Wednesday, February 16, 2005                                               The Daily Battle Against Subjectivity
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La Romieu by Pierre-Paul Feyte
La Romieu
©2005 Pierre-Paul Feyte
Hariri Buried in Lebanon Today
MIDDLEEAST.ORG - MER - Washington - 16 February

Even as Rafik Harrari's funeral takes place the Israelis are
announcing Iran will be able to make nuclear weapons this year
and top Syrian officials are in Iran announcing a closer mutual
security pact which comes on the heels of expanding relations
between the two US/Israeli targeted countries with China and Russia.

MIDDLEEAST.ORG - MER - Washington - 16 February: The Americans are 'profoundly outraged' that Rafik Hariri -- long known as the Saudi and U.S. supported man in Lebanon -- was assassinated. They were quick to 'recall' the American Ambassador for Syria and hint 'though not accuse' that Damascus was responsible if not for the assassination directly then for setting 'the climate' that allowed it to happen.

Last year the Israelis assassinated Sheik Ahmed Yassin, founder and spiritual leader of Hamas. This is the same Sheik Yassin who a few years ago they had let out of their gulagish prisons -- under demand at the time from King Hussein of Jordan -- after a botched assassination attempt of another leading Hamas figure then in Amman (now in Damascus). At the time both Yasser Arafat and King Hussein quickly rushed to Yassin's hospital bedside to show their respect and even homage. Then, last March, a few years after his return to Gaza, the paralyzed and blind Sheik was bombed to death by the Israelis with an American OK further fueling the raging Intifada at the time. There was no 'profound outrage' from Washington nor any talk about who was responsible for 'the climate'.


Mid-East Realities - MER - www.MiddleEast.Org - Washington - 3/21/2004: They held him in their prisons not that long ago. Then they let him go after a botched Mossad attempt to assassinate other Hamas leaders in Amman. It was a deal orchestrated with King Hussein of Jordan and the CIA. Indeed King Hussein and Yasser Arafat were the first to rush to Yassin's hospital bedside paying him personal homage. Now he goes into history as one of the most significant Palestinian martyrs just as the recent secret meeting between the CIA-installed son of King Hussein, Abdullah II, with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has leaked out. And just as the top al-Qaeda leaders are being hunted down by the CIA and the Pakistanis and what may be a threat to use briefcase nukes is being published in Australia.

Later last year the Israelis then pulled off their biggest assassination of all. In his case, only a few years ago the most frequent foreign visitor to the White House in Washington when his co-optation was so much desired, the 'stealth assassination' of Yasser Arafat remains legally unproven as is likely to be the case with the brutal assassination of Hariri this week.

The Israelis have a long history of assassinating Palestinian and Arab leaders over many decades in many places through many means.

The history of American assassinations -- from the infamous Phoenix program in Vietnam to the 'black' CIA hit-squads harder at work than ever in today's Middle East -- is considerable and mostly still secret.

But the Americans continue to think they can fool most of the people all of the time -- and as usual their 'profound outrage' is in reality largely a public relations device designed to set the stage for further warfare ahead in the fractured Middle East (for which they bear so much responsibility), and indeed for the many not so public assassinations they and their Israeli ally continually perpetrate.

Comment: Stepping back and considering the simple question "Who benefits?" allows us to throw light on the bombing on Monday in Beirut.

Looking at the geo-political situation, we see the United States and Israel working to implement their ongoing strategy to destroy the Arab world. For Israel, growing confusion and destruction means an opportunity to establish the mythical "Greater Israel" which, if realised, will stretch from the Mediterranean through Mesopotamia. Israel has already invaded and occupied portions of Lebanon. It has attacked positions in Syria under the guise of "fighting terrorism". Things are moving along nicely it seems.

France has been a strong opponent of the US agenda in Iraq and has been working to find a negotiated settlement over the issue of Iranian nuclear development. At the same time, the US is attempting to paint Syria as a "terrorist" state. By killing Hariri, one of Jacques Chirac's good friends, and pinning the blame on Syria, another wedge is driven between those who oppose the US presence in Iraq. It might also increase division between France and Russia, two of the key members of the anti-US imperialist coalition that also includes China.

As we see below in another article, Russia is going ahead with the sale of missiles to Syria that would be able to shoot down the Israeli fighters that now bomb Syria with impunity. Given that Israel has been waging a propaganda campaign in the Western media against the Russo-Syrian missile deal, the bombing in Beirut and the resulting public defaming of Syria could not have come at a better time for Sharon and his cohorts. "Who benefits?"

The bombing and assassination also threaten to throw Lebanon back into the chaos it suffered in the 1970's and 80's. That chaos gave Israel an excuse to invade and occupy southern Lebanon. Would the excuse work a second time?

Israel is well-known for its false-flag operations. Why should we think that this operation was any different?

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A Battlefield for the Wars of Others
The Blame for Harari Hit Falls on Syria
The Independent
February 16, 2005
They will bury Rafik Hariri today beside the city he rebuilt and next to the ruins of the Roman columns that made ancient Beirut famous. But his violent death on Monday has repercussions that go far further east than Lebanon or the Roman empire; for his killing is intimately linked to the insurgency in Iraq--and President Bush's belief that Syria is encouraging the guerrilla war against US troops in the country.

American pressure on Syria to withdraw its military forces from Lebanon--a cause that Mr Hariri, for quite different reasons, supported--is part of Washington's attempt to smother Syria's supposed sympathy for the bloody and increasingly efficient insurgency in Iraq.

Last night, Washington announced the withdrawal of its ambassador to Damascus. It was the clearest sign so far that the US is going to accuse Syria of Mr Hariri's murder.

Israel, predictably, chose the same moment to add new pre-conditions for any peace talks with Syria: expulsions of "terrorist headquarters" from Damascus, "allow the Lebanese Army to deploy its forces along the border with Israel", and "end the Syrian occupation of Lebanon".

Israel, which occupied part of Lebanon for 24 years, then demanded the "expulsion" of Iranian Revolutionary Guards--who in reality left Lebanon more than 15 years ago. In harness with the Americans, the Israeli threat--especially the specious references to Iranians no longer in Lebanon--represents a grave deepening of the crisis.

Hariri's burnt body--he died with six of his bodyguards, a paramedic who always accompanied him and at least seven civilians in a car bomb on Monday--will be laid to rest beside the monster--some say monstrous--Sunni Muslim mosque he built in central Beirut, a building that dwarfs the surrounding Crusader churches and restored French mandate buildings.

The tomb will be concreted into place within direct sight of the post-civil war Garden of Forgiveness and the restored but still bullet-riddled monument to the Lebanese martyrs of 1915 and 1916 who were hanged by the Ottoman Turks for demanding Lebanese independence.

The Arab Muslim hero Saladin, who defeated the Crusaders, was buried in the Omayad mosque in Damascus. The billionaire tycoon Rafik Hariri will lie just outside the almost equally large--if much less beautiful--Mohamed Amin Mosque in Beirut.

He who defeated the Middle Ages European empire in the Middle East gave inspiration to the family of the Arab whose business empire swamped Lebanon. But it is the American empire in the region which provided the setting for his death.

Iyad Allawi, the former CIA and MI5 agent, appointed interim Prime Minister of Iraq by the United States, is himself half Lebanese, his mother coming from the esteemed Shia Muslim Osseiran family; Hariri knew him well.

The former Lebanese prime minister also privately acknowledged that the United States was threatening sanctions against Syria--and attacking its military presence in Lebanon--because of its contention that Syria was helping the Iraqi insurgents. As usual, Lebanon had become a battlefield for other people's wars.

And Hariri was a giant on that battlefield. He had many good friends in Syria but enemies too. And he understood all too well that the Bush administration wanted--in more than one country--to combine its "war on terror" with its campaign for "democracy" in the Middle East.

If Iraq could be invaded for democracy while forming a front line in the "war on terror"--however delusionary this was--then Syria's presence in Lebanon seemed to mirror the same set of circumstances. Syria supported "terrorism", or at least, sponsored militants that were opposed to Israel, while occupying a neighbouring country, Lebanon, against international law.

Once George Bush and President Jacques Chirac--Hariri's close personal friend--pushed through UN Security Council resolution 1559, calling for Syrian military withdrawal from Lebanon, Damascus found itself facing a miniature version of Saddam Hussein's predicament in 2003: submit to UN resolutions or else.

Lebanon's forthcoming elections, in which anti-Syrian candidates fear that the pro- Syrian Lebanese government will gerrymander electoral boundaries to deprive them of parliamentary seats, dovetailed neatly with the US neoconservative demand for so-called democracy in the Arab world.

That this also served Israel's interests--a substantially demilitarised Lebanon, the disarmament of the Hizbollah guerrilla movement and the humiliation of Syria--was never allowed to become part of the narrative.

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A loud 'thud' — then chaos
Feb. 15, 2005. 08:15 AM

Beirut BombingBeirut—It is almost one o'clock in the afternoon and I am in the back seat of a taxi, text messaging my cousin a "Happy Valentine's Day," when suddenly I hear a dense thud and the taxi starts shaking as if it's being lifted from underneath by a rattlesnake.

"What is this?" I ask the cab driver.

For whatever reason, I look to my right, towards the sea. We are on the seafront Corniche road. I look ahead and see a huge cloud of black smoke rising from behind the luxurious Phoenicia Hotel.

Cars ahead of us stop in their tracks. I have been to Iraq and I know an explosion when I hear one, but I have never experienced anything this loud or intense. It leaves a ringing in my ears. The taxi driver starts to make a U-turn.

"Can you keep going ahead?" I ask him.

