Christian Youths Watch Beirut Streets After Bombs
April 6, 2005/Reuters
BEIRUT - A spate of bombings has brought Christian youths onto the streets of east Beirut, checking each night for parked cars from outside the neighborhood and occasionally stopping drivers to ask where they are heading.
Four night-time blasts in two weeks, all targeting Christian areas, have rattled residents who are already on edge as Lebanon grapples with its worst crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
But the groups of youths, some of which follow duty rotas through the night, have not gone down well with security forces who see in them uncomfortable reminders of the wartime militias which almost tore the country apart.
"We are worried there may be a bombing, so we are just helping the security forces. If there are strangers in the area, we ask them where they are going or what they are doing," said George Hannouche, an 18-year-old hotel management student.
U.N. envoy Terje Roed-Larsen said the bombings and "embryo" vigilante groups could undermine Lebanon's stability.
"The distance from forming a vigilante group to establishing a militia is extremely short," he told Reuters.
Hannouche and his Maronite Christian friends, mostly in their late teens or early 20s, gather each night on a street corner in Beirut's Ain al-Roumaneh area watching for suspicious cars or wandering around a nearby church they fear might be hit.
The youths are too young to remember much of Lebanon's war, and certainly not the initial emergence of sectarian militias who fought some of the fiercest Beirut battles a few hundred meters (yards) from where Hannouche stands watch.
But other Lebanese have longer memories and worry the unarmed groups could turn into something more menacing.
"The army will crack down on these groups soon. These groups are reminiscent of what was going on during the civil war, under the slogan of keeping your own community secure. This is unacceptable," a senior security official said.
Hannouche's group and others like it guarding strategic points around the Christian area say no one in their community directed them to act. But most, nonetheless, claim allegiance to the Lebanese Forces (LF), a banned wartime Christian militia. One youth wore the LF's stylized crucifix symbol.
Patrick Habib, who works at a Chinese restaurant during the day, said one group had already been broken up in Sad al-Boushrieh, where one of the recent bombings gutted workshops.
"One night the security came, took them in and said they couldn't continue," said the 21-year-old, adding that his group would contact the police if they spotted a suspicious car.
The bombings followed the huge explosion that killed former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and 19 others on Feb. 14.
Some Lebanese blame the attacks on Syria, which is withdrawing forces from Lebanon. Damascus denies involvement.
The bombers may be trying to rekindle sectarian conflict, but many Lebanese say they see no likelihood of short-term instability heralding a return to civil war.
Ain al-Roumaneh, where the civil war began with Christian gunmen attacking a bus full of Palestinians, stands on a section of the old wartime front, or so-called Green Line, between Christian east Beirut and the mainly Muslim west of the city.
Most of the frontline area has been renovated, but some buildings with facades chewed up by bullets still stand.
In the neighboring mainly Shi'ite Muslim district of Shiyah, a group of Shi'ite youths gathered close to the former Green Line, puffing at a water pipe.
Indistinguishable in their hip jackets and jeans from their Christian counterparts, they said they were not watching for bombers, only hanging out together as usual.
But 18-year-old Ahmed added: "One of the older guys told us to call him if we see anyone passing by carrying a weapon.
"My family told me that in 1975 first there was tension, then there were some bombings and then people started carrying weapons... This situation could happen again, but, of course, I don't want it to."
Patriarch Sfeir Bids Farewell to 'Lebanese Pope'
April 06, 2005/Naharnet
Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, Patriarch of the Maronite Church, is on his way to the Vatican to bid farewell to John Paul II, the 84-year-old Pontiff of Catholicism who earned the title of "Lebanese Pope" during his 1997 historic visit to Lebanon, which his holiness called "the dearest country to my heart."
Sfeir is scheduled to stay up to 10 days in the capital of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. He will attend the fallen Pope's funeral on Friday and then discuss with the cardinals who converged on Rome from the four corners of planet earth the post-John Paul II epoch.
But Sfeir, who is three days or seven days older than John Paul II, is not, because of old age, eligible to attend the conclave of 117 cardinals from all over the world sometime next week to elect the new Pope.
John Paul II held Lebanon and the war agonies of the Lebanese deep in his heart. He conducted dozens of special prayers and issued numerous exhortations for Lebanon's salvation, which endeared him even to the nation's Muslim community.
That special sentiment was dramatized by the massive turnout of Muslims alongside Christians in an unprecedented reception estimated at 1.5-million strong, when John-Paul II landed by plane in Beirut airport at 12:15 p.m. local time on May 10, 1997 to begin 36-hour visit to Lebanon.
Tumultuous Crowds cheered and brandished flags as Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Sfeir traveled in the Pontiff's bullet-proof 'Papa Mobile' from the airport to the Baabda palace to meet Lebanon's then president Elias Hrawi and then see the spiritual heads of the Muslim sects who were on hand to welcome the first Roman Catholic Pope ever to visit Lebanon.
The motorcade then traveled through a sea of welcoming masses to the Maronite Patriarchate in Bkirki, where he did not use the special suite assigned to him to rest. Instead, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Aghnatios IV Hazime, who traveled from his seat in Damascus, stayed in the suite during the Pope's trip.
"Peace, peace, freedom," were the three words the Pope used to address some half a million Lebanese youth who trekked from all over Lebanon greet him at the Vatican embassy in Harissa. "It is up to you to topple the dividing barriers that have sprung up during the painful epochs of your nation's history."
The peak of the visit was the open air mass the Pope held for an estimated 1.5 million Lebanese at Beirut's downtown, which was then being rebuilt by former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a frequent visiter to the Pope in the Vatican during their lifetimes.
The visit was marked by a special postal stamp issued by the state of Lebanon with the Pope and President Hrawi standing side by side.
Some 8 years after the Pope's Lebanese rendezvous Patriarch Sfeir left Beirut at mid-morning Wednesday to convey to the Pope laying in state in the Vatican the farewell from the 'dearest country' to his heart.(Most of this story is contributed by An Nahar's Bkirki specialist Habib Shlouk)