Saturday, August 26, 2006

Olmert Seems To Be Going To Lose His Job

The war in Lebanon appear to be going to cost Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert his job. Most Israelis are not happy with the results of the 34-day war that did not achieve its main goals of returning two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah on July 12 as well as destroying the militant Lebanese group.
Army Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said this week he is willing to take responsibility for the war. He added that there will be an investigation.
In Lebanon, European countries have promised to send more than half the 15,000-member peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon after France and Italy alone said they will send 5,000 troops. The Lebanese government welcomed the European step.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Will Israel Attack Iran's Nuclear Facilities?

Will Israel hit Iran's nuclear facilities on its own? The Jerusalem Post has a story on the issue and quotes a "senior source" as saying that if the United States is to take action it wont be until the spring or summer of 2008, few months before presidential elections.
This means that Israel might repeat what it did to Iraq's Tamouz nuclear reactor in 1981 that was bombed while under construction.

Bassem Mroue
Beirut August 24, 2006.
8:45 p.m.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Israel Releases Hassan Nasrallah

Three weeks after capturing him along with four other men near Baalbek, Israel released Monday Hassan Deeb Nasrallah and his colleagues who arrived home late in the day. The released man carries the same name of the Hezbollah leader but the middle name differs.
From the first day of the August 2, capture in a commando operation, Israel had been saying that the five were Hezbollah members, a claim that the group kept denying.
After the release of the five, one of the men, Bilal Nasrallah, said the Israelis thought he was the son of Hezbollah's leader.
The raid to capture the five left 19 people dead.
As-safir interviewed the men after they returned home.
Bassem Mroue
Beirut Aug. 22, 2006
11 a.m.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Will The Latest Israel-Hezbollah War Lead To Peace?

The 1973 Arab-Israeli war lead few years later to peace between Israel and Egypt. The 1991 Gulf War was followed months later by the Madrid peace conference. In 1993, the Palestinians signed a peace agreement with Israel and Jordan became the second Arab country to sign a peace treaty with the Jewish state a year later.
The question today is whether the 34-day war between Israel and Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group will lead to a peace agreement in the near future.
Less than a week before hostilities ended, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are planning to put forward a peace plan to the U.N. next month.
At the same time, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni appointed Yakov Dayan to be a "project manager" for possible peace talks with Syria.
Peace talks between Syria, Lebanon and Israel have been stalled for six years.
In 1993, just after the Oslo agreement was signed I was chatting with a colleague in Cyprus about the future of the Middle East and we were both wondering how the region will look like 10 years later. We thought the future will be better and that decades of war were coming to an end and the people of the region will start living an era of stability.
We were wrong. Thousands of people have been killed since then.
Lets hope that the future is better this time.
Bassem Mroue
Beirut August 20, 2006
10:30 p.m.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Last Three Days of the War

I wrote last week about the deadly battles between Israeli troops and Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon in the last three days before the cease fire went into force.
The Israeli army was trying to reach the Litani River before the cease fire was in force and they were not able to achieve this goal by Monday. Hezbollah then said that they had destroyed about a two dozen Israeli Merkavas, a claim that Israel denied.
Nehemia Shtrasler wrote an article about what happened in the 72 hours before the cease fire in an article published today in Haaretz, "Three terrible days."
Also today, Israeli commandos landed deep in eastern Lebanon and clashed with Hezbollah guerrillas. One Israeli officer was killed and two were wounded while Lebanese security officials said three Hezbollah members were killed. The group denied any of its members died.
Television footage showed blood in a fields around the village of Buddai as well as equipment left behind by Israeli troops.
The Israeli military said the operation, the first military act since Monday's cease fire, aimed to prevent armed deliveries from Syria while Lebanese officials said it was after a senior Hezbollah official.
As I was doing some shopping this morning, the grocer did not seem optimistic about the future. A woman came carrying a jar of mustard and asked him when does it expire. He looked at it and said December 2006.
"It is long enough and we will be lucky if we survive until then," the man said with a smile.
The woman bought it.
Bassem Mroue
Beirut August 19, 2006
5:30 p.m

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Lebanese Army In The South At Last

