Tag Archives: Lebanon

The Killing Fields

24 Oct

Mines Advisory Group (MAG) Technical Field Manager Nick Guest inspecting a Cluster Bomb Unit in the southern village of Ouazaiyeh, Lebanon, in 2006. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari, File)

Last Friday, as all eyes were focused on the assassination of Lebanon’s security chief Wissam al-Hassan, another explosion snuffed out a human life.

An Israeli-launched cluster munition detonated as Ibrahim, a man who had been married for less than a month, was working in a field. According to Al Akhbar, Ibrahim died in hospital seven agonizing hours later.

I’ll be following up on the circumstances surrounding Ibrahim’s death, but it appears he worked as a deminer. Israel, which often refers to itself as the ‘most moral army in the world’, dropped around one million cluster bombs over Lebanon in August 2006, mostly in the last few hours of the conflict when negotiations at the UN had made it apparent a ceasefire was imminent. Of those, up to four million submunitions (explosive bomblets within the cluster bomb) failed to detonate, remaining threats to civilians to this day.

According to the watchdog organization Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor (2011), by the end of 2010 there were at least 16,921 confirmed cluster munition casualties globally, though it believes the real figure may be as high as 54,000 because many incidents are never recorded. Injuries caused by cluster munitions, such as limb amputations, shrapnel wounds and blindness, have catastrophic and lifelong repercussions for victims. Cluster munitions impede the enjoyment of other rights, obstructing reconstruction efforts, hindering freedom of movement, preventing land from being used for livelihood activities, and locking affected communities in poverty for years after conflict ends.

Israel’s use of cluster munitions in Lebanon provided a catalyst for diplomatic action to ban the bombs. On 30 May 2008, a total of 107 states formally adopted the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. The number of signatories has risen to 111, but some of the world’s major users and producers of the weapon, such as Israel, the USA, Pakistan, India, China and Russia, have still not joined.

Whatever weapons ‘experts’ say, there are no merits to cluster bombs. All they do is cause enormous human suffering, destruction and devastation. They are a form of collective punishment that go on killing and maiming years and even decades after a conflict ends. It’s about time they became a thing of the past. Don’t let Ibrahim’s death have been in vain. If you want to help clear landmines, cluster bombs and other explosive remnants of war, please think ofdonating to a mine clearance organisation. I am a longtime supporter of Mines Advisory Group, but any of the below are worthy of support.                                                                     

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Aside 21 Oct

Beirut: Hundreds try to storm PM’s office after funeral

Violence breaks out at the funeral of assassinated top intelligence chief Wissam al-Hassan as protesters call for PM’s resignation. Channel 4 News reports on why his death has caused so much upheaval.

Violent protests follow Lebanese funeral (R)

Mourners had gathered in Beirut’s central Martyrs’ Square district [photo below] when hundreds of protestors broke away and attempted to storm the offices of Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the Grand Serail, writes Dalila Mahdawi from Beirut.

Soldiers fired bullets into the air and used tear gas in an effort to disperse the mob.

Security personnel quickly established a security cordon around the building as opposition leader and former prime minister Saad Hariri pleaded for calm, saying: “We are not advocates of violence and I call on all supporters to leave the streets immediately.”

Gerenal Wissam al-Hassan, who headed the controversial intelligence branch of the internal security forces, was killed along with seven others in a massive car bomb on Friday. He was a strong opponent of the Syrian government and was known for his close ties to the former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005, and Hariri’s Future Movement party.

His death on Friday, which occurred as many parents were collecting their children from school, has largely been blamed on Syria. Damascus has rejected involvement, calling Hassan’s killing a “cowardly” act.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who many politicians are demanding resign over the killing, arrived to the funeral to a chorus of angry boos from the crowd of around 3,000 people.

Many protestors waved flags in Arabic, English and French calling for Mikati to step down. One read: “Get the Syrian out of the Serail [government],” in reference to the President Michel Sleiman and what many Lebanese see as Mikati’s close links to the Syrian regime.

The clashes appeared to have been contained before long, but there are reports that violence has spread across Lebanon, with protestors burning tyres and shooting guns in Tripoli and other areas of Beirut.

The man who knew too much?