He was taking me back to my office after covering a story on women in the Lebanese army, but we took a detour downtown as I wanted to buy a phone card for my cellphone.

"No, it's dangerous. There might be more explosions," the driver says as he turns towards me.

I dip into my purse and look for cash to pay him so I can get out of the cab and run towards the smoke.

I realize I'll have to cover about 200 metres. I start running, passing cars and people who seem glued to the spot. The smell of fire and ash increases in intensity.

I glance left and see cars with shattered front windows. Every car has shattered windows, with some dented and others completely deformed.

Glass, wood and pieces of metal are scattered all over the road and pavement.

I take a photo and keep running to towards the fire.

I see the great Phoenicia Hotel's windows broken. The glass sign is shattered on the HSBC bank next door, wires bulging from its side.
I jump off the pavement into a swamp of mud, twisted metal and more glass.

I see people with debris on their clothes and blood on their faces shouting in pain and lying about.

Then people in military uniform start rushing in.

Within minutes sirens are heard.

I continue taking photos until I reach the edge of what looks like a meteorite crater.

"Huge," was all I kept thinking as I looked into the pit where two cars are burning. I stand there for a few minutes. I hear people are shouting in the background.

I see a burnt body near one of the cars. To my left, a cameraman is taping for a local Lebanese station. We both look at each other.
"Do you know who got hurt?" I ask.

He says: "Hariri was passing through here. But it is just a rumour."

Rumour would soon become reality. Former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, who led the country for 10 years, was killed in the massive bombing that destroyed his armoured motorcade.

At least 14 others were killed and more than 135 injured in the explosion, which damaged several hotels and buildings along Beirut's Mediterranean waterfront.

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Hariri murder seen as a 'Syrian message' to France
PARIS, Feb 15 (AFP)
The assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri was a deliberate blow to France, whose president Jacques Chirac was a personal friend and has sponsored UN moves to end the Syrian occupation, Paris-based commentators said Tuesday.

While the French government refused to point a finger of blame - adhering publicly to Chirac's call for an international investigation into the murder - analysts and Middle East specialists were less circumspect about who they thought was behind it.

"I have not the shadow of a doubt that Syria is responsible," said Antoine Basbous, president of the Observatory of Arab Countries.

"It was a message to the Lebanese opposition - but also to France: this is our colony, we are masters here and we intend to stay. So keep out," he told AFP.

Hariri regularly visited France and kept a multi-million euro mansion in central Paris. He was one of the first foreign leaders to be invited to the Elysee palace after Chirac's 1995 election, and the following year was presented by the president with the grand cross of the Legion of Honour.

"I am convinced this attack - the most significant since the end of Lebanon's war - was a message directed at Chirac, who was a personal friend of Rafiq Hariri," said Antoine Sfeir, director of the Cahiers de l'Orient newsletter.

"The evidence suggests that the murder is a response to UN security council resolution 1559 voted in September at the initiative of France and the US. It was Jacques Chirac who was the real architect of the resolution," he said.

Resolution 1559 calls for the withdrawal of Syria's estimated 15,000 troops from Lebanon and the re-establishment of full Lebanese sovereignty.

A month after it was passed, Syria strong-armed a change to Lebanon's constitution to extend the mandate of pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud - the move which prompted Hariri's resignation as prime minister.

According to Basbous, Hariri was personally threatened over the resolution by Syria's intelligence chief in Lebanon, Rostom Ghazale. "Hariri told his friends that Ghazale put a pistol to his head and said: 'It's your choice: Syria or resolution 1559,'" Basbous said.

Writing in the Liberation daily, analyst Jean-Pierre Perrin said the fact Chirac had called for an international enquiry to identify the killers "is a way of casting doubt over any Lebanese-Syrian enquiry" and showed Paris also suspects Damascus.

"Chirac is all the more furious because he did so much to get (Syrian president) Bashar el-Assad known outside his country," Perrin said.

"The assassination of the former prime minister looks like a real challenge thrown down not just to Paris and Washington - but to the whole international community - by a Syria that is increasingly isolated, even in the Arab world," he said.

Syria has condemned the assassination. According to its supporters, the fact that suspicion automatically fell on Damascus suggests that another agent was responsible and calculated that Syria would be blamed.

But Basbous rejected that argument. "They have done this before. They kill and then are the first to send in their condolences. Duplicity is a hallmark of the Syrian regime," he said.

"Hariri was a heavyweight. He had a contacts book full of the telephone numbers of world leaders. He could call up Chirac, he could call up Bush. Syria didn't want someone as influential as that living next door," he said.

Sfeir said the killing sent an unmistakeable message.

"It is a message addressed to Lebanese politicians - see what can happen if you get in our way. And it's a message to the international community to remind them of the essential fact - without us there will be chaos," he said.

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Russia Tells Israel It Will Sell Anti-Aircraft Missiles to Syria

Created: 16.02.2005 14:36 MSK (GMT 3)

Russia has said it will go ahead with plans to sell sophisticated SA-18 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria, after weeks of protests from Israel and the United States.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said at a press conference Wednesday that he had received a letter from Russian President Vladimir Putin informing him of Russia’s intent to sell the missiles, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Just Saturday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said that Russia was not planning or negotiating to sell such missiles to Syria.
Sharon said he has not yet read Putin’s letter, received Tuesday, but he understood “they (the Russians) are going to sell that kind of weapon to the Syrians,” the Associated Press quoted him as saying.

“We, of course, worry about that, and don’t think that that should have happened. We are in constant contact with the Russians in order to settle this issue and ensure that these weapons don’t reach terror organizations located in Lebanon.”

Syrian President Bashar Assad said after a visit to Moscow last month the missiles would not pose a threat to Israel. Russian officials have also assured that the weapons would not get into the hands of terrorists.

Sharon said he first discussed the issue with Putin two years ago, and was assured that these missiles would not be sold to Damascus because of concern they could fall into the hands of terrorists.

Officials in the Kremlin and the Foreign Ministry have declined to comment on the issue.

Comment: Curious that the bombing in Beirut comes at the time that the Russians are planning on selling these missiles to Syria, missiles that Israel has said would "fall into the hands of terrorists" if the sale goes through. What better way to portray Syria as a "terrorist state" than to organise a bombing and blame it on them.

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Syria accuses Israel of killing Al Hariri
2/15/2005 7:00:00 PM GMT
While the opposition to the pro-Syrian government in Beirut claimed that Syria was behind the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Al Hariri, the Syrian media on Tuesday pointed the finger of suspicion at Israel.

"What happened was an attempt to shatter national unity in Lebanon, to sow anarchy and divisions which lead to a climate of civil war," said government newspaper Tishrin.

Israel "continues to work to sabotage Lebanon's achievements to try to bring anarchy to the country and to be able to continue its occupation of the Shebaa Farms", a disputed strip of land along the Israeli border, the newspaper added.

Meanwhile, several Arab analysts say that Syria itself was also targeted by Hariri's assassination.

"Syria certainly did not need to complicate the situation, just when it is already in the firing line" over UN Resolution 1559, Rauf Ghoneim, a former Egyptian deputy foreign minister, said.

According to several political analysts, Al Hariri’s assassination is aimed at drowning Lebanon in another civil war. Arab commentators called on Lebanon on Tuesday to unite against such threat, with some suggesting that Israel has greatly benefited from the death of Al Hariri.

On the other hand, the Arab League called on the Lebanese people not to jump to conclusions about the assassination.

Al-Gomhuria daily, Egypt's state-owned said the assassination aimed to "subvert the interests of the Lebanese people, undermine their solidarity and shake their will".

"Lebanese people should throw their ethnic and religious differences behind them and strive for unity," it said.

Other analysts suggested that Al Hariri’s death was a part of a bigger plan aimed at fueling tension and spreading chaos in the region already shaken by Iraq war, where some fear a sectarian civil war similar to that which tore Lebanon apart from 1975 to 1990.

"There is a conspiracy to spread anarchy in the region," said Essam el-Erian, a leading member of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.

Although the former Lebanese Prime Minister had recently joined calls for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, Arab commentators insisted his death did not benefit Syria.

"For sure, it is not in Syria's interest for Lebanon to be rocked by such a massive security breach. After all Syria is responsible for Lebanon's security," the leading Saudi newspaper al-Watan said in an editorial.

Meanwhile, Iran said Israel is the only state that has the resources to carry out such attack. According to initial reports, the bomb which killed Hariri had the explosive power of 300 kg of dynamite.

"An organised terrorist entity like that of the Zionist regime has the capability to carry out such operations and it targets breaking unity and solidarity in Lebanon," a state-owned Iranian newspaper quoted the foreign ministry as saying.

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Mossad behind Hariri assassination
Tehran Times Opinion Column, MNA
Feb. 16, By Hassan Hanizadeh

TEHRAN, Feb. 15 (MNA) -- Former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri was killed in a massive bomb blast in central Beirut on Monday.

The explosion destroyed a number of public buildings and vehicles, showing that the complicated terrorist act was carried out by a well equipped organization.
The situation in Lebanon and the region is now so critical that any discord could cause a new crisis for this small but strategic country.
Lebanon, which has been the cradle of peaceful coexistence among different religious and ethnic groups, experienced a 15-year civil war due to a series of domestic, regional, and international factors in the 1970s and 1980s.
The war left thousands of Muslim and Christian civilians dead, causing Lebanon huge financial losses.
In 1990, the various groups finally put aside their differences and calm and national unity ruled the country again.
Then, following the Zionist army's defeat in south Lebanon in 2000, Lebanon was once more put into the worldwide spotlight.
Lebanon eventually regained its regional economic position thanks to reconstruction and economic restoration, partly due to the efforts of the late Hariri.
However, regional and trans-regional powers such as the United States and the Zionist regime are trying to steer Lebanon toward a crisis, aiming to extend their military and political presence in some parts of the Middle East and the Mediterranean.

