Thursday, December 29, 2005

A Year of Major Events

For years to come, the people of Lebanon will remember 2005 as the year of major and unexpected events. Hardly anyone thought that during this year the Syrian army will leave Lebanon or that former Prime Minister Michel Aoun will return from exile or that Lebanese Forces commander Samir Geagea will be freed from jail. It was the same year that witnessed dark and bloody events such as the assassination of Former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri as well as other politicians and journalists. 2005 was a bloody year for me from the first day. I was in Iraq where I had to cover explosions, suicide attacks and shootings that left dozens, if not hundreds, of people dead in January. Few days after the January 30 elections in Iraq I returned to Lebanon hoping to have some rest after nearly two months of hectic work in Iraq. I thought Lebanon would be violence-free after Iraq but it was not. On February 14, a day before when I was supposed to go on a two-week vacation to Egypt, I heard a massive explosion as I walked near Beirut's Bliss Street. I ran all the way to the scene of the explosion in front of the Saint Georges Hotel where former Prime Minister Hariri was killed along with more than 20 people and covered the story. Hariri's murder was for sure Lebanon's equivalent of America's September 11 since the events that followed changed the track that the country had followed since the civil war ended in 1990. In March I went to Damascus and covered President Bashar Assad's speech at the Syrian parliament in which he declared that the troops will withdraw from Lebanon. Many Syrians told me while there that they felt betrayed by the Lebanese since their army was in the country to keep the country in peace and prevent Lebanese from fighting each other. Some said they were going to withdraw their money from Lebanese banks in protest. Massive anti-Syrian demonstrations followed Hariri's killing and the Syrian army was out of Lebanon on April 26. In May I went to Iraq for three weeks and came back the same month to cover the parliamentary elections that gave anti-Syrian candidates majority seats in the 128-member Council of Representatives. I was in Iraq when General Michel Aoun returned from France. In June well-known journalist Samir Kassir was killed in an explosion in his car, followed by former leader of the Lebanese Communist Party George Hawi. In the summer, Samir Geagea was released and went to Europe immediately before returning weeks later. In August Defense Minister Elias Murr was wounded in a car bomb while four of the country's most powerful pro-Syrian generals were detained in Prime Minister Hariri's case and are still in custody. In September I was in New York watching CNN when they had breaking news from Lebanon saying that famous television newswoman May Chidiac was seriously wounded by a bomb in her car. As 2006 got closer, outspoken anti-Syrian journalist Gibran Tueni was killed in a bombing on December 12, a day after he returned from France. His killing shocked everyone in the country. Few days before Christmas I returned to Lebanon from Iraq and was happy to see that the airport is full of people who are coming the spend their vacation in Lebanon but few days later I found that Lebanese are worried about further explosions. Many Lebanese accuse Syria of being behind the explosions and until this day the Syrians strongly deny any involvement. President Assad told Turkish Television this week that his country is not involved in any of the killings.
As 2006 approaches, we hope that the new year will be violence-free in our beautiful country.
Bassem Mroue
Beirut December. 29, 2005 2 a.m.

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