The Lebanese government on Wednesday night announced it would revoke its two decisions about the airport security and Hezbollah's private network, which sparked the worst violence since the end of Lebanon's civil war. The news was immediately celebrated with gunfire in the Dahiye, Hezbollah-controlled South Beirut.
Today, roads are slowly starting to open. Middle East Airlines has announced it will resuome incoming flights this afternoon. There will be no outgoing flights until tomorrow.
The Lebanese Army has issued the following statement on its website:
"As a result of the incidents which took place recently, a number of media personnel were subjected to aggressions while covering the incidents and a number of media corporations were also subjected to different damages and were forced to suspend their broadcast. A number of these corporations resumed work instantly after the adequate security conditions were met.
"The Army Command would like to express its constant appreciation to the Lebanese media and confirms once again its determination to ensure security and protection to all the media based on its constant adherence to ensure the right of expression and public liberties which the constitution guarantees and calls upon the administrations of these corporations to avoid the broadcast and publication of any news that might increase the tension.
"The Army Command also calls upon all the parties to be endowed with responsibility to respect the opinions of all the sides regardless of the political differences."
POSTED AT 5:31 PM ON WEDNESDAY, MAY 14, 2008
THE VIEW FROM SYRIA
The average Syrian media consumer might be forgiven for thinking that the citizens of West Beirut were being terrorized by mercenary pro-government militiamen until Hezbollah stepped in to liberate them. READ MORE
POSTED AT 12:36 PM ON WEDNESDAY, MAY 14, 2008
AL-MANAR DEEMS ITS BLOCKAGE IN NORTHERN LEBANON VIOLATION OF PRESS FREEDOM
The Hezbollah-backed Al-Manar channel issued a statement saying it had received a number of calls from its viewers in the North and Tripoli, who complained that Future Movement supporters had pressured cable providers to stop broadcasting Al-Manar, Speaker Nabih Berri's NBN and the Free Patriotic Movement-backed OTV. Al-Manar said such acts violated the freedom of the press and media organizations.
After taking a photograph of a dying man who was shot during a funeral, I was attacked by an angry mourner.
He was outraged because I was taking photos. I tried to explain that I was a reporter and that I was doing my job, but he grabbed a stick and got ready to hit me. I decided to stop resisting and hand him my camera.
Luckily, more cooler heads were around to calm him down and extricate me from the madness. One of them, Ali, took me by the hand and started running to a "safe place."
It all happened too fast. I had been moving along with mourners at a funeral when shooting erupted. I ran away, ducking with all my energy while the gunfire kept piercing my ears.
Then, suddenly, calm prevailed for less than a second, before the wailing and screaming broke out.
I turned around and saw a lifeless body dragged into an ambulance.
Behind, a motor scooter was lying in the middle of the street drenched in blood. I watched incredulously while fumbling with my digital camera. My shaky hands finally pressed the button, freezing the image of the dead man being shoved into the ambulance. And then I was confronted by the angry mourner with the stick.
I never saw my camera again. And all the images I captured to encapsulate the intensity of that day are probably lost forever.
But my experience seems trivial compared to what media outlets have been subjected to in Lebanon. During the latest break out of violence, covering events got excessively difficult.
Before Friday's incident, I was repeatedly stopped by militiamen, asking for my papers and warning me not to take photos. On Monday, the Arab TV channel, Al-Jazeera, reported that two of its cameramen were slightly injured by armed men while they were doing their job in a Beirut neighborhood Sunday evening.
On Friday morning, Future TV, a pro-government private channel owned by family of Sunni leader Saad Hariri family, was prevented from broadcasting by Hezbollah, the Shiite militia. After warning the employees to evacuate in a well-calculated operation, men entered the station and cut key cables to prevent the channel from broadcasting.
Other media outlets belonging to Hariri, the Future newspaper and the Orient radio station, were also forced into shutting down.
For days, journalists and civil rights activists demonstrated against this attack on the media.
"You don't have the right to stop us from speaking," Najat Charaferddine, a Shiite woman who is a star journalist on Future TV, said in an interview. "It's not Syria or Iran."
Even newspapers strongly supportive of Hezbollah condemned this move.
"We must raise our voices to protest and condemn the unjustified and unacceptable attacks on some of the media and cultural institutions in Beirut and specifically our colleague the Future newspaper and Future television," the editor in chief of Assafir newspaper, Talal Salman, wrote in a fiery editorial.
Finally, Future television decided that despite continuing threats, it would resume broadcasting from its other studios at 4:30 p.m. today.
"We are back," said a news anchor, "and our weapon is the word."
Her weapons were a red bucket and a mop. She brought two neighbors with her and set off in search for the women's peace demonstration.
An email had gone out to all the women in the Mar Elias area; her daughter had read about it on MENASSAT. All the women in Mar Elias were asked to gather next to the Al-Makassed parking lot at 4 p.m. on Tuesday. The invitation said to bring only a bucket and a mop; no political banners were allowed. The goal: to clean up and reopen the Mar Elias road which has been barricaded by opposition forces for the past week.
The lady stood next to the huge dirt barricade with her weapons in her hands: the red bucket and the mop. Her eyes were searching the street for other passionate participants – in vain. She waited for a minute, then two, then three but to no avail.
She wanted to convince herself that she didn't make a mistake by answering the call, even though it was clear that to remove the dirt barricade one needed a truck, not a bucket and a mop.
She refused to have her picture to be taken, saying, "I'm all alone out here."
Asked what the situation here has been like in the past few days, she says, "The armed militants spread everywhere and didn't stop shooting."
Armed men from both sides? "No, they are from one side. They came to us."
