Robert Fisk: Syria denies killing General in car-bomb attack

Published: 13 December 2007

 

So, they assassinated another one yesterday. A general, Francois El-Hajj by name, not known in Europe but a senior officer and the chief of the Lebanese general army staff, whose battle for the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camps earlier this year made him an obvious target for the Syrians, for the Iranians, for the Palestinians, for just about anyone else you care to note.

Although he was an obvious target, the implications for the current army chief and possible future president – General Michel Suleiman – were devastating.

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Robert Fisk: A different venue, but the pious claims and promises are the same

Published: 29 November 2007

 

Haven’t we been here before? Isn’t Annapolis just a repeat of the White House lawn and the Oslo agreement, a series of pious claims and promises in which two weak men, Messrs Abbas and Olmert, even use the same words of Oslo.

“It is time for the cycle of blood, violence and occupation to end,” the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Tuesday. But don’t I remember Yitzhak Rabin saying on the White House lawn that, “it is time for the cycle of blood… to end”?

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Robert Fisk: Darkness falls on the Middle East

In Beirut, people are moving out of their homes, just as they have in Baghdad
Published: 24 November 2007

 

So where do we go from here? I am talking into blackness because there is no electricity in Beirut. And everyone, of course, is frightened. A president was supposed to be elected today. He was not elected. The corniche outside my home is empty. No one wants to walk beside the sea.

When I went to get my usual breakfast cheese manouche there were no other guests in the café. We are all afraid. My driver, Abed, who has loyally travelled with me across all the war zones of Lebanon, is frightened to drive by night. I was supposed to go to Rome yesterday. I spared him the journey to the airport.

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Robert Fisk: Secret armies pose sinister new threat to Lebanon

Lebanon is peopled with ghosts. But the phantoms now returning to haunt this damaged country –the militias which tore it apart more than 30 years ago – are real. Guns are flooding back into the country – $800 for an AK-47, $3,700 for a brand-new French Famas – as Lebanon security apparatus hunt desperately for the leadership of the new and secret armies.

Only last week, they arrested two followers of ex-General Michel Aoun – the pro-Hezbollah opposition’s apparent candidate for president – for allegedly training pro-Aounist gunmen. After themselves being accused of acting like a militia for arresting Dario Kodeih and Elie Abi Younes, the Lebanese Internal Security Force issued a photograph of Christian gunmen holding AK-47 and M-16 rifles. Aoun’s party replied quaintly that “they were just out having fun with real weapons but were not undergoing any military training”. Fun indeed.

What now worries the Lebanese authorities, however, is the sheer scale of weaponry arriving in Lebanon. It appears to include new Glock pistols (asking price $1,000). There are growing fears, moreover, that many of these guns are from the vast stock of 190,000 rifles and pistols which the US military “lost” when they handed them out to Iraqi police officers without registering their numbers or destination. The American weapons included 125,000 Glock pistols. The Lebanese-Iraqi connection is anyway well established. A growing number of suicide bombers in Iraq come from the Lebanese cities of Tripoli and Sidon.

Fouad Siniora’s Lebanese government – supplied by the US with recent shipments of new weapons for the official Lebanese army – has now admitted that militias are also being created among Muslim pro-government groups. Widespread reports that Saad Hariri – son of the assassinated ex-Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri – has himself created an embryo militia have been officially denied. But a number of armed Hariri supporters initially opened fire into the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian camp after its takeover by pro-Al-Qaida gunmen last April. Hariri’s men also have forces in Beirut (supposedly unarmed) and again this is denied. Those who suspect the opposite, however, might like to check the register of the Mayflower Hotel in the western sector of Beirut.

The Fatah Al-Islam rebels who took over Nahr el-Bared last April – 400 died in the 206-day siege by the army, 168 of them soldiers – also used new weapons, including sniper rifles. In a gloomy ceremony last week, the military buried 98 of the 222 Muslim fighters who died, in a mass grave in Tripoli. They included Palestinians but also men from Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Yemen, Tunis and Algeria.

Among the militants of Fatah Al -Islam still sought by Lebanese authorities are three Russians – “Abu Abdullah”, Tamour Vladimir Khoskov and Aslan Eric Yimkojayev – all believed to be from the former Soviet Muslim republics. A fourth Russian citizen, Sergei Vladimir Fisotsk, is in custody in Beirut. Along with three Palestinians member of Fatah Al-Islam, he faces a possible death sentence.

Siniora’s government is well aware of the dangers that these new developments represent – “such a situation could lead to a new civil war”, one minister said of the military training taking place in Lebanon – in a country in which only the Hezbollah militia, classed as a “resistance” movement, hitherto had permission to bear arms. But Hezbollah too has been re-arming; not only with rockets but with small arms that could only be used in street fighting. Aoun’s supporters were allegedly practising with weapons near the town of Byblos north of Beirut but there are reports of further training in the Bekaa Valley.

Military outposts manned by Palestinian gunmen loyal to Syria have reappeared in the Bekaa, closely watched by a Lebanese army which was severely blooded in the Nahr El-Bared fighting. Sayed Mohamed Hussein Fadlallah, one of the most senior – and wisest – Shi’ite clerics in Lebanon, warned last Friday: “Rearming as well as the tense and sectarianism-loaded political rhetoric, all threaten Lebanon’s diversity and expose Lebanon to divisions.” Fadlallah stated that the US – which supports Hariri – wished to divide the country. The American plan to chop up Iraq, it seems, is another ghost that has crept silently into Lebanon.

Robert Fisk on Media Distortion of Hizbollah and the situation in Lebanon

 Two separate but excellent short videos

Robert Fisk: Beirut to Bosnia (documentary film)

I can’t recommend this series more highly. When I saw Fisk speak about his new book in Glasgow (2005) he used clips from it very effectively. While viewing horrible crimes committed against Muslims in the 90’s he asks (paraphrasing) “What have the Muslims got in store for us? Watchout!”

Why have so many Muslims come to hate the West? In this controversial three-part series filmed in Lebanon, Gaza, Israel, Egypt, and Bosnia, Robert Fisk—award-winning Middle East and Balkans correspondent for the London Independent—reports on Muslim unrest as ideology, religion, history, and geography come into conflict. Contains strong imagery. A Discovery Channel Production. 3-part series, 52 minutes each.
The Martyr’s Smile 

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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