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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Blast kills Lebanon army general

Soldier near bomb damaged vehicles

The blast damaged buildings and vehicles over a wide area


Scene of blast

The Lebanese army’s chief of operations, General Francois al-Hajj, has been killed in a bomb attack. Three other people also died in the blast in the Christian town of Baabda, close to the presidential palace, on the outskirts of the capital Beirut.

Gen Hajj had been tipped to become army chief if Gen Michel Suleiman is made president to remedy a political crisis.

Parliament has failed to elect a president and the opposition refuses to recognise the elected government.

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What’s next for Nahr al-Bared

Jamal Ghosn, Electronic Lebanon, Sep 6, 2007

A young refugee from Nahr al-Bared fills up water in the Baddawi refugee camp, August 2007. (Razan Ghazzawi)

Victory celebrations are dominating the Lebanese airwaves for the foreseeable future and presidential election “campaigns” here are in full swing. The issue of reconstructing the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp will never see the light of day in any of the Lebanese media outlets, whether pro-government or opposition — just like the humanitarian crisis at Baddawi refugee camp has failed to capture any front page headlines over the past three months. The sole exception being when the disgruntled double-refugees attempted to return home, only to find themselves accused of attacking the Lebanese army. Shots from unidentified sources resulted in the death of three returning Palestinian refugees. Apparently human suffering with no potential political gain is not newsworthy.

Living conditions in the Palestinian refugee camps have never been easy. Lack of basic amenities, sub-par health care, and overcrowded schools are the common denominators between all the camps on Lebanese territory. None of the densely populated camps are in a condition to host a sudden influx of tens of thousands of twice-displaced refugees. Naturally, the overflowing Baddawi will not be a viable home for the Nahr al-Bared residents who will move back to their homes (reconstructed or not). The skeletons of buildings will be patched up, most likely by the refugees themselves with the help of the handful of activists that still care about the plight of Palestinians. These death-infested, bomb-riddled structures will make for a more dignified living than the pre-fabricated cardboard boxes, designed for nuclear families rather than traditional Palestinian extended ones, that have surfaced as alternative homes courtesy of some generous donors. Of course, the sea-front strip of the camp will be kept off-limits by the Lebanese army for questionable future development.

Hopes for real aid materializing from the Lebanese or other Arab governments for the reconstruction of Nahr al-Bared are delusional. The precedent was set by the snail-paced reconstruction of south Lebanon following the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon. And unlike the residents of south Lebanon, the Palestinian refugees do not enjoy the strong political backing of any major Lebanese or regional power. No propaganda machines will be mobilized for their sake. History shows that media coverage of the camps only occurs when it means casting Palestinians in a negative light. Never has a media campaign been dedicated to addressing the cyclical victimhood of the residents of the camps. They are on their own and at the mercy of often failed, albeit generous, promises.

Sadly, the repopulation without proper reconstruction of Nahr al-Bared would not lead to standards of living much different than those in Ein al-Hilwe or Sabra. The lack of utilities and infrastructure will not be missed much as the residents of Nahr al-Bared faced the same problems even before the birth of Fatah al-Islam and the destruction of the camp. Over the years, Palestinian refugee camps have been decked with a constant dose of heavy artillery of Lebanese government, Arab, and international neglect. Neglect as ravaging as the half-ton bombs airlifted from the US and other third-party allies like Jordan to be dropped on Nahr al-Bared. The attention given to Nahr al-Bared will rapidly wane, and as always none of the humanitarian or political issues associated with the Palestinian camps will be addressed. Meanwhile, a new generation of Palestinians can now claim their own painful memories of the ongoing struggle for existence. The refugees from Nahr al-Bared and elsewhere are left, until further notice, with only hopes and prayers that the next incident involving one of their camps will not be as bloody and devastating as previous episodes.

Jamal Ghosn is a 28-year-old strategy consultant from Beirut. He has covered Lebanese affairs on his blog for over two years.

The worst threat ever faced by the Lebanese?

Fatah Al-Islam the worst threat ever faced by the Lebanese? I hardly think so. Why is he making them such a big deal? To justify the senseless killing of at least 42 civilians (probably more), misery of thousands of refugees and destruction of a camp perhaps? You know a crime has taken place when exaggerated claims like this are used to justify the attack.