The lady waits for a while. She keeps silent, looking left and right, still hoping that a woman like her, carrying a bucket and a mop, will magically appear from the opposite side of the barricade.
Her neighbor says they should leave. She adds sarcastically, "Tomorrow, when they elect a president, he will come and open it himself."
The lady smiles at the joke. She looks back at the barricade one last time.
Then she leaves, taking her bucket and mop with her.
The Mar Elias road remains closed.
EXCERPT FROM THOMAS FRIEDMAN'S "FROM BEIRUT TO JERUSALEM:"
BEIRUT, MAY 6, 1984
Drawing on a network of friends in East and West Beirut, [Iman] Khalife, [a 29-year-old kindergarten teacher] who had always refused to tell me her religion, set May 6 for her peace march. Organizing committees were formed on both sides of town to spread the word. They even had posters and little stickers that said YES TO LIFE, NO TO WAR. Iman's plan was for people in East Beirut and West Beirut to meet on the Green Line at the National Museum crossing point, the only road open at the time, and then to engage in some sort of spontaneous embrace.
"Maybe if we get really excited," she said with a mischievous gleam in her eyes, "we will tear down all the barricades." (...) When I asked her if she had sought permission to march from the police or the militias, she snapped, "Do you think people need a permit to revolt?"
No, but they do need guns. Even before May 6 rolled around, rival militiamen from all over West Beirut joined hands in ripping down the YES TO LIFE, NO TO WAR posters, which they knew were directed at them. Then, on the night of May 5, the militiamen in East and West Beirut, as if by agreement, began pounding each other with mortars and artillery across the Green Line, in one of the worst bouts of shelling since the civil war began.
Twenty-two people living near the Green Line were killed and another 132 wounded in only a few hours – all to snuff out a peace march. Khalife and her friends decided that they had to call off the demonstration lest the militiamen slaughter even more civilians. The shelling stopped minutes after the cancellation was announced on the radio.
In Qoubeaa in the Metn, the Druze yesterday buried three dead of the "2nd battle of the mountain." (The first one was fought between Christians and Druze in 1982.) The three victims, two of them religious Druze, all died fighting Hezbollah in Chweifat on Sunday.
"We don't care about politics. It's a all a big game," said one young Druze. "All we care about now is defending the mountain against all attackers. We are all ready to die."
There is much talk here about Druze unity. The differences between PSP leader Walid Jumblatt and rival Druze leader Talal Arslan, who is allied with the opposition, seem to have evaporated in the face of what is perceived as an attack from the outside on Al-Jabal, the mountain.
In the "khaliyeh," the typical Druze room reserved for social occasions, all three widows are accepting condolences from the village. The women are dressed in black with white shawls draped around their heads and shoulders.
The atmosphere is emotional, with people taking turns to publicly express their anger about what has happened.
"Tell Nasrallah that we will never allow anyone to occupy our land. We will fight to the death to defend our villages, our houses and our children," one woman shouted.
"We, the Druze, will never attack or hurt anyone. But we will never accept that someone interferes with our land and occupies us," said the son of one of the victims, Wasim Zeinedinne.
Samir Zeinedinne, the brother of the same victim, also had a message for the Resistance.
"It is here that the resistance against the Israelis started when we took eight Israeli soldiers hostage in 1982. There was no resistance against the Israelis before we started it. This is the way you treat us, we who were the first resistance against Israel?"
36 people died in all in Sunday's "battle of the mountain."
FUTURE LEADER SAAD HARIRI IS SPEAKING ON FUTURE TV
Future leader Saad Hariri is speaking on Future TV right now. His speech started 30 minutes after Future TV resumed broadcasting. Future TV was shut down by Hezbollah on Friday morning.
Here are some of the things Hariri has said so far - translation courtesy of NOW LEBANON.
Hariri: Let us reserve a minute of silence in honor of the victims of the recent events. Hariri: Welcome to the home of Rafik Hariri, who was once again assassinated, to the educational and health institutions that bear the name of Rafik Hariri, to the educational centers and press … to everything that carries the spirit of Rafik Hariri. Hariri: Welcome, from Beirut … which was invaded by whom? By whom? By our compatriots. Welcome, from Bab Al-Tebbeneh, Akkar, Al-Jabal. Hariri: O Lebanese, on March 14, 2005 we rejected hegemony and freed our country by the power of the people. On May 7, the hegemony of Syria and Iran were returned to Beirut by the power of arms, oppression and terror. Hariri: We awaited an open war on Israel, and yet here is an open war on Beirut and its people. Did Beirut assassinate Imad Mugniyah? Hariri: They brought down the state of Lebanon with arms and terrorism … after they deactivated parliament, they brought about the great sedition by targeting the army. Hariri: Many people today say the army was unable to defend them. The innocent Lebanese defended the unity of the army. Hariri: The crimes were seen by all Lebanese on their TV screens, in the South and Dahiya … a crime they committed under the pretense of defending their resistance while they turned their resistance on the streets of Beirut and the mountain. Hariri: I hold the people who decided to launch the war responsible for the blood of the Lebanese who died. Hariri: We want to understand how these armed people can move in [Lebanese regions] without the help of Israel. Perhaps this is the beginning of a joint Syrian-Israeli plan to bring unrest back to Lebanon and Beirut. Hariri: We see with our naked eyes masked terrorists roaming the streets of Beirut, and we hear leaders threatening more if … Saad Hariri, Walid Jumblatt and all the members of March 14 to sign the return of the Syrian regime to Lebanon, or the return of Syria and Iran to Lebanon. This is an impossibility. Hariri: They can terrorize the streets … but they cannot force Hariri, Jumblatt or March 14 to hand Lebanon over to those two regimes.
