Syria & Lebanon Should Hold Simultaneous Talks With Israel

by Qifa Nabki

Syria's peace talks with Israel have reached a breakthrough or a dead end, depending on whom one chooses to believe. 

Whatever the reality is, it looks likely that the talks have entered a temporary holding pattern to be sustained over the next several months while various regional and international uncertainties are resolved: the identities of the incoming American president and Israeli Prime Minister, the status of Iranian relations with the West, the security situations in Iraq and Palestine, etc.

I have argued over the past few months that Syria would do well to include Lebanon in its current talks with Israel. The presence of Lebanese negotiators alongside Syrian ones in Turkey would send several positive signals to various parties, which might compel positive responses in return.

1. It would demonstrate to the Americans that these talks are not merely a publicity stunt designed to hoist Syria out of its isolation, but rather that they would have an important bearing upon an American ally (Lebanon's Saniora government). 

2. It would further emphasize the idea that Syria recognizes Lebanon's sovereignty and is not negotiating on its behalf or behind its back.

3. It would send the signal to the Israelis that Syria has decisive clout with its allies in Lebanon, and can make them come to the table and negotiate with Israel when the conditions are right.

These positive signals might produce some fruitful results, namely:

a) Curbing criticism of and resistance to Syria/Hizbullah in Lebanon's political arena, if it is felt that the status quo will dramatically shift within the next few years following a peace deal. In other words, all of the fanfare about Hizbullah's weapons might be swept under the table again if the party's opponents can envision a stage at which Syria would pressure Hizbullah to conform to new political realities.

b) The Americans might seize this development as a face-saving way to sponsor the talks, given that one of their foremost regional allies is committed to it.

c) Reinvigorating the talks and putting them on the front page again, where they have the best chance of succeeding.

There is no reason for President Bashar al-Assad to introduce this tactic at the current moment, when it will likely be ignored by the Bush administration. However, it is conceivable that either Obama or McCain would be more open to exploring the potential of these talks than George W. Bush, and a Syrian gesture of this nature would make it far easier for the Americans to switch tack.

Both the French and Israelis have called for Lebanon to engage in direct talks, with the usual brush off by Lebanon's leaders, who know better than to pursue such a track without a Syrian green light. Since the road to peace leads through Lebanon, however, Syria would do well to begin paving the way for an eventual settlement by bringing its neighbor on board, even if only in a limited capacity.  

Comments (86)

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

The reason this will not happen is the following. Currently anyone seen negotiating with Israel form Lebanon is labeled a traitor. But if Syria “allows” Lebanon to negotiate with Israel, that means that Hizballah will have to stop calling such people traitors and then the floodgates will open and the whole process can run out of control. Imagine two months into the process, the Lebanese PM returns from a secret meeting with the Israeli PM with a new agreement for Lebanon to get back Sheba in exchange for an end to hostilities between the two countries and normalization over several years? Even FPM would be for such an agreement. How would Hizballah stop such a process if the “traitor” label cannot be used anymore? The bottom line, the Syrians cannot allow any negotiation between Israel and Lebanon to be kosher until the Syrians have an agreement.

If you want to negotiate with Israel you will have to do it inspite of the Syrians and not because of them.

August 31st, 2008, 4:30 am


Alex said:

Interesting idea QN.

I have a feeling we will know more when Sarkozy is in Damascus in a couple of days. He will talk about Lebanon.

And … sometimes I wonder how many dossiers on planet earth are on hold waiting for the next administration to replace the current one.

August 31st, 2008, 6:00 am


Shai said:


Excellent post. Thank you.

I completely agree that Lebanon should participate in the talks. It will actually be seen in Israel as another confidence building measure. But I do see two problems at the moment, from Lebanon’s and Syria’s side:

1. Lebanon: It doesn’t seem to be in Hezbolla’s best interest (and I doubt Khamenei would give his approval).

2. Syria: By bringing Lebanon into the talks, Syria’s role and footing are minimized. Suddenly, Lebanon seems an “equal” to Syria. And clearly from Syria’s point of view, this cannot take place, at least not now. Syria (correctly) wants to establish herself as the key player in the region. One that has to be addressed if anyone wants peace and quiet here one day. Syria wants her influence in Lebanon to serve as a super-important “card” in the negotiations with Israel. After all, what do Israelis need Syria most urgently for, if not to restrain HA, or at least make sure it no longer receives arms through Syria. If Lebanon is a partner to the talks, in theory (perhaps in practice) Israel would talk directly to Lebanon about these issues, and Syria will get no perceived credit for it.

At the moment, Syria wants to capture the spotlight. Its interests are far reaching, go well beyond the return of the Golan. They want to be treated and respected as the leading Arab nation in the region. It wants its isolation to end, and it wants the West to be dependent on her (in the stability sense). Syria most likely, therefore, will not opt to “share” the stage with anyone right now. If there is a way to bring Lebanon in, it’ll have to be in such manner as not to contradict or endanger any of these issues. Can such a formula be found? I’m not sure. What are your thoughts on this?

August 31st, 2008, 6:15 am


offended said:

We’ve always talked about ‘talazom al masarayen’ (the correlated progression of both peace tracks). In fact, that was always the case before things went awry in Lebanon.

I agree that the benefits, should such concurrence of negotiation take place. And I like the flag btw!

August 31st, 2008, 6:40 am


offended said:

I meant to say that the benefits would be huge. For some reason the ‘edit’ option isn’t working.

August 31st, 2008, 6:48 am


Ras Beirut said:


Very good post and insight my friend.

Fully agree that Lebanon should be at the table. We can negotiate in a fair manner.

August 31st, 2008, 6:49 am


Jamal said:

I’m doing a catch-up and have just read Ehsani’s and Idaf’s first-person reports on their Syrian trips posted August 18 and the comments that followed. Really excellent stuff, illustrating the real value of Syriacomment and reminding us of what this forum should be.

But one throwaway line left me thinking WHAT???? in a comment from Khorshid Kasnoum: “I have lived here for a year now, and still find it very hard to reconcile good days and bad days. One minute you’re congratulating the authorities on the development of the tourist sector infrastructure, the next day you hear of public executions outside the new Aleppo Sheraton. ”

Public executions outside the Sheraton???

Please, can anyone here support or refute this?

August 31st, 2008, 6:59 am


offended said:

Jamal, public execustions are common in Aleppo. Specially for the psychopath (e.g. pedophile serial killers). The gallows are erected in the Clock Circle (dawar al sa3ah). Which is near to the Sheraton.

But it’s not quite often, once every couple of year or soemthing.

August 31st, 2008, 7:58 am


why-discuss said:


I agree with you. Syria will play hard to get if negotiations will become serious. They will wait for Lebanese leaders to ask(beg?) for participation of Lebanon at Syria’s conditions. Sleiman has understood that and is making repeated public declaration in apparent effort to show Syria that Lebanon can help to bring Syria back in the international community. Is this sufficient? I ask the question again, what is the price Syria will ask to include Lebanon in the negotiations?
Lebanon cannot negotiate alone, it has nothing to offer to Israel, except Hezbollah neutralization that is exclusively dependant on Syria and Iran.

August 31st, 2008, 8:02 am


norman said:


Lebanon as it is now with this government not trustworthy enough for Syria not to fear another Jordon or Egypt,

Syria just can not take a chance now , when Lebanon has more representative government that Syria can trust , I think Syria , Lebanon and the Palestinians with Iran as an observer should call on Israel to negotiate a permanent and a comprehensive peace in the Mideast as that is the only way to future prosperity for all .

August 31st, 2008, 9:22 am


Qifa Nabki said:

Will respond to folks in a bit. In the meantime, here are a couple of interesting news items:

Washington Bans Israel from Attacking Iran

The United States has informed Israel that it bans any attack on Iran to knock down its nuclear program, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat reported Sunday.
The newspaper, in a Tel Aviv-datelined report, said Washington has “clearly informed Israel… that we would not allow you to launch war on Iran.”

The reported U.S. message also includes a ban on the use of Iraqi airspace to launch raids against Iran, the report added.

Some Israeli forces believe the “west has succumbed” to the idea of nuclear-armed Iran … and Israel must acknowledge this reality,” according to the report.

However, “the majority of Israeli political and military officials believe that Iran’s nuclear program poses a direct threat to Israel’s existence,” the report said.

Such officials believe that “they should get rid of this (Iranian) program,” the report explained.

Getting rid of the Iranian nuclear program can be achieved “by the collapse of the ruling regime, by an American military strike or by effective international pressure that reaches the level of a suffocating blockade,” it added.

Nevertheless, “If the (whole) world does not back one of these options, Israel would be left with no choice but to act alone” against Iran, the report added.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has worked out a “compromise” with the forces calling for striking Iran. He upgraded the budget of the military and security agencies to prepare for a strike and opened dialogue with Syria via Turkey.

The report quoted Olmert as saying going to “war against Iran without peace with Syria would be a serious adventure.”

“The army believed that Syria would take part in such a war, Israel can defeat Syria and reach as deep as Damascus, threatening to occupy the Syrian capital.

“But such an operation, even if its success is guaranteed, would cost Israel 1,000-2,000 fatalities, would lead to shelling several Israeli cities and would result in extensive damage sustained by both sides.

“Above all, this war would end by going into negotiations focusing on returning the Golan to Syria.”

