News Round Up (2 July 2007)

Lebanon's search for a President: Two new candidates

Friday Lunch Club writes that:

"Michel Edde interim President of Lebanon for 2 years: A Lebanese Official, who was in Paris at the time Siniora was there for talks with president Sarkozy & Condoleeza Rice, rapports the following in an email: Michel Edde is gonna be president for an interim period of 2 years during which a new electoral law will be drafted and a new parliamentary election held, to select a president for 6 years …

Michel Suleiman: "Looks like he's starting to establish himself as a "national figure,"" A friend writes.

The US, Israel, and UN are ratcheting up the pressure on Syria and the Lebanese opposition in the run up to Presidential elections in November. Even more immediate is the Paris meeting of Lebanese zaims (leaders or strong men) scheduled in two weeks time. France will be looking for cracks in Aoun's and Hizbullah's allience with Syria. It will also be looking for Syria to make some helpful gesture. What it may be offering the Lebanese opposition or the Syrians for their cooperation is unclear.  

Israel keeps pressure on Syria over alleged arms smuggling to …, Daily Star – Lebanon.

Israeli Defense Ministry adviser Amos Gilad told Israel Radio that Syria continues be a transit point for Iranian weapons and money to Hizbullah. "Syria … is allowing the Iranians, and is itself arming Hizbullah in a massive fashion, and is putting it [back] on its feet," said Gilad.
Sensing the Next Peril in Lebanon 
By Jay Solomon

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration, fearing a rupturing of Lebanon’s political system, is ratcheting up pressure on Syria and its Lebanese allies
ahead of what the U.S. believes could be a bid by opponents of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora to set up a parallel government in Beirut by the fall.

On Friday, President Bush signed a proclamation blacklisting from U.S. travel any Syrian or Lebanese individuals seen as threatening Beirut’s democratically
elected government. It also listed 10 people who the U.S. believes are playing central roles in seeking to overthrow the current government.

The U.S. moves come as the United Nations reports an unimpeded flow of weapons into Lebanon from Syria, part of an apparent campaign by Damascus and Iran to rearm the Shiite militia Hezbollah after last summer’s war with Israel.

U.S. and Lebanese officials say these arms are also reaching a growing number of Palestinian and Sunni militant groups in Lebanon challenging Mr. Siniora’s control in the north and south of the country.

This mix of arms and political polarization is infecting Lebanon with rising sectarian tensions and the threat of a return to all-out civil war, said U.N.
and Lebanese officials. It is also stoking concern in Washington and Tel Aviv of another major conflict erupting between Lebanon-based militants and Israel in the months ahead.

“I am deeply concerned that Lebanon remains in the midst of a debilitating political crisis and faces ongoing attacks aimed at destabilizing and undermining its sovereignty,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote in a report released Friday. Mr. Ban said he was particularly alarmed by last
month’s bombing in southern Lebanon that killed six Spanish U.N. peacekeepers, as well as the firing of three Katyusha rockets into Israel from the same

Among the 10 individuals who the U.S. believes are playing central roles in seeking to overthrow the current Beirut government are Assef Shawkat, who is
the brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar Assad as well as the country’s and intelligence chief; Hisham Ikhtiyar, one of the Syrian leader’s top
advisers; and Rustum Ghazali, former head of Syrian intelligence insideLebanon. Six former Lebanese ministers who are viewed as working as proxies for
Damascus inside Lebanon are also on the list. U.S. officials acknowledged that the U.S. travel bans are unlikely to have much direct impact on Syrian leaders. But they say they are more focused on dissuading Lebanese politicians from siding with the Syrians against Mr. Siniora.

Of particular focus are Christian politicians who have joined into a formal political alliance with Hezbollah in a bid to unseat Mr. Siniora. Some of them,
such as retired Gen. Michel Aoun, have in the past coordinated closely with the U.S. on Lebanon policy, particularly on the need to reduce Syrian influence. They also have presented themselves as potential allies to Washington if any new government is formed in Beirut.

“A lot of people are opposed to Siniora, and might try to bring him down but still want to present themselves as friends with the U.S,” said a senior Bush
administration official working on the Middle East. “We want to convey to them that there’s a price to pay” for their actions…..

