University Quarrel Develops to Spiraling Violence in Beirut
Retrieved from Naharnet on January 25, 2007
Picture retrieved from annaharonline taken by Hassan Assal
At least one person was killed and more than 30 were wounded in spiraling violence between pro and anti-government factions in Beirut Thursday.
Staccato bursts of gunfire echoed across the streets as tongues of flame shot up in the sky from dozens of deserted cars.
The sudden outbreak of violence started as a quarrel between students from the al-Moustaqbal movement of parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri and members of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri's Amal movement at Beirut Arab University.
Hariri, Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and Berri issued separate statements calling on their followers to practice restraint and withdraw from the streets.
Ambulances, their sirens wailing, sped across the streets evacuating casualties to Beirut's hospitals.
The state-run Lebanese University and other institutes suspended classes until Monday, in an effort to avoid the spread of violence.
The quarrel started around noontime at BAU and Amal tried to send reinforcements in mini busses from its stronghold in the district of Zokat Blatt to rescue their comrades besieged at the university's soccer stadium in the Sunni District of Tarik Jedideh.
Helmeted troops of the Lebanese Army moved into the BAU campus and opened fire in the air to disperse the mad crowd, said a student who was reached by Naharnet through his mobile telephone.
"The situation is very tense. Moustaqbal supporters are at the basketball stadium and Amal followers are at the soccer stadium. Both factions are separated by army troops," said the student who asked not to be identified.
Meanwhile, Residents of Tarik Jedideh, which is a stronghold for the Moustaqbal movement, rushed to back their student comrades, the student reported.
He said followers of both factions used sticks, bottles and even broke desks to use them are weapons in the confrontation.
Paris III Provides Lebanon with 7.6 Billion Dollars
Retrieved from Naharnet on January 26, 2007
International donors meeting in Paris on Thursday pledged more than 7.6 billion dollars in aid for Lebanon to bolster the Western-backed government in Beirut and help the country recover from war.
Saudi Arabia, the United States, France and multilateral funds led the drive to raise the massive aid package at a donors' conference for Lebanon, which was partly ruined during the July-August war between Hizbullah and Israel.
The biggest pledges came from the World Bank and the European Investment Bank, which together contributed more than two billion dollars (1.5 billion euros).
Saudi Arabia put forward 1.1 billion dollars (846 million euros), the United States gave 770 million dollars and France a loan of 500 million euros (650 million dollars).
"The amount raised totals a little over 7.6 billion dollars," French President Jacques Chirac announced at the meeting attended by more than 40 countries and international organizations.
The meeting was held two days after protests led by the Syrian-backed Hizbullah opposition erupted into violence, leaving three people dead and fueling fears Lebanon could slide back into the civil strife.
"We can't overcome all our problems alone. We need the support of the international community," Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Saniora told the gathering at a Paris convention center.
Saniora has been facing calls from Hizbullah to step down and make way for a new government of national unity that would leave the Syrian- and Iranian-backed movement and its allies with veto power in cabinet.
The billions of dollars in aid were a clear sign of support for the embattled prime minister and provided a lifeline for his government as it battles its opponents and seeks to pull the country away from the brink of financial collapse.
Chirac opened the meeting with an appeal to help Lebanon, saying "a very substantial and immediate financial support from the international community is absolutely indispensable."
Lebanese officials have said they need several billion dollars to rebuild villages and infrastructure devastated in the month-long war between Israel and Hizbullah.
Lebanon's public debt has reached 41 billion dollars (32 billion euros), more than 180 percent of gross domestic product.
Pledges for Lebanon's recovery also came from the Islamic Development Fund offering 250 million dollars and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development with 700 million dollars.
Britain offered 48 million dollars (37 million euros) to a U.N. agency to assist Palestinian refugees, many of whom are in Lebanon.
Much of the aid is in form of grants, soft loans and direct support to the Saniora government which has proposed a five-year reform plan that would see a hike in taxes and privatization.(AFP)
Life Returns to Normal Gradually in Beirut
Retrieved from Naharnet on January 26, 2007
Beirut woke up to a calm day Friday after violent street clashes between pro- and anti-government activists spread through the capital, claiming four lives and wounding 169 people.
