News Round Up (28 June 2008)

[Landis Comment] Here is the latest Stratfor analysis (copied below). I am always amazed that they are read by so many. I presume their analysis on other things than Syria-Lebanon must be good? Their Syrian scoops are almost invariably wrong. Seemingly, they are linked into the Lebanese right wing propaganda chain or their Syrian opposition partners in DC because they unquestioningly repeat the silliest things. In this report about an impending life and death struggle between Hizbullah and Damascus, Stratfor analysts insist that Damascus "will likely employ its Islamist militant proxies in Lebanon to move against Hezbollah."

This is silly. One must presume that Stratfor concludes that Fatah al-Islam is a Syria proxy, that Fatah al-Islam could begin to challenge Hizbullah militarily, and that Syria would respond like this. This is to misread the regional map badly.

Must likely Syria and Hizbullah will coordinate efforts to move toward peace with Israel. Yes, a Syria-Israel peace will cause strain between Syria and Hizb, as it will with Iran, but in all likelihood, the three allies will move together toward such an eventuality, coordinating and adjusting to new realities as they develop. A few Hizbullah leaders may reject accommodation with a Jewish state in Palestine on principle, but Nasrallah will not be among them. Hizbullah understands that it is Lebanese just as Hamas understands that it is Palestinian.Here is the Stratfor analysis for what it is worth.

Summary: There are a number of indications that peace talks between Syria and Israel are continuing to advance despite the political instability of the Jewish state. This progression could have grave implications for Hezbollah.

Analysis: Unnamed French officials leaked in Asharq Al-Awsat daily newspaper on June 26 that Syria is prepared to “reconsider” its relations with Iran — a core demand that Israel has placed before Syria in their ongoing peace negotiations. The report stated that Damascus and Tehran do not see eye to eye on a number of regional issues, with the secular Syrian regime more interested in circumscribing Hezbollah’s power in Lebanon and preventing Iraq from becoming an Iranian-dominated religious state. It has now been a full day since that report was leaked without a peep from Syria to deny the French claim, indicating that the peace talks taking place between Israel and Syria are actually getting somewhere.

The French, in particular, are more than ready to make sure these talks culminate in a Camp David-style agreement as France prepares to take the EU presidency July 1. With a mission to bring Paris back into the geopolitical limelight by integrating itself abroad in regions where French legacy already runs deep, French President Nicolas Sarkozy is eyeing the Levant for a major foreign policy success and has wasted no time in latching onto the Israeli-Syrian negotiating process. Arrangements are already being made for face-to-face meetings between Syrian President Bashar al Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert when the two travel to Paris on July 13 for a Mediterranean Union summit.  

The French are also busy reassuring the Syrians that Israeli domestic politics are not going to get in the way of the peace talks. While skeptics of the negotiations have focused on the point that Olmert is negotiating from a position of weakness given a bribery scandal that threatens to topple him from power, French diplomatic circles are pumping the Syrian state-controlled press with reports claiming that the main political players in Israel, including far-right Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, are also in favor of keeping the peace talks alive.

Syria appears to be feeling confident enough about the Israeli political situation to keep on trucking with the negotiations. Though Olmert is still in a precarious political position, the negotiations with Syria do not depend solely on him being in power. In fact, Labor leader Ehud Barak, as well as several high figures in Israeli political and military circles, sanctioned the negotiations when the channel between Israel and Syria opened in the fall of 2006. And with Barak’s recent decision to stave off party primaries and keep the ruling Kadima coalition intact, Syria can find comfort in knowing there is enough degree of continuity in the Israeli political spectrum to keep the talks going.

But while the diplomatic chatter continues, real progress in a Syrian-Israeli political deal will primarily be seen on the ground in Lebanon. An Israeli-Syrian rapprochement will have to involve Syria’s cooperating in trimming Hezbollah to size. As Stratfor has written before, a great deal of distrust has been brewing between Syria and Hezbollah ever since the February assassination of Hezbollah chief commander Imad Mughniyah in Damascus, and Syria has given a number of indications that there will be no love lost between itself and the Shiite militant group should Israel move on a deal.

When Syria feels it has received the proper assurances to move on the deal, it will likely employ its Islamist militant proxies in Lebanon to move against Hezbollah (not to mention Syria’s own security forces if and when the circumstances call for it). A number of Syrian and Saudi-backed Islamist militant groups — operating under a variety of shadowy names that are designed to sow confusion — have been popping up recently in Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps.

Hezbollah, anticipating a Sunni militant campaign against the Shiite group, has been put on guard and is already digging its heels in for a bloody fight.