Lebanese Lawmakers Leave Amid Threats
Saturday June 30, 2007 10:46 PM

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) – About 20 anti-Syrian lawmakers in Lebanon have temporarily left their conflict-ridden country this summer – apparently seeking safety abroad amid mounting security threats and the recent assassination of an outspoken politician.

An Associated Press count found more than two dozen lawmakers, many from the leading majority party bloc, have left Lebanon in the past 10 days. Some have returned, but about 20 remain abroad.

A senior Arab intelligence official said Lebanese lawmakers allied with U.S.-backed Prime Minister Fuad Saniora were advised to seek shelter elsewhere after names appeared on a hit list. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the matter's sensitivity.

The Lebanese As-Safir newspaper, which leans toward the opposition that is led by the Hezbollah militant group, reported June 20 that “an Arab security agency chief has informed a number of leaders in the majority team that they should take summer vacation outside Lebanon.''

Another pro-opposition newspaper, Al-Akhbar, on Friday reported that arrangements were being made to move 65 pro-government lawmakers, or more than half the legislature, as well as 35 other politicians to Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and France. The report said party leaders would remain in Beirut.

One lawmaker from Lebanon's majority still in the country denied receiving warnings to leave, but added that some colleagues had done so for safety.

“Some lawmakers have left Lebanon temporarily because they don't have security capabilities to protect themselves,'' Samir Franjieh said. “There is no decision from our leadership or the Lebanese security authorities to leave the country. This is a self-made decision by members after the assassination of Eido to guarantee their own safety.''

An atmosphere of apprehension has descended over Lebanon in recent weeks, with the army fighting al-Qaida-inspired militants up north, a car bombing that killed six peacekeepers in the south and half a dozen bombings in the Beirut area.

Saniora has been largely holed up with some members of his Cabinet at government headquarters in downtown Beirut, behind razor wires and troops. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah's whereabouts are a deep secret. Parliament speaker Nabih Berri rarely leaves his heavily guarded residence. And when in Beirut, Saad Hariri, leader of the majority party bloc and son of slain Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, lives in a fortified compound.

Recent U.S. statements also have highlighted the security concerns.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, after a recent meeting with Saniora in Paris, issued a veiled warning to Syria, saying a Lebanese-international tribunal created by the U.N. Security Council must be safe while it probes Hariri's 2005 murder.

Spanish Intelligence & Hezbollah: dialogue between partners… (From

Nicola Nassif, a regular columnist for the independent pro-opposition newspaper Al Akhbar, wrote on June 30: “Meetings abounded in the last few days between Spanish security officials and others from Hezbollah to discuss the means to coordinate between the two sides to prevent another security incident following the attack on the Spanish unit’s patrol operating as part of the UNIFIL forces in southern Lebanon last Sunday with an explosive charge that killed six Spanish soldiers. During the discussion, Hezbollah confirmed its respect for UNSCR 1701 and its commitment to implementing the security section that stipulates that no illegitimate weapons should exist south of the Litani River.

“Hezbollah pointed out to the international officials that it hasn’t carried out any military action since the resolution went into effect last August neither on the blue line nor in the Shab’a Farms. Hezbollah also pointed out that no security incidents occurred with the Lebanese army which is responsible for the security of the region. Hezbollah added that this should be enough to corroborate Hezbollah’s commitment to this resolution and that they do not hide their reservations concerning some of the articles in its introduction. Hezbollah also confirmed to the Europeans that the south is a “friendly environment” for the international forces and that it looks at their military role positively because they preserve security and because they help economically because of the stability that they engender.

“The security issue dominated the meetings despite the limited political role handled by the representative of the secretary general of the United Nations in Lebanon Geir Pederson who held a few meetings with officials in Hezbollah to confirm that they are cooperating with the international forces. This reflected the security nature of the problem. The attack on UNIFIL didn’t arouse any political discussions between the international forces and Hezbollah because they knew that Hezbollah didn’t have anything to do with it or with the launching of the Katyusha missiles on Israel from Khiyam on the 17th of last June which is corroborated by the fact that none of the international reactions to the two incidents included any public or implied criticism of Hezbollah even though Washington seemed more inclined, same as the March 14 forces, to accuse Syria.

