News Round Up (13 June 2007) - Syria Comment

News Round Up (13 June 2007)

Sarkozy Invites Hizbullah and Begins "Engaging" Syria. From Jerusalem Post (Thanks K)

In a significant diplomatic shift, French President Nicolas Sarkozy will invite Hizbullah to take part in a conference on Lebanon scheduled for later this month in Paris, and begin "engaging" Syria, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

New French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has invited delegates from across Lebanon's political and religious divide to the conference aimed at quelling Lebanon's violence and political strife.

In another sign that France has decided to step up its involvement in the Middle East, Sarkozy is to meet Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Paris on Tuesday.

Regarding Syria, diplomatic sources in Jerusalem said France had let Damascus know it was willing to reengage with it, but that it would not in any way back down from its firm support for an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri, or from its demand that Damascus "keep its hands off" of Lebanon.

"The tribunal is established and is behind us," a senior French Foreign Ministry official told the Post from Paris. "There is an understanding between the US and the UN Security Council. The tribunal proposal has passed, in the form of Resolution 1757, so the question will not be raised between us and Hizbullah, or with anyone else."

Hariri and 22 others were killed by a bomb attack in Beirut that many believe was orchestrated by the Syrians. Sources in Jerusalem said there was a great deal of concern among Syrian officials close to President Bashar Assad that they would be implicated by the tribunal, and that Assad was very keen on getting the tribunal squashed.

Hariri was a close friend of then-French president Jacques Chirac, and his assassination put Franco-Syrian relations into a deep freeze.

The view in Jerusalem is that Sarkozy wants to bring about a gradual thaw in the ties, in order to play the "honest broker" and stabilize Lebanon. The conference in Paris, according to this assessment, is part of this effort.
The invitation to Hizbullah largely puts an end to hopes articulated in Jerusalem after Sarkozy's election victory that he might be persuaded to place Hizbullah on Europe's list of terrorist organizations, a position that was opposed by Chirac.

"The objective is to restore confidence between parties. We have the opportunity to end the conflict, and not talking to them [Hizbullah] would mean neglecting the Lebanese political situation, where Hizbullah is an important component," the French Foreign Ministry official said. The official also said that even though the "guest list" had yet to be finalized, Hizbullah would definitely be there and involved in the negotiations.

Asked if the France was concerned about international criticism for inviting Hizbullah, which Israel, the US and a number of other countries consider a terrorist organization, the official said the priority was Lebanon's stability, not France's image.

Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said they were not surprised by the invitation to Hizbullah, and that it must be seen within the context of Paris's decision to invite all the major players in Lebanon to the conference.

Lebanon has faced a political deadlock since November, when six pro-Syrian ministers quit the cabinet, charging it was violating the power-sharing arrangements drawn up after the 1975-90 civil war. The current wave of violence between Fatah al-Islam, a Palestinian group with suspected al-Qaida and Syrian ties, and the Lebanese army has not let up since it began on May 20.
France's readiness to engage Hizbullah politically was foreshadowed by remarks Sarkozy made to the Post in a pre-election interview, when he said it would be counterproductive to place Hizbullah on the EU's terrorist list, but that if Hizbullah wanted to be treated as "the political party that it claims to be, then they must act us such."

France, along with other EU nations such as Sweden, Greece and Spain, have long argued against placing the Islamist organization on the list, saying that it also has a legitimate political component, and that it would be a mistake to delegitimize a movement that provides political representation for a large and growing segment of Lebanon's population.

"We are for the disarmament of Hizbullah. We were the first to support UN Security Council Resolution 1559, and for years we have been trying to turn them into a purely political entity," the French official added. Resolution 1559 called, among other things, for Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon and the disarmament of the armed militias there.

Former French ambassador to Syria Jean-Claude Cousseran organized the Paris conference after meeting with several Lebanese political figures in Beirut last week.

Both Lebanon Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's Future Movements party and Hizbullah welcomed the French proposal. Hizbullah MP Hassan Hobballah told the Lebanese press, "We will deal positively with any initiative from any friendly or brotherly state that attempts to help Lebanon out of its crisis," but stressed that the solution to the unrest in the country must be based on the participation of all Lebanese political groups.

Hizbullah has 13 deputies in the Lebanese Parliament, but is widely seen as a rogue faction trying to take over the legislature from within. The Hizbullah lawmakers have blasted Saniora's government for not granting them important cabinet positions, and have accused the government of trying to squeeze them out.

Among those expected to attend the Paris conference will be representatives from pro-Syria Michel Aoun's opposition Free Patriotic Movement, who indicated at a meeting with Kouchner in Paris on May 28 that he would respond favorably to the proposal, as well as a delegation representing pro-Syria Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

Ayman Abdel Nour, publisher of the All4Syria Bulletin, announces the launch of a new website, All4Syria (www.all4syria.org), a valuable portal of independent news emanating from inside Syria.

Asma Assad, the British-born wife of Syrian President Bashar al Assad speaks about her project to empower rural communities to BBC's  Lyse Doucet. (5 Minutes)

Counter-terrorism analysts Bilal Y. Saab and Magnus Ranstorp, from the Brookings Institution and the Swedish National Defence College respectively, have just released a study on the threat that al-Qaeda poses to the strengthened United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

T_Desco adds these links:

Reports outline details of alleged terror plot

‘Operation 577′ called for large bombings, assassinations of key political and religious figures

Fatah al-Islam militants were planning a string of terrorist attacks throughout Lebanon, including attacks on UN offices, large-scale bombings and assassinations, in a plot known as “Operation 577″ which was revealed during interrogations of arrested Fatah al-Islam members, London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat said on Monday.

Citing Lebanese security sources, Al-Hayat said the goal of the plot was to lay the foundation for an “all-Sunni emirate in North Lebanon.”

Sources told the newspaper that Al-Qaeda fighters from Iraq made their way to Lebanon through Syria and vowed to conduct a series of terrorist attacks across Lebanon, while Fatah al-Islam leader Shaker Youssef al-Abssi pursued his expansion plans in the North.

The pan-Arab daily said while Abssi counted on Al-Qaeda mercenaries to join the fight on his side, those same members “let down” Abssi, “because they did not show any sort of cooperation during the continuing fighting between the army and Fatah al-Islam.”

Al-Hayat added testimonies of arrested Fatah al-Islam fighters revealed Abssi’s intention to launch more attacks against the army which would have a “larger and more violent scope.”

Testimonies of fighters made available to Al-Hayat showed that Abssi’s plan was “doomed to failure because of several factors on the Lebanese as well as Palestinian levels.”

The same testimonies said groups such as Hizbullah and Amal, in addition to secular Palestinian factions such as Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, “would not tolerate movements such as Fatah al-Islam expanding and invading their territories.”

Local daily Al-Mustaqbal, which is owned by the Hariri family, said Operation 577 aimed “in its preliminary stages” to hit Christian targets.

The group has been blamed for twin bus bombings in Ain Alaq in February which killed three people and wounded more than 20 others.

The operation also plotted the assassinations of Christian political and religious figures such as Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, MP Butros Harb – a candidate for the presidency – and March 14 Forces MP Hadi Hobeish, Al-Mustaqbal said.

The plot also included attacks on the UN headquarters in Beirut, as well as on the defense and interior ministries and the Phoenicia InterContinental Hotel, the daily said.

Al-Mustaqbal also said that the Islamist group “planned to launch attacks on the Chekka tunnel linking Beirut to Tripoli, with the aim of cutting off the North and proclaiming an Islamic state there.”

Later on Monday, judiciary sources told The Daily Star that Military Investigative Magistrate Judge Rasheed Mezher questioned 11 Fatah al-Islam suspects Monday after having interviewed nine last week. During preliminary investigations, suspects said the “mastermind” of the terror operation was a Lebanese citizen who fled to Syria after the Nahr al-Bared clashes erupted.

The Central News Agency reported Monday that various diplomatic missions in Lebanon “likely to constitute easy targets for terrorist attacks,” such as Western embassies and UN centers, “have doubled security measures in their surroundings.”
The Daily Star, Al-Mustaqbal

“Citing ministerial sources, An Nahar said Ahmed Merhi, a Lebanese recently detained in Ashrafiyeh, had confessed that he was a “servant” and that he had been receiving instructions from Syrian officers.

The sources said Merhi had also admitted to “organizing Fatah al-Islam activities” in Lebanon and to recruiting young men from Syria and Iraq to join the terrorist group.

Merhi said the recruits were smuggled overland from Iraq to Lebanon via Syria.”
Naharnet

Al-Mustaqbal reports the same, whereas Al-Akhbar speaks only of ties to al-Qa’ida.

The following is the most detailed account I have seen so far of how Fatah al-Islam came into being:

“Soon after arriving in Lebanon, al-Absi spread out his growing recruits to other Palestinian camps — about 120 in Beirut’s Bourj el-Barajneh, 60 in Beddawi in the north and 150 in Nahr el-Bared.

Abu Mohammed and another Fatah Uprising official, Mahmoud Doulla, told The Associated Press that their leaders were so impressed with al-Absi’s selfless dedication to the Palestinian cause that, at first, they ignored warning signs of other trouble.

“We weren’t of the same ideology,” explained Abu Mohammed. “They followed a more puritan kind of Islam, you can say fanatic Islam. … They were ready to kill disbelievers.”

