Saturday, May 30, 2009

Pakistan’s Mingora City Brought Under Army Control (Update1)

By Farhan Sharif

May 30 (Bloomberg) -- Pakistani security forces today regained control of Mingora, the Swat Valley's main city, from Taliban insurgents after more than a month of fighting to wrest control of the region.

The army is sweeping for mines and clearing traps in the area, Major General Athar Abbas, a military spokesman, said at a news conference in Islamabad. As many as 25 militants and one soldier were killed and four people injured during the past 24 hours, he said.

"It is fortunate that the army has secured Mingora's control," Abbas said.

Pakistani forces have been battling an estimated 4,000 insurgents who reneged on a February accord and advanced closer to Islamabad, even after the government agreed to impose Islamic law in the region. More than 1,100 militants and 91 soldiers have been killed since the offensive began April 26, according to the army.

Bombs tore through three Pakistani cities this past week killing a total of at least 47 people and injuring hundreds after the Taliban threatened to avenge the army offensive.

Three bombs exploded on May 29 in the northwestern city of Peshawar, hitting a marketplace and police checkpoint. On May 27, a suicide bomb attack on a police building in the eastern city of Lahore left 35 people dead.

Pakistan's government has linked the attacks to its offensive against militants and says Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud had warned of revenge bombings.

After more than a month of fighting, the military has said it is wresting control of the region from insurgents. The fighting has forced 2.8 million people to flee their homes, according to the provincial government.

The exodus of refugees is the biggest since Pakistan gained independence in 1947.

The military first deployed in Swat, once a popular tourist destination 250 kilometers (155 miles) northwest of Islamabad, in 2007 in an effort to crush militants who set up Islamic courts. The fighters beheaded local officials, burned schools and banned education for girls.

To contact the reporters on this story: Farhan Sharif in Karachi, Pakistan at;

Last Updated: May 30, 2009 11:26 EDT

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Everyone's dirty war against the Kurds

The Kurds are the invisible and forgotten people of the Middle East and indeed of the world. UN resolutions, human rights, self determination are all for other peoples. Kurds do not get a one state solution or a two state solution. They don't get any solution or any protection. The EU ignores persecution of Kurds in Turkey. Nobody cares about persecution of Kurds in Iran or Syria. Amnesty International and HRW are virtually silent. There are no groups to boycott Turkey or Iran or Syria for killing Kurds, denying them rights to their own culture or occupying what should be their homeland. There is no UN Secretariat department devoted to Kurdish rights. Quite simply, nobody cares. It is open season on  Kurds.

