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After Aleppo victory, what’s next for Hezbollah?

Lebanese Hezbollah supporters carry a replica of Hezbollah’s emblem during a religious procession to mark Ashura in Beirut’s southern suburbs, Lebanon, Oct. 12, 2016

The capture of Aleppo by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia and Hezbollah, has given a boost to Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Shiite movement’s deepening involvement in the Syrian war since 2013 had led to a narrowed margin of maneuver at home, as political and social pressures increased on it. The battle for and victory in Aleppo Dec. 22 has reinforced Hezbollah’s “winning” narrative vis-a-vis its political opponents and among its popular base and will potentially help justify future battles the organization might wage in Syria.

“Hezbollah’s capture of Aleppo shows that its fight alongside the regime of Assad was the right thing to do,” Abdallah Younes, a Shiite resident of the Bekaa Valley, told Al-Monitor. Hezbollah’s decision to send thousands of fighters to support Assad resulted in heavy fallout in the Bekaa and elsewhere in Lebanon, for which the Lebanese criticized the organization. The fertile Bekaa, on the border with Syria in eastern Lebanon, has been on the front line of the Syrian war since 2013. Syrian rebels have repeatedly shelled the region, which has also been the target of several terror attacks. In 2014, Jabhat al-Nusra carried out suicide attacks in the area. Hezbollah and the Lebanese army have also clashed with Islamic State (IS) fighters in the mountainous Qalamoun area, east of the Bekaa. IS was behind several attacks in the Bekaa, including one on the Christian village of Qaa in June 2016.

The intense fighting in the Syrian war has pitted a mostly Sunni insurgency against pro-Assad regime forces bolstered by Hezbollah and other Shiite forces in the form or troops from Iran and Popular Mobilization Units fighters from Iraq. Syrian government forces and their allies have also received Russian air coverage since Sept. 30, 2015. The conflict is today increasingly seen as a sectarian proxy war between two axes: one pro-Shiite (consisting of Iran, Hezbollah, Syria and Russia) and the other Sunni dominated (including Gulf countries and Turkey). Nonetheless, Ankara changed its position after reaching a deal in September with Russia that allowed it to launch attacks on its Syrian Kurdish nemeses under the banner of Operation Euphrates Shield.

Meanwhile on the Lebanese political scene, Hezbollah has been backed by the Christian Free Patriotic Movement, led by Michel Aoun, and the Shiite Amal movement and pitted against a coalition of the Sunni Future Movement, headed by Saad Hariri, Christian Lebanese Forces and the Druze Progressive Party. A clear power shift on the battlefield in favor of the Iranian, Shiite axis in Syria in the weeks prior to the fall of Aleppo translated in Lebanon into the Oct. 31 election of Hezbollah’s preferred presidential candidate, Aoun, and the formation of a government headed by Hariri as prime minister.

“The Aleppo victory put an end to the party’s local struggle and helped create a shift in the political equation,” Brahim Beyram, a Lebanese journalist and analyst who covers Hezbollah for an-Nahar, told Al-Monitor. Sources close to Hariri who spoke to Al-Monitor said that the imminent fall of Aleppo and the tilt in the political outcome in Syria in favor of the regime were among the factors that facilitated the political deal in Lebanon. Hariri, already weakened by the financial scandal of his company Oger being on the verge of bankruptcy, believed that if Aleppo fell, it would mean a clear shift in power to Hezbollah and its allies, so he agreed to form a government when Aoun selected him to do so.

“People are more optimistic. Hezbollah has been able to turn the tide in Syria and in Lebanon. This will definitely stifle the criticism, though limited, faced by the organization locally,” Hassan, a Dahieh resident who declined to reveal his full name, told Al-Monitor.

Hezbollah has lost between 1,500 to 2,000 fighters in Syria, and 5,000 others have been wounded or injured, according to sources close to the party with whom Al-Monitor spoke. Hezbollah has lost important symbolic and military figures in the Syrian war. Jihad Mughniyeh, son of Hezbollah operations chief Imad Mughniyeh, who was assassinated in 2008 in Damascus, was killed in an Israeli attack in southern Syria in January 2015. In December 2015, Hezbollah commander Samir Kuntar, who was working on developing a new brigade in the Golan region, was also killed. Hezbollah star commander Mustafa Badreddine was killed in May 2016 in a mysterious explosion in Syria. Hundreds of Hezbollah fighters were killed in Zabadani and in Homs. More than 200 died in Aleppo alone, Beyram said.

“People were starting to complain about the number of martyrs in Syria, as well as about corruption allegations surrounding some commanders deployed there,” a source close to Hezbollah’s mid-level leadership told Al-Monitor. Hezbollah as a political party controls a third of the Lebanese parliament and government. It had been accused of corruption involving the trash scandal that triggered protests in 2016 and faced allegations of maintaining illegal internet transmission stations that benefited local political figures. “The war in Syria has made a lot of people rich through trafficking of all sorts. The Hezbollah leadership knows about it, but can’t do much,” the source asserted.

Recent victories in Syria will not only allow Hezbollah to consolidate its popular base in Lebanon, but will also provide it more space to maneuver on the battlefields of Syria. According to a Hezbollah fighter who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “All opposition front lines are in a state of weakness and up for grabs.”

