News from Beirut March 20  2003   ...Search

Lebanese man killed, 10 hurt in bomb blast

SAIDA, Lebanon, March 20 (AFP) - A Lebanese man was killed and 10 other people wounded Thursday night in a bomb attack in an eastern suburb of the southern city of Saida, police said. The strong explosion ripped open the entrance of an apartment complex in Haret Saida, a mainly Shiite Muslim community of the port city, they said, adding that all the victims lived in the building. There were no immediate indications of the motive for the deadly attack.

Lebanese PM Hariri urges Europe to put aside differences on Iraq

PARIS, March 19 (AFP) - Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri on Wednesday urged European Union states to overcome their differences on the Iraq crisis, following talks in Paris with French President Jacques Chirac. On the eve of a European summit in Brussels, Hariri told reporters he hoped EU countries would reach a consensus on Iraq "to ensure stability and see to it that the UN plays an important role in the near future."

France has spearheaded opposition to US and British plans to launch military action against Baghdad, sparking deep rifts within the European Union, with Paris and Berlin pitted against London, Madrid and Rome -- all in the pro-US camp.

Chirac looked set for a showdown with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on the issue at the two-day summit, with Blair's spokesman confirming that the two men intended to meet in Brussels. Hariri said he was worried about the imminent outbreak of war in Iraq, and the repercussions that such a conflict would have on the region, particularly in the Palestinian territories. "Everything indicates that war will start soon," he told reporters.

Hariri said he and Chirac also discussed the so-called "roadmap" for Middle East peace drafted by top EU, Russian, UN and US officials, which calls for the creation of a Palestinian state in phases by 2005. US President George W. Bush announced Friday he would publish the long-awaited "roadmap" once the Palestinians confirm the appointment of a new prime minister with real authority to share power with leader Yasser Arafat.

Arafat on Wednesday offered the post to Mahmud Abbas, the moderate second-in-command of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Abbas has still not said whether he will take the job.

Hezbollah again denies involvement in deadly Buenos Aires bombing

BEIRUT, March 19 (AFP) - Lebanon's fundamentalist Shiite group Hezbollah repeated Wednesday denials of any involvement in two deadly bombings of Jewish targets in Buenos Aires in the 1990s. A statement said "the enemy (Israel) has been making accusations against Hezbollah, charging it with responsibility for these explosions ever since they happened, and each time we categorically deny any connection by Hezbollah."

On Monday, Israel backed Argentina's issuing arrest warrants for four top Iranian officials, saying it had evidence of Tehran's involvement not only in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community centre, but also in a 1992 attack on the Israeli embassy.

"The mystery has been resolved, and it is now clear to Israel that Hezbollah, through its overseas agents under the command of Imad Moghniyeh, was the organization responsible for the deadly attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires," the foreign ministry said. "According to our information, it is also clear to Israel that top Iranian officials knew of the preparations for this attack and authorised it," said the ministry statement published on the 11th anniversary of the embassy bombing.

"Moreover, Israel has also been told recently that Hezbollah and Iran were involved in the July 1994 attack on the Israeli-Argentine Mutual Association (AMIA)" in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people and wounded 30, the ministry said.

In response, Wednesday's statement said "we again assure that neither Hezbollah, nor any of its members, are linked in any way" with the two attacks. Last week Argentine judge Juan Jose Galeano issued international arrest warrants against four Iranian officials accused of involvement in the AMIA bombing, prompting Tehran to recall its charge d'affaires.

Iran, together with Lebanon and Syria, backed Hezbollah in its struggle against Israeli occupation of south Lebanon, which culminated in the Jewish state's pullout in 2000. Iran and its allies, as well as Hezbollah itself, have long denied any involvement by the group in armed resistance outside Lebanon.

Iraqi refugees in Lebanon hope for war to oust Saddam, allow return home

by Salim Yassine

BEIRUT, March 17 (AFP) - Umm Mohammed, an Iraqi Shiite Muslim refugee in Lebanon, is hoping that war will oust President Saddam Hussein, whose regime killed her husband and two brothers-in-law. The 40-year-old woman, who fled to Lebanon a year ago with her son, daughter-in-law and grandson, lives with them in the reception area corridor of a building in Beirut's mainly Shiite southern suburbs. "Of course I support the war, only the Americans can get rid of Saddam," said Umm Mohammed.

She takes out from her pocket her husband's death certificate, as well as the family's asylum appeal presented to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Beirut. On the certificate, under cause of death reads the word "hanged", and under profession, "theologian." "My husband was from a line of Shiite theologians and used to preach with his two brothers, but the Baath party people decided they were causing sedition," she said, referring to Iraq's ruling party.

To enter Lebanon through Syria illegally, Umm Mohammed sold her flat in Saddam City, a Shiite area of Baghdad, to pay the fee asked by smugglers, 200 dollars per person, an enormous sum in Iraq. With no identity documents, save her husband's death certificate, she secured temporary refugee status in Lebanon and is now waiting for the UNHCR to find the family a host country.

According to Iraqi sources here, several thousand Iraqis are living in Lebanon, most of them illegally. They are scattered around Beirut's impoverished southern suburbs, where police patrols are rare and where the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah holds strong sway. Less fortunate ones are stuck in Lebanese jails.

"We want an end to the arrests of those of us who entered Lebanon illegally," said Umm Hassan, whose husband has been jailed for two months in the crowded Furn al-Shobak prison, just meters (feet) away from UNHCR offices.

Amnesty International has criticised conditions at the prison. The worst fear of Iraqi women refugees in Lebanon is that their husbands, brothers and sons will be jailed or expelled from the country, leaving them on their own. A group of 30 of them, wearing traditional black cloaks, gather every afternoon in an apartment in the Beirut suburbs, lent to them by one of the local clerics. Suhaila, one of the women, sat holding her two-old-child and had little sympathy for the peace camp.

"We don't understand the attitude of France which wants to save a dictator like Saddam, who made his people live in misery. With all our petrol we could have had the same living standards as in Saudi Arabia," she said. "Tell Lebanon's general security services to wait until Saddam is kicked out. It's just a matter of days or weeks, and after that we'll all go back to Iraq," said Iman, another of the women.

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