Labour Friends of Israel in the House

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, March 21, 2005

The Labour Friends of Israel has become a powerful lobbyist for Zionist and Israeli interests in the UK. This article is an introduction to the new Spinwatch Profile, telling a hidden story of power and influence. The OrganizationLabour Friends of Israel (LFI) is a Westminister based pro-Israel lobby group working within the British Labour party. It is considered one of the most prestigious groupings in the party and is seen as a stepping stone to ministerial ranks by Labour MPs. LFI boasts some of the wealthiest supporters of the party, and some of its most generous donors, such as Lord Sainsbury of Turville, Michael Levy, Sir Trevor Chinn and Sir Emmanuel Kaye[1]. The committee wields considerable influence in Westminster and is also consulted routinely by the Foreign Office and Downing Street on matters relating to the Middle East. Tony Blair is known to consult its members over Middle East policy[2]. The body also has Tory and Liberal Democrat sister organizations. Labour MP Gwyneth Dunwoody, chairman of the Commons transport select committee, is the life president of LFI, while David Mencer is its current director.

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Elephant Cemetery : The UN in Lebanon

The main ideological battlefield in the Middle East is Lebanon. However much United States media cover the situation in Iraq (and one should remember the only thing they worry about is the number of their dead soldiers), that country is not the one where the region’s future is at stake, but rather a small Mediterranean country, also Arab : Lebanon. This has been the case since last year produced the most important event so far in the 21st century : the defeat of Israel in the second Lebanese war. That defeat not only frustrated the neocolonial plans of the US – already very shaky thanks to the war in Iraq – to create a “new Middle East” pliant to imperialist designs and made up of diverse permanently antagonistic religious, ethnic and racial visions without a strong central power, visions which, being weaker, would to a large degree accept an indefinite US presence.

Added to the frustration of that goal was the collapse of the myth of an invincible, all-powerful Tsaal (Israel’s armed forces, trans.) and with that began the process currently under way which is nothing less than peoples’ realization that they are capable of taking their destinies into their own hands. That is the source of the situation we see now in Lebanon, in Palestine and in occupied Iraq, although that country has further to go and is beset with numerous variables.

The whole world is intervening in this ideological war : France, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iran, the forever inoperative and ineffectual Arab League and even the timid Spanish government, converted into a Bush regime pimp in Afghanistan and Lebanon after an initial courageous and honest move in withdrawing troops from Iraq. All these actors, if we except Russia, which maintains its political, economic and military accords with Syria and has recently received the main leaders of Hamas, play a role in the same script, in line with Pentagon strategy from 2006 known as “frontiers of blood” (1) : controlling what they regard as “the Shi’ite menace” and avoiding the influence of Syria and Iran in the region.

A poor screenplay, but with an impressive budget that guarantees great special effects. The US godfather, a great producer, offers around US$60bn to ensure a spectacular show, with the reservation that in this case the dead will not be fictitious, but real. Arming the Saudis, Egyptians, Jordanians, the Gulf countries and Israel is no chimera. On the one hand it calms down regimes feeling their peoples’ breath hot on their necks more and more and, on the other, it hands an oxygen mask to the self-same US economy by reviving the industrial-military complex and trying in that way to arrest the forecast economic slowdown.

This slowdown is forecast right now in the wake of the property market crisis but has still not happened yet. Already in 2004 US economists predicted their country could suffer structural deficits until 2009 as a result of spending on the Iraq war. For their part European economists reckon that the crisis will come when the dollar falls to 1.50 against the Euro. (2) In January 2007 the rate was 1.32. Eight months later it is at 1.36. Crisis yes, but not for the moment, so long as China decides against. Given the incredible amount of dollar reserves it holds, the key to the crisis is in that country’s hands.

But let’s stick with Lebanon. This screenplay on an Arab theme, as well as moves behind the scenes, make clear that the great US godfather is very worried. It cannot get out of the Iraqi morass. It sees how its Palestine strategy is breaking up. Only Lebanon offers a possible victory – via clear international tutelage – to prevent the imperial megalomania falling into the sea like a sandcastle at high tide. Hence the obstinacy on Lebanon and the consequent abuse of the UN so as to cover its policy with a gloss of legitimacy.

At the great patron’s behest

The Bush regime has been noted for its demolition of the UN multinational system, especially with its neocolonial invasion and occupation of Iraq, but like a shameless loudmouth, it now uses the UN to serve its purposes. Individuals like Michael Ignatieff and Robert Kagan already suggested in 2002 “acting at the margins of the UN when it may be useful and resorting to it when it serves our interests.” They were the ideologues of the New Security Strategy pompously presented by Bush that same year which sanctioned the renowned “preventive war”. In Iraq they dispensed with the UN : in Lebanon they are are mis-using it to the point of nausea.

For that reason nothing the UN has done lately is innocent, certainly not in the matter of Lebanon. Just in the last four years the anti-democratic Security Council – with its enduring right of veto and rejection of democratic expansion to include new permanent members – has approved 26 resolutions on Lebanon, an average of 6 resolutions a year, one every two months. Not a bad average, beaten only by African countries like the Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sudan or the Congo. Not even Iraq received so many Security Council resolutions (only 9 have been passed on that country since 2004, an index we have noted in relation to Lebanon ever since the first resolution that concerns us on this issue, number 1559) which supports the argument made at the start of this article : at the moment Lebanon is much more important strategically for the US than Iraq.

It may be true that the plan to dominate the Middle East began with the slogan “the war on terror” after 9-11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a country that is the weakest link in the plan for strategic rearrangement, which also included Saudi Arabia and Egypt ( the US-Arab Country Plan for Association presented by Condoleezza Rice on December 12th 2002) and the intention of seeking a final solution to the Palestinian problem in accordance with the interests of Israel. The failure in Iraq forced the turn towards Lebanon. Clearly, without the struggle by Iraqi patriots the original plan would have worked to begin with. So the slowing down of that plan is to the credit of the Iraqi patriots. But it is the Lebanese patriots who have stopped it in its tracks, increasing the empire’s difficulties with their victory in the war last summer.

Of those 26 UN resolutions, 9 are technical, extending the mandate of the UNIFIL forces to stay in Lebanon allegedly to monitor respect for the Blue Line (the frontier between Israel and Lebanon) and also, since August 2006, the cessation of hostilities following last summer’s second war. The other resolutions are clearly political. Since passing resolution 1559 in October 2004 (demanding that Syria withdraws its forces from Lebanon, the disarming of Palestinian militias protecting refugee camps and of Hezbollah’s armed forces) and with the exception of those referring to the international tribunal to investigate the assassination of Rafik Hariri, former Lebanese Prime Minister, all have the same common denominator. But since the passing of resolution 1701 in August 2006 which set up the “end of hostilities” one has got used to hearing a new argument : arms are travelling from Syria to Hezbollah and Palestinian groups, so the frontiers are insecure and that has to be dealt with.