POSTED AT 3:35 PM ON TUESDAY, MAY 13, 2008
An email spread among the internet users, calls on the women of Mar Elias neighborhood in west Beirut to go on the streets and say NO to civil war.
Place: al-Makassed parking lot in al-Makassed street in Mar Elias
Date: 13 May 2008, at 4 pm
Note: for all women participating in this demonstration, you are asked to bring a bucket and a mop in place of a political banner --- NO POLITICAL BANNERS.
MENASSAT will be covering the events. Stay tuned.
POSTED AT 3:14 PM ON TUESDAY, MAY 13, 2008
MEDIA CASUALTIES: DID THE OPPOSITION LOSE THE MEDIA WAR?
The Lebanese opposition may have won the military battle over west Beirut in the last week, but as Alaa al-Yusufi of Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar newspaper contends, they lost the media war.
BY ALAA AL-YUSUFI
The images are stark. Observe the pro-government TV station - Future TV - all but burnt to the ground by opposition forces with reporters and employees holding the picture of assassinated Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri.
Envision it is part of a different war taking place in Lebanon, a media war that has outweighed the violent battles between pro-government and anti-government militias on the west Beirut streets, at least for Arabs watching the TV news.
In this war, the pro-western government came out on top and Hezbollah’s image, if not distorted, was at least permanently scarred.
Did the opposition take its media image into consideration? Or were its media calculations only focused on winning control of the field militarily?
Swedish Radio reporter Jan Andersson has taken a trip out to the airport and was even able to get inside. He told MENASSAT that the road is still blocked by members of the opposition and that few army check points can be seen along the way. A few soldiers were seen inside the airport and the video screens kept flickering on and off, according to Andersson.
"There were even a few cafes and restaurants open for the airport personnel remaining at work,' he added.
No planes could be seen on the run way except for an incoming flight carrying the Qatari delegation.
On Tuesday, an unnamed Lebanese minister told Swedish Radio that the airport would reopen on Wednesday. It was not mentioned whether the minister is affiliated with the opposition or the majority.
POSTED AT 1:53 PM ON TUESDAY, MAY 13, 2008
THE DIRECT OF FUTURE NEWS - NADIM MUNLA - SAID ON VOICE OF LEBANON RADIO THAT ALL MEDIA OUTLETS AFFILIATED WITH THE PRO-GOVERNMENT FUTURE PARTY WILL BE COMING ON LINE AT 4:30PM AHEAD OF THE PLANNED 5PM PRESS CONFERENCE OF FUTURE PARTY LEADER, MP SAAD HARIRI.
POSTED AT 12:55 PM ON TUESDAY MAY 13, 2008
BUSH VOWS TO HELP LEBANESE ARMY
The Lebanese army has declared that it will take tough measures-using force if necessary- to restore law and order in the country. Around 61 people have been killed and nearly 200 have been wounded across Lebanon since fighting between pro- and anti-government supporters broke out on Wednesday last week.
"Army units will ban collective or individual irregularities in line with legal procedures, even if this means using force," it said. "This decision will be effective starting at 6:00 am on May 13," said a statement issued by the army.
On Wednesday morning, an increased number of military and police vehicles could be seen in several parts of Beirut, including in the eastern part Ashrafiyeh and along the roads.
"Following the events of recent days, namely in Beirut and in the mountains, army units have bolstered their deployment in zones of tension and are working to ensure security, re-establish order and ban all armed presence," the statement added.
The military calls on all factions to cooperate with soldiers in order "to guarantee everyone's security."
Meanwhile, President Bush vowed to help strengthen the Lebanese army. He posed stark criticism to Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah over Lebanon, saying that the international community 'would not allow Lebanon to fall under foreign domination again'.
Emphasizing Washington's support for PM Fouad Siniora, Bush denounced Hezbollah's 'recent efforts and those of their foreign supporters in Tehran and Damascus' in Beirut, Tripoli, and the Chouf mountain.
He put forth that Washington would aid Siniora by boosting his armed forces.
"It's probably the most practical way that we can get some help to him quickly," he said in an interview with Al-Arabiya television, adding that 'they're not great yet, but they're pretty good. And we want to make them better so that they can respond."
Bush is currently conducting a five-day trip to the Middle East region. During this tour, the American president plans to meet with regional leaders to 'coordinate efforts to support Siniora's government and implement UN resolutions supporting Lebanon's sovereignty'.
"It is critical that the international community come together to assist the Lebanese people in their hour of need," said the US leader, who leaves Tuesday on a five-day trip to Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The Lebanese people have sacrificed much for the sake of their freedom, and the United States will continue to stand with them against this latest assault on their independence and security," said Bush.
In another development, 'The International Friends of Lebanon', a group comprised of members from 12 Western and Arab countries, including Britain, Egypt, France, the United States, and the United Arab Emirates, -- as well as the heads of the U.N., Arab League and the Council of the European Union, has called for an immediate end to the violence in Lebanon in a statement to the United Nations.
They also urged an immediate election of a president "without prior conditions."
The agency reportedly held a conference call on Monday. An unidentified Lebanese minister is to have participated in the call.
"We call for the immediate cessation of fighting, the withdrawal of gunmen from the streets, the unblocking of roads and the reopening of Beirut International Airport," stipulated the group.
Dutch journalist Harald Doornbos brings us some interesting – and slightly worrying – news from Tripoli, where Salafist fighters have apparently declared war on Hezbollah, bringing the Iraq scenario just one step closer to becoming a reality in Lebanon.