The United States' strong support of UN Resolution 1559, which requires Syria to withdraw its forces from Lebanese soil, is part of Washington's plan to politically influence Lebanon and the region once again.
Israel and the U.S. seek to sever the spiritual and physical contacts between Syria and Lebanon in order to isolate Syria in the Middle East and check its political sway in the region.
Neither the Lebanese government nor the majority of its citizens want Syrian troops to quit their country.
However, if Syrian forces withdraw from Lebanese territory, it would surely pave the way for the political and military machinations of the United States and Israel.
The Lebanese and Syrian nations, due to their historical, ideological, and ethnic affinities, are in fact one nation in two separate lands. The regional and trans-regional powers must understand this and must realize that the two nations cannot be separated spiritually.
Now, the question is: Who benefited from the assassination of Hariri, a man who played a constructive role in the reestablishment of security in Lebanon?
All the evidence indicates that the Israeli intelligence service Mossad killed Hariri, since it had previously plotted to assassinate important Lebanese politicians.
The Mossad is trying to help the Zionist army claw its way back into Lebanon, since history has shown that the stability of Lebanon is not to the advantage of Israel.

Lebanon now faces a more complicated situation and should stay alert in order to thwart the Zionist regime's plots to dominate the country once again.

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Syria diverts blame onto Israel after 'odious' Hariri killing
16 February 2005 0156 hrs - AFP

DAMASCUS : Syria went on the defensive after the killing of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, who resigned just four months ago in protest at the dominant role of Damascus in his country.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was among the first leaders to condemn the massive Beirut bomb blast that killed Hariri and another 14 people on Monday and brought back memories of the dark days of the Lebanese civil war.

The official press condemned the murder as an "odious crime," saying Hariri was a "welcome son" for Syria and accused arch-foe Israel of seeking to sabotage Lebanon's achievements since the 1975-1990 war.

"What happened was an attempt to shatter national unity in Lebanon, to sow anarchy and divisions which lead to a climate of civil war," said government newspaper Tishrin.

While the opposition to the pro-Syrian government in Beirut openly blamed Syria for the assassination, the official Damascus media in turn pointed a finger at Israel without even reporting the accusations against Syria.

Israel "continues to work to sabotage Lebanon's achievements to try to bring anarchy to the country and to be able to continue its occupation of the Shebaa Farms", a disputed strip of land along the Israeli border, said Tishrin.

Several Arab analysts stressed that Syria itself was also targeted by Hariri's assassination.

"Syria certainly did not need to complicate the situation, just when it is already in the firing line" over UN Resolution 1559, Rauf Ghoneim, a former Egyptian deputy foreign minister, said on the public station, Nile-TV.

The UN Security Council adopted the resolution in September calling for an end to foreign interference in Lebanon and the withdrawal of foreign troops, a direct message to Syria which still has 14,000 troops stationed there.

Political scientist Gamal Salama, also in Cairo, ruled out any Syrian link because the killing could not serve the interests of Damascus.

It could signal "the prelude to action against Syria", said Salama. "Something has been in the pipeline against Syria for a long time. "Nobody knows what or when, but something is being cooked up to target Damascus."

The editor-in-chief of Syria's official Ath-Thawra newspaper, Fayez Sayegh, said the attack on Hariri "targeted national unity and civil peace in Lebanon".

In the face of the accusations of Syrian involvement, Sayegh insisted that Damascus "always welcomed Hariri as one of its sons and as a major Lebanese figure".

Hariri, a Sunni Muslim who was five-times prime minister and a billionaire businessman who spearheaded Lebanon's post-war reconstruction, quit as premier in October.

He resigned after Lebanon's parliament in September backed a Damascus-inspired amendment to the constitution to extend the mandate of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, a move that triggered international concern.

The United States stepped up calls for Syria to comply with Resolution 1559 following the murder of Hariri, but Syrian Information Minister Mahdi Dakhlallah suggested that Damascus was not ready to take such action.

"The anarchy in Lebanon is perhaps due to the withdrawal of the Syrian army and security agents from most regions of Lebanon at a time when the independence of the country is under threat," he told Al-Jazeera television.

Since Israel's withdrawal from south Lebanon in May 2000 after 20 years of occupation, Syria has carried out six troop redeployments to cut back numbers from a high of 35,000 soldiers.

Syria's military presence in its western neighbour dates back to 1976 when its forces intervened with Arab League backing, a year after Lebanon's civil war broke out.

Comment: Indeed, this deliberate killing of Hariri by the Mossad is not only an attack against Lebanon, but a clear threat against Syria as well. In effect, the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister achieves two aims, both of which clearly benefit Israel. The first is the destabilization of Lebanon, who under the leadership of of Hariri has freed itself from years of civil war and was emerging as an example of a safe and stable Arab democracy. The second is the setting up of Syria as a scapegoat, who having little to gain from this attack, can now be further demonized in the western press, giving the hawks in Washington more fuel with which to stoke the fires of war in the Middle East.

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State Agencies Behind Hariri Killing: Expert
Additional Reporting by Hamdy Al Husseini,
IOL Correspondent
February 15/05

CAIRO, ( – The assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri was more likely the work of state security agencies, an Egyptian expert in affairs of the Islamic political groups said Tuesday, February 15.

Meanwhile, Syrian Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam arrived in Beirut Tuesday to pay his last respects to Hariri, and held Israel accountable for Hariri's grisly murder.

"The magnitude of the blast indicates that it was the work of state security agencies and not just militant groups surfacing every now and then," Egyptian expert, Diaa Rashwan, told Tuesday, February 15.

He stressed that the claim of the massive attack by a previously unknown group was a bid to distract attention away from the real perpetrators.

"The Group for Advocacy and Holy War in the Levant, which claimed responsibility for Hariri killing, was an invention of the parties behind the horrendous crime.

"The perpetrators of this crime made the best use of the terrorism bugaboo, which is rearing its ugly head on the world," Rashwan said.

Hariri was killed Monday, February 14, in a deadly blast that targeted his motorcade passing in a western Beirut area near St. George hotel.

The shattering explosion also claimed the lives of at least 14 others, including several bodyguards of the 60-year-old charismatic Lebanese figure.

Feeble Justifications

Rashwan said the justifications cited by the unknown group for assassinating Hariri were feeble and unconvincing.

"Such justifications would have been convincing if the group attacked an Israeli or a Saudi figure or even Hariri himself when he was a prime minister," he said.

He said that Lebanon is not a hotbed of the activities of Saudi militant groups as the country is an open arena for the Arab, Israeli and American intelligence and security agencies, which restrict the movement of such groups.

"Israel is the only country that benefits from Hariri assassination that came at a critical juncture for Syria, which is teetering under intense pressure [from the US] to withdraw its troops from Lebanon," Rashwan added.

Last September, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution calling for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Lebanon, in reference to the Syrian troops.

Few days later, the 15-member Council unanimously agreed on a statement calling on Damascus to comply with resolution 1559.

Al-Qaeda Denial

Hours after the attack, Al-Jazeera television aired a video tape from the unknown group which said it had killed Hariri because of his ties to Saudi Arabia.

However, an online statement attributed to Al-Qaeda denied Tuesday that its men in the Levant were behind the killing of Hariri, holding Syrian, Israeli or Lebanese intelligence services accountable for it, Reuters news agency reported.

"Blaming the jihadist and Salafist groups for what happened in Beirut is a complete fabrication," read the statement signed by a group calling itself Al-Qaeda Organization in the Levant.

"The priorities of the jihadist groups in the Levant are supporting our brethren in Iraq and Palestine, not blowing up cars.

"This is clearly an operation that was planned by a state intelligence agency ... and we blame either the Mossad, the Syrian regime or the Lebanese regime," added the missive.

Pundits spoke Monday of three possible scenarios, the first being a strong message to the Lebanese opposition supporting resolution 1559.

The second points the finger at Israel and other foreign powers backing the UN resolution with the aim of fanning differences between pro- and-anti-Syria lobbies to force Damascus to pull out its troops of Lebanon.

The third scenario is to stir a wave of public panic to press for the disarming of resistance factions, chiefly Hizbullah.

Syria Accuses Israel

Meanwhile, Khaddam, syria's vice president and a close friend to late Hariri, arrived in Beirut Tuesday to pay his last respects to Hariri.

Speaking to reporters upon his arrival, Khaddam accused Israel of assassinating Hariri, Al-Arabiya news channel reported.

State-run Syrian newspapers also accused Israel Tuesday of being responsible for the killing.

"Israel has adopted a hostile position to the Arab role in Lebanon since the end of its occupation of the south (in May 2000)," the government mouthpiece Tishrin daily said.

"It continues to work to sabotage Lebanon's achievements to try to bring anarchy to the country and to be able to continue its occupation of the Shebaa Farms and to steal the waters and the wealth of the southern Lebanese."

The editor-in-chief of the official Ath-Thawra newspaper, Fayez Sayegh, said the attack "targeted national unity and civil peace in Lebanon."

Sayegh insisted that Damascus "always welcomed Hariri as one of its sons and as a major Lebanese figure."

"This murder has unveiled a plot aimed at the entire region which has struck Lebanon and Syria in the heart."

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad called the bomb attack a "horrendous criminal attack" and urged the "people of sisterly Lebanon to fortify their national unity and to reject those seeking discord."

The White House Monday condemned the killing of Hariri and said Lebanon should be free to pursue its political future free of violence and "Syrian occupation."