This is also the argument of the latest initiative, a Presidential announcement – approved this August 3rd – which is going to be the prelude to a new resolution in favour of international intervention on Lebanon’s frontier with Syria. The current president of the Security Council is the representative of the Democratic Republic of Congo, someone more amenable to US pressures than his predecessors, the Chinese and South African ambassadors. It is worth pointing out that South Africa has repeatedly opposed and toned down harder resolutions on Lebanon put forward by France and Britain. In fact the South African position is described by the US media as “betrayal” (3) not only for what is regarded as “obstruction” of US initiatives in the UN but for its relations with Iran and the fact that a year ago, during the second Lebanese war, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, South Africa’s Foreign Minister expressed solidarity with Hezbollah’s struggle against “Israeli aggression”.

So now, with a more docile Security Council President, the US and France have managed to get approval for a declaration which in its most important aspects calls for “full support for the legitimate democratically elected Lebanese government” (here once more the argument of the supposed democratic legitimacy of the government ignores constitutional rules, that the resignation of Shi’ite and Christian ministers denies the government authority to take decisions) expressing “serious concern at violations of the arms embargo along the length of the Syrian-Lebanese border” (mentioning expressly Hezbollah, Fatah-Intifada and the popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command) and showing “profound concern” for the Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah in July 2006, asking for them “to be returned immediately and unconditionally”. The same as usual, in other words. More so, given that the declaration restricts itself to admonishing Israel for the increase in violations of Lebanese air space and “encourages” it to resolve the issue of Lebanese priosners detained in its jails. That encouragement is very different to the threats applied to Hezbollah.

The imperialist offensive on Lebanon – a recent chronology

The imperialist powers are worried, and worried a lot, about Lebanon. At the end of September it holds presidential elections whereby, according to the constitution, the candidate has to be a Christian. So there are just three possible candidates : one from the neoliberal bloc – divided itself with three pre-candidates – which supports the Prime Minister Fouad Siniora; another from the opposition bloc around Hezbollah whose visible prime candidate is Michel Aoun; and thirdly, one who might be a consensus candidate, current army chief Michel Suleiman. The last two are not to the liking of the United States, although they see Suleiman as the lesser evil. One should not forget that contrary to the government’s official version, Suleiman has denied that Syria is behind the Fatah al Islam organization with which the Lebanese army has fought hard since May in the Nahr al Bared Palestinian refugee camp. (4) And he said something else: “Fatah al Islam is a branch of Al Qaeda which had planned to use Lebanon and the Palestinian refugee camps as a haven from which to launch attacks in Lebanon and abroad”. A timely dissociation from the Siniora government and a clear wink towrds Hezbollah, from whom he had distanced himself since the political-military movement’s communique making clear their position on the fighting in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al Bared (5)

So then, all the measures being taken have the same common denominator of aiming to control Lebanon. It is worth making an exhaustive chronological review of the initiatives that have been set in train so everyone can draw their own conclusions:

a) May 7th : UN Secretary general Ban Ki-Moon reports on Lebanon repeating the arguments it has been sought to realise since the end of the war in the summer of 2006, namely those of the penultimate initiative of the current president of the Security Council mentioned above. Ban Ki-Moon’s report was disclosed after the failure by the US, Britain and France to get a new resolution on Lebanon approved so as to reinforce the Siniora government and accusing Syria and Iran of continuing to support Hezbollah with arms and money. The attempt to pass a new resolution was blocked by Russia and China as well as other member countries of the Security Council like Ghana and South Africa. In the draft that was blocked, the UN Security Council was asked to form an “independent mission” composed of “a committee of UN experts” to control the frontier. (6) A mission that was to have been made up of European countries and inviting participation from Egypt and Jordan, the only two Arab countries in the region to maintain diplomatic relations with Israel.

b) May 10th : the Siniora government signs an agreement to supervise Lebanese State expenditures, something fiercely criticised by Hezbollah, Amal and the Free Patriotic Movement (the majority organization among Christians made up of that religion’s middle and lower middle classes). That agreement is an effort to create a buffer so as to calm the feelings of countries that committed aid worth US$8bn in a conference in Paris in January, right at the moment when the country was paralysed by strikes against government neo-liberal measures.

c) May 20th : appearance of the Islamist group Fatah al Islam and the beginning of armed exchanges in the Palestinian refugee camps of Nahr al Bared. From that day on, both the forces supporting the Siniora government and their Western patrons have rushed to accuse Syria of being behind that group with the aim, according to them, of obstructing the opening of the tribunal investigating the death of ex-Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. For almost two years the issue of Hariri ( a Sunni multi-millionaire closely linked to the Saudi regime and Bandar bin Sultan in particular, now Saudi Arabia’s Security Minister) is the only government explanation for what happens in Lebanon and is simply a sign of blind obedience to the neo-liberal policies designed by the IMF and the World Bank and of their own corruption and incompetence. In fact, according to Lebanese trade unions, 200,000 internal refugees still remain of the million people forced to abandon their homes under Israeli bombardment. Some 120,000 workers have lost their jobs as a result of the war and reconstruction of the bombed areas of the Shia majority continues by Hezbollah, with no sign of any government presence.

d) May 30th : the UN Security Council approves resolution 1757 setting up an international tribunal to investigate and bring to trial those responsible for the attack on Rafiq Hariri. It does so based on Chapter 7 of the UN Charter (which includes the right to use force) and is directed against Syria.

e) June 2nd : on government orders, 300 members of the Internal Security Forces deploy along the Syrian Lebanese frontier to support the Lebanese army in border patrol tasks. Those forces, known in Lebanon as the Hariri militia, are loyal to Saad Hariri, the strong man of the governing coalition that supports Siniora and son of the assassinated ex-Prime Minister. At the end of the war they received US$60m from the US government. (7) Weeks later, US military aid would arrive for the Lebanese army.

f) June 11th : Terje Roed-Larsen, UN Middle East envoy, presents a report to the Security Council which expresses his “profound concern at the illegal movement of arms” along the frontier with Syria. This man, known for his sympathy to Israel, did not conceal that he had sent similar reports to the Lebanese and Israeli governments as well as “other states” that he did not specify.

g) June 24th : attack on Spanish troops of UNIFIL. This contingent has the worst reputation among local inhabitants in the south of Lebanon thanks to their aggression when patrolling communities in the area and their intrusion on reconnaissance in search of Hezbollah positions and arms caches among hills and locations used by local people. Despite that, the attack should be seen as an action directed against Hezbollah and the stability of the south of the country, in contrast with what has been happening in the north with the fighting in Nahr al Bared and the instability in Tripoli.

h) June 28th : Ban Ki-Moon publishes a new report on Lebanon in which he laments that the measures proposed in Resolution 1701 have not been implemented, insisting on the porosity of the borders and the delivery of weapons both to Hezbollah and to Palestinian organizations (mentioning specifically the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command) and gently rebuking Israel for daily violating Lebanese air space, sometimes 20 times a day. Mention of Resolutions 1559, 1680 and 1701 is repeated on numerous occasions, accusing Hezbollah of non-compliance. (8)

i) June 29th : publication of a declassified CIA report which acknowledges that the Lebanese Shi’ite leader Muhammad Husain Fadlallah was targeted and a plan concocted to assassinate him in the 1980s. An attack failed – although various people died and around 200 were wounded. Fadlallah was considered , the same as today, the main religious reference point for HEzbollah, not just for the Shi’ite community. The report aimed at reminding the leaders of Hezbollah that they are in the sights of the US secret services, especially since the end of last year when Bush gave the all clear for covert operations against Hezbollah.(9)

j) July 13th : the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, citing “official sources from the government in Jerusalem” publishes that “the UN cartographer has confirmed to Israel that the Shebaa Farms are Lebanese territory, for which reason Israel should withdraw from the area which would become international territory controlled by UNIFIL” (10)

k) July 16th : another bomb attack on UNIFIL troops, this time from Tanzania. It caused no more than light material damage.

