Authorities arrest more suspects in Tripoli, Bekaa

TRIPOLI/HERMEL: The Lebanese Army Saturday announced it made more arrests in the Bekaa Valley and the northern city of Tripoli, under the nationwide security plan to restore order to regions plagued by the crisis in Syria.

In the Bekaa, a wanted suspect identified as Ali Khodr Jaafar was apprehended in Al-Sharawneh neighborhood in the eastern city of Baalbek after the military tightened its cordon around the area and launched raids, a security source told The Daily Star.

Jaafar, described as a “dangerous suspect,” is wanted for several arrest warrants and is accused of killing Army soldiers in the Bekaa.

In a statement, the Army said Jaafar also known as Ali al-Shaer was linked to the kidnapping of Lebanese and Gulf citizens and was involved in the 2009 ambush that killed four officers.

He also took part in two separate attacks on security forces in Baalbek that lead to the killing of two officers, the statement said.

In the same neighborhood, the Army raided four houses belonging to suspects involved in abduction cases, car thefts and drug trading, with soldiers confiscating a number of stolen vehicles, the source said.

The military also raided the houses of Nouh Zeaiter and Mohammad Jaafar, wanted suspects as well.

The Internal Security Forces (ISF) Information Branch also raided several locations in the notorious neighborhood and confiscated four stolen vehicles.

The ISF said in a statement they detained a 46-year-old man in the Bekaa, wanted for several arrest warrants over his alleged role in a number of robberies, trading with counterfeit currency and shooting Army soldiers.

In the neighborhood of Maksa in Zahle, east Lebanon, the Army said it detained S.S. suspected of blocking a road in the town and harassing residents.

In the northeastern town of Arsal, the military detained a Syrian identified as Abdel-Nabi Roumieh suspected of belonging to a terrorist group, the Army said in a separate announcement.

The Army also said it arrested a man identified as A.F. in Tripoli’s Al-Hara al-Barraneye for shooting a person, committing robberies and lacking identification documents.

Security forces, led by the Lebanese Army, have begun implementing a security plan to restore law and order to the restive city of Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley.

The Army and ISF members erected checkpoints in several parts of the Bekaa and Tripoli, searching for suspects and inspecting vehicles. The military and the ISF Information Branch have also carried out raids in a number of locations and apprehended wanted individuals.

In the northern city of Tripoli, the military briefly detained Abdullatif Saleh, media officer for pro-Assad Arab Democratic Party, for making comments to a pan-Arab newspaper after the Army had warned him to refrain from doing so.

Saleh was previously detained last year for attacking the Army in a newspaper article.

Military Prosecutor Judge Saqr Saqr charged 11 suspects from the northern city of Tripoli, including Khaled Shaykho commander of an armed group in Bab al-Tabbaneh, with “forming an armed group with the aim of harming people, sabotaging the authority of the state, shooting security forces, inciting sectarian sentiments, damaging public and private property as well as killing and attempted killing.”

Earlier this week, the Internal Security Forces detained Shaykho in Bab al-Tabbaneh.

Shaykho is among a number of militia leaders who have been detained since the crackdown began on April 1 in Tripoli.

Tripoli has witnessed nearly twenty rounds of violence between the Sunni-dominated Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood and the Jabal Mohsen district, populated mostly by Alawites, leaving hundreds of casualties and scores wounded over the past three years.

Source: The Daily Star

Rai: President with majority vote will have my backing

BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai Friday denied media reports that he supported an independent presidential candidate over one picked by the March 8 or March 14 groups, saying he supported any properly elected president.

“Any president – whether from March 8, March 14 or from outside these groups – who is elected by the absolute majority in Parliament is our president,” Rai told reporters at Rafik Hariri International Airport after returning from Geneva.

The head of the Maronite Church clarified the remarks he made to foreign media outlets while in Geneva.