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Arab world reacts to killing of al-Hariri
Tuesday 15 February 2005, 6:14 Makka Time, 3:14 GMT  

Lebanese and Syrian politicians have denounced the bomb blast in central Beirut that killed former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri.

While the government called for three days of mourning and a state funeral, Lebanese anti-Syrian opposition leaders demanded a three-day general strike, the resignation of the government and a Syrian troop withdrawal from Lebanon.

"We hold the Lebanese government and the Syrian government, the power behind it, responsible for the crime," MP Basim Sabah said on Monday after an opposition meeting at al-Hariri's Beirut family home.

"We demand the resignation of the government, which has lost all legitimacy, and the formation of a caretaker government," said Sabah, flanked by Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and other opposition figures.

He said Syria should pull out its 14,000 troops from Lebanon before parliamentary elections due in a few months' time.

Blaming Syria

Exiled Lebanese political leader and former prime minister Michel Aoun bluntly blamed Syria.

"They are responsible. It's they who control the security and intelligence services" in Beirut, he said.

But Syrian President Bashar al-Asad condemned the assassination as a "terrible criminal act" and voiced solidarity with "brotherly Lebanon in this dangerous situation".

He urged the Lebanese people "to reinforce their national unity and reject all those who aim to cause trouble and sow division among the people", the official Syrian news agency Sana said in Damascus.

Lebanon's pro-Syrian President Emile Lahud said his political foe had died a "martyr for a united Lebanon", ordering three days of mourning and a state funeral for al-Hariri.

Blaming Israel

Syria's main regional ally Iran expressed concern about the fallout of what it condemned as a "terrorist act" - and cast suspicion on Israel.

"An organised terrorist structure such as the Zionist regime has the capacity for such an operation whose aim is to undermine the unity of Lebanon," foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency. 

The Lebanese army meanwhile announced a "general mobilisation to safeguard stability" in the country, recalled soldiers on leave and deployed troops in Beirut and other regions.

The Saudi cabinet sent "the kingdom's heartfelt condolences" and stressed its "total rejection of terrorist acts against innocents that seek to plant chaos and destruction".

Blaming Saudi Arabia

Prince Talal bin Abd al-Aziz, half-brother of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, expressed doubt about the authenticity of an unknown group claiming responsibility for the massive bomb attack.

In a videotape broadcast by Aljazeera, a group calling itself al-Nusra wa al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Sham [Victory and Jihad in Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria] claimed responsibility for the attack.

The group said it carried out the attack on al-Hariri's convoy "because of his relations with the Saudi authorities" but provided no proof of its claim.

"I don't believe that what was transmitted on television about this group is true," Prince Talal told Aljazeera. "What does Saudi Arabia have to do with this affair?"

He said he did not believe what had been ascribed to the group, saying he thought it was a cover for another group.

A cover

"Who? ... God knows. But it's a cover," said the prince, who chairs the Gulf and Arab World Programme. 

"I ask our friends in the Lebanese authorities not to reject this reasonable request," he said. "Our brothers in Lebanon must not throw accusations about. We must wait until the international community sets up an investigating committee to reveal the truth."

The US also condemned the killing of al-Hariri, vowing punitive action and calling for an end to Syria's military presence in Lebanon.

Shock and anger

US President George Bush "was shocked and angered" by the massive bombing that killed the former premier and at least nine other people, said White House spokesman Scott McClellan, who stopped short of blaming Damascus for the attack.

"This murder today is a terrible reminder that the Lebanese people must be able to pursue their aspirations and determine their own political future free from violence and intimidation and free from Syrian occupation," he said.

At least 13 people were killed when an apparent car bomb went off as al-Hariri's motorcade passed through an upmarket section of Beirut's seafront. At least 100 others were wounded.

The explosion outside the St George hotel gouged a deep crater in the road, ripped facades from luxury buildings, and set cars ablaze on streets strewn with rubble and broken glass.

Vehicles from al-Hariri's convoy were torn apart despite their armour plating.

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What They Said
Feb. 15, 2005. 01:00 AM

'This murder today is a terrible reminder that the Lebanese people must be able to pursue their aspirations and determine their own political future free from violence and intimidation and free from Syrian occupation.'
Scott McClellan, White House spokesman

'Syria regards this as an act of terrorism, a crime that seeks to destabilize (Lebanon). The enemies of Lebanon are behind this ... This comes at a time of great international pressure on Lebanon and Syria which aims to realize Israel's desires in the region and this act cannot be separated from these pressures.'
Mahdi Dakhl-Allah, Syrian information minister

'I have no idea who did this. He lived in a dangerous country and they (the Lebanese government) should have taken control over that country. Instead of this, they surrendered to all kinds of terrorists.'
Shimon Peres, Israeli vice-premier

'I deplore this despicable attack on Mr. Hariri, and extend my condolences to his family and the families of the other victims. Mr. Hariri devoted enormous energy to the reconstruction of Lebanon following the end of the civil war. His passing is a great loss to Lebanon and its friends around the world, including Canada.'
Pierre Pettigrew, [Canadian] foreign affairs minister

'(France) calls for an international inquiry to be held without delay to determine the circumstances of, and responsibility for, this tragedy ... France pays tribute to the person who personified Lebanon's unshaking will for independence, freedom and democracy.'
Office of French President Jacques Chirac

'Moscow condemns this terrorist act. Obviously the people who organized this villainous act, whoever they are, are pursuing a goal of shaking the internal political stability in Lebanon, undermining the peace and harmony between the main religious confessions of this country.'
Russian Foreign Ministry

'Mr Hariri played a big role in rebuilding Lebanon after the devastation of the civil war. Until now, Beirut and Lebanon as a whole have enjoyed relative peace and security, so this is a setback as well as an act of terror.'
Jack Straw, British foreign secretary

'I don't think there will be any gain from his death. The moment is grave and we have to think about it ... All I hope for now is that Lebanon won't enter into another of the dangerous phases that would affect its unity.'
Amr Moussa, Arab League secretary general

'I am very moved by the cowardly criminal assassination of a statesman who had prominent contributions to Lebanon and efforts to lift its economy.'
King Abdullah II of Jordan

Comment: These comments in response to the Hariri assassination from International leaders are most interesting. Notice how only three countries, who outside of expressing understandable outrage and condolences, give mention to the possible perpetrators behind the attack. The first is White House spokesman Scott McClellan who immediately blames Syria. The second is Syria, being forced to continually defend itself from aggressive American rhetoric, denies involvement in the blast and correctly alludes to the hand of Israel as possibly being involved. And most curious is the response from Israeli vice-premier Shimon Peres who seemingly without provocation, declares that "he has no idea who did this". His response brings to mind the old adage that "the guilty flee when none pursue".

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Washington places blame squarely at Syria's door
February 16, 2005 - 12:20AM

Washington: The Bush Administration, condemning the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, has suggested that Syria was to blame and moved to get a new condemnation at the United Nations Security Council rejecting its domination of Lebanon.

Officials said the Administration was studying the possibility of tougher sanctions on Syria, effectively tightening penalties imposed in May when Washington said the Syrian Government had failed to act against militant groups in Israel and against a supply line from Syria to the insurgents in Iraq.

"We condemn this brutal attack in the strongest possible terms," said Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, adding that the killing was "a terrible reminder that the Lebanese people must be able to pursue their aspirations and determine their own political future free from violence and intimidation and free from Syrian occupation".

Other Western powers and Middle East leaders joined forces in condemning the assassination. "He was a great Arab leader and a Lebanese figure of a very respectable stature," said the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa. "It's a heinous crime committed against not only Rafik Hariri but against Lebanon, against its stability."

The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, said he hoped the killing would not reignite the civil war. "It is imperative the already fragile situation in the region should not be further destabilised," his spokesman said.

The Israeli Foreign Minister, Silvan Shalom, said the attack had killed "one of the most important leaders within Lebanon".

The Syrian Foreign Minister, Farouk al-Sharaa, also condemned the attack.

Britain's Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, said Mr Hariri had helped reconstruct Lebanon after the civil war.

"Until now, Beirut and Lebanon as a whole have enjoyed relative peace and security, so this is a setback as well as an act of terror," he said.

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U.S. withdraws ambassador from Syria
Feb. 15, 2005, 1:22PM
Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The United States has recalled its ambassador to Syria amid rising tensions over the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri of Lebanon.

Before departing, U.S. Ambassador Margaret Scobey delivered a stern note, called a demarche in diplomatic parlance, to the Syrian government, said an official who discussed the situation only on grounds of anonymity.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, announcing the move, said it reflected the Bush administration's "profound outrage" over Hariri's assassination.

Boucher did not accuse Syria of being involved in the bombing Monday in Beirut. "I have been careful to say we do not know who committed the murder at this time," he said.

But he said the deadly attack illustrated that Syria's strong military and political presence in Lebanon was a problem and had not provided security in the neighboring country.

"It reminds us even more starkly that the Syrian presence in Lebanon is not good," Boucher said. "It has not brought anything to the Lebanese people."

Boucher refused to describe Syria's rection to Scobey's diplomatic messages in Damascus. Syria has not yet taken any reciprocal action, such as withdrawing its own amabssador to Washington.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan, apparently referring to the note Scobey delivered to the Syrian foreign ministry, said the United States has "made it clear to Syria that we expect Syria to act in accordance with the United Nations Security Council resolution calling for the withdrawal of all foreign forces and the disbanding of militias,"

Also, McClellan said, "we also made it clear to Sryia that we want them to use their influence to prevent the kind of terroist attack that took place yesterday from happening."

The administration had earlier condemned the killing of Hariri, a billionaire construction magnate who masterminded the recovery of his country, and insisted that Syria comply with a U.N. resolution calling for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.

