Friday, June 29, 2007

Travel ban for Lebanese opposed to Saniora government

Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Persons Responsible for Policies and Actions That Threaten Lebanon's Sovereignty and Democracy

A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

"In order to foster democratic institutions in Lebanon, to help the Lebanese people preserve their sovereignty and achieve their aspirations for democracy and regional stability, and to end the sponsorship of terrorism in Lebanon, it is in the interest of the United States to restrict the international travel, and to suspend the entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of aliens who deliberately undermine or harm Lebanon's sovereignty, its legitimate government, or its democratic institutions, contribute to the breakdown in the rule of law in Lebanon, or benefit from policies or actions that do so, including through the sponsorship of terrorism, politically motivated violence and intimidation, or the reassertion of Syrian control in Lebanon.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, including section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), and section 301 of title 3, United States Code, hereby find that the unrestricted immigrant and nonimmigrant entry into the United States of persons described in section 1 of this proclamation would, except as provided for in sections 2 and 3 of this proclamation, be detrimental to the interests of the United States.

I therefore hereby proclaim that:

Section 1. The entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of the following aliens is hereby suspended:

(a) Lebanese government officials, former Lebanese government officials, and private persons who deliberately undermine or harm Lebanon's sovereignty, its legitimate government, or its democratic institutions, or contribute to the breakdown in the rule of law in Lebanon, including through the sponsorship of terrorism, politically motivated violence or intimidation, or the reassertion of Syrian control in Lebanon;

(b) Syrian government officials, former Syrian government officials, and persons who meet the criteria for designation under section 3(a)(i) or (ii) of Executive Order 13338 of May 11, 2004, who deliberately undermine or harm Lebanon's sovereignty, its legitimate government, or its democratic institutions, or contribute to the breakdown in the rule of law in Lebanon, including through the sponsorship of terrorism, politically motivated violence or intimidation, or the reassertion of Syrian control in Lebanon;

(c) Persons in Lebanon who act on behalf of, or actively promote the interests of, Syrian government officials by deliberately undermining or harming Lebanon's sovereignty, its legitimate government, or its democratic institutions, or contribute to the breakdown in the rule of law in Lebanon, including through the sponsorship of terrorism, politically motivated violence or intimidation, or the reassertion of Syrian control in Lebanon;

(d) Persons who, through their business dealings with any of the persons described in subsection (a), (b), or (c) of this section, derive significant financial benefit from, or materially support, policies or actions that deliberately undermine or harm Lebanon's sovereignty, its legitimate government, or its democratic institutions, or contribute to the breakdown in the rule of law in Lebanon, including through the sponsorship of terrorism, politically motivated violence or intimidation, or the reassertion of Syrian control in Lebanon; and

(e) The spouses and dependent children of persons described in subsections (a), (b), (c), and (d) of this section.

Sec. 2. Section 1 of this proclamation shall not apply with respect to any person otherwise covered by section 1 where entry of such person would not be contrary to the interests of the United States.

Sec. 3. Persons covered by section 1 or 2 of this proclamation shall be identified by the Secretary of State or the Secretary's designee, in his or her sole discretion, pursuant to such procedures as the Secretary may establish under section 5 of this proclamation.

Sec. 4. Nothing in this proclamation shall be construed to derogate from U.S. Government obligations under applicable international agreements.

Sec. 5. The Secretary of State shall have responsibility for implementing this proclamation pursuant to such procedures as the Secretary, in the Secretary's sole discretion, may establish.

Sec. 6. This proclamation is effective immediately. It shall remain in effect until such time as the Secretary of State determines that it is no longer necessary and should be terminated, either in whole or in part. Any such determination by the Secretary of State shall be published in the Federal Register.

Sec. 7. This proclamation is not intended to, and does not, create any right, benefit, or privilege, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity, by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, instrumentalities, or entities, its officers or employees, or any other person.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty eighth day of June, in the year of our Lord two thousand seven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-first."


Lebanese Army Fires Live Ammunition at Protesters

My intention was to write a final post and bury this blog. That will have to wait. These eye-witness accounts of today's events tell a completely different story than what is being reported in the press. In all of the mainstream media reports I have read, witnesses remain undisclosed and army officials are cited anonymously.