Their politics also seemed contradictory to Fatah Uprising’s. Abu Mohammed and Doulla said they were concerned when they noticed al-Absi and his men showed hostility toward Syria and its regime as well as toward Lebanon’s Shiites and the militant Shiite group Hezbollah — all allies of Fatah Uprising.

When Fatah Uprising officials in Lebanon alerted their superiors in Damascus that al-Absi’s men “were behaving strangely,” they were swiftly dismissed and told the group was in Lebanon for the “struggle” and to fight the “Zionist enemy,” said Abu Mohammed.

He said at the start, only 20 Fatah Islam men were based in the Shatilla camp, but during last summer’s Hezbollah war with Israel, their numbers had risen to about 100.

Al-Absi’s relationship with Fatah Uprising showed its first public sign of cracks last Nov. 23, when Palestinian and Lebanese security forces raided an apartment occupied by his gunmen in the Beddawi camp in northern Lebanon.

In the ensuing battles, a Palestinian security man was killed and two of al-Absi’s militants were wounded and handed over to Lebanese security by the camp’s Palestinian security. Al-Absi was angered that Fatah Uprising did not protect the men or protest their handover to Lebanese authorities.

On Dec. 5, Fatah Uprising leader Saeed Moussa ordered al-Absi and his fighters to leave his group’s bases in the Shatilla and Bourj el-Barajneh camps. Al-Absi withdrew to Beddawi.

In a new ultimatum three days later, Abu Moussa gave al-Absi 24 hours to leave Beddawi.

“Where am I going to take 400 men in 24 hours? Throw them in the sea?” Abu Mahmoud quoted al-Absi as telling a Fatah Uprising official. Other Palestinians confirmed the remark.

The following day, al-Absi seized Fatah Uprising positions and weapons in Nahr el-Bared, where he had regrouped his fighters — and he announced the creation of Fatah Islam.”
AP

Captured militant reveals plot against UN, diplomats

Suspect admits fatah al-islam planned attack on downtown beirut hotel hosting top officials

A recently captured Fatah al-Islam militant confessed to Lebanese authorities that his group planned to attack UN officials and foreign diplomatic figures, a security source told The Daily Star on Friday. The militant, Mohammad Merhi, admitted during interrogation that Fatah al-Islam had aspired to attack a downtown Beirut hotel hosting UN officials and other diplomatic figures, added the source.

The source also said that a Saudi national named Abu Talha planned and financed the operation, while adding that Talha had traveled to Lebanon to provide Fatah al-Islam with instruction and funding, before leaving for Iraq through Syria.

Additionally, a judicial source told AFP on Friday that “in the course of interrogations, some members of Fatah al-Islam confessed that one of the principal aims of their group was to militarily attack the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).”

The judicial source said the militants spoke of being “indoctrinated” to oppose Christians, depicted as Crusaders. The militants were also taught to oppose others considered to be “infidels,” a category including Shiites and leading Sunni MPs, ministers and senior officials.

The judicial source added that, in the view of Fatah al-Islam, “Lebanon’s political system, as well as anyone who participates in it, is ungodly. It is just, from a religious point of view, to fight the participants.”

Military Investigative Magistrate Rashid Mezher is expected to interrogate Mohammad Merhi’s brother Ahmad next Tuesday. Ahmad Mehri is a key member of Fatah al-Islam.

“Ahmad Merhi’s testimony will be of the highest importance, as he maintains a relationship with Syrian intelligence services,” the security source said.
The Daily Star

Perhaps this is just my impression, but it seems that Mohammad Merhi wasn’t aware of his brother’s alleged links to Syrian intelligence… Some may also remember that according to the first report by An-Nahar (based on a “reliable source”, of course…) Ahmed Merhi had “turned in to the Syrian intelligence a ranking Saudi member of al-Qaida known as Abu Talha” in exchange for being offered a safe heaven before miraculously returning to Lebanon just one week later…

Meanwhile, As-Safir reports that Investigative Magistrate Mezher was unable to question Ahmed Merhi because the latter had to be transferred to a hospital.

According to Al-Akhbar (quoting anonymous security sources), the al-Qa’ida cell recently arrested in Bar Elias was deliberately trying to escalate tensions between Lebanon and Syria by targeting a festival in the Bekaa Valley with car bombs, knowing that it would be blamed on Syria.

If true, this has some interesting consequences (but, of course, one has to be extremely cautious with reports based on “anonymous sources”).

Al-Akhbar on the Merhi brothers and alleged links to Syrian intelligence.

Syrian Qaeda-inspired group warns Lebanese government to lift siege of Fatah Islam

A Syrian Al Qaeda-inspired group on Tuesday warned of attacks on Lebanese interests and citizens if the country does not lift its siege of militants barricaded inside a Palestinian refugee camp.

In a Web statement, the group Tawhid and Jihad in Syria promised its support for Fatah Islam, the militant group holed up in the camp. The Tawhid and Jihad leader, Abu Jandal al-Dimashqi, met with representatives from Fatah Islam recently, the statement said.

“We warn the Lebanese government that its vital interests, officials and sons living in Syria (sic; t_d) will be moving targets for us if it does not lift its siege of the camp,” said the statement, posted on a Web forum where militant groups often issue messages.

Tawhid and Jihad in Syria first became known in November, when its former leader Omar Abdullah clashed with Syrian security forces and blew himself up on the border with Lebanon.

Al-Dimashqi then issued a May 28 audiotape claiming to be the group’s new leader and calling on Syrians to kill Syrian President Bashar Assad and on other Arabs to topple their leaders as well.

“Tawhid and Jihad” — Arabic for “monotheism and holy war” — is a name used by several groups apparently inspired by Al Qaeda — though their actual links to Osama bin Laden are not clear. Al Qaeda in Iraq formerly went by the name. The most prominent militant group in Syria is known as Jund al-Sham, but it is sometimes called the Jund al-Sham for Jihad and Tawhid. …
AP

See also this report by As-Safir.

Norman adds this article in Arabic. Diyyar writes that a US military delegation composed of Generals and others visited Damascus last week. Plans are being established for a Madrid II conference later this year.

الماضي الاخبار السياسية

معلومات عن التحضير لمؤتمر مدريد الثاني خلال شهري أيلول وتشرين الأول القادمين

كشفت معلومات لصحيفة الديار اللبنانية إن “وفد أميركي رفيع المستوى زار سورية الأسبوع الماضي ،هو الأكبر منذ العام 1990, ويضم كبار جنرالات ‏الجيش الأميركي, ومسؤولين في وزارة الخارجية ورؤساء مراكز الدراسات ، للقيام بمباحثات شاملة مع مسؤولين سوريين تتعلق ‏بالشؤون السياسية والاقتصادية والعلاقات بين البلدين”.

واعتبرت سورية زيارة عدد من أعضاء الكونغرس الأمريكي الجمهوريين والديمقراطيين, وعدد من المسؤولين الأوروبيين إلى دمشق في الأشهر الماضية “فشلا لسياسة العزل” حيث شهدت العلاقات السورية الأمريكية توترا منذ غزو العراق عام 2003, كما رفضت الإدارة الأمريكية فتح حوار مباشر مع سورية.

وأفادت المعلومات إن “المنطقة تتحضر لمدريد 2 خلال شهري أيلول وتشرين الأول في حضور الدول ‏الراعية لعملية السلام، بما فيهم روسيا والمفوضية الأوروبية لبحث عملية السلام على المسار ‏السوري – الإسرائيلي، في ضوء قناعة أميركية بأن المحاور الفلسطيني ما زال عاجزا عن خوض ‏غمار عملية السلام والالتزام بوعوده، وهذا ما يستدعي تحريك عملية السلام السورية – ‏الاسرائيلية”.

وتوقفت مفاوضات السلام بين سورية وإسرائيل في كانون الثاني عام 2000 بسبب الخلاف على الوصول إلى مياه بحيرة طبريا الإستراتيجية ورفض الرئيس الراحل حافظ الأسد الإقرار بالخرائط التي قدمها إليه بيل كلينتون الرئيس الأميركي الأسبق في قمة جنيف من عام 2000

(From THE WALL STREET JOURNAL) (Thanks Ehsani)
By Jay Solomon

WASHINGTON — As the Bush administration strives to ward off another summer war in the Middle East, it is being forced to balance the potentially diverging interests of two of its most important allies in the region, Lebanon and Israel. Both countries are locked in standoffs with Syria over its alleged role in arming and funding militias that threaten their borders and internal security. But Lebanese and Israeli leaders are exploring what may be conflicting strategies to counter the Syrian threat, U.S. and Middle Eastern officials say.

In recent months, Beirut, with Washington’s support, has used diplomatic, military and legal means to directly challenge Syria’s influence in the region. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, however, is under growing pressure from his military and intelligence services to embrace recent peace overtures made by Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Any direct Israeli engagement with Damascus would require at least tacit U.S. support, Arab diplomats say. To date, the White House has worked to isolate President Assad internationally because of his government’s support for militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah and its alleged role in destabilizing Iraq and Lebanon.