Lebanon’s Druze community also needs to be watched. The Druze, led by Walid Jumblatt, are not at all enthralled with the idea of the Syrians and the Israelis working toward a deal that would reassert Syria’s hegemonic presence in Lebanon. The Druze, along with large segments of Lebanon’s Maronite Christian and Sunni population that form Lebanon’s anti-Syrian coalition, have benefited from having the Syrians live in diplomatic isolation ever since the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri that drove Syrian troops out of Lebanon.

Syria has since steadily rebuilt its security presence in Lebanon, and has even reportedly stationed troops on Lebanese soil in the remote hills north of the town of Rashaya al Wadi. The anti-Syrian communities see the writing on the wall, and are searching for ways to derail the peace talks and keep the Syrians at bay. But at the end of the day, they are minor players in this game. Lebanon is a severely fractured state that is beholden to the interests of outside powers.

If the Syrians are laying the groundwork to move back into Lebanon under a broader diplomatic understanding with Israel, there is little the Lebanese can do to unravel the process. As is the nature of Lebanese politics, the best option in the end is for these factions simply to switch sides and align once again with the enemy to stay politically afloat.

Hezbollah does not have that option, however. If a deal is to move forward, Syria must move against Hezbollah (not to mention Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad). The best option the Shiite group has to jeopardize the peace talks is to carry out a major attack inside Israel to destroy the credibility of the already-weak Israeli government in the negotiations. But such a move comes with big risks. A significant Hezbollah attack inside Israel would almost surely invite a powerful Israeli military response, particularly by a government that wants to set the record straight on the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah summer conflict. Either way Hezbollah moves, it is being set up for failure. Washington's Policy of Isolating Syria Hurting U.S.
Mona Yacoubian and Scott Lasensky of the U.S. Institute of Peace

Washington's attempt to isolate and undermine the Assad regime has largely failed, concludes a new Council Special Report. The Bush administration's policy of "new economic sanctions, a diplomatic boycott, and increasing contacts with the Syrian opposition," has not compelled Damascus to "change course and comply with Washington’s…demands." Instead the authors advocate working with Syria where U.S. and Syrian interests may overlap. They argue that "the benefits of engagement with Syria are derivative of broader U.S. goals in the region:" seeking stability in Iraq and Lebanon, promoting peace and stability between Israel and its Arab neighbors, and heading off Iranian influence. They explain that "engagement with the Syrians would rely on a variety of diplomatic tools…balancing rewards for sustained cooperation with severe consequences for continued Syrian intransigence."

A new law for foreign ownership in Syria, law number 11, was signed this week by the president. It amends the 1952 law. The new law deprives the foreigner from passing along his possessions to children. The other surprise in the law is that the foreigner can only own a single property, which must first be approved by a long legal process involving the minister of interior. This is a compromise bill which seems likely to satisfy few. Although it permits foreign ownership of property and real-estate, it makes the process onerous and subject to bribery and shenanigans, which seems all too normal these days.

Liz Sly is the hot new thing in Lebanon. Her stories out of Damascus are fun and find a new twist on the regular gruel. Since when did the Chicago Tribune try to compete in the Lebanon market? Her site explains: "Liz Sly is the Tribune's Middle East correspondent based in Beirut, and has spent most of the past few years reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan" Welcome to Liz!

An ancient city reborn
By Liz Sly
Chicago Tribune correspondent
June 26 2008

Upwardly mobile young Syrians are snapping up and restoring Ottoman-era homes at dizzyingly high prices, making Damascus' Old City the hottest of housing markets

DAMASCUS, Syria; Wanted for renovation: a centuries-old wreck, Roman features a plus. Must have a courtyard, a fountain and a rooftop terrace with a view of the ancient minarets and church spires rising from what claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world……..

Syria glitters, but glare hides woes
Troubled ties with U.S., dwindling oil reserves affect psyche of nation

DAMASCUS, Syria — In the evenings, the glitterati of Damascus gather at Z-Bar, a zinc and crystal confection perched on the roof of one of the city's hotels. As the cocktails flow and the music pumps, the green neon lights of a dozen mosques twinkle down on the revelers from the nearby mountainside.

By day, any one of a half-dozen cafes serves flavored lattes to trendy young Syrians. The latest European fashions are on sale in newly opened stores. Shiny glass offices house private banks, and flashy late-model cars zip among the battered yellow taxis.

Despite the Bush administration's efforts to isolate Syria for allegedly supporting terrorism, the country is flourishing—at least on the surface. In the eight years since President Bashar Assad took office, Syria has opened up its economy to private ownership and foreign investment, breathing new life into a country long stifled by its Baathist socialist rules.

An oasis in the Mideast

A nearly fourfold increase in tourism since 2001 has seen foreigners flocking to the spruced-up streets of Damascus. And while its neighbors struggle to contain sectarian and religious conflicts, Syria boasts that it remains an outpost of secularism, a bastion of tolerance in a region of growing extremism……….