Here's what Harald has to say:
"With urgent peace talks currently taking place in Tripoli (Northern Lebanon), 500 heavily armed Salafist fighters in and around this city have decided, on Monday, to declare Jihad against "Hezbollah, Shi'ites and their allies.
"This according to a very well informed source in Tripoli.
"The fighters, who all are armed, are ideologically close to Al Qaeda.
"Salafists are spread over Lebanon's north. Mainly in Tripoli city (in a suburb called Abu Samra) and north of Tripoli, in an area called Akkar (very close to Nahr al-Bared, the Palestinian refugee camp which saw one year ago heavy fighting between Salafists of Fatah al Islam and the Lebanese army.)
"To avoid certain bloodshed in Tripoli, THERE IS CURRENTLY A CRUCIALLY IMPORTANT MEETING TAKING PLACE between pro-government and pro-opposition supporters in Tripoli's Serail (government building). Present as well is general Ashraf Rifi, head of Lebanon's Internal Security. The Salafists too have sent their representatives to the meeting. The idea is to create a ceasefire in the city and let a neutral force patrol in tense area's to keep the peace and both sides apart.
"Until today, Salafists were strongly opposed to the pro-American, pro-Saudi Lebanese government of PM Siniora. But in the wake of a sudden military offensive throughout the country by Hezbollah (Shi'ite), and its allies Harakat Amal (Shi'ite) and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (secular, pro-Greater-Syria), the Salafists have decided to stop fighting the mainly Sunni, government, and have declared a Jihad against Hezbollah and its allies." Harald Doornbos blogs atharryzzz.blogspot.com
POSTED AT 5:54 PM ON MONDAY, MAY 12, 2008
-- POSTED AT 5:51 PM ON MONDAY, MAY 12, 2008
*** REUTERS COUNTS 81 KILLED AND 250 WOUNDED SINCE THE LATEST FIGHTING IN LEBANON, WHICH BEGAN ON MAY 7. ***
With Beirut airport still closed and routes to Syria unreliable, it was only a matter of time before enterprising Lebanese would start offering alternative escape routes. MENASSAT has learned that a private yacht service is offering trips from Port Beirut to Larnaca in Cyprus starting today.
"It's a Lebanese boat. We take twelve people at a time. The trip takes four to five hours", Mohammed, who is in charge of the service told us.
Mohammed would not comment on the price but rumor has it that a one-way ticket will cost as much as $2,000. It is not known whether champagne is included in the price.
If you can't afford the private yacht service, don't despair: Merhi Lines is planning to reopen the Jounieh to Cyprus ferry line shortly. For more information, call Merhi Lines at +961.3.979.229 or +961.3.730.730.
POSTED AT 3:12 PM ON MONDAY, MAY 12, 2008
SAHAR EL-KHATIB'S EMOTIONAL RESPONSE TO THE CLOSING DOWN OF FUTURE TV IS NOW ON YOUTUBE (IN ARABIC)
POSTED AT 2:42 PM ON MONDAY, MAY 12, 2008
LEBANON'S SUNNI BLOC BUILT MILITIA, OFFICIALS SAY
The Future movement used a security firm to assemble a private force, officials say. But the fighters were no match for the Shiite group Hezbollah, the Los Angeles Times reports.
BEIRUT -- For a year, the main Lebanese political faction backed by the United States built a Sunni Muslim militia here under the guise of private security companies, Lebanese security experts and officials said.
The fighters, aligned with Saad Hariri's Future movement, were trained and armed to counter the heavily armed Shiite Muslim militant group Hezbollah and protect their turf in a potential military confrontation.
But in a single night late last week, the curious experiment in private-sector warfare crumbled.
Attacked by Hezbollah, the Future movement fighters quickly fled Beirut or gave up their weapons. Afterward, some of the fighters said they felt betrayed by their political patrons, who failed to give them the means to protect themselves while official security forces stood aside and let Hezbollah destroy them.
"We are prepared to fight for a few hours but not more," said one of the Sunni fighters in the waning moments of the battle. "Where do we get ammunition and weapons from? We are blocked. The roads are blocked. Even Saad Hariri has left us to face our fate alone."
The head of a conventional private security firm in Beirut, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the Sunni force was "not really ready."
"You can't just spend millions of dollars to build an army in one year," he said. "They have to be motivated and believe in something. They have to be willing to die."
POSTED AT 2:10 PM ON MONDAY, MAY 12, 2008
36 KILLED IN MOUNTAIN CLASHES
BEIRUT (Reuters) - At least 36 people were killed in fierce clashes on Sunday between Hezbollah gunmen and supporters of pro-government Druze leader Walid Jumblatt in mountains east of Beirut, security sources said on Monday.
Dutch journalist Harald Doornbos was in Tripoli today and interviewed al-Mustaqbal MP Mustafa Allouch moments after he had heard that al-Jabal had surrendered to (Hezbollah, Talal Arslan, the army – take your pick.) He also brings back news that 22 Sunni officers in the Lebanese army in Tripoli "filed their resignation and quit the army" today, saying, "The army is not doing anything against Hezbollah, thus making it a pro-Hezbollah tool".
JUMBLATT AGREES TO HAND OVER MOUNTAIN WEAPONS TO ARMY
After heavy fighting between Hezbollah and fighters loyal to Walid Jumblatt's PSP, Jumblatt has asked rival Druze leader Talal Arslan, who is allied to the opposition, to negotiate a peaceful settlement. In a late afternoon news conference, Arslan said: "I have negotiated with PSP leader Walid Jumblatt on some security issues related to the PSP arms in al-Jabal… and my peers in the opposition have agreed that the PSP centers and arms should be handed over to the Lebanese army, in coordination with Jumblatt."
