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World Council for the Cedars Revolution

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Home arrow News Content arrow Blog arrow Blog Items arrow Extremism In Lebanon arrow Analysts Conclude - Aoun Holds on to the Past - Tries to Get Syria's Endorsement Election09
Analysts Conclude - Aoun Holds on to the Past - Tries to Get Syria's Endorsement Election09 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Agencies   
Thursday, 04 December 2008

‘AOUN SELLS HIS SOUL’ -- Gen. Michel Aoun is being accused of “selling his soul” to Damascus for political gains ahead next year's parliamentary elections in Lebanon. The photo shows Aoun (right) with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during their meeting in Tehran on Oct. 13. (UPI)
‘AOUN SELLS HIS SOUL’ -- Gen. Michel Aoun is being accused of “selling his soul” to Damascus for political gains ahead next year's parliamentary elections in Lebanon. The photo shows Aoun (right) with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during their meeting in Tehran on Oct. 13. (UPI)

‘AOUN SELLS HIS SOUL’ -- Gen. Michel Aoun is being accused of “selling his soul” to Damascus for political gains ahead next year's parliamentary elections in Lebanon.

Lebanese Visits to Syria Sow Inter-Lebanon Discord
By SANA ABDALLAH (Middle East Times)Published: December 04, 2008

AMMAN -- An increasing number of visits by Lebanese officials and politicians to Damascus in a bid to speed up normalization between the two countries is intensifying the discord between the pro- and anti-Syrian forces in Lebanon.

Lebanon's oldest Syrian rival, former General Michel Aoun of the Free Patriotic Movement, began a historic visit to Syria on Wednesday that is rankling the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority, known as the March 14 alliance.

Political leaders from that pro-Western camp have accused Aoun – the Christian former interim prime minister military commander who fought but lost a fierce year-long "war of liberation" against Syria in 1989-1990 – of "selling his soul" to Damascus for political gains ahead of next year's parliamentary elections.

Aoun, who was forced into 15 years of exile in France, returned to Lebanon in 2005, a month after the Syrian forces withdrew from Lebanon. As far as he was concerned, his dispute with the Syrians ended with the pullout, and he joined forces in an unusual alliance with the Shiite Hezbollah organization, which is backed by Syria and Iran.

But it wasn't just Aoun's high-profile reconciliation visit to Syria that has raised concerns among the politicians skeptical of Syrian President Bashar Assad's schemes in Lebanon.

The visit by Lebanese army chief Gen. Jean Qahwaji to Damascus on Nov. 29 ignited a volley of accusations against attempts to rush normalization with Syria as paving the way for returning to Syrian domination, or "tutelage."

In a Dec. 1 meeting in Beirut, the general assembly of March 14 demanded that all government and military officials, as well as political figures, must get prior cabinet approval for visiting Syria, after presenting their working agenda and the "personalities they intend to meet from the Syrian side." The cabinet must then endorse the visit after being briefed on the results.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who is a March 14 member and leads a shaky unity government that includes veto-wielding members from the Hezbollah-led opposition, assured his peers that the army chief had informed him of the Syria visit in advance and was not acting alone.

The opposing forces ridiculed the demand for prior cabinet approval as "paranoia" and criticized it as "double standards" on the part of the March 14 group, whose politicians regularly make trips to Washington and other Western capitals, as well as to Arab countries allied with the United States.

Analysts close to the pro-Western camp, however, say these political leaders have legitimate concerns over the regular visits to Syria that have taken place since Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and Assad met in a milestone summit in Damascus in August, in which they announced the establishment of diplomatic ties for the first time since the they gained independence from French colonial rule in the 1940s.

They fear that rushing to normalize before setting up their embassies and while pending issues remain unresolved was Syria's way of making a political comeback through next year's parliamentary elections.

Syria was Lebanon's power-broker for almost 30 years, but the withdrawal of its troops in April 2005, two months after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, has still done little to pacify suspicions of Syria's intentions.