After years of waiting, thousands of southern Lebanese went out to the streets of their towns and villages to welcome their national army with traditional dancing, flowers and the Arab welcome gesture of throwing rice. It has been a moment that most the people have been waiting for decades.
The army reached Thursday the barbed wire on the Lebanon-Israel border and the deployment of the 15,000 troops was to continue for days. The troops are to be backed by thousands of U.N. peacekeepers in the next few weeks.
Four days after the cease fire went into force, life was going back to normal in Beirut with people going out during the day and rubble was being removed from heavily damaged areas so that reconstruction can begin.
Still when I drive around the capital at night all the memories of the 1975-90 war come back to me especially because the roads at night are almost empty and dark due to electricity cuts. But now that fuel tankers have entered ports, hopefully electricity will come back 24 hours a day, the airport will be active like before and businesses will reopen as usually.
Life will get better day after day.
In politics, now that the 34-day war ended, it seems that the problems are beginning to rise in Lebanon and Israel. Hezbollah as well as Israel's politicians and army chief of staff are being criticized.
Anti-Syrian politicians Walid Jumblatt and Saad Hariri criticized Hezbollah saying that only a strong state should be responsible for the protection of its people. Jumblatt asked where is the state if Hassan Nasrallah behaves the way he wants.
Hezbollah's reaction came through Al-Manar television that started its main news broadcast by saying, without naming any politician, "some are settling accounts with the resistance." It also said that what is going on "is a coup against the victory."
In Israel, the popularity of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz is dropping and Chief of Staff Dan Halutz is being widely criticized for selling stocks shortly before the war started in July.
As days pass we will see more and more leaders being criticized on both sides especially when they both say they won war. Those who did not win this war for sure are the people who lost their lives, peace be upon souls.
By Bassem Mroue
Beirut, August 18, 2006
1:00 p.m.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Lebanon After Cease Fire

Only an hour after the cease fire went into force at 8 a.m. today, thousands of Lebanese started their march back to their homes in southern Lebanon, Beirut's southern suburbs and the Bekaa.
They were all happy even though many feared that they will not find their homes the way they left them. Israeli bombings not only killed more than 1,000 Lebanese and wounded thousands others but also destroyed many villages around the country as well as large parts of Beirut' southern suburb that is the home for about half a million people.
Now that the war has ended, other problems will surface especially that Ramadan is a month a way, schools should begin early September and winter is coming.
People who went back Monday were defiant and many of them said that Israel's bombing only made them respect and love Hezbollah and its leader more and more.
This was not the first time that large parts of Lebanon were destroyed but as it was rebuilt in the past it will again. Homes, bridges, power stations, airports and ports can be rebuilt but what breaks the heart are those who lost their lives, became handicap or turned orphans by the war.
When Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert launched the wide war under the pretext of the capturing of two Israeli soldiers on the border, it was clear to many here that Israel is not going to win this war despite having the strongest army in the Middle East.
Most Lebanese who were in the country during the previous Lebanon-Israel wars know well that Israel made the mistake in 1982 but officials seem not to learn that Lebanon can always become a quagmire.
Now that the war has ended, what happened in the Israeli parliament this afternoon tells the story of what a bad decision it was to attack Lebanon. Israeli politicians are saying that Olmert's government did not achieve its goals.
Olmert claimed that he launched the war to win the unconditional release of the two soldiers. Today, 34 days after the war began, Israel wants to negotiate a prisoners exchange with Hezbollah.
No one in Lebanon believed that the war was launched because of the soldiers but its main aim was to destroy Hezbollah, a matter that also ended with a failure.
Now that there is a cease fire and hostilities have stopped, everyone hopes that war is over for good.
After 58 years of violence in the Middle East, war has proven not to be the solution.
During an Arab summit in Beirut in 2002, all Arab countries offered Israel full peace in return of lands occupied in 1967.
Most Arabs believe that setting up a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital is the shortest way to bring peace to region.
Bassem Mroue
Beirut August 14, 2006
7:45 p.m.

