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A friend and colleague of mine at the paper Sam Tarling went to south Lebanon to watch the final day of the Shiite Ashura festival and took some spectacular photos.

While the Beirut suburbs have long-abandoned the ritual of self-flagellation and bloodletting that continues to take place in Amal strongholds, thousands took to the streets of Nabatieh to honour Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, who was killed in the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD.

I went to Hizbullah-dominated south Beirut instead in the wake of the bomb explosion killing two Hamas operatives and the article can be found in the last post.



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Lebanon’s new cabinet has agreed on a policy statement that recognises Hizbullah’s right to use arms against Israel, despite reservations from the Western-backed ruling majority.

The cabinet had already met eight times in an attempt to iron out the clause which refers to the party’s substantial arsenal, with some ministers arguing it undermines the authority of the state.

The clause in question states the right of “Lebanon, its government, its people, its army and its resistance” to liberate all Lebanese territory.

Hizbullah is commonly referred to as the resistance in Lebanon.

Christian members of the majority, including the Phalange Party and Lebanese Forces, argue that group’s arsenal runs counter to UN resolutions.

However Hizbullah, which has two ministers in the new 30-member unity cabinet, has made it clear the group’s right to use weapons against Israel is not up for debate.

The Shiite group, considered a terrorist organisation by Washington, maintains that Israel poses a serious threat and it is necessary to protect the country against future acts of aggression, citing the 2006 war between Israel and southern Lebanon.

A Beirut school has removed a textbook containing excerpts of The Diary of Anne Frank from its syllabus after Hizbullah claimed it promotes Zionism.

annefrank

Anne Frank

“The book focuses on the persecution of Jews during the war, but even more dangerous is the theatrical and dramatic method employed to narrate the diaries in an emotional way,” MP Hussein Hajj Hassan said on Hizbullah’s TV station, Al-Manar.

“These respected, established schools are teaching the so-called tragedy this girl lived — how long will Lebanon remain an open arena for this Zionism?”

Attorney Naim Kalaani, a member of the Committee for the Boycott of Zionist Goods, told the channel the use of the book in a school constituted a violation of Lebanese law, which bans the import of Israeli goods and cooperation with Israeli institutions, and is “tantamount to a step toward normalisation” in ties with Israel.

Soon afterwards, a private English-language school removed the book. Others are still discussing the possibility. The Diary of Anne Frank was recently translated into Arabic and Farsi by the Paris-based Aladdin Project, which aims to spread awareness of the Holocaust among Muslims.

The project said in a statement that it “condemns this campaign of vilification and intimidation by Hizbullah’s TV.”

Thousands have downloaded the project’s translated versions from over 50 countries, including Lebanon.

This marks the second campaign by the group in as many weeks against material in textbooks, after it forced a leading Lebanese school to remove pages from a history book that described Hizbullah and Hamas as terrorist organisations.

The release of the 4 Generals yesterday will inevitably have far-reaching political impact on the upcoming and much-anticipated elections on June 7th.  The four were held in connection with the 2005 assassination of Lebanese ex-Premier Rafik Hariri and have been detained in custody without trial since their arrest.

June 7th will see pro-Western faction Future Movement, within March 14, led by Hariri’s son Saad pitted against majority Shiite Muslim group Hizbullah. And while Saad Hariri’s party feels their legislative majority slip from their grasp, their opponents are gaining popularity with their support for the cause of the 4 Generals. Hizbullah leader Nasrallah has long-campaigned for the fair trial of the suspects who have been detained for almost four years without a hearing.

Hizbullah are claiming the Special Tribunal’s decision yesterday as a personal victory, proclaiming it as”the last nail in the coffin” of the US-backed democracy movement. General Sayyed, one of the 4 Generals released specifically thanked Nasrallah in a speech outside the court in south Beirut for all his support in aiding their release.  

Hilal Khashan, head of the department of political studies and public administration at the American University of Beirut said:”The results of the elections will change,” Khashan said. “The Hizbullah-led opposition will have a majority in the Parliament. What happened today was dramatic.”

National Bloc leader Carlos Eddé, of the March 14 alliance said in an interview that March 8, particularly Hizbullah will exploit the release of the 4 Generals in the  parliamentary elections in 37 days. He was quick to defend comments from March 8 coalition that they were unhappy with the judge’s decision and made it clear he respected the Special Tribunal’s decision, regardless of the outcome.

Grand Mufti of the Lebanese Republic Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani is calling for all parties not to exploit the recent ruling in Beirut for political purposes. It remains to be seen just how influential the Generals’ release will be in helping the opposition party to secure enough support for a majority come June.