Over the weekend, Israeli officials confirmed that Mr. Olmert’s government has put out feelers to Mr. Assad, through third countries, about pursuing the peace track, but has yet to receive a positive response. “The problem is that the Syrians are not ready . . . to negotiate directly with Israel,” Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres told reporters in Jerusalem yesterday. “They want to do it through the United States.”

How Washington navigates the competing interests of its two allies with respect to Syria could have a major impact on its ability to prevent another major regional clash after last summer’s war between Israel and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah.

“If the U.S. decides it’s going to the mat to secure Lebanon, then this will have huge implications on the Syrian-Israeli front,” says Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator who is now a scholar at the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank.

“If something blows up between Syria and Israel,” he added, it will probably be tied to “events inside Lebanon.”

Last summer, the White House was viewed as squarely backing Israel in its weeks-long attacks against Hezbollah, which included extensive bombing of southern Lebanon and parts of Beirut. This summer, Washington is viewed as tilting toward Lebanon and supporting its desire to pressure Damascus to stop exerting influence inside Lebanon.

“The Bush administration has to be firm on Lebanon,” says Emile El-Hokayem, a Middle East expert at the Henry L. Stimson Center, another Washington think tank. It is seen as “its biggest success in the region,” he says.

The Bush administration regards Lebanon as central to its effort to promote democracy in the Middle East. A pro-Western government swept to power there after the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri sparked protests that led to the end of Syria’s long military occupation of Lebanon.

Even so, Washington is likely to continue to face troubles balancing its desire to support both Lebanon and Israel. U.S. lawmakers and independent
policy groups such as the Iraq Study Group, headed by former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton, have pushed the White House to convene a regional peace conference that includes Syria and Iran to address broader Mideast issues. But while the U.S. has begun engaging in regional talks on Iraq, the discussions haven’t turned toward Lebanon and Syria.

The U.S. also is engaged in a wider initiative with Arab countries to kick-start Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.

U.S. diplomats fear that Damascus could demand that it regain some of its once-strong influence inside Lebanon in return for helping assure peace with Israel.

Lebanon’s security has been inextricably linked to Israel’s over the past five decades. Palestinian militant groups targeting Israel had based themselves inside Lebanon during the 1970s and 1980s, leading to raids and invasions by Israel. More recently, Hezbollah has emerged as a military force on Israel’s northern border, a situation that led to another invasion by Israel last summer.

Washington’s views toward Beirut have also changed, especially after street protests there in 2005 forced Syria to withdraw its remaining forces from Lebanon. The Bush administration seized on the election of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora months later as a symbol of what it described as a democratization wave sweeping the Middle East. After last summer’s war, the White House made stabilizing the Lebanese government a cornerstone of its Middle East strategy.

This policy has increasingly placed the Bush administration on a collision course with Damascus. Late last month, the U.S. pushed through the United Nations Security Council an international tribunal to try suspects in Mr. Hariri’s assassination. Damascus has denied any involvement in Mr. Hariri’s murder, but has refused to cooperate with U.N. investigators.

In recent weeks, Lebanese and U.S. officials have alleged that Syria is backing Sunni and Palestinian militant groups inside Lebanon in a bid to
undermine Mr. Siniora’s government. Clashes between the Lebanese army and two militias, Fatah Islam and Jund al-Sham, near the cities of Tripoli and Sidon have left hundreds dead. Lebanese and U.S. officials say Syrian-backed militias have also infiltrated near to the Lebanese city of Kozhaya in the Bekaa Valley.

Syria denies it has been supporting the unrest. But the Bush administration is significantly increasing military aid to Lebanon’s army to help it crush the militias, earmarking nearly $250 million for that purpose this year, up from $40 million last year. The U.S. and Lebanon are also in talks to find new ways to secure the porous Syrian-Lebanese border and prevent the infiltration of more militants and arms.

Mr. Assad’s government has said any international-monitoring presence on its border would be viewed as a hostile act, a statement that raises the potential for an escalation of tensions.

The increasingly confrontational stance taken by President Bush and Lebanon toward Syria could have repercussions on Israel and the on-again, off-again Mideast peace talks. In recent weeks, U.S. and Israeli officials said they have detected a growing Syrian military presence along the disputed Golan Heights region, which Israel seized from Syria during the 1967 war.

These officials said they believe Damascus has significantly upgraded its military capabilities in recent months through the purchase of Russian and
Iranian arms.

Israeli and U.S. officials are seeking to reconcile these seemingly aggressive activities with repeated overtures from Mr. Assad to engage in peace
talks with Mr. Olmert’s government. One theory is that Syria’s leader’s saber-rattling is intended to jump-start talks over the future of the Golan
Heights. Another is that Syria is working with Iran to deter moves that aren’t in their interests in Lebanon, and to discourage possible U.S. or Israeli
strikes on Tehran’s nuclear facilities.

A U.S.-Israeli strategic dialogue scheduled for later this month in Washington is expected to focus on Syria’s peace overtures.

Mr. Olmert is expected to come under increasing pressure from elements inside the Israeli Defense Forces and Military Intelligence to engage Damascus in a peace dialogue to diminish the chances of another summer war. Israeli officials say the country needs to reduce the growing threats on its borders, including Hamas in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, Hezbollah on its northern border and now Syria across the Golan Heights. Last summer’s war failed to dismantle Hezbollah’s military capabilities.

Many regional analysts express skepticism that any Israeli-Syrian peace talks would bear long-term dividends. For one, Syria is seen as having significantly less influence over Hezbollah and other militant groups fighting Israel than it did before its 2005 withdrawal from Lebanon, when Damascus in essence ran Beirut. Analysts argue also that Mr. Assad is unlikely to jeopardize his military alliance with Iran in a bid to achieve peace with Israel.

Farid Ghadry Speaks in Israeli

George Ajjan on Ghadry's visit. A must read. Humorous and gives plenty of background.

Don’t make peace with despotic Syria’, Sheera Claire Frenkel, THE JERUSALEM POST Jun. 10, 2007

Entering into peace negotiations with Syrian President Bashar Assad would mean condoning dictatorships across the Middle East, Farid Ghadry, the exiled leader of Syria’s opposition Reform Party, said Sunday.

“Peace with Syria is important, but peace with Assad would be a disaster,” said Ghadry during a conference at the Harry Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University. “Don’t make peace with a dictator, or you will send a message to 19 million Syrians that you don’t care about their freedom and their liberties.”

Israel should “be patient and wait for Syria to become democratic” before beginning peace negotiations, said Ghadry…

Israel: War or Peace with Syria
From Anonymous

Dear Prof,

   There is something going on, and I don't know who is behind it. The same rhetoric that appeared in 1996 is showing up again in many places…….

1996:

http://www.jewishsf.com/content/2-0-/module/displaystory/story_id/4798/edition_id/88/format/html/displaystory.html

"The tension has generated much speculation about whether Syria might be considering military action to force the stalled political process forward.

"In recent days, after a series of ominous Syrian troop movements in Lebanon and on the Golan, and after a no less ominous escalation of hostile rhetoric between the two countries, Netanyahu and Assad are both beginning to exercise caution."

———————————–

Of course what started these rumors? A right-wing Mossad embezzler.

http://lists.jammed.com/IWAR/1997/12/0046.html

In August 1996, Gil reportedly told the Mossad that Syria was planning a lightning strike aimed at recapturing part of the Golan Heights from Israel.

———————————–

11 years later:

"Israel is concerned that Syria might initiate a surprise attack in an effort to make rapid but limited gains on the Golan. The goal would be to capture a small piece of territory that could serve as a catalyst for a diplomatic process that would result in an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights."

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/867700.html
————————————–

Of course Peretz is not saying this, he says Syria is in a defensive posture.

"Defense Minister Amir Peretz also spoke at the base Tuesday and said that there is no indication that Syria, Israel's northern neighbor, is interested in engaging in war with Israel, as some recent reports have suggested. Peretz expressed his hopes that the verbal escalation between the two countries will not evolve into an armed conflict. "IDF is continually training and I hope the Syrians won't misinterpret that," he said."

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/867386.html

————————————-

It is amazing how this keeps popping up. There are powerful people that can put in media articles this bogus idea to once again stall any effort for Syria to regain the Golan. And it isn't anyone in the government of Israel that I know of, though there probably are a few of them.

Anyway, that is the number one issue facing Syria/Israel right now. And it has nothing to do with reality. I think the military is too partied out from their haflaat to spring any kind of suprise.

Comments (53)


Alex said:

And another upsetting news item:

AGHDAD (Reuters) – An explosion on Wednesday hit a revered Shi’ite shrine in the Iraqi city of Samarra that had been badly damaged in February 2006, senior Shi’ite officials and one witness said.

The witness said two minarets at Samarra’s Golden Mosque had been damaged. The attack on the mosque last year sparked a wave of sectarian violence in Iraq that has killed tens of thousands of people.

“The explosion targeted the two golden minarets. They have been damaged … This is a criminal act which aims at creating sectarian strife,” Saleh al-Haidari, the head of the Shi’ite endowment in Iraq, a major religious body, told Reuters.

Iraq’s government has previously blamed Sunni Islamist al Qaeda for the attack on the shrine in February 2006, when gunmen laid charges inside the shrine that completely destroyed its golden dome. That blast did not damage the minarets.

