Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Lebanese-Israeli crisis in Al-Jazeera

Looking through Al Jazeera's coverage of the unfolding Lebanese-Israeli crisis, I am struck by the fact that several of its reports emphasize voices both in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Arab world that blame Hezbollah for provoking the crisis. (See Saudi sideswipe at Hezbollah and Lebanon divided over Hezbollah raid.) That Hezbollah did this may seem obvious, but that Al Jazeera reports it this way is still worth noting.
[Update: The Saudi position has in fact been quite strong and unambiguous. See the official Saudi statement with commentary here. --JW]

Similarly, I was also struck by the way that Al Jazeera reported today's joint statement about the Middle East crisis by the G-8 summit of major industrialized countries (G8 sets terms to end Mideast crisis). I haven't seen the G-8 statement itself, so I don't yet know precisely what it says. However, Al Jazeera describes it as placing the major blame on Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as calling for the disarming of Hezbollah and the extension of Lebanese government control to the south of the country. Intriguingly enough, the package of measures it proposes is not that different from the one proposed by Chibli Mallat (which I thought at the time sounded too reasonable to be of much practical relevance--but perhaps I was wrong?).
"It is a strong message with a clear political content," the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, told reporters on Sunday after negotiations at the summit of the Group of Eight industrialised nations, or G8, in Saint Petersburg, Russia. [....]
In their statement, the G8 leaders called for the Israeli soldiers abducted in Gaza and Lebanon to be released unharmed, the shelling of Israeli territory to end, Israeli military operations to cease and Israeli forces to withdraw early from Gaza, and for arrested Palestinian ministers and legislators to be released.
"We do not want to let terrorist forces and those who support them have the opportunity to create chaos in the Middle East," Merkel said. "Therefore we place value on clearly identifying the cause and effect of events.
"We are convinced that the government of Lebanon must be given all support and that the relevant UN resolutions regarding the south of Lebanon must also be implemented. [....]
The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1559 in September 2004, calling for all militias to be disarmed and for strict respect for Lebanon's sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence under Lebanese government authority. Hezbollah has refused to disarm, saying it is a resistance movement. [....]
If what Merkel is quoted as saying here is correct, this consensus position is remarkably clear, constructive, and on-target, though also quite ambitious. [Update: The text of the G-8 statement confirms that this account is accurate. --JW] If it implies that the G-8 powers are actually prepared to take joint diplomatic and political action along these lines, it could be an encouraging sign. But all that remains hypothetical at best.

--Jeff Weintraub
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AlJazeera.net
Friday, July 14, 2006
Saudi sideswipe at Hezbollah

Saudi Arabia has blamed "elements" inside Lebanon for the violence with Israel, in unusually frank language directed at Hezbollah and its Iranian backers.

"A distinction must be made between legitimate resistance and uncalculated adventures undertaken by elements inside [Lebanon] and those behind them without recourse to the legal authorities and consulting and co-ordinating with Arab nations," a statement carried by the official news agency SPA said.
"These elements should bear the responsibility for their irresponsible actions and they alone should end the crisis they have created."
Israel struck Beirut airport and military airbases and blockaded Lebanese ports on Thursday, intensifying reprisals that have killed 55 civilians in Lebanon since Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers a day earlier.
"They [the elements] are exposing Arab nations and their gains to grave dangers without these nations having a say in the matter," said the statement, which reiterated Saudi support for Palestinian and Lebanese resistance against Israeli occupation.
The statement did not make clear what it meant by the gains of Arab nations.
Criticism of some Arab resistance movements, which act without consulting any Arab government, have been the focus of some Saudi press coverage lately.
Escalation
The Israeli army said Hezbollah fighters fired more than 100 rockets at northern Israel in their heaviest bombardment in 10 years, hitting Israel's third-largest city, Haifa. Hezbollah, a group backed by Iran and Syria, denied that it had fired on the port city.
Arab governments have agreed to send their foreign ministers to Cairo for an emergency meeting on Saturday to discuss the Israeli attacks on Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.
But the 22-member league has not yet made specific proposals for a joint Arab response to the Israeli attacks.
_________________________

Lebanon divided over Hezbollah raid
By Adla Massoud in Beirut


With aerial bombardment and a naval and land blockade of Lebanon intensifying, many Lebanese are divided over Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers.