“Thus the Spanish intelligence services entered into the fray. Meetings were held between security officials in the Spanish unit and Hezbollah and between officials in Hezbollah and others in other international units to guard against other incidents. The Spanish intelligence services and the Spanish unit in the south didn’t ask Hezbollah for any guarantees about no more attacks taking place but both sides agreed to increase the military coordination to a level which pushes, according to a concerned diplomat, Hezbollah to the position of an actual partner in its implementation and the prevention of its abandonment and in the protection of the UNIFIL forces. Based on what the diplomat announced, Hezbollah can’t present any such guarantee because of the size of the area but it pledged that it will cooperate fully because it found itself targeted with the message sent through the incident and because it is concerned with protecting the UNIFIL forces.

“The Spanish officials asked Hezbollah to present them with a complete security file about the traffic in and out of the operating zone of the Spanish unit in the days that preceded the attack which includes all the sightings and statements about the movement of cars and people. Hezbollah confirmed to them that it will provide them with this file as soon as it is complete. Thus the cooperation, according to the diplomat, focuses on the intelligence and information branches as the military and security operations are the purview of the Lebanese army and the international forces. The intelligence reports possessed by both sides were similar.

“While the Spanish officials suspect that the perpetrators, or at least those who handled the observation, entered the operating theatre of the Spanish unit through the area between the Shab’a Farms and Kfarshouba, the leads possessed by Hezbollah and the intelligence directorate in the Lebanese army show that a Salafi organization was behind the attack. According to confessions given by Salafi detainees more than a month ago to the Lebanese security services, members of Al-Qa’idah reconnoitred the Lebanese south more than once, with special emphasis on the operating theatres of the UNIFIL units, their movements, and patrols in order to attack them. The detainees confirmed that they were planning attacks on the UNIFIL forces based on previous attitudes that incited them to do so issued by Abu Mus’ab Al-Zarqawi before his death and the number two man in Al-Qa’idah Aiman Al-Zawahiri.

“According to the discussions in the meetings in the past two days, the series of arrests of Salafis carried out by the security forces following the attack enhanced the belief among the Lebanese and international intelligence officers that Salafi terrorism is active in more than one area in Lebanon including the south and aims to spread anarchy and chaos in Lebanon. The nationalities of a number of detainees was announced and they include Saudis and Yemenis…No information is available about the identity of the militants who launched the missiles at Israel and who carried out the attack, but the Spanish and Lebanese intelligence officers and Hezbollah pointed to Salafis on whom the investigations are focusing to determine whether they were Lebanese or Palestinians.

“According to some of the available information, Palestinian Salafis were behind the missile attack which points fingers at the Osbat Al-Ansar group based in the Ain Al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp…”  

By John Harwood

ALARMED OVER rising violence in Lebanon, U.S. and Lebanese officials explore dispatching international troops to seal Syrian border. Bush administration
views Syria as primary conduit for arms and militias that have proliferated inside Lebanon.

Ibrahim Suleiman – the unofficial Syrian peace negotiator – was on the Riz Khan show on Al Jazeera International last night (Thanks to Damian Quin)

Power Outages Sweep Syria and Lebanon due to heat wave

Intermittent power-outages in Damascus and other major Syrian cities were caused in the last few days by increasing demand for electricity in the country, Israel Radio reported Sunday.

Syrian Prime Minister Naji el Atari called on Electrcitiy Minister Ahmad Ali to take the measures necessary to maintain a steady supply of power.

The prime minister was also called for a special parliamentary session devoted to the electricity crisis. Atari explained the power outages were caused by the lack of sufficient reserves in the country's power infrastructure, the current heat wave and a decline in the Euphrate River's flow, which is one of the main sources of Syria's electricity production.

EDL blames theft, heat wave for tight rationing

Lebanon sank deeper into darkness for the past week under rationing that Electricite du Liban (EDL) officials said they were forced to apply because of electricity theft, a heat wave and power-station repairs. Apart from Beirut, most areas experienced more than 12 hours a day of power cuts.