Lebanese troops killed at least 222 Islamist militants in three months of fighting at a refugee camp in northern Lebanon, the defence minister says.

Elias Murr said 202 militants from the Fatah al-Islam group were captured since fighting erupted in May.

A number have been charged with murder and terrorist offences.

The Lebanese army finally took control of Nahr al-Bared camp on Sunday. At least 160 soldiers died in Lebanon’s worst internal violence since 1990.

At least 42 civilians were also killed in the fierce fighting, bringing the death toll to more than 400.

Mr Murr added that “an undetermined number” of Fatah al-Islam members were buried in mass graves in the camp by their comrades.

“This victory allowed us to put an end to the worst threat ever faced by the Lebanese,” he said.

“Fatah al-Islam could have spread throughout the country like cancerous cells.”

On Monday, there was a brief eruption of gunfire and explosions near the eastern edge of Nahr al-Bared as army units patrolled through the camp in search for remnants of Fatah al-Islam.

BBC News

“Army torturing Palestinian refugees”

Anand Gopal and Saseen Kawzally, Electronic Lebanon, Aug 14, 2007

BADDAWI REFUGEE CAMP, Northern Lebanon, 13 August (IPS) – Palestinians displaced by the fighting at the northern Lebanese refugee camp Nahr al-Bared have accused the Lebanese army of torturing and abusing civilians.

As the fighting between the Sunni Islamist group Fatah al-Islam and the Lebanese army enters its 12th week, thousands of Nahr al-Bared residents have sought refuge in the nearby Baddawi camp. Many give detailed descriptions of days spent in detention under harsh interrogation.

Fadi Wahbi, 36, told IPS that he was detained for questioning by the Lebanese army as he fled Nahr al-Bared with family members. He was held for two days at the nearby Kobbeh military base and then transported, along with other young and middle-aged men who fled the fighting, to what he believes was the Ministry of Defense in Beirut.

There Wahbi’s long ordeal began. Prison officials accused him of belonging to Fatah al-Islam, and kept him blindfolded in a crowded prison cell for eight days with scores of others similarly accused. When he insisted on his innocence, they began to beat him.

“Every time I said that I was not lying, they struck a blow,” he recalled. “I did not know where the blows were coming from. I spent most of the eight days blindfolded and without sleep.” Prison authorities also tortured Wahbi, twisting his extremities almost to the point where he lost consciousness. Later he said he was forced to stand in excruciating positions for days.

“I expected it to last an hour or two, but they kept me standing, handcuffed behind my back, blindfolded, for 36 hours,” he said. “Every two or three hours I would fall to the floor. As soon as I hit the floor, someone would beat me up against the wall. It happened five or six times. Then I started to like falling, because it meant I could rest my legs. It was so painful that I preferred to fall and rest for a few seconds, even if that meant being beaten.”

Dozens of Palestinians were kept in a single room, without space to sleep and unable to communicate with each other.

“We were never allowed to stretch our legs. We slept handcuffed, sitting with our backs to the wall and legs bent,” he said. “If you stretched your legs, someone was there to kick you on your legs.”

He was eventually sent back to Kobbeh in northern Lebanon, and managed to reach a nearby hospital after his release.

The psychological toll was extreme. Wahbi recalled that “at one point, I was seeing things. Unreal things. One time I imagined a door opening up in the wall that led me to my family. I stood up and ran into the wall. A guard came to me and shouted ‘What are you doing? Are you trying to hurt yourself? You are not allowed to hurt yourself, only we are allowed to hurt you.’ And he started beating me.”

Wahbi’s story mirrors the testimonies of dozens of Palestinians, most of whom are too terrified to speak on the record. Milad Salameh, a nurse at the Shifa’ Clinic in the Baddawi camp, says he has seen more than 30 cases of abuse at the army’s hands.

“Many of the injuries we received,” he told IPS, “were sustained under detention, inside the army detention centers. Many people came with signs of torture, abuse and beatings. We saw signs of electrical shocks as well, and some even reported sexual abuses, such as rape by bottle.”

The Shahed Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, based in Beirut, has documented over 50 cases of torture of Nahr al-Bared residents. Its director, Mahmoud al-Hanafi, told IPS that the army has systematically ignored human rights in its battle with Fatah al-Islam, and called upon both the army and Fatah al-Islam to respect the Fourth Geneva Convention, which governs the treatment of civilians during wartime.