Bolton on Bush's North Korea deal in McClatchy's:  "I think it's a very sad day. … It reflects the collapse of the Bush doctrine," said former undersecretary of state John Bolton, a leading hawk on proliferation issues…."

Bookings on Refugees (pdf):"Iraqi Refugees in the Syrian Arab Republic: A Field-Based Snapshot,"
by Ashraf al-Khalidi, Sophia Hoffmann and Victor Tanner
June 2007

Table of Contents 

BACKGROUND: VIOLENCE AND DISPLACEMENT IN IRAQ..5 The 2003 Invasion..5 Samarra and After.6 Getting Worse?.7

IRAQI REFUGEES IN SYRIA..8 Timeline of Arrivals Since 2003..9 Iraqis in Syria: Who Are They?..11 Reasons for Departure.16 Why Syria?..20 Getting to Syria..22 Where in Syria are the Iraqis?.23

HOW IRAQIS LIVE IN SYRIA.27 Documentation.27 Housing..29 Are families together or split up?..30 Health…31 Education..33 Income and Livelihoods..34 Vulnerable Groups..37 Contacts with Iraq..39 Assistance..39 


Desperately Seeking Sanctuary
Posted June 26, 2008 | Huffington Post
By James Denselow

The United States continues to woefully fail to deliver in its responsibility to refugees forced from their homes by the repercussions of its 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Ambassador James Foley, the State Department's coordinator for Iraqi refugees, is in Syria today as part of a four-nation Mideast tour to boost the numbers of Iraqi refugees coming to the U.S. to meet the Bush administration's goal of accepting 12,000 by the end of September. The US government only managed to let in 1,608 in the 2007 fiscal year, despite a target of 7,000.

According to the UN Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration, there are over 5 million Iraqis had been displaced by violence in their country, the vast majority of which had fled since 2003. Over 2.4 million vacated their homes for safer areas within Iraq, up to 1.5 million were living in Syria, and over 1 million refugees were inhabiting Jordan, Iran, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey and Gulf States.

An often unnoticed tragedy hidden beneath so much of the bloodshed emanating from Iraq is the targeted killing and subsequent flight of minority groups from the country. Those without militias or sufficient numbers to protect themselves are amongst the most vulnerable. Palestinians living in Iraq, often there as a result of multiple previous displacements, have found themselves trapped in their thousands in and around the desert of the Syrian-Iraqi border.

As the violence against Palestinians in Iraq continues, the number of refugees in al-Waleed camp has increased to more than 1,700 today….

Syrian archaeologists have unearthed a hieroglyph close to Damascus which dates back to the pharaonic period around 1,300 years BC, the official SANA news agency reported on Saturday. "The antiquities department has discovered a hieroglyph on the outskirts of Damascus, 25 kilometres (15 miles) east (of the capital), engraved into a basalt stone slab (measuring) 70 by 50 cm (28 by 20 inches)," SANA said.

[Landis Comment] Assad's attempt to get the Indians to build a top-flight university in Syria is insteresting. Better education will remain a key Syrian reform. Unfortunately, India is already spread too thin. A member of India's Treasury Department recently asked me what India should do to boost economic ties between Syria and India. I suggested that India should send business professors to staff the new business departments in the private universities of Syria. Indians have no language problem as they speak English fluently. They are good businessmen and have top-flight universities. Their presence in Syrian univerities, I suggested, would help shift the Syrian frame of reference from the West to the East.

New Delhi June 24: Syria has requested India to set up an Indian Institute of Technology in its capital Damascus to help upgrade its technical manpower, becoming the second country after Singapore to seek an IIT on its soil.

India has told Syria it will consider the proposal, but is unlikely to agree to launch its premier technical education brand in the West Asian country any time soon, top government officials have revealed.

Syria made the request during the official visit by its President, Bashar al-Assad, to India last week, sources said.

The proposal, submitted to India by Syrian technology and telecommunications minister Emad Sabouni accompanying the visiting President, says an IIT would help the strife-torn country develop its technical manpower, sources said.

“Syrian officials are clearly impressed by the strides made by the IITs, and by the contribution of these institutes to India’s development. One official even referred to the IITs as a ‘shining example for Asia’ during the consultation,” a senior technical education officer at the ministry of human resource development said.

Under the proposal, Syria will provide land and will subsidise the institute, sources said. The remaining funding and teachers and their requirements are to be provided by India, under the proposal.

The “massive” demand for an IIT degree in West Asia would make the institute profitable for India, the Syrian delegates argued, sources said.

Earlier this year, the Joint Entrance Examination for admissions to the IITs was held at a Dubai centre, in addition to venues in India, for the first time. Dubai is the only foreign JEE centre, and was set up to meet an increasing demand from West Asian students.

Any decision on Syria’s proposal for an IIT will be taken by HRD minister Arjun Singh, under India’s education policy framework.

