MASSIVE RALLIES SHOW STRENGTH OF MOVEMENT; SINIORA ACCUSES POLITICAL OPPOSITION OF PLOTTING COUP D'ÉTAT
9 December 2006
Demonstrations in Beirut are threatening to topple the moderate government of PM Fouad Siniora. The militant group, Hezbollah, comprised of political, religious and militia factions, has called for the replacement of the sitting government and brought as many as 1 million supporters into the streets of downtown Beirut to show the strength of its political coalition.
The massive demonstration also included supporters of the largely Shi'a Amal party, as well as "Christian groups that included Marida and Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement, all determined to topple the government", according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Hezbollah supporters were reported to be draped in the group's yellow flag and FPM supporters wore orange, but all groups appeared to be waving the Lebanese flag, as a show of unity. One common complaint among demonstrators has been the feeling of betrayal that the government "did not stand with us during the war".
Hezbollah leaders have accused the Siniora government of quietly hoping Israel would destroy the group's militia in order to reduce its political influence. The goal of this new cross-party resistance is to force the Siniora government to resign, to hold new elections, which Hezbollah anticipates winning, as the 34-day war with Israel left the group significantly stronger than before.
Though widely known as an anti-Israel Shi'a militia, Hezbollah's leaders have been hoping to avoid any armed conflict in the current political crisis. They have expressed concern that intelligence agents from Syria, Iran or states hostile to its interests, might try to undermine the March 8th Coalition protests, by provoking violent clashes. But the group's leaders have promised it will not use arms against any Lebanese political faction, and seems so far to have prevented any clashes.
As night fell on 30 November, demonstrators took control of the massive Martyrs' Square, and surrounded the government headquarters. Soldiers ordered the public to allow officials in and out of government buildings, but Hezbollah security forces said they would only follow orders from the group's leaders. The confrontation was reportedly defused with a phone call to party leaders who helped to reopen the streets.
The government has said the demonstrations constitute an attempted coup, and that it will not cede to bullying. Siniora has said "We will not allow a democratic government to be toppled, or its institutions". He also said his government would not permit "a state within a state", a reference to Hezbollah, which has its own private army, its own social programs, and often behaves as if it were entitled to determine Lebanese policy.
Siniora added "We are the legitimate government and responsible for all Lebanese". Isolated interviews with demonstrators and citizens in the streets suggested there is a feeling that Siniora will not last long as Prime Minister. Hezbollah has been putting on increasing pressure since the summer, when it appeared to win popular support as a barrier against further violence.
During the summer, the US administration of George W. Bush took what looked like delicate steps toward opening diplomatic negotiations with Syria and Iran, considered rogue states and dangerous to US interests, but the US classifies Hezbollah, backed covertly by both of those governments, as a terrorist organization. [s]
A ceasefire as laid out in UN Security Council resolution 1701, passed unanimously on Friday, came into effect this morning. Though Hezbollah launched a record number of rockets yesterday into northern Israel, and Israeli warplanes continue to batter Beirut and other sections of southern Lebanon less than half and hour before the 8am deadline, one hour later there were reports that Israeli aircraft were "absent" from Lebanese skies and that Hezbollah had ceased firing rockets into Israel. [Full Story]
ISRAEL-LEBANON ESCALATION NOW MAJOR INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC CRISIS
Diplomacy will play a vital role in any resolution to the Israel-Lebanon conflict, but will involve tough choices for any parties joining the negotiations. While having expressed visceral opposition to contact with Damascus, the White House is likely to have to cobble together an improbable coalition of rivals to achieve a functional ceasefire on the Israel-Lebanon border territories. [Full Story]
US STATE DEPT. TO WAIVE FEE FOR EVACUEES FROM LEBANON
The United States Department of State has issued a statement saying it plans to waive any fees associated with US nationals' evacuation from the now wartorn Lebanese territory. The situation had provoked anger, as evacuation teams were late in arriving, and stranded Americans complained the proposed commercial fees were making it difficult to arrange their departure. [Full Story]
ISRAEL-LEBANON CONFLICT RAPIDLY ESCALATING
Israel's bombardment of Lebanon is described today as "relentless", with new targets in northern Lebanon having been hit and civilian death tolls and injuries mounting. Leaders at the G8 summit have issued a joint communiqué blaming Hezbollah attacks on civilians for the violence, demanding an end to rocket attacks, but calling on Israel to cease all operations in Lebanon that could harm civilians. [Full Story]
ISRAEL EASES CONDITIONS FOR CEASE-FIRE
United Press International is reporting Israel has eased the conditions it requires to suspend military operations and its blockade against Lebanon. PM Ehud Olmert, in a speech to Israel's parliament expressed his determination not to yield to any group that launches missiles into Israeli cities, but signalled that moving Hezbollah away from the Israeli border could bring about a cease-fire. [Full Story]
OBSERVERS WORRY MIDEAST ESCALATION COULD FLARE INTO WAR
Israel's attack on Lebanon has escalated, with bombing of Beirut's international airport, the main highway between Beirut and Damascus, at least one power station, several bridges, and a mounting sea blockade. Israel says it holds Lebanon responsible for Hezbollah's abduction of two Israeli soldiers and is acting in self-defense.
The US State Department, through Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, has called on all sides to refrain from using disproportionate violence and to scale back attacks, but admits the right of Israel to defend itself. Lebanese officials have criticized Israel's PM Ehud Olmert's assigning blame to Lebanon as a whole for the actions of the radical group Hezbollah, saying neither the Lebanese governmenet nor even Hezbollah's political wing have any influence over the military element of the group. [Full Story]
AMNESTY REPORTS INTERNATIONAL ARMS TRADE 'OUT OF CONTROL'
Amnesty International has published a new report examining the international arms trade, and its findings indicate there is little control on the expanding web of private interests seeking to profit from a proliferation of dangerous weapons. The report also illustrates the ways in which this scattering of dangerous weapons has lead to severe human rights abuses. [Full Story]