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a hardcore anti-Syrian who heads of the Progressive Socialist Party, told Lebanon's Al-Mustaqbal TV on Wednesday night that the Syrian regime cannot be trusted at all.

"Reconciliation with the Syrian regime is impossible," he said. "I know the structure of the Syrian regime and I know that they have no mercy for anyone."

He added that the only way to stop Lebanon from "returning to Syrian tutelage" is through a March 14 victory in the 2009 elections.

Jumblatt charged that Damascus "has relatively stopped assassinations only to focus on winning the Lebanese elections in order to rule us again at the political, economic and security levels, without returning militarily."

Jumblatt accuses the Syrians of having assassinated his father, legendary Druze leader Kamal Jumblatt, in the 1970s. He also blames Syria for the murder of Hariri and his aides in a massive bombing in Beirut, as well as the subsequent assassinations of political and public figures. Syria has denied involvement.

Independent Lebanese analysts say that continued distrust resulting from the turbulent history of the Lebanese-Syrian relationship is the main obstacle standing in the way of forging a new relationship based on genuine mutual respect for each other's independence and sovereignty – and on an equal footing.

http://www.metimes.com/International/2008/12/04/lebanese_visits_to_syria_sow_inter-lebanon_discord/5316/

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Aoun's trip to Syria seen as bid to corner more votes in Lebanon
Analysts say visit could backfire in polls scheduled for next year
By Michael Bluhm
Daily Star staff
Thursday, December 04, 2008


Analysis


BEIRUT: Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun traveled to Syria on Wednesday in a bid to position himself as supreme leader of Lebanon's Christians ahead of next year's pivotal elections, but questions remain whether his sojourn will win him any more votes or followers, a number of analysts told The Daily Star.

"He is putting himself as the sole speaker of the Christian community in Lebanon," said retired General Elias Hanna, who teaches political science at Notre Dame University.

"He is putting himself above all parties in Lebanon, including the presidency."

Aoun will spend several days in Syria, against which he declared a war of liberation when he headed the Lebanese Armed Forces in 1989. Aoun fled to France after losing that conflict in 1990, but he returned in 2005 and since 2006 has aligned himself with Syria's allies in Lebanon, in particular with Hizbullah.

The reception being accorded to Aoun in Syria signals that, despite the history of violence between the former general and Damascus, Aoun is cementing his status as Syria's most important Christian partner in Lebanon, said Oussama Safa, executive director of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies.

"It's out in the open now that he is Damascus' Christian ally in Lebanon," Safa said. The Syrians are cooperating in creating the impression that Aoun carries more weight among the Christian community than Lebanese President Michel Sleiman, Safa added. "This is really the main message."

Aoun is also using the visit to promote an image as chieftain of all Christians in the Middle East, with his tour including several Christian sites and gatherings with the Syrian faithful, said Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center.

"The part has not been played before, really, in this way," Salem said, adding that Aoun, however, was only one of a series of Lebanese Maronites to trek to Damascus recently and has been working with Syria's Lebanese allies for almost three years. One mustn't exaggerate the importance of this visit."

Aoun is traveling to Syria with his sights squarely trained on the general elections slated for May 2009, which most expect to be tight and bitterly contested, Hanna said. Aoun might well be asking Syrian President Bashar Assad to help smooth over tensions with the Amal movement, Aoun's partner in the March 8 coalition, over how to divvy up districts such as Jezzine and Marjayoun-Hasbaya which are mixed between Christians and AMAL's mostly Shiite backers, Hanna added.

"He is playing it regionally for local politics," Hanna said.

Indeed, the sight of Assad and Aoun smiling together might score votes for the former general outside his traditional Christian base, Salem said. "Strong Syrian support in any election might be important for him and his party, who are running in many districts," Salem said, adding that it was still unclear which of Lebanon's rival factions held the upper hand.