The fighter believes, nonetheless, that some areas, such as the Ghouta suburb in Damascus and southern Syria, may be handed over after a reconciliation deal is reached with the opposition. “The next battle will most probably take place in Idlib,” he remarked.

According to Beyram, Hezbollah will now focus on areas on the outskirts of Damascus, such as Wadi Barada, which sits along the road leading to the Syrian capital, and are considered strategic by the party. “Wadi Barada is located on the other side of the Qalamoun Mountains, a region that Hezbollah wants secured because of its geographical [proximity] to its Bekaa bastion,” Beyram explained.

As the main offensive force in Syria, Hezbollah has become a major player in shaping that country’s future. Its involvement in Syria has also provided the organization with a platform from which to project regional influence, such as in Iraq and Yemen, where, Hezbollah sources told Al-Monitor, the organization has deployed experts.

Hezbollah increasingly faces an ideological dichotomy given its evolution from a pan-Arab resistance movement focused on fighting Israel to a sectarian militia helping advance Iran’s controversial agenda across the Arab world. It has become one of the biggest mass parties in the Middle East, boasting thousands of members and hundreds of thousands of mostly Lebanese Shiite supporters. With Hezbollah’s power comes responsibility, and its Iranian agenda may not necessarily be in the best interest of its Lebanese popular base, which lives surrounded by Sunnis.

(Source / 26.01.2017)

New Lebanese president makes Gulf priority

Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud (L) greets Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun in Riyadh, Jan. 10, 2017

Lebanese President Michel Aoun marked his first foreign policy success during his visit to Saudi Arabia Jan. 10. He broke the ice in the ties between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, which have been tense for over a year due to the repercussions of the Saudi-Iranian tug-of-war on Lebanon.

The rhetoric of Saudi Arabia and its Lebanese March 14 coalition allies in the past few years emphasized that the Lebanese state had been hijacked by Hezbollah, which was violating Lebanon’s sovereignty with its military intervention in Syria and its meddling in Arab and Gulf affairs, especially in Yemen and Bahrain. As a result, in March 2016, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) put Hezbollah on its terrorist list.

But Hezbollah denied these accusations and accused the kingdom of supporting and funding jihadi groups in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. The party also blamed Saudi Arabia for the spread of Wahhabi thought in the Muslim world and condemned its war in Yemen and military intervention in Bahrain, as well as its support for the armed opposition in Syria to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. On Dec. 3, 2013, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah accused Saudi Arabia of plotting the bombing of the Iranian Embassy in Beirut Nov. 19.

Also, Saudi Arabia had frozen the military aid grant for Lebanese security services in February 2016, after the Lebanese government failed to condemn the attacks carried out by Iranian protesters against Saudi diplomatic delegations in Iran.

For that reason, Aoun’s visit to Riyadh was considered an important step to restore the historical warm ties between the two countries. A large ministerial convoy accompanied Aoun in his first official visit abroad since his election on Oct. 31, 2016, and it received remarkable Saudi attention.

Before the Saudi invitation, Aoun had received invitations from Egypt and Iran, but he prioritized Saudi Arabia in his first foreign visit, due to the kingdom’s influence on Lebanon and the Muslim and Arab region. Besides, he wanted to mend ties between Beirut and Riyadh following the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Hezbollah over Bahrain and Yemen, and the frozen $4 billion Saudi grant to the armament of the Lebanese army and security forces.

During the Syrian tutelage in Lebanon (1990-2005), the Lebanese president paid his first foreign visit to Damascus. But after the Syrian crisis erupted in 2011, Damascus no longer enjoys the same influence it did on Lebanon, and any president would hesitate to pay his first visit to Syria.

To regain its influence in Lebanon, the kingdom approved of Future Movement head Saad Hariri’s nomination of Aoun as president to end the presidential stalemate — although Aoun and Hariri are strange bedfellows politically and Aoun has good relations with the Future Movement’s enemy, Hezbollah.

Saudi Arabia also sent a special envoy, Emir of Mecca Khaled Al-Faisal, on Nov. 21, to congratulate Aoun on his presidency and invited him to visit.

Aoun had prolonged one-on-one talks with Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud and said in Riyadh Jan. 10, “The historical relations between the Saudi and Lebanese people will persist.” He asserted Lebanon’s desire to strengthen cooperation ties with the kingdom in several fields, mainly in countering terrorism.

Salman underlined during the meeting that “Lebanon is irreplaceable.” He said, “The relations between the two countries are historical, and we want to preserve and develop them.” He reiterated his “immense” trust in Aoun and noted, “You will lead Lebanon to safety and stability despite the current challenges.”

Salman added, “The kingdom does not meddle with Lebanon’s affairs, which concern the Lebanese people only.” He called on Saudi officials to “look into the security, economic, military and touristic issues that Aoun brought up.” He also told them to visit their Lebanese counterparts and urged Saudi citizens who love Lebanon to fly to it.

With his visit to Saudi Arabia and then Qatar on Jan. 11, Aoun sought to normalize Gulf-Lebanese relations, encourage Gulf tourists and investors to return to Lebanon, and increase economic ties with the Gulf countries to improve the deteriorating economic situation.

The visit was also important for Saudi Arabia to regain influence in Lebanon and reduce Iran’s power in the country.

The kingdom gave a warm welcome to Aoun and agreed to hold bilateral talks regarding the frozen Saudi grant to the Lebanese army and other bilateral cooperation affairs.

