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Eyewitness Beirut.

category international | anti-war / imperialism | feature author Saturday May 10, 2008 01:04author by PaulaG and the indy collective Report this post to the editors

featured image
Image of Beirut via Flickr

As reports come in from Lebanon, an correspondent is sending in on the ground, first hand reports

The General Strike started on May 7th when unions called for a strike to increase the minimum wage from 300,000 Lebanese pounds to 960,000 due to inflation in food and fuel prices. That's an increase from $200 per month to just over $600 per month, the Government offered a mere $100 of an increase. It was then revealed that Hizbollah had their own telecommunications network and the government demanded that they shut it down. There was to be a big demonstartion for the 7th but there were rumours that pro government militia snipers were goung to attack the demonstration and protests at the airport road so the unions backed down. However the strike went ahead and the usually intensely manic streets were empty of traffic.

Roadblocks appeared all over Beirut formed by opposition groups including Hizbollah and Amal forces. The worst fighting happened along a main artery into Beriut at Corniche al Mazaraa and at Rasa al nabeh, we got caught in some of the gun battles there. The opposition militias are incredibly organised and have armed men on nearly every street corner of a contested site. What is incredible is the absolute lack of control the government has. On one side of a roadblock would be youths and the other Lebanese army forces with tanks but the army is not interfering. Checkpoints can be police, army, Amal, Hizbollah or Harriri supporters but they all wave you through. being Irish and not American is a real bonus. The normaility of life is continuing on in some areas, binmen are still collecting some bins, rubbish piling up in other areas.

The second day of the strike government militias came out and also formed roadblocks and now with all the roadblocks it doesn't seem possible to get out of Lebanon. The airport is closed although flights were still coming in none were leaving. the port is closed and the roads to Syria blocked off by March 14th supporters another name for the government. Fighting was intense in Hamra last night with pro government militia coming out onto the streets. Nasrallah, leader of Hizbollah, gave a press conference yesterday refusing to dismantle the telecommunications system saying it would be like cutting off his hands. we watched it in Hamra with a largely westernised group of of Hizbollah supporters as this was a crucial witness to see how things would escalate or not. There had been intermittant gunfire all around and after the speech continued. we got a lift home from a kind stranger. At one point an armed man in a balaclava gave us advice on to minimise the number of checkpoints to go through pulled up his balaclava to explain better! So polite in giving directions with amachine gun in his hand. The machine guns are held by all groups so calling on anyone to decommision is a no brainer.

We saw the speech given by Hariri and he looked like a man without control, but as we don't understand Arabic the content was translated and I understand that his speech was speaking to western while Nasrallah was speaking to the local population.
Today we saw the smoke plumes coming out of hamra in West beirut where Hariri's TV station was all but destroed, his radio station was also closed down. there are talks of Lebanon descending into crisis and a military coup taking place. The next few days will be testing, Bush may come in to back the gov militarily, they have thus far denounced Hizbollah but Both the Israeli gov and Hamas have issued statements that the matter is an internal one to Lebanon and they will not interfere- Hamas have also said that the 400,ooo Palestinian refugees should not get involved as they are not Lebanese citizens and should still struggle for the right to return to Palestine.

I came to Lebanon to focus on the humanitarian stories in the Palestinian Camps and the challenges that their communities face with the 60th anniversary of Nakba or forced exile out of Palestine. I'm not sure if that documentary can be made due to the current situation. It is impossible to take photos without being threatened sticks and stone may be one thing but I'm not a fan of live ammunition.

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author by seedotpublication date Sat May 10, 2008 00:31author address author phone Report this post to the editors

creative commons in flickr

Beirut Yesterday
Beirut Yesterday

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author by Mark Cpublication date Sat May 10, 2008 08:41author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Great report, Paula. Hopefully you might a few images in the coming days. Keep it up.


author by Paula Gpublication date Sat May 10, 2008 15:11author email mspgeraghty at yahoo dot ieauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

Although things have calmed down significantly in Beirut, there is less military in east Beirut and there were no roadblocks this afternoon in and out of Dahiyeh, a Hezbollah stronghold, the death toll has increased to approximately 25. There is fighting in the south around Tyre and to the north of Tripoli with reports of Hezbollah deaths from clashes in the mountains last night. the sound of gunfire has largely disappeared, just intermittantly do shots ring out.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora finished a press conference which may change the temporary calm saying the government wouldn't 'give in to hisbollah' but what this means is still unclear. The Lebanese army so far hasn't taken any side which have ensured a certain level of calm and stability. No external Government is indicating if it will send backup to support the Lebanese gov militarily but Condaleeza rice has said "We will stand by the Lebanese government and peaceful citizens of Lebanon through this crisis and provide the support they need to weather this storm".