Book Review: 

Paul Collier, “The Bottom Billion.” 
He is the director of the Center for the Study of African Economies at Oxford University. A former World Bank economist
(from NYTimes)

There are, he suggests, four traps into which really poor countries tend to fall. The first is civil war. Nearly three-quarters of the people in the bottom billion, Collier points out, have recently been through, or are still in the midst of, a civil war. Such wars usually drag on for years and have economically disastrous consequences. Congo (formerly Zaire, formerly the Belgian Congo) would need 50 years of peace at its present growth rate to get back to the income level it had in 1960. Unfortunately, there is a vicious circle, because the poorer a country becomes, the more likely it is to succumb to civil war (“halve the … income of the country and you double the risk of civil war” is a characteristic Collier formulation). And once you’ve had one civil war, you’re likely to have more: “Half of all civil wars are postconflict relapses.”

Why, aside from their poverty, have so many sub-Saharan countries become mired in internal conflict? Collier has spent years trying to answer this question, and his conclusions are central to this book. Civil war, it turns out, has nothing much to do with the legacy of colonialism, or income inequality, or the political repression of minorities. Three things turn out to increase the risk of conflict: a relatively high proportion of young, uneducated men; an imbalance between ethnic groups, with one tending to outnumber the rest; and a supply of natural resources like diamonds or oil, which simultaneously encourages and helps to finance rebellion.

It was in fact Collier who first came up with the line “diamonds are a guerrilla’s best friend,” and a substantial part of this book concerns itself with what economists like to call the “resource curse,” his No. 2 trap. As he sees it, the real problem about being a poor country with mineral wealth, like Nigeria, is that “resource rents make democracy malfunction”; they give rise to “a new law of the jungle of electoral competition … the survival of the fattest.” Resource-rich countries don’t need to levy taxes, so there is little pressure for government accountability, and hence fewer checks and balances.

Countries don’t get to choose their resource endowment, of course; nor do they get to choose their location. Trap No. 3 is that landlocked countries are economically handicapped, because they are dependent on their neighbors’ transportation systems if they want to trade. Yet this is a minor handicap compared with Trap No. 4: bad governance. Collier has no time for those who still seek to blame Africa’s problems on European imperialists. As he puts it bluntly: “President Robert Mugabe must take responsibility for the economic collapse in Zimbabwe since 1998, culminating in inflation of over 1,000 percent a year.”

Comments (10)

Jamal said:

Now what?


AFP, July 2 2007

One of the suspects arrested in Britain by police investigating three failed car bombings is a Jordanian doctor called Mohammed Jamil Abdelkader Asha, officials in Jordan said on Monday.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said his wife had also been arrested.

Asha, 27, is of Palestinian origin and carries a Jordanian passport, they said. He obtained his medical degree in Jordan in 2004.

His father Jamil AbdelKader Asha told AFP he had not been informed of his son’s arrest and had learnt about it only through the media. “My son is incapable of such acts,” he said.

He called on Jordan’s King Abdullah II to intervene with the British authorities, saying: “Not all Arabs are terrorists.”

July 2nd, 2007, 12:45 pm


Atassi said:

Syria’s economic reforms widen wealth gap
30 June 2007

Agence France Presse
DAMASCUS, July 1, 2007 (AFP) –

A dazzling new storefront here, a bare midriff there — a transition to a market-based economy is changing Syrians’ way of life and, analysts say, stretching the gap between rich and poor.

In 2005, at the ruling Baath party congress, Syria committed itself to a process of economic liberalisation through a market economy system aimed at “attracting investments, relaunching growth and creating jobs.”

Two years later and the changes are tangible, from chic new streetwear to luxury cars, computers and satellite television — Syrian consumers have never had it so good or so liberal.

Take a drive around Damascus and roadside billboards offering the latest deals and gizmos are slowly replacing the portraits of political leaders that once dominated the landscape.

In the chic Abu Rummaneh district, crowds window-shop under the gaze of coffee-aficionados apparently captivated by the low-slung hipsters, bare bellies and tight T-shirts currently in vogue.

“The liberalisation of the economy has allowed a real clothing revolution. Even if the standard of living leaves much to be desired, and ‘designer label’ clothes are still the privilege of the rich, the label ‘made in Syria’ is producing fashionable clothes at affordable prices,” says Salem Seif, a specialist in ready-to-wear gear.

The old cars of the 1960s and 1970s, patched-up and welded together by skilled metalworkers, are ceding place to new luxury models, preferably German.