Perhaps Saudi Arabia referred Aoun’s demands to its officials because it does not want to hand Lebanon quick approval on a silver platter. The kingdom might have a set of conditions and tests for Aoun and the Lebanese government to make sure that Aoun and Hezbollah are distant and that the president can implement sovereign and independent policies far from the Iranian-Syrian influence.

Some pro-Saudi analysts believe that the first test for Aoun and his government will entail overseeing the nominations of pivotal positions in the state and security apparatus and looking out for the influence of Hezbollah and its allies on these nominations.

Aoun told Al Jazeera Jan. 11, “The misunderstanding with Gulf states has been cleared and the issue of aid to the Lebanese army — including the Saudi grant — was discussed … and the concerned Saudi ministers are currently reviewing the case. However, the issue of military aid has yet to be resolved, as France is also involved,” since Paris is the supplier of arms.

Aoun further noted that his visit to the kingdom did not irritate his allies (Hezbollah). He clarified that Hezbollah is involved in the regional conflicts and has become part of the international and regional crises whose solution is beyond Lebanon’s capacity. After all, the United States, Russia, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia are also involved in these conflicts. He added that the Lebanese state cannot oppose Hezbollah, as the party represents a significant category of the Lebanese people. Aoun asserted, “We are trying to distance Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria from the Lebanese domestic situation.”

Head of Hezbollah’s Political Council Ibrahim Amin al-Sayyed said from Tehran that Aoun’s visit “was a normal and regular one since Lebanon is a member of the Arab League.”

A source close to Hezbollah told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the party trusts Aoun and his ability to strike a balance between improving Gulf-Lebanese relations and maintaining his alliance with the party. The source said that Aoun considers Hezbollah’s weapons as resistance weapons directed against the Israeli enemy and describes Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria as a pre-emptive operation to protect Lebanon from the potential arrival of terrorist groups.

It is worth noting that Aoun said in his inaugural speech in October, “We shall prevent, deter, counter and even eliminate terrorism.”

Despite its conflict with Saudi Arabia over regional and sectarian issues, Hezbollah acknowledges the importance of the kingdom and its politico-religious influence in Lebanon, as well as its economic role in terms of tourists, investors and aid to the country. For that reason, the Shiite party welcomes implicitly the restoring of the ties with Riyadh, but it will be cautious of any Saudi attempt to create a rift between Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement led by Aoun.

For his part, Aoun may try to balance between his alliance with Hezbollah and its regional patrons and his rapprochement with Gulf states, as he understands the local and regional equations.

(Source / 19.01.2017)

Lebanese President: Israel exploits world’s preoccupation to steal Palestinians rights

Image of President of Lebanon Michel Aoun [Ratib Al Safadi/Anadolu Agency]

Image of President of Lebanon Michel Aoun

Lebanese President, General Michel Aoun accused Israel of exploiting the world’s preoccupation with the region’s crises and the failure of peace efforts to continue stealing the Palestinian rights, infringing on the sovereignty of its neighbours, and imposing a fait accompli.

Aoun who was speaking in Beirut during a meeting held Tuesday with representatives of diplomatic missions accredited to Lebanon said the right course is drawn by a true international will that wants to save the world from terrorism and establish peace.

“If you want peace you have to find solutions to the region’s problems that are not based on force but on justice, which lifts injustice and returns rights to their owners”, he said.

(Source / 18.01.2017)

LBC apologizes to Palestinian resistance


The Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC) apologized Tuesday evening for its news report equaling the Palestinian resistance operations with terrorism attacks.

Israel is and will forever remain an enemy as it is an occupying power in Palestinian territories, LBC’s administration said.

All the international conventions and mainly The Hague Convention recognize the legitimate right of Palestinian people to resist occupation, the administration added.

LBC has broadcasted on Monday a news report about terrorism attacks on nightclubs around the world and included resistance operations carried out by the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, against Israeli targets in 2001 and 2002.

The news report was widely criticized by online activists using the hashtag #ResistanceNotTerrorism, demanding an official apology from LBC’s administration.

Hamas Movement slammed the Lebanese TV channel LBC over the news report and emphasized that the motives and aims of terrorism are completely different from the motives and aims of resistance.

The Movement pointed out that the Palestinian people are the most affected by terrorist attacks and are defending themselves and their lands.

(Source / 04.01.2017)

What challenges await Lebanon’s new government?

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri (C) outside the parliament building after his new government won a vote of confidence, downtown Beirut, Dec. 28, 2016

After handily winning parliament’s vote of confidence Dec. 28 with 87 out of 92 votes, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his new unity government will now tackle their top priorities, which include protecting Lebanon from fallout from the Syrian civil war.

Other leading items on the agenda include approving a 2017 budget, stimulating the economy, and taking immediate action to address electricity and water problems as well as difficulties with traffic and solid waste treatment. Priorities also include developing a strategy to prevent corruption, fighting terrorism and speeding up license approvals for oil exploration and extraction.

Hariri managed Dec. 18 to form the first government in two years, under President Michel Aoun, despite differences that erupted between the major blocs over the number of ministers and their responsibilities.

Hariri’s national consensus government has a total of 30 ministers representing the country’s major parliamentary blocs and parties, with the exception of the Christian Phalanges Party, which rejected the state ministry position it was offered. The government includes seven state ministers, and six new state ministries have been established, for women’s affairs, anti-corruption, presidential affairs, displaced citizens, human rights, and planning. The Planning Ministry had been abolished in 1977 and replaced with the Council of Development and Reconstruction.

