Oops…drunk salafists?

Naharnet has completely changed its version of this morning’s shootout in Bab al-Tabbaneh: turns out the incident started with three men in a car ignoring a checkpoint and subsequently being shot at by the soldiers. One of the men was wounded. A little later a crowd of neighbourhood inhabitants came and attacked the checkpoint. It is in this firefight that two men were killed and 8 others wounded, including 3 soldiers… The crowd also blocked the Tripoli-Akkar highway with burning tires (a longstanding Lebanese custom) and, for some unfathomable reason, set fire to the car which the men were driving – which, Incidentally, was not a white Mitsubishi van but a Renault 18. Its colour was not mentioned in the article. It is unclear whether the drunk men were salafists…


Oops… the Lebanese Air Force

Oh dear, it seems I was wrong about the ‘Israeli jet’ flying over Beirut yesterday. Turns out the Lebanese do have an air force after all: apart from a few helicopters, also in the air yesterday, it consists of one (1) plane. It is being flown these days in preparation for Lebanon’s Independence day tomorrow (November 22nd). Presumably it is called ‘Air Force One’…

The Lebanese army has this morning carried out a raid in Bab al-Tabbaneh, the sunni fundamentalist-dominated neighbourhood in Tripoli that was involved in all-out fighting with their alawite neighbours in the bordering quarter of Jabal Mohsen earlier this year. The army’s intention was to arrest some wanted salafist fighters. They encountered serious armed resistance, resulting in 2 dead (including the wanted man, called Abu Da’aas according to a Lebanese radio station) and, depending on the source, 3 to 11 wounded at the time of writing. It is not clear if the fighting is still continuing at the moment (9:30 am local time). Sporadic fighting has also been going on over the past days and weeks at the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp outside Saida (Sidon) where Fatah forces are fighting islamist factions (notably Usbat al-Ansar) in an effort to force them to deliver wanted jihadi fighters (mostly Fatah al-Islam-linked) to the Lebanese army.

The New York Times today publishes an irritatingly sensationalist but informative article by Robert Worth on Hizbullah’s scouts, schools and youth organizations: ‘“It’s like a complete system, from primary school to university,” said Talal Atrissi, a political analyst at Lebanese University who has been studying Hezbollah for decades. “The goal is to prepare a generation that has deep religious faith and is also close to Hezbollah.” Much of this activity is fueled by a broader Shiite religious resurgence in Lebanon that began after the Iranian revolution in 1979. But Hezbollah has gone further than any other organization in mobilizing this force, both to build its own support base and to immunize Shiite youths from the temptations of Lebanon’s diverse and mostly secular society. Hezbollah’s influence on Lebanese youth is very difficult to quantify because of the party’s extreme secrecy and the general absence of reliable statistics in the country. It is clear that the Shiite religious schools, in which Hezbollah exercises a dominant influence, have grown over the past two decades from a mere handful into a major national network. Other, less visible avenues may be equally important, like the growing number of clerics associated with the movement. Hezbollah and its allies have also adapted and expanded religious rituals involving children, starting at ever-earlier ages. Women, who play a more prominent role in Hezbollah than they do in most other radical Islamic groups, are especially important in creating what is often called “the jihad atmosphere” among children.’ Continue reading “Oops… the Lebanese Air Force”

Buying arms, selling votes… and driving white Mitsubishi vans

The ISF on Tuesday announced that they had caught (with a little help from their Syrian counterparts) the Lebanese man who helped Shaker al-Abssi (the leader of Fatah al-Islam) escape from Nahr al-Bared during the fighting there in 2007. With unusual attention for detail, they added that al-Abssi was driven over the border in a white Mitsubishi van. For those not up with the Lebanese conspiracy set, a white Mitsubishi van was seen on camera approaching Rafiq Hariri’s motorcade on Valentine’s day, 2005, ‘minutes before the assassination‘ when a ton of explosives detonated and killed Hariri and 22 others… I’m not entirely sure what to make of that, unless we assume that the ISF want to subliminally broadcast the message that Hariri was killed by the same salafist fundamentalists that fought the Lebanese army in Nahr el-Bared (which is strenuously denied by those who prefer to implicate the Syrian regime). Incidentally, it gets even stranger than this: if you do a search for ‘white Mitsubishi van’ on the English-language Wikipedia, you are directed immediately to the article on ‘Motorcade‘, even though the article contains neither the word ‘Mitsubishi’, nor the sequence ‘white * van’…

In more predictable conspiracy news, Franklin Lamb has an article out on Counterpunch discussing some recent and interconnected developments in Lebanon, including the US and Saudi Arabia buying votes for M14 in the upcoming parliamentary elections, and Lebanese leaders, notably US/Saudi buddy Saad Hariri, negotiating with Russia to buy arms. The realization that the US is not going to supply the LAF with actual useful weapons finally seems to be dawning even on the M14 lot. Lamb also expands on the extent of Lebanese territory still occupied by Israel, which includes not only the Shebaa farms, northern Ghajjar (from which the Israelis keep ‘mulling’ to withdraw) and the Kfar Shuba hills, but also the rarely-mentioned ‘seven shia villages’ which were occupied since 1947. The following is a passage on the US buying votes in Akkar: ‘It must have been pure coincidence last week (11/12/08) that U.S. Ambassador Michele Sisson, and USAID/Lebanon Mission Director Denise Herbal, announced that the U.S. embassy has launched a six million dollar humanitarian assistance program “to help 21 villages adjacent to the northern Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared who were affected by the war”. Continue reading “Buying arms, selling votes… and driving white Mitsubishi vans”