But the ministry is not yet ready to set up a full-fledged IIT beyond India’s shores, sources said.

The UPA government has announced eight new IITs to be set up during the Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-12). At least six of these — in Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab, Orissa and Gujarat — are set to start offering courses from this year, while the Centre is trying to launch a seventh, IIT Himachal Pradesh, before the academic session starts.

Nicholas Blanford is excellent at explaining the reasons for fighting in the North of Lebanon between Alawites and Sunnis.
Can Lebanon douse political fires?
Fighting in Tripoli is indicative of rising Sunni-Shiite tensions as the formation of a new government hits an impasse. Religious leaders called for calm Wednesday.
By Nicholas Blanford

… Take Jabal Mohsen and Tebbaneh – two quarters living cheek by jowl in the center of Tripoli, Lebanon's second-largest city. The residents of both districts have been feuding since the 1975-90 civil war when they fought on opposite sides. Today, the residents of Jabal Mohsen, who are mainly Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, are supporters of the opposition led by the militant Shiite Hezbollah.

The most popular political party in the Tebbaneh district is the Sunni Future Movement, the largest component of the March 14 parliamentary coalition. But many residents here adhere to the Salafi school of Islam, some of whom believe an ideology that brands Shiites – including Alawites – as apostates. …

[Alawites of Jabal Mohsen] blame the outbreak of fighting on the residents of Tebbaneh, saying that militant Salafi clerics had been stirring up Sunni extremists with fiery anti-Shiite sermons. Foreign jihadi militants have infiltrated Tebbaneh and are being armed and paid by Saudi officials and leaders of the Future Movement, they claim, echoing a prevalent rumor in Lebanon.

"We are besieged today. If we leave Jabal Mohsen, the Sunnis beat us and steal our cars," says a man who would only identify himself as "Ali from the Jabal." "The Future Movement …burned 15 of our houses last night. They don't want peace."

Rifaat Eid, the head of the opposition-allied Democratic Labor Party and a prominent Alawite, says that the community is placing its faith in the Army to impose order.

"If the Lebanese Army hits back at troublemakers then we will have calm," he says from his office in Jabal Mohsen. On his desk lies a pile of posters with the portraits and names of four members of Mr. Eid's party who died in the clashes this week. On a wall behind him is a picture of Hafez al-Assad, the former president of Syria and the father of Bashar al-Assad, the current head of state. The Assad family belongs to the Alawite sect that also dominates the Syrian regime. Their coreligionists in Lebanon have long maintained close political ties to Syria.

"We [Alawites] are a minority and no minority wants to make problems with the majority [Sunnis]," he says. "But we have to defend our families, wives, children. Anyone coming to kill me, I will drink his blood."

Down the hill in Tebbaneh, the rubbish-strewn streets are almost deserted except for a few young men carrying walkie-talkies. Lebanese soldiers order several youths to dismantle a barricade of oil drums and sandbags. Above it flies a black flag bearing a quote from the Koran.

Here, the accusations and strident claims of residents are an echo of those heard in Jabal Mohsen: Iranians are fighting alongside the Alawites, Hezbollah is arming them, residents of Tebbaneh are beaten and robbed if they leave their neighborhood, Jabal Mohsen started the fighting and will not stop.

"The first one we killed in the fighting was a Shiite Iranian," says Mustafa Abbas, a fruit and vegetable salesman. "They only fought hard because the Iranians were with them."

Few here on either side believe that the fighting is over. "We are poor people here in Tebbaneh, but we work and buy weapons, work and buy weapons. We have to defend ourselves," says Mohammed Mahmoud, a resident. "But in the end, it will be we poor people who suffer most of all."

Continuing political tensions in Lebanon have fanned the glowing embers of rivalry and resentment between Jabal Mohsen and Tebbaneh, triggering two days of vicious fighting earlier this week that left at least nine people dead and over 50 wounded.

Bomb in north Lebanon causes scores of casualties

BEIRUT, June 28 (Xinhua) — At least one person was killed and scores were wounded in a bomb blast that rocked an apartment building in Lebanese northern city of Tripoli early on Saturday, local Naharnet news website reported. Police was quoted as saying that the blast, reported at 5:30 a.m. (0230 GMT), struck the entrance to a building in Syria Street of Tabbaneh district. Medical sources said that most of the casualties are children, women and elderly people. The blasted building is located in Tabbaneh area which is mostly inhabited by pro-government Sunni supporters. The report said that snipers in the neighboring, pro-opposition area of Baal Mohsen, opened fire at gunmen in Tabbaneh streets, adding that rescuers were facing difficulties in their jobs due to sniper fire targeting the streets.