The government includes 29 men and only one woman — Minister of State for Administrative Development Inaya Azzedine, the first veiled minister in the history of Lebanon. Azzedine is a member of the Shiite Amal Movement’s political bureau.

Aoun and his party, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), have a large share of the ministries with eight, including the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry, the Justice Ministry, and the Energy and Water Ministry.

In addition to the premiership, Hariri and members of his party, the Future Movement, have six portfolios, including Interior Ministry and the Telecommunications Ministry.

Besides Azzedine’s position, the Amal movement led by parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has two portfolios: the Finance Ministry and Agriculture Ministry.

Meanwhile, the Shiite Hezbollah Party has two portfolios: the Industry Ministry and the Youth and Sports Ministry. The Shiites waived the Public Works Ministry to the Marada party, led by Suleiman Franjieh. Hezbollah made this gesture to thank Franjieh for backing down from his presidential candidacy; Hezbollah backed Aoun.

Hezbollah had signed a joint memorandum of understanding with Aoun’s FPM on Feb. 6, 2006. The latter supported resistance positions during the Israeli war on Lebanon in July and August 2006, and later the Shiite group’s intervention in Syria. This led Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah to say: “We owe Gen. Aoun a debt until the day of judgment.”

Giving Franjieh’s bloc a basic ministry was one of the main issues that delayed forming the government, as his bloc has only three parliament members, which is not enough to allow him to assume such a ministry. Also, the FPM wanted to prevent Franjieh from getting a basic ministry as punishment for competing with Aoun over the presidency.

However, the Lebanese Forces (LF) party led by Samir Geagea got four portfolios, including the post of deputy prime minister and the Health Ministry. The LF’s share was a reward from Aoun, who had worked out an arrangement with LF that allowed him to win the presidency. This came despite Aoun’s and Geagea’s being longtime foes.

Their arrangement earned LF a larger share of posts than it would normally have. The LF has only has eight parliament members, while the Future bloc has 33 members and got six ministers. For their part, the Amal and Hezbollah blocs have 26 parliament members and obtained five ministers. This led Hezbollah and its allies to object and refuse to give the LF five ministers or what is termed a “sovereign ministry” (the four sovereign ministries are defense, foreign affairs, interior, and finance). As such, the LF share was reduced to four ministers.

The ministerial statement was drafted in six days, though it was expected to take longer. The statement is a declaration of the government’s political and economic visions and plans, and is submitted to parliament to win its confidence. However, the article related to the “resistance against the Israeli occupation” usually raises differences between the March 8 alliance and the March 14 coalition, which refuses to mention the Hezbollah resistance in the statement so as not to bestow legitimacy on the armed movement.

This time, however, the statement was drafted in a way that brought together the inaugural speech of the president and a declaration by the government of Tammam Salam when he was prime minister regarding the right to resist the Israeli occupation. The result was as follows: “We will spare no effort or resistance to liberate any Lebanese territory that is still under occupation or to protect our country from an enemy that still has ambitions regarding our land, water and national resources based on the responsibility of the state and its role in preserving Lebanon’s sovereignty, independence and unity as well as the safety of the citizens. … The government emphasizes the right of the Lebanese citizens to resist the Israeli occupation, counter its aggressions and recover the occupied territories.”

A source close to Hezbollah told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the party was satisfied with the statement.

The statement stressed the need to work on the imminent approval of a new and modern law for parliamentary elections, one that grants fair representation to all the Lebanese people. The elections are supposed to take place in May.

Adopting the electoral law will be the biggest challenge to the government as Aoun, Hezbollah, Amal and their allies are in favor of the proportional system, while parliament member Walid Jumblatt, the leader of the Druze bloc, is absolutely against it. The Future Movement and the LF also reject the law and either support the existing 1960 law, which is based on a majority system, or a mixed law that combines the majority and proportional systems.

The same source explained that should the 1960 majority law remain in place, Hezbollah would not lose any seats in parliament. Yet, the source added, the party wants the proportional system to be adopted to ensure that all groups and currents are fairly represented and to secure national fusion amid national, rather than sectarian, representation.

In this context, former Minister of State Karim Pakradouni told Al-Monitor that Aoun supports the proportional system but will accept another mixed or majority law that garners the support of all the other blocs.

Political analyst Yasser al-Hariri told Al-Monitor no bloc opposes the 1960 law, even if some blocs say they do. However, a new law that is based on the majority and proportional systems could be agreed upon provided it leads to the same results of the 1960 law.

Since Lebanon is a country of deals and national consensus, all parties likely would agree on an electoral law that satisfies the major sects and blocs, although Aoun, Hariri and Berri agree on adopting a new reformist modern law.

(Source / 31.12.2016)

Lebanon: Electoral Law is the New Government’s Big Challenge

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun meets with Prime minister-designate Saad al-Hariri and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri at the presidential palace in Baabda

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun (C) meets with Prime minister-designate Saad al-Hariri (R) and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon December 18, 2016

Beirut – Contrary to the status quo that prevailed in Lebanon by the end of 2015, the situation today in the Mediterranean country looks significantly more positive, especially following the election of a new Lebanese president in October and the formation of a unity government that has restored life to the different state institutions.