The report also quoted Olmert as saying “as long as the result would be negotiations over the Golan, but only after major losses, why don’t we start negotiations on the Golan now and achieve peace that gets Syria out of the sphere of Iranian influence?”

It also quoted Olmert as saying “Syrian President Bashar Assad is not an adventurer, he is a smart person …and doesn’t perceive himself with Iran, strategically.”

Beirut, 31 Aug 08, 07:40

August 31st, 2008, 10:57 am


Qifa Nabki said:

Paris Working for Quadripartite Summit in Damascus to Discuss Lebanon

Paris is trying to sponsor a quadripartite summit in Damascus grouping leaders of France, Syria, Turkey and Qatar to discuss the Lebanon situation and the Middle East peace process, the daily Asharq al-Awsat reported Sunday.
It said Paris wants the summit held during President Nicolas Sarkozy’s forthcoming visit to Damascus for talks with his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad.

The proposed summit also is to include Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Emir of Qatar Sheik Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani, according to the Paris-datelined report.

The proposed summit would consider the Lebanon situation, the Syrian-Israeli talks through Turkey, the Palestinian-Israeli talks and regional topics, the report added.

It quoted informed French sources as saying Sarkozy would not be accompanied by an expanded economic and business delegation during his visit to Syria because “the two states are still in the stage of setting up political relations.”

It is unlikely for Sarkozy’s visit to Syria to result in signing “economic contracts or cooperation agreements,” the report noted.

The sources said relations with Damascus “are still in the initial stage. Upgrading such relations remains linked to development of the situation in Lebanon.”

It said France and the European Union want to play a role in the 2009 Lebanese Parliamentary elections by commissioning observers to monitor the balloting process.

Beirut, 31 Aug 08, 08:56

August 31st, 2008, 10:59 am


Innocent_Criminal said:


I have long felt that Lebanon should be negotiating side by side with Syria. Even when the latter was totally controlling Lebanon. It would have placed both parties in a stronger position to negotiate with Israel. Unfortunately Syria’s view of Lebanon was in belittling its role as a smaller sister that can’t take care of its self.

But a lot has changed since then that’s why I agree with Shai that it is a bit more difficult to see both working together without solving the more immediate problems between Lebanon and Syria. I don’t agree with Shai however that HA is an obstacle. I think negotiating with Israel can be done directly with the Lebanese government to circumvent HA and save face. Negotiating might even give HA breathing space by appearing more pragmatic.

BUT, if you take HA & Amal government officials out of this equation you’re left with a lot of anti-Syrian politicians whom Damascus will not be able to trust. So first, we need to solve the Lebanese-Syrian track before heading to the negotiating table with Israel. Maybe the current “holding pattern” as you call it will provide enough time for these two to overcome their differences. I personally doubt it, but one can hope.

August 31st, 2008, 11:10 am


Jamal said:

Public executions still common in Syria. Yes, note: an ugly and primitive instrument of state terrorism that has long disappeared in most other countries including the Middle East.

One more thing for the Bashar boosters on Syriacomment to brush off and ignore in their determined state of denial.

Add that to the latest state massacre at Sidnaya prison, the vicious treatment of dissident intellectuals, the sinister killing of his own henchmen (Kanaan, Suleiman) and and the filthy littered streets. And don’t forget the reckless foreign policy adventures, the economic chaos and corruption.

Remember, Bashar does not need votes and laws to change these things. He’s an unelected dictator.

But we keep reading here that he’s so friendly and good humored and his cute wife looks so glamorous prancing around with the Sarkozys. Ah and so clever – the way he wins foreign affairs points even by doing nothing. All this is so much more important than what he does with the population of Syria whose fate he has hijacked.

And best news of all seems to be those those fantastic new luxury hotels and shops that make some Syriacommentators so pleased and proud – and apparently blind to the surrounding decaying public infrastructure.

I like the powerful symbolism (mentioned in earlier post): a public execution outside the new Aleppo Sheraton.

August 31st, 2008, 12:17 pm


Shai said:


I see your point about HA. I guess I figured if they had no interest in such participation, they could make sure it didn’t take place (either via Syria, or its own power in holding the government together). But still, Syria is the main challenge, as it has other interests in mind. This is my opinion, at least.

August 31st, 2008, 12:20 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

AIG said:

How would Hizballah stop such a process if the “traitor” label cannot be used anymore? The bottom line, the Syrians cannot allow any negotiation between Israel and Lebanon to be kosher until the Syrians have an agreement.

AIG, you raise a good point. I am, of course, taking Syria at its word (or calling its bluff, depending on one’s perspective), and assuming that its government actually desires peace with Israel and is willing to dismantle the Lebanese resistance in exchange for the Golan.

My point is that if this is the case, then Syria could convince many skeptics on the Israeli and American side by demonstrating that it can bring its Lebanese horse to water and make him drink.

Of course, Syria will want to keep its hand on the brakes at all time, but it can now do this through Hizbullah’s veto and a friendly Lebanese president in General Suleiman. The conditions are (almost) right… now it just needs a leap of faith, perhaps in a few months.

August 31st, 2008, 12:32 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

Dear Shai,

You said:
1. Lebanon: It doesn’t seem to be in Hezbolla’s best interest (and I doubt Khamenei would give his approval).

It will never be in Hizbullah’s best interests, but everyone more or less agrees that the dismantling of the resistance will be the price for the Golan. So, this in itself is not a real obstacle to the gesture, because it’s going to have to happen sooner or later.

2. Syria: By bringing Lebanon into the talks, Syria’s role and footing are minimized. Suddenly, Lebanon seems an “equal” to Syria.

I think that nobody will actually believe that the Lebanese are in charge of their own fate. I’m not suggesting that Lebanese negotiators go to Turkey to actually negotiate with the Israelis. If they’re lucky they might be able to order their own room service. Other than that, the Syrians will be calling the shots. Everyone understands this. But I still think that it would be a useful CBM that might have legs.

August 31st, 2008, 12:38 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


My friend, I will have to disagree again with you about the idea that Lebanon will have to pay a price to Syria to be included in its negotiations. It is not in Syria’s interest for there to be an open front on its borders with Israel, once a Golan deal has been signed. Plus, Israel’s price for the Golan will be a quiet and stable Lebanon that does not pose a threat to its own security.

Ammo Norman,

I think you are right about the current government in Lebanon. This development may have to wait until after the elections. But there is no guarantee that Syria will get a more pliant government even then. My personal feeling is that the vast majority of Lebanese want peace with Israel. Different groups set different conditions (borders, water issues, Palestinian refugees, etc.) but in general most Lebanese want peace and very few (like some Salafists and some die-hard Hizbullah types) want to see a continued liberation struggle against Israel.

August 31st, 2008, 12:44 pm


alle said:

Add that to the latest state massacre at Sidnaya prison, the vicious treatment of dissident intellectuals, the sinister killing of his own henchmen (Kanaan, Suleiman) and and the filthy littered streets.

Yes, and most especially the littered streets.

About Lebanon & Syria negotiating together, very sensible from both an Israeli and Syrian point of view — Israel wants to secure Lebanon at the same time and not leave its northern border an outstanding issue that Syria can exploit, and Syria wants to increase the value of its position (it can apply no offensive pressure on the Golan, but some in Lebanon). The risk is, to Syria, that it breaches a taboo on Lebanese negotiating if the talks don’t work out, and that it will be harder to exercise full control over Lebanon’s position if it participates in the actual talks. Perhaps they would prefer some form of token Lebanese presence, or making public a joint position between Assad & Suleiman, or something like that. From Lebanon’s standpoint, I guess whatever settles the conflict faster and with less misery is the better option; in this case, probably, following Syria to the table.

And yes, the flag is awesome.

August 31st, 2008, 12:50 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


Nice comment.

You said:

I think negotiating with Israel can be done directly with the Lebanese government to circumvent HA and save face. Negotiating might even give HA breathing space by appearing more pragmatic.

I agree with you. Actually, I think that certain key things have to take place in Lebanon before negotiators can go to Turkey. One is a successful national dialogue on the subject of Hizbullah’s weapons. If the politicians can craft a logical and balanced national defense strategy that allows Hizbullah to “let go” of its weapons in an honorable fashion while setting certain conditions for this to happen, then the stage will be set for a potential peace deal.

Here is a prediction of how this is going to happen. Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah has recently talked a lot about defense as a “national duty” which everyone in Lebanon should take up. What this suggests to me is that Hizbullah is preparing for the dismantling of its resistance in a very intelligent and politically sophisticated way. Rather than risking the unsavory image of “being stripped of its weapons”, Hizbullah is forcibly bequeathing them to the rest of the country. In other words, instead of subtracting weapons from the resistance equation, they are in effect adding people to it, thereby diluting their own presence and transforming the resistance into a national defense force.

It’s kind of brilliant.

Then again, I might be totally wrong. 😉

August 31st, 2008, 12:53 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

And yes, the flag is awesome.

Thanks, I designed it myself. 😉

Call me the Betsy Ross of Syrian-Lebanese solidarity.

By the way, if anyone else is following the current political debacle following the downing of a Lebanese Army helicopter in Hizbullah controlled territory (in what was probably a friendly fire tragedy), I think the following observations are in order:

1) It is kind of amazing to witness the reaction by FPMers who were completely shocked and outraged by this development, some immediately pointing the finger at Hizbullah and demanding justice.

