Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Siege Continues

The New York Times doesn't seem to think that the continuing siege of the legitimate government in Lebanon by Hizbullah warrants above the fold consideration. Indeed, the actual news piece is subservient to an arts and leisure angle a notable Lebanese singer who went ahead with her performances despite the upheaval in the political realm. Is the paper that dense? [hint: yes!]

Reuters is not much better, having assumed Hizbullah's framing of the issues and terminology. A quick hit on the article and you would have no idea that Hizbullah is an Islamic terrorist group dedicated to Israel's destruction, has murdered US and French peacekeepers in the past, that support for the Lebanese government under Siniora isn't confined to the US or the West, and that Hizbullah's 34-day war with Israel devastated much of South Lebanon. Instead, we get a slightly whitewashed version:
Lebanon's political crisis showed no sign of easing on Sunday, with the pro-Syrian opposition pressing on with its protest campaign to topple the Western-backed government.

Thousands of protesters from Hezbollah and its allies spent a second night in a tent city in central Beirut, within earshot of the office-turned-residence of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

"We are not letting them (ministers) sleep, we're disturbing them with our noise. We have the resilience to stay not for one month, but a year or two," said Ahmed Kayello, 20, from south Lebanon, sitting on a grassy slope.
And even though the opening paragraph says that the Siniora government is western backed, if you read down, you'll note this curious tidbit:
Siniora, who has vowed he would not be forced out by the protests, has won expressions of support from Arab and Western governments, including the United States, Britain and Germany.
So, it's not just Western governments, but indeed most governments around the world. The only ones who oppose the Siniora government? Syria and Iran. Abu Kais has yet another insightful posting at Totten on the complex political situation and what the March 14 group needs to do to deal with Hizbullah and their ostensible coup.'

It's interesting that this report notes that thousands of pro-Syrian demonstrators joined up with the Hizbullah thugs camped out in front of the government buildings.
Thousands of pro-Syrian protestors joined some 5,000 people holding a sit-in in downtown Beirut Sunday in what they described as a 'popular movement to overthrow the anti-Syrian government' of Premier Fouad Seniora.

Meanwhile, Seniora was taking part in prayers for assassinated anti-Syrian cabinet minister Pierre Gemayel.

A mass was held inside the governmental palace, where the offices of Seniora are located and where all the anti-Syrian ministers have taken refuge following the assassination of Gemayel on November 21.

The service was attended by Seniora, several cabinet ministers and deputies from the anti-Syrian parliament majority and members of Gemayel's family.

Gemayel, the son of former president Amin Gemayel, was the sixth critic of Syria to be assassinated in Lebanon over the past two years.

Thousands of opposition protesters led by the Shiite militant group Hezbollah have been holding an open-ended rally since Friday near the governmental building. The protests are aimed at toppling the anti-Syrian government.

How long will it be before Hizbullah's true colors start showing outside the government buildings?

This is what passes for deep penetrating news analysis in big media? MSNBC and the Washington Post came up with this? Are you kidding me?
Long divided by the Christian east and largely Muslim west of its 15-year civil war, Beirut is a city snarled today by far more numerous boundaries of sect, perspective and ideology, intersecting and tangling across a capital and country wrestling with a question still unanswered since independence more than 60 years ago: What is Lebanon's identity?

In today's crisis, those fault lines tell the story of the struggle underway between the country's two camps, divided by past and present, with vastly different visions of Lebanon's future: on one side Hezbollah, supported by Iran and Syria, and on the other the government, backed by the United States and France. The fault lines tell, too, of an impasse that perhaps can't be broken.

The borders are drawn by color, flag, portrait and symbol, a claustrophobic contest to lay claim to identity never solely Lebanese. They are defined by ideology: the culture of resistance to Israel celebrated by the Shiite Muslim movement of Hezbollah, for instance, or the Christian separatism of civil war-era militias with fascist roots. They follow the contours of leaders who command loyalty through personality over politics. And they offer protection in a country where survival can feel precarious.
The article completely ignores the 34-day war that Hizbullah initiated in unilaterally deciding to attack Israel. Israel's response caused billions of dollars in damage to Lebanon, but Hizbullah could care less - it's intentions were to carry out its mission statement of the annihilation of Israel. Hizbullah does not care about the welfare of the Lebanese people who are simply pawns and cannon fodder for media play.

Never mind that the ideological barriers are not simply the West versus Iran and Syria. It is the world versus Iran and Syria as Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, have backed the Siniora government. If the media would only scratch the surface just a little bit, we'd know exactly who is behind the current conflict and what their endgame is.

The Syrians and Iranians want to expand their sphere of influence. They are playing the time tested game of power politics and realpolitik. They've seen the weakness of the West to stand up to a constant onslaught of terrorism and subterfuge. They've exploited divisions between the US and France, the US and Russia and China, and the UN to further their agenda.