And the information technology revolution is in full swing, with an explosion of satellite dishes and Internet cafes where only last decade communications were once tightly monitored by paranoid officialdom.

“Only 12 years ago, telecommunications were just a pious vow. Everything that resembled a telephone link was under tight surveillance,” recalled Mazen, a mobile phone distributor.

Ownership of a fax was punishable by a spell in prison, the Internet didn’t exist and local television was limited to two boring stations.

Now, according to official figures, nearly 65 percent of Syrian homes have a satellite dish compared with 18 percent in 2000.

Nearly 1.1 million out of Syria’s 19-million people are now connected to the Internet, according to figures from the Syrian Telecommunication Establishment. At the end of 2006 some 4.2 million Syrians were mobile phone subscribers.

Officially, Syria is cautiously carrying out its economic reforms based on the progressive disengagement of the state to the benefit of the private sector without neglecting the social balance.

Analysts however question the “anti-social” results of a transition they say accentuates inequality.

“Economic power is moving towards an influential class close to the authorities,” writer Yassin Hajj Saleh said in a recent article in the pan-Arab Al-Hayat newspaper.

This “politico-mercantile class is formed of a new alliance between the authorities and capital,” said the analyst, questioning its impact on the “social chapter.”

“Liberalism is being reflected on the social level by a worsening of basic services, notably health, education, housing and transport, while a private sector — very expensive and reserved for the rich stratum — is developing in parallel,” said Hajj Saleh.

He sees as evidence of this double track evolution “the development of poverty belts (slums) around the main towns,” the result of a rural exodus, in parallel with the appearance of “luxury suburbs dotted with huge villas and leisure centres.”

“Corruption, lack of profitability and bad management have transformed the public sector into a field plundered by an (influential) class,” said the private weekly newspaper, Bourses and Markets, which reckons the sector has lost 1.7 billion dollars.

“Privatisation is now unavoidable,” said the paper which criticises the “social disengagement of the state.”

“Nearly 800,000 officials in the public sector are unionised compared with 1.5 million 10 years ago, while Syria now has 3.5 million employees in the private sector… left by the wayside,” it added.

It denounced the “new law on work which eliminates the social gains which have benefited workers since 1959.”

July 2nd, 2007, 2:56 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Jamal stated:

Now what?

Now it is time to blame everyone except the perpetrators.

July 2nd, 2007, 4:52 pm


t_desco said:

For the record:

Cars used in attacks on UNIFIL, Murr, Tueni, Eido and in Ashrafiyeh all bought in March 2005? – Al-Hayat; EFE

July 2nd, 2007, 5:44 pm


Leila A. said:

Solar electricity is not the answer to everything, but I would hope Lebanon and Syria are looking at alternative energy to complement their main sources. Solar hot water heaters, for instance, are lower tech than photovoltaic cells, and cost less money. Passive solar retrofits to keep houses cooler (and why not go back to more traditional designs and building methods).

If I were living in Lebanon I’d put up a solar cell electric array on my roof. People invest in generators; people invest in ridiculously expensive marble tile, furniture, brocade curtains and kitchen equipment. Why not redirect some of that money to a source of power not even the Israelis can take away from you?

July 2nd, 2007, 6:00 pm


Leila A. said:

And here are plans for solar box cookers that could be made using widely available materials:

My children and I are constructing the “minimum box” cooker as a science project this summer. We are half way finished. When we make our first meal (I plan a chicken tagine) I will let you know how it goes.

The rich can put up solar cell generators, the poor can fashion box cookers to use the sun to make dinner.

Again, it’s not the whole solution, but every little bit helps. If every poor household in Lebanon switched from gas to solar box cookers for just one meal a day, think how much imported energy would be saved!

Israelis might bomb a nice solar cell array on the roof, but even if they did blow up a cardboard box lined with metal reflectors, it’s easy enough to make another one. The lowest tech option is the most oppression-resistant and cost-efficient.

July 2nd, 2007, 6:14 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Israelis might bomb a nice solar cell array on the roof, but even if they did blow up a cardboard box lined with metal reflectors, it’s easy enough to make another one. The lowest tech option is the most oppression-resistant and cost-efficient.