Nonetheless, the new government, led by Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, has a major challenge, represented in the adoption of an electoral law that would gain the approval of the different Lebanese factions.

In this regard, sources told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that there has been an overwhelming agreement over the need to put behind the 1960 electoral law, which was used in the last parliamentary elections in 2009.

Based on the majority system, the electoral law, which was adopted in 1960, divides the country into 24 electoral districts. However, Lebanese politicians are currently studying the adoption of a modern electoral law that provides an appropriate representation of the different Lebanese factions.

While Hezbollah and other political factions are insisting on a law that would be solely based on the proportional system, other parties, including the Future Movement, the Lebanese Forces and the Progressive Socialist Party, back the adoption of a proportional system in some regions and the majority system in others.

Former Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that he was not optimistic about the achievement of a significant progress in this regard, adding that he believed that the different political factions would only develop the 1960 law, by setting a 20 percent quota for women and activate election monitoring bodies.

Also in remarks to Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, former Minister Karim Pakradouni said that holding the parliamentary elections within the constitutional deadline would be a great achievement.

He added that he was confident that the Lebanese political parties would agree on a law that would be solely based on the proportional system.

(Source / 29.12.2016)

UN condemns violence in Lebanon refugee camp, suspends services


BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for providing services to some five million Palestinian refugees, condemned recent armed violence in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh in Lebanon that has left two dead and at least five injured since Wednesday.

As a result of the violence, UNRWA suspended its operations in the camp “until further notice” — the fourth time in the past month that UNRWA closed its services due to “security incidents.”
“Violent incidents in Ain al-Hilweh continue to shock and frighten camp residents,” UNRWA spokesperson Christopher Gunness wrote in a statement on Thursday. “They prevent children going to school and patients going to clinics; and they threaten the safety and security of civilians and their ability to access a range of services.”
According to Gunness, the violence has forced two health centers to close temporarily and impacted more than 6,000 children who attend nine UNRWA administered schools in the camp.
“We again call on all those involved to respect the rule of law, the sanctity of human life and to ensure the protection of Palestine refugees, particularly of children,” Gunness said.
On Friday morning, The Daily Star Lebanon reported that “a cautious calm” returned to the camp following the two days of fighting, however later Friday afternoon, Lebanon’s national news agency reported that a blast was heard inside the camp, without providing further details.
The agency said a man was injured in the leg by a sniper bullet on Thursday, while three Palestinian refugees were shot dead and four were injured during a shooting incident in the camp on Wednesday.
The Daily Star described the armed violence as a conflict between supporters of the Fatah movement and radical Islamist groups.
The camp has also been the site of recent confrontations between its Palestinian residents and the Lebanese army.
The largest and most crowded refugee camp in Lebanon, Ain al-Hilweh is home to some 54,116 registered refugees who fled their villages during the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, according to the UN.
However, the population significantly increased since 2011 as a result of the Syrian war, as Palestinians have been displaced a second time from refugee camps across Syria, with development nonprofit organization Anera estimating the camp’s population to be closer to 120,000.
According to UNRWA, Ain al-Hilweh suffers from high rates of poverty and poor housing conditions, which have been further stressed as a result of overcrowding in recent years.
Palestinians in Lebanon have the highest percentage of their population living in abject poverty from among the other countries the organization serves, according to UNRWA.
Facing discriminatory employment policies, Palestinians in Lebanon are restricted from working in over 20 professions or claiming the same rights as other non-citizens in Lebanon, while all the refugee camps suffer from overcrowding, poor housing conditions, and a lack of infrastructure.
(Source / 23.12.2016)

UNICEF in Lebanon ends its contracts with G4S following boycott campaign

Image of a protest calling UNICEF to end its contract with G4S [file photo]

Image of a protest calling UNICEF to end its contract with G4S [file photo]

Campaigners have welcomed an announcement by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Lebanon that it has ended its contract with security company G4S, following a boycott campaign by activists over the company’s role in Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights.

Over the past year, the Lebanese Campaign to Boycott the Supporters of Israel and the Palestinian Camps Boycott campaign in Lebanon organised several actions calling upon UNICEF to sever ties with G4S, including social media initiatives and a demonstration outside the UNICEF offices in Beirut.

The news is a fresh boost for the #UNDropG4S campaign, which has seen four UN agencies in Jordan heed the call to ditch the security giant.

Earlier this month, G4S announced it is selling $110 million worth of its investment in its Israel subsidiary, thus abandoning most of its Israeli business. The company remains a target of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, however, through its co-running of the Israeli Police Academy and its investment in the Shikun & Binui group which builds illegal settlements.

Afifa Karake, member of the Lebanese Campaign to Boycott the Supporters of Israel, said: “This decision is a victory for the Palestinian prisoners who called upon people of conscience to boycott G4S. UN agencies all around the world ought to be consistent with their proclaimed values and principles.”

Mourad Ayyash, member of the Camps Boycott campaign, which mobilizes Palestinian refugee communities in Lebanon, commented: “BDS activists in Lebanon and across the Arab World are sending a strong message to the company that our boycott campaign will continue until G4S ends its remaining Israeli business.”

Guman Mussa, responding on behalf of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), also praised the announcement.