Jumblatt has earlier told LBC: "We urge Mir Talal Arslan to hand al-Jabal over to the army."
Ex-Premier Omar Karami: "Media institutions owned by pro-government factions and extremist factions have played a big role in widening the sectarian divide. We support the freedom of the media and condemn what has happened with Future media, regardless of what we have suffered because of them."
POSTED AT 8:38 PM ON SATURDAY, MAY 10, 2008
DEATH TOLL RISES TO 34
At least 16 people were killed in clashes in Lebanon on Saturday between supporters of the government and the opposition, security and hospital officials said.
Fierce clashes in the Akkar region of north Lebanon killed 14 people, including civilians, when members of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party battled supporters of the Future Movement, a security official said.
"The headquarters of the Syrian Social National Party (SSNP) in Halba fell to the Future Movement forces," said the official, adding that seven people were found dead inside.
In Beirut, gunmen killed two people and wounded 20 in an attack on the funeral of a civilian killed in clashes on Thursday, a hospital official said.
"We had two dead, two people in critical condition and about 20 injured this morning," the official at Makassed hospital said, revising downwards a previous toll of six dead given by the hospital.
A Lebanese army spokesman said the owner of a scrap metal shop near the route of the funeral procession had been arrested in connection with the shooting.
The spokesman said the suspect had been handed over to military police but declined to give further details.
Saturday's killings bring to 34 the number of people killed in four days of fighting between the supporters of the government and the opposition supporters. Dozens more have been injured.
Tripoli, the main city in northern Lebanon, was also the scene of sectarian violence.
"The offices of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party as well as Hezbollah's offices in the area have been torched and damaged by supporters of the Future Movement," the security official said.
He said the Lebanese flag and pictures of slain former premier Rafik Hariri were hung outside the offices. The billionaire was assassinated in 2005 in a bombing widely blamed on Syria although Damascus has denied any involvement.
Control of the Tripoli office of Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun was handed over to the army, the official added.
In another incident, seven Syrian laborers from Aleppo and their driver from south Lebanon were wounded by gunmen who set up a checkpoint on the Minya highway north of Tripoli, the official said.
POSTED AT 8:23 PM ON SATURDAY, MAY 10, 2008
Lebanese opposition says it will end Beirut takeover
BEIRUT (AFP) — Lebanon's Hezbollah-led opposition on Saturday said it was ending its takeover of west Beirut after the army revoked government moves against the Shiite group that sparked deadly fighting.
"The opposition welcomes the army's decision and will proceed with the withdrawal of all its armed elements so that control of the capital is handed over to the military," opposition MP Ali Hassan Khalil of Hezbollah ally Amal said.
His comments came shortly after the army said it was overturning a government decision to reassign the head of airport security and to probe a communications network set up by Hezbollah.
Khalil said, however, that the opposition would maintain a civil disobedience campaign against the Western-backed government.
The army also called for all armed militants to withdraw from the streets as the death toll from the violence rose to more than 30 amid renewed clashes across the country.
"The army command calls on all parties to (help restore calm) by ending armed protests and withdrawing gunmen from the streets and opening the roads," the military said in a statement.
It said that the head of airport security, who had been reassigned from his job, would remain in his post pending an investigation and that the army itself would look into the communications network set up by the militant group.
"Brigadier General Wafiq Shqeir will remain in his post until appropriate procedural measures have been taken after a probe," the statement said.
"As for the telecommunications network, the army will look into the issue in a manner that is not harmful to the public interest or the security of the resistance" against Israel, it said.
The military said it had taken these decisions in the light of a government wish that it rule on these matters.
The army statement came shortly after Prime Minister Fuad Siniora made a televised address to the nation in which he accused Hezbollah of staging an armed coup and also urged the military to restore order.
- NOW LEBANON: Journalists and media personnel have reached the Future Channel building in Qantari after holding a march from the Bourj Al-Ghazali Tower in Tabaris in solidarity with Future media employees, who were routed out of their offices and harassed by opposition members.
- AL JADEED: Only two dead admitted at Al-Makassed hospital from Tareq Al-Jadeede incident today and 25 wounded.
- LBC: Four dead in Tareq Al-Jadeede today, apparently after someone opened fire on a funeral.
- LBC: The Armenian Sevan radio station in Mar Elias has been set on fire.
- OTV: Violent confrontations are taking place in Halba in Akkar between SSNP and Future supporters.
- AP: Clashes in Aley between the opposition and supporters of Druze leader Walid Jumbaltt left four people dead on the opposition side on Friday night. Another civilian died in clashes in the southern city of Sidon.
POSTED AT 11:52 AM ON SATURDAY, MAY 10, 2008
An uneasy calm settled over west Beirut on Saturday as people ventured out in the affected areas and cleaning crews swept away the debris.
Few armed elements could be seen on the streets and the army was out in force manning roadblocks. However, the main road leading to the airport remained blocked for a fourth straight day and there were no scheduled incoming or outgoing flights.
"The presence of armed elements has significantly decreased and there is no danger any more for civilians," an army spokesman told AFP.
*** PSP leader Walid Jumblatt was interviewed on New TV - here's what he said:
- The future of the country lies with consensus;
- Do we not have the right to ask for accounting when it comes to the security of the airport?
- The government will not resign;
- I am satisfied with the performance of the Lebanese army;
- I have told my supporters in the mountains to remain calm and to remove their roadblocks;
- Hezbollah's promise that it will never use its weapons against other Lebanese is now moot.