Dubbed by one local newspaper as “the man who knew too much,” Hassan’s investigations helped the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the international court tasked with prosecuting Hariri’s assassins and which last year indicted four men with ties to Hezbollah and the Syrian government.

Earlier this summer, he had uncovered a plot by former information minister Michel Samaha to commit terrorist attacks against high-profile Lebanese figures.

“He was privy to a lot of highly confidential information that was dangerous to many people, so he had to be eliminated,” Karim Makdessi, an associate professor of politics at the American University of Beirut, told Channel 4 News.

He was targeted as he passed through a side street off Sassine Square, a busy area in Beirut’s Christian neighborhood of Achrafieh.

“We came today out of recognition for a man who died trying to protect all of the Lebanese people,” said Adil, 64. “We are embedded in a regional conflict in which the Lebanese people have no control over their destiny. It is the duty of all patriots to join hands and unite to prevent a civil war.”

Political upheaval

Mikati is part of the dominant March 8 coalition, formed of Hezbollah and its Christian and Muslim allies and backed by Syria and Iran. He tendered his resignation on Saturday but President Michel Sleiman rejected the move, saying his departure would lead the country into further crisis.

Professor Makdessi told Channel 4 News that the opposition March 14 bloc would now try to cash in on popular anger at Hassan’s assassination in order to reassert their weakened position in government.

March 14, a coalition of pro-Western Christian and Muslim parties led by the Future Movement, has played a muted role in Lebanese politics in recent years.

“Now is the time for mourning and for coming together to create a proper national security and political agenda for the whole country. It is not the time to point fingers or to assert parochial, sectarian agendas,” said Professor Makdissi.

‘I don’t feel safe’

But many see Hassan’s assassination as the beginning of a renewed campaign against anti-Syrian figures. Between 2005 and 2008, there were 11 assassinations or attempted assassinations in Lebanon. All of the targets were politicians or journalists vocally opposed to the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.

“I don’t feel safe at all now,” said Zeina, 30. “There are only going to be more political assassinations and all of us ordinary Lebanese are going to stuck in the middle of it all again.”

Simon Haddad, a Lebanese political analyst, said that while a number of other senior Lebanese officials were now possible assassination targets, it was more likely that the diplomatic repercussions of Hassan’s death would play out in Syria.

“His killing will have more implications for the Syrian crisis more than on Lebanon,” he told Channel 4 News. “The Arab countries will start seriously to support the rebels with weapons.”

Aside

Bombing Leaves Lebanon Shaken

21 Oct

Bombing Leaves Lebanon Shaken

The street of the bombing in Beirut that killed Wissam al-Hassan, chief of Lebanon’s internal security services. Credit: Dalila Mahdawi/IPS.The street of the bombing in Beirut that killed Wissam al-Hassan, chief of Lebanon’s internal security services. Credit: Dalila Mahdawi/IPS.

By Dalila Mahdawi

BEIRUT, Oct 21 2012 (IPS) – The assassination of Lebanon’s top security official on Friday not only ravaged a quiet Beirut neighbourhood but also shattered the precarious sense of security many Lebanese have been desperately clinging to in recent months.

Wissam al-Hassan, chief of Lebanon’s internal security services, was killed by a massive car bomb in which three others died and 100 were injured. He had just returned from Paris, to where he had moved his family amid concerns that he was being targeted for assassination.

“We suffered so much in the civil war and those memories are all coming back now,” said Anissa Bushrush, a resident of a nearby street. “People know each other in this neighbourhood but now I feel there is no safe place left. I couldn’t sleep last night because I was so terrified.”

The assassination occurred in a densely populated side street in Beirut’s predominantly Christian Achrafieh neighbourhood. Striking just before rush hour, it caused massive damage, tearing off balconies, smashing windows and sending a tower of black smoke high into the air.

Hassan was considered a controversial figure because of his close personal affiliation to Rafik Hariri, Lebanon’s former billionaire prime minister assassinated in 2005.

His killing is “a big loss for the security of Lebanon,” Walid Moubarak, director of the Institute for Diplomacy and Conflict Transformation at the Lebanese American University told IPS. Hassan had been responsible for uncovering significant security breaches in Lebanon, including Al-Qaeda, Israeli and Syrian operatives.