Nothing is resolved and who is in power is dubious. Waliking by a group of policemen on Wednesday evening at the end of the first day of the general strike one said "everything is out of control- welcome to Lebanon".

It takes an inordinate amount of time to get things done here, you're lucky to get one thing achieved per day and with the current crisis that target is often missed.

The strike seems to be over- shops are open all over east Beirut. Those that were closed over the last three days are open now and the Hisbollah area I was in earlier today was a thriving bustling market town. What had stared as a general strike turned into something else. this is not Venezuela. However it is an incredible battle of forces between the pro western Lebanese government and the resistance to the Government and the doctrine of US and Israeli Imperialism. Arm chair analysis of abstract academic analysis is of no use. Taking sides is inevitable.

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author by Miriampublication date Sat May 10, 2008 19:07author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Check this out:§ionid=351020203

author by People Before Prophetpublication date Sat May 10, 2008 19:38author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Latest news -

Reports are coming in that the army is sweeping up pro-government supporters in west Beirut. There have been confrontations with Future Current supporters in Akkar in the north, Aley in the mountains, and in the south.

There are strong indications that the army has been joining in on the side of the opposition.

It now seems clear that Hariri's Future Current in west Beirut has collapsed like a house of cards.

TV is showing angry funerals in Sunni areas of Beirut. Amal gunmen fired on the procession killing two

author by HughBrisspublication date Sat May 10, 2008 19:54author address author phone Report this post to the editors

But make no mistake about it: just as Muhammad Dahlan was trying to overthrow the Hamas government in Gaza, before it preempted him, the Jumblat-Hariri gang was about to takeover the government and move against Hizbullah, at the behest of the US/Israeli/Saudi plan before they were outcouped or overwhelemed. It is to expect a Sunni rift to grow with Jumblat: typically, when defeat is imminent, he appeared on LBC-TV yesterday and called on his fighters to refrain from fighting, and to surrender the offices of his militia to the Lebanese Army. Many Sunnis will feel that he pushed Hariri camp toward a confrontation, and then left them to fend for themselves. Furthermore, will the US now acknowledge that there are several militias in Lebanon? I mean, now we know for sure that the Harriri family has an armed militia all over Lebanon—a lousy and incompetent militia, but a militia nevertheless.

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author by hariri's gamepublication date Sat May 10, 2008 20:57author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Perhaps the best side for you to take is where you are - behind your camera. Additional breaking news coverage from "the Daily Star" of Lebanon and AFP
"Lebanon army freezes government moves against Hezbollah, Lebanese opposition to withdraw militants from Beirut"
Not quite the armchair analysis you properly reject but rather the serious critical thoughts of local (as well as in yesterday's reports from ex-patriot) Lebanese from all sides to the complex may be read (in English) on the site "Dar Al Hayat"

The French daily based in Beirut "L'Orient le Jour" is currently experiencing server difficulties but might come online again. It is of course edited by the prominent marronite (yet another side) Michel Eddé.

Those who can read arabic might also consider looking at these site "Aliwaa" contributes to an English language news broadcast throughout Lebanon at 14h00 is close to the government.
"Al Mustaqbal" is one of the former president of Lebanon Harriri's media stable which includes TV.


you're cool ;-) sure if things get hot you'll be picked up in the arms of a strapping UN serviceman or service woman and brought home to Ireland. Alas, since Ireland no longer has armed forces stationed your closest lads and ladettes are Spanish.