2) Hizbullah immediately conducted an investigation and turned over the suspected shooter to the Lebanese Army.

3) The March 14 media jumped all over this incident in a highly unsavory fashion, accusing Hizbullah of trying to undermine the state. It is obvious that they are trying to capitalize on Christian (especially FPM) resentment of the event to create more bad feelings towards Hizbullah.

My sense is that this will backfire on M14, if indeed it was an accident (which seems almost certain), but it remains a bit of an embarrassment for the Hizb which has been publicly vocal about its desire for anti-aircraft technology.

August 31st, 2008, 12:55 pm


Dolmades said:

I disagree with the point of this post, as well as the points in it.

First, the road to peace does not go through Lebanon. I have no idea where that came from. Again, the Lebanese seem to have a knack for exaggerating the importance of their country, where strategic issues are concerned.

Second, the supposed benefits are off-the-mark conjectures that are supported by neither empirical proof or logic. So, pulling the Lebanese in will all of a sudden prompt Washington to reverse position and sponsor the talks? And, having Lebanese participation will somehow serve to dampen the criticism of el-Hiz (Hizbollah) within Lebanon?? And, bringing in the Lebanese will demonstrate to the US/Israel that Syria has enough clout in Lebanon???

Finally, Syria has absolutely no incentive to bring the Lebanese to the negotiating table, and shouldn’t…at least until the very end, when an agreement is about to be inked. Both the Israelis and the Americans know that the Syrians can deliver Lebanon, so why dilute the negotiating team? Even if there was to be Lebanese participation, those negotiating members would certainly be vetted and approved by Syria beforehand (and would probably be made to take notes and be quiet), and everyone knows it.

So, what’s the point other than to make Lebanon act like a player that it’s not?

August 31st, 2008, 1:24 pm


Shai said:


It seems to me that right now, before any agreement is reached, things act very much as a function of timing and perception. Since Syria doesn’t have the Golan guaranteed yet, it will not even suggest a disarming of HA, nor will it stop supplying it. If Syria “allows” Lebanon to be represented at the talks, the perception will be that it is ready to accept a weaker Hezbollah. Now is certainly not the right timing for that. And while in reality Lebanon may not have equal footing in such talks, again, the perception will be that Syria is ok with Lebanon representing itself (vis-a-vis Israel), and it seems to me that Syria is certainly not interested in that right now.

By the time the issue comes up for discussion, the talks may already be over… There are rumors that a final draft agreement is almost complete. If true, Olmert may try to pull a quick-one, at least in the form of a “deposit” for the Israeli people, so that the next elections will be essentially over making peace with Syria (or not). There’s no doubt that from Israel’s point of view, Lebanon’s participation would be important. But I still doubt it’s about to happen… (unfortunately).

August 31st, 2008, 1:49 pm


Innocent_Criminal said:


As mentioned before whether HA is a Syrian/Iranian “tool” or an “independent” organization it will remain an entity that is subject to pressure from its allies. And at the end of the day Syria has more influence on HA’s existance than Iran. And though i doubt HA will cross Damascus the latter will have tools to “steer” it if necessary.

August 31st, 2008, 2:11 pm


sam said:

This sounds so simple, it would definatley work. This process would be ingenuis.

August 31st, 2008, 2:13 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

Dolmades said:

First, the road to peace does not go through Lebanon. I have no idea where that came from. Again, the Lebanese seem to have a knack for exaggerating the importance of their country, where strategic issues are concerned.

Dolmades, it’s not the Lebanese who exaggerate the importance of their country. It’s everybody else who insist upon it. Syria’s “ace” at the negotiating table is Hizbullah. Hizbullah is a Lebanese phenomenon. This is what I meant about the road going through Lebanon. Or is Hizbullah nothing more than a Syrian tool? You can’t have it both ways.

So, pulling the Lebanese in will all of a sudden prompt Washington to reverse position and sponsor the talks?

Washington reversed its position on a number of Lebanese issues over the past few years, when certain perceived concessions were made by the opposite side. They agreed to Michel Suleiman as a consensus candidate. They agreed to the veto that resulted from Doha.

Both the Israelis and the Americans know that the Syrians can deliver Lebanon, so why dilute the negotiating team?

Really? Which Israelis and which Americans? (For that matter, which Lebanese?)

Even if there was to be Lebanese participation, those negotiating members would certainly be vetted and approved by Syria beforehand (and would probably be made to take notes and be quiet), and everyone knows it.

I think that I made this exact point. Check out the comments above.

August 31st, 2008, 2:17 pm


Naji said:

Good exchange between Dolmades and QN…
And btw, that cedar and two stars look a little too phallic… given the prevailing pious mood and to avoid misinterpretation, better go with two cedars and one star… 🙂

August 31st, 2008, 3:33 pm


Dolmades said:


A couple of points:

Syria’s ‘ace’ is the Iran relationship, of which Hezbollah is a part. That said, I do agree with you that it’s one of Syria’s strongest cards. Whether you want to call it a ‘tool’, a ‘card’ or something else, the fact is that the relationship is one of mutual convenience for a period of time, until it exhausts itself to one of the parties.

As for your other point, Washington didn’t “agree” to those other Lebanese issues you cited; rather, Washington played its best hand (Hariri/Jumblatt on May 7th) and had no practical choice BUT to accept those choices: Doha and, as a result, Suleiman.

As for Syria’s ability to deliver Lebanon, this is a no-brainer. The events of the past few months (including the latest appointment of Kahwaji) provide enough evidence. In any case, Point #1 above (Iran/Hezbollah relationship) alone is proof.

Given all the above, I still fail to see the value. Your proposition just sounds good, but is, with all due respect, devoid of substance. It’s a nice package with a bow on it, but has nothing inside.

August 31st, 2008, 3:44 pm


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

The theory that Hizballah will “give” its weapons to the army or integrate with it does not stand given the no fly zones Hizballah has instituted for the Lebanese army. See the recent shooting of Hizballah of an army chopper.

I think that at this point, Syria has little control over Hizballah. How can Syria deliver dismantling of Hizballah as part of the talks? That means a complete flip with Iran, which we are assured cannot happen. Objectively, Syria has a problem with the flip. If it accepts it before the agreement is signed, it could be left with nothing. No Iran support and no West support. It is a dangerous move for Syria. That is another reason I am quite sure there will not be a peace agreement.

August 31st, 2008, 3:51 pm


Naji said:

That’s our QN… one hell of a wrapper… 🙂

Having now contemplated the flag issue more deeply and seriously, I think it is better to avoid all the loaded symbols of stars,crosses, and crescents in designing a flag for these tri-partite negotiations… Three Ballout pines would probably be best to represent Syria, Lebanon, and Israel… 🙂

(I hope all will excuse the silly mood today!)

August 31st, 2008, 3:56 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


Washington agreed to Suleiman long before Doha. They agreed to him, in fact, before Annapolis. And their reversal was so unexpected that it threw the opposition back on its heels, with Aoun suddenly looking for ways to prevent a deal that handed the presidency to another Christian general named Michel.

Doha, you’re right, was not the result that the Americans were looking for. But I don’t think that your cynicism is entirely warranted. Didn’t the French change their approach to Syria following Doha? Why wouldn’t a new American president (just like the new French president) decide to change the U.S. approach, given the right circumstances? It can’t hurt to provide an opening like the one I’m describing, when the time is right. That’s my point.

Let me try to make my case again to you, and if you still think it is vacuous, we’ll leave it at that.

1) Whether or not Syria is willing and able to deliver Lebanon and to sign a peace deal with Israel is completely beside the point if Israel and the U.S. believe that Syria is unwilling and/or unable to do so.

2) At the current moment, the majority of Israelis are not interested in these talks because they probably believe (like Nour, Sami D., and Joe M.) that Syria is unwilling, or (like AIG) unable to pay the price for the Golan.

3) The Americans, too, are sticking with their isolation policy.

4) So, Bashar has decided to put the talks into a holding pattern to see what the next U.S. administration will do.

5) My argument is that sometime in early 2009, Bashar would do well to pursue the policy I’ve described, as it would demonstrate to the relevant skeptics that he is willing and able to follow through on these talks.

You may have total confidence in Syria’s ability to deliver Lebanon. But not everybody else does. Sami Moubayed has written persuasively about Iran’s barely concealed anger toward Syria about its current peace talks. Hizbullah is openly warning Israel about an impending retaliatory strike as revenge for the Mughniyyeh kill. I don’t think that Syria is unaffected by these storms in the region, nor do I think that it will be able to simply turn off the tap to Hizbullah without indulging in some advance calculations. Let’s not forget who is the most popular leader in the Arab world today, and let’s not forget that the second most popular leader earned his spot because he supports the most popular leader.

Anyway, this is the proposal, shiny bow and all.

August 31st, 2008, 6:01 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


Everything you say makes perfect sense!

… if you believe that Syria is unwilling or unable to go through with this deal. I can’t argue with your logic; it is perfectly sound.

However, if one believes that Syria IS willing and able to do it, given the right conditions, then plenty of things might change, including Hizbullah’s future, its position in the state, the Iran-Syria relationship, etc.

It’s a question of expectations. I am trying to be an optimist at the moment. If that makes me a butt licking appeasement monkey, ya habibi, so be it. Let’s wait and see what the situation on the ground is in a few months.

