Entries in Beirut (9)


Missile Strikes in Beirut Could Heat Up Syrian Conflict

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(BEIRUT) -- A rocket attack in Beirut is stirring fears that Syria's two-year conflict could drag Lebanon into a no-win situation.

On Sunday, two missiles struck a neighborhood where the militant group Hezbollah makes its headquarters.

While only four injuries were reported, it's believed the strike was a message from Syrian rebels to Hezbollah to stop supporting President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Hezbollah has sent fighters into Syria to assist al-Assad's attempt at remaining in power. However, Sunni Muslims in Lebanon oppose their involvement, siding with rebels who seek a new government in Syria.

Nonetheless, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has reiterated his group's commitment to help defeat his allies' enemies.

In a statement, Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby "urged the leaders of Hezbollah to reconsider their stance and not get involved in the killing in Syria, stressing that the only way to protect to protect Lebanon's internal unity."

The Arab League is concerned that sectarian violence could turn Lebanon into the next Syria.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Beirut Remains a Powder Keg Following Intelligence Chief's Murder

AFP/Getty Images(BEIRUT) -- The situation in Beirut remains unsettled due to civil unrest that resulted from the assassination of Lebanon's top intelligence officer who opposed Syria's involvement in Lebanon's affairs.

For a second day Monday, the Lebanese military fought with supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in various neighborhoods inside the capital, with several deaths reported.

The fear now is that unless the government clamps down hard on the dissidents, who still remain small in number, the disturbances could spread throughout Lebanon.

Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan was killed in a car bomb blast last Friday, which was believed in retaliation for the intelligence chief charging a former Lebanese minister with arranging terrorist attacks organized by Syria.

Anger over al-Hassan's death is growing as many feel in Lebanon that their Hezbollah-dominated government has become too close to Damascus.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Thousands in Beirut Mourn Dead Intelligence Chief

AFP/Getty Images(BEIRUT) -- There is growing concern that last Friday's assassination of Lebanon's security chief Wissam al-Hassan will lead to Syria's conflict spreading throughout the Middle East.

Al-Hassan and two others died in a car bomb blast near Beirut's police headquarters, an attack that was blamed on Damascus.

On Sunday, thousands poured into Beirut's Martyrs' Square for al-Hassan's funeral.  Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati also attended the ceremony.

At one point, protesters tried to storm the Lebanese government headquarters to demand that Suleiman resign.  They were turned back by soldiers firing machine guns and rifles.

Al-Hassan was buried alongside former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was also killed by a car bomb in Beirut in 2005.  At the time, al-Hassan, who led the probe into Hariri's killing, accused Syria of plotting the assassination.

More recently, al-Hassan alleged that a Lebanese minister was in cahoots with Syria to start a bombing campaign in Lebanon.  There is speculation that al-Hassan's death was in retaliation for this probe.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Deadly Explosion Rocks Beirut

AFP/Getty Images(BEIRUT) -- A large explosion killed at least eight people and injured dozens more in the Lebanese capital of Beirut on Friday, local officials said.

Video and still images from the scene show confusion and chaos, with emergency sirens blaring and many people -- some with blood stains on their clothes -- walking through rubble in the streets.

Lebanese state media reported the explosion appeared to be caused by a car bomb, and photos posted online appear to show the remains of one vehicle that was completely mangled and burned out. The explosion occurred during rush hour.

One journalist on the scene told ABC News she saw "loads of body parts" and part of a car lodged into nearby buildings. Glass was shattered everywhere, she said. The explosion took place in the heart of east Beirut, but was felt clear across the city, another witness said.

No group has publicly taken credit for the attack. One Lebanese politician reportedly told a local television station it was similar to past bombings blamed on the Syrian regime, but the Syrian government quickly condemned the act.

"Such terrorist acts are condemned and unjustifiable wherever they happen," Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said, according to the Syrian Arab News Agency.

Col. Wissam al-Hassan, an anti-Syrian senior Lebanese intelligence official, was killed in Friday's blast in Beirut. Al-Hassan's death was first reported by local media and confirmed to ABC News by a high-level Lebanese security official.

Al-Hassan was a central figure in the investigation into the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri that largely pointed fingers at the Syrian regime. He also uncovered in August an alleged plot by a prominent Lebanese politician allied with the Syrian regime to plant bombs and carry out political assassinations in Lebanon.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Angry Tribe Takes Hostages, Cuts Road to Beirut Airport

ANWAR AMRO/AFP/GettyImages(BEIRUT) -- A heavily armed Lebanese tribe has taken at least 20 hostages, including foreign citizens, and set up a cordon around Beirut's main airport, as a dispute that began with the kidnapping of a tribesman in Syria has escalated into a conflict that now involves much of the Mideast.