Ireland has advised against her citizens travelling to Lebanon since May 10th

Honorary Consul General of Ireland is Khaled Daouk
Rue de Chilie, Kollelat Building - Verdun
Telephone: +961-1-863-040 / -863-239
Fax: +961-1-860-076

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author by hawk eyepublication date Sat May 10, 2008 21:02author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Action images from and Now Lebanon






author by Miriampublication date Sun May 11, 2008 00:39author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Nasrallah responds to the Lebanese government's crackdown on Hizbollah's communications network:

author by Puzzledpublication date Sun May 11, 2008 02:39author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I am really confused by the Lebanon mess. I know that in the 1970s and into the 80s the Lebanon, especially Beirut, tore itself wide apart with all those armed factions shooting bullets and rockets across the suburbs. To what end? Brian Keenan, a Belfast lecturer, was kidnapped by one of the factions and held, along with American and British civilians, in godawful conditions for years until his two sisters mobilised diplomatic moves to get him finally released. What did those blockhead kidnappers hope to achieve and what did they actually achieve with such inhumanity? (Read Keenan's account, An Evil Cradling, if you think I make it up.)

If I was watching a wild west movie I'd try to figure out who are the good lads and who are the bad lads. Looking at pictures on indymedia and mainstream sites I just wonder: are there any good lads around, or are they all trying their darndest to drag the Lebanon deep deep down again into the hopeless abyss of the 1970s? Iran and Israel are outside interfering sources, I know, and Syria has been another interfering player and supplier of lethal hardware.

author by Paula Gpublication date Sun May 11, 2008 09:44author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Yesterday there seemed to be a bit of a resolution. The army asked the government to back down by restoring the head of security at the airport and to cease the request to get hezbollah to dismantle their communications system. they managed to organise an alternative telecommunications network unbeknownst to the state. This construction is significant for a number of reasons, firstly logistical- remember the mess created in Dublin to develop different networks? Secondly when one purchases a phone or sim card one must be them registered with the state give passport details etc but them is open to tapping and monitoring- not something people want to hand over to the state.

The government backed down and agreed to the Army's compromise. It wasn't a case of the army moving over to the Hezbollah but the army fearing splits in its ranks if the situation escalated. Also Israel was badly defeated in the 2006 war and it is doubtful if the middle east and the states wish to open a new front in Lebanon. If Israel the US and the arms companies including Raytheon couldn't defeat Hezbollah then what chance has the Lebanese government? No one wants war on the border of Israel for the 60th Anniversary celebrations of the foundation of the state of Israel, especially the Israelis. Olmert is undergoing further corruption investigations- he sounds like the Israeli Bertie when he talks about himself.

So what remains? A kind of stale mate- The civil disobedience remains and the roads to the airport have been re-enforced. March 14 (government militias) have put big concrete blocks on their checkpoint out to Syria- so people are still stuck here! Hezbollah and the rest of the opposition groups are in a position of strength. The opposition don't, I think ,desire a civil war there is enough hardship as a result of poverty and inflation and intergenerational war.The opposition have a set list of demands electoral reform and the resignation of various government leaders. The country was to elect a new president on the 13th of May so elections are still on the agenda.

Please be clear that this isn't a Hezbollah versus the Government issues but a resistance versus the Government issue.

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author by Hubrispublication date Sun May 11, 2008 16:59author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Reports are coming in that the army is sweeping up pro-government supporters in west Beirut. They are also rounding up Al-Qaeda sympathisers. There have been confrontations with Future Current supporters in Akkar in the north, Aley in the mountains, and in the south.

There are strong indications that the army has been coordinating with the opposition during the fighting.

It now seems clear that Hariri's Future Current in west Beirut has collapsed like a house of cards.

TV is showing angry funerals in Sunni areas of Beirut. Amal gunmen fired on the procession killing two.

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author by Paula Gpublication date Mon May 12, 2008 07:32author address author phone Report this post to the editors

We've been very fortunate to have met and received caoimhe Butterly's hospitality here. She is an activists who has lived and worked in Iraq and Palestine. She has been based in Lebanon for the past two years. She is happy to organise interviews with opposition speakers to Irish media broadcast, print and radio. She may be contacted at 0096170182488. remember, Lebanon has the second most expensive mobile telecommunications in the world after Saudi Arabia, depriving the majority of telcommunications and explains the economuc part of Hezbollah's wireless telecommunications network. the Government have received no tax on this!