According to Caoimhe Butterly, an Irish activist, the protesters were unarmed and possibly a few hundred meters away from the army checkpoint when soldiers opened machine gunfire on the civilians for two to three minutes. They opened fire again, injuring people who were trying to evacuate the wounded.

"Two civilians were killed, and 35 wounded, including 5 women, one
elderly sheikh, and 7 children below the age of 15 – including one
3-year-old child. Seven of the wounded are critically wounded, having
been shot above the waist."

Read the rest below.

Lebanese Army Fires Live Ammunition at Peaceful Protest in Solidarity
with Nahr el Bared Refugee Camp

2 killed, 25 wounded, 7 critical cases shot above their waist

Today, during the second day of a three-day peaceful protest in the
Palestinian refugee camp of Badaoui in solidarity with Palestinian
refugees from Nahr el Bared, the Lebanese Army opened fire on the
protestors in Badawi refugee camp, killing two people and injuring 25,
7 critically.

A peaceful protest began within the Badawi Palestinian Refugee Camp in
north Lebanon. The protestors had signs reading "Nahr el Bared is in
our soul" and "Nahr el Bared, we won't forget you." The protestors
were calling for an end to the violence.

Energetic male youth continued the protest outside the camp, against
the wishes and attempts of the organizers.

As they proceeded towards the Lebanese army's checkpoint, the army
issued verbal warnings telling the protesters to stay away. At this
point, women and children raced to the front to try to prevent the
army from firing upon the crowd. The Lebanese army shot two warning
shots into the air and then immediately responded with machine gun
fire at the crowd of approximately 300 peaceful protesters. The army
continued firing on people as they were attempting to retrieve the

Caoimhe Butterly, an activist and organizer, reported on what she had
personally witnessed. "The army first opened fire with 2 to 3 minutes
of sustained fire. When there was a lull in the shooting, we rushed in
with our hands above our heads. At this stage, the Army started firing
on the road again. Thus, people retrieving the wounded were wounded."

In response to the Lebanese Army's claim that a "significant number"
of the protestors had clubs, Butterly said, "the protestors did not
have clubs. Nobody had clubs. We saw the whole demonstration. They
weren't carrying anything. We went from the beginning to the end of
the demonstration. We saw it all, and no one was carrying clubs."

Furthermore, she continued, "the protest was never out of hand. They
weren't throwing stones. At the time the Army opened fire, women were
sitting on the ground at the front, and a number of people even had
their backs to the soldiers. At the time the Army opened fire, people
were getting quieter and had stopped shouting, as if shouting is
enough to legitimize open fire."

In response to the Lebanese Army's claim that the protestors were 10
meters away from the checkpoint, Butterly said, "We were at a distance
where we couldn't distinguish their faces; we could only distinguish
their figures. We were possibly at a distance of a few hundred meters,
and definitely not 10 meters. We were far away from the checkpoint."

Two civilians were killed, and 35 wounded, including 5 women, one
elderly sheikh, and 7 children below the age of 15 – including one
3-year-old child. Seven of the wounded are critically wounded, having
been shot above the waist.
The protest was held in a response to the ongoing siege of Nahr al
Bared refugee camp in an attempt to highlight the worsening
humanitarian situation and indiscriminate shelling endured by the up
to 3,000 civilians still remaining in the camp. The protest began
yesterday by initiating a three-day water-only symbolic hunger strike
in solidarity with family and friends in Nahr al Bared who are
presently experiencing the hunger, fear and vulnerability of facing a
second month under siege. The protest included a silent procession and
die-in to highlight the to-date 36 civilian casualties earlier this
afternoon and an open mike and opportunity for the press to interview
people throughout the day who have recently evacuated Nahr al Bared.

Eyewitness Contacts:
Caoimhe Butterly: +961 70 824084
Rasha Najdeh: + 961 3 963562

press release written by: Rania Masri, 961 3 135279

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Bus bombs & the Blame (a Syrian) Game

Yesterday evening, at around 8.30pm, a bomb exploded in Sad Boushriyeh, in the eastern suburbs of Beirut. Ten people were injured. It followed a similar pattern of previous bombings-- evidently designed to scare, rather than inflict maximum casualties. I was sitting at my computer in my office, listening to music. These days, I habitually turn the volume down every few minutes to listen for ambulance sirens or dogs barking. I heard a thud from the east, followed by another smaller thud, but didn't make much of it. I often confuse the sound of shipping containers being carelessly unloaded at the nearby port with acts of violence.