Hariri, like most Lebanese politicians, walked a thin line between criticizing Damascus and deferring to the country that plays a dominant role in Lebanon's affairs.

He resigned four months ago in light of tensions with Syria but was weighing a political comeback. A Sunni Muslim, Hariri was on good terms with Lebanese Christians and was especially close to French President Jacques Chirac, who has called for an international investigation into the assassination.

Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, who heads the Near East bureau, will attend Hariri's funeral, a gesture of U.S. respect for the former prime minister.

The administration did not directly support Chirac on his call for an international inquiry, but the White House said those responsible for the bombing of Hariri's motorcade must be punished.

In Washington for meetings with Vice President Dick Cheney and Rice, the Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed About Gheit, said "it is still preamture to reach conclusions" about Hariri's assassination.

Speaking at the Brookings Institution think-tank, Gheit said he hoped it would not touch off a cycle of killings and push Lebanon into civil war.

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Hariri Killing Sure to Bolster U.S. Hawks
Analysis by Jim Lobe
Feb 15/05 (IPS)

WASHINGTON, - Whether or not Syrian President Bashar Assad was behind Monday's assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the car-bombing is sure to strengthen forces inside the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush who have long argued for "regime change" in Damascus.

Before the bombing that killed Harari, half a dozen of his bodyguards and at least five bystanders, the balance of power between anti-Assad hard-liners and more flexible forces within the administration was roughly even.

Earlier this month, Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who is considered a hawk on Damascus, even insisted to a Congressional panel that "it is not our policy to destabilise Syria".

But, as suggested by Washington's abrupt withdrawal of its ambassador in Damascus Tuesday morning, that position may well be in the process of changing, if it hasn't changed already.

"The regime changers will be strengthened by this," predicted Michael Hudson who teaches at the Centre for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University here. He said Washington's precipitous recalling of its ambassador signals a "decision to really put the screws to the Syrians".

"Assuming they did it, this was very stupid," said Augustus Richard Norton, a specialist on Lebanon at Boston University, who agreed that the balance of power within the administration will definitely shift in favour of the hardliners.

Hariri, a businessman who made a fortune in Saudi Arabia and then ruled Lebanon for 10 of the last 15 years, enjoyed close personal ties with French President Jacques Chirac and cultivated friendly relations with Washington, where he owned one large house and was in the process of building a colossal mansion.

Given Syrian influence in Lebanon -- in the form of anywhere from 12,000 to 30,000 troops and an active intelligence service in Lebanon for most of the past 30 years -- Hariri also cultivated close relations with Damascus, including business ties with influential officials.

But he broke with Syria last summer when he resigned as prime minister after Damascus insisted on suspending the constitutional limit on presidential terms so that Emile Lahoud could continue in office.

While Hariri did not actively oppose the move, he reportedly encouraged the U.S. and France to push through a remarkably tough U.N. Security Council resolution that demanded that Syria withdraw its troops from Lebanon.

The subsequent passage of UNSCR 1559 was not only a major blow to Damascus, but also served to unify and embolden the Lebanese opposition which has been mobilising for parliamentary elections scheduled for May on a common anti-Syrian platform.

While Hariri had not publicly embraced the opposition position, hard-liners in Damascus, who some analysts believe exert more control over Lebanon than Assad, saw Hariri's role as a betrayal.

"Uncomfortable though it may be for Syria in international opinion, in certain quarters of Syria the stakes in Lebanon are existential, and existential challenges may be deemed to justify existential solutions," said Norton, who believes that Syria, or at least some elements within the Syrian government, were behind the assassination.

At the same time that Syria was defending itself against Res. 1559, hawks and realists within the Bush administration were fighting over how far Washington should push Damascus to cooperate. Their main concerns were preventing the infiltration of "foreign fighters" across the border from Syria into Iraq and in arresting Iraqis living in Syria who were suspected by Washington to be financing and helping to organise a rapidly expanding insurgency, or at least freezing their bank accounts.

The hawks, centred primarily in the Pentagon's civilian leadership and Vice President Dick Cheney's office, have long favoured a "regime change" policy for Damascus anyway.

One of Cheney's top Middle East advisors, David Wurmser and Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith -- both with strong ties to Israel's settler movement -- contributed to papers in the 1990s that urged Israel and the United States to arm and finance groups in both Lebanon and Syria to force Damascus' withdrawal from Lebanon and destabilise the Baathist regime.

Since Washington's invasion of Iraq in March 2003, they have argued Damascus' alleged failure to fully cooperate with the occupation justified a more aggressive policy, including military strikes. More pragmatic factions, centred in the State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and among military commanders on the ground, countered that Assad had in fact steadily increased his cooperation and that U.S. measures to actively destabilise his regime could backfire.

In December, the hawks launched a more public campaign with a series of opinion pieces in their favoured press organs, the Washington Times, the Weekly Standard, and the Wall Street Journal, accusing Damascus of active support for the insurgency and calling for a major escalation.

"We could bomb Syrian military facilities," wrote William Kristol, the Standard's neo-conservative editor. "We could go across the border in force to stop infiltration; we could occupy the town of Abu Kamal in eastern Syria, a few miles from the border, which seems to be the planning and organising centre for Syrian activities; we could covertly help or overtly support the Syrian opposition..."

The campaign coincided, according to a Journal account, with the presentation to Bush of a list of options that included imposing tougher economic sanctions, downgrading diplomatic relations, more active U.S. support for anti-Syrian factions in Lebanon, and possible military strikes against alleged terrorist training camps in Syria.

None of these was approved at the time, however, although all of them -- and now possibly more, in the wake of Hariri's assassination -- remain on the table.

While many Middle East specialists here appear to believe that the Syrian regime, or possibly a rogue element within it, was responsible for the blast, that view is by no means universal, particularly given the likelihood that Washington would blame Damascus in any event.

Indeed, one "senior State Department official" told the New York Times: "Even though there's no evidence to link (the assassination) to Syria, Syria has, by negligence or design, allowed Lebanon to become destabilised."

Noting that Hariri had not identified himself completely with the opposition to Syria's presence in Lebanon, Hudson told IPS that he considered that Islamist extremists trying to harm the Saudi royal family, which has been Hariri's strongest supporter, was "a more plausible scenario". Al Qaeda has said it was not responsible.

Others have suggested that Israel or their erstwhile allies in Lebanon, the Phalangist militia, may have been responsible, given the certainty that Syria would be blamed for the killing.

"It is certainly possible that the Syrian military leadership was sufficiently stupid and arrogant to decide to assassinate Hariri," according to C.S. Smith, a regional specialist at the University of Arizona. "But many others stood to benefit from such an act, including right-wing Phalangist Christian elements closely tied to neo-cons in the Bush administration."

Indeed, Walid Phares, a right-wing Lebanese-born Christian and fellow of the neo-conservative Foundation for the Defence of Democracies (FDD), issued a statement immediately after the killing that appeared designed to cast suspicion on Syria and one of its allies in Lebanon, Hezbollah.

Another hard-line neo-conservative, former Bush speechwriter David Frum, writing Tuesday in the far-right National Review Online, fingered Assad as the party that "had the greatest motive" for the killing, even if he admitted that it may "seem incredible that young Bashar Assad...would choose the path of confrontation with the United States".

If he was indeed responsible, noted Frum, "he has taken another huge step toward open war on the United States and its interests in the region".

"I would be very shocked if Syria has a hand in it because it's not in the position to rock the boat at this point", said Bassam Haddad, a Levant expert at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, who said he would not hazard an opinion until more evidence was forthcoming.

"It is obvious that any kind of rocking the boat is going to empower the opposition that will call for an immediate ouster of Syria from Lebanon."

Comment: As we mentioned on yesterday's Signs page, it seems the finger of blame is being pointed everywhere except at the Mossad, which, given the nature and the logistics of this crime, is more than enough indication that they were the ones behind the attack.

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Iran six months from having knowledge to build nuclear bomb: Israel
February 16, 2005

LONDON - Iran is only six months away from having the knowledge to build a nuclear bomb, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said during a visit to London.

"They are trying very hard to develop this nuclear bomb," Shalom told reporters at a briefing in the British capital.

"It is very important, because the question is not if the Iranians develop a nuclear bomb in 2009, 2010 or 2011," he said.

"The main question is, are they going to develop the knowledge to do it? We believe that in six months from today they are going to end all the tests and experiments they are doing in order to have that knowledge."

Iran's nuclear programme was a problem that must be tackled by the entire world, said Shalom, who arrived in London late Tuesday from Paris.

"Terrorism and Iran were Israel's problem for a very long time," he said.

"But I believe we realise now that it is not only our problem. Terrorism can hit everywhere and against everyone."

Shalom's remarks contradicted those made by Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) examining Iran's nuclear programme, which Tehran insists is purely for civilian energy purposes.

"On Iran, there really hasn't been much development, neither as a result of our inspections or as a result of intelligence," ElBaradei told Wednesday's edition of the Washington Post newspaper. [...]

Shalom said that Tehran should face the threat of United Nations sanctions if it did not fall into line.

"We know about the efforts of the EU, but still I believe that the Iranians should know that if they do not comply the Iranian file will be moved to the (UN) Security Council," he said.

"Otherwise they won't have any incentive to comply."

He added: "We believe that Iran will never abandon their dream. We know the real intentions of Iran.

Analysts were divided on Wednesday as to whether Shalom's six-month warning was realistic.

"The general consensus is that things are moving along on at quite a rapid scale, and they will certainly have the theoretical capability to create and perhaps even deliver a nuclear capability within the next year and a half," said Rory Miller of King's College, part of London University.