Black market prices of weapons have skyrocketed . One and ahalf years ago a kalishnokov was $100 today approx $800. Two al- Jazeera tv crew were injured last night and some intensive fighting in thw Chouf mountains. The Arab League which I believe was to meet today to discuss the issue has cancelled. i don't think they have much credibility in Lebanon anyhow!

author by Socialist Partypublication date Mon May 12, 2008 09:58author address author phone Report this post to the editors

General strike in Lebanon exploited by government and opposition forces

Sectarian street clashes and militias road blocks

An eyewitness report from CWI in Beirut

author by hubrispublication date Mon May 12, 2008 11:59author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Just ignore my last comment and read this instead

It is critical to remember that this current situation started when the Lebanese government, a couple days ago, decided to declare the Hizballah communications system or independent telephone grid as illegal. This is critical because this communications system was a major reason behind Hizballah’s victory against Israel in July 2006.

Given that the Hizballah system ISN'T WIRELESS it is harder for Israel or the US to crack or decode this communications network. This communication system was key to Hizballah preventing Israeli forces from knowing the positions and movements of Hizballah and it’s leadership during the war in 2006.

2 nil to Hezbollah
2 nil to Hezbollah

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author by Miriampublication date Mon May 12, 2008 12:28author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Modern technology is lethal to resistance movements.

author by hubris - hubrispublication date Mon May 12, 2008 12:45author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Not if the resistance knows how to use it

author by Paula Gpublication date Tue May 13, 2008 16:08author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Yesterday and this morning witnessed severe fighting around Tripoli, North of Beirut. We heard gun battles and plenty of grenades going off. However getting back to Beirut was easy enough, very few roadblocks and featured some of the manic driving habits that Lebanon is renowned for. Hariri having just finished his most recent press conference- this time featuring journalists and a question and answer session, continued the political talking game which is maintaining a surface level peace.

Statement from the Lebanese army on creating a ceasfire
"Army units will ban collective or individual irregularities in line with legal procedures, even if this means using force," it said. "This decision will be effective starting at 6:00 am (0300 GMT) on May 13."

Tomorrow morning will be interesting to see if this will happen.

A very good account of what is happening, not necessarily analysis

author by Socialist Party - CWIpublication date Tue May 13, 2008 17:15author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Pro-Western government militias routed by Hezbollah-led opposition

New balance of forces in Lebanon – US imperialism threatens intervention

By a CWI reporter, Beirut

author by Paulapublication date Wed May 14, 2008 09:25author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Life appears to be returning to normal, with the noisy busy roads and pollution almost at pre-civil strife levels. the military prescence is still strong and the ceasefire appears to be holding, for the present. The airport is still closed.

author by Paulapublication date Thu May 15, 2008 09:16author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Forty pro government officers in the army handed in their resignation on Tuesday due to the Lebanese's army non- engagement with Hisbollah and the recent militia clashes. The leading army commander refused to accept the resignations as this was seen to be a potential split which would serve to escalate an uneasy calm into more serious and sectarian divisions. The Bush administration was also committing to speed up their promised arms supply to the government here increasing fears that something more serious would start again.

However the Government with the support of the Arab league managed a back down or compromise, and revoked their two decisions to sack the head of Airport security and to get Hisbollah to dismantle their telecommunications network. After the announcement last night about 11pm gunfire rang out all over Hamra. I thought things had stated again as it was pretty intense and there were bright flashes in the sky, but it was a release of celebrationary shots. It's easy to confuse them.

The airport is to open and our flights still hold. Meanwhile Lebanese fear the lack of stability, economic collapse, even though shops are open the places in different parts of central Beirut just don't have the same chaotic exuberance of the dynamic city which thrived ten days ago.

Today is the commemoration of Nakba, sixty years since the catastrophe which forced Palestinians out of their homes and into exile. Candle light vigils have been held along the southern border but all events have been subdued as a result of the civil strife and the worlds media focusing on Bush and Olmert's best buddyism, two gangsters backslapping and sharing mutual admiration.

meanwhile hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are trapped in poverty living in apartheid conditions in Lebanon unable to work at professional grades, unable to access healthcare and forced to attend segregated schools.Add this great shame to the mix and the complexity of Lebanese life just begins to emerge; apartheid, poverty oppression, imperialism but also resistance.

author by Aronpublication date Wed May 21, 2008 15:22author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Great on the ground reporting Paula, thank u very much

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