘enough’ was the catch word of all the protests. The US as well as Arab and other western nations basically gave Syria an ultimatum to withdraw. If you may recall, Assad’s last visit to Riyad took place around April/May 2005. He did not leave the airport after meeting the king. The message was brief and delivered in the airport and he took the plane back. There were no ceremonies, no honorary protocols or anything. He was given a week to get out of Lebanon. As for the 30 year Syrian presence in Lebanon, I would only say one thing I heard from a Tripoli man I met in March 2005: Hafez once said “if each Syrian soldier who served in Lebanon would make one Lebanese friend, then there would have been no Lebanon.” I cannot confirm or deny Hafez statement as I never witnessed any of the conflicts during the last 30 years – I was always outside the country. Sorry my friend, if you do not understand the amount of resentment the Lebanese have against the Syrian regime, then this whole exchange is useless. In short, clocks will not turn back whether France, US or anyone else show more or less interest in our country. It is the will of the people of Lebanon to be free and independent which will matter in the end.

It would have been the sensible thing for Syria to withdraw in accordance with the Taef agreement. Had Syria fulfilled its obligations under that agreement, I would say everyone would be happy at this moment in time. In particular Syria’s credibility in front of the world would be in a much better shape than what it is at this moment. I haven’t read Jonblatt’s speech yet. I will respond to you on that after doing so and find it necessary.

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February 14th, 2007, 9:50 pm

 

76. Ammad said:

The Syria regime is behind the assasination of Lebanese Former prime minister, every one acknowledge that syrian intelligence are still present in Lebanon and they are assassinating anti syrian politicans, the syrians should oppose their regime, syrian regime is nothing but an evil regime

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February 14th, 2007, 10:13 pm

 

77. 3antar said:

yes Gibran, i am familiar with what triggered the war, in terms of short term causes and blitzkrieg interpretation. sure, we cannot escape the fact that Hizbullah kidnapped two israeli soldiers ect. ect.. but thats not what i’m after.

my point is, regardless of what caused the war, and despite the fact that the Lebanese govt didnt have interest in the war, but surely it had the right to defend itself rather than watch its city get demolished together with its airports. Israel had no “interest” in destroying lebanon either, granted they wanted to take out Hizbullah, YET they effectively went on to bomb “Lebanon”.

on the other hand, i half agree with you that Syria didnt leave voluntarily, they did however leave due to political pressures. probably US imposed pressures, directly or indirectly (via KSA). I also dont believe KSA is capable of acting in such matters out of their own initiative. IF the assad regime could stay 30 years in Lebanon, they could have stayed another 30 years with ease if they were allowed to do so. they were given the green light first time round, and eventually told to end their presence by the same people. Pressures from mass gatherings are of little significance to the regime.

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February 14th, 2007, 11:05 pm

 
 

79. Ford Prefect said:

I am still surprised (even amused) by Gibran’s generalizations of the Lebanese street. Statement like ” …if you do not understand the amount of resentment the Lebanese have against the Syrian regime, then this whole exchange is useless,” begs the question: which Lebanese is Gibran referring to? It is not a secret that Lebanon today is profoundly divided along sectarian, social, and political cleavages. The current “elected government” of Lebanon was appointed by an illegitimate president under a Syrian-manufactured election law to guarantee a certain axis of pro-Syrian (Hariri,Jumblatt, and Birri) the winning seats in parliament while denying others a real voice.
It is clear that Lebanon today is broken, dysfunctional, and has yet to develop into a nation. Gibran and any patriotic Lebanese should not take solace and comfort by these facts. Rather than diverting the subject and blaming Syria for everything that hurts Lebanon (in the 70’s it was the Palestinians), Lebanese should take a hard look at the mirror. What you see is not what you think it is. Nothing has changed since September 1, 1920: the Lebanese national identity has yet to move a single step forward. Disputing this fact is similar to an alcoholic denying his drinking problem.