l) July 17th : Miklos Pinte, the UN cartographer studying the Shebaa Farms territory reckons that its area extends over from between 20 to 40 square kilometres, but the Israelis occupy 70 square kilometres. (11) This is an area Lebanon claims for itself while the Israelis say it belongs to Syria and the Syrians say it is Lebanese.

ll) July 18th : Ban Ki-Moon quickly sallies forth to recover the situation and says “the UN cannot confirm that the Shebaa Farms are Lebanese territory”. (12) According to the Lebanese daily the “Daily Star” “Israel has warned the UN that carrying out the mapping (of the Shebaa farms) could reignite the conflict (with Hezbollah)” and Farhan Haq, the UN spokesperson in New York , buries the matter saying “the cartographer has still not completed his work”. At the same time he announces a visit by the cartographer to the area without specifying a date. Docile Ban Ki-Moon faces a great dilemma since if the UN reckons that the Shebaa Farms are Lebanese territory occupied by Israel, as the cartographer indicates, it will concede legitimacy to Hezbollah as a political military movement of national liberation, leaving null and void all the Security Council resolutions ordering the Islamic Resistance to disarm. Hence the speed with which Ki-Moon rushed in effect to gainsay the cartographer.

m) August 1st : George Bush signs an executive order in the form of a decree freezing the financial assets of individuals, institutions and businesses that oppose the neoliberal government of Fouad Siniora. (13) This decree leaves out nothing since it considers that opposition to the Siniora government “contributes to the political and economic instability of Lebanon and the whole region” and therefore ” (the individuals, institutions and businesses that oppose Siniora) constitute an extraordinary and unusual threat to the national security and the foreign policy of the United States” (Section 1) Coming just a few days ahead of the by-elections to fill the seats of two assassinated Christian deputies, this is a clear provocation and shameless interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign country, as well as being an explicit threat to the opposition.

n) August 2nd : UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Michael Williams, admits that he has held “about 20 meetings” with leaders of Hezbollah with regard to the exchange of the Israeli soldiers captured last summer and Lebanese prisoners held in Israeli prisons. (14) Those meetings proved fruitless because for one thing Hezbollah refuses an exchange in stages, which the Israelis are so fond of (a few prisoners released in exchange for “good behaviour” from the other side, something they have always done with the Palestinians) and for another because in those conversations those meetings covered not just the matter of prisoners of one side or the other but “many other components” according to Ha’aretz (15) although which ones remain unspecified.

ñ) August 5th : elections in two mainly Christian districts of Beirut. The Free Patriotic Movement, a Maronite Christian organization allied with Hezbollah and other Lebanese organizations opposed to the government of Fouad Siniora wins in one, Metn. against Amin Gemayel, former President of the country and historical leader of the Lebanese Phalange. It is worth stressing that the seat in question had belonged to Gemayel’s murdered son, Pierre. The correlation of forces changes and the future Lebanese President cannot be elected without the approval of the FPM. The vote of the Armenian community, represented by the Tsahnag party, is decisive and indicates cooperation between anti-government forces. Tsahnag argued their vote was “a protest against the marginalization (of the Armenian community) by the (Siniora) government”. (16)

o) August 6th : Siniora’s pro-Western supporters call fraud in the Metn elections and threaten to designate a Lebanese President with a simple parliamentary majority (half plus one of the total number of members of parliament), which they have, and not with the two-thirds parliamentary majority demanded by the Constitution. The inconstitutionality of such a decision would mean the formation of a new government by the opposition for which reason a sector of the government, led by Siniora himself, proposes as a “transition” that the Prime Minister, himself, assumes the presidential prerogatives.

p) August 10th : Prime Minister Fouad Siniora meets with US ambassador Jeffrey Feltman to analyse the situation and discuss US aid for the Lebanmese army.

q) August 13th : Lebanese army chief Michel Suleiman, accompanied by Nabih Berri, Shi’ite president of parliament, meet with the Maronite patriarch to talk about the presidential elections and sound out the chances of the general becoming a consensus candidate.

r) August 14th : Suleiman affirms publicly that he will put himself forward to lead an interim government if no consensus can be reached to elect a President. His role would be transitional pending the development of matters overseas, in particular the US presidential elections in 2008. The opposition would only view this candidacy kindly if it established a transitional government able to guarantee the expected calling of new parliamentary elections. However, for Suleiman to succeed he needs calm in every sense, which is why an end to the fighting in the Palestinian refugee camps of Nahr al Bared is vital. This explains the speeding up of the issue, acceptance of negotations for the exit of relatives of Fatah al Islam fighters and the intensification of the fighting.

s) August 16th : France presents a draft UN Security Council resolution to extend the UNIFIL mandate for another year. It suggests new prerogatives for UNIFIL forces, such as greater presence in the villages and an increase in patrols, cut back to a minimum after the mortal attack on the Spanish troops.

t) August 24th : the Security Council approves the French resolution unanimously. Still, the text had to be modified because countries like Russia and South Africa criticised the fact that what should be a technical resolution extending the UNIFIL mandate included “sensitive issues” such as the matter of Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah, whom the UN describes in this resolution as “kidnapped”. (17) A day beforehand, Israel again violated Lebanese air space with eleven flights at both high and low altitude, according to the Lebanese army.

u) August 30th : the French UNIFIL contingent carries out an exercise in the village of Tiri, near the Israeli frontier. It aimed at “intercepting an enemy trying to cross the Blue Line (Israel-Lebanon frontier) and attack areas under UNIFIL protection”. Leclerc tanks were used in that military exercise which ended in “the capture of dozens of terrorists”. According to Colonel Chaptal, leading the exercise, the term “enemy” referred to”anyone in southern lebanon threatening or obstructing implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701″. (18)

Plans frustrated by popular resistance

The imperialist offensive is under way and increases as September 25th, start of the presidential elections, gets closer. The anti-imperialist counter-offensive does the same. Israel’s defeat in the second Lebanese war last summer frustrated US plans in the area. With Hezbollah converted into a leading actor on the Lebanese political scene, the US has had to redirect its strategy through the UN. Just as the UN has been changed into an adjunct of US foreign policy, so UNIFIL troops have become a part of the global struggle for control of the Middle East, not just Lebanon.