He was an investigator for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the international court tasked with prosecuting Hariri’s killers and which eventually blamed Syrian and Hizbullah agents. Earlier this year, Hassan had played a major role in the arrest of former information minister Michel Samaha for plotting terrorist attacks against high-profile Lebanese figures.

“He was a major obstacle for many groups inside and outside of Lebanon,” said Moubarak. “His death means they can now act in Lebanon much more freely. I hope Lebanon’s political leaders are conscientious enough to stay united.” Any divisions would only aid further violence, he said.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for Hassan’s assassination, the first in four years, but many Lebanese blame Syria. There were 11 assassinations or attempted assassinations between 2005 and 2008, all targeting outspoken critics of the Syrian regime. Tensions between the two countries have reached a critical point in recent months as political violence in Syria has begun to spill over the border.

“I’m divorced and I have a ten-year-old son to support. I’ve worked so hard to provide for us over the last few years and now I’ve lost everything,” wept Nancy Joseph Maineh, whose ground floor home was just yards from the site of the attack.

Carrying bags of her belongings away from her destroyed apartment, Maineh said she had “no idea” what the future would hold for her or the Lebanese people.

In a statement following the attack, Syria’s Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi rejected his country’s involvement, condemning the killing as  “unjustifiable” and “cowardly.”

Analysts say the perpetrators had infiltrated Lebanon’s security services. “It’s very clear that there was circulation of information from inside our institutions to the people responsible for Hassan’s killing,” said Fadia Kiwan, professor of political science at the Saint Joseph University in Beirut. “Somebody saw his name on the manifest at the airport and informed his killers.”

Kiwan suggested Hassan’s demise heralded the beginning of another dark chapter of political violence in Lebanon. “I don’t wish to disseminate pessimism but we have to be realistic. These people are not playing games, they greet each other with death.”

In the wake of the killing, gunmen with scarves around their faces have taken to the streets across Lebanon, blocking roads with burning tires and opening fire at passing cars.

“It’s a predictable pattern that we often see in reaction to political events here,” Timor Goksel, former professor of conflict management at the American University of Beirut and senior advisor to UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL told IPS. “Some people take this as an opportunity to vent their anger about whatever they’re angry about in life. I don’t think it will escalate.”

Others, however, were less optimistic. One man was on his way back from Beirut airport early Saturday morning when his car was stopped at a makeshift checkpoint. After showing the men his identity papers and agreeing to a car search, Rabih Baaklini was driving off when four masked gunmen opened fire. His car was hit by 16 bullets.

“I’m not politically active, I don’t support any political party and I’ve never voted,” Baaklini said. “If I can get shot at, then anybody in Lebanon can get shot at. Life is so cheap here.”

Aside

Photos of massive explosion in Beirut’s Sassine Square

19 Oct

Massive car bomb in Beirut’s Sassine Square

A woman is helped by a Lebanese soldier after an explosion in Ashafriyeh district, central Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Reuters)
A woman is helped by a Lebanese soldier after an explosion in Ashafriyeh district, central Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Reuters)
Lebanese army soldiers secure the area at the site of an explosion in Ashrafieh, central Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Reuters)
Lebanese army soldiers secure the area at the site of an explosion in Ashrafieh, central Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Reuters)
A civil defence member helps a wounded man at the site of an explosion in Ashrafieh, central Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Reuters)
A civil defence member helps a wounded man at the site of an explosion in Ashrafieh, central Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Reuters)
A wounded woman is carried at the site of an explosion in Ashrafieh, central Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Reuters)
A wounded woman is carried at the site of an explosion in Ashrafieh, central Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Reuters)
Ashrafieh, east Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Image from twitter user@YorgoElBittar)
Ashrafieh, east Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Image from twitter user@YorgoElBittar)
Ashrafieh, east Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Image from twitter user@DiAyDi)
Ashrafieh, east Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Image taken from twitter user@DiAyDi)
Ashrafieh, east Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Image from twitter user@svhoorn)
Ashrafieh, east Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Image taken from twitter user@svhoorn)

A car burns at the site of an explosion in Ashrafieh, east Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Reuters)

(Reuters) – A huge car bomb exploded in a street in central Beirut during rush hour on Friday, killing at least two people and wounding 46, witnesses and security sources said.

