Day By Day

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Meanwhile in Lebanon...

Lebanonwire reports two very positive developments:

February 23, 2005

Lebanese business leaders plan strike to demand government resign

BEIRUT, Feb 23 (AFP) - Leaders of Lebanon's banking, industrial and commercial sectors said they would shut down next Monday to demand the country's pro-Syrian government resign and that a "neutral" one replace it.

The strike would coincide with an expected vote of confidence in parliament, two weeks after the murder of former premier Rafiq Hariri in a bomb blast for which the opposition has pinned blame on the government and its Syrian backers."

The economic authorities call for the formation of a new and neutral government which has the people's support, and the trust of the international community and Arab countries," the private sector said in a statement carried by the official news agency ANI.

The statement called for a "total shutout in memory of Rafiq Hariri", the father of Lebanon's post-warreconstruction, on February 28, and backed calls for an international investigation of his assassination.

It was signed by Lebanon's association of banks and industrialists as well as the chambers of commerce and industry."The economic authorities believe that restoration of the democratic regime is an essential condition to establish confidence in the Lebanese economy," the statement said.

Beleaguered Prime Minister Omar Karameh said earlier Wednesday that he was ready to quit in the face of intense pressure to end Syrian domination of his country and find Hariri's killers.

This, of course, is the modern equivalent of that old left-wing standby, the "general strike." Only this is organized by the financial and industrial leaders of the country and, by all accounts, has broad popular backing, spanning religious, ethnic and class divisions. What is perhaps most significant is that the Syria-backed political leadership is also on board.

Will Syria fold in the face of this united opposition? I certainly hope so, but if it doesn't, look for the US to become much more aggressive. As I noted in an earlier post all indications are that the US forces, contrary to the journalistic consensus, are no longer tied down in Iraq. We could quite possibly soon see a concentration of forces on the Syrian border soon.


One of the crucial elements in putting together this solid front was the role of Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Druze. He is organizing the opposition parties into a united front calling for a new, non-Syrian government. At the same time France has joined with the US calling for Syrian withdrawal and threatened US sanctions if troops were not withdrawn.

In the face of this united pressure, both in Lebanon and internationally, Syria seems to be caving.

On Tuesday, [Syrian] Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud dismissed the renewed calls for a Syrian pullout as "nothing new". But after a meeting with the minister, Saudi ambassador Abdulaziz Khoja said Syria was ready to redeploy its forces.
Read about it here.

Things so far seem to be pointing to a peaceful resolution. The tide is flowing stronger and stronger throughout the Middle East. Assad (or people near him) seems to recognize this. Let's hope that peace and freedom will both prevail.


The Guardian is reporting that:

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) - Syria will withdraw troops from mountain and coastal areas in Lebanon in line with a 1989 agreement, Lebanon's defense minister said Thursday amid international pressure following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Lebanese Defense Minister Abdul-Rahim Murad said the troops will be withdrawn to the eastern Bekaa Valley on the Syrian border, but he gave no timeframe.
Lebanese and Syrian military officers have begun meetings to define ``the dates and the way'' the withdrawal will take place, Murad said, adding that the pullback was in line with the Arab-brokered Taif agreement that ended Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war.

Let's see now..., the original agreement was signed sixteen years ago, but has not yet been implemented, and now they promise to comply with it but give no timeframe for compliance!
And there are signs that Syria is already beginning to backslide. The Syrian intelligence apparatus in Lebanon will remain in place and the withdrawal of troops will only be partial. The reason given is the need to train Lebanese police and armed forces to take over the job of keeping order [nice thrust at the US]. Of course the appropriate response would be for the US and NATO to offer to train the new Lebanese forces.

The opposition is not buying the Syrian line:

Lebanon's opposition dismissed the Syrian announcement Thursday as vague and said it contained nothing new. ``There is a missing word in the Syrian Foreign Ministry statement, and that word is the 'complete' withdrawal from Lebanon,'' opposition member Samir Franjieh told the Lebanese Al Hayat-LBC television station.
Syria is making threatening noises. It issued a statement that,

warned against ``provocation and incitement from some inside Lebanon and abroad,'' saying such behavior may damage the interests of all parties, particularly Lebanon.

And Lebanese PM, Omar Karami, is trying to hang on to his position. He has agreed to resign, but has given no timeframe. Now he is arguing that,

an immediate pullout of Syrian troops and security services from Lebanon..."In our opinion, it would shake the stability of the country." "Driving Syria out of Lebanon through challenges, provocation and curses cannot leave the country relaxed and stable. (A Syrian withdrawal) can only take place through consensus," he said.
But the Lebanese consensus is already that he and the troops that support him must go. Syria cannot possibly expect to win this showdown -- not with France in opposition to ensure UN action and a US army right next door. They may go kicking and screaming, but they'll go.

Read the whole thing here and here.

Remember how they used to say that Muslim extremists would turn Iraq into "another Lebanon?" Well, it appears that Bush's freedom initiative is turning Lebanon into another Iraq.

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