The Siniora government is skeletal and brittle, incapable even of putting in motion its neoliberal agenda – the economy has shrunk by 2% in the first semester of this year (19) – and with key executive functions paralysed. The pompous commitments of Paris 3, trumpeted in January, have not materialized and the collapse of the State is a fact. So the US has two alternatives : either to carry out a “palace coup” along the lines of Abbas in Palestine, namely by prompting Siniora to assume the faculties of the country’s President or to reinforce what Roberto Satloff, the Bush regime’s new guru has called “constructive instability”. Or what amounts to the same thing : “neutralizing radical forces” (Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon) even when they have popular support. For the moment that effort is being carried out benevolently via the UN.

But this body has been little more than a fraud ever since the invasion of Iraq, justifying and concealing imperialist interests. That is without mentioning the anti-humanitarian crime against the Iraq, victim of an embargo that killed more than a million people, the great majority of them children, after the first Gulf War in 1990. However, today the UN is getting its own medicine in Lebanon. What the Security Council considers “non-compliance with resolutions” mainly by Hezbollah is no more than getting paid in their own coin for cases like Israeli exceptionalism and the non-application of tens of resolutions on Palestine, without mentioning other examples. The UN in Lebanon is like an elephant heading for its cemetery. It goes around in circles (the single-issue obsession of the resolutions) sensing death as it settles on a spot to drop. But unlike elephants about to die, the UN’s image lacks all dignity.

Notes

(1) Alberto Cruz, “El grito de la calle árabe, sin justicia no hay paz” http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=36850
(2) Alberto Cruz, “Veinte céntimos” http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=44199
(3) The Wall Street Journal, 8 de agosto de 2007.
(4) The Daily Star, 13 de agosto de 2007.
(5) Alberto Cruz, “La nueva estrategia de EEUU en Líbano: la guerra secreta contra Hizbulá” http://www.nodo50.org/ceprid/territorios/mo/mo6.htm
(6) The Daily Star, 20 de abril de 2007.
(7) Ibid.
(8) Informe del Secretario General sobre la aplicación de la resolución 1701 (2006) del Consejo de Seguridad. S/2007/392. 28 de junio de 2007.
(9) The Telegraph, 23 de diciembre de 2006.
(10) Haaretz, 13 de julio de 2007.
(11) Haaretz, 18 de julio de 2007.
(12) The Daily Star, 18 de julio de 2007.
(13) www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/08/20070802-1.html
(14) The Daily Star, 3 de agosto de 2007.
(15) Haaretz, 3 de agosto de 2007.
(16) The Daily Star, 5 de agosto de 2007.
(17) Resolución 1773 aprobada por el CS en su sesión nº 5733. S/RES/1773 (2007)
(18) The Daily Star, 1 de septiembre de 2007.
(19) The Daily Star, 24 de agosto de 2007.

Alberto Cruz is a journalist, political analyst and witer specializing in international relations.
contact via albercruz (arroba) eresmas.com .

Thanks to Agustín Velloso for suggestions on the text. Translation copyleft Tortilla con Sal, Centro de Estudios Políticos para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Desarrollo

Nahr al-Bared « The Fanonite

Brief introduction to todays links from the Fanonite – 

Later, he adds [Lebanese Soldier], it was like being in a movie. “A drunk state in which you don’t care whether you’re shooting at children, the elderly or militants.”

Thats What War is Like « The Fanonite

EI: What triggered the violence in Nahr al-Bared?

ABUKHALIL: That’s where it gets really bizarre and raises a lot of questions. After the assassination of Rafiq Hariri in February 2005, the Hariri family did not trust the existing state security and intelligence forces, so with supervision and funding from the United States as well as Saudi, Jordanian and UAE support, they established their own quasi-militia called the Lebanese Internal Security Forces. They also established something called Jihaz al-Ma’alumat, the Intelligence Apparatus, which does not have a mandate to exist under Lebanese law. Be that as it may, they are now the most important security and intelligence forces in Lebanon and they are marginalizing all the others.

Nahr al-Bared: The Context « The Fanonite

The army have been killing us, they were hitting anything that moved,” said 27-year-old Maher, who had left the camp the previous night for the relative sanctity of the nearby camp of Badawi. “Nobody can step out of their house without being shot at. Even inside the houses it isn’t safe from the bullets.”

Abu Ali, 45, added: “We have never experienced violence like this. Not even the Israelis behaved like this.”

Nahr al-Bared: The Blowback « The Fanonite

Nahr al-Bared: The Emerging Picture « The Fanonite

Thanks to the Fanonite for this great post.  Two other places to watch Democracy Now are Democracy TV and Chomsky Torrents 

Democracy Now! has extensive coverage of the developments in Lebanon today, with interviews with Seymour Hersh, Rania Masri and Alistair Crooke. Their analysis is somewhat similar to my own earlier impressions, however Hersh, Masri and Crooke do a much better job of dispatching some of the common misperceptions. I would recommend watching the whole program, but here are some highlights:

JUAN GONZALEZ: Lebanon’s defense minister has said Islamist militants entrenched in a Palestinian refugee camp must surrender or face further military action…The army has laid siege to the Nahr al-Bared camp since the fighting erupted on Sunday, bombarding it with tank fire and artillery shells. At least eighty people have died, with dozens more wounded.

On Wednesday, an informal ceasefire enabled thousands of residents to flee the camp. Some headed for another Palestinian refugee camp nearby, while others traveled to the neighboring city of Tripoli. The International Committee of the Red Cross estimates between 13,000 and 15,000 refugees have left Nahr al-Bared.

AMY GOODMAN: The Lebanese government accuses Fatah al-Islam of having ties with al-Qaeda and the Syrian government. But there’s another theory of who’s backing the militant group: the Lebanese government itself, along with the United States. Last March, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reported in The New Yorker magazine that the US and Saudi governments are covertly backing militant Sunni groups like Fatah al-Islam as part of an overarching foreign policy against Iran and growing Shia influence…

SEYMOUR HERSH:There was a major change of policy by the United States government…[which] would join with the Brits and other Western allies and with what we call the moderate Sunni governments — that is, the governments of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt — and with Israel to fight the Shia.

One of the major goals for America, of course, was the obsession the Bush White House has with Iran, and the other obsession they have is, of course…of Hezbollah, the Party of God…that’s so dominant in southern Lebanon…and whose leader Hassan Nasrallah wants to play a bigger political role and is doing quite a bit to get there and is in direct confrontation with Siniora.

[The obsession is not ‘American’ of course. It is a neocon obsession and the President, through the VP, are willing accomplices in the program]

And so, you have a situation where…the American-supported Sunni government headed by Fouad Siniora, who was a deputy or an aide to Rafik Hariri, the slain leader of Lebanon, that government has — we know, the International Crisis Group reported a couple years ago that the son Saad Hariri, the son of Rafik Hariri, who’s now a major player in the parliament of Lebanon…put up $40,000 bail to free four Sunni fundamentalists, Jihadist-Salafists — you know, this word “al-Qaeda” is sort of ridiculous — they were tied to jihadist groups. And God knows, al-Qaeda, in terms of Osama bin Laden, doesn’t have much to do with what we’re talking about. These are independently, more or less, you can call them, fanatical jihadists.

And so, the goal — part of the goal in Lebanon, part of the way this policy played out, was, with Saudi help [Prince Bandar mainly]…we began supporting some of these jihadist groups, and particularly — in the article, I did name Fatah al-Islam.