Earlier this week, a video posted online showed Hasan al-Miqdad, a member of the Shi'ite al-Miqdad tribe from Lebanon's Baalbek region, being held by masked men who claimed to be members of the Free Syrian Army.

In the video, he "confesses" to being part of a team personally sent to Syria by Hezbollah leader Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah to fight Sunni forces. Al-Miqdad has a bruised face in the footage, and it's unclear if his statement was coerced.

The captive's tribe reacted with fury, rejecting the accusation that Hasan al-Miqdad had been sent by Nasrallah, saying instead that Hasan Al-Miqdad had been in Syria for more than a year because he was unable to find work in Lebanon.

Tensions heightened Wednesday morning, after the al-Miqdad tribe retaliated by kidnapping more than 20 men inside Lebanon, including one Saudi, one Turk, and several Syrians allegedly belonging to the FSA. It's believed at least one of the men, the Turkish national, was kidnapped while leaving the airport.

Masked members of the tribe appeared on television, threatening to kidnap more Syrian, Saudi, Turkish and UAE individuals inside Lebanon if al-Miqdad was not released. They also lashed out at the Lebanese government for failing to intervene and press the FSA for Miqdad's return.

"This family has a military arm that is in charge of abducting Syrians in the Lebanese territories from the North, South, Bekaa to the seashore," said Maher al-Mikdad, a spokesman for the Mikdad family. "We would like to make it clear that the freedom of our son is weighed against the freedom of those who were abducted."

The tribe then took control of the main road leading to the airport, setting fire to a mound of burning tires and blocking traffic in all directions. At least one flight bound for the Beirut airport has been rerouted.

The kidnappings -- and threat of more -- prompted Saudi Arabia to urge all its citizens to leave Lebanon immediately. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates followed soon, with Qatar threatening to expel all its Lebanese nationals if any Qataris were kidnapped.

Up until Wednesday's dramatic developments, Lebanon had been spared some of the sectarian strife engulfing its neighbor. Lebanon lived through a 15-year civil war fought largely along religious sectarian lines.

Wednesday's kidnapping and airport blockage threaten Lebanon's fragile balance, as a pro-Syrian Shi'ite tribe seeks vigilante justice against Sunni groups who are trying to topple the Assad regime, a longtime Hezbollah benefactor.

Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., and Turkey are all majority Sunni countries and are believed to be providing arms and support to the anti-Assad rebels, while Shi'ite Iran remains Syria's staunchest ally.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Hezbollah Reveals Alleged CIA Ops, Identities

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(BEIRUT, Lebanon) -- Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based group considered by the U.S. government to be a terrorist organization, revealed what it said were the details of the CIA's extensive operations in Beirut, from high-value recruitment targets to clandestine meeting locations and even the identities of several CIA officers, in a video over the weekend.

At least two of the names belong to CIA officers who have served in Beirut, two former intelligence officials told ABC News. Neither is currently stationed in Lebanon.

Saturday's broadcast came after an admission by U.S. officials last month that a large CIA espionage network in Beirut had been "rolled up" by Hezbollah. According to current and former U.S. officials, two Hezbollah double agents managed to penetrate the network by pretending to go to work for the CIA.

Hezbollah then learned of the restaurant where multiple CIA officers were meeting with several agents, according to the four current and former officials briefed on the case. The CIA used the codeword "PIZZA" when discussing where to meet with the agents, according to U.S. officials. Two former officials describe the location as a Beirut Pizza Hut. A current US official denied that CIA officers met their agents at Pizza Hut.

From there, Hezbollah's internal security arm identified at least a dozen informants, and the identities of several CIA case officers.

In the video released by Al Manar, Hezbollah's media arm, the group used computer-generated models to show such meetings taking place in Pizza Hut and McDonald's. It also claimed to know who the CIA attempted to recruit -- from government employees to politicians and religious figures -- and how often the CIA officers had clandestine meetings with their agents. The video said the agency had constructed a large network of informants from across all segments of society.

A CIA spokesperson said Hezbollah's claims were suspect, but did not elaborate on which specific claims the agency doubted.