"When he (Shalom) says knowledge in six months, that must be something viable, something which is possible," he said.

However, Chris Rundle from Durham University's Institute for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies said he was "a bit sceptical".

"In the 1990s, the Israelis were saying consistently Iran would have the bomb within three or five years," he said

"At the present stage, I don't see how they could suddenly leap to (the weapons stage)... weaponisation takes some time and they haven't conducted any nuclear tests."

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Dollar Falls, Iran Blast Cited
February 16, 2005

NEW YORK - The dollar hit session lows against the euro and the Swiss franc on Wednesday, after a report of a large blast heard near the city of Dailam in Iran, thought to be fired from an unknown aircraft, according to Iran State TV.

The euro pushed swiftly up to session highs around $1.3065 according to Reuters data.

Against the Swiss franc , the dollar slipped to session lows around 1.1834 francs.

"It was pretty obvious that the move (lower) in the dollar coincided with the headline about Iran," said a trader with Mellon Bank in Pittsburgh.

However, the dollar then recouped some of its losses in the wake of a stronger than expected U.S. housing starts report, traders said.

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Iran and Syria talk alliance
Wednesday 16 February 2005, 16:54 Makka Time, 13:54 GMT

Iran and Syria - both locked in rows with the US – have said they are to form a common front to face challenges and threats.

Iranian Vice-President Muhammad Reza Aref said in Tehran after meeting Syrian Prime Minister Naji al-Utari on Wednesday that both countries were ready to help "on all grounds to confront threats".

Al-Utari told reporters: "This meeting, which takes place at this sensitive time, is important, especially because Syria and Iran face several challenges and it is necessary to build a common front".

The announcement came barely minutes after an unknown aircraft fired a missile on Wednesday in a deserted area near the southern city of Dailam in the province of Bushehr where Iran has a nuclear power plant, Iranian state television said.

"A powerful explosion was heard this morning on the outskirts of Dailam in the Bushehr province. Witnesses said that the missile was fired from an unknown plane 20km from the city," Iran's Arabic language al-Alam said.

Accusations and claims

Earlier on Wednesday, Israel had said that Iran was just six months away from having the knowledge to build an atomic bomb while Tehran accused the US of using satellites "and other tools" to spy on its nuclear sites.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said on a visit to London that he believed "in six months from today they [Iran] will end all the tests and experiments they are doing to have that knowledge."

Iran retaliated with its own claim that the US was using satellites to spy on Iran's nuclear sites, Iran's Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi was quoted as saying on Wednesday.

"We believe the US has been spying against Iran for some time using satellites and other tools," he was quoted as saying on the official IRNA news agency, when asked about US denials that it was using drones over Iran.

Yunesi also denied allegations by Washington that Tehran was secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear activities are for generating electricity.

Pressure on Syria

Meanwhile, the US has stepped up political pressure on Syria by recalling its ambassador for urgent consultations to show its deep displeasure with Damascus after Monday's killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri.

US officials said they were considering imposing new sanctions on Syria because of its refusal to withdraw its 41,000 troops from Lebanon.

While acknowledging they do not know who was to blame for al-Hariri's car-bomb assassination, US officials argued Syria's military presence and its political power-broking role were generally responsible for Lebanon's instability.

Syria rejects accusations it supports terrorism.

Comment: With the two countries heading the list of Bush "Most Wanted", any alliance will be used by the US as further justification for more recriminations.

As for Israel's accusation that Iran is 6 months away from constructing an atomic bomb, doesn't sound an awful lot like the accusations against Saddam prior to the invasion of Iraq? Accusations that were shown to be completely without basis? Israel is the lone nuclear power in the Middle East. They like it that way and will do everything to keep it that way. That other countries feel threatened by Israel is not taken into account in the US/Israeli media machine. However, Israel is making open threats that it is ready to bomb Iranian nuclear installions, the same way they bombed an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1982.

Israel is above the law.

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Blast reported in southern Iran
Wednesday, February 16, 2005 Posted: 1442 GMT (2242 HKT)

(CNN) -- A large blast has been reported near the southern Iranian port city of Dailam, in the province where the country has a nuclear power plant, according to Iranian state television.

The television report initially quoted witnesses as saying Wednesday's explosion was the result of a missile fired from a plane seen overhead.

However, it later said the blast could have been a falling fuel tank from an Iranian aircraft.

Rescue teams have been sent to the area, the television said, without providing details on casualties.

Senior Israeli security sources told Reuters news agency that Israel's military was not involved in any blast in Iran.

"There was no Israeli military involvement in this," one Israeli source was quoted as saying.

Iran's Russian-built 1,000-megawatt nuclear reactor, its only nuclear power plant, is due to start operating in Bushehr province in late 2005.

Officials at the Russian Embassy in Tehran told CNN in a phone interview there had been no explosion at the nuclear plant.

Reports of a blast come as Iran's intelligence minister was quoted as saying the United States has been flying spy drones over Iran's nuclear sites.

"Most of the shining objects that our people see over Iran's airspace are American spying equipment used to spy on Iran's nuclear and military facilities," AP quoted Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi as saying Wednesday

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Iran confirms US spying over its nuclear facilities 2005-02-16 21:22:34
TEHRAN, Feb. 16 (Xinhuanet) -- Iran on Wednesday confirmed a recent report that US spy drones had been frequently flying over Iran's nuclear and military facilities for the past year.

"Most of the shining objects emerging in our airspace are US surveillance crafts, and they are aimed to spy on Iran's nuclear and military facilities," Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi told reporters.

The Washington Post on Sunday reported that the United States had been sending unmanned surveillance aircraft over Iran's territory for nearly a year in order to get information about Iran's nuclear programs to prove that Tehran was developing nuclear weapons.

Iranian media also said during recent weeks that numerous unknown objects were witnessed flying over the sites of the country's nuclear facilities.

Yunesi said the US had not found anything to support its accusation so far and would not do so in the future.

"Our nuclear activities are all transparent and legal," he said, adding "With the necessary equipment, we are capable of shooting them down."

The United States accused Iran of developing nuclear weapons and threatened with military strikes over Iran's nuclear program which Tehran said was for peaceful purposes.

On Jan. 16, the New Yorker magazine reported that American commandos had entered the Iranian territory to carry out reconnaissance for future military operations. The White House denied the report.

Comment: "The White House denied the report." The propaganda war against Iran is in full swing. Bush doesn't have to convince the rest of the world that Iran is a danger; he only need convince his base in the US. Already convinced that Arabs were behind the 9/11 attacks, the necessary US public will not be a hard sell -- even if the Iranians are not Arabs. Arab or Persian, an "Islamic fundamentalist" is a danger to the American Way of Life.

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Israeli leader unhappy with Russia
February 15, 2005

JERUSALEM (AP) - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Tuesday he has been informed by President Vladimir Putin that Russia will go ahead with the sale of anti-aircraft missiles to Syria, despite Israel's misgivings. Sharon said he is unhappy about Russia's decision. Israel fears the missiles will be supplied to Islamic militant groups in Lebanon.

"We are not pleased with the sales of weapons to Syria," Sharon told a news conference.

Sharon said he had been promised by Putin in a meeting more than two years ago the missiles would not be sold to Syria.

Sharon said he has not yet read Putin's letter, received Tuesday, but he understood "they (the Russians) are going to sell that kind of weapon to the Syrians."

"We, of course, worry about that, and don't think that that should have happened. We are in constant contact with the Russians in order to settle this issue and ensure that these weapons don't reach terror organizations located in Lebanon."

Syrian President Bashar Assad said after a visit to Moscow last month the missiles would not pose a threat to Israel.

The Kremlin press service declined comment late Tuesday and the Russian Foreign Mnistry could not immediately be reached for comment.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov said Saturday that Russia was not planning or negotiating to sell such missiles to Syria.

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North Korea develops new longer range missiles
15 February 2005 1101 hrs - AFP

SEOUL: North Korea has developed new Scud missiles with a longer range and a higher degree of precision largely for targetting South Korea, a news report said.

The "Scud-ER" missile has a range of 600 kilometers (360 miles) to 1,000, double the ranges of North Korea's existing Scuds, the Chosun Ilbo, Seoul's largest-circulation daily said quoting government sources.

"US reconnaissance satellites spotted the new types of North Korean Scud missiles a couple of years ago. Work is under way to see if they have been deployed for operations," an unnamed government source told Chosun.

The South Korean defense ministry declined to confirm the report.

North Korea has short-range Scud-Bs with a range of 300 kilometers as well as Scud-Cs with a range of 500 kilometers, targetting South Korea.

It has also deployed intermediate-range Rodong missiles with a 1,300 kilometer range which can hit targets in most areas of Japan.

Pyongyang stunned the world in 1998 by test-launching over Japan a Taepodong-1 missile with a range of up to 2,000 kilometers.

The missile is still in the testing stage, according to experts.

The Taepodong-2, a long-range missile with a range of 6,700 kilometers (4,150 miles), is also reportedly under development.

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Russia, China May Oppose U.S.-Backed Sanction Plan
Wednesday, February 16, 2005. Issue 3107.

UNITED NATIONS -- The United States and its allies are expected to face opposition from Russia and China in the UN Security Council for sanctions to pressure government, militia and rebel forces to end the bloodshed in Sudan's Darfur region. [...]

Council sources anticipate opposition from Russia and China, which have veto power, as well as Algeria. All three have rejected previous calls for sanctions to give Khartoum more time to rein in a pro-government militia, blamed for much of the killings, rape and pillaging.

The draft calls for an asset freeze and travel ban on those responsible for the violence in Darfur, where tens of thousands have died and 2 million people have been made homeless in two years of escalating fighting.