Syria is juicy source of material for to rally support for the current “elected” government. And why not, the US used the same tactics to build support for its case against Iraq. Facts remain, however: Lebanon is socially and politically broken – Syria not withstanding. Time to call a spade a spade.

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February 14th, 2007, 11:18 pm

 

80. EHSANI2 said:

Gibran,

I think that you made my point. Your remarks on the external influences on Bashar, which resulted in the ultimate decision to leave, is something we agree on. You seem to believe that the reaction of the Lebanese citizens was also very critical. There is no question that that a large percentage of the Lebanese population was fed up with Syria’s heavy-handed tactics in their country. As 3Antar said, this would not have mattered to Damascus had it not been for the external pressures.

Let me say that I also happened to believe that Damascus had erred with regards to their policy in Lebanon. Damascus was under the impression that the international community had turned a blind eye to their conduct in Lebanon (which they did) and for good. Having an influence over a country is one thing but owning it is another matter. Syria thought that it could treat Lebanon as an extension of its own. When Hariri thought that he had the influence and connections to undo this forced marriage, Damascus made the decision that the two countries cannot have two bosses. Only one boss has long been the mantra.

The leadership in Damascus now faces its most challenging period since 1970. As we see on this forum and elsewhere, the citizens of these two countries feel a heightened sense of nationalism and disdain for the other side.

Syrians need to respect the fact that Lebanon is an independent country with its unique culture and political system (some if not many may not agree with me). Those calling for Lebanon to be back as part of Syria seem to want to ignore the realities on the ground. On the other hand, the Lebanese people need to realize that they live next to 20 million Syrians who are doubling in numbers every 22 years. Whether they like it or not, their country cannot insulate itself from what goes on next door.

I fear that the current politicians of the two countries have reached a point of no return. Having read Jumblat’s speech today, one wonders how the two camps can ever coexist again. Jumblat sure feels that the boss in Damascus cannot be holding office for too long. Conversely, he could be trying his hand in the art of Kamikaze.

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February 14th, 2007, 11:24 pm

 

81. Ford Prefect said:

Ammad,
Yes, we know. We have been hearing this line for the past two years on Future TV. Where have you been, dude?

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February 14th, 2007, 11:24 pm

 

82. Ford Prefect said:

Ehsani,
You make an excellent point. Yes, Syria’s behavior in Lebanon during Hafez rein was despicable and revolting. One of the biggest mistake by the late Hafez was delegating the Lebanon file to the dirtiest and most corrupt Syrians around: Khaddam, Shihabi, and Kanaan. What this “axis of evil” did in Lebanon repulsed, at the time, more Syrians than Lebanese, unfortunately. One of Syria’s colossal mistakes in Lebanon is forcing Hariri on Lebanon regardless of what the Lebanese people thought of him. I remember the days in the 90’s when, under Hariri’s government, Lebanese and Syrian voices against the Syrian presence were suppressed and silenced. I am sure Gibran can provide many vivid examples of these times. Further, it is worthy to note how Mr. Jumblatt, during the rein of Hafez, was Syria’s spokesman in Lebanon. How sad to notice that Lebanese have such a short and selective memory.

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February 14th, 2007, 11:35 pm

 

83. Akbar Palace said:

Ford Prefect said:

“Yes, Syria’s behavior in Lebanon during Hafez rein was despicable and revolting.”

So why didn’t the Arab League issue a condemnation at the US? Or is that only reserved for Zionists?

Ammad said:

“The Syria regime is behind the assasination of Lebanese Former prime minister, every one acknowledge that syrian intelligence are still present in Lebanon and they are assassinating anti syrian politicans, the syrians should oppose their regime, syrian regime is nothing but an evil regime.”

Zzzzzzz. If you can rant and rave about “one thing”, then go rant and rave about this.

Gibran –

Thanks again for your efforts.

