Friday, 4 July 2008

Prisoner deal

The Economist presents Hizbollah's prioner deal as a fait accompli for the Israelis:

The Lebanese swap, which could take place in the next fortnight, would be the first success.

The next could be to close a deal with Hamas to exchange Gilad Shalit, a soldier it has been holding (alive) in Gaza for two years, for more Palestinian prisoners—possibly over a thousand, making it the most expensive such swap in Israel’s history.

Again, for a weakened prime minister, the pressure to get Mr Shalit back safely has been intense.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Tremor warning

Image is a simplified structural map of Lebanon showing major faultlines.

"Health officials in southern Lebanon and northern Israel have been warned to prepare for mass casualties from a major earthquake expected to hit the region", reports Arabian Business magazine.

"There have been around 500 minor tremors in a three-month period from February to May, which have been increasing in frequency and intensity.

"Mo’een Hamzeh, head of the Bhannes Centre for Seismic and Scientific Research, said on Monday that Lebanon could face an earthquake similar to the one that hit the nation in 1956."

According to the American University of Beirut :

Lebanon is cut by faults of every scale. The longest fault in Lebanon is the Yammouneh Fault that runs along the western margin of the Bekaa and links the major fault of the Jordan Valley to the Ghab Valley Fault of Northern Syria. This is a lateral, or strike slip fault and is the Lebanese segment of the Dead Sea Transform Fault.

It originated around 12 to 10 million years ago as the boundary between the Arabia Plate and the Levantine part of the African Plate and has ben moving since. The result of this is that the Bekaa has moved some 50 km northwards with respect to Mount Lebanon.

The evidence suggests that the Yammouneh Fault has not moved for many thousands of years; and whether it is dead or dormant is not clear. We would dearly love to know will move again.

Like many large faults the Yammouneh Fault is not actually very impressive on the ground and is often only marked by a wide breccia zone.

The Roum Fault, which runs from near Marjayoun towards Beirut is probably where most of the plate tectonic motion is going on now and may be the present plate boundary between the Arabian and the African Plate.

One model is that the plate motion has fairly recently (in geological terms) switched from the Yammouneh to the Roum Fault. The last recent earthquakes in Lebanon have been along this fault including the Chhim earthquake of 1956 that caused many deaths and much damage.

One slightly worrying point is that the Roum Fault seems to be on line for Beirut. If it does have an active fault segment near (or even under) the capital then that must raise the earthquake risk. Earthquakes are discussed below in Section 2.7.

There are other major faults particularly in the Anti-Lebanon. The main highway to Damascus shows a good deal of faulting in the road cuts as it passes through this area. The Serghaya Fault in particular is apparently another major strike slip fault.

There many other faults in Lebanon with displacements ranging from a few centimetres to several kilometres. Working out which are major faults, and which are minor, is not easy.

Monday, 30 June 2008

Abortion and social change

The Borzou Daragahi reports in the LA Times on the growing number of abortions in Lebanon:

Despite legal and religious restrictions against abortion in much of the Arab world, changing social values and economic realities as well as demographic shifts have contributed to an apparent increase in the number of the procedures in the Middle East.

"There's definitely an increase compared to 10 to 15 years ago," said Mohammed Graigaa, executive director of the Moroccan Assn. for Family Planning.

"Abortion is much less of a taboo. It's much more visible. Doctors talk about it. Women talk about it. The moral values of people have changed."

In most Middle East countries, the 15-to-24-year-old age group has grown to make up about a third of the population, but the percentage of early marriages is dropping.

In Egypt, only 10 percent of 15-to-19-year-old females were married in 2003, down from 22 percent in 1976.

As young people wait longer to marry, they're increasingly engaging in premarital sex.

"I think abortions are going up for just for one reason: Sex is becoming more permissive," said Wissam Ghandour, a Lebanese obstetrician and scholar. "I assure you that the majority of girls getting married now are non-virgins and sexually active."

Sunday, 29 June 2008

and in football...

Hizbollah squad outshoots Sunnis at football, reports the Financial Times:

The movement’s Al-Ahed football team has won the Lebanese league title for the first time. They beat by a whisker two teams — supported by the powerful Sunni Hariri family — which have had a virtual lock on the trophy between them.

In Lebanon, football is war, hence a ban on match attendance for the public since the political troubles started in 2005.

“It was hell inside the stadiums,” said Lelia Mezher, a journalist who has researched the sectarian and political divisions in football.

On Thursday night, things stayed calm in Beirut as Al-Ahed beat a team from the southern city of Tyre 2-1 and Nejmeh and Al-Ansar, the two pro-Hariri teams, drew. Had either of the pro-government teams won, it would have clinched the title.

Abdo Saad, an analyst who is a former director of Al-Ahed, was ecstatic at the win. “Hizbollah only has the Miss Lebanon title left to win,” he quipped.

Bread talks

Economy and minister Sami Haddad met Kazem Ibrahim, the head of the Union of Bakeries, a members of the union on Thursday to discuss the rise in bread prices, reports Ya Lubnan

The meeting covered possible ways to address the issue, including subsidizing flour and keeping the price of bread at 1500 lira (75 pence).

"There has been progress on many subjects, but have not reached a final solution," Haddad said after the meeting.

"All factors are clear and transparent. [Ibrahim] has his own circumstances and the state has its circumstances, and we are all concerned with citizens' livelihoods, and we should all keep bread prices as it is," he added.

Ibrahim in turn said that Haddad was "understanding" after the union explained the price rise in light of fuel, oil, flour, and sugar costs, in addition to workers' wages.

Haddad said the union and the ministry were discussing the cost of bread by studying flour, fuel and oil prices.

Through constructive dialogue, he continued, the union and the ministry should be able to reach a solution that was satisfactory to all.