- Neither we nor the Future Movement have organized militias.
POSTED AT 5:42 PM ON FRIDAY, MAY 9, 2008
WAR ON THE MEDIA - NOW LEBANON
Opposition fighters have specifically targeted pro-government and independent media outlets as part of their takeover of western Beirut since Thursday afternoon.
Major pro-government daily An-Nahar journalist Mohammed Salem’s apartment in Wetwat was stormed by gunmen, but he had safely evacuated to the town of Aley. Elsewhere, Rosanna Bou Mounsef, also a journalist with An-Nahar told NOW Lebanon by telephone that she was in Jounieh waiting to see how the situation developed before heading in to the office. An-Nahar offices, located in the downtown district, currently surrounded by the opposition sit-in, were open and working normally, and reported that they had received no threats.
Bou Mounsef told NOW Lebanon, “I don’t think they would attack An-Nahar. Maybe some individual journalists perhaps, but An-Nahar is something different. But I don’t know; there is no logic to the situation and what is going on.”
An Al-Arabiya television crew was also briefly taken prisoner in the southern suburbs of Beirut on Thursday. Hezbollah members released them after half an hour.
Reports have also come in that the managing editor of Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal (Future) was personally attacked by Hezbollah gunmen, and that gunmen had entered the offices of March 14-aligned Al-Shiraa magazine in Verdun.
The March 14 website www.14march.org also reported receiving threats from Hezbollah, but vowed to continue publishing, either from Lebanon or abroad.
Supporters of Hezbollah forced the shutdown of several Future and Future News television station offices in west Beirut on Friday, attacking the buildings with rocket propelled grenades and machine gun fire. The Future newspaper offices in Ramlat al-Bayda were attacked Friday morning, setting fire to the fourth floor. Future News offices in Raouche were set on fire Friday afternoon, with efforts to put out the blaze ongoing hours later.
“Armed gunmen surrounded the building, stormed into the garage and demanded through the army the shutdown of the station,” the director of Future News, Nadim Munla, told AFP.
Future and Future News television stations, both owned by the Hariri-led Future Movement, are now off the air. LBC reported Friday that Future News had been forced to hand over their offices in Taalabay in the Bekaa Valley to Amal militia forces, though Future members denied this, saying that instead the offices were under control of the Lebanese army.
Fierce clashes between supporters of the government and the Hezbollah-led opposition have rocked a number of neighborhoods in west Beirut in the last three days, leaving at least 11 dead and dozens injured. Hezbollah and opposition militias appear to be consolidating their hold in the western areas of the city.
Hundreds flood Lebanon border crossings with Syria – AFP
Hundreds of people flooded Lebanon's border crossings with Syria on Friday to escape the deadly sectarian violence that has shaken the country over the last three days. Crowds of men, women and children gathered at the Arida border crossing in the north and the Masnaa crossing in the east seeking to make their way out of Lebanon, AFP correspondents witnessed.
Those fleeing the fighting -- which has threatened to plunge Lebanon into a fresh civil war -- included British, American, German and Cypriots as well as numerous Syrian laborers.
Several Arab states have already begun evacuating their nationals from Lebanon, whose only international airport and the Beirut port have been shut down because of the crisis.
"I have been here for more than two and a half hours and I lost two buttons on my shirt already because of the mayhem," said one traveler at the Arida crossing.
Shelagh, a British woman in her 60s who would only give her first name, said she was on a 10-day visit to Lebanon when fierce clashes between Sunni supporters of the ruling bloc and opposition Shiite militants erupted Thursday.
"I was supposed to leave Sunday and decided instead to leave today in case it got worse," she told AFP. "It seemed like the most sensible thing to do was to leave now."
She said though the experience has been trying, it had not put her off from returning some day.
"I like Lebanon and this has not put me off."
Lebanon's international airport has been virtually shut down since Wednesday as anti-government protests escalated with militants blocking the main road with burning tires and other obstacles.
An airport official said all flight had been canceled on Friday and it was unclear when traffic would resume, adding: "As soon as they open the road, the flights will resume."
POSTED AT 5:22 PM ON FRIDAY, MAY 9, 2008
Bloomberg's Massoud A. Derhally and Maher Chmaytelli have been working the phones, talking to army Army Brigadier Saleh Haj Suleiman and Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh among others.
BEIRUT UNREST KILLS 10 AS HEZBOLLAH PRESSURES SINIORA (Update1)
By Massoud A. Derhally and Maher Chmaytelli
May 9 (Bloomberg) -- Gun battles raged across western and southern Beirut, leaving 10 people dead, as fighters from the Shiite group Hezbollah pressed their party's challenge to Lebanon's pro-Western government.
Masked bands of Shiite gunmen were shown by television networks as they roamed neighborhoods dominated by Sunni Muslims, who largely back Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's administration. The army was deployed in parts of the capital to control the unrest. In addition to the deaths in Beirut in three days of violence, five civilians were hurt as fighting erupted in the Bekaa Valley, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.
"What's going on defies logic,'" Army Brigadier Saleh Haj Suleiman said today in a phone interview from Beirut. "The army is in control of Beirut, but there is sporadic gunfire and wherever there are clashes the army intervenes to try and calm the situation down.''
Hezbollah has been trying to oust the Siniora government for 18 months, since the Islamic group's lawmakers walked out of the cabinet after demanding veto powers over decisions. This week's unrest has been the most violent, as the political standoff spilled over into sectarian conflict.
The government dismissed reports by Lebanese news organizations favorable to Hezbollah or other opposition groups that Siniora's government was about to collapse.