I guarantee you that I will have absolutely no trouble going back to my cynical ways, should the circumstances warrant it. It’s like riding a bike.

August 31st, 2008, 6:21 pm


Dolmades said:

Habeebi, when Washington accepted Suleiman is not the point. My point is that he’s someone Syria’s always wanted. After all, it was the Syrians who appointed him to head the Lebanese Army, one of the most sensitive positions in Lebanon, from a Syrian perspective.

As for Doha, it seems we’re in agreement there, so we’ll leave that point alone.

Now, with regard to the talks, I think both the Syrians and the Israelis used these negotiations for their own interests – the Syrians to help break their isolation, and the Israelis for their own political (Olmert corruption investigation) reasons. Having said that, I think both parties (Syria and Israel) also realize that it doesn’t hurt to engage to see what may result, especially that both sides acknowledge that a Syrian-Israeli agreement is really not that difficult, given that most of the issues (demands and concessions) are clear at this point. On the other hand, both sides also understand that, practically speaking, these talks could not succeed without US sponsorship, which has, thus far, been non-existent. The Syrians also understand that such sponsorship is not forthcoming while the Bush Administration remains in power, so they’re waiting it out.

Lebanon, represented or not at the table, will not make a difference, as the terms of peace from a Syrian perspective is incredibly clear – the full restoration of the Golan to Syrian sovereignty. Conversely, the price that Syria must pay has also become abundantly clear: full and normal relations with Israel and the abandonment of Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the rest of the crew.

I agree with your last point that Syria is not unaffected by the storms you outlined. It’s a complicated situation, but I also believe the Syrians, once US sponsorship is guaranteed, are willing to pay the price of peace, including delivering Lebanon (including Iran & Hezbollah). Long term, it’s in the best Syrian interest on so many levels.

Good discussion, but again, I don’t think the Lebanese presence at the negotiation table adds any value from a Syrian perspective.

Beddak ma t2akhezna.

August 31st, 2008, 6:22 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

Dolmades ya habib albi,

(One knows that the conversation is getting good when two grown Arab men start calling each other habibi)

Michel Suleiman was supposedly Syria’s candidate until Washington called their bluff and agreed to him, and then suddenly he was not the candidate anymore. If he was the acceptable candidate to both sides, then we could have avoided about 9 months of stagnation after March 14 said yes in the fall of 2007. (Just a few weeks earlier, Nabih Berri had offered to end the sit-in and drop the demand for a veto if the majority agreed to the opposition’s consensus candidate.)

Bas walla this is not related to the main point, which is that we are in agreement about the entire situation except you think that the Lebanese presence is entirely unnecessary and could indeed be a distraction rather than a help. You put it very succinctly:

Lebanon, represented or not at the table, will not make a difference, as the terms of peace from a Syrian perspective is incredibly clear – the full restoration of the Golan to Syrian sovereignty. Conversely, the price that Syria must pay has also become abundantly clear: full and normal relations with Israel and the abandonment of Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the rest of the crew.

Where I disagree with you is on the ease with which Syria will abandon “Iran, Hizbullah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the rest of the crew.” Ya akhi, it’s not going to be easy, this is what I believe. Even if Bashar wants to do it, he has to be able to show he can do it, to prove that he has the diplomatic and military muscle to do it. How long have we heard Damascus say, “Don’t ask us to control Hizbullah. They are their own bosses. We can’t tell them what to do, etc.”? Tayeb lakan if they are their own bosses… you get the idea.

This is where the Lebanese presence adds value, I believe.

August 31st, 2008, 6:34 pm


Jad said:

Very good discussion, I agree with Dolmades (I don’t think the Lebanese presence at the negotiation table adds any value from a Syrian perspective.)
I also don’t understand why the Lebanese like to be under the spot even when there is no necessity for them to be there. (I’m not criticizing; it’s just a thought)
Don’t you believe that Syrian are not the boss of Hizbullah? I do. Yet, if any agreement happens, I’m sure that Syria will be forced to solve Hizbullah issue to get the prize; this is why I agree with Dolmades that the Lebanese presence is not a priority at the moment.

August 31st, 2008, 6:45 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

Hezbollah warlord was an enigma

Imad Mughniyah, alleged mastermind of infamous terrorist attacks, was one of the most hunted men in the world. His death is as mysterious as his life.

By Borzou Daragahi and Sebastian Rotella
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

August 31, 2008

BEIRUT — In Hezbollah’s inner circle they called him “The One Who Never Sleeps.”

Imad Mughniyah was one of the most hunted men in the world. Western security forces spent 25 years pursuing the Hezbollah warlord, the alleged mastermind of infamous attacks of the late 20th century and a pioneer of brutal tactics later emulated by Al Qaeda. In fact, he may have proved a more disciplined, effective master of asymmetric warfare than even Osama bin Laden.

Mughniyah survived through anonymity: changing hide-outs, moving without bodyguards or drivers, a pistol always in his belt. On the evening of Feb. 12, he left a safe house in the Kfar Soussa neighborhood of Damascus, a warren of nearly identical towers that house the employees and headquarters of Syria’s vast intelligence apparatus.

He had just held a sit-down with a Syrian spy chief and was preparing for a secret meeting that night with President Bashar Assad, Western anti-terrorism officials say.

Seconds after Mughniyah got behind the wheel of his sport utility vehicle, an explosion incinerated him. The assassination in the heart of an authoritarian state ended his bloody odyssey through the modern history of terrorism.

His death at 45 remains as mysterious as his life. Interviews with anti-terrorism officials, diplomats and his associates reveal new details about the exploits of this secretive figure — and about a slaying that may have been an inside job.

Read the rest

August 31st, 2008, 7:05 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


I agree with you that it is not a priority at this moment. In fact, I wrote in the article:

There is no reason for President Bashar al-Assad to introduce this tactic at the current moment, when it will likely be ignored by the Bush administration.

I think they should wait at least six months.

August 31st, 2008, 7:06 pm


Dolmades said:

QN and Jad,

The question of how much Syria controls Hezbollah is complex, and I don’t think any of us knows the answer to it. That said, let’s go with what we DO know: Syria is, at the very least, a critical part of the supply chain to the Hezb. Ya3ni, without Syria’s logitical support (to say nothing of other support: political, intelligence, training, arms, etc.), Hezbollah is cut off from Iran, it’s main backer and financier. Given that Lebanon’s only other land border is Israel, and that the sea is virtually secure, flipping Syria cuts of the Hezb from any external support. The same applies to Iran. Without Syria, Iran’s reach to the Mediterranean is vritually cut off.

One more point: Imagine if Syria removes its political support to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Given the political climate there, what are Hezbollah’s options?

Enough leverage to deliver Lebanon? I think so.

August 31st, 2008, 7:17 pm


Jad said:

That what I meant about Hizbullah issue, it will be solved as a result of the agreement Syrian may do, and Lebanon will be deliver even without being involved in the negotiations.
Let’s first hope that this negotiation gets somewhere before the Israeli democracy kills it.

On another subject, from my humble observation in the last couple years, we can even see it on this site too, how do we become more Liberals and more aware about the world around us while Israelis became more radicals and cut off from reality somehow? What happened? We used to switch positions and be the out of it. Any idea?

August 31st, 2008, 7:53 pm


Shai said:


Well said!

August 31st, 2008, 8:01 pm


Jad said:

I didn’t mean you Shai, you are one of the people that I wish our public and average Joe hear and read his opinions.
It’s the general public in both our countries, that I see around me and read their ideas in the media.

August 31st, 2008, 8:10 pm


Shai said:


I didn’t see your last paragraph when I made that comment…

I was referring to what you said: “Let’s first hope that this negotiation gets somewhere before the Israeli democracy kills it.”

I too am hoping our “democracy” won’t kill the process. If Livni is elected in 17 days, and has the guts to try to put together a coalition (which I’m not sure she’ll do…), then we may see a continuation of the talks. If Mofaz wins, I’m afraid his idiotic “peace-for-peace” policy will quickly end the talks. If we go to general elections, and Netanyahu wins, we’ll almost definitely see a halt to the talks, perhaps even a long one, hopefully to be followed by a return and the support of Bibi himself… In the meantime, let’s hope for the first scenario, and the one Alex likes best (because he thinks Livni is good looking…)

August 31st, 2008, 8:22 pm


Jad said:

I’m sorry to be more realistic on this and go with no. 3…even with that choice I hope that negotiation wont hold for long since we both wouldn’t like the alternatives.

August 31st, 2008, 8:29 pm


Shai said:

I can understand why politicians make continuous use the element of fear (to keep their volvos, to achieve power, etc.) What has always puzzled me, is why most people buy into it. It must be true, then, that most people are like sheep. They’re looking all the time for their shepherd, and then follow almost blindly.

Shukran for the Arabic saying in the other thread (I put it into memory).

Yalla, time for me to head in… Seeing as we’re not having beer tonight… 🙂 (but we will soon, I promise you).

August 31st, 2008, 8:37 pm


Jad said:

Human being is driven by two main factors, his fear and his pleasure, when you control those two you can ask him/her to do exactly what you want.
So we all sheep like regardless of how high our knowledge and educations are.
God willings for the meeting..good night.

August 31st, 2008, 8:46 pm


Shai said:

JAD, all this sheep-talk is making me hungry… Good night my friend!