Beirut's Destroyed Southern Suburb

My colleague Hussein walked into the news room and said Hezbollah is organizing a tour in the southern suburbs adding that whoever wants to go should be at Hadi Nasrallah's street at noon.
I took a flak jacket and a helmet then went to Hadi Nasrallah street and the closer we go to the end of the road the more destruction we saw. As I left the car and looked around, Haret Hreik looked more like an area destroyed by an earthquake rather than by aerial bombardment.
A Hezbollah member took our names on a piece of papers then asked us to wait until his colleagues come to take us on the tour in nearby streets. It is not a good feeling when standing in an area that is bombed almost daily and is few hundred meters from the "security square" that used to house Hezbollah's headquarters and the home of the group's leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah until all its buildings were flattened.
At 12:05 several Hezbollah members, all in civilian clothes with blue or beige caps and carrying walkie talkies, showed up and asked us to follow them. Walking in a sea of rubble we heard Israeli warplanes flying overhead and I began to get worried since there is no place to hide if the area comes under attack.
Looking at buildings turned into piles of debris doesn't encourage a person to go hide inside such structures if bombings starts. A bridge that passes overhead was directly hit at intersections.
As we walked for about 500 meters I saw a sign that read "Al-Nour Radio," one of the main broadcasting arms of Hezbollah. Although the sign was still there, the building where the offices used to be does not exist any more. Few residents were seen in the area since most of them evacuated shortly after the war began on July 12.
Fearing possible looting, Hezbollah members were making sure to stop strangers and checking what they were doing in the area. Journalists were given the right to move wherever they want but the only prohibited thing was taking pictures that show the guerrillas faces.
As I walked around I remembered a similar tour in the Iraqi city of Fallujah in April 2004 when it was under siege and bombings by U.S. troops. Myself, the only reporter, and several other Arab photographers drove through the destroyed city and feared be bombing as U.S. helicopters flew overhead.
It was the last time I visited Fallujah and it looked terrible compared to what it was few months ago. In November, 2004, U.S. and Iraqi troops took over the city and since then
After nearly half an hour in Haret Hreik, Hezbollah official and former legislator Mohammed Birjawi showed up and give a statement saying Israel is only strong when it comes to attacking civilians.
Few minutes later we finished our tour and started walking back to our cars, the planes came overhead again. "Walk under the bridge," shouted a Hezbollah member in apparent fear of a possible raid.
We all did walk under the damaged bridge until we reached the car and drove away quickly.
Most of the journalists seem to share with me the same feeling. We wanted to be out of the area as soon as possible.
Bassem Mroue
August 14, 2006
10:15 a.m.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The War's Final Hours

A Day after resolution 1701 was adopted at the U.N. Security Council, Israel said it started its largest landing operation since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. The Israeli army clearly wants to reach the Litani River before a cease fire is expected to take effect on Monday's 8 a.m. but it is proving not to be simple.
What is clear is that landing hundreds of troops around southern Lebanon did not turn out to be big success with some 24 Israeli soldiers killed and more than 100 wounded Saturday alone. A helicopter was also shot down and a number of Merkavas were seen burning in television footage.
Lebanese believe that Israel seems to be doing the same mistake that Ariel Sharon did as defense minister 24 years ago.
Although the Israeli army reached Beirut in 1982 within days, after one month of fighting now Israeli troops have not even captured the village of Aita al-Shaab which is just on the border. Although they reached the town of Marjayoun, every one in Lebanon knows that it was an easy target because, first of all, it is a Christian town and Hezbollah has little presence there.
Many analysts have warned that Israel is entering again the quagmire of Lebanon that cost it the lives of hundreds of soldiers until it withdrew in 2000.
News organization reports that there are disagreements among Israeli officials over what is going on in Lebanon especially with the increasing death toll among troops. More than 100 soldiers have died since the war began on July 12.
In 1982, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon was called "Operation Peace For Galilee." The aim was to drive Palestinian guerrillas up to 40 kilometers north of the border with hope that this will end the firing of rockets from Lebanon into northern Israel. Twenty four years later rockets are still raining into northern Israel with a difference that now they are reaching cities as deep as Haifa and Hadera which is few kilometers north of Tel Aviv.
In 1982, Sharon proudly not only drove the troops 40 kilometers to the north but all the way to Beirut where he laid a siege on the capital that was defended by Lebanese and Palestinian guerrillas for 87 days preventing Israelis from entering the city.
What Sharon did not know when he launched the war is that his army was going to get stuck in the Lebanese mud. A year after the war in Lebanon, Israeli Prime Minister Menachim Begin quit politics as he grew increasingly depressed because of the failure in Lebanon until his death in 1992.
As this war is hopefully is in its last hours, what is becoming more and more clear is that war is not the solution.
The region's leaders should sit down and work for a peace settlement that sets up a Palestinian state and let the people of the region live in peace after decades of blood.

