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US politicians want Aoun to join debate on unrest
Thursday, September 06, 2001
The US Congress may summon the exiled army commander, Michel Aoun, for a special session to discuss the political situation in Lebanon. The move follows the recent arrests and violent incidents that took place in Beirut last month, according to press reports.
A group of congressmen, mostly members of the foreign affairs committee, including pro-Israeli Democrats Tom Lantos and Eliot Engel, are reportedly preparing the session, which is expected to turn into a platform to lambaste the current leaderships in Lebanon and Syria.
Engel has sent a letter to US Secretary of State Colin Powell, asking him to condemn the arrests strongly and to call for the release of detainees, according to Thursday’s As Safir newspaper.
The letter reported also calls for the implementation of the UN resolution 520, which stipulates the withdrawal of all foreign armies from Lebanon, in a move aimed at Syria’s military presence.
Moves by pro-Israeli lobby
The advocates of the session with Aoun are known for their close relations with Israel. Lantos led a campaign last April to stop US financial aid to Beirut if the Lebanese state did not deploy its army along the border with Israel.
On Tuesday, he also strongly attacked attempts at the UN racism conference in Durban to highlight Israeli treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories as racist, calling such moves “despicable.”
Engel has intensely criticized the arrests last month of some 200 activists who support General Aoun and the Lebanese Forces and oppose the Syrian presence in the country.
The date of the session is yet to be set. A similar session was held in 1997, when the opposition nationalist Aoun was invited to attend by Congress. However, the US State Department refused to grant the general, who resides in France, a visa. Former president Amin Gemayel attended the session, which harshly criticized the Lebanese and Syrian governments.
US press rights group ‘concerned’
In related developments, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in the US expressed its “deep concern about the Lebanese army's recent lawsuit against two journalists working with the leading daily newspaper An Nahar,” in a statement released on Tuesday.
The statement followed the announcent on August 31 that the army had begun legal action against Joseph Nasr, the paper's editor, and Raffi Madian, an opposition political figure who had contributed an article to the paper's August 9 edition arguing against compulsory military service.
“Nasr and Madian are being unjustly prosecuted for their journalistic work," said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. "Unwarranted lawsuits such as these – particularly brought by the military – can only have a chilling effect on the media. The army should withdraw this suit immediately." The two men were accused of defaming the army, but it is uncertain what penalties they face. The trial has reportedly been set for October 13.
The case against An Nahar came a week after the army issued a separate lawsuit on August 24 against the Paris-based weekly Al Watan Al Arabi. The magazine published an article alleging that members of the Syrian armed forces had disguised themselves by wearing Lebanese army uniforms.
Sharon Seen Readying Onslaught to Wipe Hizbullah's Missiles
Israel's rapidly growing military buildup has touched off fears in Beirut of a major air and land offensive to wipe out Hizbullah's missile firepower, but Hizbullah remains convinced the balance of terror status quo would scare Ariel Sharon off any such venture.
The quality and size of the buildup indicate a major air and land offensive is in the works, awaiting Sharon's final order," An Nahar said on Monday. "The Israeli reinforcements are far bigger than to confront an anticipated Hizbullah assault."
Israel is reported to have established a belt of surface-to-surface missile to strike deep in Lebanon plus dozens of Patriot anti-missile missile batteries to intercept any reciprocal pour of Katyusha rockets on the Galilee settlements or medium-range Iranian Fajr missile to hitting at Haifa's outskirts.
The buildup has been ongoing since Sharon took his security cabinet on precedent-setting tour of the border with Lebanon, putting the northern army, the Galilee police and the civil defense corps on around-the-clock red alert.
Israel has been claiming it had obtained intelligence data that Hizbullah was poised to mount a major guerrilla operation. The Tel Aviv media noted on Monday that the Israeli military establishment is insisting on the claim despite Hizbullah's de-escalatory measures around Al Ghajar.
"It seems clear the army is determined to take some sort of an extraordinary action in the Lebanon theater," Maarev said. When the local administration, police and civil defense, in addition to the army, are put on red alert, there is no doubt horrific action is around the corner."
But Hizbullah remained unruffled. "Sharon's border tour and the exaggerated fanfare about reinforcements is merely an attempt to sway world attention away from Israel's ruthless clampdown on the Palestinians," said Hizbullah's second-in-command Sheikh Naim Kassem.
"This loud enemy noise, however, will not shake our firm determination to do our duty to support the resistance of our Palestinian brethren at all costs. No power on earth will stop us," said Sheikh Kassem at a Hizbullah mass rally in the border village of Meiss El Jabal.
Speaking in a similar rally at Houla, another border township, Hizbullah's parliament member Abdullah Kassir said Israel would not actually be able to make any military move against Lebanon.
"The balance of terror Hizbullah has established is still the deterrent. The sword of resistance will remain hanging over the Zionist enemy's neck," said Kassir.
Beirut, Updated 03 Sep 01, 13:54