August 31st, 2008, 8:49 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


Not to beat a dead horse, but I still can’t completely accept what you are saying. Of course Syria can theoretically cut off the logistical support for Hizbullah, but you are ignoring the political repercussions of this. As you said, Hizbullah’s main backer and financier is Iran. Do you think the Iranians will sit on their hands if Syria decides to stop sending weapons to Hizbullah? This is not a decision that Bashar can make without Iranian approval. This does not mean that Bashar is a puppet of Iran, simply that Iran is a major ally whose interests must be taken into account.

So, squeezing Hizbullah is not simply a matter of deciding on a whim to stop sending them weapons. They are not a bunch of ragtag Salafists with several crates of RPG’s in a basement. This is a major political/military operation with a billion dollar budget, tens of thousands of employees, a construction arm, a growing media empire, social welfare networks, etc. They are not the type who, when Syria says “Jump”, will say, “How high?”

August 31st, 2008, 10:04 pm


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

I totally agree. In Hebrew we say: The Golem is now working against its creator. Syria finds itself in a situation vis a vis Iran in which Lebanon is vis a vis Syria. It is entangled in a war that is against its interest, but it cannot get out of. Syria cannot flip or abandon Hizballah and is stuck with nothing to trade for.

August 31st, 2008, 10:29 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

In Hebrew we say: The Golem is now working against its creator.

I like that. I will use it on my daughter in the near future.

August 31st, 2008, 11:09 pm


Ras Beirut said:

I think at this early stage in the negotiation Syria is not inclined to introduce Lebanon to the talks. That’s probaly what they told the Israelis. Israel has been calling for talks with Lebanon for a long time.

So it depends on where the talks go. If they are fruitfull, you’ll see Lebanon at the table. There are lots of issues to deal with on the Lebanese track as well.

I guess, we’ll have to wait and see.

September 1st, 2008, 1:05 am


Averroes said:


Although I second my own liking of the flag, I have to say that I think you’re off mark in your article.

The question is, which Lebanese? Unfortunately, Lebanon today is deeply divided, and the Saudi-sponsored pact has climbed too high in their demonizing of Syria that they cannot climb back down without risking a severe fall. Also, you have the Saudis there ever ready to poke them back up as we saw last week, when a group of Salafis moved to sign an agreement of honor with HA. Although all the agreement called for was the stopping of sectarian tagging and exclusive language, the Saudis quickly shot it down in less than 24 hours.

Farouque Al-Shara was right when he stated that there is too much personalization on the Saudi side. The Saudi do not seem capable of conceding to someone they consider “a kid” and they’re dragging their Lebanese allies with them.

Who should Syria take with her to the talks? HA and Amal? Oh, you will immediately see vicious attacks (aimed at nothing but sabotage) on the “state within a state.” Who then? Future pact? with Jeajea and Jumblat? Do you think that Syria should approach them to attend meetings, while their positions still stand where they do?

The non-stop onslaught of the Saudi and Hariri media has made a new reality in the minds of many Lebanese that will take a long time to be undone, unfortunately.

September 1st, 2008, 1:32 am


Qifa Nabki said:


You raise the point that I’ve been waiting for someone to raise, namely “which Lebanese”. It’s a good one, and I admit that I don’t have an answer for it, yet.

I don’t totally agree with your characterization of Saudi policy in Lebanon these days. It’s very difficult to know who is poking whom and how much influence they have.

I think that you’re right about the polarization. However, in my opinion most people on the March 14 side would like to see a deal with Israel as this will bring prosperity and stability to Lebanon. So they are not really the obstacle. What this means is that they would be happy to let Pres. Suleiman appoint emissaries to Turkey, even if these emissaries are vetted by Syria and Hizbullah. March 14 will not have to reinvent itself after a peace deal, while Hizbullah will.

September 1st, 2008, 2:00 am


Enlightened said:


Nice article, well written as usual.

A couple of points.

* I dislike the flag and will not pledge allegiance to it, unless you replace those two stars, with another two cedars, or “might accept” if its marketed as a “rose” between two thorns (ie Israel, Syria) if there is a peace.

* I concur about the M14 constituents desire for peace and stability, and Averroes raises a very very important point about “which Lebanese”. We couldn’t even elect a president with out resorting to the precipice. I think the issues regarding the current talks are best left as they are, to see whether the Syrians and Israelis can hammer out the basic issues of The Golan, water rights, security , normalization etc.

* Lebanon should not participate until after next years elections, whether the Hezb and its allies win or M14. (Given Jumblatts rhetoric lately re Israel, resistance might be a new M14 fad)

* After Israel returns the Golan we can let them know that the Sheba issues was really a hoax and it was a family inheritance dispute.

* I along with some others think that Lebanese participation is wish full thinking.

September 1st, 2008, 2:56 am


norman said:


When a patient has Breast cancer and that breast cancer spreads to the lung , bone and liver , it is not called lung cancer, bone cancer or liver cancer , it is still breast cancer with spread to lung , bone and liver and to treat it you have to treat the breast cancer and support the patient with oxygen for the shortness of breath from the breast cancer in the lung and the pain medicine for the breast cancer in the bone , the most important thing is treating the breast cancer ,

Now is the Mideast ,

The problem and the cancer is the Palestinian / Israeli conflict and until the Palestinians get their human rights and there is a solution to the refugees , all other problems between Israel Syria and Lebanon are side shows and non significant and can not be solved in a way that can produce a real peace for Israel.

September 1st, 2008, 3:01 am


Qifa Nabki said:


Thanks for your enlightened comment. You are probably right about the elections. We’ll see what happens.

Ammo Norman,

Thank you for depressing me even further.

September 1st, 2008, 3:12 am


norman said:


It is simple,

One for all and all for one ,

The sooner Israel understand that the better for all the people concerned.

September 1st, 2008, 3:20 am


Shai said:


“* After Israel returns the Golan we can let them know that the Sheba issues was really a hoax and it was a family inheritance dispute.”

That’s for the books. I laughed so hard…

September 1st, 2008, 3:45 am


Nur al-Cubicle said:

Hope Israel does not intend to propose a deal like this one:

“Olmert offers Abbas a deal excluding Jerusalem”. Abbas, of course, refused.

The headline should have read, Olmert offers sandwich with no bread, no ham, no cheese.

September 1st, 2008, 3:58 am


Shai said:


It was ludicrous the whole thing. As good a guy as Abu Mazen might be, he is by now Israel’s puppet (our fault, and his), and you cannot make peace with your puppet. Marouan Barghouti, or even Hanniyeh, would be far better for Israel.

At the moment you’ve got a situation where two leaders can neither agree, nor deliver anything they would agree on. Abu Mazen barely represents the Fatah, and has no control over half the Palestinian people. And he gets money and arms from Israel. How can he act “our enemy” at the negotiation table?

September 1st, 2008, 4:12 am


Enlightened said:


I have got a few others, but will wait for the appropriate time,timing etc.

A far while ago we were arguing in a post about “Arab views” intransigence, hype about “victories” conspiracy theories etc etc, when I told some one:

“There is a very old Arab Bedouin Nomad saying “You cant see the tree from the forest in the Dessert”

OFW had a very hard chuckle at that one if I remember correctly.


Il second QN’s depression on that front all, that Cancer talk,

September 1st, 2008, 4:27 am


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Why the usual Arab denial? The Palestinian issue is important, but how is it connected to the life of the average Syrian? Why can’t the average Syrian be better educated and richer because of the Palestinian issue? And why if the Palesinian issue is solved, how will this make the Syrians richer and better educated?

This is just an excuse the dictators have for their failures. I am surprised you buy it. In any case there is no solution to the Palestinian problem because there is no solution to the right of return problem.

September 1st, 2008, 4:41 am


Majhool said:

Syria arrests two Kurdish leaders
Sep 1, 2008 11:34 AM

Syrian authorities have arrested two Kurdish leaders and charged one with a capital offence, as part of a campaign to crush political dissidents that has triggered international protests.

The two men were arrested ahead of a visit by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to the Syrian capital on Wednesday.

Sarkozy has been trying to convince President Bashar al-Assad to release leading political prisoners who have been campaigning for minority rights and a democratic constitution as an alternative to four decades of Baath Party rule.

Talal Mohammad of the banned Wifaq party, an offshoot of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which is also active in Turkey and Iraq, was arrested without warrant in northeastern Syria last week and not heard from since, according to the National Organisation of Human Rights in Syria.

Authorities earlier arrested Mashaal Tammo, an official in Future Movement, which like all opposition parties in Syria is banned.

Future Movement advocates democracy and equal rights for Syria’s one million Kurdish minority.

The Kurdish language is not allowed to be taught in schools and tens of thousands of Kurds were denied citizenship after a 1960s census.

Tammo had said before his arrest that Syrian policy toward the Kurds risked a repeat of riots that killed 30 people in Syria in 2004. The riots started in a Kurdish region.

Tammo was charged on August 27 with committing aggression and arming Syrians to start civil war, an accusation that carries the death penalty and is rarely directed against well-known political activists.

Other charges regularly used against dissidents were also levelled at Tammo, including belonging to an organisation that aims to change the basis of society and causing racial and sectarian tension.

Denies charges

Tammo has denied the charges and human rights lawyer Mohannad al-Hassani said it would require a great deal of evidence to prove that Tammo, who renounces violence, had wanted to start civil war.

