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Elite turns blind eye on Maronite bishops’ appeal
Hariri offers curt call to avoid divisive issues for now

Marlin Dick
Special to The Daily Star

Politicians greeted the Maronite clergy’s anti-Syrian tirade with conspicuous silence on Thursday, underscoring resolve to avoid a new round of political infighting that would shift emphasis from the economy.
Prime Minister Rafik Hariri cautioned during the weekly Cabinet session that the “delicate regional and domestic situations” should overrule any discussion of divisive issues. When asked to clarify the government’s position on Wednesday’s statement by the Council of Maronite Bishops, Information Minister Ghazi Aridi told reporters that “Hariri’s remarks were clear.”
“There’s no doubt that the timing of the statement was a surprise … All of the ministers were agreed on this point,” Aridi said. “For about two weeks now, the country has been moving toward a kind of calm, dialogue and initiatives that will unify our position on regional challenges.”
The minister said that President Emile Lahoud had taken “practical steps” to oversee dialogue, and that “everyone is busy with this matter.”
The statement, released two weeks before the first anniversary of the bishops’ call for a Syrian withdrawal, accused the authorities of neglecting dialogue and said Lebanon was disappearing as an independent country. It listed former Foreign Minister Fouad Butros and Speaker Nabih Berri among those whose initiatives had led nowhere.
Significantly, Syrian President Bashar Assad received Butros in Damascus for talks on Thursday, a meeting that was scheduled before the statement. The National News Agency said talks focused on “issues that concern Syria and Lebanon.”
For his part, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said he preferred to make a measured response to the bishops’ statement some time next week, commenting that the call deserved “an objective and precise response.”
The Chouf MP made the remarks after receiving Batroun MP Butros Harb, who called the document a “reminder of positions and policy constants expressed in earlier statements.”
“The state must deal with it positively and take its substance into account,” Harb said.
In Diman, the Maronite patriarch received Fouad Saad, the minister of state for administrative development, who declined to comment on the document.
Cardinal Nasrallah Butros Sfeir also received Kesrouan MP Fares Boueiz, who said the bishops’ call came after the authorities demonstrated a lack of seriousness in overseeing political dialogue.
“It seems to have been more of a face-saving exercise than a dialogue aimed at reaching fundamental and radical national solutions,” Boueiz remarked.
Observers agreed that the document’s timing and tone raised eyebrows. One Christian activist who is close to Bkirki said the statement could lead to even more extreme positions, while its timing appeared to mean the end of the Qornet Shehwan Gathering’s effectiveness on the opposition scene.
“The timing wasn’t that smart, especially after (last week’s) meeting between President Lahoud and Qornet Shehwan,” he argued. “It will lead to extreme reactions, especially with the academic year about to start. Student activists will be able to say that ‘if the authorities didn’t respond to Bkirki, then what can we do except escalate the situation?’”
While acknowledging the document “expressed all of the frustration” within Christian circles, the activist predicted that dialogue would be difficult.
A Christian politician with good ties to Bkirki also expected the statement to backfire.
“People who are against certain Christian political stands are going to interpret it as follows: (The bishops) are helping the US and the Israelis pressure Syria, even if this is not the case,” he said. “The statement is also going to be interpreted as the end of Qornet Shehwan ­  again, this might not be the case.”
The politician offered the view that Bkirki found itself forced to issue a strong statement.
“There’s no doubt (the authorities) drove him (Sfeir) to desperation, and the statement was harsher than some of (former army commander Michel) Aoun’s declarations,” he said. “Aoun’s recent statement in which he accused the patriarch of not doing enough to publicize his issue was one factor, while privately, supporters of the Lebanese Forces are complaining that Sfeir isn’t doing enough for (jailed former LF leader) Samir Geagea.
“But in the end,” the politician argued, “it was another Christian mistake.”

DS 07/09/01

The diamond triangle 
Berri asks Arafat to join Lebanon, Syria, Iran "diamond triangle"

Lebanese parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri called Friday on Palestinian leader 
Yasser Arafat to join the "diamond triangle" of Lebanon, Syria and Iran to confront Israel. 
"We tell the Palestinians and Abu Ammar (Arafat) to join the triangle so that it becomes
a square, the square of struggle and victory," Berri said in a lengthy speech 
before a crowd of tens of thousands in this southern town. "Without this diamond triangle 
the resistance would not have been victorious," Berri said. The remarks of Berri, one of the
closest Lebanese allies of the regime in neighboring Syria, come ahead of Arafat's first official
trip to Damascus later in September. Relations had been frozen since Syria accused Arafat of 
breaking Arab ranks and reaching peace accords with Israel in 1993. "Israel is waging a heated 
explosive war with all kinds of lethal weapons, through terrorism on the Palestinian 
front," Berri said, warning Israel posed the threat of fresh violence on the Lebanese front. 
He pointed to Thursday's tour in northern Israel, near the borders with Lebanon, by Israeli 
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was accompanied by the Israeli army's chief of 
staff, Shaul Mofaz. Berri was speaking at the annual ceremony to mark the disappearance
of Amal founder and Lebanese Shiite spiritual leader Imam Mussa Sadr during a trip to Libya in 1978. 
Berri reiterated accusations against "the Libyan regime, which cannot convince us with
its denial just as it cannot hide the truth." 
Tripoli claims Sadr and two companions who dissappeared with him went to Italy 
on August 30, after their visit to Libya. 