A few minutes later an instant message flashed at the bottom of my computer screen. "Did you hear the bomb?" Jamal inquired. "Was it coming from the east? Thought I heard something." "Yeah. New TV says in Industrial City, Bourj Hammoud." "Oh shit." I reached for my phone to call M. but the lines were already overloaded. I signed off the Internet and walked down to my apartment, stopping at the corner store for cigarettes and water. The shopkeeper was gone; his teenage daughter sat behind the counter, holding her head in her hands.

At home I turned on the TV and repeatedly tried to call M., to no avail. The explosion must have been very close to his house, I thought. Images of police army cordoning off the area around a bombed out bus and torched cars in a poorly lit street. After a short while I found myself changing the channel, in search of mindless entertainment.

I was watching the Democratic Primary "debates", when my neighbor Tariq appeared at the door, which I had left ajar. "What are you doing?"he asked. "Nothing. Watching TV." "We're going to the bomb site. Do you wanna come? You have one minute to decide." Tariq is a conflict zone-junkie, a reporter for BBC Brazil. He recently spent twelve-hours holed up in an apartment right next to army artillery positions on the periphery of Nahr el Bared camp. At all times he sports a khaki multi-pocketed vest; his press-pass dangles from his neck for convenience's sake. "Sure...", I hesitated, and turned off the TV.

We drove around in circles in search of the bomb site, following the smell of burning tires and petrol. We stopped to ask a man for directions. He matter-of-factly pointed us in the right direction with the usual polite formalities.

The outer perimeter of the cordoned off area was guarded by plainclothes men armed with automatic rifles. Tariq flashed his press card and slipped under the police tape. Teenage boys, women, men, photographers and soldiers were standing around outside the Mar Takla church, just 30 meters from where the bomb detonated.

The blue-and-white bus in which the bomb was allegedly placed was off limits to the press. Shopkeepers were already clearing the broken glass from their storefronts; the owner of a kebab joint had swept all the glass into a neat pile and continued to make sandwiches. The facade of a six-story commercial building across from the blast was damaged; twisted shutters hung from their hinges exposing office furniture and overturned filing cabinets.

Suddenly a commotion ensued, as four plain clothes men handcuffed a young man-- perhaps twenty-years old-- and escorted him to a white civilian car with Saida license plates. They shoved him into the backseat and closed the door. He sat in the backseat, straining his neck to peer out of the rearview window, terrified. A group of 10 to 12 men stood around the car. Occasionally they opened the door of the car and said something to him. I walked over and asked one of the younger men, who was wearing a T-shirt with "Jesus Soldiers" blazoned across the back, why they arrested the young man. He declined to respond, but his friend replied, matter-of-factly, "Because he's Syrian."

A tall man with a shaved head who seemed to be in charge, overheard this exchange and bellowed, "No, he's Lebanese. Please move away!" As we retreated away from the car, I made eye contact with the young man under detention or arrest, as the car drove off. "It's going to be a rough night for him..." Tariq muttered.

We left the cordoned off area, down an alleyway padded with broken glass.

I hailed a servis to go home. The cab driver-- a card-carrying member of Jumblatt's PSP party as he told me-- dropped off the other two passengers and promptly started railing against the Palestinians and Syrians. "What do they want from Lebanon? Can't they go back to their own country?" "Well, no..." I thought, as I reclined in the back seat. A young man on the side of the road signaled for us to stop. "To Ouzai," he said. The cab driver declined, drove on, and then suddenly hit the brakes. "He's Syrian!" he hissed, peering through the back window as if to reverse the car. "To Ouzai? I don't go to Ouzai..." "Please I need to get home," I interjected. For the rest of the journey he muttered to himself: Lebanon, beautiful Lebanon-- the mountains, the food, the sea-- alas! always at the mercy of others.

This morning M. finally called. His brother was in a car, ten meters in front of the bus when it exploded. I told him about the young man arrested at the scene of the bombing. "Yeah, I heard about it. They said he was trying to run away... I would run away, too, if a bomb went off."