“We said what everybody says, which is that if no agreement [among rival groups] is reached over one candidate from the March 14 or March 8 coalitions … then it will be possible that no one from either the March 14 or March 8 coalitions would assume the presidency,” Rai said, adding that he neither backed nor excluded any particular candidate.

However, sources at the Patriarchate told The Daily Star that Rai had information that local and regional signs indicated that a consensus president unaffiliated with either coalition stood the best chance.

The sources said that a consensus president would prioritize national interest and would believe in a moderate political stance.

Meanwhile, Future Movement MP Ahmad Fatfat told the National News Agency that a meeting between former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Future Movement leader Saad Hariri in Riyadh Friday primarily focused on the presidential election.

Former Minister Jean Obeid, a possible presidential candidate, explained Friday why he had not announced his candidacy.

“He considers that rules and customs do not require the announcement of candidacy or a platform for presidential elections,” said a statement issued from Obeid’s office.

“Without false pretenses, he considers himself not to be a candidate so far due to the lack of high chances [for his victory] amid the current circumstances surrounding the competition,” the statement added.

A moderate figure, Obeid maintains good ties with Speaker Nabih Berri, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt and other politicians from the rival March 8 and March 14 coalitions. Many view him as a possible consensus candidate for presidential elections.

The constitutional period for the election of the new president began on March 25, two months ahead of the expiry of President Michel Sleiman’s term.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, who announced his candidacy last month, said that Lebanon’s salvation lay in having a strong republic that required a strong president with clear stances.

Addressing visitors at his Maarab residence, Geagea said a strong president should be honest, stick to his position, support the state alone and not back down in fear of Hezbollah.

“The strong president is the one who says frankly what he wants and who launches his campaigns in front of the people and not in embassies and behind closed doors, … who has never sought a post or gains but only wants to be a strong president in a strong republic,” Geagea added.

Telecommunications Minister Butros Harb, also a potential candidate, said on Twitter that he would not announce his candidacy officially, as the Constitution did not require hopefuls to declare their intention to run in the presidential poll.

Western Bekaa MP Robert Ghanem announced his candidacy.

In an interview by a local television station Thursday evening, Ghanem said he believed in March 8’s values of resistance, but was also dedicated to the values of independence and sovereignty that were emphasized following the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Frederic Hof, a former adviser of the U.S. secretary of state, told a radio station that a dangerous vacuum in the presidency was possible, given the domestic repercussions of Syria’s war resulting from Hezbollah’s military involvement.


Source: The Daily Star

One faith, one family, one future

Inspired by a dream and prompted by ambition, the dedication of St. Rafka Maronite Catholic Church in Livonia, MI has been a decade in the making. On Sunday, April 6, Bishop Elias Zaidan presided over the liturgy of dedication, which formally opened the doors of a newly purchased church on Lyndon Street.

On April 5, in order to celebrate the dedication and raise money to maintain daily church expenses, the tight-knit parish hosted a formal banquet at St. Mary Cultural Center in Livonia.

Impelled by the theme, “One faith, one family, one future,” the west-side parishioners were proud to finally have a church to call home.

“We wanted a place where there is no room for the few that separate us in our homeland. We want to have a place our kids can call their own,” said Shaheen BouMaroun, one of the coordinators of the banquet.

Close to 400 spiritual and financial supporters celebrated this milestone in the Metro Detroit Maronite community. The rite for the dedication of a church and altar is considered among the most solemn liturgical services.

Father Tony Massad called the historic day, “the result of determined dedication.”

“It is through your encouragement, criticism, support, and most importantly love that I have been blessed to come to this point,” Father Massad told the eager crowd of parishioners. “This new stage is a step, a big step, but it is only a step on the journey we hope to take.”

The journey began on October 4, 2004, when a group of ten people created a small chapel in the basement of Madonna University in Livonia. When the church began to expand, the parishioners moved into a temporary home at St. Maurice Catholic Church. After closing its doors in 2013, the St. Rafka Maronite Mission saw an opportunity to purchase the building and property.