"There is no resignation, no one in this government is resigning,'' Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh
An adviser to Siniora, Mohammad Shateh, said in a phone interview from Beirut today the government wasn't incapacitated. The risk of civil war increases the longer the unrest goes on, he said.
"It's a dangerous situation,'' Shateh said. "As it is the situation is not one of civil war right now.''
As many as 20 people were wounded in fighting in Beirut, Major General Ashraf Reefi, head of Lebanon's security forces, said in a phone interview from the city.
Hezbollah fighters took up positions in streets near the residences of Saad Hariri, a leader of the coalition that backs Siniora, and Walid Jumblatt, political leader of the Druze minority, a Hariri spokesman said today on condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisal. Both men were at home, he said in a phone interview. A rocket-propelled grenade hit a wall of Hariri's compound without causing injuries, the spokesman said. said today in a phone interview from Beirut.
FREELANCE PHOTOGRAPHER MATTHEW CASSEL TALKS TO MENASSAT'S JACKSON ALLERS ABOUT HIS PIX (5: WHAT IS THE ARMY DOING?)
MENASSAT: And so the last picture that we're discussing now is a picture of the Lebanese army. Talk about that picture and maybe talk a little bit about what you've seen - as you've been on the streets watching this fighting - what has been the role of the army and then talk a little bit about that photo?
MC: "Well the army has kind of stood by, not wanting to get involved, understandably, because the situation is so tense where the country is so divided, that if the army were to shoot a protester or a fighter from either side - that side would cause either the pro-government or opposition side to go after the army. This shot is from Thursday before the actual clashes took place.
"Like I said, during Thursday and on Wednesday there were clashes that happened - not with guns - but with the guys with sticks throwing stones and fighting with the army - and the army fired some tear gas at these young Amal guys in the Corniche al Maazra neighborhood.
"In this photo, the army is standing there blocking off the street that leads (from Corniche al Maazra) to the Tariq al Jeride neighborhood. As you can see, prime minister Fouad Sinora's picture is seen in the background. He's aligned with the pro-government forces - the March 14 movement - and MP Sa'ad Hariri's Future movement.
"Now, once the fighting erupted the army got out of there as soon as possible. We could still hear the tanks moving back and forth along Corniche al Maazra, but we can be sure that these soldiers were not standing in between RPG and Kalashnikov fire. They're blocking off Corniche al Maazra street right there and that's where all the fighting, all the shooting was going right over that street. So we're sure that all of the soldiers got out of there.
|They're (the army) are still here. They're still around. They're still doing almost nothing. I mean Hizbullah and Amal seemed to have controlled most of west Beirut by now. And the army is standing around waiting to see what's going to happen - as we all are."
MENASSAT: Where are you right now as you speak and tell us a little bit about that situation?
MC: "I'm still speaking from a Corniche al Maazra. And there's an erie silence right now after the 8 or 9 hours of clashes yesterday. I mean the whole neighborhood - you know Beirut is full of tall buildings and cramped quarters and you know, the sounds of Kalashnikov fire and RPG fire really echoes off of the buildings - so the whole neighborhood, we can be assured, wasn't sleeping as the clashes were taking place until 2:30 in the morning last night.
"I mean right now, in Corniche al Maazra, things are quiet. Some of the shops have opened up about half way to let people come in to buy supplies. People are walking on the street now. There's still some Amal fighters walking around downstairs. But you know a lot of the fighting as moved out from around Beirut now.
"There's been talk of Amal and Hezbollah possibly doing an invasion in the the Tariq al Jedide neighborhood to possibly go after the last of the real strong Future movement strongholds, which is in the densely populated Sunni area over there.
"But we'll see what's going to happen. And we're on the border of that so if something does happen, we'll be here. I mean everybody's kind of standing by, no one really knows what's going to happen. Right now there's a lot of Kalashnikov fire that seems to be about a mile or two away. I mean a lot of people have left. Maybe half of them have left for the mountains and elsewhere to escape the fighting." Interested in buying Matthew Cassel's pictures? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to http://www.photoshelter.com/usr-show/U00000N58KLo6O5o
POSTED AT 4:48 PM ON FRIDAY, MAY 9, 2008
*** THE LATEST FROM HAMRA: "The fighting has calmed down. We haven't heard any gun shots for the past hour. We have moved out to the living room from the corridor where we've been sitting previously. I see gunmen on the street from March 8th carrying flags and weapons." Opposition militants are apparently giving interviews to foreign journalists.
POSTED AT 4:43 PM ON FRIDAY, MAY 9, 2008
FREELANCE PHOTOGRAPHER MATTHEW CASSEL TALKS TO MENASSAT'S JACKSON ALLERS ABOUT HIS PIX (3&4: "AMAL FIGHTERS?")
MENASSAT: The next series of photographs that I'm asking you to comment on are in a sequence. The first one is a striking photograph. You are looking at a group of youth - let's get a comment on that in a little bit because they're all young people that seem to be taking part in the fighting -- but the picture I'm asking you to comment on - there's a group of youth that are looking into your lens and seeing that you're taking this photograph. One guys is actually putting up his hands and making a "V" sign. Explain that scene a little.
MC: "I don't know if that's a "V", or peace/victory sign. I think he might be giving a signal to one of the guys that was standing where I was. Because the clashes were taking place, everybody was taking cover. So here they're taking cover behind a small wall.
"Obviously there's one, if not two fighters standing with them - armed fighters. These young kids - you could see in their hands one guy holding a stick - these are younger guys. The fighters were 20's to 30's sometimes even 40-years-old. These younger guys probably were upper teenagers and were armed with sticks and stuff. They were waiting for a conflict to break out - not with guns - but one in which they could go into the Tareq al Jadeede neighborhood where they could attack members, supporters of the Future movement. They actually clashed with police earlier just before then. Actually, throughout the day and throughout the previous day, Wednesday, many carrying rocks and sticks.
