Suspected killer of Lebanese soldiers handed over
AIN HELWE, Lebanon, July 16 (AFP) - An Islamic militant wanted for killing three Lebanese army intelligence agents and holed up in this Palestinian refugee camp was handed over early on Tuesday to the Lebanese army, a Palestinian source said.
They said that Lebanese Islamic leaders had handed the militant, Badih Hamade, to Lebanese soldiers at the northern entrance of the camp, on the outskirts of the port city of Saida. Hamade, a Shiite Lebanese militant, is accused by the army of shooting dead three intelligence agents who were tailing him last Thursday and of a spate of bomb attacks on military checkpoints around Ain Helwe.
The shooting occurred on a road to Ain Helwe and Palestinian sources say Hamade was wounded in an exchange of fire. Shreidi's Osbat al-Nour is a splinter faction of the Islamist group Osbat al-Ansar, which is on a US list of terrorist organisations. A spokesman for Osbat al-Ansar has denied links with Hamade.
Lebanese minibus owners go on hunger strike against switch to gasoline
BEIRUT, July 15 (AFP) - Hundreds of minibus owners started a hunger strike to protest a new anti-pollution law taking effect Monday that bans the use of heating oil in their diesel-powered vehicles. The minibus owners launched their action on Martyrs' Square in downtown Beirut amid a heavy deployment of anti-riot police.
Abdullah Hamade, head of the minibus owners' union, told reporters that the drivers continue to reject the government-proposed 1,200 dollars compensation to convert each of their diesel-powered engines to use gasoline. "If it is true that diesel-powered vehicles are polluting, the ban should apply on everyone and not just private (sector) transportation," said Hamade.
Minibus owners have joined taxi drivers in protesting a new anti-pollution law which bans the use of heating oil to power car engines. The ban on taxis went into effect June 15, while minibus owners were given until Monday.
Trucks, buses and army vehicles are exempted from the ban, as are factories and power plants, much to the anger of environmentalists who cite the emissions as a main reason for high levels of pollution in Beirut.
Since 1995, the government has turned a blind eye to diesel engines in a bid to reduce transportation costs, but it has so far failed to import diesel fuel. As a result, drivers resorted to use of highly polluting heating oil, which also brought them higher profits because it is much cheaper than gasoline.
Hamadeh said the Lebanese state was to blame "for the damage done to us. Drivers have gone into debt to spend 36,000 dollars on diesel vehicles, and the authorities now ask us to stop working before we have finished paying them off." He said minibus owners had also decided to hold a sit-in in front of parliament on Tuesday.
Lebanon PM calls Chirac after assassination attempt
BEIRUT, July 14 (AFP) - Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri telephoned Jacques Chirac following an attempt Sunday on the French president's life by a neo-Nazi student in Paris, the Lebanese leader's office said.
Hariri asked about the circumstances of the attempt to gun down Chirac as he rode in an open car through the heart of Paris to celebrate Bastille Day with tens of thousands of others, it said in a statement. He also wished Chirac good health and sent his congratulations for the French national day.
Lebanon has close ties with France and was under French mandate until its independence in 1943, while Chirac and Hariri have a good personal relationship. The neo-Nazi student fired one shot from a .22-caliber hunting rifle before being overpowered by bystanders and police. Chirac was unhurt.
Palestinians ready strike force to seize militant wanted in Lebanon
by Mountasser Abdallah
AIN HELWEH, Lebanon, July 15 (AFP) - Palestinian groups readied a strike force Monday to seize a Lebanese militant wanted for the murder of three army intelligence agents who is believed holed up in this Palestinian refugee camp.
About 150 militiamen armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades gathered at the main entrance of the camp, on the outskirts of the southern port city of Sidon, after an overnight decision to resort to force by all Palestinian factions and camp leaders.
But a "last chance" was given to negotiations, as two Islamic leaders met at a mosque inside the Ain Helwe camp with dissident Islamist leader Sheikh Abdullah Shreidi who is accused of sheltering the militant, Badih Hamade.
"We have clear instructions to carry out searches to catch the suspect," Abul Walid, commander of the strike force, told AFP. "We are still awaiting the results of the last chance negotiations." The Lebanese army, which has entrusted security in the refugee camps to the Palestinians since 1969, itself positioned hundreds of extra soldiers around the camp late Sunday, backed by military vehicles.
Two of Ain Helweh's five entrances have been sealed off by Lebanese troops, who have also imposed tight controls on the other three. Tension ran high inside the camp on Monday, as shops closed in the northern and eastern sectors of the shantytown where traffic was lighter than usual, an AFP correspondent said.
A small number of families were also seen fleeing the camp, he said. The decision to set up the strike force was taken in an overnight meeting of representatives of all Palestinian factions in the camp who signed a document promising to hand over Hamade to Lebanese authorities "at any price."
The document was later approved by about 300 camp leaders who also met during the night, Palestinian sources said. It called for a systematic search of all suspected hideouts in the camp and warned Shreidi, who heads the Islamist grouping Osbat al-Nour, and his deputy Osama Shahabi to hand over Hamade "as soon as possible, or face arrest warrants themselves."
The factions in the camp issued a 24-hour ultimatum for Shreidi to surrender Hamade, and the Palestinian groups formed a seven-member committee to supervise the operation. The committee is made up of all Palestinian factions and headed by the head of the shantytown's police force affiliated with the mainstream Fatah movement of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the dominant force in the camp.
Hamade, a Shiite Lebanese militant, is accused by the army of shooting dead three intelligence agents who were tailing him last Thursday and of a spate of bomb attacks on military checkpoints around Ain Helweh. The shooting occurred on a road to Ain Helweh and Palestinian sources say Hamade was wounded in an exchange of fire.
Shreidi's Osbat al-Nour is a splinter faction of the Islamist group Osbat al-Ansar, which is on a US list of terrorist organisations. A spokesman for Osbat al-Ansar has denied links with Hamade.
Lebanese authorities stay out of the 12 Palestinian camps scattered around the country and which are autonomous and home to supporters of all factions.Ain Helweh is the largest refugee camp with about 50,000 residents.
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