Sunday, June 03, 2007

A Day in the North Pt. II

Yesterday morning, I woke up and switched on the TV. The usual black and white smoke clouds above the skyline of Nahr el Bared camp. The army claimed it had advanced so-and-so many meters into the camp; miraculously only Fatah al Islam "intruders" were killed. The news update ended; a clip set to a bombastic marching tune praising the heroic Lebanese army. I turned off the TV and went to wake M. up. He was in his usual position-- face down, sprawled diagonally across the bed. "We want to go to the north. We don't know what's going on from watching TV. Will you take us?" "No. Take a bus," he mumbled, and went back to sleep.

M. is from the north; he knows Nahr el Bared camp and the surrounding area. Last summer he worked as a fixer driving journalists around Dahiye and the south in his rusty wreck of a Honda. It has seen twenty or more accidents and can barely make 60 km per hour. Half of the car's body is black, the other half grey with some splashes of white. The car horn -- a primary means of asserting yourself in traffic -- only works sporadically; this has taught him patience, he contends. M. knows how to talk to every type of authority. He has a knack for dialects and caters his word choice to each individual situation.

I consulted with my roommate Y. who was all dressed up and ready to go. I shrugged. "You ask him. He might listen to you." We returned to the room, and tugged on M.'s leg, like two pesky children begging for a goodnight story. "Please, will you go with us? We can't go without you. You know the roads. Please?" He yawned, rolled over, and obliged us. "OK, we'll leave in ten minutes. Go load the batteries for the camera and get us breakfast."

An hour and a half later, we turned off the highway north of Tripoli and headed towards the sea, along the same road I had taken only a few days ago, past the former army checkpoint 5 to 6 kilometers south of the Nahr el Bared refugee camp. Two very loud explosions from the mountains to the east caught us by surprise. We ducked; M. hit the brakes. A BMW skidded and raced past us. We honked, signaled for him to stop and pulled up next to him. "Is it safe to take this road? Are there snipers? We are trying to find the place where the journalists and medics are stationed." The young man behind the steering wheel was in a hurry. "You can go about 4 kilometers. The road beyond that is in the line of fire. You take a right up at the corner..." He broke off in mid-sentence and signaled for us to follow him instead.

We trailed him, along the coastal dirt road, lined with dilapidated houses and car mechanic shops. A few dozen men were tinkering away at their cars; women and children stood on their balconies or peered from the windows as explosions and gunfire erupted, seemingly from various locations. "It sounds like they are firing those new American 240 mm shells," M. said. "It's definitely bigger than a 155mm. Be really vigilant and on the look out," he instructed us. "On the look out for what? Snipers?" I inquired. "Just be alert," he replied keeping his eye on the road ahead.

The BMW we had been following now pulled over to the side of the road. "I have to turn off to the right here. The journalists should be at the next intersection, just up ahead. Be careful," he advised. We drove on slowly, but there was nobody at that intersection, nor at the next. "Have we driven too far," I wondered. "Is it even possible for us to get too close without the army turning us away?" My roommate in the back seat agreed that we should turn around, except then, just ahead I recognized the checkpoint at which last week's demonstration had taken place.

To my surprise it was unfortified and only manned by one soldier in the company of a tall, lanky man, sporting olive green fatigues, a hefty but well-trimmed beard, sunglasses and what resembled a straw safari hat. We crept towards them and rolled down the window. "Excuse me, where are all the journalists and medics?" M. asked the soldier. "Everybody's gone. They left," he replied with remarkable disinterest. "Where did they go?" "They went somewhere else. That way..." he replied waving his hand. "Is it safe to drive up that road?" "No," the bearded-man in the olive green fatigues interjected. "But go if you like..."

We reversed and drove back down the same road. "Can we drive really fast?" I asked, reclining in the seat. M. assured me that we would, as soon as we got further away from the checkpoint. "That man... the man with the beard-- he's not in the army," M., whose father is an administrator in the Lebanese Army, noted. "Who the hell was he?" I asked. "He was probably a militia man. Must have been. And his uniform was ironed. This wasn't some makeshift outfit. He wears that every day. That's his job," M. surmised, keeping his eyes on the road ahead. "He looked like an Islamist version of a platoon leader," I remarked. "Perhaps we just saw one of the 'third party' fighters." "I believe it now," M. concluded. "That was probably the militia they've been talking about. It's true what they've been saying."

