Lebanese leaders discuss with Moussa, European politicians regional developments

Moussa stresses need for stance regarding Israel’s rejection of Arab peace initiative

UN’s Ban says concerned over possible relapse of southern Lebanon into violence

Fresh campaigns over Hariri tribunal amidst reports speaking of cogent evidence

The visiting Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa reiterated that there was no new war on Lebanon although he warned that the danger was always present, the local An Nahar news website reported last week.

"There is a general atmosphere of danger in Lebanon which is not based on information," Moussa said after talks with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman at Baabda palace, "Caution is advised but I don't see war on (Lebanon's) doorsteps."

Moussa said that he discussed with Suleiman latest regional developments which he said were more negative than positive.

Moussa added that his talks with the Lebanese president focused on the situation in the south and peace in the region.

The Arab League chief met with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Foreign Minister Ali al-Shami lat week.

Head of Lebanese Forces (LF) Samir Geagea held talks with Arab League chief Amr Moussa in Cairo.

Following the meeting, Moussa told reporters that his discussions with Geagea touched on regional developments in addition to the situation in Lebanon and current and upcoming challenges.

“I enjoyed the discussions and I hope we will meet soon in Lebanon, which is witnessing stability,” he said, voicing hopes that Lebanon would continue to enjoy prosperity.

Geagea meanwhile praised Moussa’s efforts to help resolve Lebanon’s numerous political crises from 2006 to 2008.

Following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005, Lebanon experienced political deadlock as Western-backed and opposition parties bickered over the allocation of government seats.

Tensions culminated with armed clashes in May 2008 before a Qatari-brokered accord restored calm in the country and appointed Michel Sleiman as President.

Geagea told reporters the current regional situation was “not promising.”

“The Arab League chief is pursuing efforts to ease regional tensions and we in Lebanon are continuing with efforts to preserve the current stability,” he said.

“We will enhance stability more and more until we have spared Lebanon from any potential damage resulting from a confrontation that could erupt in the region,” Geagea added.

The meeting was attended by LF MPs Strida Geagea and Antoine Zahra, along with the party’s official for foreign relations, Joseph Nehme. Senior Arab League officials headed by adviser Hisham Yousef also attended the meeting.

During his visit, Geagea also met with head of Egyptian Intelligence and Minister of State Omar Suleiman. The two discussed the situation in Lebanon and the region as well as means to protect it through reigniting the peace process and achieving reconciliation between the Palestinians.

Arab league chief Amr Moussa accused Israel of continued "atrocity and assault" in the Middle East in violation of human rights and international law.

Moussa, speaking at an economic forum between Turkey and Arab nations, said "Israel is the main reason for the black hole in the region."

He also praised Turkey for challenging Israel following the May 31 Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that left eight Turks and a Turkish-American teenager dead. Israel insists its commandoes acted in self-defense after being attacked by pro-Palestinian activists.

Moussa said the nine dead "are our martyrs as well."

The meeting opened with calls for an international investigation into the deadly Israeli raid.

Turkey's popularity in the Muslim world has surged as it led the world in condemning Israel for the raid on aid ships trying to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Turkey also won favor among Arab allies for objecting to new sanctions against Iran, which the U.N. Security Council passed after rejecting an Iranian nuclear fuel swap-deal brokered by Ankara.

Turkey — a non-Arab, predominantly Muslim country — is watching developments "concerning security and stability in the Middle East and the Gulf region," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in his opening speech to the Turkish-Arab Economic Forum, attended by Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri and foreign ministers from about 15 other Arab nations.

Hariri said the Middle East was suffering under Israel's "criminal and barbaric" attitude.

"We support Turkey's demands not only about the international investigation, but for Israel to apologize," Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit said. "We support Turkey's demand to try those behind these acts." Turkey also says Israel's partial easing of its Gaza blockade was not enough. Earlier this week in Istanbul, Turkey urged Israel along with 21 Asian countries to join the nuclear nonproliferation treaty and place its nuclear capabilities under the safeguards of the International Atomic Agency.

It said Israel should not be left out from any scrutiny of its alleged nuclear arsenal, which Israel has never confirmed, and also said Iran should be able to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

Although courting membership in the European Union, Turkey has also strengthened its ties with its Arab neighbors by mediating several conflicts, cultivating new relationships with former rivals such as Syria and Iran, forging free trade zones and gradually lifting mutual visa requirements.

The economic forum, set up in 2007, aims to build on a trade volume that soared to $29 billion last year between Turkey and Arab League countries, from $13 billion in 2004.

