Entries in Lebanon (21)


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


Syrian Refugees Flood Lebanon to Escape Civil War

ABC NewsBy Bob Woodruff

(NEW YORK) -- With no safe haven, more than 1,200 Syrian refugees pour into Lebanon daily. Most of them are mothers and children with no idea where they will live. Because there are no refugee camps in Lebanon, the government is concerned that could create a long-term crisis.

One family of 20 from Homs had waited all day to cross at the Syrian-Lebanon border, while another woman said they would stay in Lebanon as long as the situation was bad in Syria.

“We have nothing. We will live with what we can,” she said. “I think we will build a tent and live there.”

The parents’ only worry: keeping their children safe no matter where they ended up.

In Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, families lived anywhere they could.

Aid workers from Save the Children tell ABC News there are refugees living in an abandoned prison. At the former jail, a woman who spoke English told ABC News that five people lived in one cell.

She said that she’d been an English teacher in Damascus; her husband, a banker. Their beautiful home was destroyed in Syria and now she lives in a small cell.

The former prison is now home to more than 60 children. There are bars on the windows and bare cement floors — stark reminders that they are no longer home.

Hamid, 10, saw his neighborhood bombed by President Bashar Assad’s forces. Dead bodies littered the streets.

“I want to see my dad,” he told ABC News.

Another little girl nodded when asked whether she missed her father as well. It has been months since these children have seen their dads.

More than half of the refugees in this crisis are children, according to the United Nations. Many of them have been out of school for nearly two years.

Programs like Save the Children have stepped in to fill some of the need. Save the Children told ABC News that $20 could purchase an entire student kit including pencils, paper and a backpack — everything they need for a school that the organization has set up nearby.

“We are teaching them the basics so they don’t fall behind,” one teacher said.

Funding is limited and only 550 children are able to receive services there. Thousands still wait. For a little more money, a child can get clothes and shoes.

When night falls, the families struggle to stay warm in the dark. It is so cold that families have to cook inside their tents.

Two days ago, 17 of the tents burned to the ground. The families lost everything: clothes, food, blankets, pictures, all of their documents.

“Yes, everything,” one man said. “I can’t even provide for my children....I can’t even buy them a toy if I want. I have nothing to offer them.”

The nights are long and with limited electricity, the families must turn in early. Many of the children are sick. They cough as they go to bed. In the morning, the coughing only gets worse.

Many suffer from respiratory infections and are struggling because of the smoke from the stoves. Despite freezing temperatures, they have only thin clothing and sandals. There is a real need for more food and fuel for cooking, and warmer clothing, including shoes.

Everyone told ABC News that they missed their homes, their families and their ways of life. They are without money and cannot afford phones.

In the former prison, the ABC News crew lent the mothers cellphones so they could call their families in Syria. It had been months since they’d spoken with their relatives.

The sound of “Hello” over the phone line and the smiles that followed said everything.

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


Researchers Say ‘Extremely Targeted’ 'MiniFlame' Cyber Attack Hit Lebanon, Iran

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- Researchers said Monday they have identified part of the powerful Flame cyber espionage program as a stand-alone, “highly flexible” spy program that centered its attacks on computer systems in Lebanon and Iran.

MiniFlame, as cyber experts at Moscow-based Kaspersky Labs dubbed the malware, is an “info-stealing” virus designed to hit only a few high-profile targets -- perhaps just a few dozen computer systems. Kaspersky researchers said in a blog post they actually discovered MiniFlame in July but at the time believed it to be just a module within Flame.

The larger Flame virus was described by researchers as the most sophisticated cyber espionage program ever discovered and was a veritable “toolkit” for cyber spying programs. It could take remotely take screenshots of infected computers, record audio conversations that took place in the same room as the computer, intercept keyboard inputs and wipe data on command. Researchers said that malware infected thousand of computers, mostly in Iran.

In May, a top Israeli official dropped vague hints that his country may have been behind the creation of Flame, and the U.S. and Israel have long been suspected of mounting a sophisticated cyber campaign against Iran that included the Stuxnet worm, which is credited with physically disrupting the operation of one of Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Lebanon is home to the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization.

Kaspersky Chief Security Expert Alexander Gostev said he believes MiniFlame is used as a “second wave” of attack after Flame or another virus called Gauss, has already hit a target system.

“MiniFlame is a high-precision attack tool,” Gostev said. “After data is collected [via Flame] and reviewed, a potentially interesting victim is defined and identified, and MiniFlame is installed in order to conduct more in-depth surveillance and cyber espionage.”

Kasperky’s announcement comes weeks after U.S. officials said they suspected Iranian hackers of having a hand in a large but relatively unsophisticated cyber attack on Western financial institutions.

Last week, Secretary of Defense repeated warnings that if America doesn’t step up its cyber security on a national scale, it could face a “cyber Pearl Harbor.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Pope Will Get Dangerously Close to Syria This Weekend

L'Osservatore Romano Vatican-Pool/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Pope Benedict XVI will be just 30 miles from a major war zone starting Friday.

The leader of the Roman Catholic Church has no plans to cancel his three-day visit to Beirut, Lebanon, even as fighting between government and rebel forces continues to rage in neighboring Syria.