In any case, the visit tightens the bonds between Aoun and his allies in the Syrian-backed March 8 camp, who seem more skilled than their opponents in the March 14 alliance in matters of planning and execution, Safa said. For the March 14 Forces, seeing their archenemy Damascus find a close ally in a popular Christian leader represents a "very worrisome development," he added.

But other analysts questioned whether Aoun's Syrian gambit might cost him the support of some Christian voters, who have long viewed Syrian interests in Lebanon with skepticism.

With Lebanon's Sunni and Shiite communities split almost uniformly along the political divide, the country's Christians will probably tip the balance in the 2009 polls, and Aoun might well be misjudging the strength of their antipathy toward Damascus, Hanna said. The contours of the Christian community have changed, not only since Aoun led his war of liberation against Syria, but also since May 2005, when Aoun notched resounding victories in Christian-majority regions, added Hanna,

"He is a stubborn guy," said Hanna, who fought with Aoun against Syria. "He is narrow-minded. He miscalculated his war of liberation. When all the world wanted Syria to stay in Lebanon, he declared a war of liberation. So now, when everybody wants Syria to stay out of Lebanon, I hope that this choice of policy will not hurt Lebanon and the Christians."

Hilal Khashan, chair of the department of political science and public administration at the American University of Beirut, said he had seen polls showing that Aoun's support in the Kesrouan region had plummeted to about 30 percent from 70 percent in 2005. Aoun's political strategy has been to mine the frustration felt by Christians over the loss of some of their political privileges in the 1989 Taif Accord, but he has made poor tactical choices, such as siding with Syria and directing criticism toward the country's Sunnis, Khashan added.

"Damascus is not the place to groom a Lebanese Christian leader," Khashan said. "Aoun will not sweep in Kesrouan in the way he did in 2005. The mood in the Christian street has changed a lot since then. This man has trouble with his own constituency in Kesrouan. He will not have the same number of deputies to send to the Parliament."

Throwing in his lot with Syria and fashioning grandiose designs as a Christian master mirror the flaws that could cost Aoun in the polls: expedience in choosing partners and outsize ambition, Khashan added.

"Michel Aoun has been eager to ally himself with anybody if this would allow him to make any gains," Khashan said. "He is a maverick politician who doesn't understand the intricacies of the Lebanese political system. The Lebanese system is based on balances, very delicate balances. Aoun can never be part of a balance. Wherever he operates, he wants to predominate."

Syria, meanwhile, also has much to gain from deepening its ties with Aoun, the analysts said. Damascus has begun to break free of its international isolation partly by agreeing to formal diplomatic ties with Beirut, at the same time it has regained some of the sway that it lost here after Syrian troops departed Lebanon in 2005 in the wake of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's assassination, Safa said.

Although Syria has always denied involvement in the killing, the looming UN tribunal to try suspects in the case might put pressure again on Damascus to curb its interests in Lebanon, so having firm relationships with domestic leaders such as Aoun would help Syria blunt any fallout from the tribunal, Khashan said.

In addition, the mere fact that a former foe such as Aoun has come calling on Assad also means a "feather in his cap" for the Syrian president, Salem said.

And when the past Syrian enemy remains a powerful figure in Lebanon, Syria should not miss the chance to count Aoun as a friend, Safa said.

"It's a golden opportunity for them to grab a major Christian ally," he said. "It comes at a time when Syria is really building its regained influence in Lebanon. They need friends. It's an opportunity they shouldn't miss."

http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=1&categ_id=2&article_id=98231

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Christian leader's courting of Assad shows how Syria's influence in Lebanon persists
By Anna Fifield in Beirut

Published: December 4 2008 02:00 | Last updated: December 4 2008 02:00

Michel Aoun, a Christian Lebanese politician who once personified opposition to Syria, completed an astounding about-face yesterday by meeting Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, in Damascus.

Although a slew of Lebanese political leaders have been travelling the road to Damascus since the neighbours agreed in August to establish diplomatic relations, Mr Aoun's trip is different because he holds no official position.