Erdogan said direct investments from the Middle East, Gulf and North Africa countries had reached a total of $8 billion in Turkey over the last five years — a figure that could be improved.

"These figures do not reflect our real potential, and we must work together harder to promote our economic and trade relations," Erdogan said. "We aim to create a free trade are with Arab countries."

Turkey already has free-trade agreements with Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Syria, Palestine and Tunisia, and is negotiating similar deals with Lebanon and Libya, he said.

Turkey also recently lifted entry visa requirements for Jordanians, Libyans, Syrians and Lebanese and would like to extend "the free-trade and visa-free zone" to other countries in the region, Erdogan said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a report that U.N. peacekeepers have had tense confrontations with Lebanese civilians, which Western diplomats see as a growing concern.

Ban's latest report to the U.N. Security Council says blue helmet peacekeepers in southern Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, have run into difficulties with civilians on a number of occasions in recent months.

Some Western diplomats say Hezbollah militants encourage and participate in such confrontations between civilians and UNIFIL. Ban's report did not confirm that allegation but said there is reason for "doubt on the motives of those (civilians) involved" in some incidents.

The most serious confrontation, it said, was on March 4 when civilians blocked the route of a UNIFIL patrol and the Lebanese army as they were jointly investigating the firing of automatic weapons in the village of As-Suwwanan.

"While carrying out a foot patrol in the village, three UNIFIL personnel were slightly injured and two UNIFIL vehicles were damaged during a scuffle with civilians who stopped the patrol," Ban's report said.

Several council diplomats said on condition of anonymity that there have been a number of incidents more recently in which stones were hurled at UNIFIL peacekeepers. They said some countries on the 15-nation Security Council were urging Lebanon to deploy more troops south of the Litani River.

Security Council resolution 1701, which halted hostilities in the Israeli-Hezbollah war in 2006, calls for a stop to arms smuggling. It bans all unauthorized weapons between the Litani River and the Blue Line, the U.N.-monitored border between Israel and Lebanon.

Israel has criticized UNIFIL for not stopping weapons it says are flowing to Hezbollah guerrillas. The United Nations says that is the responsibility of the Lebanese authorities.

Ban said Israel's allegations that Hezbollah had received Scud missiles from Syria had "resulted in increased tension" in the region. Syria has denied the allegation.

"Such tension once again illustrated the importance of control by Lebanon over its borders and of the respect by all member states for the prohibition against transferring arms" in violation of resolution 1701, Ban said in his report.

The report said the United Nations was not able to verify whether or not the Scud allegations are true.

Ban said he not received evidence proving the unauthorized transfer of weapons into southern Lebanon, even though Israel "maintains that the Hezbollah is continuing to build up its military presence and capacity, including inside UNIFIL area of operations."

His report also had complaints about Israel.

"Israel Defense Forces aircraft, mostly unmanned aerial vehicles but also increasing number of fighter jets, continued almost daily intrusions into Lebanese airspace," Ban said.

"The overflights constitute violations of resolution 1701."

Meanwhile, a UN tribunal probing the 2005 murder of Lebanese ex-premier Rafiq Hariri said it will hold a public hearing to allow a general who was detained over the killing to challenge the court.

Lebanese General Jamil el-Sayyed filed a request in March for access to court investigation files in order to prove his assertion that he had been the victim of slander and was arbitrarily detained from 2005 to 2009.

Sayyed and the prosecutor will each have 20 minutes in the hearing on July 13 to present their arguments to the court, said judge Daniel Fransen in a ruling dated June 25.

The Lebanese general was placed in temporary detention on August 30, 2005 on an arrest warrant issued by a Lebanese judge. The UN tribunal ordered his release along with three other generals on April 29, 2009.

The Hague-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon was set up by a UN Security Council resolution in 2007 to find and try suspects in the assassination of Hariri, a five-time billionaire prime minister who was killed in a massive bombing on the Beirut seafront on February 14, 2005.

In its first annual report published in March, the tribunal announced investigators were getting closer to identifying the suicide bomber who carried out the attack.

The Hariri murder has been widely blamed on Syria, a main backer of Hezbollah, although Damascus has roundly denied involvement.

A UN commission of inquiry had said it had evidence to implicate Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services prior to the tribunal's formation, but there are currently no suspects in custody.

The head of the UN tribunal said last month that it could file charges by the end of the year.

Five years after the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister, we are nowhere closer to seeing the guilty accused, says Michael Young, an opinion editor of the Lebanese Daily Star newspaper in Beirut.