Half of the resolution deals with authorizing a more than 10,000-strong peacekeeping force for southern Sudan, with the power to protect civilians from the imminent threat of violence. The force is to prop up a Jan. 9 peace agreement that ended 21 years of a north-south civil war.

The new UN mission in Sudan, called UNMISUD, would be in place for an initial six months while UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan explores options on how to assist an African Union force currently monitoring violations in Darfur. But diplomats did not expect UN blue-helmeted soldiers in Darfur.

At least nine out of 15 council members prefer the new International Criminal Court in The Hague, which Washington rejects, fearing prosecution of U.S. troops abroad.

Oil sanctions are also threatened if the situation in Darfur deteriorates, but support is lacking to impose them.

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India's military hungry for more
Feb 16, 2005
By Siddharth Srivastava

NEW DELHI - Indian defense officials have laid out a request for a huge increase in spending on arms to New Delhi, most of which will be used to purchase state-of-the-art weaponry from suppliers around the world. In a couple of weeks, the national budget will be presented by the ruling United Progressive Alliance, headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and while there is intense lobbying from representatives of various sectors to incorporate their demands, attention has focused on the over 40% hike in defense outlay that has been demanded by the India's defense forces, which comes in the wake of an unprecedented 22% increase last year.

Last year, the budget set apart the biggest-ever allocation to defense - the equivalent of US$15 billion for 2004-05. This represented 2.5% of India's gross domestic product, lower than China (6%) and Pakistan (5.5%), though in absolute terms Pakistan spent $4 billion last year, which was an increase of 20% over 2003-04.

The Indian defense community's wish list is long, which they feel is necessary to modernize the country's armed forces. These include a proposal to purchase F-16 fighter jets, Scorpene submarines and long-range rocket systems. The proposal to buy 126 F-16s - at $25 million each over five years - will itself cost the exchequer $3 billion. When this is added to the payments being made for the expensive equipment already purchased, the defense budget takes on huge proportions.

The increased defense spending includes more than $7 billion to purchase weapons systems and to implement the intermediate-range Agni ballistic missile units, capable of delivering nuclear warheads. India last year signed a $1.5 billion agreement with BAE Systems Plc, Europe's biggest weapons maker, for 66 Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer aircraft as part of its plan to modernize its air force.

Last year, the country also inked a multimillion-dollar deal with Russia to acquire an aircraft carrier, the Admiral Gorshkov. India has also agreed to buy three Phalcon airborne early-warning radar systems from Israel valued at $1 billion. Of the 3,414 tanks in the Indian army's possession, 1,200 are obsolete, while 700 of them are vintage Russian T-55s. India has been introducing T-90s phase-by-phase and it is estimated that almost $8 billion will be set apart for a project to increase the firepower of the infantry.

It is estimated that Israel's defense industry sold arms and munitions to India valued at $2.7 billion in 2003, constituting about 30% of its total orders, and offered more at Aero India, a five-day international aerospace and defense exhibition that ended this Sunday in the Indian city of Bangalore. It has been reported that at Aero India, touted as the largest show of its kind in South Asia, deals worth more than $1.2 billion were been signed between Indian and foreign aerospace firms. The deals ranged from aircraft purchases by Indian budget carriers from Airbus and Boeing to the joint manufacture of missiles and engine parts. India's air force is seeking government approval for 126 so-called "multi-role" combat aircraft to replace aging Russian MiGs, India's Air Chief Marshal Satish Tyagi said in Bangalore. Boeing has offered to sell its F-18 jets, while Maryland-based Lockheed Martin has offered its F-16 fighter as part of the deal.

There is one school of thought in India that insists that there is a requirement for such a huge augmentation and modernization of the Indian armed forces. [...]

Predictably, Pakistan is miffed at India's proposals to hike defense spending. Islamabad has repeatedly warned that India's increased defense spending was a "cause for concern". [...]

The other school of thought is that India's defense spending and war preparedness should take into consideration the threat of actual war in the foreseeable future, short, medium and long term, with greater cause for concern being terrorist attacks, as well as internal insurgencies, such as Naxalism, bad governance, caste and feudal wars and communal violence. This, in turn, should lead to India focusing more on getting its intelligence-gathering infrastructure, external and internal intelligence agencies and paramilitary forces right, rather than building on conventional weapons of war. Given the current state of superiority of India's armed forces over Pakistan, the country from which the threat perception is the highest, there is no requirement for such a massive drive. Further, given the fact that both India and Pakistan are nuclear-weapon states, it is unlikely that a full-scale high-intensity war lasting for weeks will ever happen, making the case for having such a huge cache of arms as well as armed forces redundant.

As far as India's other powerful neighbor, China, is concerned, it is believed that the exponential growth of business relations between the two countries is an effective deterrent, but in any case it would be impossible for India ever to match China's military strength. But business is seen as a bridge to peaceful relations. Sino-Indian bilateral trade has set a record, touching $13.6 billion in 2004, up by 79% over the total trade volume of 2003. India enjoyed a comfortable trade surplus of $1.75 billion, according to Chinese customs statistics. If growth remains at current levels, India-China trade could cross $17 billion by the end of 2004-05. In contrast, India's trade with the United States - its largest trading partner - has grown by just over 23% in April-August 2004. Indeed, there is an increasing comfort level, with India discounting Chinese influence in Nepal after the royal coup there on February 1 and the dismissal of the democratically elected government. [...]

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Frenchman interrogated for days in secret
February 15, 2005 - 10:57AM

(Australia) - A French national has reportedly been held by immigration authorities without diplomatic representation and questioned for several days in Sydney.

ABC radio says the Australian government has since paid Mohamadou Sacko $25,000 compensation over the incident.

The ABC says Mr Sacko was detained after arriving at Sydney airport 18 months ago to start an English course.

Mr Sacko says he was taken to Villawood Detention Centre where he received no consular access, and was asked to sing the French national anthem to prove his nationality.

He's told the ABC there was a scratch on his passport photo and immigration officials accused him of carrying a fake document.

Immigration officials say the terms of the compensation agreement can't be disclosed for legal reasons.

The French consulate says it's lodged a formal complaint about Mr SACKO's treatment and the fact it wasn't alerted to Mr Sacko's detention.

It says it's still waiting for a response.

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Sources: FBI Conducting Operations Abroad
Associated Press
Tue Feb 15, 1:00 PM ET

WASHINGTON - The FBI is conducting intelligence operations abroad without notifying colleagues at the CIA and State Department, current and former government officials say.

Intelligence veterans say coordination is crucial, ensuring that the ambassador and CIA station chief in a given country can organize U.S. government activities and prevent diplomatic blunders or conflicting intelligence missions.

FBI officials acknowledge there have been some instances when agents failed to notify the CIA about their activities, but consider the cases anomalies. Intelligence officials see the communication problems as potentially significant.

CIA and FBI officials, none of whom would speak on the record for this report, declined to say where the breakdowns have occurred. But a former intelligence official with knowledge of the situation said problems have arisen in Germany and elsewhere. The former official spoke only on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Richard Ben-Veniste, a member of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks, said the communication problems illustrate that coordination remains a concern that must be resolved by senior administration officials, including the new national intelligence director. The White House has been searching for a nominee to fill the vacancy for over eight weeks. [...]

The FBI's intelligence role has expanded dramatically since the Sept. 11 attacks, which the Sept. 11 Commission blamed in part on poor communication among government agencies. President Bush's budget proposal asks for money for the FBI to hire 500 additional intelligence analysts.

In addition, the FBI is expanding its legal attache program, now operating in 52 foreign countries. The attaches' primary role is to foster cooperation with foreign counterparts in support of the FBI's domestic law enforcement mission.

But their presence in more U.S. embassies also is a source of friction with the CIA, which has not had to deal with them before, said an FBI official who spoke only on condition of anonymity.

For its part, the FBI says it has no desire to usurp the CIA's role as the leading U.S. intelligence agency on foreign soil, even as it increases its intelligence capabilities. [...]

The CIA's station chief traditionally has been responsible for coordinating all intelligence activity in a country. "This function protects our national interests by eliminating the potential for confusion or miscommunication," said a CIA official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity. [...]

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Marines Face Tougher Recruiting Questions
By DON BABWIN, Associated Press Writer
Sun Feb 13, 3:11 PM ET

ALGONQUIN, Ill. - On a recruiting visit to a school in this Chicago suburb, Marine Staff Sgt. Jody Van Doorenmaalen asked a sophomore what popped into his parents' heads when they thought about him joining the Marines.

"The only thing they think (is) I'm going to go to war and die," 16-year-old Nick Ambroziak replied.

The exchange illustrates the difficulty these days for recruiters like Van Doorenmaalen as they visit high schools, community colleges and shopping malls trying to sell the Marine Corps to young people while the country is at war in Iraq.

Earlier this month, the Marine Corps announced it had fallen short of its monthly recruiting goal in January for the first time in nearly a decade. While the Marines say they remain on track to meet their recruiting target for the year, they also acknowledge their task is harder because of the war and its mounting death toll from roadside bombings, helicopter crashes and suicide attacks.

"I'd say it has made it more challenging on a number of fronts," said Capt. Timothy O'Rourke, executive officer of the Marine Recruiting Station Chicago.

One of the first students to stop at his information table in the cafeteria at Algonquin's Harry D. Jacobs High School was Jeff Gold, an 18-year-old senior.

With his military-style haircut and dream of becoming a police officer, Gold would seem the ideal candidate. But Gold is pretty sure what would happen if he did join.

"I probably will get deployed," he said after talking to Van Doorenmaalen. "And I'll probably die."