“The authorities cannot resort to such fearsome charges just because they disagree with someone’s opinions,” he said.

The U.S. State Department denounced Tammo’s arrest, saying he was held incommunicado for 15 days before he was charged.

“We condemn the detention of Tammo and other Syrian prisoners of conscience and call for their immediate release,” State Department spokesman Robert Wood said in a statement.

“We encourage the international community to join us in calling on the Syrian government to stop its policy of arresting critics of the regime and to comply with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

Syria, which has been controlled by the Baath Party since it took power in a 1963 coup and imposed emergency law, has thousands of political prisoners, human rights lawyers say.

Assad said during a visit to Paris last month authorities only arrest those suspected of violating the constitution and that criticism of his rule was permitted.

Under Turkish pressure, Syria has cracked down on the PKK, which it once backed.

A security court handed several PKK members long sentences in 2006 in trials branded illegitimate by international human rights groups.

“What is this? You armed us and now you imprison us,” one defendant shouted at the judges before he was sentenced to seven years in jail.

Source: Reuters

September 1st, 2008, 5:13 am


Alex said:

AIG … why do you care about Democracy in Syria? … How is it connected to your life as an average Israeli? .. why are you here the whole day with ten comments a day?!!

Really? . why?

Why do expect us to believe you and read your broken record as you play the role of a passionate fighter for democracy in Syria but when Norman states that Palestine to him is as important to Syria, then you have to protest on the grounds that Norman’s statement is not very logical? … suggesting that Education should logically be on the top of Norman’s priorities not Palestine.

If you are willing to fight and die for “the Jewish Nation” … “the Arab Nation” has similar meaning to Norman … Palestine is the core of the problem to Norman and to many many Syrians whether you approve or not.

September 1st, 2008, 5:15 am


Majhool said:

Growing Salafist movement in North poses challenge to the project of state building
By Inter Press Service

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Mona Alami

Inter Press Service

TRIPOLI: In the center of one of Tripoli’s squares in north Lebanon, a large statue has been erected inscribed with the word “Allah” in Arabesque calligraphy. The statue reflects the city’s reality, especially in light of the recent rise in Salafism, a radical form of Islam. In Abi Samra on one of Tripoli’s hills, long-bearded men, dressed in white dishdashas – a style unusual for Lebanon – walk along whitewashed buildings, attesting to the growing grip Islamists have on the city.

“Salafism was founded in the 1960s in Lebanon by Sheikh Salem al-Chahal,” says Sheikh Bilal Chaaban, head of the Tawhid movement (another radical Islamist faction, separate from Salafism). After the death of its founder, Salafism branched into various factions, one of which is headed by the founder’s son, Dai Islam al-Chahal.

“During his lifetime, Sheikh Said Chaaban, founder of Tawhid, was supported by other Salafists. After his death, however, both movements drifted apart, with the Tawhid still clinging to the dream of establishing a Muslim state in Northern Lebanon,” says Future Movement MP Mustafa Allouch.

Other small Salafist schools also emerged in Tripoli, such as the Siraj Mounir Boukhari and Safwan Zoabi movements.

“Salafists believe in a strict interpretation of the Koran and in practicing Islam as it was at the time of the Prophet Mohammad and his disciples,” says Sheikh Omar Bakri, a radical cleric who was expelled from Britain in 2005 for his alleged links with Al-Qaeda. According to the cleric, Salafism is essentially built on three pillars: belief in one god, the “daawa” or the missionary task, and jihad.

“Most Salafists, however, only apply the first two principles of true Islam without fulfilling the third, the jihad. True Salafism thus does not exist in Lebanon,” he says.

Lebanese Salafism is of a doctrinal and missionary nature that has been allowed to grow because of the country’s complex and diverse religious undercurrent (Lebanon, a country of 4 million, officially recognizes 18 religious communities). In Tripoli, Salafist factions rely on a network of mosques, NGOs and schools, and receive financing from various Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait.

The armed bodyguards surrounding the headquarters of some Islamic and Salafist organizations, and the relative opulence of the homes of the clerics reflect the growing affluence and number of such extremists flowing into the city. “The allegiance of Salafist factions to the foreign powers that fund them has promoted divisions among their ranks, as they reflect the alliances or dissensions of their foreign allies,” says Bakri.

The intricate political and social fabric within the various Salafist movements is deeply divided, as with the rest of Lebanon. Not only are Islamic factions in Tripoli manipulated by foreign powers, but they are also pawns in the hands of local politicians, who use them in their political games.

“By radicalizing people, political factions can guarantee a larger base of supporters in the upcoming 2009 parliamentary elections. Salafists, like many others, are lured by false Messiahs,” says Sheikh Chaaban, referring to the role of politicians in the ongoing violent conflict in Tripoli between Sunnis (including radical Islamists) and a pro-Syrian minority.

Different sources interviewed by IPS report that most Salafists seem to follow the pro-government bloc, while other radical Sunni factions, such as Tawhid, are sponsored by either Syria or Iran, and hence, support the opposition.

“Most Salafists are allied to the Saudis and, thus, aligned with American Middle East policy. They maintain excellent relations with the government and the Hariri family,” says Bakri. The Hariris are a powerful Lebanese political clan with strong ties to Saudi Arabia. Saad Hariri, son of slain Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, heads the majority parliamentary coalition in Lebanon.

According to a source, who chose to remain anonymous due to the topic’s sensitivity, many Salafist preachers are on the payroll of Arab embassies located in Lebanon. Bakri says this support can be partly explained by Sunnis’ growing fear of Lebanese Shiites, represented by Hizbullah.

Bakri believes that although Fatah al-Islam, a terrorist group that battled the Lebanese Army at the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in Tripoli for over three months in 2007, might have been spawned by Syrian intelligence. It was then probably hijacked by local political factions from both sides of the divide, he adds. “This can be clearly observed in the series of bombings orchestrated by Fatah al-Islam, as some were condemned by their leader Shaker al-Abssi while others were condoned, indicating conflict within the organization.”

As for Al-Qaeda’s possible hand in Lebanon’s growing Salafist movement, the country’s diverse sectarian landscape and traditional allegiance of Sunnis to the government has in fact hindered its influence. Although the organization might have many staunch supporters who believe in the ideology it advocates, it has not necessarily been able to achieve an infrastructure.

According to IPS sources, most Salafist movements in Tripoli are being supplied with weapons. Allouch believes most Islamist factions are now armed.

To curb the risk of a violent outbreak, the MP said Saad Hariri worked on convincing Salafists to contribute to the project of state building, but this work was hindered by the May 7 events when opposition forces took over parts of Beirut, an event that further exacerbated divisions between Sunnis and Shiites. “Many Sunnis, who are aware that Al-Qaeda will only bring a spiraling wave of violence, feel they need an army to defend themselves against Hizbullah,” says Allouch.

Hizbullah is currently the only Lebanese faction officially permitted to retain heavy weaponry, which could constitute the need for self-defence in the minds of some Salafists.

Sheikh Abou Bakr Chahal, son of Sheikh Salem Chahal, believes the third aspect of Salafism, jihad, can be practiced in certain threatening circumstances and under the banner of legitimate defense. “A re-enactment of the May 7 events could certainly prompt a new jihad,” he warns.

September 1st, 2008, 5:39 am


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Let’s get this point clear. The quality of the education of my children is much much more important to me than whether there is democracy in Syria.

Are you saying that for Norman and many other Syrians, the quality of their children’s education is less important than the Palestinian issue? Is that really true? It is hard for me to believe, and I would like to see Norman say this himself.

September 1st, 2008, 5:55 am


offended said:

I am inclined to believe that the quality of your childrens’ education is deteriorating while you’re busy here fighting the windmills instead of attending to their shortcomings.

September 1st, 2008, 9:18 am


antika said:

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Let’s get this point clear. The quality of the education of my children is much much more important to me than whether there is democracy in Syria.

this is really funny. they have been using israel to make people poorer. for centuries now and Alex, who i doubt had been to syria or lived there for more than a month, is talking about that. this is really disgusting and insulting when people talk about things they never lived or experienced.

September 1st, 2008, 9:26 am


why-discuss said:

“It is not in Syria’s interest for there to be an open front on its borders with Israel, once a Golan deal has been signed. Plus, Israel’s price for the Golan will be a quiet and stable Lebanon that does not pose a threat to its own security.”

Wishful thinking…Assume Hezbollah is neutralized/weakened because of Syria’s peace with Israel, what card Lebanon holds to get a solution to the Shebaa Farms and the 500,000 palestians refugees? NOTHING. The front with Israel with remain quiet and the refugees camps inside Lebanon would explode as it will become clear for the palestinians that they lost forever any chance of return or compensation. This without counting the violence between the lebanese who reject/want palestinian implantation.
A separate peace with Syria will be a curse for Lebanon.
If Lebanon does not find a way to sneak in the Syria-Israel negotiations by making lots of concessions to Syria, be sure that the Syrians won’t invite them: Syria has trouble with Israel on its negotiations but it is united and have only one voice. I doubt Syria would gladly welcome a Lebanon that has such contradictory voices, openly antagonistic atitude to Syria and opposed views on the palestinian issue.
Sarkozy visit to Syria is one more proof that the lebanese are getting worried that they will be left in the cold. Sleiman and Sarkozy are bringing the same message to
Bashar: “we love you, please include Lebanon in the peace negotiations and you will be rewarded by the international community”
What would Syria want in exchange?