Within Lebanon itself, Hizbullah is exploiting the fault lines even more overtly. Hizbullah is the best organized and best armed group in the country. Hizbullah has essentially carved out a fiefdom in South Lebanon all to its own. It dominated large parts of Beirut and the Beka'a Valley. That it has done so is in direct violation of UN SCR 1701, 1559, 425, and 426 - all of which require the disarmament of all militias within Lebanon and the assurance of Lebanon's territorial integrity.

No one has stood up to Hizbullah and forced them to disarm - not the Lebanese government and not the UN. When Israel fought with Hizbullah, there was a faint hope that Israel might have damaged enough of Hizbullah's operations to give the Lebanese and UNIFIL the wherewithal to disarm the terrorist group. Instead, they dithered and have chosen not to confront Hizbullah.

Hizbullah, and its backers in Damascus and Tehran, have taken note with smug glee. Their plans to exploit the West's weakness and reluctance to support Lebanon with more than words have not been derailed after all.

Abu Kais has updates on the situation in Beirut. The majority of the Lebanese parliament supports the Siniora government, as does the world excepting Syria and Iran, yet Hizbullah thugs are wading into dangerous territory:
Hizbullah, Aoun and Syria's parties are overstaying their welcome. The patience of Beirut citizens and Lebanese from the opposing camp is wearing thin.

LBC is reporting riots involving Sunnis and Shias in the neighborhood of Qasqas as I type this. The Lebanese army has intervened. (Update: The clashes were reportedly between a Hizbullah convoy passing through the area and Sunni residents)

Yesterday, around 300 Hizbullah members reportedly chased a man who hurled insults at Hassan Nasrallah and then fled towards nearby Ashrafieh. The Lebanese army stopped the advance of the militia on the Christian neighborhood and arrested the individual, who turned out to be a Syrian citizen by the name of Hamzah Mohamad Sadeq Ismail. Al-Mustaqbal described this as a Syrian intelligence attempt to create clashes, although one wonders what Hizbullah was thinking by sending 300 members to a Christian neighborhood boiling with rage.
Across the Bay finds that Michel Aoun has never found a war that he didn't find could be enhanced by his presence. Aoun is a wildcard in this whole mess, but he's acting as an opportunist piggybacking on the insanity Hizbullah and its backers in Damascus and Tehran are prepared to inflict on Lebanon.

No sooner had I pressed publish, did I notice that Rick Moran had posted a considerable piece on the situation in Beirut. One of those clashes between Sunni and Shi'ite resulted in one dead and 10 injured. Moran thinks that Berri may be the lynchpin in averting a civil war; Berri has no interest in seeing Hizbullah pull the country into a civil war but his pro-Syrian bent will not make friends among the March 14ers.

Also, Hizbullah is not likely to be a patient bunch. Do they have the capacity to see this through despite their claims that they're going to remain encamped in large numbers until Siniora's government falls.

Lebanon is twisting in the breeze, and MSNBC and CNN don't think the story is worthy of above-the-fold coverage. A potential civil war is brewing and neither thinks this significant. Neither thinks to provide anything more than cursory wire reports that provide little more than Hizbullah media releases (as noted above).

Others blogging the Lebanese crisis: Hot Air and Gateway Pundit have regular updates and Beirut Spring notes activity is taking shape elsewhere in Lebanon - Tripoli for example.

The yellow Hizbullah flags are starting to make their appearances at the siege in front of the government buildings in larger number. Whereas the Hizbullah thugs were more circumspect only a day or two ago, now, they're more willing to show their colors.

The Daily Star reports the death of one person as a failure of leaders on both sides to rein in their supporters.
Ahmed Ali Mahmoud, 20 and believed to be a supporter of the Amal Movement, was shot during the Qasqas incident. It was not clear where the gunfire came from, the officials said. He died before reaching hospital.

The clash started when a group of Hizbullah supporters were returning from central Beirut's and passed through the neighborhood, heavy with late Premier Rafik Hariri's Future Movement supporters.

A high-ranking Lebanese Army said the two sides threw stones at each other before shots were fired. Four other people were hurt in the clash.

The official said the army "intervened to stop the clashes from escalating."

As per stories told from both sides, convoys of cars and mopeds from both the opposition and pro-government parties had been provoking each other throughout the day.
Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa is trying to keep Lebanon from being torn apart by violence. Yet, it was this from Syria that caught my attention:
In Syria's first official reaction to the street protests in Beirut, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad on Sunday backed the opposition's campaign to bring down the current Lebanese government.

"Syria supports the Lebanese people and its national forces who confronted the Israeli aggression with heroism," he said, referring to the July-August war with Israel.
Syria is clearly throwing its support behind Hizbullah and despite other countries calling on the cessation of foreign interference in Lebanese affairs (that means you Syria and Iran), Syria is clearly influencing matters.

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