The bombing last year prompted a wave of revenge attacks against Sunni Arabs by Shi’ite militia death squads, mostly in Baghdad.

The Golden Mosque is one of the most important Shi’ite shrines in Iraq.

June 13th, 2007, 6:38 am

 

Alex said:

I posted this article here two weeks ago, but I’ll post it again …

Sarkozy’s Jewish Roots

“One significant policy modification that could actually come through under Sarkozy is on the Syrian and Lebanese fronts. The new French president is not as friendly to Lebanon as was his predecessor, furthermore, as the Minister of the Interior, Sarkozy even advocated closer ties between France and Syria.

Especially if the later plays the cards of talking-peace correctly, Sarkozy may increase pressure on Israel to evacuate the Golan Heights in return for a peace deal with Assad.”

June 13th, 2007, 6:43 am

 

Alex said:

George, that was very funny!

Poor Amin Gemayel … I am sure he would take back all his predictions about the outcome of the Iraq war.

June 13th, 2007, 6:48 am

 

everd said:

Hello,
please could you give the date of the posted newspaper / information agency articles and links, particularly when you post or make updates only on a weekly basis? It would be easier to read!
Thanks

June 13th, 2007, 10:30 am

 

Akbar Palace said:

I posted this article here two weeks ago, but I’ll post it again …

Alex –

Thank you for posting this important article about Sarkozy’s Jewish roots. Do you think if the French knew about this before the election, he may not have been elected?

I’m still scratching my head as to why the French would vote conservative after the “failure” of the Bush Administration. I am now wondering if the next US president will be a democrat at all.

On the Palestinian front, which side is responsible for the current wave of violence? Hamas or Fatah? Why are they fighting each other? SimoHurtta was hoping for an Israeli civil war, and this isn’t helping.

June 13th, 2007, 11:10 am

 

ugarit said:

Akbar Palace:

Chirac was conservative and did not support Bush. Blair was a liberal and supported Bush.

BTW, a conservative in Western Europe is akin to a Democrat in the USA. They’re on a different scale

June 13th, 2007, 11:44 am

 

ugarit said:

Akbar Palace asked:

“On the Palestinian front, which side is responsible for the current wave of violence? Hamas or Fatah? Why are they fighting each other? SimoHurtta was hoping for an Israeli civil war, and this isn’t helping.”

The US and Israel are responsible. Elliot Abrams wanted to create a palestinian civil war and it looks like he is succeeding.

June 13th, 2007, 11:51 am

 

SimoHurtta said:

SimoHurtta was hoping for an Israeli civil war, and this isn’t helping.

I was not hoping civil war in Israel after it has eventually to leave the occupied areas. Many Israeli politicians have spoken about this high possibility of a Jewish civil war, when the religious lunatics from the settlements have to “resettle”.

I only said, do not Akbar be to malicious when you watch what happens in Gaza. It can happen also in your “dream country” and sooner than anybody wants.

By the way Akbar, Rabin was not murdered by Arabs. Israel has a fair share of religious Jewish militants with weapons and a good military training ready for “action”.

If a civil war starts in Israel do you Akbar (and US regime) then complain that Iran and Syria are arming the Jewish militant extremists? 🙂

June 13th, 2007, 12:34 pm

 

G said:

“One significant policy modification that could actually come through under Sarkozy is on the Syrian and Lebanese fronts. The new French president is not as friendly to Lebanon as was his predecessor, furthermore, as the Minister of the Interior, Sarkozy even advocated closer ties between France and Syria.

Especially if the later plays the cards of talking-peace correctly, Sarkozy may increase pressure on Israel to evacuate the Golan Heights in return for a peace deal with Assad.”

hahaha yeah, sure. That’s why the first trip made by the French Foreign Minister was to Lebanon, and why he pushed through the Chap 7 tribunal, and why the first Middle East initiative to be taken by him is about Lebanon.

You people are really funny.

June 13th, 2007, 1:26 pm

 

t_desco said:

I think that “Tawhid and Jihad in Greater Syria/the Levant” would be a more appropriate translation of the group’s name in the AP story quoted above. The statement itself would also make more sense with “the Levant” instead of “Syria”:

“We warn the Lebanese government that its vital interests, officials and sons living in Syria will be moving targets for us if it does not lift its siege of the camp”.

How many March 14 officials are currently living in Syria?

The statement was echoed by a Fatah al-Islam leader who issued very similar threats in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat:

Fatah Islam Threatens to Kill Lebanese Politicians

Fatah al-Islam leader threatened to kill Lebanese politicians, including Premier Fouad Saniora, if the army staged a final showdown on its militants in the northern refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared.

“Leading political figures on Lebanese territory would be targeted by explosive charges and booby-trapped motorcycles if we were confronted by the (Lebanese) government,” said Abu Masaab in a telephone interview with the Arabic daily Asharq Alawsat from his Nahr al-Bared hideout.

Topping the “Assassination List” were Saniora and Druze leader Walid Jumblat, said Abu Masaab, identified by the newspaper as a 30-year-old Palestinian from Fatah al-Islam’s second row leadership.

He said Shahine Shahine, a Saudi, took over the leadership of Fatah al-Islam after the “disappearance” of its leader Shaker Abssi and his deputy commander Abu Hureira.

Abu Masaab said Shahine, Fatah al-Islam’s military commander and official spokesman, who is flanked by four aides, pledged allegiance to al-Qaida.

He said he was charged with recruiting via the Internet the largest possible number of young men from various Arab and Islam states to join Fatah al-Islam.

He said among those countries were Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Yemen, Algiers, Morocco and Syria.
Naharnet, Asharq Al-Awsat

June 13th, 2007, 2:24 pm

 

Observer said:

All of the news posted today point to one strategic goal: the preservation of the supremacy of the state of Israel in the region. Inviting the Lebanese forces to a Paris conference is an invitation to disarm the HA. It is an invitation to distance alliances with Syria. The ultimate goal of course is to attack Iran as it is emerging as a regional power in both Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, and Afghanistan. In the meantime, it is extraordinary to see the Arab leaders completely paralyzed and unable to make any decisions. As the political void increase only the radicals will thrive.

June 13th, 2007, 2:42 pm

 

K said:

Observer,

It’s funny you perceive recent developments as favoring Israel. I see Iran (and Sidekick Syria) on the ascendant, in Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon.

June 13th, 2007, 3:56 pm

 

K said:

BREAKING NEWS: SYRIA STRIKES AGAIN

Another Beirut spot targeted by car bomb; another M14 parliamentarian murdered along with his son, and other innocents killed or wounded.

http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=1&categ_id=2&article_id=82981

BEIRUT, June 13, 2007 (AFP) – A loud explosion was heard on Wednesday afternoon in Beirut’s Manara district, residents said.

The blast between the Long Beach and Sporting Club swimming facilities in the area demolished a car and wounded an undisclosed number of people.

Future TV said MP Walid Eido, his son and two bodyguards were killed. Security officials had reported that the explosion killed four people and wounded 10 others.

A car was in flames and black smoke was seen rising from a narrow street off the main waterfront in Manara. The Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. TV station said the explosion came from a bomb-rigged car, a method that has been used to assassinate opponents of Syria over the past two years.

The explosion was the latest in a series to hit Lebanon in the last three weeks as Lebanese troops battled Islamic militants in a Palestinian refugee camp in the northern part of the country.

June 13th, 2007, 4:05 pm

 

t_desco said:

Beirut explosion kills anti-Syrian lawmaker Walid Eido, his son and 2 bodyguards (AP)

June 13th, 2007, 4:06 pm

 

William deB. Mills said:

Historical patterns exist, and a good example is the pattern that refusal to talk to opponents leads to hostility. (See http://shadowedforest.blogspot.com/2007/05/future-analysis.html.) The new French approach toward Hizballah is intriguing.

June 13th, 2007, 4:33 pm

 

Alex said:

He is anti Syrian, anti opposition, anti Palestinian presence … and a Sunni … after what happened in Iraq last night, god knows who wants to kill who for what reason.

June 13th, 2007, 4:50 pm

 
 

norman said:

Alex,
Good to see you back .

June 13th, 2007, 5:29 pm

 

idaf said:

K misleadingly states: BREAKING NEWS: SYRIA STRIKES AGAIN

K, funny choice of headline, especially that just 2 comments earlier than yours T_desco posted a statement by an al-Qaida group that threatened: “Leading political figures on Lebanese territory would be targeted by explosive charges and booby-trapped motorcycles”!

How objective of you K!

June 13th, 2007, 5:33 pm

 

G said:

Yeah, an al-Qaeda group… right Iadf. Fateh al-Islam’s connections to Syria are very clear and everyone’s aware of it.

But you people here are supporters of killers so it makes no difference.

June 13th, 2007, 5:41 pm

 

t_desco said:

Alvaro de Soto’s “End of Mission Report”, published by the Guardian (PDF) today, contains interesting information regarding the relationship between the UN and Syria, e.g. as UN coordinator for the Middle East he was prevented from talking to Damascus!

June 13th, 2007, 6:25 pm

 

ugarit said:

“Beirut explosion kills anti-Syrian lawmaker Walid Eido, his son and 2 bodyguards”

He was a distant relative 🙁

June 13th, 2007, 6:38 pm

 

norman said:

T_ Desco,
can you give the bottom line of this 52 page report.