05/27/2009 07:16 PM
'We Used to Murder People at Night When the Soldiers Weren't Around'
By Daniel Steinvorth in Istanbul
When members of the special Turkish police unit Jitem arrived at night, Kurdish inhabitants of southeast Turkey knew there would be another disappearance. Investigators are now looking into the activities of this allegedly disbanded secretive organization from the 1990s -- and the 'death wells' where its victims were hidden.
Things had been going well for Nimet Karaaslan and his new business. But when the Kurd opened up his little restaurant in the spring of 1993 in Cizre, a city right near Turkey's border with Syria, men wearing dark sunglasses and carrying submachine guns paid him a visit. "Give us your restaurant," they ordered him.
The men were part of Jitem, a special unit of the Turkish gendarmerie charged with "intelligence gathering and counterterrorism," and they made themselves at home in Karaaslan's restaurant. They practiced with their weapons, and they set up a center for interrogating and torturing people. The restaurant was in a good location. From the front, you could look out over the snow-covered peaks of the Cudi mountains on the Turkish-Iraqi border, where units of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a Kurdish separist group, are still entrenched today. From the back, you could look out over the Tigris River, which separates Turkey from Syria.
The Ipek Yolu Highway, the Turkish name for the Silk Road, runs right past the front of the building heading toward Iraq. And behind it there is a sea of chest-high, green corn broken by the occasional well. The wells turned out to be great places for getting rid of the bodies of those who were executed.
For years, people in the surrounding villages kept quiet. And then, in 2002, the army lifted the region's state of emergency, and the men from Jitem disappeared. For a long time, people thought that speaking about Karaaslan's restaurant increased their own chances of disappearing.
But, since March, the area has been home to backhoes and salvaging equipment. What was once unheard of is now happening in southeastern Turkey -- in Cizre, in Silopi, in Kustepe and wherever else local lawyers have filled a petition to have the "death wells" opened. Turkish officials have now started to dig for the remains of Kurds who have disappeared. But the digging also means working through one of the darkest chapters in this country's history, when Turkish security forces waged a dirty war against supporters of the PKK and its suspected supporters.
Shot 'Like an Animal'
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, thousands of civil rights activists, politicians and businesspeople suspected of having ties with the PKK were kidnapped and murdered. No one knows their exact number, and it was only in rare cases that the victims were even identified. Many corpses were dumped into wells; others were doused in acid and thrown into fields. The horror of the sight was meant to serve as a deterrent. But the majority disappeared without a trace and are still listed as missing.
One of the missing is the Kurdish construction worker Ramazan Solmaz. His wife Piroze last saw him on January 15, 1993. "He was on his way to work when they caught him," she says. "That's all I know. There are no traces, no clues. I'd just like to know where his body is. I just want to bury him." Piroze and a friend have put their faith in Cizre's bar association. "My husband, Selahattin, was shot in broad daylight in 1998 right on the street," say her friend, who is wearing a pitch-black version of the traditional Kurdish gown. "Just like that. Like an animal."
At the time, the women didn't even think about filing a criminal complaint. In Cizre, confronting those in power had its consequences. The powerful included not only the soldiers and the people from Jitem, but also members of the radical-Islamic Turkish Hezbollah, a militant Kurdish organization unrelated to the Lebanese Hezbollah. The war between the Turkish army and the PKK raged in the mountains surrounding Cizre. But in the city itself, it was this group that held power over life and death. A brutal leader of this clan named Kamil Atak once let himself be nominated to become mayor. As local politicians will tell you, the former shepherd used to take pleasure in "feeding" his captives to his Hezbollah fighters.
Spreading Fear and Anxiety
Even after the state of emergency was lifted in 2002, Atak remained under the protection of state security forces. Just over two months ago, on March 23, police arrested Atak as part of a nationwide operation after he garnered the attention of investigators working on the "Ergenekon" case. Soon after Atak's arrest, authorities also arrested Cemal Temizöz, a colonel in the military police, who also sowed fear and anxiety among the inhabitants of Cizre.
"Ergenekon" is the name of a place in popular Turkish mythology, but it is also the name given to a conspiracy of networked ultra-nationalists. Roughly 150 of its members are now standing trial in Turkey. The former soldiers, police officers, journalists, professors and everyday Mafiosi stand accused of having planned a coup against the government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The trial has been going on for more than six months. It is the most explosive trial in recent Turkish history.
Among the accused is Veli Kücük, the retired general who allegedly founded Jitem. Kücük's arrest in January 2008 was the most sensational event of the year. As things have turned out, though, the kind-faced grandfather appears to be untouchable. It is still hard to tell whether the military used Kücük as a sacrificial pawn or whether the generals in Ankara believed he had become too powerful.
Jitem's Bestial Interrogation Methods
For the top brass in Turkey's military forces, the issue of Jitem remains taboo. The government continues to deny its existence. According to the semiofficial version, at least, the organization served as something like a "counterguerrilla" force against the PKK that completed its mission long ago and has since been disbanded. The last fact seems to have been confirmed by former Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz, when he claimed in a television interview that Jitem "no longer" existed.
By far the most comprehensive reports of Jitem's activities can be found in the memoirs of the organization's former agents. One of them is Abdülkadir Aygan, who now lives in Sweden. Aygan tells a shocking tale of having first been a member of the PKK before being recruited to work for Jitem. "We used to murder people at night during the long hours when the soldiers weren't around," Aygan says, describing Jitem's activities. "Many of the people we captured had been indicted by a court or the gendarmes," he adds. "But many of them had also been denounced by their completely normal fellow citizens. No one survived an interrogation by Jitem people."
The Fate of Hasan Ergül
Other former henchmen of the state, such as Tuncay Güney and Yildirim Begler, are now talking about the war against the PKK. From the safety of exile in Canada, Sweden and Norway, men like these recount the names of the victims and the places where their mass graves can be found. They describe the bestial interrogation methods and the orders to kill that always came "from the very top." They talk about how the gendarmes would bathe the dead in acid baths and make them disappear in wells. And they never fail to mention the type of cars the Jitem usually used: white models of the Renault 12-based "Toros" manufactured in Turkey between the 1970s and 1990s. When the angels of death appeared in their white cars, inhabitants knew that one of their friends or neighbors would be disappearing soon.
The case of the disappeared Kurd Hasan Ergül exemplifies the vividness of these Jitem veterans' revelations. On May 23, 1993, the farmer from the village of Cukurca got on his tractor with his three-year-old son to drive to the hospital in a nearby city. But they didn't get far. After stopping at a nearby gas station, Ergül was surrounded by three vehicles that blocked his path. The men who got out of the car weren't wearing uniforms. They dragged Ergül off his tractor and forced him into the back seat of one of the cars. They drove off, leaving the crying boy behind.
It would be years before Ergül's relatives finally became aware of his ultimate fate. They learned it when they heard the confession of former Jitem member Abdülkadir Aygan, who spoke about how Ergül was strangled to death, put in a sack and dumped into a remote lake.
Seeking Certainty and Closure
In the end, all the searching and inquiries of Ergül's brothers had been in vain. But after Aygan's confession, they did succeed in figuring out where Ergül had been dumped, where fishermen later hid his body and where his unidentified corpse had been buried in an anonymous grave not far from the lake. "Now we're waiting for the results of a DNA test," says Ergül's brother Ata. "Then we will finally have some certainty."
This is a sign of progress -- but there are also contradictory signals coming out of Turkey. For the first time, the country seems prepared to come to terms with its recent past. But even though light is now being thrown on the dirty war waged during that period, the war between the Turkish military and the PKK continues to rage. In military terms, the separatist movement has been significantly weakened, and its leader, Abdullah Öcalan, has been in prison for years. But it is still capable of launching deadly bomb attacks, such as the one in late April, when a remotely denoted bomb threw a military vehicle into the air, killing nine Turkish soldiers.
The government avoids talks with the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP), which has channels of communication with the PKK. Instead, in recent weeks, the government has preferred to impose order high-handedly by arresting more than 200 DT politicians.

Yaalon: Israel Must Free Itself from Failed '2-State' Paradigm


by Maayana Miskin 
Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe (Boogie) Yaalon believes that the time has come for Israel to "free itself from the failed paradigm" of the "two-state solution." Yaalon spoke Tuesday at a meeting of MKs dedicated to finding an alternative to the creation of a Palestinian Authority-led Arab state.
While the creation of a PA-led state in Judea, Samaria and Gaza is perceived as a necessity both in Israel and worldwide, such a state would not solve the Israel-PA conflict, said Yaalon. In fact, he said, it is doubtful that the possibility of creating such a state exists, due to Arab and Muslim reluctance to take any step that would imply recognition of Israel or compromise on Arab claims to the entire Land of Israel.
Israel's Mistakes
Israel's mistake lies in accepting a-symmetrical talks with the PA, Yaalon said. From the beginning of talks, he explained, Israel has accepted the idea of a Palestinian national movement with the PA as its representative, while the PA has resolutely refused to accept the Jewish national movement of Zionism or the idea of a Jewish homeland in the land of Israel.
Furthermore, while the PA demands that Arabs and Muslims be allowed to live in Israel, Israel accepts that a PA state would not have Jewish citizens, he said. And while Israel gives in on crucial issues such as the status of Jerusalem or the borders of a PA state, the PA refuses to bend in the slightest.
Israel has also been mistaken in assuming that the Israeli presence in Judea, Samaria and Gaza is the cause of Israel-Arab tension, he said. Arab attacks on Israel began well before the 1967 Six Day War in which Israel gained control of those areas, he said, and the Arab world's real goal is not a state in those areas, but rather, on the ruins of the State of Israel.
For this reason, he said, the PA is actually uninterested in a "two-state solution." Former PA Chairman Yasser Arafat waged war on Israel in order to avoid the creation of a PA state, he argued.
"There are those who will argue that the  PA wanted to establish a state in the 1967 borders but was unable to do so," he said. "I say the problem was not one of ability, but of desire."
If the PA does not desire an independent state in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, and will not accept such a state as the fulfillment of its national goals, the "two-state solution" has no chance to bring peace, he concluded.
The Solution
Israel must give up on seeking to fully solve its conflict with the PA and the Arab world as a whole, Yaalon said. "I believe we should not approach the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the phrase 'solution' in the foreseeable future," he told his audience. "Instead, we should seek 'crisis management' or long-term coping strategies."
Israel should still seek a solution in the long term, he added. However, the process of seeking a solution should be "bottom-up," and not "top-down." Instead of hoping that a diplomatic agreement with the PA will lead to peace and security, the PA should prove that it is capable of self-rule prior to the signing of a diplomatic agreement, he argued.
Yaalon presented five crucial elements of the "bottom-up" process:
Educational Reform:
 The PA currently teaches Arab children that the entirety of Israel is an illegal colonialist entity, Yaalon said, and denies any historic Jewish connection to the Land of Israel. In addition, the PA teaches Jihad (holy war) against Israel and honors suicide bombers.
Changing the PA school system to teach the value of life, not of death, and to accurately portray Jewish history is crucial, he said.
Economic Reform:
 In order to create a viable economy, the PA must strengthen small businesses and create a stable middle class, Yaalon said.
Attempts to create a PA economy through international aid have failed due to a corrupt PA leadership that misappropriates funds, and terrorist groups that attempt to keep PA Arabs living in poverty, he said. To avoid the problems posed by corrupt leadership, the world should focus on PA businessmen and support their initiatives.
Political Reform:
Beyond creating a political entity, the PA must allow for freedom of expression, freedom of the press and protect human rights.
Yaalon referred to "the American mistake" of supporting strong dictators over true democratic activists. Activists who seek true democracy and freedom should win encouragement from the West, he said.
Legal Reform:
 The goal should be "One authority, one law, one weapon," Yaalon said, referring to the disarming of rogue terrorist groups and the enforcement of law throughout the PA territories.
Security Reform:
 The PA must begin to truly fight terrorism, Yaalon said. Among other things, the PA must rid itself of the "revolving door" by which terrorists serve only light sentences, and the sentencing of terrorists who murdered Israelis for "harming the public interest" instead of "murder." These things encourage terrorism, he said.
The PA must be able to fight terrorism properly on multiple levels, he said, from gathering intelligence information to putting terrorists on trial.
No Guarantees
There is no guarantee that the "bottom-up" proposal can be put into effect, Yaalon said, because it relies on the Palestinian Authority to take the necessary action.
In order to increase the chances that the PA will do what is necessary, Israel must make it clear that the PA has no chance of defeating Israel, he said, or of forcing further Israeli concessions and withdrawals without making concessions of its own.
"The Palestinians' extreme violence does not stem from despair over their situation, as the West tends to assume, but rather from hope – hope that the State of Israel will disappear," he said. "Destroying the hope of defeating Israel will encourage new ideas."
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Monday, May 25, 2009

BREAKTHROUGH IN TRIBUNAL INVESTIGATION - New Evidence Points to Hezbollah in Hariri Murder

By Erich Follath

The United Nations special tribunal investigating the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri has reached surprising new conclusions -- and it is keeping them secret. According to information obtained by SPIEGEL, investigators now believe Hezbollah was behind the Hariri murder.

It was an act of virtually Shakespearean dimensions, a family tragedy involving murder and suicide, contrived and real tears -- and a good deal of big-time politics.

The terror attack in Beirut on Valentine's Day, 2005: Intensive investigations in Lebanon are all pointing to Hezbollah and not Syria.
On February 14, 2005, Valentine's Day, at 12:56 p.m., a massive bomb exploded in front of the Hotel St. Georges in Beirut, just as the motorcade of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri passed by. The explosives ripped a crater two meters deep into the street, and the blast destroyed the local branch of Britain's HSBC Bank. Body parts were hurled as far as the roofs of surrounding buildings. Twenty-three people died in the explosion and ensuing inferno, including Hariri, his bodyguards and passersby.

The shock waves quickly spread across the Middle East. Why did Hariri have to die? Who carried out the attack and who was behind it? What did they hope to achieve politically?

The Hariri assassination has been the source of wild speculation ever since. Was it the work of terrorist organization al-Qaida, angered by Hariri's close ties to the Saudi royal family? Or of the Israelis, as part of their constant efforts to weaken neighboring Lebanon? Or the Iranians, who hated secularist Hariri?

Find out how you can reprint this DER SPIEGEL article in your publication. At the time of the attack, it was known that Hariri, a billionaire construction magnate who was responsible for the reconstruction of the Lebanese capital after decades of civil war, wanted to reenter politics. It was also known that he had had a falling out with Syrian President Bashar Assad after demanding the withdrawal of Syrian occupation forces from his native Lebanon. As a result, the prime suspects in the murder were the powerful Syrian military and intelligence agency, as well as their Lebanese henchmen. The pressure on Damascus came at an opportune time for the US government. Then-President George W. Bush had placed Syria on his list of rogue states and wanted to isolate the regime internationally.

In late 2005, an investigation team approved by the United Nations and headed by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis found, after seven months of research, that Syrian security forces and high-ranking Lebanese officials were in fact responsible for the Hariri murder. Four suspects were arrested. But the smoking gun, the final piece of evidence, was not found. The pace of the investigation stalled under Mehlis's Belgian successor, Serge Brammertz.

The establishment of a UN special tribunal was intended to provide certainty. It began its work on March 1, 2009. The tribunal, headquartered in the town of Leidschendam in the Netherlands, has a budget of more than €40 million ($56 million) for the first year alone, with the UN paying 51 percent and Beirut 49 percent of the cost. It has an initial mandate for three years, and the most severe sentence it can impose is life in prison. Canadian Daniel Bellemare, 57, was appointed to head the tribunal. Four of the 11 judges are Lebanese, whose identities have been kept secret, for security reasons.

As its first official act, the tribunal ordered the release, in early April, of the four men Mehlis had had arrested. By then, they had already spent more than three years sitting in a Lebanese prison. Since then, it has been deathly quiet in Leidschendam, as if the investigation had just begun and there were nothing to say.

Hezbollah supporters in Beirut listen to a speech given by the movement's leader, Hassan Nasrallah. Hariri's growing popularity could have been a thorn in the side of Lebanese Shiite leader Nasrallah.
But now there are signs that the investigation has yielded new and explosive results. SPIEGEL has learned from sources close to the tribunal and verified by examining internal documents, that the Hariri case is about to take a sensational turn. Intensive investigations in Lebanon are all pointing to a new conclusion: that it was not the Syrians, but instead special forces of the Lebanese Shiite organization Hezbollah ("Party of God") that planned and executed the diabolical attack. Tribunal chief prosecutor Bellemare and his judges apparently want to hold back this information, of which they been aware for about a month. What are they afraid of?

According to the detailed information provided by the SPIEGEL source, the fact that the case may have been "cracked" is the result of a mixture of serendipity à la Sherlock Holmes and the state-of-the-art technology used by cyber detectives. In months of painstaking work, a secretly operating special unit of the Lebanese security forces, headed by intelligence expert Captain Wissam Eid, filtered out the numbers of mobile phones that could be pinpointed to the area surrounding Hariri on the days leading up to the attack and on the date of the murder itself. The investigators referred to these mobile phones as the "first circle of hell."

Captain Eid's team eventually identified eight mobile phones, all of which had been purchased on the same day in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli. They were activated six weeks before the assassination, and they were used exclusively for communication among their users and -- with the exception of one case -- were no longer used after the attack. They were apparently tools of the hit team that carried out the terrorist attack.

But there was also a "second circle of hell," a network of about 20 mobile phones that were identified as being in proximity to the first eight phones noticeably often. According to the Lebanese security forces, all of the numbers involved apparently belong to the "operational arm" of Hezbollah, which maintains a militia in Lebanon that is more powerful than the regular Lebanese army. While part of the Party of God acts like a normal political organization, participating in democratic elections and appointing cabinet ministers, the other part uses less savory tactics, such as abductions near the Israeli border and terrorist attacks, such those committed against Jewish facilities in South America in 2002 and 2004.

The whereabouts of the two Beirut groups of mobile phone users coincided again and again, and they were sometimes located near the site of the attack. The romantic attachment of one of the terrorists led the cyber-detectives directly to one of the main suspects. He committed the unbelievable indiscretion of calling his girlfriend from one of the "hot" phones. It only happened once, but it was enough to identify the man. He is believed to be Abd al-Majid Ghamlush, from the town of Rumin, a Hezbollah member who had completed training course in Iran. Ghamlush was also identified as the buyer of the mobile phones. He has since disappeared, and perhaps is no longer alive.
Part 2: Revelations Will Likely Harm Hezbollah

Ghamlush's recklessness led investigators to the man they now suspect was the mastermind of the terrorist attack: Hajj Salim, 45. A southern Lebanese from Nabatiyah, Salim is considered to be the commander of the "military" wing of Hezbollah and lives in South Beirut, a Shiite stronghold. Salim's secret "Special Operational Unit" reports directly to Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, 48.

A Lebanese demonstrator holds a portrait of ex-prime minister Rafiq Hariri and a sign reading "justice" in Arabic.
Imad Mughniyah, one of the world's most wanted terrorists, ran the unit until Feb. 12, 2008, when he was killed in an attack in Damascus, presumably by Israeli intelligence. Since then, Salim has largely assumed the duties of his notorious predecessor, with Mughniyah's brother-in-law, Mustafa Badr al-Din, serving as his deputy. The two men report only to their superior, and to General Kassim Sulaimani, their contact in Tehran. The Iranians, the principal financiers of the military Lebanese "Party of God," have repressed the Syrians' influence.

The deeper the investigators in Beirut penetrated into the case, the clearer the picture became, according to the SPIEGEL source. They have apparently discovered which Hezbollah member obtained the small Mitsubishi truck used in the attack. They have also been able to trace the origins of the explosives, more than 1,000 kilograms of TNT, C4 and hexogen.

The Lebanese chief investigator and true hero of the story didn't live to witness many of the recent successes in the investigation. Captain Eid, 31, was killed in a terrorist attack in the Beirut suburb of Hasmiyah on Jan. 25, 2008. The attack, in which three other people were also killed, was apparently intended to slow down the investigation. And, once again, there was evidence of involvement by the Hezbollah commando unit, just as there has been in each of more than a dozen attacks against prominent Lebanese in the last four years.

