Syrian Control of Lebanese Diplomats Angers Kuwait
For the second time in two months, Lebanese diplomats offended one of their country's largest financial backers by violating diplomatic protocol on instructions from Syria. The latest incident took place at end of the February 15-16 Arab League foreign ministers' meeting in Cairo, chaired by Lebanese Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud, when a final communique was issued urging Arab states to "refrain from offering any assistance or facilities to any military operation that might threaten the security, safety and territorial integrity of Iraq." Kuwait's ambassador to the Arab League, Ahmed Khaled al-Koleib, told reporters that Hammoud "did not form a committee to write the final statement" and distributed it "minutes before the end of the meeting" after having informed "only one other delegation" beforehand, a reference to Syria. He added that Hammoud "ignored a request from the Saudi delegation, backed by 10 Arab states including Egypt, to put the statement to a vote." Nearly 75,000 US troops are stationed in Kuwait.
Writing in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai al-Am on February 19, commentator Jassem Bouty suggested that Hammoud acted according to "domestic calculations having to do with preserving his post in the new Lebanese cabinet, since it is no secret that Damascus is deeply involved in forming the cabinet and in deciding specifically who will take the post of foreign minister."
Members of the Kuwaiti parliament expressed outrage over the incident. "We should ask our ambassador in Beirut to come back to Kuwait for consultation, and freeze activities of the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED), until we clarify the Lebanese stance," MP Jamal al-Omar told reporters on February 17. Islamist MP Khalid al-Adwa accused Lebanon of supporting Iraq, "as if that regime spends billions of dollars to rebuild Lebanon," a reference to the KFAED, which has provided Lebanon with billions of dollars in reconstruction aid over the last decade.
In December, remarks by Lebanese Ambassador Raymond Baaklini caused an uproar in Canada, which provided Lebanon with $200 million in economic assistance just weeks earlier.
Hezbollah Smuggling Ring Busted in US
On February 4, eleven people were indicted on federal racketeering charges in connection with a cigarette smuggling ring designed to fund the radical Shiite Hezbollah movement in Lebanon. Nine men were arrested in Detroit, including ringleaders Hassan Makki and Elias Mahamad Akhdar, for involvement in a plot to purchase cigarettes in North Carolina (where the tax is 50 cents per carton) and on the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation in New York (where there is no tax) and resell them in Michigan (where the tax is $12.50 per carton.) Two members of the New York-based Seneca Indian tribe were also arrested.
According to federal investigators, the ring is linked to Mohamad Hammoud, who was convicted in July 2002 for leading a similar smuggling operation out of North Carolina that funneled money to Hezbollah.
Lebanese Professor Detained
Internal security forces stormed into the house of Lebanese University professor Adonis Akra on February 11, arrested him, and seized all copies of his book, entitled "When My Name Became Number 16," which relates the story of his arrest and 15 days in detention during the August 2001 crackdown against anti-Syrian activists. Akra, a Sorbonne-educated philosophy professor, was accused by the authorities of tarnishing the reputation of the judiciary and harming relations with Syria in his book. The book's publisher, Bashir Daouq,was also interrogated and his publishing house, Dar al-Talia was shut down. On February 17, seven people who had bought advance copies of his book were arrested. All were later released.
Only in Lebanon . . .
After electrical power was restored in the Baddawi area of Tripoli following a four-day blackout and riots by the neighborhood's impoverished residents, on February 11 Transport and Public Works Minister Najib Mikati credited the personal intervention of his political ally, Lebanese President Emile Lahoud. Not to be outdone, Energy Minister Muhammad Abdel-Hamid Beydoun - an ally of Lahoud's rival, Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri - declared that Hariri had personally intervened to end the crisis. Hariri happened to be in Paris recovering from kidney surgery during the blackout.