Lebanese army spokesperson Gen. Salah Hajj Suleiman told IPS that “the Lebanese army is a national institution and we abide by the laws of the government. We do not abuse civilians.” He added that “the Lebanese army doesn’t arrest anyone if they have no problems or criminal background.”

Fighting began in late May when Fatah al-Islam, which in the preceding months had established itself in Nahr al-Bared, opened fire on Lebanese security forces. The ensuing battle between the army and the militants has left hundreds dead, and many Palestinians accuse the army of attacking unarmed civilians.

In one incident recounted by displaced locals in Baddawi, and documented by the Shahed centre, Nahr al-Bared resident Nayef Salah Saleh attempted to drive a van with 25 civilians out of the camp. Witnesses claim that army snipers shot and killed Saleh, causing the van to lose control and come to a stop.

When Muntaha Abu Khalil, pregnant four months, opened the door she too fell in a storm of gunfire. The army then surrounded the van and detained many of its occupants, including three children. The children, including Amer Bahij Abdallah, 16, say they were then tortured.

Abdallah recalled that “my face was covered with a black cloth, and I was punched, beaten and given electrical shocks to force me to give information about Fatah al-Islam.” He said he had nothing to do with the group.

Since the fighting in the north began, hundreds of Palestinians claim to have been arrested and beaten at army checkpoints throughout the country. One Palestinian aid worker from Tripoli in Lebanon, who spoke anonymously to IPS, said that “about ten soldiers beat me up at a checkpoint because I was joking with a friend.”

Others, like Ahmad Hazbour, a former Nahr al-Bared resident, claimed that they were beaten and verbally abused at checkpoints and then detained.

The creation of the state of Israel in 1948 displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. Many came to Lebanon, and have lived in the dense, claustrophobic camps there ever since. The refugees are legally considered foreigners and are therefore barred from many basic rights enjoyed by Lebanese citizens, including a right to work (over 70 professions are proscribed). Nor can Palestinians in Lebanon own property or enter into the political process.

“The camp was attacked because we are Palestinian,” said Nahr al-Bared resident Muhammad Naddwi, 23, echoing a sense of discrimination felt by many Palestinians here. The camps have often come under fire from various armies — the Lebanese army destroyed the Nabatiyeh camp in 1973, and many Nahr al-Bared residents are displaced refugees from the Tel al-Zaatar camp, which was destroyed by Christian forces in 1976.

With their home destroyed and the memory of torture and abuse still fresh, many Palestinians from Nahr al-Bared are shaken and without hope.

“Some of them, when they came out of detention, came straight here to the clinic,” nurse Salameh said. “They did not want to talk to anyone or be treated. They just wanted a safe place where they could be on their own, and cry.”

All rights reserved, IPS – Inter Press Service (2007). Total or partial publication, retransmission or sale forbidden.

http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article8941.shtml

URGENT: Aid to Nahr al Bared

05.28.2007 |

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

A growing humanitarian crisis is occurring in North Lebanon at the Palestinian Camp, Nahr Al Bared Camp. Heavy fighting began on Sunday 20 May, with shelling on the camp itself beginning on Tuesday, May 22. According to statistics by UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees in the Near East, approximately 31,000 registered Palestinians live in the camp, although actual statistics, including the unregistered persons are closer to around 35,000.

When the fighting began many civilians remained still in the camps, caught in the cross-fire, and evacuated during a ceasefire and has continued with only sporadic gunfire afterwards. While exact figures are still unknown at this point the number, approximately 25% of the refugees are seeking refuge in UNRWA schools. The majority of families–approximately 75% have sought refuge with other families in the nearby Badawi Palestinian Camp in the North of Lebanon and increasingly refugees are streaming into Palestinian camps in Beirut–Shatila, Mar Elias, and Bourj al Barajneh.

Many civilians were injured and have chronic illnesses and hospitals as well as clinics are running low on medical supplies, as well as there are limited basic necessities for all the IDPs as they fled their camp with just the clothes on their back. The situation is extremely critical and requires additional aid and supplies to prevent a further increase to the already growing humanitarian crisis. Aside from international organizations, such as UNRWA, civil society organizations and grassroots groups–such as professors and students from the American University of Beirut, and the Committee of the Festival of the Right of Return, began immediate operations to gather supplies and take care of IDPs and support hospitals caring for the wounded.