Analysts see this is a sign of Syria's continuing influence in Lebanese politics, as candidates, including Mr Aoun, seek Mr Assad's support ahead of parliamentary elections due to be held before June.

"I don't think this is a vote-winner at a popular level - in fact, it's a bit of a risk, as the general Christian attitude towards Syria is not favourable," said Paul Salem, head of the Carnegie Middle East Centre.

"But Syria is still very influential in Lebanon and if he can use that influence, it could help him."

Among Syria's opponents in Beirut, the visit by Mr Aoun possibly the country's most popular Christian leader, underlines the extent to which Damascus continues to have a hand in Lebanese politics and raises fears over the return of Syrian hegemony.

Mr Aoun, a former army chief and one-time presidential hopeful, was prime minister of an interim government until he was forced into exile in 1990 after being defeated in a Syrian offensive at the end of Lebanon's civil war. He spent the next 15 years in Paris campaigning against Damascus. But he returned to Lebanon in 2005, shortly after Syria withdrew its troops following the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, the former prime minister, in which Dam-ascus was implicated, although it denies any involvement.

His alliance with other anti-Syrian figures, however, soon turned to hostility and he later aligned himself instead with the pro-Syrian opposition led by Hizbollah, the Shia movement backed by both Damascus and Tehran.

Given Mr Aoun's popularity among Christians in Lebanon, the alliance has been a boon to Hizbollah, allowing the party to highlight an anti-sectarian position.

Although Hizbollah did not succeed in winning for Mr Aoun the prize he coveted - the presidency - the alliance has been maintained. In October, Mr Aoun went to Tehran for the first time and held talks with Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, the Iranian president.

"We want to build the future, not dwell on the past," Mr Aoun, 73, said after "frank and clear" talks with Mr Assad yesterday, according to the official Sana news agency.

Fears that Damascus was re-asserting itself mounted in September, when 10,000 Syrian troops massed on the border, ostensibly to stop smuggling. The troop build- up was expanded in October, according to local reports.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/2dc1a0b8-c1a3-11dd-831e-000077b07658.html?nclick_check=1

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Aoun Lectures in Damascus About U.N. Support for Israel and Financial Backing for Terror

Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, lecturing at Damascus University on Thursday, said the United Nations that had partitioned Palestine covers up "Israel's harm" committed against the Palestinian people.

"The United Nations that had never succeeded in condemning Israel due to the veto power … we see it in oil fields, with or without an international resolution … and some (powers) are exerting pressures to abrogate the right to return," Aoun said in reference to the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their original homeland in pre-Israel Palestine.

He also accused "major powers of playing a role in preventing the return to normal relations between Lebanon and Syria." Aoun did not identify such powers by name.

He defended his document of understanding with Hizbullah, saying it "reflected on our community, enabled us to maintain our national unity and helped the resistance achieve victory in the most ferocious war staged by Israel against Lebanon."

The understanding with Hizbullah "empowered us against external threats … and despite all obstacles we achieved national harmony around the resistance, its principles and targets."

Aoun praised the "miracles achieved by resistance fighters" against Israel in the 2006 summer war between Hizbullah and the Jewish state.

He said "terror groups in north Lebanon have a specific ideology that no one is ignorant about its source and has financial resources that also no one is ignorant about their source." 

Beirut, 04 Dec 08, 14:36

http://www.naharnet.com/domino/tn/NewsDesk.nsf/getstory?openform&13989E22EEF4F68CC22575150044906D

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Geagea Hammers Aoun

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea criticized Change and Reform Bloc leader Michel Aoun for seeking to clear Lebanon's conscience in Damascus prior to settling Lebanon's differences with Syria.

"The President of the Republic of Lebanon, who represents all the Lebanese people, is the person entrusted with the task of clearing the collective conscience," Geagea stressed.

"Clearing conscience can only be achieved through settling pending issues (with Syria)," he added.