June 13th, 2007, 6:43 pm

 

K said:

Idaf,

>K, funny choice of headline, especially that just 2 comments earlier >than yours T_desco posted a statement by an al-Qaida group that >threatened: “Leading political figures on Lebanese territory would be >targeted by explosive charges and booby-trapped motorcycles”!

What al-Qa’ida group… do you mean those puppets of Syrian intelligence?

June 13th, 2007, 6:56 pm

 

norman said:

this is interesting ,

Anther explosion in Beirut. I don’t remember when the first car bomb was used in Lebanon, but it certainly was planted by Israeli agents years before the Lebanese civil war started. Remember that Ghassan Kanafani was killed back in 1972, and rockets were planted in a car and fired on the apartment of Wadi` Haddad back in 1970. Israel always does its murder, more massive, as when Israeli agents killed Abu Hasan Salamah with a massive car bomb. Later, Lebanese factions and Syria and Iraq (not to mention Israel which never stopped its bombings) resorted to the grotesque weapon of car bombings. I have written before about my belief in Ashraf Rifi’s theory of the assassination of Rafiq Hariri. The Syrian regime was humiliatingly forced to withdraw from Lebanon, and the Syrian regime most likely resorted to what it does well: to fight dirty. And the March 14th camp in Lebanon was not satisfied with the withdrawal of the Syrian regime from Lebanon: they wanted more. They wanted to 1) humiliate the Syrian regime further; 2) to allow Lebanon to be used for the purposes and calculations of the US administration; 3) to serve as clients in the bitter (and most important as far as the understanding of Lebanon’s present-day conflict is concerned) Syrian-Saudi conflict; 4) to work for the overthrow of the Asad regime–the only regime (along with Qatar and Libya) that does not fall under the Saudi pact. The Hariri camp wrongly assumed that it can easily take on the Syrian regime: they wanted to install a pro-Saudi Sunni government in Syria. The `Alawite minority regime was not going to give up power that easily. (Rafiq Hariri was involved in that matter too, but not as openly as his successors.) Walid Jumblat openly called for the assassination of Bashshar Al-Asad a few months ago, and the Hariri family now funds and hosts the Syrian opposition, including the Muslim Brotherhood which led an armed rebellion against the Asad regime back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was crushed brutally by the Asad regime in the Hamah attack (led by Rif`at Al-Asad–who now poses as a pro-democracy advocate and who receives support from his brother-in-law, Saudi King `Abdullah) which resulted in the death of some 10,000 people. But in recent weeks, having seen the vast extent of the presence of the fanatic salafi network in Lebanon, I am now reconsidering my theory about Hariri’s assassination, but you can never be so sure. I always believe that in Lebanese violence, you can not exonerate either Syria (the regime) or Israel. But I now add the possibility of salafi groups. Walid `Idu (the Lebanese MP who was killed in the car bomb today) is related to me, you may be surprised to know. His son Mazin got married last year to the daughter of my first cousin. `Idu is not new to Lebanese politics. He was involved in militia politics during the war years: he was born to a Maronite mother and a Sunni father, and he lived his life as a staunch Nasserist Arab nationalist until his conversion three years ago. While serving as a judge, he joined the Nasserist Murabitun militia, although it is illegal for judges in Lebanon to join political parties. But he was aware of that. So he used a code name: Rudwan Sa`adah. Rudwan Sa`adah was listed as one of the leaders of the Murabitun militia during the war years. People from that era and that organization believe that he was responsible for some decrees in the realm of militia “justice” during the war years. As a judge, he had a bad reputation–a good reputation if you are a defendant who wanted a convenient ruling. He had a reputation for offering verdicts that suited “clients” but for a fee. It was that reputation that got Rafiq Hariri interested in him when Hariri was searching for judges who could help him in the illegal expropriation of property in downtown Beiurt. Hariri put him on his parliamentary list in the 2000 election. During those years, he was one of the closest allies of the Syrian intelligence in Lebanon. One colleague of `Idu (a member of the Hariri parliamentary bloc) told me that `Idu was known for offering the military salute (and he would click his heels too) whenever he would meet with a Syrian mukhabarat functionary. But `Idu was good in the quick transformation that many politicians of his ilk made after the assassination of Rafiq Hariri: he went from being one of the most passionate advocates of the Syrian regime, to one of the most passionate advocates against the Syrian regime. But the killers know their targets: they now go after 2nd tier members of the ruling coalition: people who don’t have a mass base. From very early on, I never expected the March 14th camp, under the Hariri family, to lead Lebanon toward peace, prosperity, or sovereignty. I have not changed my mind. I am still of the view that the Hariri family has done irreparable damage to Lebanon.

Posted by As’ad at 9:04 AM 0 comments

June 13th, 2007, 7:18 pm

 

K said:

Norman,

Glad you found that interesting. Syria executes another M14 leader, along with innocents, in a touristic Beirut spot, and the Angry Arab takes the opportunity to takes us back to the 70s, attack the murder victim, and criticize Hariri and the M14 movement.

This is more interesting, if one is human:
http://lebop.blogspot.com/2007/06/assassination-at-nejmeh-i-was-there.html

This is the closest I’ve been.

I was 50m from this attack.

We were in a cafe next to Luna Park enjoying the late afternoon next to the sea after an intense day.

Children were playing on the equipment under the setting sun. Mothers were holding their babies. Old men were smoking argile.

BOOM!!!

Everyone hit the floor, except the group of European tourists who just looked surprised. Waiters dived under the tables. Mother grabbed their crying babies.

Human flesh landed in the children’s play area.

We didn’t know what happened. All I knew was that a bomb went off in the passageway between the Nejmeh Football Club and the Luna Park, a children’s amusement park on the Mediterranean coast.

We knew there had to be casualties.

The Army was IMMEDIATELY on the scene. At least two squads from the nearby Army base immediately secured the area. They came down, and started cordoning off the area. Everyone in the nearby beach areas and sporting clubs were asked to move their vehicles. There was great concern another bomb would go off.

Within minutes, the police were there.

I was on the scene for a number of the bombs in 2005, including Hariri’s assassination. It took the Army, at least, half an hour to arrive. This time, the security forces were amazingly professional. I was astounded. They were outstanding.

We soon found out that 14 March Parliamentary Representative Walid Eido, his son, his two bodyguards, and at least two bystanders were killed.

I was horrified that they had planted a bomb next to a children’s park. We knew there had to be bystanders killed, but we thought it was just another random bombing.

Adrenaline is still running. My friend’s pictures will soon be on the website.

June 13th, 2007, 7:33 pm

 

Ford Prefect said:

The mayhem we see today in the Middle East can only be traced to a single source. The rest is all diverting details.

June 13th, 2007, 7:43 pm

 

ugarit said:

K:

Nor you nor the M14 crowd has evidence that it was Syrian operatives who killed Walid `Idu, or do you? I have the capacity to believe that it could be Syrian operatives; however, do you have the capacity to believe that it wasn’t?

Please provide the evidence that it was Syria.

June 13th, 2007, 8:14 pm

 

ugarit said:

http://www.jewishtimes.com/News/6654.stm

Syrian Jewish Presence Almost Gone

Larry Luxner
JTA Wire Service

JUNE 12, 2007
Aleppo, Syria

From the roof of a nondescript, four-story apartment building in downtown Aleppo — amid a jumble of water tanks, power lines and satellite dishes — one can gaze down at the last remnant of one of the world’s oldest Jewish communities.

….

June 13th, 2007, 8:24 pm

 
 

Nur al-Cubicle said:

testing again…strange…

June 13th, 2007, 8:37 pm

 

Nur al-Cubicle said:

Well, if four posts from me show up later…it was because of some gremlin

June 13th, 2007, 8:40 pm

 

Jamal said:

Ford Prefect, are you thinking Israel?

June 13th, 2007, 9:05 pm

 

t_desco said:

Norman,

you can find a good summary of the report in the original Guardian article:

UN was pummelled into submission, says outgoing Middle East special envoy
The Guardian

See also this comment by Ian Williams.

Here are the paragraphs concerning Syria (I hope I didn’t miss anything):

End of Mission Report, May 2007

Alvaro de Soto

4. …
As soon as I was appointed I sought to visit all my interlocutors in their capitals, but I was told by USG/DPA that I should consult before traveling to either Lebanon or Syria. …
Notwithstanding my strenuous efforts, of which there is plenty of evidence in the DPA cables file, I was never authorized to go to Syria. None of my arguments in favour of going were ever refuted, nor was I given any precise reason for denial of the authorization requested.

Syria

99. There is an old saying that in the Middle East you can’t make war without Egypt and you can’t make peace without Syria. The first half is no longer valid, but I sense that the second remains true. For the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, keeping Syria at arm’s length is particularly galling. Those who advocate it seem to believe that it is possible to pursue an Israeli-Palestinian track while isolating Damascus. I know that that is the thinking; it has been made perfectly clear by the US Envoy, who reported to his Quartet colleagues that, in discussing the Arab initiative with the “Arab Quartet”, they put to them whether the Arabs would be prepared to reciprocate if Israel reached an agreement only with the Palestinians – as opposed to the comprehensive withdrawal from all occupied territory (including the Syrian Golan provided for in the Beirut agreement of 2002 as the requirement for gaining normalization with Arab countries). The Arab Quartet, we were told, had replied in the affirmative.