It was not immediately clear if the explosion targeted any political figure in Lebanon’s divided community but it occurred at a time of heightened tension between Lebanese factions on opposite sides of the Syria conflict.

The bomb exploded in the street where the office of the anti-Assad Christian Phalange Party is located.

Ambulances rushed to the scene of the blast near Sassine Square in Ashafriyeh, a mostly Christian area, as smoke rose from the area. It occurred during rush hour, when many parents were picking up children from school.

The security source confirmed two dead. At least 46 people were wounded, another security source said.

Several cars were destroyed by the explosion and the front of a multi-storey building was badly damaged, with tangled wires and metal railings crashing to the ground.

Residents ran about in panic looking for relatives while others helped carry the wounded to ambulances.

Security forces blanketed the area.

The war in neighboring Syria, which has killed 30,000 people so far, has pitted mostly Sunni insurgents against President Bashar al-Assad, who is from the Alawite sect linked to Shi’ite Islam.

Tension between Sunnis and Shi’ites has been rumbling in Lebanon ever since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war but reignited after the Syria conflict erupted.

It reached its peak when former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, a Sunni, was killed in 2005. Hariri supporters accused Syria and then Hezbollah of killing him – a charge they both deny. An international tribunal accused several Hezbollah members of involvement in the murder.

Hezbollah’s political opponents, who have for months accused it of aiding Assad’s forces – have warned that its involvement in Syria could ignite sectarian tension of the civil war.

The last bombing in Beirut was in 2008 when three people were killed in an explosion which damaged a U.S. diplomatic car.

However fighting had broken out this year between supporters and opponents of Assad in the northern city of Tripoli.

Story by REUTERS- Reporting by Mariam Karouny and Oliver Holmes; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Samia Nakhoul

Photos originally posted to http://rt.com/news/beirut-lebanon-explosion-police-797/ and http://www.rightnow.io/breaking-news/beirut-downtown_bn_1350647780442.html

The Lebanese student saving lives with his mobile phone

17 May

At 26 years old, Yorgui Keyrouz has accomplished an extraordinary feat: saving over 15,000 lives. By starting a blood database from his mobile phone, he’s put those in need of blood in touch with a growing number of willing donors. In doing so, he’s filled a gaping void in the Lebanese health sector, which has no centralised blood service. Listen to my report for Deutsche Welle:

http://blogs.dw.de/generationchange/wp-content/plugins/audio-link-player/xspf/player.swf Blood Bank in Lebanon

Yorgui Keyrouz

Yorgui Keyrouz started the blood database on his mobile phone

Samar Khoury

Regular donor Samar Khoury is ready to give


The writing is on the wall for Lebanon’s government

13 Apr

Lebanon may have escaped the tumult of the so-called Arab Spring, but the country’s ruling classes seem illiterate to its main message: that conceited rulers who do little to assist ordinary people in their daily quest for dignity will one day face their wrath.  

Compared to elsewhere in the region, things look calm in tiny Lebanon. But underneath the photo-shopped veneer promoted by the Ministry of Tourism lies a steadily boiling pot of despair and ruin.

Today marks the 37th anniversary of the outbreak of Lebanon’s civil war. In 15 years of horrific violence, up to 300,000 people were killed and 17,000 are still considered missing. Lebanon never had a truth and justice commission and ignored its international obligations to investigate the whereabouts of the missing. Instead, it introduced a sweeping amnesty law in 1990, which allowed many militia leaders to return to Lebanese politics as ministers. Their sectarian grievances now mostly play out in Parliament, but followers of their personality cults occasionally still fight it out on the streets or on television. Because of the constant political bickering, issues of critical importance to the nation are being left to rot, quite literally.

An on-going scandal has exposed a number of factories selling meat products years past their sell-by dates to the country’s supermarkets and restaurants. Only a few arrests have been made, however, and commentators are pessimistic that government pledges for a full investigation will translate to meaningful action.

In January, a residential building in Beirut collapsed suddenly, killing 27 people. This was followed by several other collapses, including a school wall, which crushed three pupils to death. But despite the urgency for new building regulations, the government is doing little to prevent further similar catastrophes, choosing only to demolish one bridge experts have been warning might buckle for years.