"We want to overcome the past. But how should we handle out present status?" Geagea asked.

He said "hundreds of Lebanese citizens are jailed in Syria, We have bases manned by Palestinians loyal to Syria and we have non demarcated borders with Syria, especially in Shebaa Farms, not to mention persisting Syrian efforts for more than three years to destabilize Lebanon."

Aoun's reference to French-German relations as a model for Lebanon's relations with Syria is "not accurate. France had relations with Germany only after the Nazi regime was toppled," according to Geagea.

He accused Aoun of discussing with the Syrians the formation of election tickets, saying "Iran pays the money and Syria provides weapons, personnel and more."

Beirut, 04 Dec 08, 10:40

http://www.naharnet.com/domino/tn/NewsDesk.nsf/getstory?openform&13989E22EEF4F68CC22575150044906D

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Jumblat: Reconciliation with Syria is Impossible ... We Want to Win Elections to Avoid Return to Tutelage

Druze leader Walid Jumblat said Wednesday that reconciliation with Damascus is not possible, stressing that the ruling March 14 coalition wants to win the 2009 parliamentary elections to avoid a return to Syrian tutelage.

"Reconciliation with the Syrian regime is impossible," Jumblat said in an interview with Future TV late Wednesday, adding that March 14 did not get assurances from France regarding assassination threats.

Jumblat believed that Syria has "relatively stopped assassinations only to focus on winning the Lebanese elections in order to rule us again at the political, economic and security levels without returning militarily."

"I know the structure of the Syrian regime and I know that they have no mercy for anyone," he argued.

"The Syrian regime believes in physical executions and I believe that (Syrian Interior Minister) Ghazi Kanaan was wiped out and did not commit suicide," Jumblat said in the interview conducted at his mansion in Beirut's Clemenceau district.

The leader of the Progressive Socialist Party assured that Syrian meddling did not stop. "The method, however, has changed," adding that he is against the joint Syrian-Lebanese Higher Council.

On Middle East peace talks, Jumblat insisted he does not want to link Lebanon's fate to Syrian-Israeli negotiations. "I don't either want Lebanon to be a bargaining chip."

Regarding the long-awaited reunion with Hizbullah, Jumblat said: "I saw that there is no benefit from a meeting at the political level. Main topics are to be discussed on the dialogue table."

He said political differences do not necessarily mean that war is likely.

Jumblat, however, believed that the Resistance lost part of its national consensus following the May events.

"What happened in Beirut and the Mountains stripped the Resistance's dignity away and was not in its best interest," the Druze MP believed.

He wondered why Syria did not point a finger at Israel in the assassination of top Hizbullah commander Imad Mughniyeh when Hizbullah accused the Jewish state of killing Mughniyeh.

Turning to the 2009 parliamentary elections, Jumblat said that March 14 Forces' goal is to win the polls. "And the title for success is March 14."

"We want to win the elections to strengthen the independence march," the PSP leader emphasized. "If March 8 Forces win, (Syrian) tutelage will return, Palestinian arms will remain and so will both the Lebanese and the Resistance armies."

Jumblat said that he differentiates between Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and the rest of the Hizbullah-led March 8 alliance.

He described as "excellent" his relation with the Lebanese Forces and the rest of the factions that make up the March 14 coalition.

Jumblat found it strange to hold a dialogue session once every two months.

He said he "disagree" with President Michel Suleiman on the Shebaa Farms issue. "We want Syrian documents that prove the Farms are Lebanese."

On the issue of terrorism, Jumblat said: "They have a terrorist factory starting from Shaker Abssi all the way to Jawhar and Awad."

"No Palestinian weapons are outside the camps. These weapons are Syrian," he stressed.

Jumblat labeled the international tribunal "unique," adding that "nothing like it has been seen since World War II."

"They are the ones who are maintaining the security of the airport," he said. "I don't believe terrorists are capable of infiltrating through the sea.