Benedict's mission is ostensibly to preach peace between Muslims and Christians in Lebanon although it's certain he will address the violence in Syria, which has cost tens of thousands of lives since President Bashar al-Assad ordered a crackdown 19 months ago on opponents seeking democratic reform.

While security surrounding the pontiff will be especially tight, some of the fighting in Syria has spilled over across the border into Lebanon.

Loyalties are divided in Lebanon, with Sunni Muslims supporting the rebels forces seeking to depose al-Assad while Shiite Muslims back the current regime.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Syrian Spillover Violence in Lebanon Fuels Fears of Wider Conflict

Scott Peterson/Getty Images(JERUSALEM) -- Lebanon’s second-biggest city saw its fourth consecutive day of violence Thursday between groups supporting and opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The sectarian fighting, some of the worst since Lebanon’s bloody 15-year civil war, has left at least a dozen people dead and re-ignited fears that the 17-month uprising in neighboring Syria could have wider regional implications.

Local media described a tentative peace broken in the northern port city of Tripoli Thursday, with reports of one man killed by a sniper. Sniper fire and explosions from rocket-propelled grenades were heard overnight and into the morning.

At least 12 people have been killed since Monday with more than 70 wounded, including 11 soldiers called in to quell the violence, according to the Daily Star newspaper.

The violence started Monday between two areas in Tripoli: a Sunni Muslim neighborhood that is anti-Assad, and another that supports Assad and that, like Assad, is Alawite, an offshoot of Shia Islam. The two areas are divided by an avenue called Syria Street.

The fighting follows tit-for-tat kidnappings that have seen Lebanese Shiites abducted in Syria and Syrian rebels kidnapped by a powerful clan in Lebanon. It is also the latest in a string of flare-ups between the Sunnis and Alawites in Tripoli since the Syrian uprising started last March.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Miqati warned Wednesday that the violence is “efforts to drag Lebanon more and more into the conflict in Syria when what is required is for leaders to cooperate … to protect Lebanon from the danger.”

Activists inside Syria on Thursday reported renewed fighting in Syria’s two biggest cities, Damascus and Aleppo. Government troops reportedly clashed with rebel forces, pushing up from the southern edge of Damascus. They also shelled neighborhoods from the Qasioun mountain overlooking the north of the city.

In the past few weeks, much of the focus of the fighting has been on the commercial capital of Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city. Rebel fighters have faced tanks, helicopter gunships and fighter jets, with claims of victory and control coming from both sides.

“Civilians are enduring a horrific level of violence in the battle between Syrian government forces and opposition fighters for control of Aleppo,” Amnesty International said Thursday in a new report following a 10-day stay in the city. “The use of imprecise weapons, such as unguided bombs, artillery shells and mortars by government forces has dramatically increased the danger for civilians,” said the group’s Donatella Rovera.

The Britain-based opposition group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 100 people were killed across the country Thursday while some 250 were killed Wednesday.

“The situation has just got worse over there,” Finnish Lieutenant Commander Mikko Suomela told newspaper Helsingin Sanomat upon arriving home after the four-month United Nations monitoring mission ended over the weekend. “The fighting has escalated from sporadic outbreaks to cover almost the entire country,” he said. At some point, undoubtedly, there will be peace, but I’m afraid that it will take some time. It doesn’t look good.”

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


Stuxnet-Linked Cyber Weapon Hits Lebanon

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A new cyber weapon believed to be linked by code to the infamous Stuxnet worm has been discovered stealing banking information in Lebanon, according to Moscow-based cyber security firm Kaspersky Labs.

The new malware, dubbed Gauss for an in-code reference to a German mathematician, is designed to “steal and monitor data from clients of several Lebanese banks,” among other nefarious abilities. The code also includes some kind of “special warhead” that is so well encrypted that Kaspersky has been unable to identify it.

Of the more than 2,500 instances of Gauss infections in the Middle East, more than 1,600 of them were discovered in Lebanon and nearly 500 in Israel, Kaspersky said in a blog post.

Kaspersky researchers said they discovered Gauss while investigating Flame, a massive espionage program revealed in May that was able to record nearly everything done on an infected computer, including real-world conversations that took place near it.

Kaspersky researchers had previously linked specific portions of code in Flame to Stuxnet, believed to be the first-ever true cyberweapon to do actual physical damage to its target, an Iranian nuclear facility, and Duqu, a surveillance worm based on Stuxnet. Now the Russian researchers said they believe Gauss to be related to those three as well.

“After looking at Stuxnet, Duqu and Flame, we can say with a high degree of certainty that Gauss comes from the same ‘factory’ or ‘factories,’” the blog post said.

Kaspersky and several other cyber security firms said that Stuxnet and its kin are so sophisticated and required such a commitment of time and expertise that a nation-state was most likely behind their creations. A 2010 Congressional report on Stuxnet put the U.S. and Israel at the top of a short list of probable suspects and the New York Times reported Stuxnet was developed by the two countries as part of a wave of cyber aimed at Iran.

Peter Boogaard, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said the agency is “coordinating with our federal and private sector partners to analyze” Gauss and is “working with organizations that could potentially be affected.”

Kaspersky said that while a vast majority of the infections they’ve detected were centered in Lebanon, there were a few instances of Gauss detected on computer systems in the U.S. and the total number of infections is still unknown.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio