Just when you thought it was all over…

… the jhadis start rearing their ugly heads again. An explosion in a military intelligence post in Abdeh, in the north, which killed one soldier on Saturday, was (reportedly) claimed by Fatah al-Islam on Monday as a (very late) revenge for their defeat in Nahr al-Bared. Today, however, Fatah al-Islam issued a statement denying the claim. Naharnet reports that three more bombs were since discovered in the post. Also on Saturday, a would-be suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt was killed by the army when he was leaving the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian camp in Saida (Sidon), walking towards the military checkpoint at the exit of the camp. On Monday, as-Safir published a report claiming that various jihadi groups in Lebanon have been preparing sabotage acts and attacks on the UNIFIL troops in the south. The jihadi groups – sunni fundamentalists – have recently pronounced a jihad against Hizbullah and the Lebanese shias in general, and it is a public secret that Hizbullah has been acting as the protectors of UNIFIL troops, warding off attempted jihadi attacks on them. One French officer told me – off the record and anonymously of course – last year that many of the UNIFIL patrols are preceded and followed by Hizbullah units, who also block mobile phone reception around the patrols. UNIFIL has in turn taken great care not to interfere with any sensitive Hizbullah operations in their area. That is the actual situation on the ground, whatever public statements by UNIFIL’s commanders and UN officials may say. In any case, anybody who knows the thoroughness of HA’s monitoring and security tactics is very aware that it is HA who monitors the movements of UNIFIL and not the other way round…

Returning to the jihadi threats and attacks, speculation among the resident journalists here is that the sudden reconciliation of the government and opposition forces in Doha may have been brought about at least partly by just such intelligence reports as the one published in as-Safir. (Although, of course, the gigantic sums of money reportedly distributed by the emir of Qatar to the various parties after midnight have helped too…) The only reason the jihadi groups have been able to organize themselves and operate with the impunity they have been enjoying in these past few years, is the very disaccord and disruption of security caused by the ongoing battle between the Lebanese parties. Not to mention the fact that the Hariri/Mustaqbal clan and their US/Saudi sponsors have been financing some of the more fundamentalist salafi groups in an effort to counterbalance the power of Hizbullah, or, in Hariri’s case, to buy votes and political support. The first time this backfired was with the Fatah al-Islam takeover of Nahr al-Bared last year, and the resulting fight with the army after they kiled some LAF soldiers (as long as they stay within the camps and threaten only Palestinian refugees, no political actors in Lebanon care very much). There was an attack on UNIFIL in 2007 already too. In Ain al-Hilweh also, the army has been attacked, in March last year, if my memory serves me right, by Jund ash-Sham fighters. Although the Fatah security forces have been fighting the jihadi groups, occasionnally even handing their leaders over to the Lebanese army, they don’t seem to be a match for them – or they choose to keep relations with them at a workable level rather than turning the camp into a battle zone. The threat they pose has now become so obvious and important that finally everybody seems to have realized that they urgently need to be brought under control, especially after al-Qaeda’s al-Zawahiri’s recent call for attacks on the ‘crusader forces in Lebanon’. As usual, the jihadis are willing to attack virtually anything or anyone, as long as it’s not Israel…

In other news, Israel has on Sunday released a man of mixed Lebanese-Israeli descent, Nassim Nisr, whom they had convicted and jailed as a Hizbullah spy, swapping him against ‘body parts of Israeli soldiers’ as well as, apparently, the dog tag of a killed IDF soldier.

In yet other news, Amnesty International has released a rather damning report about the state of human rights in Lebanon, citing discrimination of women and immigrant workers, torture in prisons and impunity for perpetrators of these act. ‘Women faced discrimination in law and practice, and the state failed adequately to protect them against violence. Palestinian refugees continued to suffer discrimination and violations of their social and economic rights. Reports of torture and ill-treatment in detention increased. Courts continued to condemn people to death but there were no executions.’ The report has received virtually no attention in the Lebanese press, except in some opposition papers.

Meanwhile, the negotiations about the new government seem nowhere near being successful, with Qatar stepping in again (presumably with more bags of gold to distribute) to ‘help’ the Lebanese out. Suleiman, in a very recommendable move, has called for the removal of ‘posters bearing his likeness’ from the public space, calling on other politicians to do likewise. Images of Suleiman, in civilian dress or in military attire, have indeed become so ubiquitous in the past weeks as to make Lebanon look suspiciously like Syria, where you can’t turn a corner without bumping into the president’s face. Some of the general’s military portraits are rather worrying, depicting him as a sort of saint, with halo and all… Remember this is the military taking over the presidency (admittedly following another (ex-)general in the president’s chair). Posters of the various political icons are in fact oftern the immediate reason for clashes, when one party takes down portraits of the other’s leaders. They are also used in this country as territorial markers, with Hamra, for example, now being clearly marked as SSNP territory where their evil-looking pseudo-swastika has replaced the formerly ubiquitous portraits of khaliji playboy Saad Hariri.


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