“When we needed to come up with a down payment, over 90 families reached deep into their pockets and within a couple of months, we came up with over $250,000,” BouMaroun recalls.

Since the bishop has been entrusted with the care of the church, it is his responsibility to dedicate new churches built in his diocese.

“You have done it, the people of St. Rafka. Thank you for giving me the joy of dedicating your church. Now you have a home,” he exclaimed.

With resilience and dedication, the dream of St. Rafka finally became a reality.

“We all put our Christianity first,” BouMaroun said. “We now have it all. We are the family of St. Rafka.”


Photo courtesy Al Mohajer Newspaper, Samar Nader

Pope, Jordan’s king have tea ahead of Mideast trip

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis and King Abdullah II of Jordan held talks over tea at the Vatican with an eye to the pontiff’s upcoming visit.

Francis leaves May 24 for Jordan, the first stop on a three-day pilgrimage that will also take him to the West Bank and Israel.

The Vatican said Francis and the king chatted Monday in a “cordial and informal atmosphere” for 40 minutes. Instead of the traditional venue of the formal papal studio in the Apostolic Palace, they met in the modest Vatican hotel where Francis lives.

The Holy See said the king, accompanied by his religious affairs adviser, reaffirmed his “most open willingness to work together in the commitment for peace and interreligious dialogue” in the Middle East.

Source: The Associated Press

Clashes in Sidon refugee camp kill eight

SIDON, Lebanon: Clashes in the Palestinian refugee camp of Mieh Mieh in the coastal city of Sidon killed eight people, including the commander of an armed group, and wounded 10 others Monday, security sources said.

Fighting erupted around noon between supporters of former Fatah commander, Ahmad Rashid Adwan, and members of the armed group Ansar Allah, headed by Jamal Suleiman.

During the clashes, members of Ansar Allah stormed Adwan’s headquarters, killing him and his bodyguard, Ahmad Souri, the sources told The Daily Star.

Adwan’s two brothers, Rashid and Khaled, were also among the fatalities, the National News Agency reported.

Gunmen exchanged gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades for over two hours, the sources said, adding that the clashes subsided around 3 p.m.

The Lebanese Army deployed heavily around Mieh Mieh in a bid to contain the clashes as military units worked to seal off all entrances to the camp.

Palestinian Popular Committees delegation arrived to the camp and held several meetings with Ansar Allah to put an end to the violence and agree on a ceasefire.

Members of the Palestinian group, founded in the 1990s with Iran’s backing, evacuated Adwan’s headquarters as residents in the camp pulled several bodies out of the offices.

A Palestinian official said Monday’s fighting was the result of a personal dispute between members of the two groups.

“There was a personal dispute ten days ago and several factions tried to resolve it but they failed,” head of Aqssa Brigades Munir al-Maqdah told the state-run agency.

Source: The Daily Star

Bishop Zaidan visits with Lebanese Forces Detroit

The Lebanese Forces Detroit Chapter welcomed Bishop A. Elias Zaidan today during a private dinner at Alexander’s Lebanese Cuisine in Sterling Heights.

Lebanese Forces USA Coordinator Maurice Daaboul and  Detroit Chapter President Tony Malouf presented Bishop Zaidan with an honorary plaque, recognizing his achievements as a religious leader.

Bishop Zaidan took time to pose for photographs with the close to 100 invited guests.

Check out the gallery of photos below. Photos courtesy of Mr. John Feghali.

Army moves to restore law and order in Bekaa Valley

HERMEL, Lebanon: The Lebanese Army has sent reinforcements to the Bekaa Valley on the eve of the implementation of a security plan designed to restore law and order in the turbulent region plagued by spillover from the Syrian conflict, a military official said Sunday.

“The Army’s logistical preparations are in their final phase. Reinforcements, including military vehicles, have been sent to the region in preparation for the implementation of a security plan to restore law and order in the northern Bekaa Valley,” the official told The Daily Star.