"The border with Syria remains the source of terrorism," he insisted.

The Druze leader said that he gave his testimony to previous U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis "and I'm looking forward to go to The Hague to testify."

The Americans, Jumblat claimed, "do not torture their prisoners, except for Guantanamo prison."

Jumblat stressed that a person with a "rigid (political) party founded by Kamal Jumblat like the Progressive Socialist Party does not fear anything."

"I assure Al Akhbar newspaper that I've got good guts," he said. 

Beirut, 03 Dec 08, 23:27

http://www.naharnet.com/domino/tn/NewsDesk.nsf/getstory?openform&13989E22EEF4F68CC22575150044906D

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Aoun After Open Heart Talks with Assad: Those in Beirut Should Apologize First

Change and Reform Bloc leader Michel Aoun on Wednesday said he held "open heart" talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad and advised "those in Beirut" to apologize first.

"Did those in Beirut, who were at one point partners, apologize?" Aoun said in response to a question.

"Those in Beirut should apologize first," Aoun told a packed news conference on the first day of a 5-day visit to Damascus. "Apologies should start from Beirut, then we reach Damascus."

Aoun predicted a "bright future" for relations between Lebanon and Syria.

"Our meeting today is a promise of a prosperous future," he said.

"We are turning a new page where there is no victor, no vanquished," Aoun said. "This is a return to normal relations."

Aoun said he was offering his "friendship to Syria."

"As long as there is a will … we would certainly work out solutions to previous pending problems and agree on a new approach that respects interests of both states," he added.

"We were foes, but never enemies," Aoun said of his past experience with Syria that resulted in his defeat on Oct. 13, 1990.

Ignoring criticism of his visit from the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority March 14 coalition, Aoun said his trip was justified now that Lebanese-Syrian diplomatic ties have been established.

He expressed confidence in resolving any problem between Damascus and Beirut.

On upcoming parliamentary elections, Aoun said Syria was "supportive of the holding of legislative elections, but without interfering" in the process.

His talks with Assad covered, among several topics, the issue of missing Lebanese citizens.

"Committees are tackling this issue. They are achieving progress and, certainly, they would reach a result," Aoun said.

He said relations with Washington are like "unstable weather, sometimes sunny, sometimes cloudy."

The new U.S. administration, Aoun said, should change "strategy" in the Middle East, not "just the behavior … if they don't, they would be defeated."

He declared commitment to the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their pre-Israel homeland, stressing that "those who created the problem should be responsible for the solution, not the states that have been burdened by it for over 60 years."

Beirut, 03 Dec 08, 14:39

http://www.naharnet.com/domino/tn/NewsDesk.nsf/getstory?openform&13989E22EEF4F68CC22575150044906D

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Huge FPM Delegation in Damascus to Set Stage for Aoun's Visit

A delegation from the Free Patriotic Movement and journalists will head to Damascus Tuesday afternoon ahead of a five-day visit by FPM leader Gen. Michel Aoun to the Syrian capital, An Nahar daily reported.

It said a huge delegation consisting of Change and Reform bloc MPs, FPM members as well as officials and journalists will travel to Damascus to set the stage for Aoun's expected visit on Wednesday.

Although Aoun kept the date of his Damascus trip secret, An Nahar said the visit would extend from Wednesday to Sunday.

The FPM leader's trip would be divided into two parts - talks with top officials including President Bashar Assad, and tours to shrines, meetings with people of areas he will visit and seminars.

Aoun, meanwhile, snapped back at those criticizing him, saying they ignore the history of the Christians.

"I am going to Syria with my head held high," Aoun said.

"They are welcoming me with admiration and respect... I was a rival and the rivalry has ended and I may become a friend," he added. 

Beirut, 02 Dec 08, 05:46

http://www.naharnet.com/domino/tn/NewsDesk.nsf/getstory?openform&13989E22EEF4F68CC22575150044906D

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