“The BNC welcomes this victory and salutes boycott activists’ efforts in Lebanon. The increasing pace and strength of BDS campaigns in the Arab World reflect that our struggle against Israeli settler-colonialism unites with the broader Arab struggles for justice, dignity and freedom. The inspiring growth of BDS in the Arab world will significantly amplify the impact of the global boycott and divestment campaigns against multinationals that support Israel’s regime of oppression.”

(Source / 22.12.2016)

Lebanon: Government Paves Way to Ministerial Statement before Moving to Electoral Law

The newly formed Lebanese Government Ministers posing for a photo at the Lebanon presidential palace of Baabda east of Beirut with President Michel Aoun.

The newly formed Lebanese Government Ministers posing for a photo at the Lebanon presidential palace of Baabda east of Beirut with President Michel Aou

Beirut- Lebanon’s cabinet kicked off its first session on Wednesday headed by President Michel Aoun in the presence of Prime Minister Saadi Hariri and all ministers after posing for the official memorial photo.

All political forces delivered positive statements on Wednesday reflecting their readiness to start work in the first cabinet of the new era, with a main mission to prepare for the parliamentary elections. The road to the ministerial statement seemed paved on Wednesday, as the statement would include a text including the “presidential oath statement” and the “previous ministerial statement.”

However, the mission of agreeing on a new electoral law is expected to be more difficult in light of a dispute among political parties, and that might technically delay the elections expected next May.

Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault arrived in Beirut on Wednesday evening in a first visit of a high-ranking French official following the election of a new president and the formation of a cabinet.

A statement issued by the French Embassy in Beirut said Ayrault is in Beirut to extend an invitation to President Aoun from French President Francois Holland to officially visit France.

The embassy also said the French minister would focus in his visit on the preparations for the parliamentary elections in 2017 “that will ensure a fair popular representation.”

Following Wednesday’s cabinet session, Information Minister Melhem Riachi quoted President Aoun as saying, “Amongst the duties of a national unity cabinet are finding a new electoral law and holding the parliamentary elections thereafter, safeguarding local security, giving the priority in each ministry to what citizens have for long been waiting, quickening to approve on the budget draft and settling the necessary appointments in vacant positions.”

Aoun was also quoted as calling for the necessity to combat corruption in all ministries.

During the cabinet session, Hariri called upon security apparatuses to preserve security across all Lebanon, especially in touristic places during holidays.

President Aoun also decided that the cabinet would convene every Wednesday, Riachi said.

And while Hariri asserted that drafting the ministerial statement would face no obstacles, Speaker Nabih Berri said Wednesday: “The priority, first, second, third and tenth is to complete a new electoral law as soon as possible.”

Labor Minister Moahmmed Kabbara told Asharq Al-Awsat on Wednesday he was optimistic that the newly appointed committee to draft the ministerial statement would soon complete its task before the cabinet received Parliament’s vote of confidence.

The ministerial committee kicked off its first session on Wednesday afternoon.

(Source / 22.12.2016)

The history of Hezbollah, from Israel to Syria

Despite faltering popularity abroad, Hezbollah enjoys extensive political power at home in Lebanon.

Once a champion of Palestinian and Lebanese resistance, the group’s popularity in the Middle East dropped amid its association with Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime in Syria

In July 2006, long-standing tensions flared into war when Hezbollah operators crossed into Israel, killed three soldiers and abducted two others. Israel responded with a furious spate of air strikes on Lebanon, where Hezbollah is based, and violence soon swept the country, less than two decades after the population had emerged from its own civil war.

That summer, conflict between the two sides ripped through Lebanons recovering infrastructure and displaced almost a quarter of its people.

Israel has launched wars on Lebanon and Hezbollah many times, often in the southern swath of land that Israel carved out of the country and deemed a security zone during its long occupation throughout the 1980s and 90s.

The zone, which at one point grew to 10 percent of Lebanese territory, endured past the end of Lebanon’s civil war and generated frequent, bloody confrontations. Before Israel withdrew in 2000, Hezbollah carried out a dozen self-martyrdom missions on Israeli military targets; in 1996, the Israeli army launched a campaign that led to the massacre of civilians at a United Nations base in Qana.

Compared with the hostile decades of the security zone, the summer war was a short blip on the historical record: 33 days of destruction that punctuated each sides longer struggle against the simple fact of the other’s existence.

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Both Israel and Hezbollah claimed 2006 as a victory at first, yet it was clear that for Hezbollah the gains extended beyond the war zones borders. Across the Arab world, citizens had been watching from afar as Israels bombing of bridges and shelters locked Lebanese communities into a grinding summer siege.

In the book Hezbollah: A Short History, scholar Augustus Richard Norton notes how outrage quickly spread over Israels military approach, termed the Dahiya doctrine for the neighbourhoods that Israel flattened across Lebanons south. By late July, angry demonstrations were mushrooming across Egypt. 

In Syria and Palestine, posters, bumper stickers and keychains blared strong messages of support for Hezbollahs soldiers. The group had become a regional anti-hero, exiting the war with a newfound cache of sympathy across the region.

After the war in 2006, Hezbollah reached the peak of its popularity, said Amer Sabaileh, a political analyst from the Washington-based Middle East Media and Policy Studies Institute. [It] had the consensus of people when it came to resistance, credibility and speaking the truth.