Asked as to when the security plan would be put into effect, he said: “It could be either Monday afternoon or the next day.”

The security plan for the northern Bekaa Valley comes a week after a similar government plan was successfully enforced by the Lebanese Army to end sectarian fighting in the northern city of Tripoli.

Tripoli has been plagued with fighting between supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the predominantly Alawite Jabal Mohsen neighborhood and those of the opposition in the Sunni majority Bab al-Tabbaneh district. Over 100 people have been killed in the fighting since the uprising against Assad’s regime began in March 2011.

Ahead of the security plan’s implementation in the northern Bekaa Valley, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said illegitimate checkpoints in the region had been removed.

“There are no longer unofficial checkpoints along the Arsal road, and unofficial armed forces are no longer present in the Baalbek-Hermel region,” Machnouk said in a statement, referring to Hezbollah checkpoints set up to curb the rise of car bombings targeting Shiite towns in the Bekaa Valley.

Hezbollah has taken measures in Hermel, Baalbek and other Bekaa Valley towns following a series of bombings targeting these predominantly Shiite areas. The attacks were mostly claimed by radical groups fighting in Syria, citing Hezbollah’s role in the war-torn country. Hezbollah’s measures have angered nearby Sunni towns, particularly residents in the northeastern town of Arsal, who largely support the Syrian opposition, which has fueled tensions in the border region.

In an interview to be published by As-Safir newspaper Monday, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah said the danger posed by car bombs targeting Shiite areas had greatly decreased.

The Lebanese Army has taken full control of a vital highway linking Arsal to Baalbek and Hermel in preparation for the security plan, the National News Agency reported.

Lebanese soldiers arrested four armed Syrians in Wadi Hanin in Arsal who opened fire on an Army patrol, the NNA said.

Speaking after meeting Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Bkirki late Saturday, Machnouk hailed the plan’s success in Tripoli, saying Beirut would soon see similar measures.

“We confirm that the security plan is going as planned with the support of the president, the prime minister and the courage of the Army,” Machnouk said. “We are all fully responsible for the failure or success of the plan, which has so far proven to be a success.”

“Implementation of the plan in the northern Bekaa Valley will soon begin, and it will end in Beirut. We will end violations against the Lebanese, their security and their livelihood, particularly in light of repeated abductions.”

Residents in the Baalbek- Hermel region are anxiously waiting for the implementation of the security plan, hoping the security forces will crack down on gangs blamed for car thefts and drug trafficking in the area.

Meanwhile in Tripoli, some 130 men demonstrated in Bab al-Tabbaneh, demanding a general amnesty for all militia leaders wanted on arrest warrants for their alleged involvement in the fighting.

Also, about 150 men demonstrated in the Jabal Mohsen neighborhood in support of Rifaat Eid, the Arab Democratic Party’s politburo chief. The demonstration came a day after Military Prosecutor Saqr Saqr charged 12 people, including Eid, for belonging to an armed terror organization and carrying out terrorist acts in Tripoli.

Security forces arrested a man identified only by his initials as B.B., one of the key suspects wanted in Bab al-Tabbaneh.

Source: The Daily Star

Unofficial checkpoints removed ahead of plan: minister

BEIRUT: Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said over the weekend that unauthorized checkpoints in the Bekaa Valley were removed ahead of the expansion of the government’s new security plan to the area this week.

“There are no longer unofficial checkpoints along the road to Arsal and all unofficial armed forces are no longer present in the Baalbek-Hermel areas,” Machnouk said in a statement, referring to Hezbollah checkpoints set up to curb the rise of car bombings in Bekaa Valley towns.

Hezbollah has taken measures in Hermel, Baalbek and other Bekaa Valley towns following a series of bombings targeting predominantly Shiite areas. The attacks were mostly claimed by radical groups fighting in Syria, citing the group’s role in the war-torn country.

Hezbollah’s security measures have angered nearby Sunni towns, particularly residents in Arsal who largely support the Syrian opposition, fueling tensions in the border region.