The idea was to provide them with some arms and some money and some basic equipment so — these are small units, a couple hundred people. There were three or four around the country given the same help covertly, the goal being they would be potential enemies of Hezbollah in case of warfare; in case Nasrallah decided to do something physical, get kinetic, in Lebanon, the Sunni Siniora government would have some very tough guys on its side, period. That’s the policy.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Sy Hersh, if that is true, then what has led to the current fighting now? If the Lebanese government had been backing the group, why is it now attacking it?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, first of all, the Lebanese army is very distinct…But based on common sense and what I’m reading, the Lebanese army has maintained an amazing sort of neutrality, which is surprising. The army has not been a pawn of the Siniora government…

There’s a stand-off politically right now, a very serious one, in Lebanon…it’s not a constitutional government, because Hezbollah, which had…five members of the cabinet and a dozen or so members in the parliament…pulled out months ago. And there were street protests…against Siniora. And right now, you have Hezbollah in league with a Christian leader named Aoun, a former chief of staff for the army…in an amazing partnership against the Siniora government…America clearly supports Siniora. But there’s a big brutal fight going….

So I think the story that we have is that there was a crime, and they were chasing people into one of the Palestinian camps, which are always hotbeds. God knows the Palestinians are the end of the stick, not only for the West, but also for the Arab world. Nobody pays much attention to them and those places. I’ve been to Tripoli and been into the camps, and they are seething, as they should be. You know, rational people don’t like being mistreated. And in any case, so what you have is, what seems to me, just a series — the word you could use is “unintended consequences.” …

Blaming Syria

And what is the laugh riot and the reason I’m actually talking to you guys…is because the American government keeps on putting out this story that Syria is behind the Fatah group, which is just beyond belief. There’s no way — it may be possible, but the chances of it are very slight, simply because Syria is a very big supporter, obviously, of Nasrallah, and Bashar al-Assad has told me that he’s in awe of Nasrallah, that he worships at his feet and has great respect for him. The idea that the Syrians would be sponsoring Sunni jihadist groups whose sole mission are to kill [Shia ‘apostates’ of Hizbullah]…Nothing can be ruled out, but that doesn’t make much case, and I noticed that in the papers today there’s fewer and fewer references to this. The newspapers in America are beginning to wise up, that this can’t be — this isn’t very logical. The White House is putting it out hot and heavy as part of the anti-Syria campaign, but it’s not flying, because it doesn’t make sense….

You might think that…one of the things that the Saudi Bandar had promised us was that we can control the jihadists. We can control them, he assured us…the same kind of assurances were given to us in the late 1980s, when we supported, as I said, bin Laden and others in the war against Russia, the Mujahideen war, and that, of course, bit us on the ass…

AMY GOODMAN: Seymour Hersh, what about the role of Vice President Dick Cheney, the Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, you always — any time you have violent anti-Iran policy and anti-Shia policy, you have to start looking there. Look, clearly this president is deeply involved in this, too, but what I hear from my people, of course, the players — it’s always Cheney, Cheney. Cheney meets with Bush at least once a week. They have a lunch. They usually have a scheduled lunch. And out of that comes a lot of big decisions. We don’t know what’s ever said at that meeting. And this is — talk about being opaque, this is a government that is so hidden from us.

So I can’t — I can tell you that — you know, the thing that’s amazing about this government, the thing that’s really spectacular, is even now how they can get their way mostly with a lot of the American press. For example, I do know — and, you know, you have to take it on face value. If you’ve been reading me for a long time, you know a lot of the things I write are true or come out to be more or less true. I do know that within the last month, maybe four, four-and-a-half weeks ago, they made a decision that because of the totally dwindling support for the war in Iraq, we go back to the al-Qaeda card, and we start talking about al-Qaeda. And the next thing you know, right after that, Bush went to the Southern Command — this was a month ago — and talked, mentioned al-Qaeda twenty-seven times in his speech. He did so just the other day this week — al-Qaeda this, al-Qaeda that. All of a sudden, the poor Iraqi Sunnis, I mean, they can’t do anything without al-Qaeda. It’s only al-Qaeda that’s dropping the bombs and causing mayhem. It’s not the Sunni and Shia insurgents or militias. And this policy just gets picked up, although there’s absolutely no empirical basis. Most of the pros will tell you the foreign fighters are a couple percent, and then they’re sort of leaderless in the sense that there’s no overall direction of the various foreign fighters. You could call them al-Qaeda. You can also call them jihadists and Salafists that want to die fighting the Americans or the occupiers in Iraq and they come across the border. Whether this is — there’s no attempt to suggest there’s any significant coordination of these groups by bin Laden or anybody else, and the press just goes gaga. And so, they went gaga a little bit over the Syrian connection to the activities in Tripoli. It’s just amazing to me, you guys.

The View From Lebanon

AMY GOODMAN:Rania Masri, you’re in the camp where thousands of refugees from the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp have fled. What do you see there?

RANIA MASRI: I’ve been hearing this a lot in the Western press, that the violence that we are seeing right now in Lebanon is called the worst since the civil war. Unfortunately, that’s not quite true. The worst violence we had since the civil war was the Israeli war last year in July. So, if you can just remember this country has not healed from the July war last summer.

With that, …the Beddawi camp has approximately 15,000 refugees in it already. The number of refugees now in the Beddawi camp has almost doubled, because we have approximately 12,000 refugees from the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp…That alone could give you an idea of the amount of lack of goods that is now available in the camp. I mean, there is a lack of extraordinarily basic goods, be it medicine, be it foods, be it mattresses, be it anything. Every individual that we talk to, every agency that we talk to said the same thing, which is that the international agencies have not operated quickly enough to be able to respond to the presence of 12,000 refugees almost overnight in this already extraordinarily impoverished camp of the Beddawi camp. Approximately 25% of these refugees are going to schools. Another 75% are going to homes. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the aid, approximately 80% of the aid, is going to those individuals in the schools. 20% of aid is going to the 75% of the refugees in the homes, which means we are having an extraordinary lack of goods that are being given to the people most in need. When we look at the situation and when we keep in mind the ultimatum that’s been given by the minister of defense, which is this threat of actually invading the Nahr al-Bared camp, then we can envision at the very least that the number of refugees we now have in the Beddawi camp from the refugee camp, Nahr al-Bared, is probably going to increase. So as bad and as horrific as the situation is currently in the Beddawi camp, we are expecting it to actually get worse tomorrow.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And in terms of how the fighting is progressing in the Nahr al-Bared camp, what is the situation right now, as far as you can tell?

RANIA MASRI: Well, there has been a quote/unquote “truce” for almost a day and a half. But one thing I do want to emphasize with regard to the violence — and, again, this is based upon numerous amounts of eyewitness reports — that the violence isn’t simply extraordinarily indiscriminate heavy artillery coming from the Lebanese army into this — let me stress again — one of the most impoverished Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, which is the Nahr al-Bared camp; in addition to getting this heavy artillery from the Lebanese army, in addition to that, there is a third factor: there probably is an armed civilian camp, you know, group militia, that is operating outside of the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, that is attacking both the refugees that are leaving, as well as lobbing sniper attacks into the camp itself. So not only do we have the Palestinians in the camp stuck between Fatah al-Islam, which is a non-Palestinian radical organization and the Lebanese army; they are also stuck between this third armed civilian militia group.