"These kids stuck around for a while. But then they got after that soon after that when the fighting continued. There's not much they can do with those sticks when people are firing one or two-hundred meters from each other with Kalashnikov's and RPG's.
MENASSAT: Let's contrast this group of youth here that we are looking at. They're clearly not of a disciplined fighting order. You were in Hamra (west Beirut) today, and although we don't have any photos, sources say that there were some 2,000 or so, camouflaged, uniformed, very disciplined Hizbullah units. So there's a contrast with what we're looking at here and the sort of real fighters that have come into to handle things?
MC: "And that's what leads people to believe that these guys (in the photo) are Amal supporters because Hezbollah seems to have a much more disciplined, well-trained, organized army or militia than Amal, and these guys were in civilian clothes. I mean Hezbollah defeated Israel in the July 2006 war, and these guys shooting from behind buildings not really knowing what they're shooting at didn't seem to have that training that a militia like Hezbollah has." Interested in buying Matthew Cassel's pictures? Send an email to email@example.com or go to http://www.photoshelter.com/usr-show/U00000N58KLo6O5o
MORE TO FOLLOW.
POSTED AT 4:32 PM ON FRIDAY, MAY 9, 2008
FREELANCE PHOTOGRAPHER MATTHEW CASSEL TALKS TO MENASSAT'S JACKSON ALLERS ABOUT HIS PIX (2: "THE RE-FILL BOYS")
MENASSAT: Speaking of Kalashnikovs, the next picture we're looking at now, I'm not sure who's represented in this picture - there's a fellow who is re-arming his Kalashnikov. He's on a sort of pink pillow. There's another young kid who is sitting there smoking a cigarette. Could explain that picture a little?
MC: "Those are the "re-fill boys" if you will who sit there and refill the ammo for the two fighters who are standing there, once they run out of ammunition they give the cartridge to the boys who put more bullets in it."
"That was right after the clashes began (yesterday), just one street up from Corniche al Maazra. And these guys were just firing around the corner. Now there are no reports of anyone dying in these clashes over here, even though they lasted for like 8 hours or so. These guys were just sort of coming around the corner and firing at - who knows what - there wasn't any gun shots really coming back. We didn't see any bullets hitting in this area where we were standing, but they were turning around the corner, you know firing blindly at the Tariq al Jedide neighborhood.
"Some of the bullets did come later and hit some of the buildings above and knock some debris down and then later we saw some on the street. But for the first hour so, they were just coming around the corner kind of firing their weapons not really aiming or anything. These are two of the fighters we suspect of being Amal fighters, you know, firing at the Tariq al Jedide neighborhood."
MENASSAT: So you're not sure whether they're Amal or not, and again when did this occur?
MC: "This occurred around 6 in the evening right after the clashes began. We are not sure whether they're with Amal, but they are with the opposition, that's for sure. A lot of guys were chanting Hizbullah and opposition slogans. These guys are definitely with the opposition, either Amal or Hizbullah." Interested in buying Matthew Cassel's pictures? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to http://www.photoshelter.com/usr-show/U00000N58KLo6O5o
MORE TO FOLLOW.
POSTED AT 4:06 PM ON FRIDAY, MAY 9, 2008
FREELANCE PHOTOGRAPHER MATTHEW CASSEL TALKS TO MENASSAT'S JACKSON ALLERS ABOUT HIS PIX (1)
MENASSAT: I'm here with Matthew Cassel, freelance photographer and editor with Electronic Intifada. Matthew, you've been on the streets the last 2 and half or 3 days. You're actually speaking to us from Corniche Maazra. We're going to go through a series of your photographs and getting a rolling commentary about what we're looking at. The first image is actually of a fellow in front of a red door that has just fired an RPG (rocket propelled grenade). Could you explain that a little?
MATTHEW CASSELL: "Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah gave a speech, actually a press conference yesterday that lasted a couple of hours and ended about 5pm. At about 5:30pm clashes broke out between Amal Movement (aligned with the opposition) and Mustaqbal/Future movement militants across Corniche al Maazra (in west Beirut). This guy had an RPG launcher and he had just fired it at a building in the Tariq al Jedide neighborhood (which is across the thoroughfare from Corniche al Maazra)."
MENASSAT: He is wearing what appears to be an Internal Security Forces camouflage uniform. Is there any speculation as to whether this guy is actually part of that unit or not?
MC: "That's correct. The fighters were trying to be discrete and were not talking to journalists to protect themselves. Now it's not known whether or not that this guy is a member of the ISF, but yeah, he is dressed in the same uniform.
"Throughout the day yesterday in the Corniche al Maazra neighborhood, there were many of these guys dressed in a similar uniform who could very well be police officers or could be dressing up like that. But yeah he is dressed, he is wearing the same uniform."
MENASSAT: Was there a lot of RPG fire that you witnessed yesterday?
MC: "Throughout the night, the clashes lasted pretty much from 5:30, when they started in the afternoon, in the evening, until about 2 or 2:30 in the morning, when it actually started pouring rain and thunderstorming - which may have, I don't know, calmed the guys down a bit. But, yeah there was tons of RPG fire coming from both directions.
"You know the Kalashnakov fire was pretty much constant - as actually, in the background, you can hear right now... and the RPG fire was probably once every on 10 or 15 minutes on average another one was fired. And the sounds that come from those is just tremendous. You can hear it from miles away."
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