Beirut to Beijing (and beyond)

A friend of mine is currently traveling overland to China from Beirut via Syria, Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. She has been writing a prolific blog diary that is both amusing and insightful, shedding some light not only on the countries and cultures she traverses, but also on the tribulations, surprises and dilemmas facing a self-defined ‘vegetarian deconstructionist with liberal-humanist tendencies’ confronted with Central Asian life and culture. She’s about to leave Kazakhstan and enter China at the moment. Check it out here: ‘I concluded that the dynamic of the celebration was very different from the way that we have large-scale parties in Europe. There, festivities are an industry: one rents a space, one hires caterers, waiters, photographers, entertainers… Whereas in Sentap, I think that the only person who might have been receiving a fee was the singer. Everybody else was just assuming their part of the responsibility that accompanies the festivity. These were the ethics of community that have been largely lost in the way we celebrate in urban centres around the world, where solidarity is replaced with convenience. I think that in the first major shindig I have in my life, I will take inspiration from that village party in the mountains of Uzbekistan instead of bowing to the weight of my own social conventions; not as an appropriation of some romanticised exotic, rural purity, but as a reclaiming of a set of communal values that, in many places, I feel have been forgotten.’

Some salafists are different from others pt. 2

‘”He doesn’t really have any religious values they share,” said Sheik Bilal Said Chabaan, one of the few Sunni clerics in Tripoli aligned with Hariri’s opponents. “But they’re getting money and benefits.” One cleric likened the alliance to the marriage of convenience between pro-business Republicans and the Christian right in America. “It’s the same here,” said Khaled Daher, a leader of the Islamic Gathering, a Salafist political group that strongly backs Hariri. “We see Hariri and the Future Movement as the best political movement on the ground for now.” Salafists have long been a factor in Lebanon, but were cowed into silence during Syria’s military occupation of the country, which ended in 2005 in the weeks after the assassination of the elder Hariri.'(…) But Hariri supporters say it’s unfair to judge the Salafists based on their reputation as would-be terrorists or political tools in other countries. “The Salafists we have in Tripoli have voiced their interests in being part of the republic, part of the state, which is unlike the Salafists in other places,” the Future Movement’s Allouch said. “As long as they accept to be part of the state and work peacefully in partnership with others, there’s no problem with forming a coalition.”‘

And of course the salafists of Tripoli have absolutely no links with the salafists of Fatah al-Islam who were fighting the LAF five miles away in Nahr al-Bared last year, and there is consequently absolutely no chance that the bags of dollars Hariri and co lavished on those salafists for shortsighted electoral purposes ended up buying the weapons that killed 100-plus Lebanese soldiers… And all the assassinations and attacks since 2005 were perpetrated by the Syrians, absolutely no salafists involved, whatever they themselves may claim. Life can be simple, if you look through the right glasses…

Interesting times…

I’ve been off the blog for a while and a lot has happened since. A global financial meltdown and a new US president, to name but a few events. The first seems to strangely pass by Lebanon (as per the time of writing), the second might make a difference here – but don’t raise your hopes too high: Obama’s first appointments haven’t been very promising to say the least. My guess is that Obama might bring some change to the US domestically, but won’t make a big difference in foreign policy – witness his continuation of the ridiculous lies and warmongering against Iran and his vows to dive even deeper into the Afghan swamp.
In Lebanon, meanwhile, we have been witnessing strangely bomb-, assassination- and generally trouble-free times lately, while all parties (except for the christians internally) are – at least formally – reconciling ad nauseam, no doubt mostly with an eye on the upcoming parliamentary elections of May 2009, when the complicated pseudo-democratic system of this country will force even the most ardent enemies to share lists and swap votes. On concrete issues such as the modification of the election law or the devising of a national defense strategy, meanwhile, the fighting and bickering goes on unabated despite all the reconciliation rituals. Reconciliation with Syria has also been cautiously moving ahead, although Syrian troops have been massing up along most of the Lebanese border and Damascus has just rejected all four Lebanese ambassadorial candidates. The national TV channel of the country has this week paraded a host of arrested Fatah al-Islam members who have accused Hariri’s Mustaqbal movement of financing them. Not exactly a new accusation – Lebanon’s (only?) investigative journalist Fida Itani has substantiated them extensively on the pages of al-Akhbar, but the M14 propaganda crew is up in arms and out in full force to deny them so strenuously that they actually lend a lot of credibility to the accusations.
In the meantime there’s been a legion of spy stories and conspiracy discoveries coming along. Robert Fisk provides a concise overview here.
And then there was the strange US raid on Syrian territory – at a time when Syria is restoring diplomatic contacts with France, the UK and Arab countries. A welcome present from W to Obama? I have spent some time in Damascus recently, for the first time since 2005, and it has changed a lot in a positive sense: better kept and maintained, new parks and lots of new shops and bars, far fewer presidential and ex-presidential posters around and a generally more open and lively atmosphere. Things seem to be looking up there economically, although I am happy to confirm that there are still no MacDonald’s or KFC’s in sight and Ugarit coke still outsells Coca Cola in no small way. Seems like the Syrians finally got their act together in their own country after they got rid of those troublesome Lebanese… Meanwhile, the Israelis are making ever more aggressive sounds to the south, promising to consider the whole of Lebanon as Hezbollah-terrain now (not that they didn’t do so anyway) and that’s even before their election campaigns take off. The promise of ending their occupation of northern Ghajjar has remained unfulfilled until now. Anyway, with elections in Israel, Iran, Lebanon and possibly Palestine coming up in the next 8 months or so, interesting times should lie ahead of us.