Immediate funds are required to buy the supplies needed for the IDPs. We have adopted 50 families, whom the Nahr al Bared Relief Campaign is taking care of, by purchasing items inside the refugee camps to supply the refugees with the supplies they need (medicine, diapers, kitchen materials, clothing, and hygiene kits). While donations of clothing and other items are welcome, we feel it is important to collect cash donations as the economy of the Badawi refugee camp is already suffering because the NGOs inside the camp are bringing all their aid in from outside. Thus, we are supplying people inside Badawi, Bourj al Barajneh and Shatila camps with goods from their own community.

The Naher Al Bared Relief Campaign is working with Palestinian and grassroots organizations who are on the ground in the camps where people have fled: Badawi, Shatila, Bourj al Barajneh. We are seeking funds to assist us in our relief efforts. We are working as a grassroots organization because 80% of the relief from NGOs, including the Red Cross/Crescent and the UN, are only giving aid to refugees in the UNRWA schools, thus only reaching 25% of the population and no NGOs are on the ground in the camps in Shatila and Bourj al Barajneh as of yet. Thus far we have given food aid, medicine, hygiene kits, diapers, and baby formula to Nahr al Bared refugees who are internally displaced in four refugee camps in Lebanon. We have adopted 50 families in Shatila whom we will care for, in cooperation with Palestinian NGOs and political parties inside the camp, and we are seeking to raise $1500 per day to take care of these families. There are many more in need, and we will include more families depending on our fundraising; please consider giving us anywhere from $100 to $1000 to help support our efforts.

For more information about our project please visit:
http://nahrelbareddonations.blogspot.com/

To donate funds here are the details:

Donation Account Details For tax-deductible donations to the Nahr el Bared Relief Campaign please use the following account:

AUB Office of Development

https://rtf.aub.edu.lb/

Please make sure to specify that your donation is going to the Nahr el Bared refugees.

To contact us:

Rami Zurayk: Professor at the American University of Beirut Mobile: +961.3.733.227 rzurayk@aub.edu.lb

Rania Masri: Professor at the University of Balamand Mobile: +961.3.135.279 rania.masri@balamand.edu.lb

Marcy Newman: Professor at the American University of Beirut Mobile: +961.3.977.812 marcynewman@gmail.com

Source: Norman Finkelstein

Electronic Lebanon: Shatila & Press Freedom

None of the people I spoke to in Shatila expressed any sympathy with Fateh al-Islam; they just showed concern and anger at the way the Lebanese Army is shelling the camp and destroying the houses of the people.

Nadia says that her cousin said seventy percent of his neighborhood in the camp is totally destroyed. “Maybe it is all leveled now.” Nadia, as everybody else in the camp, feels that the Palestinians are paying a price for a fight that has nothing to do with them. It is not a Palestinian group, not a group fighting for the Palestinian or refugee cause, they just were operating from the camp. As for why they had come there, most of the people have the same answer: they always referred to the unbearable conditions of the refugees in the camp, a fact that made them subject to all sorts of exploitation.

If Shatila residents are pretty sure of their disconnection with Fateh al-Islam, they are pretty sure too that something is awaiting them, something that does not look good.

Electronic Lebanon: Solidarity in Shatila

The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned that journalists have been prevented since Monday from entering a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon during clashes between Islamist militants and the Lebanese Army.

….

Journalists told CPJ that they suspected the army was also attempting to hinder coverage of the humanitarian crisis inside the camp where, according to news reports, more than a dozen civilians were killed and 12,000 refugees forced to flee the camp.

….

Attacks against journalists were also reported. Al-Akhbar photographer Wael al-Ladifi, Al-Balad photographer Asad Ahmad, Agence France-Presse photographer Ramzy Haidar, and Al-Alam cameraman Ali Tahimi said they were beaten by members of the Lebanese Army on Thursday.

….

In related news, television crews from three different stations came under attack from civilians while covering the aftermath of a bomb blast in the mountainous town of Aley, east of Beirut on Wednesday night.

Electronic Lebanon: Lebanese Army imposes restrictions on coverage of camp siege