Lebanon's military court barred from trying anti-Syrian activists 

(AFP) - Lebanon's cassation court ruled Monday that the military could not try some 60 anti-Syrian Christians arrested in an army crackdown last month, a judicial source told AFP. The court, whose rulings cannot be appealed, ordered that the activists be referred to civilian courts, except "those accused of harming the reputation of the Lebanese and Syrian armies and those accused of showing violence to security agents," the source said. More than 200 activists were arrested by army intelligence services early last month, triggering criticism that Lebanon is turning into a "police state." But most were later freed, some without charge, though around 75 were bailed pending trial before the military court. The defendants' lawyers appealed to the cassation court, which accepted Monday the case of some 60 accused of illegal political activities to be referred to civilian courts. Five activists, who are still detained, face trial by the military tribunal for "contacts with the enemy Israel" and could be given the death penalty. The cassation court ruling came after the crackdown sparked a political crisis, with many opposition figures warning that such heavy-handed military acts threatened the country's democratic practices and freedoms. Syria is the main powerbroker in Lebanon, with thousands of troops still stationed in the country since the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war. 

Sfeir Calls Government To Understand Youth 

Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Nasrallah Butros Sfeir called the state in his weekly sermon to understand the youth and not to deal with them in an oppressive and violent way. He hoped that the Lebanese government would analyze the consequences of the latest developments, in a way to guarantee justice. Sfeir noted also that the relative calm prevailing these days among the ruling authorities has had a positive impact on all economic and services sectors in Lebanon.

Judge Issues Arrest Warrant Against Touma

Military investigation Judge, Abdallah El Hajj, went ahead with his probe into cases of collaboration with Israel, with which the Lebanese Forces advisor Dr Toufic Hindi and journalists Habib Younes and Antoine Bassil have been charged. The military judge issued an arrest warrant in absentia against Ghassan Touma, accused of collaborating with the Zionist enemy. El Hajj rejected also all pleas to release the detainees.

Cedar Watch to Publish Names, Pictures of Justice Palace Culprits

An International human rights organization has said it would soon publish the names and pictures of the army's intelligence service plainclothesmen who beat up students and lawyers demonstrating around the Justice Palace in Beirut three weeks ago.The threat came in a statement released by the Cedar Watch-Human Rights for Lebanon organization Friday and highlighted by An Nahar on Saturday, following move by authorities to take legal action against the international humanitarian outfit.
"We were expecting the ministers of the interior and defense and the prosecutor-general to investigate and punish those responsible for the barbaric attack on Lebanese citizens demonstrating peacefully in front of the Justice Palace Aug. 9," the statement said.
'Instead, we were surprised by legal procedures against an international organization active in the realm of defending human rights although the identity of the Justice Palace assailants and their employers is clearly known," the statement went on."We challenge the Lebanese authorities to publicly announce the identity of the Justice Palace plainclothesmen as well as the identity of the axe and dagger wielders in the demonstrations supportive of the Syrian president in Lebanon," the statement said.
"The culprits in both instances are the same. We are in the process of compiling a full list of their names and pictures plus the identity of the agency that employs them. The list will be published soon and the authorities will then be asked to act accordingly," the statement concluded.

Lahoud said..Exclusive to L'Orient

"We cannot compare Lebanon to any of the civilized countries you are telling
me about. Lebanon must be compared to its neighbors. Lebanon is a Third
World country therefore we cannot touch its army." Those are the words
reported to L'Orient Le Jour by a source close to Kornet Chehwane.
And the refusal to publicly sanction those in charge was not the only niet
(niet is a harsh way to say no in Russuan Language) thrown at the seven
deputies of the Christian opposition. The refusal of the first Magistrate of
the Republic to intervene to the Judiciary - concerning the release of
political prisoners such as Toufic Hindi, as the gathering demanded - and
especially the refusal to prevent the Security Services from cracking down on
parties, were quite as dry (meaning Harsh). Despite all these niet, the
surprise was the particularly positive tone of the official statement by
Kornet Chehwane given at the end of the visit."