September 1st, 2008, 10:54 am


trustquest said:

Syrians writers and intellectuals are asking and pleading to the Syrian authority to arrest them but not to kidnap them.
By: Ibrahim Yousef, 8/25/08

The effect of the arresting the engineer Moshaal Eltammo on August 15, 2008, while he was driving his personal car on the Cupani road Ain Arab-Aleppo, by kidnapping him, has created a lot of questions about what such act leaves in the his friends, family, relatives and the whole society at large.

I do not think that anyone does not accept the application of the law and submitting all those who break the law to justice, provided the justice system is honest, transparent, fair, non-political, gives one his rights, etc., without arbitrary, or coercion!

However, the abduction of citizens for security, whatever it is, and not to grant him an opportunity to inform his family what have been subjected to especially at the moment of kidnapping or the moment they jumped on him, is one of the most basic human rights. Additionally to continue the secrecy and obfuscation on the attack, as in the cases described, it is not further harm the psychological, spiritual, physical being of the person, but that goes beyond the circle of person so as to punish innocent relatives of the husband, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, relatives, lovers, and even society ….. !

This idea specifically run into my mind while I visited the family of writer and a prominent Kurdish political Meshaal Tammo, and here I am not in the course of defending his political views, it is his personal, but I’m in the course of defending the freedom of opinion for him and others, whoever they are, defending the freedom of opinion as it given to us by Syrian law. As long as expression of ideas are peaceful not violent and revolves within a concern for our homeland and the citizens, according to viewpoint that we all care about our nation not only the governing body!.

There are very deep sorrow, in the hearts of all who I met at his home, from parents and, lovers, while I was in the alleviation process to them regarding their pain and sorrow. It makes it looks that who works in public affairs, within our reality – where the equation is not balance- looks in front others as crazy gay or a gambler, and even in his own life, which make them take into account any fate he might face as something predictable!

Personally, I hate denying my freedom even for just one second and I am not of those who are obsessed with the dark prison songs”dark prison come close we love darkness, there is only glory dawn after long night!”. With all my respect for the heroics of those who shouted long these verses – and considering especially that we are in our homeland, and our truly beautiful country, which I did not and will not think of replacing her with all countries in the world, a country with which we are keen to be a strong and united in barrier against enemies and we all want her the best, this is what motivate me to correct this injustice in this relation between State and people. Such a defect referred to – kidnapping – that condition placed onto the subject and his family is absolute hell. I’m expressing these views without hesitation is in defending of the my country, the national human conscience and in conformity with my conscious as I’m suppose to respond to my countries ills, this world which I do not wish it to any of my country people and I am sure that no one in the world is “fan prison” if he mentally healthy, and there are methods of peaceful civilized dialogue can be resorted to under the mutual love and concern, and I think every honest citizen in this country is keen on that.

Yes, despite the hatred of legal arrest once or repeatedly, but the circumstances created by the kidnapping without feeling for others by dealing with his family in this case with cold blood is not only a disregard to the rights of the detainee, leaving his family who suffer greatly in the conditions it imposed, but makes his family welcome, even bitter, the legal channels of arrest of Mr. Meshaal.

As a Syrian citizen, jealous for every single grain on the soil of our nation and every tree branch, and every citizen, every bird, every butterfly, every star hanging in the sky, I appeal to all those who care about the honorable state of my country, I say: I’m demanding in my country ….. , to cancel this individual term ( kidnapping) which tarnish the reputation of our country which we want to be a model in the real safety, and to abolish the methods of collective punishment, a primitive manner to punish a prisoner’s family and society who never committed a guilt or crime

September 1st, 2008, 11:10 am


Joshua said:

The Road to Damascus runs in several directions evidently. Eyal Zisser, the head of the Dayan Center in Israel, has written that the road to Damascus runs through Jerusalem. He can point to the Turkish sponsored peace talks and recent Syrian efforts to recruit pro-Israeli lobbyists in Washington to convince the White House to drop its isolation policy as proof that Damascus takes this notion seriously. All the same, Damascus has failed to interest Washington in direct US-Syrian talks despite marching down the road to Jerusalem.

Some have concluded that the Jerusalem road has been blocked by Lebanese who have tacked up a detour sign rerouting Syrians through Beirut. The Lebanese can argue that the Sarkozi gambit proves that Lebanon is the key to Syria breaking out of its isolation.

I have argued that the road does not go through Baghdad. Syria has offered to cooperate with Petraeus, set up joint patrols, and restart intelligence sharing in order to reduce the number of jihadists and suicide bombers in Iraq. Syria’s offers have not impressed Washington.

Maybe Lebanon is the key? Or, maybe Washington is not really impressed by Syria’s change in policies toward its neighbors.

September 1st, 2008, 12:56 pm


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

You are inclined to believe many things, but what matters are the facts.

And the facts are that the Asads have used the Palestinian issue as an excuse for why they have failed in their internal policies. I am not saying the Palestinian issue is not important to Arabs. All I am saying is that it has been cynically been used by failed Arab governments to justify their incapabilities. And what is strange is that some Syrians buy this excuse.

So I ask you and Norman again (and any other Syrian that may want to chime in), is the Palestinian issue more important to you than the quality of your children’s education? And, why do you think these issues are related at all?

September 1st, 2008, 1:10 pm


ghat Albird said:

Am late to this give and take but since today is 9/1 and I along with millions of others are awed by what took place on 9/11 but on 08/08/08 when the world literally turned 180 derees.

While jaw-jaw is more rational than kill, kill. Its more important what comprises the essence of jaw, jaw.

What prohibits the socalled Arab states surrounding Israel to unequivocally deamdn that the UN Security Council forces the impelemntation of the original resolution 242, etc,. PERIOD?

When Syria and Lebanon hold simultanneous talks with Israel they “are” the ones that will be “pleading” with an entity that aside from being on the receiving end of $12/13 million dollars a day every day of the year from Uncle Sam in addition to state of the art military assistance.

In such instances of talking who who is the dealer and who are the ones at the trough? But then it seems that the “haggling” with Israel is more in line with whatever the puppeteers demand than say what the original UN Resolution states as a legally binding obligation on all the participants.

By the bye that $12/13 million dollars a day flowing from Wash. DC to Tel Aviv every day of the year sure helps in the education of the children of the chosen.

September 1st, 2008, 2:42 pm


SimoHurtta said:

So I ask you and Norman again (and any other Syrian that may want to chime in), is the Palestinian issue more important to you than the quality of your children’s education? And, why do you think these issues are related at all?

So I ask you AIG again is stealing Arab land and waging wars and destruction for you more important than the safety and education of your children? As said AIG many times before among democracies Israel has no reason to brag with the quality of education. Look finally at the results of OECD’s PISA study. Israel’s is below average (actually near the bottom) in the study. Israel’s education results are little better as Turkey’s, but much below of those countries with you claim to “belong”.

AIG Israeli “Taleban” (religious) schools, which represent a significant part of Israeli schools, do not obviously produce a very clever new generation. Well in building and guarding illegal settlements on stolen land good education is certainly a handicap. A good trained young person might begin to think about moral and call into question the “history” taught in the “Haredi” schools.

September 1st, 2008, 3:15 pm


ghat Albird said:

extract from an editorial on an Asia website.

Israel as seen from Asia in the talks.

The irony of the situation in which the Jews-only state wants to become so powerful that even the U.S. will fear to challenge it, is that the Jews-only state in Palestine seems to be able to obtain almost any military technology it wants from successive American governments without America being in the slightest bit worried about the military implications for its own national security.

With each transfer of military technology and military hardware, the Jews-only state becomes militarily stronger and thus more capable of striking a terrible blow to America. And yet since 1967, all American administrations have seemed perfectly willing to provide most types of military hardware and technology to the Jews-only state.

The dominance of Jewish interests over American interests could also be seen in 2003 when the ziocons pushed the Bush regime into a proxy zionist war against Iraq.

The ziocons hoped this would be the first of many zionist proxy wars against anti-zionist Arab/Moslem countries – devastating each country in virtually the same way as the Jews-only state has devastated Palestinian society.

For the ziocons, America’s proxy zionist war against Iraq was intended to defeat a country which posed a minimal challenge to the regional dominance of the Jews-only state.

They were not in the slightest bit concerned that America might struggle militarily against an Iraqi insurgency which was predicted not only by many civilian commentators but by many in the American military itself. The proxy zionist war against Iraq has ended up with America losing thousands of troops and suffering a huge financial strain on its economy. The zionists could not lose.

The zionists would benefit if America was able to easily defeat Iraq, and the Moslem countries that aren’t subservient to the Jews only state, conversely, they would also benefit if America struggled to defeat such countries and ended up weaker, militarily and economically, than before. If the zionists manage to extract more military hardware and advanced military technology from the Americans during the occupation of Iraq this will continue the process of reducing the huge disparity in military power between themselves and America.

By far and away the biggest reduction in the military disparity between the Jews-only state and America will occur if the zionists manage to develop, with or without America assistance, intercontinental nuclear missiles that could reach America. This will enable them to pose a considerable military threat to their main benefactor and protector.