Hizbullah’s Stance

RANIA MASRI: The position of almost — almost — every single Lebanese political party…including Hezbollah, has been support for the Lebanese army. The Hezbollah leadership has made gentle requests that the civilians on both sides of the conflict, Lebanese and Palestinian, not be harmed, that there be attempts to try to minimize the loss of civilian life. But the response from almost all Lebanese politicians and all the Lebanese political parties is support behind the Lebanese army.

And here, and I want to add something to the comments that Seymour Hersh made. This is being presented — this conflict is being presented by, I would say, a strong segment of both the Lebanese population and almost all the Palestinians within the refugee camps as a conspiracy against both the Lebanese and the Palestinians and as a conspiracy that includes within it a conspiracy against the Lebanese army.

Alistair Crooke on Fatah al-Islam

ALASTAIR CROOKE: I think it’s probably worth, for your listeners, just to understand a little bit more about the nature of this group. Although it came from Syria into Lebanon and it came from a group that was associated with Palestinians — its name was Fatah also — and was an old mainly Palestinian group that existed in Syria from the days of the Oslo Accord, what we have in Lebanon is something quite unrelated to the Palestinian issue. This is an extreme Sunni group. It’s a Salafi group, as Seymour described it, which means that their main characteristic is not concern about Palestine or a Palestinian state, but their main concern is their antagonism and their hatred for the Shia. And I think the reason that we saw them in Lebanon probably had something to do also with the conflict this summer, that took place last summer with Israel, and the aftermath of that, which seemed to presage an internal conflict within Lebanon, possibly between the Shia and the Sunnis and with Christians involved, as well. In other words, there was a real fear at some stages that Lebanon could be tipping back toward civil war. And I think in this context, therefore, this group, which is virulently anti-Shia, came across with the idea of defending the Sunnis.

Of those that have been killed in this group so far, not one of them has been Palestinian. It’s true that the leader is Palestinian, but the other members of it that have been taken so far have turned out to be Saudi, Tunisian, Yemeni and Lebanese, but not Palestinians. So they ended up in this refugee camp — they forced their way in; there’s not much refugees can do when 200 determined and armed men enter your camp — and eventually set up a little satellite area of their own, adjacent to the camp. So I think that’s the context that you have to see this. And I think some Sunnis in Lebanon welcomed their arrival, if you like, as potential reinforcement. If you wanted someone to take on the ranks of Hezbollah, which is a Shia movement, then here was a determined group who hated them that could be co-opted on the basis of your enemy’s enemy is your friend. So I think this is very much the way in which to see what happened. And I think it’s quite true what Seymour said: in a sense, it’s a reflection of a wider policy…I think the rhetoric and the language that is being used by the United States and by Europe, in some cases, of trying to encourage, if you like, Sunni fears about a Shia threat and a Shia menace, the axis of or the crescent of Shia, a threat that faces the region, gives the opportunity and gives a space to these sort of groups to emerge and quite often ends with them getting the support and the financial resources that they require.

Nahr al-Bared: The Emerging Picture « The Fanonite

The Innocent Speak « The Fanonite

In the case of Lebanon, Robert Fisk’s friendship with the late Rafiq Hariri seems to have taken the best of his judgement lately however in today’s report, he eschews the coloured speculations for his real strength — strong descriptive reporting. As I had mentioned in my earlier post, the suffering of the innocent victims of the Lebanese Army’s confrontation with Fatah al-Islam has been mostly overlooked. Here Fisk gives voice to the victims:

It is a place of Palestinian fury – and almost as much Palestinian blood. The bandage-swaddled children whimpering in pain, frowning at the strange, unfatherly doctors, the middle-aged woman staring at us with one eye, a set of tubes running into her gashed-open stomach, a series of bleak-faced, angry, young men, their bodies and legs torn apart.

There was eight-year Youssef al-Radi who was cut open by shrapnel in the arm and back yesterday morning and brought to the Palestinian Safad hospital at Badawi, another refugee camp in Tripoli, his feet bleeding, a tiny figure on a huge stretcher. He hasn’t been told that his mother died beside him. Nor that his father is still in the Nahr el-Bared camp.

And let us not forget six-year-old Aiman Hussein, who was hit by up to a hundred pieces of metal from a Lebanese army shell – in the neck and the spine, the tibia, the foot, the back, you name it. The doctors had to rush him to Tripoli because they could not operate. Visit the Safad hospital if you dare…

Some of the buildings look like Irish lace and a mosque’s green minaret has a shell hole just below the platform where the muezzin’s call would be heard five times a day, as if a giant had punched at it in anger. There is even a field of ripped-up tents, which must have been what this camp looked like when the grandfathers of those wounded children arrived here from Palestine in 1948…

I looked across the camp. Was it worth all this pain, the grotty, empty streets, the broken apartment block with dirty grey smoke still drifting from its windows? The Lebanese soldiers claim they try never to hurt civilians (I can think of another army which says that!), but did so many Palestinians have to be killed or wounded for the crimes of a few, some – we do not know how many – not even from “Palestine” but from Syria or Yemen or Saudi Arabia?…

Most of the troops around me were from the north of Lebanon – so were the murdered soldiers. Had there been feelings of revenge rather than military discipline when they first opened fire? There were certainly growls of retaliation in the Safad hospital – named, with terrible coincidence, after the very town in pre-Israel Palestine from which many of Nahr el-Bared’s refugee families originally came – and Fatah, the old Arafat PLO Fatah, now had armed men on the streets to protect the medical personnel and the new, wounded refugees from the next burst of fury.

All day, the ambulances ran a ferry service of wounded from the camp, sirens shrieking through the wards, spilling out the wounded and the sick and the ancient men and women who could bear no more. They were given small sacks of bread – like animals newly arrived at market, I couldn’t help thinking – and led away.

Weasel-Words and Poodle-Talk

They had heard all the political statements. Nicolas Sarkozy, the new French President, had been on the phone to the Lebanese Prime Minister, insisting that he should not give in to “intimidation”perhaps he thought the Palestinians were the same kind of “scum” that he called the rioting Arabs of the Paris suburbs last year – and President Bush gave his his support to the Lebanese government and army.

And Walid Jumblatt said of the Syrian President that “the Lebanese Army ought to crush Fatah al-Islam once and for all to prevent Assad from turning Lebanon into a second Iraq”. That’s all the talk now, that another sovereign Arab nation might become a new Iraq. The Algerians were saying the same two days ago, that Islamist suicide bombers were trying to turn Algeria into “a new Iraq”.