To get a sense of how sectarian tensions are being stirred up in Syria read the article in Assarq Alawsat: "Religious and Political Shiism in Syria," 28/06/2008, by By Manal Lutfi. The Muslim Brothers and Abdel Halim Khaddam claim that Iranian religious influence in Syria is a provocation to Sunnis and stirring up sectarian hatred and anxiety.

Comments (18)

Karim said:

from what claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world…..

It’s possible but the last archeological findings(in Ebla ,Mari,Alalakh and Aleppo and Hama tells) suggest that Hama and Aleppo are older continuously inhabited places than Damascus.

June 29th, 2008, 12:56 am


Alex said:

I’m glad Mona Yacoubian now believes that the policy of boycotting Syria and talking ONLY to “Syrian opposition” figures, is a mistake.

Only recently she hosted this event at the USIP … it was not really different from the administration’s way of portraying Syria and applying pressure on Syria and talking only to “Syrian opposition” figures.

Denis Ross, Ammar Abdelhamid and Joshua Muravchik (American Enterprise Institute) were among the enthusiastic attendants.

June 29th, 2008, 3:00 am


Alex said:

Syria News, quoting a Tunisian newpaper (Al-Shuruq):

According to Russian intelligence … There was an assassination attempt on President Sarkozy’s life in Israel.

تقارير: ساركوزي تعرض لمحاولة اغتيال في إسرائيل خلفت قتيلين أحدهما فرنسي

الاخبار السياسية

“تصريحات ساركوزي الجريئة أمام الكنيست أثارت اليمين الإسرائيلي ضده”

كشفت تقارير صحفية نقلا عن الاستخبارات الروسية أن الرئيس الفرنسي نيكولا ساركوزي نجا من محاولة اغتيال خلال توديعه في المطار في ختام زيارة له إلى إسرائيل قبل يومين.

وكانت وسائل الإعلام الإسرائيلية قالت إن جنديا إسرائيليا انتحر بالرصاص في مطار بن غوريون خلال توديع ساركوزي وقبل صعود الأخير إلى الطائرة في ختام زيارة تحدث فيها أمام الكنيست الإسرائيلي وأجرى خلالها محادثات مع كبار المسؤولين الإسرائيليين.

ونقلت صحيفة “الشروق” التونسية عن تقرير للاستخبارات الروسية ومصادر إسرائيلية أن “ما حصل في الواقع كان محاولة لاغتيال الرئيس الفرنسي بينما كان يتأهب لمغادرة فلسطين المحتلة وهذا يناقض الرواية الرسمية التي رفضتها بشدّة عائلة الجندي الدرزي القتيل رائد أسعد غانم”.

وأضافت الصحيفة في تقرير بعنوان ” المخابرات الروسية تكشف خفايا حادث مطار تل أبيب” أن تقريرا للاستخبارات الروسية رفع إلى رئيس الحكومة فلاديمير بوتين والرئيس ديمتري ميدفديف أشار إلى أن ساركوزي نجا من محاولة اغتيال وأن العملية “خلفت قتيلين أحدهما الشرطي الإسرائيلي رائد غانم من حرس الحدود (وكان ضمن الحرس الشرفي لتوديع ساركوزي) ورجل أمن فرنسي”.

وتابعت الصحيفة أن “متطرفين يهودا خطّطوا للعملية ردا على موقف ساركوزي المتعلق بالقدس”, لافتة إلى “المواقف الصريحة والجريئة التي ساركوزي في الكنيست والتي أثارت سخط اليمين الإسرائيلي عليه”.

وكان ساركوزي دعا أمام الكنيست إلى تقاسم القدس بين إسرائيل والدولة الفلسطينية وإلى إزالة المستوطنات القائمة في الضفة الغربية وحل مسألة اللاجئين الفلسطينيين.

وذكرت الصحيفة التونسية نقلا عن مصادر إسرائيلية مطلعة أن “الجندي الإسرائيلي القتيل كان مسلحا ببندقية آلية (أم16), على خلاف الرواية الإسرائيلية الرسمية من أنه كان مسلحا بمسدس”.

وأشارت المصادر الإسرائيلية نفسها إلى أن “الجندي القتيل أصيب من سلاح آخر غير سلاحه, وهو ما أدّى إلى سقوطه من على سطح بناء ,يبعد 200 مترا عن ساركوزي, مضرّجا بدمائه ووفاته خلال ثوان قبل أن يضعه الأمن الإسرائيلي في شاحنة وينقله بعيدا عن المطار”.

وكانت حالة من الارتباك الواضح سادت مراسم توديع ساركوزي بحضور الرئيس الإسرائيلي شمعون بيريز ورئيس الحكومة أيهود أولمرت خلال عزف النشيد الوطني, حيث تم اختصار المراسم وإقلاع الطائرة بسرعة.