100. I am gobsmacked. If indeed they did reply in the affirmative, it must be because of a desire to tell their interlocutors what they want to hear. Such an approach would be highly divisive amongst the Arabs, and it could seriously undermine that Arab unity which is behind the Arab initiative and is one of its main attributes. I don’t believe they can seriously believe that it is possible to neatly compartmentalize the various fronts and deal with them sequentially, bestowing the favour of attention on well-behaving parties first.

101. In much the same way, does anyone seriously believe that a genuine process between Israel and the Palestinians can progress without Syria being either on board or, at the very least, not opposing it, and without opening some channel for addressing Syria’s grievances? If this should be attempted, we can be sure that a reminder of the Syrian capacity to spoil it wouldn’t be long in arriving.

102. The conventional wisdom is that Israel can’t handle more than one negotiation at a time. As recently as 27 April, in a piece in Haaretz titled “Why Syria must wait”, an Israeli ambassador wrote: “Few would dispute the assertion that the Israeli bridge is incapable of supporting two peace processes, a Syrian and a Palestinian one, at the same time.” I understand the political difficulties involved. But I believe it’s just not possible to completely disaggregate the two, or calmly wait for their turn with the occupier (take a number and have a seat in the waiting room until you are called, please), and that is why the Madrid conference was conceived as it was. This can’t be anything but one more layer of excuses not to negotiate. I note further that the Winograd Committee has criticized the Israeli establishment for its lukewarm attitude to trying to make peace with Syria (and Lebanon). Its interim report notes that Israel believed it enjoyed military superiority over its neighbours, and that, “given this analysis, there was no need to prepare for war, nor was there a need to energetically seek paths to stable and long-term agreements with our neighbours“. In the wake of the report, Olmert has declared that he will implement the Winograd recommendations and has mobilized the Cabinet energetically toward that end. There is, of course, an element of staying in power, but a key point to watch is whether implementation of the recommendations will include a change toward Syria and whether the US will allow it.

103. While, as I say, no one ever gave me a cogent reason why I should have shunned Damascus for two years, I sometimes hear on the grapevine the idea that, since the main business with Syria related to its role in Lebanon, and in particular the implementation of SCRs 1559 and, lately, 1701, it would be distracting if anyone from the UN were to talk to Syria about anything else. Let me record that, in two years, I received not one report of the meetings or work of the Special Envoy for SCR 1559, even though I was informed that he regularly received the material I shared with HQ, and I was aware that he had certain contacts with the Syrian government (as well as the Palestinian and Israeli ones, of course – which I usually learned about from them rather than the UN). He had a narrow and confined mandate. I had a broad and over-arching one. Were the UN’s house in order, EOSG and DPA would have ensured that the envoy charged with taking a broad view would have been kept fully abreast of the work of the one working on a narrower front. And it would not have been at all difficult for a well-briefed Special Coordinator, when in Damascus, to ensure that there were no crossed wires, and that nothing he said or did undermined the need to make progress on other fronts, or the vital work of colleagues.

104. Given my constant efforts, opposed by HQ, to ensure that the UN had a good channel to Syria on the Arab-Israeli conflict, it is ironic that on the eve of my departure, the US Secretary of State is meeting the Foreign Minister of Syria, and members of the Quartet are meeting Syria as one of the members of the follow-up committee of the Arab League Initiative, in Sharm el-Sheikh. The UN played little or no role in bringing this about, but I devoutly hope that we will no longer isolate Syria and ensure that whoever deals with the MEPP for the UN maintains a dialogue and relationship with Damascus. Sadly, I wouldn’t augur him/her a privileged relationship. Since we went along with the ostracism docilely when they were out in the cold, we are likely seen not as impartial good officers, but as fair-weather friends.

112. Similarly, there is no Security Council resolution prohibiting contact with the Government of Syria. Syria’s territory remains occupied in contravention of international law and Security Council resolutions, and the Security Council advocates a comprehensive settlement to the Middle East conflict – that between Israel and its neighbours – thus making an end to the occupation of Syrian territory part and parcel of such a comprehensive settlement. Given all these circumstances, the Syrian government, in light of the truncation of the exercise of the terms of reference of the UN “Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process”, might be forgiven for wondering whether the Secretary-General’s policy is inspired not by international law including Security Council resolutions but by the bidding of one or two permanent members of the Council. (Indeed, I wonder whether we have failed in our duty to the Council in briefing them every month on the conflict without ever consulting a key State party to it whose territory happens to be occupied.)

113. It almost goes without saying that the impression that both the PA government and that of Syria will have gathered – even though they might tell us the contrary – is not one favourable to their viewing the UN as a trusted interlocutor.

133. Israeli rejectionism extends also to Syria on which, echoing the US, Olmert has taken the position that Syria knows what it must do to prove that it is an acceptable negotiating partner, and insists on compliance, prior to any contact or negotiation, with goals that might be achieved precisely as a result of negotiations. Much is made of the fact that visitors to Syria have returned empty-handed. I wonder, do they seriously believe that Syria is going to give up negotiating cards outside of the framework of a negotiation – gratis? If I believed that, I would be insulting their intelligence. Powell’s quote (“You can’t negotiate when you tell the other side, ‘ Give us what a negotiation would produce before the negotiations start’“; §131) applies here as well, in spades. The Israelis wouldn’t do it – why would the Syrians?

June 13th, 2007, 9:17 pm

 

Nur al-Cubicle said:

Walid Eido, a Lebanese MP and member of the anti-Syrian majority, was assassinated on June 13th in late afternoon by a car bomb in a Muslim quarter of Beirut.

His eldest son, approximately 30 years of age, Khaled, his two bodyguards and six others were killed in the blast, that occurred about 5:30 pm local time. There are many wounded.

The blast caused a fire and veritable panic in this heavily-frequented neighborhood of the capital, adjacent to the waterside military cabana club to which several high-ranking officers belong.

Representing Beirut, the 65 year-old Mr. Eido was Chairman of the Parliamentary Defense Committee. He often frequented the beach in the neighborhood in which he was assassinated. A close friend of assassinated PM Rafik Hariri, he was the most virulent spokesman for the anti-Syrian majority.

The Lebanese Communications Minister, Marwan Hamadi, immediately accused the “Syrian régime” of the murder.

Via AFP

June 13th, 2007, 9:52 pm

 

Ford Prefect said:

Jamal,
Good prediction, but no, that was not my thinking. I posed the hypothesis so that each one of us can reflect on the culprit based on his or her own biases. Once done, we will all feel vindication, albeit with pain and remorse, and we move on to get even.

I have heard condemnations from almost every one (who is someone) in Lebanon regarding this senseless and murderous act. Some, expectedly, were quick to blame Syria. Some did not, also expectedly!

While it is convenient and restful to explain events in black and white and massively ignore the many visible shades of grey, it is also misleading at best and reckless at worst to fall into that trap.

Listening to the Lebanese news outlets this afternoon, listeners did not hear news. They heard views. Pick a view you like and you are set to go and pour your anger at some entity. This is sad situation in every way.

Back to your original question: Neutral observers of the macro political landscape of the Middle East point to a demonstrable evidence of a wide-scale master plan to reshape the Middle East in favor of a particular regional superpower. Consequently, we see the mayhem and chaos. What is even more sinful is that this plan is failing miserably during its execution phase at the hands of massively inept ideologues. Go figure.

June 13th, 2007, 10:05 pm

 

t_desco said:

The Daily Star has a more comprehensive translation of the Ash-Sharq al-Awsat interview quoted earlier:

Fatah al-Islam planned to assassinate Siniora, Jumblatt
Senior member outlines plot in interview

Daily Star staff
Thursday, June 14, 2007

BEIRUT: A Fatah al-Islam leader said the militant group had planned to assassinate a number of Lebanese figures, including Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt. In a telephone interview with Ash-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper published Wednesday, Abu Musaab, a 30-year-old Palestinian, said one of Fatah al-Islam’s plans was to assassinate Lebanese officials using booby-trapped motorcycles and explosive charges, should the group be challenged by the government.

Speaking from his hideout in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in North Lebanon, Abu Musaab said 25 Saudi nationals had been enlisted in different spots inside and outside the camp.

As soon as the fighting broke out with the Lebanese Army in the North, hundreds of military-trained men started to appear in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, said Abu Musaab.

“Some 350 militants whom I have never seen before emerged in the camp soon after the fighting with the Lebanese Army erupted,” Abu Musaab said.

The Lebanese Army and Fatah al-Islam militants have been engaged in fierce battles at the Nahr al-Bared camp near Tripoli since May 20.

The Fatah al-Islam official also said the group was being provided with “tremendous” military equipment and millions of dollars, although he did not specify the source of the support.

“The Internet is the most successful means to enlist great numbers of youths from different Arab and Islamic countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Yemen, Algeria, Morocco and Syria,” Abu Musaab said. “My job consists of enlisting new members under the pretext of training them to fight in Iraq.”

Abu Musaab said Fatah al-Islam had exploited religious slogans to mobilize new fighters.