Recently, one of the men arrested in the investigation of the 2005 assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, pursued a revealing legal maneuver. He demanded that the special tribunal set up by the United Nations a year ago to try those suspected of the murder show him the evidence used to arrest him.

The man is Jamil al-Sayyed, the former head of Lebanon’s General Security directorate and one of four generals arrested on the advice of United Nations investigators a few months after the Hariri murder. Al-Sayyed spent four years behind bars, until he was released last year along with his colleagues by the tribunal prosecutor, Daniel Bellemare, because there was not enough evidence to indict them. Sayyed’s request shows how onetime suspects are now willing to take the tribunal on, largely because it has lost all momentum.

Sayyed’s innocence is a matter of conjecture. He was a main cog in the Syrian-dominated security network in Lebanon during the time Damascus ruled directly over the country. It was this network that investigators believe was behind Hariri’s killing. The detention of Sayyed and his associates was repeatedly reconfirmed by the body set up to investigate the killing, the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC), whose last head was Bellemare, before he became tribunal prosecutor.

Yet it is also true that the investigators did not turn their suspicions about Sayyed into indictable offences. Therein lies the tribunal’s difficulties.

Five years after the Hariri assassination, we are nowhere closer to seeing the guilty accused. Back in 2005, the decision of the UN Security Council to set up an investigation of the Hariri killing was an innovation. It was the first time that the international organization had looked into a political assassination, the rationale being that this would help deter such crimes in the future.

UNIIIC was set up, and its first commissioner was Detlev Mehlis, a German judge who had investigated high-profile terrorist crimes in former West Berlin, including the 1986 LaBelle discotheque bombing.

Mehlis had no doubt that the Hariri assassination was ordered by Syria, even if Lebanese individuals or groups also participated in the operation. His team began a police investigation, and interviewed Syrian officials and intelligence officers inside Syria and abroad.

On the eve of his departure in December 2005, Mehlis even recommended to his successor, the Belgian judge Serge Brammertz, that he arrest the former head of Syria’s military intelligence apparatus in Lebanon.

Brammertz never did so. In fact he arrested no one during his two-year tenure. While this may have been because one of Mehlis’ witnesses appeared unreliable, there were far deeper problems in the Belgian’s investigation. He cut back on police officers and added analysts. Analyses can address details of a crime, but only a police investigation, which entails taking suspects into custody and using their testimonies to unravel the decision-making hierarchy, can identify the guilty. In fact, Brammertz did not investigate much at all before handing over to Bellemare.

Was this intentional on Brammertz’s part? I contacted him in April of last year for a book I was writing to give him an opportunity to respond to my criticisms of his work. I also wanted him to reply to allegations leveled at him by Mehlis in an interview I conducted with the German for The Wall Street Journal. Brammertz declined. However, it was difficult not to notice that his appointment after serving on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon – namely, as prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia – was a promotion by the UN, even though his performance in Beirut hardly merited such an accolade.

Perhaps that was precisely what the UN liked in Brammertz. As Mehlis later recalled, when he met Kofi Annan before starting his mission, the UN secretary-general told him that “he did not want another trouble spot”. Mehlis did not oblige.

He raised the heat on Syria and although he received Security Council backing, which strengthened his mandate, the UN bureaucracy must have winced at the tensions resulting from these confrontations.

Bellemare has been a different kettle of fish. A Canadian judge, he had no experience of terrorist crimes when he came in. His tenure as commissioner, then as prosecutor, has produced little apparent progress.

He seems to have information pointing to on-the-ground involvement by Hezbollah in Hariri’s elimination, but two key questions remain: Does Bellemare have enough to indict? And if he does, who will the prosecutor point the finger at, low-level operatives or higher-level decision-makers, including Syrian officials?

For now, we can only speculate. However, there seems less and less doubt that the two-year tenure of Brammertz damaged the prosecution’s case, perhaps fatally. Bellemare also discredited the tribunal by awaiting its formation before releasing the four generals, when, aware that there would be no indictments, he could have requested that the Lebanese authorities do so earlier.

Worst of all, key figures have left the tribunal one after the other, including Bellemare’s chief investigator and two registrars. This implied, at the very least, that these individuals did not expect indictments in the foreseeable future; but in several specific cases the exits also hinted at Bellemare’s managerial shortcomings.

Indictments may come later this year, but it seems doubtful, given what we know, that those who ordered the assassination will be charged. The zeal with which the tribunal’s president, Antonio Cassese, has pressed for this deadline indicates he is putting pressure on Bellemare.

Cassese knows that the tribunal’s funding is closely tied to signs of genuine progress.

He is right to be worried.