Yet today, Hezbollah is in flux. Once a champion of Palestinian and Lebanese resistance, the groups popularity in the Middle East hovers at a new low due to its association with Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime in Syria. In a 2015 Zogby poll, 96 percent of Egyptians agreed that Hezbollah has contributed to growing regional extremism.

Other Arab countries have joined the chorus of disapproval, with 86 percent of polled Jordanians holding a negative view of Hezbollah.

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The quicksand pull of Assads campaign has drawn Hezbollah deeper into a damaging war, even while forcing its members to shed some of their most important founding doctrines. As Sabaileh put it: Right now, Hezbollah is becoming, for many parts of Lebanese society, an antagonist.

As Hezbollah wages its new, more unpopular war in Syria, Lebanons past summer conflict is once again surfacing to political relevance. Last July, a Hezbollah-affiliated TV channel released a documentary titled 2006 about the groups war against Israel. The series showed never-before-seen footage of Hezbollah operations, as well as interviews with high-ranking Israeli officials who were apparently tricked into appearing on camera.

Political forces often turn to the past to sow legitimacy. For Hezbollah, the documentary harkens back to a point in time when the group enjoyed widespread legitimacy, and its violence could be framed in easier, Arab v Israeli terms.

According to Sahar Atrache, the International Crisis Groups senior Lebanon analyst, Hezbollah has always worked to knit tenuous associations between the legitimacy it garnered in 2006, and its current, more polarising involvement in Syria.


From the beginning, Hezbollah has tried to link the fight in Syria to Israel, she said. It has kept saying that Syrias part of the same axis of resistance to Israel, and that the aim of the war in Syria is a continuation of the war of 2006. Hezbollah keeps constantly going back to Israel; its something thats very recurrent in its speeches and party narrative.

For so long, Hezbollah has set its legitimacy against the backdrop of Israels regional unpopularity. Today, however, the group is seeing its resources drained by Syrias war, and is in need of a new raison detre to bolster this costly involvement. It will be the responsibility of the enigmatic Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah to deliver.

Nasrallah is a polarising figure. For many, he possesses an undeniable reserve of charisma, despite his leading role in what several international bodies have classified as a terrorist organisation.

Born one of nine children, Nasrallahs early childhood in East Beirut is cloaked in political mythology. He is said to have been pious from an early age, often taking long walks to the city centre to find second-hand books on Islam. Nasrallah himself has described how his childhood free time was spent staring reverently at a portrait of the famous Shia cleric Musa al-Sadr  a pastime that foreshadowed his future concern with politics and Shia communities in Lebanon.

In 1974, Sadr founded an organisation – the Movement of the Deprived – that became the ideological kernel for the well-known Lebanese party and Hezbollah rival, Amal. Grown into a political heavyweight in the 1980s, Amal mined support from middle-class Shia who had grown frustrated with the sects historic marginalisation in Lebanon. Besides commandeering an anti-establishment message, Amal also provided stable income to many Shia families, unfurling a complex system of patronage across Lebanons south.

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After the outbreak of civil war between Lebanons Christian Maronites and Muslims, Nasrallah joined Amal’s movement and fought with its militia. But as the conflict progressed, Amal adopted a staunchly unsympathetic stance towards the presence of Palestinian militias in Lebanon, and it was from opposition to this sentiment that Hezbollah emerged.

Nourished by a steady lifeline of Iranian military support, Hezbollahs revolutionary ideology attracted many Amal defectors, among them a young Nasrallah, fresh out of his stay at a Shia seminary in Iraq. By 1985, Hezbollah had crystallised its own dogma in a founding document, which addressed the downtrodden of Lebanon and named the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran as its one true leader.

Throughout the civil war, Hezbollah and Amal evolved in bitter tandem, often jostling with each other for support among Lebanons Shia constituents. As Norton notes in his book, political alliances in Lebanons Shia communities have never been rigid. Personal allegiances change over the course of a lifetime; families often become messy sites of overlap, with members of the same household supporting different groups. Indeed, Nasrallahs brother, Hussein, has been a lifelong member of Amal.

Championing the Palestinian cause as its own, Hezbollah expanded during the Lebanese civil war under a shadow of kidnappings, hijackings and violence. The group abducted dozens of foreigners and leveraged them in complex negotiations that muddled their interests with Irans. It drove bomb-laden trucks to US targets in Lebanon, and killed hundreds of people, both abroad and at home: Until 9/11, Hezbollah had taken more American lives than any other US-deemed terrorist groups.

By the 1990s, after numerous bloody clashes, Hezbollah had largely trumped Amal for prominence among Lebanons Shia supporters. Nasrallah became the groups third secretary-general during this peak, two years after the civil wars ceasefire in 1990.

After it had completely entered the fight in Syria, I do think the group was able to convince Shia, but also other communities … that this is an existential fight and that you have to go all the way.

Sahar Atrache, International Crisis Group’s senior Lebanon analyst

Since his early career, Nasrallahs speeches have helped cement his persona as a wise, humble figure, deeply invested in the lives of everyday people – a leader who shuns formal Arabic in favour of the dialect spoken on the street, and who reportedly prefers to sleep, every night, on a simple foam mattress on the ground. Perhaps more than anything, the man is a masterful public speaker; as Sabaileh put it, His style of speech, his terminology, the persona of Hassan Nasrallah – [those are] his strongest winning cards. We know Nasrallah just by his speeches.