Leila A.,

I have another “oppression-resistant” cooker idea, and you wouldn’t be forced to prepare food solely on your roof!

I suggest using unspent Katyusha rocket fuel! With the large supply of Katyasha rockets in Lebanon (all totally funded by charitable contributions from around the Arab world) and the rocket fuel’s high heat content, you should be able to cook for free for years to come!

Anyway, you may want to call your local Hezbollah office and see if this could be worked out.

July 3rd, 2007, 11:03 am


ausamaa said:


Not a practical idea. The unspent Katyusha rockets fuel cooker idea, I mean.

The Lebanese need the Katyushas to scare the hell out of Golani Brigade and to keep Israel at bay should other IDF soldiers wander again “by mistake” into Lebanon as happened around this time last year if you remember.

July 3rd, 2007, 9:16 pm


Honest Patriot said:

If there was a way to turn the Katyusha energy into fuel, I’m all for it. But don’t count on any Arab scientist to dedicate themselves to that task. No, their governments and tribal leaders are too busy with fratricide, hollow rhetoric, backwards stupidity, and self-destructiveness to have any such “out-of-the-box” thinking. Brilliant Israeli scientists may indeed have the solution for that, but alas Arabs will tag it as another Israeli “conspiracy” or “oppression.”

Here’s a thought: Maybe Mr. Hassan Nasrallah can use his eloquent persuarsive skills to get the Arab Nation to do it. He is hailed as a hero as it is, so he might yet get a following in that endeavor. I guess it’s OK to dream but reality pulls one back to the sad truth.

And speaking of Mr. Nasrallah, the message is still the same as a 2006 blogger sent:

Monday, August 14, 2006
Hassan Nasrallah: ENOUGH!
Hassan Nasrallah just gave his speech to Lebanon. I didn’t catch most of it, but I did catch the following: “those who think that they can talk about Hizballah’s weapons now are mistaken.”

Of course, the man cannot simply be expected to state otherwise. At this point in time, so soon after the battle, the combatants cannot but insist on claiming victory. Yet in my humble opinion, if the Israelis cannot justifiably claim a victory, neither can Lebanon (or even Hizballah for that matter).

It is true that Hizballah survived this onslaught, and in so doing, was able to achieve an unprecedented feat. However, it failed to accomplish anything else, and nomatter how much better it prepared for this war, could not have accomplished more.

On that note, I have a message I wish to convey to Nasrallah (and I think I speak for the majority of Lebanese when I say this): ENOUGH!

You are not my leader. You have just been handed your “epic battle” with the Israelis and you could not have wished for a better outcome. Of course, the price WE ALL had to pay for that “victory” of yours was astronomical. Your insistence on keeping your weapons and stubbornly tagging the Syrian-Iranian foreign policy line has brought our country to the brink of oblivion. ENOUGH, Nasrallah. ENOUGH.

The Israelis are now taking their Prime Minister to task for his folly. It would be a BIG shame if the Lebanese (including your own constituents, Mr. Nasrallah) do not take you to task. Did you really pose a deterrence to Israel? Could they have inflicted any more damage to the country? Were you the one who prevented them from doing so? Were your arms worth the price all of us paid? Can Lebanon continue like this? Will Lebanon be able to get back on its feet if you do not alter your own course? And finaly, can you and your organization, Mr. Nasrallah, really survive without Lebanon?

At the end of the day, you are the Shi’a Za’im. But that is all you are: a Shi’a Za’im. You do not Lead Lebanon. You cannot ever lead Lebanon. You are one among equals in a country defined by plurality. And if the majority of your political counterparts agree to a path that differs from the path you choose, Mr. Nasrallah (however divine you may think you, or your path is), you must accept the decision of the majority.

Lebanon, today, is at a very clear juncture, Nasrallah. You either “retire” your military component while it is at the “top,” leave a solid legacy behind, and save Lebanon in the process. Or, you persist in your obstinate ways, and drag all of the country into oblivion. Starting today, the real battle for Lebanon’s survival begins.
End Quote

Peace to those civilized enough to listen.


July 5th, 2007, 4:51 am


why-discuss said:

Honest Patriot

Your humility is touching…

July 7th, 2007, 7:00 am


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