We turned left at the end of the coastal dirt road to return to the highway. Three or four military jeeps passed us. None of the soldiers took note of us. Back on the highway, a procession of ten to twelve tanks, fortified with sandbags, each carrying 5-6 soldiers, their rifles cocked in every direction passed us en route to Nahr el Bared. "This looks like something out of World War II. These aren't the same boys who lackadaisically man the tanks in Beirut. They are here to fight..." I noted, as we slowed down to a crawl for the road block ahead.

M. routinely removed his sunglasses, earring and turned off the stereo. The soldier peered at us through the window. His eyes yellow and bloodshot, he mouthed "hawiyyeh," and signaled for an ID card with both his hands. M. handed him the document. "Tfaddal. Allah ma'ak," the soldier whispered hoarsely.

We turned off the highway and up the winding road to Badawe camp. Outside a shop, two armed Palestinian guards directed us to the back entrance of the camp. We parked outside a UNRWA school and entered the yard. Men, women and children sat around on plastic chairs seeking shade on the steps leading up to the school. A hand-written sign in the yard read, "Massacre is in Nahr El Bared. PRESS: Go there."

We crossed the school yard and entered the adjacent Ghassan Kanafani cultural center I had visited last week. In one of the offices, two members of Save the Children foundation were at work, labeling the positions of Fatah al Islam, schools and mosques on a Google Earth map of the camp.

A Swedish woman, a "child safety consultant," according to her business card, briefed us on the latest developments. "We are receiving pictures of the dead-- children, the disabled and elderly. Most of the people who remained are very old; others stayed because they fear not being allowed to return to their homes and being re-located to temporary encampments." "How are you receiving the photos?" I asked. "People are sending them in over their phones. I just received one of a sixty-year old woman, her head blown off. Just now they say a large building near the marketplace, in the densest area of the camp, collapsed from continuous shelling. The situation is bad. Bad. Very bad," she said, and returned to her computer. "Oh and the Lebanese press are denying there are still as many people in the camp," she continued. "There are at least 5,000 who remain inside. They keep reporting that only the Fatah al Islam remain. It's simply not true."

I asked her about the bus of refugees fleeing Nahr el Bared that was allegedly ambushed by militia men during the first ceasefire. That day, I had received text messages from people up north, reporting that civilians had been shot and tortured as they tried to flee; shot and tortured by a "third party militia". When I visited Badawe last week, I heard the same story from a young man and an elderly lady. The Swedish child safety consultant sized me up. "The thirteen year old boy on the bus, he was tortured with electricity. He survived. His grandfather has taken him out of the camp, because he doesn't want him to have to answer any more questions. An Amnesty International delegation is here looking for him." I replied that I had also heard of two survivors who were being treated in the Norwegian hospital at the camp's entrance. "Yes, that's what they say. I don't think they want to talk about it now," she replied cooly.

We left her office and wandered out into the yard. A group of teenage boys surrounded us. "Are you journalists? Who do you work for?" "Not really," M. replied. "We are just here visiting for the day." "Hey, do you want to drink some laban donated by Hariri?", Ali, who claimed to be seventeen, inquired puffing on a cigarette. "I don't like Hariri," I declined. "Neither do we. But it's good laban. Come!" he beckoned. We walked with him and his friends back to the UNRWA school yard and out into an adjacent parking lot. "If you don't want laban. We can drink whiskey," he suggested. "I will invite you for a night at Casino du Liban. They serve big platters of fruit with the drinks there," Ali mused. "It's very expensive. And full of khalijis," I replied. "No, it only costs 75,000LL ($50)," Ali insisted.

An elderly disabled man came over and handed us a petition, hand-written on the back of a sheet of baking foil. "We ask that the army and Fatah al Islam agree to take the fighting outside our camp." "It's like Jenin," another man interjected. Ahmed, who I spoke to last Tuesday hours he had fled the camp, was eager to re-tell his story to M. and Y. The frenzied pitch with which he spoke reminded me of stories of torture victims from the 1980s in South America. Many survivors were maddened by the prospect that nobody would believe them; their torturers had been careful to leave no exterior wounds, instead inflicting internal bruising and psychological injuries. "There is not one dead civilian. Not one. Many many many. Not one," Ahmed repeated.

While we were chatting with the kids in the street, a gunman from "Saiqa" asked us to disperse. "I'm really sorry, but we need to keep things calm," he said. "Things are very tense." We apologized as he horded the kids back into the parking lot. He offered us juice. "I was born during the summer of 1982. In a bomb shelter. Our situation now is quite similar," he remarked.