يذكر أن زيارة ساركوزي إلى إسرائيل هي الأولى لرئيس فرنسي بعد زيارة الرئيس السابق جاك شيراك في تسعينيات القرن الماضي، والتي كادت ان تخلق ازمة سياسية بين اسرائيل وفرنسا بسبب زيارته الى القدس .

June 29th, 2008, 3:07 am


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Yes Alex, that is true. The assasination attempt was by an alien that was channeled to Israel by learning Kabalah. He was stopped because he was disguised as Maddona and that made Bruni suspicious.

By the way, if you would have taken time to read Yacoubian’s report you would not be praising it.

June 29th, 2008, 4:52 am


Karim said:

Syria unearths 2,300-year-old pharaonic engraving
16 hours ago

DAMASCUS (AFP) — Syrian archaeologists have unearthed a hieroglyph close to Damascus which dates back to the pharaonic period around 1,300 years BC, the official SANA news agency reported on Saturday.

“The antiquities department has discovered a hieroglyph on the outskirts of Damascus, 25 kilometres (15 miles) east (of the capital), engraved into a basalt stone slab (measuring) 70 by 50 cm (28 by 20 inches),” SANA said.

“This type of slab was quite widespread during the era of the Pharaohs, who used it to mark a special occasion,” department head Mahmud Hammud said, adding text on the stone dated back to the reign of Pharaoh Rameses II, between 1,290 and 1,224 years BC.

The slab shows the leg of the king and behind it, the foot of the Egyptian god Amon. Amon’s name figures in the text below the engraving although the date is illegible.

A similar engraving which dates from the same period was discovered several years ago in Al-Kiswah region near the capital and is on display at the Damascus national museum.

June 29th, 2008, 4:54 am


Alex said:


I don’t need your help in explaining to me how to estimate the reliability of a news story.

I have copied many stupid stories here from neocon friendly newspapers. When I copy a story here it does not necessarily mean that I believe it.

June 29th, 2008, 5:58 am


Frank al Irlandi said:


Stratfor over the past few months has confessed to bewilderment as to what is going on on the Israeli front. recently he pointed out that if you are planning a surprise attack on somebody’s nuclear program you don’t telegraph the intention by getting reports published in New York Times as this tends to ensure that the guys at the SAM batteries are quite alert when you get there. Stratfor speculates that delivery of an effective Russian SAM system is due very soon and that generates the urgency.

We must conclude that the target is something else. I hope there are enough SAM to protect the dams from severe damage.

Property in the Old City.

The cleanup operation and the laying of new sewers in the old city is proceding apace. Here is a recent picture of Bab Sharki.

The area will be quite pleasant and attractive when complete.

June 29th, 2008, 8:00 am


Nour said:

If the story of the attempted assassination of Sarkozy instead involved a Hizballah member as Sarkozy was leaving Beirut airport, AIG would be immediately promoting it and asking us to provide evidence that HA didn’t try to assassinate Sarkozy. He would also be ridiculing the possibility that a Lebanese soldier happened to just kill himself at the airport while Sarkozy was leaving. Basically AIG exemplifies the term hypocrisy.

June 29th, 2008, 11:50 am


ghat Albird said:

Stradfor: according to several comments I’ve read on other forums Stradfor views and reviews are either purposely “foggy” or reflect Debka’s well known views.

It amazaes one that all those who profess to be experts in analyzing and/or reporting on Arab/islamic as well as Middle Eastern nations are either israelis or pro-islraelis. Thus a perfect case of the blind leading the blind. So much for Stratfor who is headed by a man named George Friedman.

In regards the “accidental suicide” during the departure of Mr. and Mrs Sarkozy from Tel Aviv airport such occurences are quite normal in several parts of the world. According to inside sources the two young Melendez brothers who shot and killed their parents in the basement of their Beverly Hills home a few years ago did not actually commit murder. The two brothers were practising “skeet shooting”. One of them played tennis in Israel a few days after the event.

Their father and mother did not hear their sons warning shouts of “don’t come in, we are practising”. The Hollywood press hinted that this crime could be called an “accidental suicide” and suggested that it parallels the accidental suicide of Count Bernadotte in the late 1940s in the Middle East.

A blogger in the US claims that the young Israeli Druze soldier was taunted by the two female soldiers on either side of him on whether he was capable of “faking his suicide” as a parting shot for the Sarkozy’s benefit.

June 29th, 2008, 12:29 pm


Nour said:

Looks like the “Israeli” cabinet has approved the prisoner swap deal with HA. Samir Quntar will among those released.

June 29th, 2008, 1:45 pm


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

I think the swap is a bad deal since the prisoners are most likely dead. But, Israel has a committment to its soldiers and their families. Hizballah will make Kuntar a hero yet again displaying the value chasm between it and Israel.

June 29th, 2008, 2:12 pm


ghat Albird said:

Link to individuals and orgs that are most often mentioned as experts on Middle East/Arabs, etc,. enough said.

