Thursday, 19 June 2008

Arms struggle

Nicholas Noe writes in the New York Times that the US is still refusing to supply the Lebanese army with the right kind of weapons (in case they use them on Israel):

"In the wake of a narrowly averted civil war here last month, the United States now has a unique opportunity to help build something that all the parties to the conflict have said they very much want: a strong Lebanese Armed Forces.

"Unfortunately, even though the Bush administration has provided more than $300 million in tactical aid to Lebanon since the Syrian withdrawal of 2005, it still apparently refuses to provide the kind of strategic weapons — guided rockets, tanks, modern artillery and intelligence-gathering equipment — that are desperately needed in this task.

"During her visit to Beirut this week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice didn’t even mention the issue.

"Moreover, when Russia stepped in to offer the Lebanese military essentially anything it wanted, free of charge, according to one former military official involved in the discussions, the Bush administration prohibited the Lebanese government from accepting the offer."

Diplomat gets stoned

According to the AFP news agency:

The US charge d'affaires to Lebanon was greeted with stones and chants of "Death to America" on Wednesday by local residents in the southern village of Mayfadoun as she was leaving the home of a local official.

Some 200 people, including women and children, surrounded the convoy and began throwing stones as Michele Sison was leaving the house of Abdullah Bitar, a member of Nabatiyeh's municipal council.

The crowd also shouted "Death to Israel," and "We don't want you in South Lebanon," as extra Lebanese police converged on the site.

A security official told AFP that Sison's car was hit by several stones as she was being evacuated from the area, but she emerged unharmed.


Voice of America reports the same story, but this time the women and children morph into "Hizbollah supporters".

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Salafi anger

Omayma Abdel-Latif puts some perspective on events for Egypt's

Sectarian and partisan-inspired incidents have become almost a daily occurrence in Beirut and other areas.

In the past week alone, Lebanese opposition forces documented 37 instances in which its supporters have been subject to physical attack in the capital's Tareq Jdeeda district alone, hotbed of Saad Al-Hariri's Tayyar Al-Mustaqbal (Future Movement) supporters.

Weakened by what happened and lacking a sound political project to offer to his own constituency — some of whom are beginning to question his leadership of Lebanon's Sunnis — Al-Hariri has undoubtedly paid a heavy price to his credibility.

His most ideological allies — Salafist forces in Tripoli — speak of his recent performance in derisive tone.

"We have been insulted by what Hizbullah did in Beirut, but much more by what Al-Hariri did not do," said Hassan Al-Shahal, head of the Institute for Islamic Call and Guidance, which teaches Islamic thought. "He has done nothing to defend ahl al-Sunna [the Sunnis]," Al-Shahal said.

Interviews with some pro-Hariri Islamists in Tripoli echoed Al-Shahal's words, suggesting a shift in the alliance that was established following the killing of former prime minister Rafik Al-Hariri and consolidated by the 2005 elections. Islamist votes and mobilisation tactics helped secure all 28 seats of the north for Al-Hariri.

Undoubtedly, the Mustaqbal-Salafist relationship is undergoing its most difficult period today.

Pro-Hariri Islamists for long kept criticism of Al-Hariri's political conduct hushed. In a country so polarised along sectarian lines the unity of Sunnis took precedence over everything else. Sensing their increasing influence on the street, pro-Hariri Islamists are stating their demands.

Although they present themselves as being above the political game in Lebanon, some are seeking positions of power and funds in return for past services.

Rice arrives, people die

Voice of America reports:

Authorities in Lebanon say at least three people have died in clashes between pro- and anti-government groups in the eastern [Bekaa Valley] villages of Saadnayel and Taalbaya.

Officials say four others were wounded in the fighting, which involved heavy guns and rocket-propelled grenades.


The clashes took place as Condi "birth pang" Rice paid a surprise visit to Lebanon. Death always seems to follow her. According to the AFP:

Rice said she made the trip to "express the United States' support for Lebanese democracy, for Lebanese sovereignty."

Rice first met Sleiman and told him Washington was very supportive of his presidency and his government, describing him as a "very fine man."

She was also meeting Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, parliament speaker and opposition stalwart Nabih Berri and parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri as well as other members of the ruling bloc.

"We support the democratically elected government of Lebanon, that is what we support," Rice said, brushing aside any suggestion of US interference in Lebanese politics.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Al-Qeada vs Hizbollah

Abigail Fielding-Smith reports for The Scotsman:

"It's going to be us and al-Qaeda against Hezbollah." Sitting in a disused warehouse in the Bab-al-Tebbaneh district of Tripoli, a Sunni fighter explains how the ad-hoc militia that he helped command in the recent fighting are preparing for the future.

Softly-spoken and courteous, speaking to The Scotsman on condition of anonymity, he pauses to offer cigarettes. "When we hear al-Qaeda are threatening the Shia, we do celebratory gunfire," he says.

When Hezbollah, a Shia party, brandished its power, some of Lebanon's Sunnis felt humiliated. Their Grand Mufti, Qabbani, warned that they had "had enough", bringing fears his words could be interpreted as a signal to fight back.

"After the Mufti's speech, we received funding from rich Sunni individuals," claims the Bab al Tebbaneh fighter. "What happened has pushed us into more co-ordination. We have more contact. We are ready. This is happening all over the country. We have no problem with al-Qaeda coming in, if they want to defend the Sunnis."


Meanwhile according to Deutsche Presse-Agentur, these Sunni fighters are trying to spark a new confrontation with the army:

Lebanese forces detained 12 people on Saturday after gunmen fired at an army patrol near a Palestinian refugee camp in the north of the country, a Lebanese security official said.

The incident took place in Qobbeh, a predominantly Sunni district on the northeastern edge of the port city of Tripoli, the official said.

'Unidentified gunmen fired as the army patrol was passing by, but there were no injuries,' he said. The attack prompted the Lebanese army to increase its presence in the area.

Army posts have been the target of similar attacks in northern Lebanon. On Thursday, the army defused a roadside bomb near a military base north of Tripoli and last month a soldier was killed in a blast at an army intelligence base in Abdeh, also in the north.