This leaves the question of motive unanswered. Many had an interest in Hariri's death. Why should Hezbollah -- or its backers in Iran -- be responsible?

Hariri's growing popularity could have been a thorn in the side of Lebanese Shiite leader Nasrallah. In 2005, the billionaire began to outstrip the revolutionary leader in terms of popularity. Besides, he stood for everything the fanatical and spartan Hezbollah leader hated: close ties to the West and a prominent position among moderate Arab heads of state, an opulent lifestyle, and membership in the competing Sunni faith. Hariri was, in a sense, the alternative to Nasrallah.

Syrian President Bashar Assad with his wife Asma: Although the Syrian government is not being declared free of the suspicion of involvement, at least President Assad is no longer in the line of fire. There is hardly anything to indicate he was aware of the murder plot.
Whether Lebanon has developed in the direction the Hezbollah leader apparently imagined seems doubtful. Immediately after the spectacular terrorist attack on Valentine's Day in 2005, a wave of sympathy for the murdered politician swept across the country. The so-called "cedar revolution" brought a pro-Western government to power, and the son of the murdered man emerged as the most important party leader and strongest figure operating in the background. Saad al-Hariri, 39, could have become prime minister of Lebanon long ago -- if he were willing to accept the risks and felt sufficiently qualified to hold office. After the Hariri murder, the Syrian occupation force left the country in response to international and domestic Lebanese pressure.

But not everything has gone wrong from Hezbollah's standpoint. In July 2006, Nasrallah, by kidnapping Israeli soldiers, provoked Israel to launch a war against Lebanon. Hezbollah defied the superior military power, solidifying its image as a resistance movement in large parts of the Arab world. If there were democratic opinion polls in the Middle East, Nasrallah would probably be voted the most popular leader. The highly anticipated June 7 elections will demonstrate whether the Lebanese will allow Nasrallah to radicalize them again. Once again, he is entering into the election campaign in a dual role. He is both the secretary-general of the "Party of God," represented in the parliament since 1992, and the head of Hezbollah's militia, part of a state within a state that makes its own laws.

Wooing the Pariah: How Syria's Assad Is Steering His Country out of Isolation (09/23/2008)
UN Approves Hariri Investigation: Lebanese Split on International Tribunal (05/31/2007)
SPIEGEL Interview with Saad al-Hariri: "Assad is Responsible" (06/13/2006)
Crisis in Lebanon: "Everything Points to Syria" (11/27/2006)
The Hariri Murder Investigation: Kofi Annan's Syria Problem (12/19/2005)
"Bye-Bye, Hariri!": UN Report Links Syrian Officials to Murder of Former Lebanese Leader (10/24/2005)
Lebanon: Conspiracy in Beirut (09/05/2005)
SPIEGEL Interview with Syrian President Assad: "Poverty Is a Greater Concern for Most than a Democratic Constitution" (08/29/2005)
Lebanon after the Cedar Revolution: Dancing on the Volcano (07/11/2005)
A Death in the Middle East: Hariri's Murder Casts Uncertain Future for Lebanon (02/24/2005)Hezbollah currently holds 14 of 128 seats in parliament, a number that is expected to rise. Some even believe that dramatic gains are possible for Hezbollah, although landslide-like changes in the Lebanese parliamentary system are relatively unlikely. A system of religious proportionality ensures, with list alliances arranged in advance, that about two-thirds of the seats in parliament are assigned before an election. In the cedar state, a Sunni must always be prime minister, while the Shiites are entitled to the office of speaker of parliament and the Christians the relatively unimportant office of the president.

Hezbollah has not managed to upset this system, adopted decades ago, even though it objectively puts its clientele at a disadvantage. As a result of differences in birthrates, there are now far more Shiites than Sunnis or Christians in Lebanon. Some say that Nasrallah isn't even interested in securing power through elections, and that the "Party of God" would be satisfied with a modest share of the government. By not taking on too much government responsibility, Hezbollah would not be forced to dissolve its militias and make significant changes to its ideology of resistance.

The revelations about the alleged orchestrators of the Hariri murder will likely harm Hezbollah. Large segments of the population are weary of internal conflicts and are anxious for reconciliation. The leader of the movement, which, despite its formal recognition of the democratic rules of the game, remains on the US's list of terrorist organizations, probably anticipates forthcoming problems with the UN tribunal. In a speech in Beirut, Nasrallah spoke of the tribunal's "conspiratorial intentions."

The revelations are likely to be just as unwelcome in Tehran, which sees itself confronted, once again, with the charge of exporting terrorism. Damascus's view of the situation could be more mixed. Although the Syrian government is not being declared free of the suspicion of involvement, at least President Assad is no longer in the line of fire. Hardly anything suggests anymore that he was personally aware of the murder plot or even ordered the killing.

One can only speculate over the reasons why the Hariri tribunal is holding back its new information about the assassination. Perhaps the investigators in the Netherlands fear that it could stir up the situation in Lebanon. On Friday evening, the press office in Leidschendam responded tersely to a written inquiry from SPIEGEL, noting that it could not comment on "operational details."

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Detlev Mehlis, 60, the German senior prosecutor and former UN chief investigator, has his own set of concerns. He performed his investigation to the best of his knowledge and belief, questioning more than 500 witnesses, and now he must put up with the accusation of having focused his attention too heavily on Syrian leads. The UN tribunal's order to release the generals who were arrested at his specific request is, at any rate, a serious blow to the German prosecutor.