The idea of the Jews-only state possessing nuclear missiles which could threaten America is not an issue which is discussed in America. It is politically impossible for Americans to discuss the nuclear threat from the Jews-only state because American politicians do not recognize the existence of the Jews-only state’s nuclear weapons.

“The U.S. government has never acknowledged that Israel possesses nuclear weapons, even though the world knows otherwise, thanks to the whistleblower, Mordechai Vanunu. (London Sunday Times, Oct. 5, 1986).

This is quite remarkable. Perhaps Americans are not concerned that yet another government is capable of launching nuclear missiles against their country. This seems to run counter to America’s national security and its national interests.

Perhaps the reason why it has never become a political issue is because the American media and American politics is dominated by “Israel first” Jews who are not worried about America being threatened by the Jews-only state in Palestine. Even more amazing is that American politicians do not seem in the least bit bothered about the Jews-only state stealing American secrets or American military technology to help it develop nuclear missiles which could threaten America.

But then again, America’s Christian evangelists spend more of their time supporting the Jews-only state in Palestine than they do defending their own country from the “Israel first” traitors stealing American technologies and threatening America’s security.

The critical question Americans need to reflect upon, while they are boosting Jewish supremacy in the Middle East, donating vast subsidies to the Jews-only state, and providing it with the world’s most sophisticated military technology, is whether it is in their interests to allow the Jews-only state to develop nuclear weapons that could reach America.

Given Jewish dominance of the media it is highly likely the zionists will continue to keep the topic a part of the wide range of taboos. If America continues to help the Jews-only state acquire inter-continental wmds without discussing the political and military implications for American security this is a clear indication of zionist control over American politics.

This leads to the conclusion that the Jews-only state in Palestine has colonized America and is currently treating it as a resource for its own benefit. There could be no clearer example of Jewish domination of the West than America’s willingness to implement the foreign policies of another country, the Jews-only state in Palestine, and its failure to defend itself against its Jewish colonisers.

Dhruv Gadhvi/

September 1st, 2008, 5:33 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


We’ve had this conversation before, but here goes.

Wishful thinking…Assume Hezbollah is neutralized/weakened because of Syria’s peace with Israel, what card Lebanon holds to get a solution to the Shebaa Farms and the 500,000 palestians refugees? NOTHING

Shebaa does not require a “solution”. Shebaa is a pretext for continued resistance. If Syria disarms Hizbullah so easily (as you seem to think it can, which is surprising to me), then Shebaa ceases to be an issue. Most Lebanese could care less about Shebaa and will never visit it in their life.

As for the Palestinian refugees, what kind of solution do you think Syria could possibly demand, even if they were feeling charitable towards Lebanon? You make it sound as if Syria is actually going to get Israel to take back 500,000 refugees or pay them all fat compensation checks so that they can all emigrate to Switzerland. To me, THIS is wishful thinking.

The most logical and likely solution, in my opinion, is that the vast majority of Palestinians in Lebanon will be integrated, seeing as how they have now spent decades living in the country. Some will go to other Arab countries, some will go back to Palestine. But most will stay, probably with all rights of citizenship except voting, until the Lebanese system finds a way to get rid of the sectarian quotas.

Syria is not going to magically deliver some incredible deal to the Palestinians in Lebanon, even if Saad al-Hariri personally delivered his testicles on a silver platter to Bashar.

Furthermore, I find it hilarious that you are saying that Lebanon needs to find a way to “sneak in the Syria-Israel negotiations by making lots of concessions to Syria.” What concessions has Lebanon NOT made to Syria, ya habibi? What else would you like to see it give to Syria? A flaming pyre of blushing virgins, once a year for the next 100 years? It takes a heavy dose of naivety or complete cynicism to pretend like Lebanon somehow “owes” Syria and should beg for its deliverance. After all, Syria is using Lebanon to get the Golan back. If anything, Syria owes Lebanon.

But you may be right: the Syrians may decide otherwise, and try to extort some more concessions out of the Lebanese. I just don’t see what they could possibly offer in return.

September 1st, 2008, 5:53 pm


Shai said:

Ghat Albird,

“By far and away the biggest reduction in the military disparity between the Jews-only state and America will occur if the zionists manage to develop, with or without America assistance, intercontinental nuclear missiles that could reach America. This will enable them to pose a considerable military threat to their main benefactor and protector.”

Wow. That stuff sounds like it’s taken straight out of the most recent updated copy of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” (the one with the image of a long-nosed Jew holding the world with his claws). And I find it a bit funny that contrary to the title of the article, there is almost no mention of the word “Israel” anywhere else. I guess he means that the “Jews-only state” = Israel.

Well, so much for contributing to a more peaceful attitude, eh? Personally, I find such garbage equivalent (if not surpassing) the content produced by the neocon propaganda machine of the current administration. Despite the undisputed Jewish influence on some of the neocon circles, I actually give a little more credit to the rest of Washington, and refuse to accept a Jewish-only responsibility for the War in Iraq, or anywhere else America is fighting, for that matter. And you know that I’m the last person to shy (shai) away from criticizing Israel, or even the Jewish people.

September 1st, 2008, 6:05 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

PS: Why-Discuss, I would also add that Bashar has to sleep in the bed that he (and his father before him) has made for himself. Can you imagine how lovely he would look in the eyes of proud Arab nationalists across the region if he embarked upon the following “selfish” strategy:

a) Make peace with Israel for the Golan

b) Humiliate Hizbullah by stripping it of its weapons and denying it political coverage in Lebanon

c) Leave the Palestinians to rot in their Lebanese camps, festering in their bitterness towards Syria (as if they weren’t bitter enough already for having their camps run by the Syrian mukhabarat for decades).

I think that this is not the result that Bashar is going for.

I think he is trying for something different.

September 1st, 2008, 6:11 pm


norman said:


I do not know about you ,but I can eat and breath at the same time and pushing for the Palestinian rights does not make it more difficult to improve education , the economy and the politecal system , actually it would be easier as Syria will not have to spend to stop the Israeli aggression, i want to add that Israel will be better off and it’s cold peace with Egypt and Jordon will improve and the Egyptian market with 70 mill will open to it’s products , I still do not know how you do not see that ,

By the way , we talked about that before but I am a product of the Syrian education system and I am doing very well, so do not believe what others tell you.

September 1st, 2008, 7:30 pm


ghat Albird said:


Your comments about the so-called Protocols of Elders of Zion as well as the tone of your comments suggest what I have read somewhere and according to several socio-experts almost meets THE TYPICAL criteria attributed to Jews and states that.[jews] have unnatural reactions and become especially enraged when exposed to actual facts such as specific names, documents, locations, instances. and quotations, that challenges their fanaticism.

Wonder if your reactions to the likes of Bernard Lewis, Daniel Pipes and the prayers of Podhoretz in the Wall Stret Journal would parallel your comments made above.

September 1st, 2008, 8:51 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Personally, I find such garbage equivalent (if not surpassing) the content produced by the neocon propaganda machine of the current administration.

Shai –

I hope so. To my knowledge, neocons have never referred to Palestine as a “muslims-only-state” (even though that is exactly what the PA wants and has been negotiating for).

BTW – Please give the forum a list of “neocon propaganda” just so we’re all on the same page.



September 2nd, 2008, 12:03 am


Shai said:


The PA wants a Muslim-only state? What are you talking about? You do know that there are Christian Palestinians, right?

I’ll let Alex give you the updated list of neocon propaganda…

September 2nd, 2008, 3:50 am


why-discuss said:


Contrary to your previous posts, you seem to have a very high opinion on Bashar as according to you, he expected to please the arab nationalists, the Syrians who wants the Golan, the lebanese goverment in its deals with the palestinians, the isrealis, Hezbollah and you!
Obviously you are not happy with your previous infuriated post where you were trying to prove that Syria needs Lebanon more than the other way around. I am glad you thought it over again refusing also Hariri’s emasculation 🙂
Do you seriously think the palestinians will be spontaneously compensated and integrated in other countries if Lebanon negotiates this alone?? Come on.. another wishful thinking.

September 2nd, 2008, 9:36 am


Akbar Palace said:

The PA wants a Muslim-only state?


I thought you were aware that the racist PA requires all Jews to leave Plaestinian lands and will not afford them any protection.

You do know that there are Christian Palestinians, right?

Palestinians Christians are fleeing Palestine in large numbers. Sort of the same way Jews left Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt. It seems your Palestinian friends aren’t quite as tolerant as your Israeli government.

September 2nd, 2008, 11:22 am


Qifa Nabki said:


I don’t understand your comment, and I can’t see where you replied to any of my responses to your argument, so maybe you didn’t think it through? Baseeta.

September 2nd, 2008, 11:52 am


Shai said:


Eh, remind me where you get your information… “… the racist PA requires all Jews to leave Palestinian lands…”??? What? Since when has the PA even as much as whispered something to any Jewish settler, let alone “require”? There are no Jews under PA control, in case you didn’t know. And I imagine that when there finally is a two-state solution, indeed no Jews will live in Palestine, but not because some PA will require them to, but because it would be idiotic of them to do so (seeing as they were viewed for the past 40 years as pretty much the “bad guy”… you know?)

But there are plenty of Christian Palestinians (incase you didn’t know, most are actually not running away), and no PA is trying to make Palestine a Muslim-only state. That’s ludicrous of you to say so. Show us your source of knowledge…. I’m more than curious.

September 2nd, 2008, 12:53 pm


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