Text of U.N. Security Council resolution 1701.
Bassem Mroue
Beirut August 13, 2006
12:30 p.m.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Funerals Under Fire

It was the second day in a row that a funeral for people killed by Israeli bombardment was taking place the area was bombed again by the Israeli military.
In the southern town of Ghaziyeh Tuesday, dozens of people had to flee a funeral procession when missiles fired by Israeli warplanes landed few hundred meters from them. The bodies that were to be taken to rest in peace were put on the road as people fled. Others came back and carried the bodies on stretchers to the cemetery.
On Wednesday, the same thing happened in Shiyah as the bodies of nearly 40 people killed in a Monday air raid were to be buried in the Shahidein cemetery.
Alo Wednesday, there were heavy fighting on the border and at least 15 Israeli soldiers were killed until about 9 p.m. Hezbollah said three of its members were killed as well.
Israel's Security Cabinet Wednesday approved a wider ground offensive in the south and they expected 30 days to damage Hezbollah.
Many Lebanese believe that Israel is coming back to the trap it was stuck in for 18 years until May 2000. Is Ehud Olmert doing the mistake that Menachim Begin and Ariel Sharon in 1982? Time will tell us if Olmert is sending the troops to the muds of Lebanon again even though he says that they will be pulled them back when a foreign force arrive.
Sheik Hassan Nasrallah warned Israelis not to enter deep into Lebanon because "if you enter our land we will throw you out by force and we will turn the land of our invaluable south into your graveyard."
"We will be waiting for you at every village, at every valley. Thousands of courageous holy warriors are waiting for you," he said in the 45-minute speech carried live on Al-Manar television station.
The Washington Post had a good story on what is going on between Israeli troops and Hezbollah guerrillas.
Bassem Mroue
Wednesday August 9, 2006
10:40 p.m.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Deadly Day

I was sleeping at about 5 a.m. Monday when I was woken up by a strong explosion. I opened my eyes and waited for few seconds and another explosion echoed from a distance. I turned on the radio next to my bed and shortly afterward Voice of Lebanon had the breaking news. "Attacks renewed on the southern suburbs."
The day ended with the bloodiest death toll since the war began. Forty-nine Lebanese civilians were killed in the south, Bekaa and the southern suburbs. Two Hezbollah guerrillas as well as three Israeli soldiers were killed.
The worst air raid was in Shiyah and left 10 people killed and 43 wounded. The pictures of the dead and wounded being taken out of the rubble were very sad.
A wounded man told Al-Jazeera television from his hospital bed "we were at home and the Israelis bombed us. They should have the courage and go fight against resistance fighters if they dare not bomb innocent civilians."
The number of Lebanese killed since the war began is getting close to 1,000 according to the Supreme Relief Council and it seems more people will lose their live before a cease fire, or an end to hostilities, is reached.
But there were also good news today.
There were reports from the southern village of Houla saying that more than 40 people were killed in an Israeli air raid. Hours later the report turned out not to be true and dozens of people were rescued alive but one person was killed.
Prime Minister Fuad Saniora told Arab foreign minister who flew to Beirut Monday that Israel's war has taken Lebanon decades backward. I remembered what an Israeli general said shortly before the was began. "We will take Lebanon 20 years back."
Saniora said Israel was practicing state terrorism against Lebanon.