The country’s list of woes goes on and on. Migrant workers not protected by Lebanon’s labour law are committing suicide at startling rates and Lebanese women continue to struggle against institutionalised discrimination and misogyny. Lebanon’s overcrowded prisons have been described as tinderboxes teetering ever closer to disaster, as have the country’s landfills. The worst one, in the Southern city of Sidon, regularly collapses, dumping tonnes of hospital and chemical waste into the Mediterranean Sea. Gas and food prices have steadily increased over the last few months, making it virtually impossible for Lebanese living on the minimum wage (around £280) to make ends meet. To add insult to injury, Lebanon endures mandatory daily electricity cuts, ranging from three hours in the capital to around 12 hours daily in rural areas.

If this Sisyphean list of problems isn’t enough to stir the Lebanese leadership to action, one might think the crisis in Syria, which is slowing seeping its way across the border, would. Earlier this week Lebanese cameraman Ali Shaaban was shot dead, allegedly by Syrian soldiers, while on assignment near the border. There is frequent sectarian fighting between pro- and anti-Assad supporters in North Lebanon and the number of Syrians (mostly women now since Syria has placed a ban on all men between 18-40 years leaving the country) seeking refuge in Lebanon from the violence is growing steadily.

And yet, with all this trouble mounting, what does the Lebanese government choose to focus on? It is currently prosecuting a graffiti artist by the name of Semaan Khawwam, for  “disturbing the peace” after he was caught spray-painting figures holding big guns.

Use of graffiti is widespread in the Lebanese capital. In the absence of a coherent protest movement, street art is increasingly being used to convey people’s grievances with the state, whether it be over the lack of a marital rape clause in the criminal code, widespread corruption, drink-driving, or high unemployment.

Khawwam’s soldier-like figure doesn’t clearly attack any person or institution, so it remains a mystery to many why his case is being pursued out of many thousand possibilities. More importantly, graffiti art is not actually illegal under Lebanese law. Yet he faces a fine and possibly three months in prison if convicted. His lawyer, Adel Houmani, made an important point when he questioned the legitimacy of the case: “If this artistic work is vandalism,” he told Al Akhbar newspaper, “then what do we say about the photos of leaders that are posted everywhere, in addition to all the random posters and ads?”

The case against Khawwam shows just how muddled the logic of Lebanon’s leadership is. This is a country where politicians struggle to identify the country’s most basic priorities, mainly because their priorities are to stay in power, leading luxurious lifestyles deeply out of touch with most of their constituents.

The writing, it would seem, is on the wall. It’s not only Lebanon’s meat, fish and poultry that is way past its expiry date- its leaders are too.

NOTE: The travel ban on Syrian men has now been rescinded.

Ethiopians protest consular neglect, Alem Dechessa’s death

4 Apr

A photograph of Alem Dechessa’s family has been published on Facebook.  I reported last month that Ethiopian national Alem had committed suicide in a Lebanese hospital following the broadcasting of amateur footage showing a Lebanese man, Ali Mahfouz, abusing the 33-year-old migrant worker.

The photo, taken by Michael Fassil, originally appeared on Facebook after Zewdi Reda, founder of the Have Hope Foundation, posted it to her account.

Last Sunday (usually the only day many Ethiopians and other migrant workers have off), a few dozen members of the Ethiopian community in Lebanon gathered outside their consulate in Beirut to protest its apathy towards their treatment in Lebanon.

According to an article in The Daily Star newspaper:

“The assembled expressed their frustration with consular officials’ perceived callousness, saying that when Ethiopians contact their consulate in Lebanon via telephone they are often ignored or hung up on.

“We are living here,” said a woman named Berti, adding that “the [consulate] should help us, but they only want money.”

One woman told the newspaper she didn’t believe Dechessa had killed herself: “Nobody helped her,” said another woman named Sarah, who wore a blue keffiyeh: “How did she die? She didn’t kill herself. She’s not crazy.”

Ali Mahfouz has been charged with contributing to and causing the suicide of Dechessa, but he is reportedly not currently in custody.