Twenty-two fighters from Lebanon killed in Syria: local official

Twenty-two fighters from Lebanon killed in Syria: local official

Twenty-two young men, including a Palestinian, from the Lebanese city of Tripoli were killed on Friday in the Syrian border town of Tal Kalakh, a Lebanese security source and an Islamist leader said.

“There are reports that 21 Lebanese nationals and one Palestinian have been killed in Syria,” the local official said on condition of anonymity.

Earlier, a security source said he was informed the men “went to Syria to fight with the rebels and were all killed in an ambush in Homs province,” which borders Lebanon.

The source said 14 of the bodies had been delivered to a Syrian hospital by government troops.

The majority of people in the predominantly Sunni port city of Tripoli back the rebellion against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who belongs to the Alawite sect of Shiite Islam.

“Young Islamists from different parts of the city left Tripoli this morning (Friday) and were killed in an ambush in Tal Kalakh by regime forces,” an Islamist leader in the city said.

“According to our information, they were summarily executed and not killed in combat,” he said.

A security source reported gunfire in Tripoli on Friday night between the mainly Sunni Bab al-Tebbaneh district and the neighboring Shiite district of Jabal Mohsen, whose residents support Assad.

He added that the army had been heavily deployed along the aptly named Syria Street dividing the districts, whose traditional rivalry has sharpened over the uprising in Syria.

A young Islamist activist from Bab al-Tebbaneh said two brothers from the neighborhood, the sons of a local cleric, were among those killed on Friday.

For its part, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that a group of 30 rebels "were caught in an ambush by government troops in the area of Tal Sarin near the town of Tal Kalakh."

“It is unknown if they are being held prisoner or were killed,” the monitoring group said.

Clashes erupt almost daily along the Syrian border, pitting Lebanese Shiite militiamen with close ties to Hezbollah against anti-Assad rebels, according to local residents and activists.

The Shiite movement Hezbollah, the most powerful armed force in Lebanon, is a key backer of Damascus and has been accused of sending its fighters across the border to fight alongside loyalist troops.

“Nearly 5,000 armed men protect our villages, and the majority are close to Hezbollah,” a resident of the Lebanese border village Zeita said.

A triumph for Palestinian diplomacy

United Nations: More than 130 countries voted on Thursday to upgrade Palestine to a non-member observer state of the UN, a triumph for Palestinian diplomacy and a sharp rebuke to the United States and Israel.

But the vote, at least for now, did little to bring either the Palestinians or the Israelis closer to the goal they claim to seek: two states living side by side, or increased Palestinian unity.

Israel and the Hamas group both responded critically to the day’s events, though for different reasons. The new status will give the Palestinians more tools to challenge Israel in international legal forums for its occupation activities in the West Bank, including colony-building, and it helped bolster the Palestinian National Authority, weakened after eight days of battle between its rival Hamas and Israel.

But even as a small but determined crowd of 2,000 celebrated in central Ramallah in the West Bank, waving flags and dancing, there was an underlying sense of concerned resignation.

”I hope this is good,” said Munir Shafie, 36, an electrical engineer who was there. “But how are we going to benefit?”

Still, the General Assembly vote — 138 countries in favour, nine opposed and 41 abstaining — showed impressive backing for the Palestinians at a difficult time. It was taken on the 65th anniversary of the vote to divide the former British mandate of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab, a vote Israel considers the international seal of approval for its birth.

The past two years of Arab uprisings have marginalised the Palestinian cause to some extent as nations that focused their political aspirations on the Palestinian struggle have turned inward. The vote on Thursday, coming so soon after the Gaza fighting, put the Palestinians again — if briefly, perhaps — at the centre of international discussion.

”The question is, where do we go from here and what does it mean?” Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, who was in New York for the vote, said in an interview. “The sooner the tough rhetoric of this can subside and the more this is viewed as a logical consequence of many years of failure to move the process forward, the better.”

He said nothing would change without deep US involvement. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking to the assembly’s member nations, said, “The General Assembly is called upon today to issue a birth certificate of the reality of the state of Palestine,” and he condemned what he called Israeli racism and colonialism.His remarks seemed aimed in part at Israel and in part at Hamas. But both quickly attacked him for the parts they found offensive.

”The world watched a defamatory and venomous speech that was full of mendacious propaganda against the Israel Defence Forces and the citizens of Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel responded. “Someone who wants peace does not talk in such a manner.” While Hamas had officially backed the UN bid of Abbas, it quickly criticised his speech because the group does not recognise Israel.

”There are controversial issues in the points that Abbas raised, and Hamas has the right to preserve its position over them,” Salah Al Bardaweel, a spokesman for Hamas in Gaza, said.

New York Times News Service

1.         There were 138 votes in favour, nine against and 41 abstentions. Three countries did not take part in the vote, held on the 65th anniversary of the adoption of UN resolution 181 that partitioned Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states.

2.         Joining the United States and Israel in voting “no” were Canada, the Czech Republic, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Panama.

3.         Key European countries including France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden and Ireland, as well as Japan and New Zealand, Germany and Britain were among the many Western nations that abstained.

4.         A state of Palestine has already been recognised by 132 countries, and the Palestinians have 80 embassies and 40 representative offices around the world, according to the Palestinian Foreign Ministry.

5.         Despite Thursday’s triumph, the Palestinians face enormous limitations. They don’t control borders, airspace or trade, they have separate and competing governments in Gaza and the West Bank and they have no unified army or police.

6.         The vote grants Mahmoud Abbas an overwhelming international endorsement for his key position: establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and occupied east Jerusalem, the territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. With Netanyahu opposed to a pullback to the 1967 lines, this should strengthen Abbas’ hand if peace talks resume.

7.         The UN action also could help President Abbas restore some of his standing, which has been eroded by years of standstill in peace efforts. His rival, the Hamas group, deeply entrenched in Gaza, has seen its popularity rise after it responded with a barrage of rocket fire to an Israeli offensive last month on targets linked to the group.


Copyright 2007