The National News Agency reported that the Lebanese Army took full control of a vital highway connecting Arsal to Baalbek- Hermel in the northern Bekaa Valley in preparation of the security plan and took over checkpoints set up by armed groups.

Machnouk said he contacted several local and official figures from Arsal and the Bekaa Valley town of Labweh as part of ongoing preparations ahead of the plan.

The Cabinet recently approved a plan drafted by the Higher Defense Council to restore stability to Tripoli, which has been plagued by several rounds of clashes between opponents and supporters of President Bashar Assad, as well as Akkar and the Bekaa Valley.

The measures include heavy deployment in conflicts zones and pursuing wanted individuals. The security plan was first implemented in Tripoli starting April 1, and the Army, along with the Internal Security Forces, has so far arrested over 100 suspects.

Speaking after meeting with Patriarch Beshara Rai in Bkirki late Saturday, Machnouk spoke of the plan’s success in Tripoli, saying the capital would also witness similar measures.

“We affirm that the security plan is going as planned with the support of the president, the prime minister and the courage of the Army,” Machnouk told reporters.

“We are all fully responsible for the failure or success of the plan which has so far proven to be a success,” he added.

“Implementation of the plan in the northern Bekaa will soon begin and they will end in Beirut. We will end violations against the Lebanese, their security and livelihood particularly in light of repeated abductions [in the Bekaa],” he said.

Source: The Daily Star

Domestic worker commits suicide in South Lebanon

SIDON, Lebanon: An Ethiopian domestic worker died over the weekend in an apparent suicide in the southern city of Tyre, security sources told The Daily Star Sunday.

The woman allegedly threw herself off a balcony of the apartment building where she worked, the sources said.

Media reports said the woman had fled last week from her employer’s home. Security forces later detained the Ethiopian and returned her to her employer.

Reports of suicides among Lebanon’s approximately 200,000 domestic workers have become increasingly frequent, with many citing maltreatment and abuse.

Source: The Daily Star

29 rebels dead in Syria premature car bomb blast: NGO

DAMASCUS: At least 29 rebels died in a blast Sunday in the central Syrian city of Homs as they primed a car bomb for an attack, a monitoring group said.

In the capital, meanwhile, two people were killed when mortar fire struck the Damascus Opera House, state media reported.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said at least 29 people were killed, most or all of them believed to be rebels, in the besieged Old City of Homs when a car bomb exploded.

“The death toll is likely to rise because there are dozens of people missing and body parts in the area of the blast,” the Britain-based group said.

State news agency SANA also reported the blast, saying a car had exploded while being loaded with explosives.

One activist network, the Syrian Revolution General Commission, said the blast was the result of a rocket landing on an ammunition deport in the area. The claim could not be independently confirmed.

The blast took place on the outskirts of the Old City of Homs, which is under rebel control.

Some 1,400 civilians were able to leave the area this year under UN supervision, but an estimated 1,500 people remain until the army siege.

In the capital, SANA said two people were killed in mortar fire by rebel fighters.

“Two people were killed and five wounded by a mortar round that hit the Damascus Opera House” near key government and military buildings on Umayyad Square, it said.

The attack damaged the Opera House, which was inaugurated by President Bashar al-Assad in 2004.

Mortar fire also wounded 13 people in several neighbourhoods of the capital.

On Saturday, mortar rounds struck near the Russian embassy, said the Observatory.

The rebel fire on Damascus comes as government forces step up a campaign to crush insurgents in its eastern suburbs, it said.

On Sunday, the Observatory said five civilians, including three children, were killed in regime air strikes on the town of Douma northeast of Damascus.

And additional air raids as well as fierce fighting was reported in Mleiha, southwest of the capital in Damascus province.

In northern Aleppo province, the Observatory said two people, including a child, were killed in raids using explosive-packed barrels bombs, an army tactic that has caused dozens of deaths.

Source: AFP

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