In the book The Hizbullah Phenomenon: Politics and Communication, scholar Dina Matar describes how Nasrallahs words have fused political claims and religious imagery, creating speeches with high emotional voltage that transform Nasrallah intothe very embodiment of the group”.

Nasrallahs charisma is far-reaching; his elegies on the history of oppression in the Middle East have made him a moving figure across sects and nations. Certainly helping is Hezbollahs sprawling media apparatus, which makes use of TV, print news, and even musical theatre shows to spread its message. 

When Nasrallah took on the position of secretary-general, he was charged with easing Hezbollah into the melee of Lebanons post-war political scene. Hezbollah went from being a rogue actor, working outside the official enclosure of state politics, to become a national party asking for every citizens support. Presiding over this shift was Nasrallah, who put Hezbollah on the ballot for the first time in 1992 and appealed to the masses in rousing speeches. As he told Al Jazeera in 2006, We, Shia and Sunnis, are fighting together against Israel, adding that he did not fear any sedition, neither between Muslims and Christians, nor between Shia and Sunnis in Lebanon.

Today, however, the message seems to be changing. Nasrallahs rhetoric, once laden with anti-Israel and anti-West sentiment, has shifted since the groups involvement in Syria. Now that Hezbollah is no longer battling Israel, its message is less focused on Palestinian resistance, and has taken on a thicker sectarian gloss. Above all, Nasrallahs speeches seem to have found a new target in the region: Saudi Arabia.

In every speech of his, Hassan Nasrallah makes sure to attack Saudi Arabia or the al-Sauds themselves, said Atrache, noting that Nasrallah often does this by criticising Saudi Arabias role in Yemens worsening crisis. Since Hezbollahs entrance into Syria, Nasrallah has pointed to Saudi Arabia as an antagonist in the region – a line that fits with Hezbollahs larger claim to be defending Lebanon from Sunni “terrorists” in Syria.

After the war in 2006, Hezbollah reached the peak of its popularity. [It] had the consensus of people when it came to resistance, credibility and speaking the truth’

If Nasrallahs targeting of the Sunni Gulf power lends the group a rallying banner, his words may have the unintended consequence of throwing the partys Shia identity into sharp relief. As Iran and Saudi Arabia become further embroiled in a proxy war, Hezbollahs stances on regional conflicts may be seen as dictated solely by Shia interests and allegiances. In March 2016, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and then the Arab League, labelled Hezbollah a terrorist organisation. Increasingly, Hezbollahs position in the Arab world seems to be drawn against sectarian lines.

Hezbollah is paying a price from within the Shia-Sunni conflict pervading the Arab world today. It cannot help but be presented or be seen as a Shia group, Sabaileh noted.

It has not always been like this. Under Nasrallah, Hezbollah once sought support from all religions; it beefed up the social services it provided to other communities in 2006,looping Christian families into the vast welfare programme that made the party so popular in Shia-dominated neighborhoods.                       

Syria and Iran … have both changed drastically in the past years. Without them, it would be difficult to imagine that Hezbollah can maintain its current status.

Amer Sabaileh, political analyst

According to its evolving logic, Hezbollah was not just a Lebanese party but also the countrys protector. Its soldiers claimed that they provided the first line of defence against Israeli aggression, and so were justified in retaining their arms in defiance of a UN Security Council Resolution. Again and again, Nasrallah assured the media that Hezbollah would never turn these weapons against Lebanons own people – a promise that unravelled in 2008, when Hezbollah gunmen forcibly took control of West Beirutafter the government tried to shut down the groups sprawling telecommunications network and fire an airport head of security for having Hezbollah ties.

Despite its faltering popularity abroad, Hezbollah enjoys extensive political power back home today, wielding alliances and effective veto power to direct legislature in parliament. Just recently, Lebanon elected a Hezbollah ally, Michel Aoun, as its first president in two years. A range of critics have blamed Hezbollah for introducing the political deadlock that kept the country from choosing a president in the first place (the government also collapsed in 2011, when Hezbollah walked out in protest over a UN investigation into the group’s involvement in the assassination of former President Rafiq al-Hariri). Yet even as its popularity drops across the region, Hezbollah has solidified support from communities that were staunch advocates of the group all along.

After it had completely entered the fight in Syria, I do think the group was able to convince Shia, but also other communities – people who have already supported the party – that this is an existential fight and that you have to go all the way, Atrache said.

Popularity may not be Hezbollahs largest concern, as the war in Syria has proved to exact larger costs for the organisation. In addition to losing a founding ideology, Hezbollah has seen more than 1,000 of its soldiers killed in Syria, among them top commanders like Mustafa Badreddine.

Hezbollah is facing a very complex problem, said Sabaileh. In a way, it is draining its resources and draining its popularity at the same time.

Despite its political power in Lebanon, Hezbollah has always been dependent on the support it receives from Iran and Syria. But with one of its backers at war, and the other maybe reaching a detente with western powers, Hezbollah has to reckon with a changing geopolitical map.

Syria, in all cases, will not be the same after the war,” said Sabaileh. Syria and Iran … have both changed drastically in the past years. Without them, it would be difficult to imagine that Hezbollah can maintain its current status.

If we compare Hezbollah with Amal, I think Amal has more chances to survive in the future, he added. At the end its a political movement that has no weapons or army. It can bridge much more easily the diverse components in Lebanese society.

(Source / 20.12.2016)