June 29th, 2008, 2:43 pm


JustOneAmerican said:

I get STRATFOR’s stuff and it varies quite a bit in quality depending on who the author is and the topic.

June 29th, 2008, 3:40 pm


Alex said:

Ghat Albird,

Ask Joshua about the names in the last conference in NYC he attended at one of America’s leading think tanks on foreign policy.

They were meeting to come up with Mideast strategic policy recommendations for the next administration.

I would say that every third name (out of about 50?) was an Israeli “expert”… including all the “anti terrorism experts”.

And then they had all the usual “friends of Israel” .. former and current AIPAC members… the majority of “experts” invited were from the two groups above.

I think there were zero Arabs … it seems there are no Arab experts on the Middle East.

Among their conclusions … Israel will not return the Golan to Syria … Syria is insignificant.

June 29th, 2008, 3:43 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

Jashua said the stratfor analysis is silly, he clearly meant that Syria will never be against HA,, then he said
” Yes, a Syria-Israel peace will cause strain between Syria and Hizb, as it will with Iran, but in all likelihood, the three allies will move together toward such an eventuality, coordinating and adjusting to ”
I would like to add,it may cause strain between Syrian people,and members of Baath party,and Bashar,those who will continue to consider Israel as enemy forever.
The Hizb knows who killed Mughneieh,they are not talking about revenge against Israel anymore, few members of the Hizb,I talked to, assured me,Shabaa farm is not the red line,it is Jeruselem. The Hizb has large stockpile of weapons,some has not been revealed, and are indeed very dangerous to Israel, when you have such weapons,you do not destroy it and go home, the only logical way is to hold on to power, and use these weapons one day, Israel interest in making peace with Syria,is aimed for one thing,it is to disarm the Hizb,and Syria may have the ability to do it,this will lead to strain between HA and syrian regime,as I said long time ago, but it will be more than strain, remember ,powers will fight each other at one point.

June 29th, 2008, 3:51 pm


Alex said:


I am bewildered … when I hear that Israel wants peace with Syria ONLY because Israel is afraid of Hizbollah.

What is Hizbollah going to do to Israel?

1) There is a UN buffer now between the two … no chance of abducting Israeli soldiers entering Lebanese territories.

2) Hizbollah will not take the initiative and START launching missiles on Israel… they never did.

If Israel does not invade Lebanon again Hizballah will not be that much of a “threat”

3) The Israelis claim that Hizbollah’s super missiles are all delivered through (or by) Syria … Syria supposedly has ten times more of these missiles … many of them supposedly loaded with chemical warheads.

4) In addition Syria has up to half a million soldiers compared to Hizballah’s few thousand soldiers… undoubtedly the majority of them are not as sharp and tested as Hzbollah’s fierce fighters … but surely among those 500,000 soldiers there are some 50,000 good soldiers.

So … why is it that Israel is only interested in negotiating with Syria because of Hizbollah?!

June 29th, 2008, 4:14 pm


Sasa said:

Oh please, Stratfor is just an American version of As-Siyassah.

June 29th, 2008, 4:42 pm


Alex said:

An interesting post by Dr. Ayman Hakki on Middle East Forum.

I totally agree with Ayman … we an gain tremendous strength by practicing goodness. We already did by hosting all the refugees from Iraq (or Lebanon and Palestine before) … we must show the world our generosity and our passion for helping the weak ones.

And strength is not the only thing we can gain … studies show that we feel happier when we help and donate and sympathize with others who need our help, donations or sympathy.

The Arab’s Dichotomy

What Comes First;
the dichotomy that is at the heart of Arab woes.

By Ayman Hakki

Finding a solution to the Palestinian problem is our defining cause as Syrians, Arabs, and Muslims. Yet, by focusing on this concern our civic development has taken a back seat. The Arab region is today at or near the bottom of nearly all regions of the world in terms of overall development. This not only impoverishes us, it hampers us in our race with Israeli civic society, and is in itself a perpetual prescription for losing. Syrians and Arab Americans must address our societal development, before we can achieve a modicum of parity with our adversary.
The UN Commission on Development highlighted the major components of our woes: ubiquitous lack of political popular representation, the sidelining of our women, and factors like rampant corruption stand in the way of our development. That UN study was a painful eye opener. However, collecting data and acting upon it are two different things in the Arab world because of a central cleavage in Arab political will. This cleavage is not only political but also an intellectual cleavage, a visceral cleavage, and a very legitimate cleavage to boot.