“We have called for Jihad in Iraq and fighting the Jews and the United Sates, in order to attract new militants,” he said.

Abu Musaab added Saudi national Shahine Shahine had taken command of the group

after the disappearance of its commander Shaker al-Abssi and his deputy Abu Hureira. Abu Musaab said he was the one to approve all of Abssi’s statements delivered via media outlets, because he is responsible for the group’s finances.

“Shahine, nicknamed Abu Salma, is also a Fatah al-Islam spokesman and military official,” Abu Musaab said.

“Shahine came from Morocco,” he added. “He is surrounded by four veiled Saudis and Yemenis. He is the one charged with linking Fatah al-Islam to Al-Qaeda.”
The Daily Star

One has to wonder if Abu Musaab really used expressions like “under the pretext” and “exploiting religious slogans” or if these are rather the words of the Ash-Sharq al-Awsat journalist.

As’ad AbuKhalil, stating the obvious:

“But in recent weeks, having seen the vast extent of the presence of the fanatic salafi network in Lebanon, I am now reconsidering my theory about Hariri’s assassination, but you can never be so sure. I always believe that in Lebanese violence, you can not exonerate either Syria (the regime) or Israel. But I now add the possibility of salafi groups.”
Anther explosion in Beirut

It’s worth repeating that this is the very place where the cell phones used in the Hariri assassination were activated:

Fighting in North too close for comfort for Minyeh residents

MINYEH: Since Fatah al-Islam militants launched attacks on the southern front at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp on Tuesday, the people of Minyeh have been rudely reminded that they still reside on the battle’s front lines … .

Mahmoud Dehman, mukhtar of Minyeh, said the edges of the sprawling town are very close to the refugee camp, so many residents fled their homes at the start of the fighting on May 20.
The Daily Star

June 13th, 2007, 10:47 pm

 

Akbar Palace said:

Ford Prefect (who knows Jews very well) lets us in on his secret:

The mayhem we see today in the Middle East can only be traced to a single source. The rest is all diverting details.

Jamal (who is naturally curious) asks:

Ford Prefect, are you thinking Israel?

Ford Prefect tries to get more specific but seems to have difficulty:

Good prediction, but no, that was not my thinking. I posed the hypothesis… Consequently, we see the mayhem and chaos. What is even more sinful is that this plan is failing miserably during its execution phase at the hands of massively inept ideologues. Go figure.

The mystery continues…

(that is, if you don’t count countries that support terror).

June 13th, 2007, 10:48 pm

 

Jamal said:

Ford Prefect, you reinforce my opinion of you as a person with wisdom. You are so right in your hypothesis about each of us building our own picture and then examining it through highly individualised lenses!

In my case, I do not subscribe to the superpower super plan. My picture always adds the dimension of events in the early 19th century – the internal events and the impact of the outside world, the drawing up of the borders, the oil deals etc. But Israel added a fatally toxic ingredient, and in many ways I see it more as a cause than an effect of US foreign policy blunders.

I have come to think the American policy making machine is structured in a way that makes it much more fragile and clumsier than many people seem to realise. Which is why it it can have sound enough ideals and plans but then get jerked around, fractured and distorted by deeply flawed individuals like Rumsfeld, the Jewish lobby etc.

Because I am in a hurry, this is probably a bit simplistic and could be seen in some ways to match your view of “demonstrable evidence of a wide-scale master plan to reshape the Middle East in favor of a particular regional superpower”. But in summary, I don’t fully agree.

June 13th, 2007, 10:52 pm

 

Ford Prefect said:

AP,
Please, for the umpteenth time, would please relax your paranoia and refrain from insinuating that I know this religion or that sect in topics that are irrelevant to the discussion? I never mentioned a religion, a sect, or a way of life in my comment, you did.

If after reading my comment, you are still in deep confusion about what Francis Fukuyama called an American foreign policy agenda that involves concepts like “regime change, benevolent hegemony, uni-polarity, preemption, and American exceptionalism” that are the hallmark of the Bush administration, you are in for a big surprise. No wonder you are engulfed in deep mystery. I guess if one is a hammer, all things appear to be nails.

Jamal,
You are making very valid points. Master plans can certainly be drawn. They are cheap and can be found for a dime a dozen. It is the implementation that matter the most. What we are seeing today in the whole region is a manifestation of a miserably failed plan that looked so good on paper.

June 13th, 2007, 11:38 pm

 

Akbar Palace said:

If after reading my comment, you are still in deep confusion about what Francis Fukuyama called an American foreign policy agenda that involves concepts like “regime change, benevolent hegemony, uni-polarity, preemption, and American exceptionalism” that are the hallmark of the Bush administration, you are in for a big surprise.

Dear Ford Prefect,

Who is Francis Fukuyama? Wait a minute, let me check my internet encylopedia…here we go:

Politically, Fukuyama has in the past been considered neoconservative. He was active in the Project for the New American Century think tank starting in 1997, and signed the organization’s letter recommending that President Bill Clinton overthrow the then-President of Iraq, Saddam Hussein [1]. He also signed a second, similar letter to President George W. Bush after the September 11, 2001 attacks that called for removing Saddam Hussein from power “even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack.”[2].

I guess Francis made a teeny weeny mistake. Just like Hilary.

If after reading my comment, you are still in deep confusion about what Francis Fukuyama called an American foreign policy agenda that involves concepts like “regime change, benevolent hegemony, uni-polarity, preemption, and American exceptionalism” that are the hallmark of the Bush administration, you are in for a big surprise.

Looks like Francis said a number of things. And I guess what he says depends on which way the wind is blowing.;)

No wonder you are engulfed in deep mystery.

Ford Prefect,

No mysteries here. The notion that “The US and Israel are responsible” for the Palestinian civil war and that the US is guilty of a “wide-scale master plan to reshape the Middle East in favor of a particular regional superpower” is no mystery on this forum.

And yes, the concept that terror-supporting countries like Syria and Iran are involved in “reshaping the Middle East”, now that would be a stretch I suppose.

Let’s see, 81 Palestinians dead since the weekend and another 10 Lebanese. Yes, those “regional superpowers” are at it again!

A pity to any people who cannot protect themselves from the fanantics.

June 14th, 2007, 12:43 am

 

majedkhaldoun said:

I just came back from ADC meeting, there was nothing about Syria,I met again,Imad Mustapha,but I met one british analyst there,he told me interesting Ideas,we had wide range discussions,also Clovis Maksood was there, he seems strongly supportive of the tribunal.

June 14th, 2007, 1:34 am

 

Nur al-Cubicle said:

The UN announced today that the Hariri Tribunal may start in mid-2008 at some off-shore location. However, the UN is only footing half the bill–through collected donations! The Lebanese government is to pay the rest.

June 14th, 2007, 3:54 am

 
 

K said:

Standing Up to Killers
Syria Must Answer for Its Murders in Lebanon

By Hussain Abdul-Hussain
Thursday, June 14, 2007; Page A27
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/13/AR2007061301982.html?hpid=opinionsbox1

A bomb in Beirut yesterday killed Walid Eido, a member of the Lebanese parliament, and his son, Khaled, one of the smartest, sweetest and most delightful friends I have ever had.

I should wait for the results of an investigation into the explosion to learn who killed Khaled and his dad. But I will not wait. I am tired of the murders in Lebanon. I accuse the Syrian regime, headed by President Bashar al-Assad, of killing Khaled. As a friend of the family, I want to press charges against Assad and his Syrian and Lebanese associates. Enough is enough with the Syrian regime and its Lebanese puppets.

Walid Eido was a member of the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority. Before his untimely death, the majority bloc comprised 69 of the legislature’s 128 members. Now, the majority’s margin has been narrowed to five, and there is no reason to believe that Syria will not go after these people and kill them, one after another, until it forces the government to collapse.

For the past few months Eido had been the target of a demonizing campaign by Syria’s foremost ally, Hezbollah. Similar Hezbollah campaigns against other anti-Syrian lawmakers preceded their assassinations.

Hezbollah has been a supportive partner to Syria, often thanking the Assad regime for what it has “offered” my country. In truth, Hezbollah has sold out Lebanon’s national interests to the regional autocrats of Syria and Iran.

Hezbollah might not have started the streak of assassinations of anti-Syrian Lebanese politicians that began with the killing of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri in February 2005, but the militant group has certainly been complicit with the criminal Syrian regime.

Since Hariri’s murder, we in Lebanon have seen the best of our politicians and journalists murdered, one after another.

Before Khaled’s death, I had already lost one of my most inspirational friends, journalist Samir Kassir. He was murdered by a car bomb on June 2, 2005.

Gebran Tueni, who had been my boss at the Arabic daily An Nahar, was killed that December, also by a car bomb.

With each murder, we Lebanese have swallowed our anger and fought hard for an international tribunal, which the U.N. Security Council approved last month. We hoped the tribunal would deter the Syrian regime and its Lebanese puppets from further killings. Yet a murderer is a murderer, with or without a tribunal, and the killings don’t stop.

As I write these words, I understand that I am risking my personal safety. Speaking out could jeopardize my security during visits home.

But I owe it to Samir, Gebran and now Khaled to write this. I want to tell the Syrian regime and its Lebanese cronies that the Lebanese are willing to fight for their freedom despite the heavy cost.