Some politicians have expressed doubt about or condemned Hezbollah's cross-border raid on Wednesday.
Michel Aoun, a member of parliament who leads the Free Patriotic Movement, called the raid a "pure military action" but also condemned Israel's retaliatory attacks on civilian targets.
"The priority now is to stop military operations and move towards a solution through negotiations," Aoun, a former general who returned from exile last year, told Aljazeera.net.
Aoun, a Maronite Christian leader, signed an understanding with Hezbollah in February after arguing that the Islamist group should be integrated into political reforms in Lebanon.
Blame game
Walid Jumblatt, a Druze leader who opposed Aoun's arrangement with Hezbollah, called the group's raid an "outrageous" way to drag the country into war and said it was symptomatic of regional power-plays.
Iran and Syria are unfortunately using Lebanon as their proxy, and this is unacceptable," he said.
Jumblatt, who heads the Progressive Socialist Party, has since the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri demanded an end to Syrian involvement in national affairs and for the Islamist Hezbollah movement to lay down its arms.
But Hezbollah officials say the only way out is through indirect negotiations.
>Sayyed Ibrahim Moussawi, editor of the English service of Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV, blamed Israel for refusing to "limit any further escalations of aggression ... and starting a military aggression against Lebanon.
Angry, fearful memories
Once known as the Paris of the Middle East, Beirut was a popular tourist destination in the 1960s and 1970s.
After the civil war and the Israeli invasion of 1982, Lebanon's fortunes faded until a decade ago when the guns fell silent and foreign investment and tourism returned to the country.
But the recent bombings and talk of war have brought back painful memories.
"This brings back too many bad memories" says Hawa Shehadi, a 70-year-old grandmother."Lebanon will never know peace."
Kamil Makdissi, a taxi driver, says: "I feel sad about Lebanon being bombed. Deep down I am happy that Israel is feeling at least 5% of what we're going through."
Many in Beirut are also angry.
Ordinary Lebanese opposed to Hezbollah are incensed by the attack they knew from experience would invite Israeli reprisals.
"This whole saga has taken me back to my childhood and it's not a good feeling at all. I just want to get out," says Zina Bekdache, 38, who is in Beirut for her annual holiday.
"They seem to think that they run the country," says Walid Chahine, a 50-year-old engineer. "All the credibility Hezbollah had gained domestically over the years they have thrown away."
Despite the anger, few Lebanese feel they can openly oppose Hezbollah while their country is under bombardment.
Wide gulf
Yet the gulf is clear between Lebanese Shia - the largest religious community in the country - and those opposed to the raid.
Dalia Salaam, a Lebanese Middle East analyst, says, "Hezbollah is currently the only political party in Lebanon fighting to save the country."
"The >US and Europe should ask Israel to restrain itself. After all, no one, not even President George Bush or the Israeli government, can afford to escalate the situation."
But Ramzi Salha, a travel agent, says: "Whatever the agenda of Hezbollah is, it is not necessarily the agenda of the Lebanese people.
"They have not been designated by the Lebanese people to decide what is best for the country."
With the 22-year Israeli occupation over, many Lebanese say it is time for Hezbollah to lay down its weapons as demanded by UN Security Council resolution 1559.
Few are suggesting a return to war is coming, but Hezbollah's rivals are increasingly complaining that the only Lebanese group that was allowed to keep its weapons after the civil war has become more powerful than the state.

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AlJazeera.net
Monday, July 17, 2006
G8 sets terms to end Mideast crisis

G8 leaders have agreed to give a "strong message" on the
Middle East crisis, adopting a joint statement with four conditions needed to halt the violence.

"It is a strong message with a clear political content," the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, told reporters on Sunday after negotiations at the summit of the Group of Eight industrialised nations, or G8, in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

The leaders expressed their "deepening concern about the situation in the Middle East, in particular the rising civilian casualties on all sides and the damage to infrastructure," the statement read.

In their statement, the G8 leaders called for the Israeli soldiers abducted in Gaza and Lebanon to be released unharmed, the shelling of Israeli territory to end, Israeli military operations to cease and Israeli forces to withdraw early from Gaza, and for arrested Palestinian ministers and legislators to be released.

"We do not want to let terrorist forces and those who support them have the opportunity to create chaos in the Middle East," Merkel said. "Therefore we place value on clearly identifying the cause and effect of events.

"We are convinced that the government of Lebanon must be given all support and that the relevant UN resolutions regarding the south of Lebanon must also be implemented.

Disarming Hezbollah

"We also demand that in addition to the UN activities, another observation and security mission is established. That must be worked out through the UN."

The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1559 in September 2004, calling for all militias to be disarmed and for strict respect for Lebanon's sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence under Lebanese government authority.

Hezbollah has refused to disarm, saying it is a resistance movement.

It is widely viewed by the Lebanese as having liberated the southern part of the country when it pushed Israeli troops to withdraw in May 2000 after years of occupation.

The group, which is on the United States' terror list, has 14 MPs in parliament and two ministers in the cabinet.

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