One of the four, Jamal al-Sajjid, the former head of Lebanese intelligence, has even filed a suit against Mehlis in France for "manipulated investigations." In media interviews, such as an interview with the Al-Jazeera Arab television network last week, Sajjid has even taken his allegations a step further, accusing German police commissioner Gerhard Lehmann, Mehlis's assistant in the Beirut investigations, of blackmail.

Sajjid claims that Lehmann, a member of Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) proposed a deal with the Syrian president to the Lebanese man. Under the alleged arrangement, Assad would identify the person responsible for the Hariri killing and convince him to commit suicide, and then the case would be closed. According to Sajjid, the authorities in Beirut made "unethical proposals, as well as threats," and he claims that he has recordings of the incriminating conversations.

Mehlis denies all accusations. Lehmann, now working on a new assignment in Saudi Arabia, was unavailable for comment. But the spotlight-loving Jamil al-Sajjid could soon be embarking on a new career. He is under consideration for the post of Lebanon's next justice minister.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan.

Aoun, Hezbollah: From Lebanon with Laughs

Michel Aoun will have the next to the last laugh. We know who gets to laugh last...

From Lebanon with Laughs: "You Are in Beirut, Lebanon"

Barry Rubin
This satire is making the rounds in Lebanon as elections approach. The main character, Michel Aoun is a Christian politician allied with Hizballah. He would sell his mother--or, more immediately, Lebanon--in order to be president some day. He may well give an Iran-Syria backed government the seats it needs to take over the country.

"You are in Beirut, Lebanon"

This test only has one question, but it's a very important one. By giving an honest answer, you will discover where you stand morally.

The test features an unlikely, fictional situation in which you will have to make a decision. Remember that your answer needs to be honest, and spontaneous.

Please scroll down slowly and give due consideration to each line.

You are in Beirut, Lebanon. There is chaos all around you caused by an explosion followed by a severe blaze. You are a photo journalist working for a major newspaper and you're caught in the middle of this epic disaster. You're trying to shoot career-making photos. There are cars and people swirling around you, and disappearing under the flames.
Suddenly you see a man in a burning car. He is fighting for his life, trying not to be burnt alive. You move closer. Somehow the man looks familiar. You suddenly realize who it is. It's General Michel Aoun. At the same time you notice that the raging flames are about to take him under forever. You have two options - you can save the life of General Aoun, or you can shoot a dramatic Pulitzer Prize winning photo, documenting the death of one of the country's famous men.

What is the question - Click here: From Lebanon with Laughs: "You Are in Beirut, Lebanon"

Iran rejects yet another nukes offer from the West

Overall, it is possible to say with fair certainty and some understatement in fact, that Iran has rejected every approach to negotiating the nuclear development issue consistently, and that alll attempts at dialog have been futile. When the Bush administration refused to negotiate with Tehran, critics claimed the Bush administration was the attitude. Now that the Obama administration is willing to negotiate on almost any terms, Tehran has rebuffed them as well, saying they will only negotiate through the IAEA about IAEA issues.
It is hard to understand how or why anyone would expect that further attempts at dialogue will be fruitful.
Last update - 18:17 25/05/2009       
Iran rejects Western proposal for freezing Nuclear program
By Agencies
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday rejected a Western proposal for Tehran to "freeze" its nuclear work in return for no new sanctions and ruled out any talks with major powers on the issue.
The comments by the conservative president, who is seeking re-election in a June 12 presidential vote, are likely to further disappoint the United States administration of President Barack Obama, which is seeking to engage Iran diplomatically.
The United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain said in April they would invite Iran to a meeting to try and find a diplomatic solution to the nuclear row.
The West accuses Iran of secretly developing atomic weapons. Iran, the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, denies the charge and says it only wants nuclear power to generate electricity.
Breaking with past U.S. policy of shunning direct talks with Iran, Obama's administration said it would join such discussions with Tehran from now on.
"Our talks [with major powers] will only be in the framework of cooperation for managing global issues and nothing else. We have clearly announced this," Ahmadinejad said.
"The nuclear issue is a finished issue for us," he told a news conference.
Ahmadinejad was asked about a so-called "freeze-for-freeze" proposal first put forward last year under which Iran would freeze expansion of its nuclear program in return for the UN Security Council halting further sanctions against Tehran.
Western diplomats say the proposal remains on the table. Ahmadinejad last month said Iran had prepared its own package of proposals to end the stalemate.
"We will not allow anyone to negotiate with us outside the agency's regulations and issues," he said on Monday, referring to the UN International Atomic Energy Agency. "From now on we will continue our path in the framework of the agency."
Obama has offered a new beginning of diplomatic engagement with Iran if it "unclenches its fist", but Washington has not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails.
Ahmadinejad, facing a challenge in the election from moderates advocating detente with the West, has made angry rhetoric against the United States and it allies his trademark since he came to power in 2005.
Challenge to Obama
Ahmadinejad called Monday for a face-to-face debate with his American counterpart Barack Obama at the United Nations.
The challenge was made at a news conference as he stepped up his campaign for re-election in Iran's June 12 presidential vote.
Iran says it is ready for "constructive" talks but has repeatedly rejected demands to halt sensitive uranium enrichment which can have both civilian and military purposes.
No cooperation with North Korea
Asked about North Korea's nuclear test on Monday, Ahmadinejad said: "In principle we oppose the production, expansion and the use of weapons of mass destruction."
He said Iran had no missile or nuclear cooperation with North Korea.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Palestinians whitewash desecration of Christian graves