There are two Arab political schools of thought. One claims that Arab reform is their priority (neo-Liberals / Centrists); while the other camp claims that a focused liberation strategy should supersede any reform efforts (paleo-Radicals / Authoritarians.) Surprisingly, the second group is now more popular in the whole Arab world. When asked about the Arab center, Syria’s eloquent Ambassador to Washington Imad Mustapha* gleefully quotes a recent study by the University of Maryland. The students reportedly poled Arabs in the five most “Centrist” of Arab countries. Leaders like Nassrallah, Assad and Ahmadinijad were more popular than the moderate Arab Kings and Presidents. Noteworthy is the fact that these popular Arab leaders are exactly the three that the current U.S. administration has targeted for punishment, ostracism and sanctions. Therefore reformism, whether legitimate or not, must take a back seat until the current US administration is out of office. This Bush/ Cheney administration has succeeded where no one ever has in strengthening regimes that are confrontational and authoritarian. All that they have to say is, “Look where freedom has gotten the Iraqis.”

No two men personify this Arab dichotomy more than Marwan Muasher and Hassan Nassrallah. Marwan is an erudite and congenial Georgetown educated Jordanian Arab who has a resume that is the envy of anyone in Washington. Hassan is a fire-brand Shiaa clerk, a battle-hardened Lebanese leader … and the most popular man in the Arab world. Dr. Muasher became rightfully famous for being the first Jordanian ambassador to Israel, the inspiration behind the US Road Map For Peace in the Middle East, and a leader in Jordan’s reform effort. Nassrallah became famous in the Arab world for being the first Arab who fought Israel to a draw. What is very interesting is that both men, though polar opposites in polish and style, say the same thing: the Palestinian cause is the central cause of all Arabs, and finding a just solution is the Arab world’s number one priority. Where they differ is in how to achieve a solution. Do we achieve it by bettering our selves first and engaging Israel in dialogue, or do we do so by focusing on confronting Israel militarily?

In Marwan Muasher’s** recent book “The Arab Center: The Promise of Moderation”, he eloquently states his position: “Coexistence, diversity, and moderation are values that cannot apply to the peace process alone but must be practiced internally in Arab societies. Arab governments cannot demand that Arabs accept relations with Israel, while refusing to accept opposition parties in their own countries, and still be seen as credible by their publics.”(p. 260) It is hard to argue with his solid logical construct but it discloses a subliminal concern that without the fig leaf of a confrontational posture towards Israel most Arab regimes lack political legitimacy. On the other hand just listen to Hassan Nassrallah’s recent speech and you may be able to hear the persuasive counter argument. To paraphrase Nassrallah, he states that “We call on all Arabs and Muslims world wide, especially our Sunni brothers, to adopt our liberation strategy, our every act should be judged by one criterion; will it achieve the liberation of our brothers in Palestine and Iraq.” Such a clear, precise and cogent argument resonates in the Arab world.

American and Israeli occupation of Arab land is a powerful distraction from focusing on self improvement, but conversely it may be impossible to get liberated if we remain inconsequential in a global sense. Until we start to develop a sense of civic cohesiveness equal to our adversary, we may never beat them, or get concessions from them as a society. So, how do we get there? We stop bickering about what comes first, and work on both.

Engage Israel in dialogue and bettering ourselves by envisioning a plan to get there. This a change in priorities from Marwan’s approach in that reform and peace must go hand in hand; that we should not wait for peace to be attained before we take on the issue of reform. Our current situation has shown us that we chose to wait in the past, and the results have been devastating to Arab society

To start with we must realize that our civic responsibility goes beyond our doorstep; that we should extend our admirable care for our homes into our streets, and spread our deep love for our kin into our neighbors and countrymen. Secondly, we must construct palatable financial programs that allows our wealthy to disproportionately –but not exclusively– carry the burden of our civil betterment. Inside and outside Syria, men and women, Muslim and Christian, rich and poor, powerful and weak, Syrians must all make relative contributions. Our motto should be a voluntary burden proportional to the breadth of one’s shoulders.

This system must reward these two simultaneous civic improvement plans by public acknowledgment of individual contributions, and the rewards must be highly publicized. We are a people of great pride, and through the legitimate enhancement of our pride we may achieve what coercion and religious appeals have failed to yet achieve: a civic society that is on par with that of our internally-civilized though externally heavy-handed, aggressive and outright brutal enemy.

Then and only then will our negotiating position become strong enough, and our military threat credible enough, to force Israel into concessions that would allow for the restoration of Palestinian rights. Until then a lot of hard work must be done, and the time to start is today.

* Paradoxically, before becoming ambassador, Dr. Mustapha was one of the two men who wrote a scathing report on economic development in Syria pointing to corruption as the largest impediment of development.
** Dr. Muasher’s mother was a Palestinian from Jaffa displaced by the Israelis. When he went back to Israel as the ambassador, he witnessed firsthand the plight of his mother’s people living as Christian Arabs and second-class citizens in the Jewish State.

June 29th, 2008, 5:28 pm


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