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February 15th, 2007, 12:42 am

 

84. Gibran said:

3antar,
If I were member of Lebanese government in the summer, I would exactly do and support what the government did. I would also have clear conscience that I did the appropriate thing to defend my country.

EHSANI
Is this what upset you most in Jonblatt’s speech:

واتسمت كلمة جنبلاط بأعنف حملة له على النظام السوري والرئيس بشار الاسد شخصيا اذ رشقه بنعوت حادة قائلا “يا طاغية دمشق، يا أفعى هربت منها الافاعي، يا حوتا لفظته البحار، يا وحشا من وحوش البراري، يا مخلوقا من أنصاف الرجال، يا منتجا اسرائيليا على أشلاء الجنوب”! ???

I didn’t find the whole speech yet but I found this section only so far. I would say he may have outdone Bashar finally. He may have also shown some eloquence in Arabic characteristic of the Druze.

As for your other argument about how Syria was forced out of Lebanon I’d say: show the world half the size of the Lebanese protesters on the streets of Damascus seeking the overthrow of Bashar and you will get double (may be tenfold) the amount of international support that Lebanon got to help Syria in its current debacle.

FP
Could you please explain your statements with examples : “One of Syria’s colossal mistakes in Lebanon is forcing Hariri on Lebanon regardless of what the Lebanese people thought of him.”?

Akbar,
Do you think it is worth the effort after all? I mean arguing with ideologues (I’m not including every one in this term)?

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February 15th, 2007, 1:20 am

 

85. norman said:

People and countries will continue to interfere in Lebanon as long as the Lebanese are devided on what kind of country they want for their children , as a matter of Lebanon and Syria ,I do not think there are many Syrians who want anything to do with Lebanon ,I think that the Lebanese think more of themleves than the Syrians think of Lebanon , Lebanon is a liabelity more than a plus to Syria.as it does not offer anything more than what Syria has.

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February 15th, 2007, 2:03 am

 

86. Gibran said:

Glad to read what you wrote Norman. It wasn’t in vain after all. But I’d kindly ask you to be less judgmental about Lebanese love to their homeland as well as less vocal about Syrians’ concerns about the well being of Lebanon. I hope more of your fellow Syrians think of Lebanon as a liability. That’s perhaps a fair outcome of the debate.

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February 15th, 2007, 2:10 am

 

87. 3antar said:

Gibran,
I’m let down and disappointed with your response. I actually thought you were a true patriot. under the circumstances, i would put aside who caused what or why and concentrated on repelling the massacre of my people and destruction of my country. But to sit there and watch my country being bombed to the stone age, (regardless of who is doing it) and do nothing other than morally support the government while it pleads for seize fire or watch the prime minister shedding tears, is murder. Falls under a very typical instrumental form of reasoning. Taking orders and watch the devestating consequences. Are you more concerned in accusing someone than halting the destruction?

Someone on this blog also mentioned Jumblats alliance with Damascus decades ago which is a fact. not something we want to acknowledge I suppose.
Not to mention, Geagea being a convicted murderer. Thats also water under the bridge. True patriotism involves self critique as well as looking outside. otherwise its blind social nationalism.

http://www.syriapath.com/blog

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February 15th, 2007, 12:08 pm

 

88. RaymonWazerri said:

Hey,
I love what you’e doing!
Don’t ever change and best of luck.

Raymon W.

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April 21st, 2007, 12:54 am

 

89. abou el mot said:

Our current state is no longer viable:
we must remain true to our past and to the sacrifies of our martyrs who have battled and lost their lives in defense of freedom and peace in Lebanon.
The pluralism of our society is a gift, and history proved to us that no dominant culture can impose its orientations on the others…
In order to live in peace and prosperity, we have to build a State that protects its various cultural entities, organizing harmonious relation between them:
The solution is in a new constitution formula, that combines the divergent interests of each lebanese culture, in one unique, united and powerful state!
“7allna ntawwir el nizam”

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January 4th, 2009, 10:24 pm

 

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