The rioting between rival Sunni and Shiite Muslims was at a level not seen since the end of the 1975 -1990 civil war, and came two days after the Hizbullah-led opposition called a general strike Tuesday which was also marred by deadly clashes.
The Lebanese army declared an overnight curfew from 8:30 p.m. (1830 GMT) until 6:00 a.m. (0400 GMT) on Friday, the first such action in the country since violent labor demonstrations in 1996.
Beirut streets were deserted after the curfew took hold, except for army vehicles.
But the chaos that swept the city hours earlier stirred fears that Lebanon was plunging into a new civil strife.
"We are witnessing scenes that remind us of the civil war," said Speaker Nabih Berri, urging restraint on both sides. "We must go back to talks. There is no other solution."
"Rehearsal for civil war in the streets of Beirut," warned the headline of the Al Balad newspaper.
"Damn the one who awakened it," cried the bold headline of the leftist As Safir newspaper in reference to confessional dissension.
Druze leader Walid Jumblat accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of "trying to burn Beirut," calling on Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah to "evacuate Beirut alleys."
This was a reference to the Hizbullah-led protestors camping outside government headquarters in downtown Beirut since Dec. 1 in a bid to topple Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's cabinet.
Jumblat also stretched a hand to Nasrallah, inviting him over "lunch at my house in Beirut, away from the caves. "Let's sit down and negotiate the Lebanon situation."
The danger of further violence erupting prompted Nasrallah to respond with a call for army orders to be obeyed.
"We are using a Fatwa (religious decree)... in the interests of the country and civil peace," he said.
"Everyone should evacuate the streets... we call for the measures of the Lebanese army to be respected."
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said from Washington that those who triggered unrest were linked to "well-known" groups. She did not elaborate.
Rice also said that she was worried about Saniora's life.
The clashes first broke out on the main campus of Beirut Arab University (BAU) after a lunchtime squabble between a student supporter of the Moustaqbal movement, headed by parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri, and others allied with Hizbullah and Berri's Amal movement.
Minutes later the quarrel spread across campus and soon afterwards the fighting penetrated Beirut's predominantly Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods of Tarik Jedideh, Zokak Blat, Basta and Hawd al Wilaya, where cars were smashed.
Lebanese army troops in armored personnel carriers were promptly dispatched to BAU to contain the confrontation as young men hurled rocks and set fire to rubber tires in a bid to block traffic.
Youths also torched cars and smashed windshields as the troops fired gunshots into the air to disperse the crowds.
Rioters set fire to the office of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) in Tarik Jedideh as well as the Ansar football field on the airport highway.
Hizbullah demonstrators also attacked buildings in downtown Beirut's banking sector shortly before the curfew took hold.
March 14 sources said Lebanese army commandos have arrested two snipers – a Syrian and a Lebanese - from the vicinity of the Sportive City near the Beirut Arab University.
They said the snipers, who fired gunshots in the direction of the citizens, were handed over to the Lebanese army Intelligence Bureau.
Nasrallah voiced concern over what he called the "snipers' phenomenon," insisting that the "killers' identity should be disclosed and should be tried."
He said Thursday's clashes and reports of snipers being involved "verify data" Hizbullah had obtained in recent weeks that snipers have been deployed at a number of rooftop buildings in Beirut.
In a separate incident, security sources said two men in a dark blue Cherokee jeep on Thursday roamed Bikfaya, the hometown of former President Amin Gemayel, inquiring about the location of the Gemayel mansion.
The sources told the daily An Nahar that an investigation was underway at Bikfaya's police station.
Shops and businesses were opened Friday when the overnight curfew ended at 6.00a.m. (0400 GMT), but private and public schools, colleges and universities remained shut across the nation in line with government orders.
The roads where the clashes erupted were covered with litter and rubble, while burnt-out cars, buses and large garbage containers lined streets close to Rafik Hariri international airport.
During the night, the Lebanese army deployed heavily across the deserted capital, staging patrols and erecting checkpoints on main crossings.(Naharnet-AFP)
- "In the past few days, bloody violence has returned to Lebanon. It is unacceptable to go down this path to push through one's political agenda. I feel immense pain for that dear population."
"I know many Lebanese are tempted to give up hope and feel disoriented by what is happening ...
I invoke the help of God so that all the Lebanese, without exception, may work together to make their country a real home for everybody." (Pope Benedict XVI January 28, 2007)