Among the biggest obstacles today between recruiters like Van Doorenmaalen and recruits are parents. When the country wasn't at war, parents often stayed in the background while their sons or daughters decided whether to enlist, but today they pepper recruiters with questions and concerns.

"Recruiters are spending a lot of time going to parents' houses making sure they clearly understand the responsibilities their son or daughter will face as a Marine," O'Rourke said. [...]

It doesn't help that some parents, like Nick Ambroziak's, are concerned about this particular war and the way the military is handling it.

"I am proud that he would want to do his patriotic duty ... but we are over there to provide a democratic system of government to people that don't seem to appreciate it," said Victor Ambroziak, Nick's father. "They are attacking guys over there who are sent there to protect them."

Lisa Ambroziak knows her son has thought about the Marines for years, but she worries when she reads about soldiers having to buy their own bulletproof vests and other gear.

"It concerns me that we are spending billions of dollars and these guys are picking up scrap metal for whatever," she said. [...]

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Sex Slave Hotline Expands to U.S.
By Patricia Wilson
Wednesday, February 16, 2005. Issue 3107. Page 4.

WASHINGTON -- Russian-speaking women trapped in sexual servitude in the United States will soon be able to reach out for help through a toll-free international hotline advertised on printed cards, inside mint candy wrappers and perhaps even on lipstick tubes.

Two groups devoted to rescuing and repatriating victims of human trafficking from Russia and other former Soviet republics announced Monday that a help line already operating in parts of Europe will expand to the United States next month.

"I think the trafficking situation here is enormous," said Juliette Engel, founding director of the MiraMed Institute, which provides social programs for orphaned children and trafficking victims in Russia.

Engel said thousands of Russians are trafficked into the United States each year, although she did not have precise numbers. "I just saw a babushka wearing a billboard, marching up and down the streets of Moscow saying 'Great jobs for sexy girls in Chicago,'" Engel told a forum at the Johns Hopkins Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies to discuss the problem.

Engel described Russian web sites with one side in English reading "cheap women, you can fit three in a room, they'll serve 10 men a night" and the other in Russian saying "great jobs overseas, have your own apartment, don't pay for anything."

After more than a year of planning, MiraMed and the Angel Coalition, a consortium of nongovernmental organizations throughout Russia, opened the first toll-free international hotline in Germany, Netherlands and Belgium about a month ago.

Its extension to the United States means that specially trained operators -- including psychologists -- in Moscow will be on hand 24 hours a day to receive calls from Russian-speaking victims and their families or friends.

Using a sophisticated database developed by MiraMed, callers will be instantly referred to law enforcement agencies and other groups ready to help them wherever they are. Cards are being printed with the U.S. toll-free number 1-888-222-5673 and other information in Russian on them. The number is expected to go live in March.

In Europe, similar cards are distributed on the street, at job centers, in bars and nightclubs. Some European embassies in Moscow hand them out when Russian women apply for visas.

Engel has experimented with printing the help line number on the inside of candy wrappers and even hopes to extend it to feminine items like lipstick cases and tampons.

Between 14,000 and 17,000 victims of trafficking enter the United States each year, coming from many different countries, including South East Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe.

U.S. officials have documented cases of Latvian girls trafficked into sexual slavery in Chicago and Ukrainian girls taken to Los Angeles and Maryland.

Victims from Russia and Eastern Europe have testified before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and U.S. President George W. Bush devoted a speech to the issue during last year's presidential campaign.

The Bush administration has provided more than $295 million to support anti-trafficking programs in more than 120 countries.

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4 teens seized after explosion
Published February 15, 2005

LOMBARD -- Four teenagers were taken into custody briefly Sunday after they allegedly used a homemade bomb to blow up a mailbox in unincorporated Lombard, authorities said.

The mailbox exploded about 2:30 p.m. in the 1S500 block of Westview Avenue. A caller alerted sheriff's deputies to four teenagers near the scene, the sheriff's office said.

A deputy saw four teens running through a field nearby and chased them. As he reached the top of a hill, another chemical reaction bomb the teens allegedly had dropped exploded near the deputy and the teens got away. The deputy was not injured, the sheriff's office said.

Two of the boys, both 14, were taken into custody by Lombard police a short time later. Two other 14-year-old boys were taken into custody later, the sheriff's office said.

After interviewing the teens, the deputies learned there were three more bombs left near a pond in Knolls Park. Members of the department's Hazardous Device Unit defused them.

All four teens, whose names were not released, were turned over to their parents, the sheriff's office said.

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Nine die in bus plunge in Guizhou 2005-02-16 10:50:01

BEIJING, Feb. 16 -- A coach carrying 55 people plunged over a 50-meter cliff after colliding with a truck at a village in Guizhou Province Monday, killing nine people and injuring 43.

Registered in Sichuan Province, the coach was running from Shenzhen to Sichuan via Guizhou when the accident happened. Most of the passengers were Shenzhen-based migrant workers from Sichuan, police in Guizhou said Tuesday.

At about 4:20 p.m. Monday, the coach was reportedly overtaking a car on a bend in Tanyao Village in Shangsi County, Dushan Township, when it collided with the truck. It then crashed through the safety barrier and plunged over the cliff.

There were five children among the 55 passengers. The coach was overloaded by five people, said police.

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Earthquake north of Tokyo injures 23, disrupts train service
February 15, 2005 

TOKYO (AP) - A 5.4-magnitude earthquake centred north of Tokyo shook the Japanese capital early Wednesday, jarring buildings, injuring at least 23 people and temporarily disrupting train service.

There was no threat of tsunami. The 4:46 a.m. local time quake was centred in southern Ibaraki prefecture, just north of the capital, the Japanese Meteorological Agency said. The epicentre was 45 kilometres below the surface.

There was no danger of a tsunami, or potentially dangerous waves triggered by seismic activity, the agency said.

At least 23 people were injured, including three seriously, in Ibaraki and surrounding prefectures and were treated at hospitals, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency reported.

A 65-year-old man was injured when he fell down a flight of stairs, public broadcaster NHK reported.

A magnitude-5 earthquake can cause damage to homes if it occurs in a residential area.

But there was little damage because the quake's epicentre was far enough underground that much of the shock was absorbed and because buildings in Japan are designed to withstand the shaking.

NHK showed monitoring cameras around central Tokyo shaking and the rumbling was felt in surrounding areas such as Yokohama. Goods were knocked off convenience store shelves near the epicentre.

The tremors also led to a temporary suspension of local train services in Ibaraki, and prompted transport authorities to shut down an expressway to motorists for about 90 minutes as a precaution, news reports said.

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Twin cyclones batter the South Pacific, could combine into 'perfect storm'
16 February 2005 0649 hrs

SYDNEY : Twin cyclones began battering three south Pacific nations and weather experts warned they could combine into one giant, destructive storm center that would create havoc in the region.

Cyclone Olaf, a powerful Category 4 storm packing winds of up to 250 kilometers per hour (155 miles per hour), was bearing down on Samoa and American Samoa and was expected to reach "super cyclone" status by the time it strikes the two territories' main islands around 0000 GMT Wednesday.

Olaf has intensified steadily in the past 24 hours and was forecast to reach Category 4/5 out of a maximum of 5, meaning it will whip up sustained winds of more than 250 kilometers per hour and gusts above 300 kph, the Australian-Pacific Center for Emergency and Disaster Information (APCEDI) said.

Samoa and American Samoa were under states of emergency, with schools, businesses and airports closed and boarded up and low-lying areas evacuated, residents in the American Samoa capital Pago Pago told AFP.

The Samoa and Fiji meteorological centers said Olaf was expected to pass directly over the Samoas and then continue southeast to the southern Cook Islands, which were already being buffeted by a second cyclone, Nancy.

"This continues to be a critically dangerous situation for Samoa, American Samoa and the Southern Cooks," APCEDI said.

Nancy uprooted trees, tore off roofs and flooded coastal areas of the small Cook Islands atoll of Aitutake overnight, the Aitutake Cyclone Center reported.

Tourists had earlier been evacuated from Aitutake, one of the Pacific's most picturesque atolls, and half the island's 200 residents were in emergency shelters, the center said.

Nancy was a weaker, Category 3 cyclone but was considered very dangerous for the Cook Islands, which were still recovering from significant damage caused by a category 4 storm, Meena, which struck just 10 days ago.

Cyclone Nancy was expected to miss the main island of Rarotonga by about 110 kilometers (65 miles), but high winds and "phenomenal" seas were still expected to cause damage to the east coast, where buildings and sea walls were ravaged by Meena, the Fiji Meteorological Center said.

The storm was due to pass directly over four smaller Cook Islands atolls.

Kevin Vang at APCEDI said it was possible Olaf and Nancy could cross paths, spinning around each other in a giant storm center until one of the storms is flung off.

"For the South Pacific it is unusual to have two cyclones this close together," Vang said. "This has the making of an absolute mess."

The danger was greatest for the Cook Islands, where Olaf was forecast to follow hard on the heels of Cyclone Nancy.

"Authorities should in fact be prepared for a quick double hit by both storms in a 24-48 hour period starting late Monday or Tuesday. This is an unusual and very dangerous situation," Vang said. [...]

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Storm continues to rage on
By Therese Sfeir
Daily Star staff
Monday, February 14, 2005

(Lebanon) - The waning storm picked up force Sunday, as snow covered  villages located above 800 meters and rain poured down on the Lebanese capital and its surroundings.

Beirut International Airport's weather department said the weather will remain stormy over the next two days with rain on the coast and snow above 1,200 meters. Temperatures will range between five and 16 Celsius along the coast and between one degree below zero and eight in the mountains.

Last week's violent snowfall left several villages isolated. Traffic was at a halt and many areas witnessed power cuts. [...]

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