Bassem Mroue
Beirut Aug. 8, 2006.
6:30 a.m.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Bombing Beirut's southern suburbs

I arrived home at 1 a.m. after a long day of work. I met my two cousins and their families who came to stay with me after they were displaced from their southern Lebanese village because of heavy Israeli bombing.
I haven't seen them since before I went to Iraq on June 26, so we a long chat about the family as well as the situation in Lebanon.
It was about 2:30 a.m. when I was brushing my teeth and getting ready to go to bed when a load explosion echoed from a distance. I went straight to the bed room, picked up my cellular telephone and called the office to check if they heard the explosion.
"Yes. Israeli warplanes are attacking the southern suburbs," my colleague Joe said. We chatted briefly then hang up.
I opened the windows of my bedroom for fear glass might be shattered in case of an explosion then went to bed. As I laid my head on the pillow, another explosion echoed. I waited for more but nothing happened and went into a deep sleep.
At midday Thursday I went to office and started working on the desk when breaking new came from northern Israel saying that several barrages of rockets fired by Hezbollah have hit the cities of Acre and Maalot killing eight people. Five Lebanese civilians were killed near Marjayoun, Baalbek and Taibeh. Four Israeli soldiers and four Hezbollah guerrillas were killed in border fighting.
The difference between this war and that of 1982 is that 24 years ago the suffering was only on Lebanese territories since the Israeli army was fighting in Lebanon. Israelis were living a normal life with the war tens of miles north of their border.
Later in the afternoon Israeli warplanes dropped leaflets on three neighborhoods in Beirut's southern suburbs calling residents to leave because the area will be bombed. I am afraid that tonight there will be more explosions than the previous one.
After 22 days of fighting, air raids and shelling, the people of Lebanon are tired and looking for a cease fire. I am sure the people in northern Israel, who have been staying in shelters since the war began want the same thing.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned in a televised statement Thursday that if Israeli hit Beirut proper, his group will fire rockets on Tel Aviv. But he also said that if Israeli stopped attacks on civilian targets, his group will too.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the war was launched because Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers, but if this is true, are the deaths on both side of the border worth the return of the two soldier?

Bassem Mroue
Beirut Aug. 3, 2006
1:30 a.m.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Israeli Leaflets Dropped Over Lebanon

We were all in the sitting room of our apartment in West Beirut during a June 1982 evening as the Israeli army was advancing toward the capital. With no electricity, my parents, myself and my elder brother Hasan, sat with nothing much to do other than listening to the radio under the light of a kerosine lamp.
As my father tuned from one station to another we heard Israel's Arabic-language radio station airing a message to Palestinian guerrillas calling them to take off their military uniforms, carry a white flag and surrender because they had no other choice.
Then, it was not the first time Israeli troops had asked Palestinians to surrender. For days earlier, Israeli aircraft were dropping leaflets demanding the same thing.
I remembered the 1982 message and the leaflets today when Israeli aircraft dropped some over the town of Nabatiyeh calling Hezbollah guerrillas to give up.
The Palestinians then did not surrender and fought for 87 days in Beirut after Israeli troops imposed a deadly siege on the city. Then Palestinian guerrillas, including President Yasser Arafat, left Lebanon on ships that headed to several countries including Tunisia, under the condition that Israeli troops do not enter the western part of Beirut where thousands of Palestinian refugees were in camps.
The Palestinians were betrayed. Nearly three weeks after the guerrillas left the country, the notorious Sabra and Chatilla massacre took place when hundreds if not thousands of Palestinian civilians were killed mercilessly by pro-Israeli Lebanese militiamen. Survivors from the massacre said that the militiamen were working under the light of flare bombs fired by Israeli troops around the camps.
An Israeli inquiry into the massacre found that then Israel Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, who architected the invasion, was indirectly responsible for the massacre and he resigned a year later.
I still remember how dozens of Palestinians living in an abandoned hotel near our apartment in Beirut franticly fled toward the sea in September 1982, days after the massacre, shouting "Saad Haddad's army is coming." They were referring to Saad Haddad, a former Lebanese army officer who established a pro-Israeli militia in a zone on the border with Israel.
Twenty-four years later history is repeating itself with the leaflets and Israeli invasion. It seems to be repeating itself with massacres too since after 56 civilians were killed this week in Qana.
I hope it will be the last massacre.
Bassem Mroue
Beirut August 2, 2006.