Spectre of war returns to haunt Lebanon

HAARETZ

Hezbollah-led opposition protesters blocked streets in central Beirut and on the road to the international airport Wednesday to enforce an anti-government labor strike that has turned into a showdown between the militant Shiite group and Western-backed Prime Minister Fuad Saniora.

Thousands of soldiers and police fanned out in the city and on major highways, deploying armored vehicles at intersections. But security forces largely stayed on the sidelines as the protesters blocked roads with burning tires although they were on alert to prevent any confrontation between pro- and anti-government supporters.

The strike was called by labor unions to demand pay raises after they rejected a last-minute government offer as insufficient, but it came against the backdrop of a confrontation between the government and Hezbollah.
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The trouble came as the deep political crisis engulfing Lebanon has worsened economic problems caused by the rising cost of living due to spiraling oil prices and a sharp rise in the euro exchange rate.

But just as the country is divided politically into opposition and
pro-government camps, the unions were split as well on whether to support the strike.

Pro-government political groups and labor unions called on people to ignore the strike, while the opposition urged supporters to take part and join a labor demonstration in Beirut later Wednesday.

To enforce the strike, young opposition activists early Wednesday morning
began pilling tires and setting them on fire on some major highways in
opposition-controlled areas of the city and its southern suburbs.

Trucks brought in dirt and dumped it on the main highway to Beirut
international airport and several nearby intersections to block access. In some areas, old cars or garbage containers were brought to the middle of streets and set afire.

In central Beirut, where an opposition sit-in has paralyzed the commercial heart of the capital since December 2006, black smoke rose from burning tires only a few blocks from Saniora’s office, where the prime minister has been holed up for about a year and a half.

Labor unions at the country’s only airport were taking part in the one-day strike, announcing a six-hour work stoppage starting at midmorning. The strike at the airport was expected to cause the cancelation or delay of 19 incoming and 13 outgoing flights.

The strike was largely confined to Shiite Muslim areas of Beirut and its
southern suburbs where support for Hezbollah is strong. The strike was largely ignored in Sunni Muslim and Christian areas of the city which support the government.

However, many schools were closed because the strike halted buses and
authorities wanted to avoid putting students at risk on the roads because of possible unrest.

Protesters also blocked highways in southern, northern and central areas of the country to deny motorists’ access to Beirut.

Lebanon’s political crisis took a turn for the worse earlier in the week when the government decided to confront the powerful Hezbollah.

The Cabinet on Tuesday decided to remove Beirut airport’s security chief over alleged ties to Hezbollah. The government also declared that a
telecommunications network used by Hezbollah for military purposes was illegal and a danger to state security.

Hezbollah and Shiite political and religious leaders rejected the government’s decisions. Shiite ministers have been boycotting Cabinet meetings since 2006.

Hezbollah is listed as a terrorist group by the United States and fought Israel in the 2006 war. It has wide support among Shiites in Lebanon, but its backing among the rest of the population has been declining because of its opposition to the government and Shiite-Sunni tensions.

The government maintains the armed group cannot set up a state-within-a-state, while Hezbollah accuses Saniora and his supporters of colluding with the United States in trying to crack down on the guerrilla group and disarm it.

Lebanon’s top prosecutor began investigating allegations that Hezbollah set up cameras near the airport in the Hezbollah strongholds of south Beirut to monitor the movement of anti-Syrian Lebanese politicians and foreign dignitaries.

The allegations were made by anti-Syrian, pro-government leader Walid Jumblatt, who has accused Hezbollah of placing the cameras. Jumblatt suggested Hezbollah was planning to bomb aircraft to assassinate senior leaders

May 8, 2008 | 5 Comments »

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5 Comments / 5 Comments

  1. they might have eventually sided with us if they were sure we would do their own housecleaning for them and wipe out the whole of Hizbolla leadership but not until, They hate Hizbolla not less than Israel but will not risk their necks until they are sure of our victory and know what the results will be, they will then condemn us for attacking and defeating other Arabs. In this part of the world You can’t win, at least the hearts and minds, too much hatred. All we want in the end is a quiet Border. Oh and maybe a little more defensive depth like a national border on the Litani River. We could also use the water resources. Lebanon has plenty without the Litani.

  2. yamit: Lebanon is a country destined to be an Iranian outpost controlled entirely by Hezbollah. I don’t know if the Christians, Druze and others have so much disdain for Israel and America that they would rather be part of the Islamic Axis of Evil than form a real alliance with Israel and Western powers to prevent this inevitable outcome.

    During the last war which was provoked entirely by Hezbollah, the Seniora regime also had a chance to fight off Hezbollah with Israel but they sided with Hezbollah. Sometimes stupid leaders in the end get what they deserve.

    America is so confused at the moment that they can’t openly create an alliance with Israel that would obviously wipe out the Hezbollah Nazis in a few days and send them back to Iran from whence they came. It is very sad that America is ashamed of an ally to the point where they would also rather lose Lebanon than be seen with Israel in an alliance that would have some teeth and save the region.

  3. Gary we did sign a peace treaty with lebanom it lasted all of 36 hours before President Jamil was assassinated which ended that Sharonian grand political Move.

  4. It would be nice if the US, the Lebanese and Israel could get together and take this opportunity to wipe out the Hezbollah military and command and control infrastructure throughout Lebanon.

    It makes me sick to see natural allies with common interests such as Lebanon, Israel and the US put politics and perceptions in the “Arab Street” ahead of the vital task of taking Lebanon back from Hezbollah and kicking Iran out once and for all.

    The US is so hell-bent on appeasing the Arab world – an Arab world that laughs at the selfless actions in Iraq (where the US refuses to win by war, puts power into the hands of terrorists and where treasure is being spent in lives and resources without making Iraq and the Arab world pay them back with loyalty and oil money).

    Now is the time for the Fouad Seniora regime to get over its inability to recognize a true ally and get over its anti-Israelism to take on Hezbollah. The fall of Hezbollah will make the entire landscape of the ME much easier and better for all people of the region.

  5. As Rabbi Kahane used to say, “Peace between Jews and Arabs would be wonderful. Meanwhile, I’m waiting for peace between Arabs and Arabs in Lebanon. It’s so wonderful to see them all living together: Hezbollah, and Amal, and whoever else.”
    Hezbollah’s leader Nasrallah announced that he recognizes a symbolic crackdown by th Lebanese government as a declaration of war. The US-propped government of Lebanon which also enjoys tacit support of mainstream Arab regimes, temporarily closed Hezbollah’s TV station for incitement, and fired the security chief of Beirut airport, a notorious venue for smuggling arms from Iran to Hezbollah. Nasrallah vowed to defend his right to bring arms from Iran, though the UN resolution which ended the 2006 war in Lebanon specifically calls for disarming Hezbollah. Of course, the brave peacekeepers tend to ignore that inconvenient clause while Israel screams of Hezbollah’s massive rearmament.
    Israel likely pushes the US Administration to take a tougher stance Hezbollah, and indeed both the US, EU, and the Arab regimes grew irritated by Iran-Syria’s meddling in Lebanon. Every Arab country fears for its own Shiite population which Iran can steer at the next step.