What, I kept asking myself yesterday, have we unleashed now? Well, you can ask Suheila Mustafa who stood yesterday at the bedside of her 45-year-old sister, Samia, so terribly wounded by army shellfire in the face that she could neither talk nor focus upon us with her bloated left eye. “We had just woken up when we heard the first barrage of gunfire,” she said. “My sister was beside me and fell down with her head bleeding. She haemorraged from 5.50 in the morning till 3 in the afternoon. At last my brother brought us all out in his car. But let me tell you this. The Palestinian people have heard Walid Jumblatt and we say ‘thank you’ to him and let us have more shelling.

“And I would like to thank Prime Minister Siniora, and say thanks – really thanks – very much to George Bush and to Condoleezza Rice. I really want to thank them for these shells and these wounds we are suffering. And if Rice really wants to send more materiel to the Lebanese Army, she had better hurry up. There is a woman still in the camp who is very pregnant and the child in her womb will be born and will grow into a man – and then we’ll see!”

Of course, one wants to remind Suheila – perhaps not her dreadfully wounded sister – that the Palestinians are guests in Lebanon, that by allowing Fatah al-Islam to nest on the edge of their north Lebanon camp, they were inviting their own doom.

[What a silly comment from Fisk! So Suheila and her dreadfully wounded sister were supposed to stop ruthless militants that even the whole Lebanese Army (not to mention the Hariri militia) is finding hard to confront]

But victimhood – and let us not doubt the integrity or the dignity of that victimhood – has become almost a pit for the Palestinians, into which they have fallen. The catastrophe of their eviction and flight from Palestine in 1948, their near-destruction in the Lebanese civil war, their cruel suffering at the hands of Israeli invaders – the massacre of Sabra and Chatila in 1982 where 1,700 were slaughtered – and now this, have sealed these people into a permanent prison of suffering.

I found an old lady in Safad hospital, whimpering and sobbing. She was 75, she said, and her daughter had just brought out her own two-month-old child and this was the fifth time she had been “displaced”. She used that word, “displaced”. She had lost her home in Palestine in 1948 and four more times in Lebanon her home had been destroyed…

No wonder that in all the Palestinian camps of Lebanon yesterday, they were protesting the “massacre” at Nahr el-Bared with gunfire and burning tyres.

And so we continued through the wards. There was Ghassan Ahmed el-Saadi, who had arrived at the camp’s medical centre to distribute bread with his friends Abdul Latif al-Abdullah and Raad Ali Shams. “A shell came down and my friends both fell dead at my feet,” said Mr Saadi, who is a mass of tubes and wounds and a bloody foot.

There was Ahmed Sharshara, just eight years old, with a huge plaster over his chest. A hunk of shell had entered his back and broken into his spine and partly emerged from his chest. The X-ray showed a piece of metal like a leaf in his stomach. His lungs were still being drained.

And there was Nibal Bushra who went to his balcony on Sunday morning to find out why the camp was being shelled when a single bullet hit his brother. Then a sniper’s bullet hit him. For two days he lay bleeding in the camp before being brought out.

“I wish they would take us to a European country because we are not safe here, and the Arab nations are beasts, monsters to us,” he said. “I won’t even talk to Arab journalists. They are not prepared to tell the truth.” And what has become of his desire to return to the old Safad of Palestine, I asked. “We will never go home,” he said. “But I trust the Europeans because they seem good and kind people.”

And then – a little annex to this story – there was a small room where I found Ahmed Maisour Sayed, 24, part-paralysed and unable to speak, who was not a victim of the Lebanese army. He was brought here on 3 May after being shot by two gunmen from Fatah al-Islam because he was a PLO supporter. “His family and one of their families had quarreled about ideology,” his father told me. “So they shot him and killed two other men. They are a terrorist organisation and we don’t know what they want. There’s only about 700 of them. But now my son can never work, We need help from an international organisation.” I dared not tell him that I come from the land of Lord Balfour.

But I did notice, back at Nahr el-Bared, a heap of empty Lebanese army machinegun cartridges, and I picked one up as a souvenir. And when I got home to Beirut, I put it with a much older cartridge case which I picked up back in the late Eighties when the same army was besieging the Palestinians in Sidon. Of course, the two cases were identical in calibre. The tragedy goes on. And its identical nature has made it normal, routine, typical, easy to accept. And woe betide if we believe that.

The Innocent Speak « The Fanonite

The Nahr al-Bared Tragedy « The Fanonite

Thanks to the Fanonite for another great post!  It is illuminating how little regard there is for the suffering of the camps residents among the big players…

The Lebanese Army distinguished itself last year when during Israel’s brutal invasion one of its General’s confronted the invaders with — tea! None of this ‘courtesty’ is in evidence today as it indiscriminately bombs the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp near Tripoli in its confrontation with Fatah al-Islam. But first, a little on Fatah al-Islam.

Ever since the fighting broke out, the US-backed Lebanese government has received widespread support from around the world. Depending on the geographical provenance of the support, the militants are being described as al-Qaida-linked, or Syrian-backed. But an important detail of the group’s background is being consistently overlooked. In March Seymour Hersh reported:

Alastair Crooke, who spent nearly thirty years in MI6, the British intelligence service, and now works for Conflicts Forum, a think tank in Beirut, told me, “The Lebanese government is opening space for these people to come in. It could be very dangerous.” Crooke said that one Sunni extremist group, Fatah al-Islam, had splintered from its pro-Syrian parent group, Fatah al-Intifada, in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, in northern Lebanon. Its membership at the time was less than two hundred. “I was told that within twenty-four hours they were being offered weapons and money by people presenting themselves as representatives of the Lebanese government’s interests—presumably to take on Hezbollah,” Crooke said.

The Humanitarian Crisis

Of the nearly 50,000 refugees in the Nahr al-Bared camp, nearly 10,000 have sought refuge in the nearby Beddawi camp. The four days of fighting have killed nearly a 100, including 32 soldiers and 22 militants. According to Reuters

The Lebanese army – which, under a 1969 Arab agreement, does not enter any of Lebanon’s 12 Palestinian refugee camps – has been bombarding positions in the camp suspected to be held by Fatah al-Islam fighters…many camp residents say tank and artillery fire has been indiscriminate…Camp residents and doctors say there are dozens of dead civilians.  

Earlier on Wednesday, the United Nations relief agency for Palestinians (UNRWA) estimated that about 2,000 families, which average at least five members per family, had fled Nahr al-Bared since Tuesday evening.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Wednesday distributed food parcels to last five days for 3,000 people in Kawkab School, where displaced people – the majority women, children and infants – are living in filthy conditions

Civilians and Aid Workers in the Crosshairs

On Tuesday, a UNRWA convoy reportedly came under fire from positions held by the Lebanese army, after moving only a few hundred metres into the camp…[Nadim] Houry [a Human Rights Watch researcher] said the Lebanese army had failed to observe international humanitarian law in its bombardment of civilian areas in the camp.

“We do not believe the army directly targeted civilians, but in its use of indiscriminate shelling, which has a disproportionate affect on civilians to combatants…We are also concerned that the army failed to provide safe corridors for the evacuation of civilians and the delivery of aid. It has taken three days for this to happen.”

A total of 130 civilians were evacuated to Safad Hospital. They suffered severe injuries as well as shock with 12 undergoing emergency surgery, said Dr Assad…

“We didn’t bring Fatah al-Islam into the camp. Of course we support the Lebanese army’s fight against them but they have destroyed houses and killed civilians,” said Bassam al-Saadi, who said he knew of 13 bodies which had been buried in the camp cemetery since Sunday.

