Odds and ends

Yesterday, the motorcade transporting Michele Sison, the US attache (until she is officially accepted as ambassador by the president) was attacked by stone-throwing local people in Nabatiyeh in the south of Lebanon, conveniently labeled ‘Hizbullah supporters‘, as if 90% or more of the population of the south is not… Shouts of ‘mawt li-‘amrika, mawt li-‘isra’il’ accompanied the attack, which ended without hurting anyone. Contrary to what this report says, Sison was actually visiting one Abdullah Bitar, one of maybe ten people who receive bags of money from the US to make up the ‘secular shia alternative’ to Hizbullah and Amal (as if the latter isn’t secular anyway). This group, which is about as representative for Lebanon’s shia as Ahmed al-Chalabi is for Iraq’s shia, is led by Ahmad al-As’ad, who hails from a previously ruling family of feudal landlords who the shia, as the only community in Lebanon to do that, have overthrown decades ago. The US at the forefront of supporting democracy as always! But then again, these are no doubt the ‘moderate’ shia… Meanwhile, the US has discovered that the Chavez government in Venezuela is sympathetic to fellow US enemies such as Hizbullah. Of course, rather than calling this political opposition, the US insists on labeling it ‘proof of an international terror network’. Duh…

The Lebanese army has today hosted a ‘reconciliatory meeting’ in its nearby barracks for the rival clans of Saadnayel (sunni) and Taalabaya (shia), inviting anybody who is anyone in the villages along, and reportedly brokering a ‘gentleman’s agreement‘ whereby both sides agreed to stop shooting at each other (and, adhering to the iron law of war, killing only passers-by).

‘If a cat dies in Lebanon, the world knows about it. Here in Yemen, we are forgotten.’ This is an excellent introductory article by Rannie Amiri about the not very publicized 4-year old civil war in the north of Yemen, which nevertheless fits the US/Saudi-sponsored Lebanon-Iraq pattern of pitting shia (of the zaidi variety in this case) against sunni: Yemen’s president Ali Abdullah Saleh (a non-Hashimite Zaidi) accuses the (…) “Houthis,” of seeking to restore Hashimite Zaidi rule in the north, sedition, and “sharing intelligence with foreign powers” (an unsubtle reference to Iran). The Houthis reject these allegations and maintain they are fighting against the institutionalized discrimination and disenfranchisement of the Zaidi community, the increasing promulgation of anti-Shia Salafi/Wahabi ideology in Yemen, and the government’s establishment of closer ties with the United States. (…) In a June 7th Washington Post article, Ellen Knickmeyer reports that the Yemeni government is doing its utmost to both suppress and prevent coverage of the fighting in Saada. This has occurred by impeding independent observers from assessing the war and denying local and foreign journalists access to the area. Cell phone networks to the region have been cut and relief efforts hampered. “To even speak of going to Saada is to get a death sentence” remarked Abdul Karim al-Khiwani, editor of the Zaidi weekly Al-Shura. Al-Khiwani managed to escape the death penalty, but in a verdict decried by human rights groups as well as the U.S. State Department, he was found guilty of sedition and “forming an armed group.” On June 9th he was sentenced to six years in prison with hard labor. His real crime? Covering the Saada rebellion and publishing the photographs of destroyed villages. As one might surmise, a humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Saada. Abdul Malik al-Houthi told the IRIN News Agency that food supplies were not reaching the north as the World Food Program struggles to feed the 77,000 internally displaced civilians (Knickmeyer reports 100,000). From these accounts and those of widespread destruction of homes, businesses and mosques, Saada is effectively under siege. The death toll in the war between the Yemeni government and the Zaidi rebels now numbers well into the thousands. Indeed, the struggle of al-Houthi’s forces in north Yemen is not unlike that of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and Muqtada al-Sadr’s followers in Baghdad. All have demanded an end to the collusion between the ruling authority and the United States and/or Israel; endured or are presently enduring a humanitarian crisis; are accused of being under Iranian influence, and feared by the leaders of the Sunni Arab states for using the ballot box to achieve political legitimacy.’

Back in Lebanon,in the meantime, the cabinet negotiations are far from concluded. Aoun recently proposed to limit the prime minister’s powers, which prompted the entire M14-chorus to start a round of Aoun-battering, while the move was rejected even by his opposition partners. To get a taste of the outrageous and immensely involved kowtowing that’s going on, have a look at this summary of one day’s proceedings in an-Nahar.

President Suleiman has rejected Israel’s recent preposterous demands for peace talks with Lebanon, saying Israel has to comply with UN resolutions 425 and 1701 and stop occupying Lebanese territory (i.e. the Shebaa farms) before any bilateral talks could be held. Here’s what Lebanese political analysts have to say about the ‘peace offer’: ‘By extending his hand to Lebanon – and Syria – Olmert is angling to keep himself relevant by scoring points at home and with his United States allies by showing his ostensible engagement for peace, said Oussama Safa, executive director of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies. “The Israelis are benefiting from what is happening with Syria through Turkey,” Safa said. “They’re good points for the Olmert government. They are taking advantage of this … to throw the ball in Lebanon’s lap.” In addition, Olmert is endeavoring as well to burnish his credentials as premier before the bribery scandal possibly brings him down, Safa added. “He’s trying to stay afloat a little bit,” Safa said. “The scandal has really dragged Olmert beyond repair. He’s been a lame duck since the 2006 war.” Wednesday’s move also could represent an Israeli bow to US wishes to help out Prime Minister-designate Fouad Siniora, whose March 14 coalition has been a favorite of the administration of US President George W. Bush, said Fadia Kiwan, director of the school of political science at St. Joseph University. “Israel may be under pressure of the Americans to show that they have good will toward Lebanon,” she said. US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice spent the weekend in Israel and on Monday made an unannounced visit to Lebanon, where she said “the time has come” to deal with the Shebaa Farms, an area occupied by Israel and claimed by Lebanon. Hizbullah has long cited the liberation of the Shebaa Farms as a reason for its men to keep their arms, and the US and Israel could see the attempt to settle the Shebaa Farms issue and initiate peace talks as part of their larger strategy to weaken Hizbullah and the group’s sponsor, Iran, Safa said. That strategy, however, is a dead end, Safa added, because Hizbullah would simply attribute an Israeli withdrawal from Shebaa to the power of the resistance’s weapons – yet another rationale for not disarming as called for by many in the March 14 coalition and mandated by UN Security Council Resolution 1701. “There’s no way to weaken Hizbullah – they are the strongest” party in Lebanon, Safa said. “They will declare victory, no matter what. No matter how you turn it, Hizbullah will cash in.” Hizbullah officials have said recent moves on the Shebaa Farms should not be used a pretext to take away the group’s arms.’

The prisoner swap between Hizbullah and Israel is meanwhile rumoured to be imminent and to take place in Germany rather than in Naqura on the Lebanese-Israeli border as is customary. The latter is good news for the local beach house and restaurant owners, who habitually face a weekend of forced cancellations whenever a prisoner swap happens… (Notice, by the way, how the ‘unbiased’ BBC talks only with Israeli family members of the captured soldiers, and barely mentions the Lebanese kidnapped by Israel who are to be released under the same deal).

And finally: Lahza is a project that distributed cameras among Palestinian children living in the camps in Lebanon, asking them to take pictures of camp life seen through their eyes. The results are currently being displayed in an exhibition in Beirut. Menassat features some of them in this article.


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