The constant emigration of Christians from Palestinian territories is due to the equally unrelenting and systematic victimization of Christians by the Muslim majority, but it is invariably blamed on Israel. Christians are afraid to complain about persecution and terrorization. Therefore, when an incident such as the desecration of graves described here occurs, Christians hurry to insist each time that "nothing like this has ever taken place."
Last update - 19:55 24/05/2009       
Vandals desecrate Christian graves in West Bank
By Reuters
Vandals desecrated some 70 graves in two Palestinian Christian cemeteries on Sunday in what a Palestinian Authority official said was a rare attack on the Christian minority in the occupied West Bank.
A church official in the village of Jiffna near Ramallah where the attack took place called in Palestinian security officials to investigate, but neither he nor the investigators said they had any initial clues who was responsible.
"This unfortunate incident has brought Muslims and Christians closer and many from the Muslim community have shown solidarity with us and have condemned this action," said Greek Orthodox Church official George Abdo.
He added that grave stones had been smashed and metal and stone crosses knocked off graves in the attack, which was discovered on Sunday. The head and a hand of a statue of the Madonna adorning one of the graves were also broken off.
Abdo said it was the first time such an incident had occurred in the village.
Issa Kassissieh, a Palestinian Authority official and adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas on Christian affairs, said he believed it was "an isolated act against Christian symbols".
"Palestinian Christians and Muslims have always lived in harmony in the Holy Land," Kassissieh said.
Jiffna, northeast of Ramallah, is home to some 1,600 inhabitants, about two thirds of whom are Christians from the Greek Orthodox and Catholic communities.
The Palestinian Authority says 50,000 of the West Bank's 2.5 million Palestinian population are Christian.
Many Christians have emigrated over the past 30 years. Pope Benedict called on Christians not to abandon the Holy Land during a visit to the region earlier this month.

Barry Rubin on Joe Biden in Lebanon

Here Comes Joe, There Goes Lebanon

By Barry Rubin
It's really nice that Vice-President Joe Biden went to Lebanon in order to, in the words of the White House statement, "reinforce the United States's support for an independent and sovereign Lebanon" prior to the June 7 elections there.

That and whatever is the current prevailing price will get you a cup of coffee.

Of course, Hizballah said that the visits by Biden following that of
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was a terrible "interference in Lebanon's affairs."

Strangely enough, I'm not aware of any U.S. statement complaining about Iranian and Syrian interference in Lebanon's affairs. This is connected to the current policy that basically amounts to, if you can't say something nice don't say anything at all. Since the current administration won't admit to being in conflict with anyone, except perhaps al-Qaida, it cannot fight back effectively.

As for the media, the New York Times investigated the elections and did find a country whose interference in Lebanon should be criticized...Saudi Arabia. 


Here's the problem: if your adversaries wage a struggle using all their assets plus a great deal of dissimulation and trickery and you don't, well, guess who's going to win?

May 25: Lebanon's bogus holiday

May 25 sacrifices & Hezbollah The Dragon
By: Elias Bejjani

May 25/09

Believe it or not, on May 25 each year since 2000 Lebanon has been celebrating a so-called "Liberation & Resistance Day." Sadly, this celebration commemorates a bogus event, and a phony heroism that did not actually take place.

On May 22, 2000 the Israeli Army unilaterally and for solely Israeli domestic reasons withdrew from the security zone of South Lebanon in accordance with UN Resolution 425. The withdrawal was a fatal Israeli decision that has inspired the Hamas terrorism acts and the on-going havoc in the Palestinian Gaza strip.

The unilateral Israeli withdrawal created a security vacuum in south Lebanon. The Syrians who were occupying Lebanon at that time and fully controlling its government, did not allow the Lebanese Army to deploy in the south and fill this vacuum after the Israeli withdrawal. Instead Syria helped the Hezbollah militia to militarily control the whole southern region, and even patrol the Israeli-Lebanese border.

It is worth mentioning that the Israeli army's withdrawal was executed without any military battles, or even minor skirmishes with Hezbollah, or the Lebanese and Syrian armies. The Syrian regime, in a bid to justify both its on going occupation of Lebanon and the avoidance of disarming Hezbollah, came up with the "Shabaa Farms occupation big lie" and declared Hezbollah a Liberator, alleging it had forced Israel to withdrawal from South Lebanon.

Syria, in the same camouflaging and devious context, dictated to both the Lebanese parliament and government to declare May 25th a National Day under the tag of  "Liberation & Reistance Day".

In reality Hezbollah did not force the Israeli withdrawal, and did not play any role in the Liberation of the southern Lebanese region. In fact both Hezbollah and Syria deliberately hindered and delayed the Israeli withdrawal for more than 14 years.

Every time the Israelis called on the Lebanese government to engage in a joint, serious effort under the United Nations umbrella to ensure a safe and mutually organized withdrawal of its army from South Lebanon, the Lebanese government refused to cooperate, did not agree to deploy its army in the south, and accused the Israelis of plotting to divide and split the Syrian-Lebanese joint track. This approach to the Israeli calls was an official Syrian decision dictated to all the Lebanese puppet governments during the Syrian occupation era.

Since then, Hezbollah has been hijacking Lebanon and its people, refusing to disarm and advocating for the annihilation of Israel. This Iranian mullahs' terrorist army stationed in Lebanon, is viciously hiding behind labels of resistance, liberation and religion. Hezbollah has recklessly jeopardized the Lebanese peoples' lives, safety, security and livelihood. It has been growing bolder and bolder in the last four years and mercilessly taking the Lebanese state and the Lebanese people hostage through terrorism, force and organized crime.

Sadly, Hezbollah is systematically devouring Lebanon day after day, and piece by piece, while at the same time marginalizing all its governmental institutions in a bid to topple the Lebanese state and erect in its place a Shiite Muslim regime, a replica of the Iranian Shiite mullahs' fundamentalist republic. Meanwhile the free world and Arabic countries are totally silent, indifferent, and idly watching from far away the horrible crime unfolding without taking any practical or tangible measures to put an end to this anti-Lebanese Syria-Iranian scheme that is executed through their spearhead, the Hezbollah armed militia.