And while I’m at it, I have some words for our Syrian brethren living under the tyranny of the Damascus regime: Stand up for your rights and say no to dictatorship. Tyrants might kill some Lebanese politicians and throw other Syrian human rights activists in jail, but they cannot kill all of the Lebanese or imprison all Syrians.

We shall prevail. We shall prevail for Kamal Jumblatt, Rene Moawad, Rafiq Hariri, Samir Kassir, George Hawi, Gebran Tueni, Pierre Gemayel and all other Lebanese killed at the hands of the Assad regime. We shall stand up for the Syrian freedom lovers Anwar and Akram al-Bunni, Aref Dalila, Riad Seif, Mamoun Homsi and Kamal Labwani, among others, no matter how ruthless and ugly the Syrian dictatorship can get.

There will come a day when Lebanon is free and Syria democratic.

June 14th, 2007, 6:45 am

 

DJ said:

“I should wait for the results of an investigation into the explosion to learn who killed Khaled and his dad. But I will not wait.”

Well we appreciate your emotions and your sentiments for your friend Khaled, but as you said, you should wait for an investigation before spouting accusations left and right…

How about the theory that Mr. Edo was about to break away from Al Hariri bloc, and when the hint skulked to Sa’ad’s ears, he decided to get rid of’em ?

That also sounds like a viable theory to me as well, so I will also not wait, I am accusing Sa’ad Al Hariri of assassinating his own MP, motive being the fear of losing foothold for the opposition.

June 14th, 2007, 9:01 am

 

Zenobia said:

Thanks T-Desco for the excerpts from the outgoing UN special envoy’s report.
They were fascinating……….completely. and also pleased to have the link to the Guardian excepts.
on another note, I had lunch last sunday in Beirut -before my return to syria…at that very precise Military Cabana club in Manara – outside which the recent bomb went off. It is a crazy coicidence… (especially since I had also been at the ABC mall the day before the bomb went off in the parking lot there in Ashrafieh..a couple weeks before)
but anyhow, the military club interior is a restaurant but the entire place is a swimming club filled to the brim with tons and tons of children!……….

June 14th, 2007, 10:10 am

 

Zenobia said:

no, Fukyama didn’t just change his mind with the wind of reality setting in… like many neo-conservatives who weren’t idiots..he came to realize that the neo-cons ala bush and company were misusing his and other ‘idealist’ philosophies in a crude and brut militaristic fashion.
and this wasn’t what he had in mind- and i assume there are others in the more intellectual neo-conservative camp of academics who feel the same horror at what has happened under their ideological name.

I don’t happen to like the grand master plan theories … especially when they take on the grand conspiracy form. however, i do believe we are now in need of grand masterplan solutions.
Abdul-Hussein in the article K posted pronounces boldly that there will come a day when Lebanon with be free and Syria democratic.
but he has nothing to show that leads to this conclusion…HOW is this?
we are so far from any … plan at all that leads in that direction…it is not going to happen simply because some think it is the right or moral outcome. It could only be the result of extremely broad changes in the entire region – that are not imposed from the West. A tall demand to make if one thinks it is going to happen in some quick process. that would be pure fantasy.

There is no single problem in the middle east that seems possible to fix on its own as some isolated event or issue.
look at the situation in lebanon, and you see the infection has links to every other problem and festering phenomenon in the region.
and of course – it would be very convenient to think that eliminating the syrian regime would fix everything in its sphere of influence, but this would be tragically naive to entertain as a solution.
Syria’s security apparatus may be malignant and sinister in its agenda. However, it didn’t create the Saudi or Yemeni or other foreign nationals in Fatah-al Islam. Just like it didn’t create the militants that blew up the buildings in New York. It didn’t create the fact of and the nature of the Palestinian camps such that they are perfect breeding grounds to house militant entities from outside and reproduce them from outside and within the local population. And the majority of the Palestinians in Lebanon didn’t create this either….
Syria didn’t create Hezbollah…although it supports it. If anything, Israel created HA. And Syria didn’t create the mayhem in Iraq, although it may exploit this situation too…and certainly Syria didn’t create Al-Qaeda. but at this point, any al-qaeda like entity may be more loyal to Syria simply because of its animosity and hatred for any other political body or nation/state that panders to the Western agenda.

so…..these are just examples… but we have no comprehensive solutions…..that address the regional nature of grievance and fury…..that can change the course of the tide going towards violence at this point.
It you perform and operation on the ailing patient Lebanon – to cut out the disease as you define it….. the trouble with gravitate and shift and move…. reform…reemerge… find other avenues and channels to reconstitute itself. Syria did not create this cancerous… disease… the west created this disease….it gave a reason for all the different groups full of anger and resentment and fury to form alliances and bargains and exploitations of each other.
for a time now – they can share some goals…even though… they may all begin from different sources of suffering and resulting desires for retribution and revenge seeking.

we certainly do need grand scale solutions at this point. Comprehensive ones.. that change the course…the grand course of our world distribution of resources and power. otherwise, WWIII is not going to be like anything our little pea brains can think up right now…. it won’t be a big war with big weaponry…and the triumph of the B52 bomber fait a compli… or even the nuclear wasting….
no…..
i fear it will be….as Einstein said…. and i can only think of some paraphrase…but it was something like that WWIII we can imagine -if we move to the atomic bomb, but WWIV – will then be with sticks and stones.
mm, i think we are practically back to the sticks and stones now……there will be no defined enemies…and lines of war…
It will just be one big mysterious chaos of shifting cells of anti-western a…alignments and divergent militant groups attacking from behind and bitting at the West’s heels…..and driving the crusaders into their fortresses… but never being correctly understood and never seen clearly…
A chronic painful condition… i think, of our corrupted and abused world.
How’s that …for grand cynical prediction.

June 14th, 2007, 12:12 pm

 

ausamaa said:

K

Lebanese, especially of the Sasd Al Harriri & Company type have proved to be the Biggest and Most Stupid and Most Ignorant of all the assholes God had succeeded in creating. Why dont you all just shut up instead of crying and moaning like a whore who is being frequented by the whole neighberhood but can only remember the name the first customer she invited in and keeps repeating it every time some one else visits her dark room? And APPARENTLY the line seems to be long!

You have shamelessly destroyed your country with your venegence, hatered and greed, and with every blow they land on your behind you keep shouting : Syria and the Truth, without even knowing what has hit you.

For the sake of Lebanon…get yourselves lost..the past few years have proven that your kinds do not even deserve a country of your own.

June 14th, 2007, 3:53 pm

 

K said:

Ausamaa,

What an eloquent statement. It speaks volumes about you and your ideological ilk. Thankfully, you do not speak for all Syrians. Many, including commentators on this blog, and even including regime-tolerators, are more civilized and thoughtful than your type, and that gives me (dim) hope for the future of our godforsaken region.

June 14th, 2007, 4:15 pm

 

ausamaa said:

k,

I do not want to dissapoint you, but your hope for the future is grossely misplaced with the kind of Feb 14 criminals you have handed Lebanon over to..and please worry “only” about your own godforsaken country under those “politicians” and leave the rest of the region to its other occupants to worry about. I am afraid your worry is very contagious and it might bring the rest of us the plague that you have brought upon your “beloved” country.

What a sad joke…when are you gonaa wake up??? After what?? And for sure not while you are led/missled by that ladyboy Harriri and his 40 theives and impeciles. God!!!

June 14th, 2007, 5:33 pm

 

jb said:

You go round and round about the details and who did what. But if you just look at the present handling of the present situation, the immediate problem clearly emerges.

First, you have the long list of so called “plans” of the Fatah al Islam group related by some captured members. These are nothing but words. They are the words of men treated who knows how, who have just been in a devastating 3 week battle and they are words that please their captors. They are empty words. Meanwhile, the story begins with a bank robbery, committed, I assume, by a limited number of group members who, when chased by the police or army, turned on them and attacked them. This is not a trivial crime, but it isn’t an invasion by a foreign army either.

Whether or not they were supporting them (as some have alleged), the Lebanese and American governments had known about these guys for months. They could have, at any time, made an effort to infiltrate and set up the group for an orderly arrest, at least of the leaders. But instead, they chose to devastate a community of innocent Palestinians and entirely destroy Nahr Al Bared. The US rushed more heavy arms to support the initiative (a whole army against a couple of hundred men!) They did this at the cost of more than a hundred lives so far.

There is no excuse for this. But, there might be an explanation. I have read that in April, the US and other representatives were in Beirut talking about putting a NATO military base in the vicinity of Tripoli and Nahr Al Bared. Convenient to be rid of those Palestinians, eh?

June 15th, 2007, 2:58 pm

 

Zenobia said:

JB, i definitely agree with your comment wholeheartedly.
it is completely unbelievable that NOW is when somebody discovered this group or decided to bring in the army.
and i think that such events are designed to lead up to the USA trying to get its own troops invited into the country and even onto that border….maybe “NATO” first…but i think the ultimate goal is there…behind…i mean how hard is this to imagine…when there are american war planes flying into Beirut already…carrying massive amounts of weaponry that is being used on/in Nahr Al Bared. they dont’ even attempt to be discreet about this….

June 15th, 2007, 9:30 pm

 

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