Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Chaos in Lebanon: Who's Responsible?

The meme that has been pushed by the Bush administration and much of the mainstream media (including Robert Fisk, surprisingly) is that Syria's government is behind the current chaos in Lebanon based on its opposition to the Hariri investigation:

[Tony Snow said] 'We will not tolerate attempts by Syria, terrorist groups or any others to delay or derail Lebanon's efforts to solidify its sovereignty or to seek justice in the Hariri case -- or for that matter to take on the violence that continues to plague the country,' he told reporters.

That sounds certain, doesn't it? But then Snow immediately contradicts himself:

Snow said the United States did not know whether Syria was involved in stoking the violence, stressing: 'We are still studying precisely what is going on but it is important to send the signal.

'The Syrians have said that they wish to play a constructive role. One constructive role is make sure that you're not part of the violence,' the spokesman said.

Even Bush is backing away from directly accusing Syria:

"I don't know about this particular incident. I'll be guarded on making accusations until I get better information, but I will tell you there's no doubt that Syria was deeply involved in Lebanon. There's no question they're still involved in Lebanon," he said.

Perhaps part of the reason the WH is "studying" the situation is due to what really might be going on, according to Sy Hersh (watch the video):

In an interview on CNN International's Your World Today, veteran journalist Seymour Hersh explains that the current violence in Lebanon is the result of an attempt by the Lebanese government to crack down on a militant Sunni group, Fatah al-Islam, that it formerly supported.

Last March, Hersh reported that American policy in the Middle East had shifted to opposing Iran, Syria, and their Shia allies at any cost, even if it meant backing hardline Sunni jihadists.

A key element of this policy shift was an agreement among Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy National Security Advisor Elliot Abrams, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national security adviser, whereby the Saudis would covertly fund the Sunni Farah al-Islam in Lebanon as a counterweight to the Shia Hezbollah.
Hersh implies, the Bush administration is no longer acting rationally in its policy. "We're in the business of supporting the Sunnis anywhere we can against the Shia. ... "We're in the business of creating ... sectarian violence." And he describes the scheme of funding Fatah al-Islam as "a covert program we joined in with the Saudis as part of a bigger, broader program of doing everything we could to stop the spread of the Shia world, and it just simply -- it bit us in the rear."

Just exactly what was Cheney discussing with the Saudis during his last two visits there?

Politics and war do indeed make strange bedfellows:

BEIRUT, Lebanon: The Shiite Muslim Hezbollah militant group has so far backed Lebanon's army in its confrontation with a Sunni militant group inside a refugee camp — despite the fact that Hezbollah has been pushing to topple Lebanon's government.

The Hezbollah stance highlights the complex tensions among Lebanon's various factional and militant groups. Hezbollah — as a Shiite group — is a sworn ideological and religious enemy to groups like Fatah Islam, the Sunni militant group involved in the siege, whose leader had ties to former al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Such emnity is often bitter — Al-Zarqawi pushed for the killings of Shiites in Iraq and elsewhere before his death last year, calling them infidels.

Such tensions are longstanding across the Mideast, even though countries like Syria have been accused of sometimes backing both Sunni and Shiite militants.
In a statement from the group that shows its complex stance, Hezbollah denounced the attacks against the Lebanese army — stressing the role of the Lebanese army in safeguarding peace, but also tacitly criticized Lebanon's current government.

"We feel that there is someone out there who wants to drag the army to this confrontation and bloody struggle ... to serve well-known projects and aims. We are hearing calls for more escalation and fighting, which will ultimately lead to more chaos and confrontation in Lebanon," the Hezbollah statement said. It called for a political solution to the crisis.

And to add further irony to irony via CNN reports that Lebanon's president has asked the Bush administration to send military help which would result, of course, in the Bush administration supporting Hezbollah.

The complexities they create for themselves.

Meanwhile, the situation in the refugee camp under attack is extremely tense.

A truce declared by Fatah al-Islam in the Palestinian refugee camp ended soon after it was announced Tuesday, when a U.N. relief convoy in the camp came under fire at 11:30 GMT (7:30 a.m. ET)

A U.N. official in Beirut said several of the agency's workers were trapped inside the camp for several hours, but later got out shaken but unhurt. It's not clear who fired on the convoy or whether it was targeted. (Watch an explanation of what's behind the fighting Video)

The Lebanese army had said it would not fire unless fired upon. A spokeswoman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, Hoda Samara, told CNN from Beirut that the relief convoy had been loaded with water, food and medical supplies.

"The humanitarian situation is very, very bad," she told CNN, "and deteriorating every minute. Inside the camp, there are no hospitals and only one health center," which had been unable to stay open during the fighting. The overcrowded camp was home to some 40,000 people.
Battles between Lebanese soldiers and militants have killed at least 30 troops and as many as 25 militants, according to Bilal Aslan, who belongs to the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The fighting has also left 20 civilians dead, he said.

Blogger The Angry Arab is on top of what's happening in the camp. His posts are not to be missed. (h/t Marisacat)

Considering the plight of the refugees in that camp, you'd think the US State Department would show some actual humanity instead of releasing a statement saying more than that the Lebanese army attacks are "justified". Then again, humanitarian concerns have never been at the top of Bushco's priority list.

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