Last month one U.S. official, speaking for the record but without attribution, gave grudging credit to the efforts of Iran and Hezbollah to detect and expose U.S. and Israeli espionage.

"Collecting sensitive information on adversaries who are aggressively trying to uncover spies in their midst will always be fraught with risk," the U.S. official briefed on the spy ring bust said then.

But others inside the American intelligence community say sloppy "tradecraft" -- the method of covert operations -- by the CIA is also to blame for the disruption of the vital spy networks.

One former senior intelligence official told ABC News that CIA officers ignored warnings that the operation could be compromised by using the same location for meetings with multiple assets.

"We were lazy and the CIA is now flying blind against Hezbollah," the former official said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Report: US to Cut Aid to Lebanon If Hezbollah Seizes Power

Image Courtesy - Getty Images(BEIRUT, Lebanon) – A report in an Arab newspaper cites a U.S. official as saying that the United States will stop giving aid to Lebanon if militant group Hezbollah takes control of the country’s government.

The paper Asharq al-Aswat quoted a United States official on Sunday, who said that Congress would refuse to provide aid to anyone “taking orders from Hezbollah.” American officials maintain that Hezbollah has long held ties with al Qaeda, although Hezbollah has denied such allegations.

That statement by the U.S. official follows the collapse of the Lebanese government earlier this month. Hezbollah recently resigned from the country’s unity government after tensions began to rise over a tribunal which was expected to indict members of the group in the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafic Hariri.

Political leaders from surrounding countries have expressed concern about the future of Lebanon and its leadership.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


What's Next? Lebanon's Government Falls 

Photo Courtesy - US State Dept.(BEIRUT, Lebanon) – With the collapse of the Lebanese unity government after Hezbollah's withdrawal, the country is headed for a period of continued political stalemate, say analysts in Beirut.

The collapse is not official, however, as the president is still technically obligated to accept resignations. Should that occur, the president along with parliament will begin consultations to nominate a new prime minister. It is likely that Prime Minister Saad Hariri would be re-nominated.

Meanwhile, President Obama met with Hariri in Washington. In a paper statement, the White House said efforts by the Hezbollah-led coalition to bring down the Lebanese government “only demonstrate their own fear and determination to block the government’s ability to conduct its business and advance the aspirations of all of the Lebanese people.”

During the meeting, Obama commended Prime Minister Hariri for his “steadfast leadership and efforts to reach peace, stability, and consensus in Lebanon under difficult circumstances.”

At the root of the collapse was Hariri’s refusal to end Lebanon’s participation in the United Nations investigation over his father’s assassination which is expected to indict Hezbollah members.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


President Ahmadinejad's Visit to Lebanon Seen as Warning to Israel

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(BEIRUT) -- President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran touched down in Beirut Wednesday for a deeply divisive two-day visit to Lebanon, offering support to the terrorist group Hezbollah and a not-so-veiled warning to Israel. The trip to Lebanon is the first for the Iranian leader since his election in 2005 and comes at a time of high political tension in the country.

Tens of thousands of his supporters lined his route from the airport. Huge posters hung from every lamp post and as he passed by in his open topped car, people threw sweets and rice in traditional gestures of welcome.

"Ahmadinejad has done a lot for Lebanon, we are here to thank him," 18-year-old Fatima Mazeh told the Associated Press.

At the presidential palace, he met Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and shook hands with Prime Minister Saad Harriri. He heads a fragile coalition government which includes the radical Islamic group Hezbollah.

Under Ahmadinejad's rule, Iran has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into Hezbollah's coffers and supplied it with thousands of rockets and missiles, depleted during its war with Israel in 2006.

The U.S. has backed a part of the Lebanese government that accuses Hezbollah of running a state within a state. The Hezbollah militia is widely recognized as being the strongest military force inside the country.

Analysts believe Ahmadinejad's visit is designed to boost Hezbollah's standing and send warning signals that Iran's allies in Lebanon enjoy powerful backing from Tehran.

Despite that, a group of 250 Lebanese politicians, lawyers and activists have written a letter of protest against the visit accusing the Iranian president of stirring up old divisions and pushing the country towards another conflict with Israel.

"Your talk of changing the face of the region starting with Lebanon.... and wiping Israel off the map makes it seem like your visit is that of a high commander to his front line," the letter said.

Ahmadinejad is scheduled to attend a rally in Beirut's southern suburbs, the traditional stronghold of Hezbollah. He may be joined there by the group's reclusive leader Hassan Nasrallah.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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