Who is to be blamed for Hezbollah's current odd and bizarre status? Definitely the Syrians who have occupied Lebanon for more than 28 years (1976-2005). During their bloody and criminal occupation, Syria helped the Iranian Hezbollah militia build a state within Lebanon and fully control the Lebanese Shiite community.

But also the majority of the Lebanese politicians, leaders, officials and clergymen share the responsibility because they were subservient and acted in a dire Dhimmitude, selfish and cowardly manner. If these so-called Lebanese leaders had been courageous and patriotic and had not appeased Hezbollah and turned a blind eye to all its vicious and human rights atrocities, intimidation tactics, crimes and expansionism schemes, this Iranian Shiite fundamentalist militia would not have been able to erect its own mini-state in the southern suburb of Beirut, and its numerous mini-cantons in the Bekaa Valley and the South; nor would Hezbollah have been able to build its mighty military power, with 70 thousand militiamen, or stockpile more than 50 thousand missiles and force the Iranian "Wilayat Al-Faqih" religious doctrine on the Lebanese Shiite community and confiscate its decision making process and freedoms.

Since Hezbollah's emergence in 1982, these politicians have been serving their own selfish interests and not the interests of the Lebanese people and the nation. They went along with Hezbollah's schemes, deluding themselves that its militia and weaponry would remain in South Lebanon and would not turn against them.

This failure to serve the people of Lebanon allowed Hezbollah to make many Lebanese and most of the Arab-Muslim countries through its terrorism propaganda to blindly swallow its big lie of theatrical, faked resistance and Liberation.

Hezbollah would not have been able refuse to disarm in 1991, like all the other Lebanese militias in accordance to the "Taef Accord," which called for the disarmament of all militias. Hezbollah would not have become a state inside the Lebanese state, and a world-wide terrorism Iranian-Syrian tool which turned against them all after its war with Israel in year 2006 and after the UN troops were deployed on the Lebanese - Israeli borders in accordance with the UN Resolution 1701.

On May 7, 2008 Hezbollah invaded Sunni Western Beirut killing and injuring in cold blood hundreds of its civilian citizens, and attempted to take over by force Mount Lebanon.

A few days ago Hezbollah's General Secretary Sheik Hassan Nasrallah called that day (May 7, 2008) a great and glorious victory for his resistance, and threatened the Lebanese that a replicate of that day will take place if they do not succumb and obey his orders.

Hezbollah is a deadly dragon that the Lebanese politicians have been allowing him to feed on sacrifices from the southern Lebanese citizens, especially on those who were living in the "Security Zone" and who fled to Israel in May 2000 after the Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon. This dragon who enjoyed devouring his southern sacrifices has now turned on all the Lebanese and if they do not stand for their rights and dignity, he will keep on devouring them all one after the other.

We call on the Lebanese government, the Lebanese Parliament and on all the free and patriotic Lebanese politicians and leaders to cancel the May 25 National Day, because it is not national at all, and also to stop calling Hezbollah a resistance, put an end for its mini-state, cantons and weaponry, and secure a dignified, honorable and safe return for all the Lebanese citizens who have been taking refuge in Israel since May 2000.

Arabs (except Egyptians) like Obama

Egypt is America's major ally and the recipient of the most US aid among Arab countries, yet Obama is not too popular there. Your tax dollars at work, dear Americans.
Last update - 11:40 24/05/2009       
Arabs like Obama but are still suspicious of U.S.
By Natasha Mozgovaya, Haaretz Correspondent
President Barack Obama appears to have successfully made inroads with Arab public opinion during his first few months in office, a new poll suggested over the weekend.
A survey by the University of Maryland/Zogby International poll - conducted in the UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Morocco - showed that 45 percent of the 4,000 Arabs surveyed view Obama positively. If Egypt is removed from the survey - Egypt's population is larger and more neutral than other countries - Obama's positive rating soars to 60 percent.
About half of the Arabs in six countries said in a recent poll they have a favorable view of Barack Obama and were hopeful about U.S. foreign policy.
A majority - 77 percent - of Arabs said they have a "somewhat unfavorable" or "very unfavorable" attitude toward the United States, down from 83 percent last year. It ranks second only to Israel as the country Arabs view as the world's biggest threat.
Obama will not be presenting an American initiative for Middle East peace during his June 4 speech in Cairo, the White House announced on Friday.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that Obama's speech would address Washington's relationship with Muslims worldwide.
"This will be a broader speech about our relationship with Muslims around the world," said Gibbs at the daily press briefing. "I know there has been some conjecture that included in this speech will be some detailed comprehensive Mideast peace plan, and that is not the intention nor was it ever the intention of this speech."
Gibbs noted that Obama could not address the Muslim world without referring to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but added that the speech would not focus on it.
The White House announcement comes as no surprise to the Netanyahu government. Israel has long known that President Barack Obama would not present his Middle East peace plan during his upcoming visit to Cairo, a senior Jerusalem official said.
The official said that the U.S. has yet to formulate a cogent diplomatic initiative, and that the administration will not do so until the president completes his first round of meetings with all of the region's leaders, Israel Radio reported.
When asked about Obama's stance on Jerusalem, Gibbs said, "Those are final status issues that the parties themselves have agreed to work out in whatever negotiation would be had. That's not something for the president to intone."
Following Obama's meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, various media reports had speculated that Obama would unveil a new U.S. initiative for achieving peace in the Middle East as part of his upcoming speech meant to improve relations with the Muslim world.
A spokesman for the National Security Council told Haaretz several days ago that Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Nahmoud Abbas - who is scheduled to visit Washington this week - came to the U.S. to clarify their positions on various subjects, but no peace plan is currently on the table "despite rumors to the contrary."