Even the Israelis have never done to us what the Lebanese army have done,” shouted another evacuee.

Al Jazeera’s Exclusive Footage from Inside the Camp

The conditions in the refugee camps are far from tolerable to begin with. The indiscriminate nature of the attack is only compounding the tragedy. For example, Jeffrey Blankfort writes:

The situation in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon is something that most outsiders, including supporters of the Palestinian struggle, can not imagine. In 2004, I returned to Shatilla camp on the outskirts of Beirut for the first time since 1983 and found it to be far and away the most depressing place I have ever visited, much more so than anything I had seen in Gaza or the West Bank the previous year. It was an opinion that was shared by a friend from Deheisheh camp in the West Bank who also been to all three places and so one can imagine the frustrations of the residents of those camps in the north of Lebanon, like the others, betrayed by the world as well as the PA, with no hope of any changed future on the horizon. Combined with the ongoing crisis in Gaza, these are indeed the worst days for the Palestinians since, at least, 1967. Cui bono?

According to reports, the Lebanese Army is now planning an assault on the camp, ”after receiving a green light to go into the camp from Sultan Abul Aynain, Fatah’s chief in Lebanon…if Lebanese forces do enter Nahr al-Bared, it will break a decades-old precedent and raise the possibility of the army exerting security control inside Lebanon’s 11 other refugee camps.”

War Pays

Considering it was a bank robbery worth $1,500 that triggered the conflict, one can’t help but question the reasons behind the ferocity of the Lebanese Army’s response. AP reports:

Lebanon has asked the United States for $280 million in military assistance to help put down an uprising by Al Qaeda-inspired militants operating from a Palestinian refugee camp, the State Department said yesterday.

About $220 million would go to the Lebanese Armed Forces and $60 million to security forces, spokesman Sean McCormack said. The United States is weighing the request, he added…

Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Karen Finn, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said the Defense Department has been working to deliver a broad range of equipment and other materials to Lebanon.

“We hope to provide a robust package of security assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces in 2007 with more equipment and training,” Finn said.

She said the Pentagon is “concerned about mounting evidence that the Syrian and Iranian governments, Hezbollah, and their Lebanese allies are attempting to topple Lebanon’s legitimate and democratically elected government.”

Under the cover of assistance in Lebanon’s own ‘war on terror’, the US can now legitimately and openly start bolstering the Siniora government.

Sectarian Militia?

What of Hizbullah’s reaction? AP reports:

The Shi’ite Muslim group Hezbollah has so far backed Lebanon’s army in its confrontation with a Sunni radical group — despite the fact that Hezbollah has been pushing to topple the Lebanese government.

In a statement from the group that shows its complex stance, Hezbollah denounced the attacks against the Lebanese army — stressing the role of the army in safeguarding peace, but also tacitly criticised Lebanon’s current government.

“We feel that there is someone out there who wants to drag the army to this confrontation and bloody struggle … to serve well-known projects and aims. We are hearing calls for more escalation and fighting, which will ultimately lead to more chaos and confrontation in Lebanon,” the Hezbollah statement said. It called for a political solution to the crisis…

Political analysts have said Hezbollah, while supporting the army, does not want to back the government publicly and give it credit for fighting the Sunni radical group. Also, any whole-hearted backing by Hezbollah for Lebanese authorities could inflame animosity by Sunni militants against the Shi’ite group.

No condemnation of course of the indiscriminate bombing of Palestinian refugees stranded in the Camp. Sadly, in this instance, Hizbullah has behaved more like the sectarian militias of Iraq than the respected national resistance organizations many believe it to be.

Tinderbox

In order to make political captial out of this incident, some players — local, as well as foreign — are behaving in a highly irresponsible manner, and it could easily throw the whole region into a wider conflict. So far no one has spoken about the tragic circumstances of the refugees in the camp. Some Palestinians naturally are less than pleased.

Talking to the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite TV station on Monday, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) general command leader, Anwar Rajab, accused gunmen from the Al-Mustaqbal (’Future’) movement [Hariri’s militia] of violating a ceasefire, which was agreed on Monday morning.

A spokesperson from the Al-Mustaqbal movement denied the accusation.

Anwar Rajab warned of tensions spilling over into other areas. He said, “Nahr Al-Bared is not an orphan,” meaning there are similar refugee camps in Lebanon that will join forces to retaliate to the attacks.

Lebanon is home to more than 400,000 Palestinian refugees, according to UNRWA statistics. Many of them fled or were forced from their homes when Israel was created in 1948…

The head of the Damascus-based Hamas politburo, Khalid Mash’al, also telephoned the Lebanese prime minister, Fouad Siniora, on Monday and demanded that he take the necessary measures to protect the Palestinians in Nahr Al-Bared refugee camp…Mash’al also made similar telephone calls to the secretary-general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, and the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud Al-Faysal.

The Nahr al-Bared Tragedy « The Fanonite

Galloway Indicts the British Government

“Galloway, without a doubt, is the finest orator on either side of the Atlantic. Doesn’t it say something about the state of British democracy that, while everything he says is true, his is the only voice uttering it.” Fanonite

“She [UK Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett] talked about supporting the Government and the people of the Lebanon…..she wasnt much help to the Government of the Lebanon when its prime minister was weeping on television, begging for a ceasefire, when the British and American Governments alone in the world were refusing and indeed blocking any attempts to demand an immediate ceasefire of the Israeli bombardment, worse, she wasnt much help to the Government or the people of the Lebanon when British airports were being used for the trans shippment of American weapons to Israel that were raining down death and destruction on the very people of Lebanon she now says she stands beside.  But of course that was code for saying she does not support the million demonstators in the square in Beirut who are demanding democracy…. She describes the Government of the Lebanon as a democratic Government….  There is no democratic Government in the Lebanon.  If there was a democracy in Lebanon Hassan Nasrallah would be the president because he would get most votes.  But of course he can’t be the president, because you have to be a Christian to be the president, and you have to be a Sunni to be the prime minister, and you have to be a Shite to be the speaker.  Its precisely the opposite of democracy they have in Lebanon.  Its a sectarian building block government they have in the Lebanon, and more over its one that is based on a census more  than 50 years out-of-date [Religious communities shared power based on population size which has changed drastically since the origional census].  If the million demonstrators had been in the Ukrane or Bellarus or Georgia they’d be being described as the Orange Revolution or some other epiphet, perhaps the Cedar Revolution even.”  George Galloway

Its interesting to look at the British Embassy website in Lebanon.  Its guilty of the same thing as the Foreign Secretary –

The purpose of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office is to work for the United Kingdom’s interests in a safe, just and prosperous world.

The Embassy works for those aims in Lebanon.

The UK supported the bombing of Lebanon to its total destruction for the kidnapping of two soldiers by Hezbollah (Israels stated reason) – thats just, peaceful or promoting prosperity?  If I was Lebanese I’d find this insulting, a good example of terrible UK propaganda….